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Sunday, June 6, 2010

My permanent village

On Wednesday I met my new vice principal. We had a bilingual joint session where all the volunteers and the school representatives talked about our expectations. On Thursday I “graduated” from training, was sworn in by the US Ambassador to Indonesia, attended a big American/Indonesian party, packed my clothes and said goodbye to my host family. On Friday after some initial confusion about getting picked up by the Peace Corps car, I left with my 6 bags of stuff for the pick up location, where I met my vice principal and 3 other teachers for breakfast, then we drove to my new village.

The trip was approximately 2 hours and I think I am understanding words at about a 1 to 500 ratio. For every 500 words spoken, I think I get one. Maybe. For example (in English) I may know the word cat, which I think I hear, but the word may actually be catalog or catastrophe or caterpillar or catfish.

These are the specific duties that I am now to do in my new job:
Become familiar with current English language teaching practices through classroom observations, interviews and materials review.
Review current resources used in teaching English ( e.g., standards, curricula, text books, audio-visual and ICT resources, assessment tools, etc.)
Collaborate with principals and teachers to develop a work plan to support the needs/priorities of teachers and students.
Co-plan lessons in cooperation with teachers and develop supplementary teaching materials to support the national curriculum and standards….plus 6 more paragraphs

Okay, if you are still reading this at this point I am impressed. So I am sitting in the car and thinking these delightful people really seem to be enjoying each other and when ever they laugh, I also laugh and occasionally when I hear a word I think I understand I say a sentence that I hope makes sense. And they laugh some more and I laugh.

Now if I were the vice principal at this point, I would seriously be wondering if this strange old lady in the back seat really can do any of this job description. I certainly haven’t demonstrated any degree of competency so far.

We arrive at the new village and the first place we need to go is the police station. In Indonesia, you are not allowed to spend the night in a new place unless you tell the local police. The copies of the documents are not the right size so the vice principal makes an appointment to go back tomorrow. We stop by a copy place and he makes a lot of copies of my passport, visa, Indonesian student ID card and my US drivers license, which just happened to be in with my passport. I don’t think I should have put it in there. My drivers license is from New Mexico and my permanent home on the ID card is in Utah. No one comments on this and neither do it. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Then we go to my home stay family. Those are the words that my vice principal uses. My fellow teachers help me unload all my gear and leave. I meet a delightful woman who shows me around her beautiful home. I will be sleeping upstairs in a room with a single bed, desk and a cabinet for keeping clothes. There is another room upstairs which is for her youngest child who is not living here now. There are two bathrooms downstairs and 2 kitchens. And two fish ponds and two dining rooms. She asks about the payment and I give her the money that Peace Corps has told us to give for food. She seems surprised so I take out the English version and the Indonesian version of the Principal/Counterpart handbook and show her the words in Indonesian that mean I will pay for the food and that the school will compensate her for the housing. Her married daughter arrives and tells me in English that she spent time in America and offers to help me. She explains that other people live here too.

In the evening I meet the 4 Indonesian nurses who live in the house. I can now see that the house is set up like a boarding house, but I am living in the family part.

My ibu, I think I will call her “mother” even though she is about 10 years younger than I am, wants to know what I want to eat. I explain that I eat everything. She really wants more specific information. I try to remember the name for every Indonesian food but I’m not doing very well. Erna, her daughter asks if I want to go with her to buy some hamburger, I say sure. We go outside but I need to tell her that I’m not allowed to ride a motorcycle. Almost everyone in Indonesia drives motorcycles. She says no problem and we walk to a place with 5 freezers against a wall and Anna buys a package of frozen patties and maybe 10 hamburger buns.

My ibu cooks the food and I have a hamburger. The meat is red and tastes like spam and there is cheese on the bun too. It’s the first time I have a hamburger in Indonesia. Anna tells me that her son likes to eat a hamburger every morning. In the morning I get another hamburger with an egg on it. For lunch there is a glass of coke with ice and hot dog vegetable soup. I am worried that if they try to feed me imported food there won’t be enough money.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The father of the family is a wonderful man who wants to practice English and shows me his grammar book which is so complicated I can understand why people think English is hard. I bring out my easy Indonesian – English book and we practice a few phrases. He is a retired assistant manager from a big forestry products company. He explains that he had a stroke 3 years ago and thanks be to God, has recovered so well that he can now walk and speak, things that he couldn’t do 3 years ago. At least I think that’s what he’s telling me. There are many teak furniture pieces in my house and my host father shows me the teak reclining pool lounge chairs in the living room that his company ships to America.

In the morning I get up early and walk around a bit. It’s about a 12 minute walk to my school past rice fields and little stores, then I go home and wait for my vice principal who is also an English teacher to come and we make some more copies – this time of my home stay father’s ID card showing the address where I will live and go back to the police station. It’s all good and I am now, I think, an official resident of this little village near Blitar, Indonesia. Peace Corps policy for security reasons is to not list the actual locations where volunteers are stationed.

We then go to the school so I can meet the teachers. My school had requested that I wear the teacher uniform and a head scarf. I have decided to wear the Muslim jilbab in a non-Muslim way, so that I can get some air on my neck and hopefully survive the heat and not have my ears covered so I hear a little better. It’s much warmer here than it was at my training village and a lot more humid. The headmaster is in Singapore so I can’t meet him yet.

My school is a national Muslim school (Maderasah) for senior high school students. My town has several other non-Muslim high schools and this one madrasah. I think all students in Indonesia study Islam, but at a madrasah students can take the Islam tract, as well as, Science, Language or Social Studies tract. I go into a large room where all the teachers have an individual desk. There are several milling around but the Vice Principal wants me to wait a bit for some more to come in, then I give a little introduction about myself in half English and half Indonesian. I like the teachers. One religion teacher and the 2 women English teachers are very welcoming. I think I meet the 4th English teacher, besides the vice principal, but right now I can’t remember their names or faces. It looks like there are maybe 40 desks for teachers in the teacher lounge. Each class of students has their own classroom and the teachers rotate so that whoever is teaching that subject goes into that classroom at the right time.

Then we go to an English class and I spend maybe 20 minutes introducing myself and talking with them and encouraging them to ask questions and complimenting them when they speak English. My strategy is to speak as much Indonesian as I can so they (teachers and students) will find out how horrible I am at it and maybe they will have some courage about speaking English. It seems to work. I have a fun time with the students. My vice principal explains that this coming week is finals preparation for the school so I won’t be teaching until school resumes sometime in July. The tentative date right now is July 12.

If I understand correctly, Indonesian students get a school break for about a month in June / July each year. They attend class Monday through Saturday and get Sundays off. And there are 14 Indonesian holidays when they get a day off. I now know why the Asian college students seemed so more dedicated – school is serious business here, not the 5 days a week, 3 months summer break, plus fall break, winter break, spring break system that we are used to.

In the afternoon I am supposed to go with my counterpart – an art teacher from the school who lives close to me, I think. He comes to my house but I don’t go with him. I think maybe he has visited the RW and RT without me. They are the local heads of the little tiny area of the village where I live. I’m not sure. But when I ask if I should go with him he says No. Technically, our counterpart is supposed to act as a cultural guide and help us integrate into the community. I think that will happen more with the friends I am making both in my family and at the school. My vice principal, who is also the person in charge of the curriculum and is an English teacher is the one who is helping me with all the ins and outs of getting everything done.

My host family daughter has tried to help me get set up with an internet connection. We have to go to Blitar to the telecommunications office to get it registered. She has offered to take me there tomorrow.

My second morning in my new village I wake up with the 4:00am prayers and then go walking a little after 5:00 as soon as the sky gets to be a little light. There are LOTS of people out walking. I pass several hundred people our in the “cool” (relatively) morning air. The teenagers are hanging with friends, walking and chatting. Some of them call out, “Good morning, Mister.” I smile and greet them. One brave young girl asks me where I come from and I stop and talk with her and her friend. They are students at my school. I cross the street to hold hands with the old women and sing little songs with babies. They are my favorites. This village is a mix of homes and little shops and rice fields. It’s more rural than my training village. I like it here!

In the night I wake up and feel the room shaking. My home stay family had explained that were lots of earthquakes here. They also said that there were tsunamis (I think, remember all this is in Indonesian) but we are about an hour drive from the ocean. The volcano I can see from my window is an active one. Sounds like an adventure to me! Home sweet home for the next 2 years!

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