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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ramadan 9 – Volcanoes

There is a volcano exploding in Indonesia. The one in the news is not near my home. I live on the island of Java. The one in the news is on the island next to me, Sumatra. That’s a little bit like saying its a few states over. There is a volcano 40 miles from me that is also exploding. The teachers told me that they have lost contact with some American observers. My closest volcano – approximately 10 miles away is also erupting. The two closest to me are listed as “continuously erupting.” There are clouds over them often and I don’t know if it’s from smoke and ash or just regular clouds. Some mornings there is mist in the air and my host father doesn’t like me go walking. He thinks the volcano ash is causing the mist.

Indonesia is a big country. It stretches across a string of islands that is the same distance as across the United States. The ones to the Far East were originally a part of Australia. I think almost all the islands were formed by volcanic eruptions.

I usually have no idea what is on TV in the states. If my kids send me a text message asking if I’m okay, then I realize that something is happening in Indonesia.

My sister asked if we have earthquake or volcano emergency drills at school. We haven’t so far. They are so much a part of life; I guess they just expect them to happen. I did see a picture of a previous year when kids were practicing carrying stretchers, so I don’t know if that was a special one time deal or something that happens every year.

My sister, Pinky, also mentioned that I write a lot of run on sentences when I’m fasting. (She’s a nurse and thinks it’s probably due to low blood sugar.) So please forgive my terrible English. I am in the process of writing individual comments to every one of the 579 students that I have. It takes me about 2 hours to write comments to each class of 40 students. Two hours of quality uninterrupted time – that doesn’t happen often here. They all have been turning in their “My experience” stories and their “5 Important Things” in my life, list complete with pictures. Some of them just touch my soul! Broken friendships, seeing a snake in the bathroom, trips to the beach where their friends ate all their snacks, having little brothers fall off the motorcycle as they were driving it, grandmother’s dying, rain storms when they slide and fall off their bike, wonderful, beautiful slices of their lives. I hope they can understand my comments in my “fasting” English. I print and draw them little pictures of my own.

I talked to the vice principal, my supervisor, at the school here. I expressed my concern that I see the students so little that it is hard to co-ordinate what we are covering with their regular English instruction. The “change of class bells” at my school is a responsibility that is assigned to different teachers every day. Sometimes they remember to sound the bells, sometimes they don’t. That means that some classes are 15 or 20 minutes long, some are longer and sometimes the teachers get confused about what time period is occurring and just stay in the teacher room anyway. Classes are cancelled for marching practice, teacher certification, special prayers at the mosque, regular prayers and lots of other reasons that I’m unclear about. So it may be 2 or 3 weeks between when I last saw a class, and my next appearance. And I may be there for 15 minutes or an hour and a half. All 15 different classes are studying different material with their regular English teacher. I have no idea if they are on past continuous tense or use of when and while for past perfect tense, recount, narrative or interrogative. Peace Corps wants me to present lesson plans that have been co-coordinated in advance with the co-teacher. My vice principal said, “The syllabus doesn’t matter, Oma. Your job here is to be a model and an inspiration.”

I wrote down “Model” and “Inspiration” on the cover of my teaching schedule. That’s my goal. Just when I feel like I’m a dentist pulling teeth to get the kids to take out a pencil and write their names, they give me the most beautiful inspired prose that takes my breath away. The ones who tell me that they can’t draw and I see them asking their friends to draw the picture for them – they get a special job. They have to come to the board and I hand them the marker. Then I work with them individually until they get the confidence to draw on the board, then they go back to their seats and put the picture on the paper for me. So far, it’s worked. Some of them still want to give me a perfectly copied story from the text book, but at least the picture is one they had to come up with by themselves.

And according to my American calendar, we started Ramadan a day early and are ending a day late. There’s no wonder this month feels so long. It is. I have no idea why. Things begin and end when we get an official memo from the principal. The school calendar is only an approximate guess about what will happen.

And my home situation is a little different now. Before I had the whole upstairs to myself. Now my host family college student has completed her studies and moved back into the bedroom next door. So we share the TV room outside both our rooms and the upstairs porch where I love to sit and listen to the mosque prayers on the loudspeaker and look out at the active volcanoes. See, my wandering mind did make it back to the volcanoes. The way I survive the noise of Ramadan on the streets and TV now on outside my bedroom is by putting the fan right next to my face and bowing that air directly through the mosquito net into my ear as I sleep. White noise, the perfect companion on a hot Indonesian night!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ramadan 8 – 132 lbs and cat poo coffee

132 pounds - that’s what 160 kilos is – that’s what I weigh! I haven’t weighed this little since I was 16 years old. My whole adult life I’ve gained and lost and gained some more.

I just finished a meal of warm white rice, cold French fries, warm beef & vegetable soup, a cold fried egg, an extra piece of cold beef, tomato, lettuce and cabbage. Then I came upstairs and porked out on as many dates and peanuts and a few peanut M&M’s and cookies and a few pieces of candy and a liter of water. I left the shrimp with tails on and heads with eyes and lots of legs and antennas for the 3:00am meal.

I am seriously trying to keep my weight up. Another week and a half of Ramadan. I am totally enjoying this crazy aspect of my life.

It makes me wonder, who am I really? For absolutely sure I’m not the stories that I tell about myself. That woman really does only exist in the past. This current Colleen, the one who is sitting here at her little laptop, with her glasses on, looking at the screen, listening to the TV downstairs, and the crickets outside and the Islam loudspeaker prayers being broadcast into the night sky, she’s someone I’m just getting to know and just when I think I know her she totally surprises me with something that makes me giggle.

Today I took the train to Malang. I was told at my local train station that I had to go to the Malang train station to buy tickets for the train that will take Andy and me to the end of this island, so we can go to Bali in Sept. But after the 2 hour train ride, when I asked the ticket agent in Malang, she very carefully explained that only economy trains go to Banyuwangi, and you can not buy tickets in advance for economy trains. So I bought a ticket to return home, waited for a southbound train and then another 2 hour train ride back to my town.

Trains are an adventure. It only costs 35 cents to go to Malang but it’s very easy to spend a lot more than that giving a little change to every musician, blind beggar and child train floor sweeper who gets on and asks you for a contribution. There are also salesmen who drop newspapers, books, combs, baseball hats, packets of needles, magazines and a whole variety of other stuff into your lap. You look at the item for 5 minutes or so and then the salesperson returns from his journey to the end of your train car and you either buy it or give it back to him. I told the people I was sitting with that this would never happen in America, that people would steal the stuff. And they told me that the sales people remember exactly which laps they dropped what into and that you would have to pay if you couldn’t return the item.

The picture at the top of this blog is me with a stuffed luwak. According to my book: “It’s a nocturnal animal that resembles a civet cat. It has a special taste for the ripe fruits of the coffee bushes and knows how to pick the sweetest coffee berries. The animal digests these and then excretes the hard beans. For centuries villagers have collected coffee beans from luwak dung, processed, roasted and consumed them. Luwak coffee is rare and known to be delicious. It costs $600 per pound.”

At the time the picture was taken, the man who had two of these stuffed animals was trying to sell them. He was having a lot of fun scaring me with the luwak and announcing to the whole train that there was a “bule” (foreign white person) on the train. He thought this was a lot more unusual than a wild cat who shits coffee beans.

And some students came to my house today to chat and ask for pen pals in the states so they can practice English. They are 12th graders, so I’m not allowed to teach them at school. They are dedicated, brilliant students and so shy! Anyone who is interested, please email me. (Don’t leave a comment in this blog; I really need to know who you are personally.) Tell me your address and I will connect you with a student.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ramadan 7 – Three hour massage

Last night a woman came to our house and my Ibu – mama got a massage. The neighbor lady was here for three hours! And then they asked if I wanted one. I said, “Yes, that sounds wonderful.” So today when I got home from school, I laid down on a 4 inch thick mattress that was taken off one of the boarders beds and put on the floor in our living room and the sweetest neighbor woman who is a lot stronger than she looks had me lay face down with shorts and a shirt on and she started with my feet, then worked her way up.

I had asked my mom how much and she told me that the massage lady was a volunteer and I should pay what I want. I asked her to please come upstairs to my room and I took out all the money that I keep available, ($25) put it in a pile in front of her, she looked horrified and took $2.50 from the pile and put it in her pocket. I probably at this point should be able to explain my dilemma when I don’t understand things in their language, but it’s so much easier to actually force people to help you. $25 sure seemed reasonable to me for a 3 hour massage. My Ibu-mama put the $2.50 in an envelope and when the lady was finished that’s what she got.

And a side benefit was that for 3 hours my mind was totally off eating or drinking. And for 3 hours I could just lie in the middle of the living room and the two women could gab and gab and I didn’t feel like I needed to pay attention. A few times I figured out they were talking about me but I didn’t care. The massage lady started out really gentle but by the end I was right at the edge of what my body could take. I did wince once when she was pulling my toes.

I have a Peace Corps battle wound – my own Red Badge of Courage. A few weeks ago, most of a big toenail fell off. Actually it didn’t hurt, but it looks awesome and makes a great story. I went to Indonesia, got infected toenails and they fell off. I looked it up on the internet and “toenails falling off” is pretty common. At one point the massage lady was talking about how I was strong like a farmer and my host mother was telling her about how much I walk. The word for leg is also the same as the word for foot. They didn’t use the word that I know for toenails but maybe they were actually saying I have “farmer feet.”

I felt a little guilty. I am lots bigger than the average Indonesian, but my host mother was firm. $2.50 and not a penny more! That’s what my host mother paid her the night before and she showed up today, so maybe that actually is the going rate. I have no idea.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ramadan 6 – Full Moon - 2 more weeks

This week of no teaching is hard. I expect the afternoons to be hard. But when the mornings are hard, it’s particularly difficult. When I teach, I feel like I’m contributing. When I sit here at the school and just listen to the Arabic – it’s challenging.

By a crazy twist of fate, I am now the only person in my family who is fasting. The 4 nurses who were boarders here have gone back to their home village, my Ibu-Mama has stomach problems and didn’t fast from the beginning and now my host Dad is eating. After dinner, which I could only eat half of anyway, I showed them that I set my cell phone to go off at 3:15am and I will come quietly downstairs, turn on the light in the kitchen and finish the rest of the food. Please, please, I said in Indonesian, please sleep and be well. I can eat by myself. The food here doesn’t get refrigerated. It’s just put under mesh covers to keep the flies off. If I don’t eat something at one meal, it’s all there ready for the next one, anyway. We’ll see how this works out.

So far the hardest time was the day there was a discussion in the teacher room about going to hell and burning in fire. I have been reading The Noble Qur’an and this is the fate for “unbelievers.” (Jews, Christians and Pagans)

I try to think about it as a chance to practice tolerance at an ever deepening level.

I don’t have anything more to say.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ramadan 6 - I Tell a Joke

One of the signs that you are beginning to understand a culture and a language is that you are able to tell a joke and people get it. I know my grandson, Talon, is at this stage.

I told my first joke in Indonesian and Arabic. Usually we start every 3:00am meal with Al’hamdu lilah. I think it means something like “Thanks be to God.” In Arabic. Anyway, just to be sure I always add in Indonesian, “Thank you God and Ibu Mama and Bapak Father for the food.” One day we slept in past the first set of alarms and got up late and had to eat as fast as we could before the Morning Prayer on the loudspeakers. We didn’t talk, just ATE. At the end of the meal, I said, “Al’hamdu lilah. And thank you God for giving me lots of brother and sisters so I know how to eat fast.” My host family cracked up.

They say another sign that you’ve learned the language is that you start to dream in that language. No luck there. My dreams are so erratic here. I go for weeks with no memory of dreams and then will have a series of malaria medicine dreams which are more surreal, Technicolor and crazier than regular dreams.

Today I watched ducks being herded. After the rice is harvested from a field, or while rice is being cut down and hit on the tarp to collect the rice grains, men herd ducks in the vacant part of the field so that they can get any left over grains. The men have a long pole with plastic bags tied on the end and if the ducks go too far in any direction, they swish the pole and get them back where they want them to go. Because the ducks like to stick together, one person can herd up to about 40 - 50 ducks.

There is no growing season here. No harvest season, no hunger season, just continuous planting of crops and continuous harvesting. I think it takes 4 months for rice to grow. Some fruit is always ripe on the tree. There are certain times when some things are cheaper, so maybe certain fruits ripen at certain times, I don’t know.

And just to set the record straight… there was an earthquake yesterday! I was in the bathroom and my Ibu Mama was quite worried, “Oma, are you alright?” I feel so many little shaky things that the big ones are almost a reassurance, “Oh good, it’s not just me.”

And a shout out to all my fellow PC buddies. In big appreciation for all the photo sessions you’ve ever smiled for with strangers. One of the stories my students wrote was about her important day - the day she got her picture taken with a foreign tourist! This was the most important thing that has happened to her in her life!

You can follow the progress of Ramadan with the moon. It’s a little over half right now. When we get to a full moon it will be the middle of Ramadan. Ramadan begins and ends with the new moon so as you watch it getting smaller and smaller, the fasting days will also be coming to an end. Ramadan ends this year on my birthday – September 9… with a big world wide celebration!

Ramadan 5 – Independence Day

Yesterday was the Indonesian 4th of July. There was no school but all the students and teachers were required to assemble in a field about a half hour from the school. There were many other schools there. All the students stood in lines with their schools and classes and all the teachers stood in rows together. Women on one side, men on the other. Every single teacher (except me) – there were hundreds, wore the same identical shirt. I have seen this shirt on Batik Friday and Saturdays. It’s light blue and printed with squares showing the national eagle and the 5 sided symbol of the 5 principles of Indonesia:
1. Belief in the one and only God,
2. Just and civilized humanity.
3. The unity of Indonesia,
4. Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives, and
5. Social justice for the all of the people of Indonesia.

When I filed my police report for the stolen wallet, I had to fill in my religion. Everyone is required to believe in God.

The flag ceremony lasted about 2 hours, during which time we all stood at attention and saluted the flag maybe 10 times when the announcer told us to. There was a medical tent and various people were carried on stretchers over there to rest in the shade. I am guessing that almost all of the participants at this event have been fasting for the last week. A rough guess was 5000 people and chairs for about 30 dignitaries under a tent. The days of me being a dignitary are long gone. I’m just a tall, old teacher without the right shirt. Thanks be to Allah, I did wear the right color. I had on a light blue jibab and blue shirt and pants with my school emblem on them.

Welcome to my world. Everyone automatically knows so many things that there is no need to mention them. Things like which shirt to wear, where the event will take place, when… etc. Some of these things I can get answers to, some of my questions are just dismissed. Maybe the person I am asking doesn’t know. Maybe they think it’s not important. Maybe they don’t understand my question. I have no idea. The most common English responses I get are, “Of course.” And “Never mind.”

One satisfying aspect of this cultural difference is that no one listens to the speeches because they already know what the speaker is saying. And I figure if I make an honest attempt to find out things and I wind up being clueless, so be it. Do what you THINK they want and watch and see what happens.

I don’t feel well today, kind of queasy and light headed. I felt great yesterday! I even ran a little bit on my morning walk. Maybe it’s all a part of the fasting process. Some Americans are surprised that I am abstaining from water as well as food during the daylight hours. It just seems so strange to us. Dieting – yea, we’ve all limited or tried to limit the amount of food we eat. But, water! My American mind says, “It’s sick and twisted and definitely not healthy to not drink water during the day.” I guess it comes down to the attitude that I want to experience this culture. In so many ways I am different, in this one thing, I can be the same as everyone else.

Some days it’s so hard being different. There are days when I think, “All it would take would be one phone call and I could be out of here.” Okay, 2 phone calls. I promised my friend I wouldn’t leave without a discussion with her first. All the physical discomforts are minor compared to the mental anguish of isolation. On this most densely populated island on the planet, I feel so alone. Ironic.

Actually, this is a part of the Peace Corps process – months of mandatory solitary confinement to help you bond with your community. So help me, God, I’m trying.

What I’ve learned is that the being thirsty is as much a part of Ramadan as the being hungry. The idea is to understand on a gut level, what it’s like for so many people in the world.

And I think part of the idea is just to unite in suffering. This reminds me of the Lenten abstinences of my childhood – 40 days of giving up something that you like. We kids usually gave up candy. My parents would give up smoking every year. I have no idea why but my Mom believed that Sundays were exempt and she and Dad would stay up till Midnight on Saturday so they could have that first cigarette and then smoke all day on Sunday, and just be tired and cranky during the rest of the week, when they didn’t smoke. The Muslims have the cranky part covered. For Ramadan you also are required to not be angry or unkind or gossipy.

I just kept thinking of 4th of July’s in America. Many people asked me, “Do you have this in America?” I explained to my friends that most Americans put up a flag and often we watch a parade and then we get together with our families to eat and shoot off fireworks. They wanted to know what do we do to honor the government. The idea of a mandatory public ceremony on a federal holiday where the people – on their day off – are required to stand at attention in a hot field for several hours without drinking water all day just goes against every thing that seems to make sense in terms of a celebration of Independence...

Today we have started the “Cottage of Ramadan.” That’s what my dictionary translation is. I asked several people and haven’t been able to find out what why it’s called that. One teacher told me “Students must stay in this building.” I googled it and it’s common in schools here. For the next week, we have no regular classes. Teachers are scheduled to supervise the students at the mosque or in the classrooms. Some sessions are for the whole school, in the mosque, the students and teachers sitting down. I sit outside on the porch of the mosque with the menstruating girls and a few of the female teachers. And we gab while the speaker inside with the microphone tells the group what they already know so they don’t have to listen to it. The sessions repeat every day with different teachers. One topic is BBQ. I told my English speaking teachers what this means to me and they laughed, it’s the s study of the language of the Qur’an. The students are divided into groups with names of the 4 wives of Mohammad and some of his friends or people who married his wives after he died. (I think.)

The one teacher who told me I shouldn’t touch the Qur’an unless I did the proper washing, just came and told me that his father died last week. Just when I start to get all huffy and judgmental in my mind, he tells me that he’s spent the last week with his family in a different city because his father died. And he tried to tell me in English. I really do appreciate every English effort. Maybe we all are suffering in our own way. Ramadan is just an external expression of the suffering.

A butterfly is flying around my desk. From where I sit in the teacher room, I look out the door at a beautiful bougainvillea bush with orange flowers. One week of Ramadan done and three more to go.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ramadan 4 – Shaky Legs

The day before yesterday I was talking to Diana, a fellow PCV, and I mentioned that my calves were twitching. She said hers were too. I think it’s a reaction to not getting enough water or electrolytes or something. The 14 ½ hours in tropical heat without water or food produce some pretty strange reactions.

Now I am beginning to wonder about the earth tremors.

Ibu Nurul is one of my favorite teachers. She teaches Islamic studies, and most of the other teachers of Arabic and Islam are very serious, but Ibu Nurul smiles a lot! She was asking about my fasting and told me that had seen me at the Indomart. I explained that I had bought some peanuts to eat at night. She’s just so wonderful to talk to, even if our language skills are so small. I asked her about the earth tremors. In fact I was feeling one right at the moment. She didn’t understand so I looked up the word in the dictionary – small earthquake. She smiled and said, “No, there is none.” I said, “Yes, can’t you feel it, it’s very small, but definitely the ground is moving.” She said, “No, you are feeling your hunger and your tiredness.” Holy cow! I wonder how many of the earth tremors I feel at night are actually just my body shaking in the bed! Sometimes I’m aware that my heart is beating a little erratically, and that my legs are twitching, or cramping, but it just doesn’t seem significant.

Now I’m questioning What Is Real – if you can’t even trust your own sense of what is happening, maybe I’m loosing it. I’m not alarmed. (Maybe it wasn’t worth having.) I’ve been thinking this has been happening for quite a while. It began to solidify when I decided to “Do what they want and see what happens.” When you voluntarily give up thinking that your way is better, something shifts. When you begin to see that your point of view is just one color in the rainbow it just becomes much less important if you are blue or violet or green.

I have not completely given up me! No ego entrenched super woman out to do Great Things for the World is about to disappear. But something is happening.

There are still things I like and things I don’t like. Smells are the hardest to actually surrender to. I get an almost uncontrollable reaction to the smell of the food at 3:15 in the morning. There is just no way I can get some of it to go down my throat. That’s why I bought the peanuts – I’m just thinking of ways to keep the protein count up.

It’s 3:39 pm. This is my hard time – the last few hours before the evening meal – the time when I used to walk around my village and stop and buy ice cream - my own little personal internal air conditioning reward system for living another day in heat soaked Indonesia. Now I hardly have the energy to just even walk around at the end of the day. Forget it – I’m going walking!

7:19 and I’m well walked and well stuffed. I know my Weight Watcher buddies read this. I have no idea if I am still the same weight, but my clothes still fit. My family has a bathroom scale but you can get different kilogram readings by leaning different ways. There is a picture of a gorilla on it and the saying in English – “Look I am so strong!” I think the idea is that you hopefully gain weight when you step on the scale.

I spent some time this week following up on the homework I had given – Tell me about something significant event that happened in your life. What I realize is the students and I have a very different idea of significant or important. I tried to illustrate by asking. Is this statement important: ‘I eat white rice every day?” Every single student responded with, “Yes, that’s important!” When I give an example of being upset or surprised or angry – every one of them thinks that is unimportant. This Muslim culture has a lot to teach me.

The students wanted to write about their holiday trip to the beach or someplace else and all the pleasant things that happened to them and what they saw and where they went. Only a few students told me about anything tragic or what I would call interesting. I talked about significant - meaning that you are different after the event than you were before.

In a culture where unpleasant things are so carefully avoided and pleasure comes from doing group activities it’s difficult to elicit something actually individual from the students. There is security for them in a group response. They desperately want to copy something from the text book and only change it slightly to reflect their personal experience.

I think they really would prefer to read a magazine about white rice than a magazine about the trauma and drama of life. Yet there are a lot of soap opera type TV programs on Indonesian evening TV. Maybe it’s some sort of vicarious pleasure without actually participating in it. Like Americans don’t personally think it’s good to participate in crime but an awful lot of people enjoy watching crime shows.

I had a discussion with the sister in my host family and her husband about how I rarely see people here cry or get angry or upset and they said that is because good Muslims don’t indulge in those feelings. It’s wrong for them to let their emotions be too strong.

So I am asking my students – good Muslims, every one – that’s a requirement for admission to my school – to express something in a story that they have been taught to not indulge in. It’s a different world out here. I need to re- think this one.

Maybe a lot of my ideas are standing on shaky legs here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ramadan 3 Mocca Syrup and other Words

When we break the fast in the evening, my family gives me hot mocca syrup. I asked if it was coffee and they said, “No, mocca is a fruit.” It’s really sweet and thick. They pour a little bit of it in a glass and add hot water. Maybe it’s date syrup. It’s the first thing they want me to drink after the 14 ½ hours of no food or drink. We also drink it at the 3:15 am meal.

And my Ibu mama gave me cookies to keep in my room! At first I thought it was a joke – give a fasting person cookies to keep in their room, but she explained, “No, this is for at night. If you are awake, go out on the porch and eat the cookies so no crumbs will be in your bedroom and you won’t have ants.” They are in a blue and red tin and are the exact same cookies you can get in the States – Danish Monde Butter cookies. I have fond memories of eating these as a kid. I always liked the pretzel shaped ones. Now, here I am, fasting for a month in Indonesia and I get a whole box to myself, to eat in the middle of the night!

Tomorrow, school starts again. I’m ready. I tried to translate what I want to work on this week:
“Receive from each child, key words, which are of particular importance to that child. Pleasant words won’t do. Respectable words won’t do. They must be words organically tied up, organically born from the dynamic of life itself. They must be words that are already part of a child’s being. No time is too long spent talking to a child to find out his key words. The key that unlocks himself. For in them is the secret of reading, the realization that words have intense meaning.”

I found this quote in some of my Peace Corps materials. I figure it will take me 30 minutes to explain what this means, get help from my team teachers in fixing my translation and talk to the kids about the words in Bahasa Indonesia that have meaning for me: sakti = spiritual power, fajar = dawn, etc. Words that stimulated me when I heard them. Words that set my imagination on fire. What is “spiritual power?” I want to know a society that has a word for that. Even if I can only scratch the surface of what that means, even if I can only inhale a little of that perfume, oh, how wonderful! And when can you say dawn is here? Is it now? Is it 2 minutes from now? Is it daybreak? Is it when it is still dark and you first sense dawn is coming? What does your word, “dawn” mean?

How can I find out their words? Are they Justin Beiber, World Cup Soccer, or True Love? Are their words Hunger, Thirst, Allah, or BFF? Last week I gave my 11th grade classes homework to write down 5 persons or things that are important to them. The 10th graders had to describe an experience that has made them different and tell me why. I have no idea if they will have accomplished those tasks, but I want to build on this exchange of ideas. I want to push them past the polite, expected responses into the realm of what makes us human, what motivates us to show up in a foreign country and reach out to people. I want to know them.

Classes will be shorter for Ramadan. I think. My team teachers may be more or less fixated on the poorly written text book. I try to incorporate into these lessons, whatever grammar or work the teacher is pushing for that day. For example, I chose past tense narrative for the 10th grade classes.

I like to begin each class with a song. I have taught the 3 different verses to “It’s a small world after all.” to 45 different classes! I have to tell you I’m a little sick of that song myself. But long range, what do I remember from my High School French classes. Very little. But I can still sing the song we learned! If I leave a legacy of songs and can persuade some teachers to focus more on the students and less on the curriculum, then Yippee!

Since I teach for such a short time to so many different students, I have some challenges. But I know what I’m good at. I’m a story teller. (I know you aren’t surprised.) But part of my job is to tell that same story to 15 different groups of children and with 2 different teachers, a little different each time, to keep the teachers engaged in the story too. And then get them (teachers and students) to share their stories. I love this job!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ramadan 2 – Stuff Yourself at 3:30 AM

Last night I had a discussion with my ibu mama. Me: I want to fast. Her: Ha, ha, you want to fast! Me: Yes, I don’t know what time we can eat. Her: You can only drink (emphasis on drink) and eat between (2 vaguely familiar Muslim words for different prayer times.) Me: Okay, please say “Oma, Eat.” And I demonstrate knocking on my door. Her: Ha, ha, okay.

At dinner she tells me that she personally doesn’t fast. She

Stop – alert – the earth is shaking. This is the first time I’ve felt it during the day. It’s just a mild vibration. I’m on the 2nd floor of my house sitting in the den type room outside my bedroom. I feel these tremors at least once a week, sometimes more. They last for several minutes to a half hour or so and then I go back to sleep. Yes, the walls and floor are definitely moving.

Okay, back to the fasting. My host father does fast. My host mother told me that she has stomach problems and she must eat a little in the middle of the day. But yes, she would wake me up.

We had this discussion after I told her (in Bahasa, my host family doesn’t speak English) that I didn’t eat donuts. My family in America knows this story. 21 years ago I made a deal with God and gave up donuts in exchange for God helping my kids to not do drugs. The kids still get the choice, but the deal is that God would Help them in a special way. The deal expires when I am 80. I personally love donuts. When I was first married we would make-up after a fight by buying each other a dozen donuts. We reached a point where we could eat TWO dozen. Here in Indonesia they make things that look like donuts, have frosting on them and they call them donuts. I know the frosting probably doesn’t taste like real frosting, which helps. Anyway, I don’t eat them. I give them up as a kind of prayer thing. Also, implied in this little God bargain is the implication that I will live to be 80! And I do plan on having a big party and eating tons of donuts on Sept. 9, 2028!

So Ibu mama gets the idea that Christians also do this give up food thing occasionally for what I’m sure are strange reasons in her mind. I don’t know the word for drugs. I know the word for medicine, but that wasn’t right, so I told her alcohol, which is close enough. Donuts are a shape of cake. She knows I eat cake and bread, which is a very close relative of cake. Cake here is only slightly sweeter than bread. But now she knows no donuts.

She also knows that I drink tons of water – it keeps me from getting head aches. It’s silly. I pee tons more than any Indonesian person. She knows that limiting my water will be hard for me. And in truth I am waiting to see how that works out. Maybe for Americans, drinking water is a body regulation thing like wearing a jacket is for Indonesians. At the slightest hint of a breeze they bundle up with heavy socks, jackets, hats and gloves. Fasting means abstaining from food, drink, cigarettes, sex, gossip, anger, etc. during daylight hours. I’m going into this with only a weak commitment on the no water part…more of a wait and see attitude.

At 6:00 I eat dinner just like I do every day. When I go to bed there is lots of noise, loud speaker Mosque prayers, firecrackers, people talking, etc. So I plug in the electric fan and position it about1 foot away from my head. I do this fairly often anyway when it’s really hot.

I drink a lot of water and get up to pee and the house is fairly quiet, except for the 4 nursing students who live in the boarding house section of the house next door – sounds like they are having a party. Outside these still a lot of noise.

At 3:30 my Ibu mama knocks on the door, “Oma, eat.” And I stagger out in my night gown, sit down at the table and look at exactly what she knows I love for breakfast – noodles. And a hard boiled egg – I really had to do some negotiating to get her to boil the eggs and leave them alone, without then coating them in some mix and deep frying them and she know I like eggs this way much better than fried. Cold – all eggs are served cold here. I open it up; it’s a duck egg, slightly mushier white part and more yellow yolk.

I remember what my sister Pinky, told me: Eat protein. It will stick with you longer. My stomach does not want to co-operate but I force it. There is also a piece of very salty chewy stew meat. Sometimes I have to swallow several times to get each little lump to go down my throat. Ibu mama comes back in and is tisk-tisking and laughing because I haven’t eaten any rice. I drink two big glasses of water and go back to bed.

My host father has told me that I should Not go for walks during Ramadan because it will just make me thirsty. I counter with – I will not go far, just close. He acquiesces. In the morning I get up and walk a little and talk to my daughter who calls from America – great conversation! She’s ironing out the details of canceling my American credit card and getting a new one and we talk about the grandkids and I love it when I get to talk to her!

I come back inside – no school today or tomorrow – do a splash mandi bath and some laundry and get on the computer and read a little of The Noble Qur'an. I can’t believe its only 10:30 in the morning. My body clock says it’s the afternoon...

Will a month of not eating or drinking during the day be like 21 years of not eating donuts, where I only think about it occasionally? Or will it be like, “Oh my God, this is hard as heck, forget it!” I have no clue. I’m kind of curious.

Ramadan 1- Zagat: Share Your Money

Ramadan has started. I think I’ll number these Ramadan blogs. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Another one is Zakat – a certain fixed portion of your wealth that every Muslim is obligated to pay to the poor in the Muslim community.

Ramadan began at sunset yesterday. By that time I had already fulfilled my obligation to the poor and gave them all my money. This is how it happened.

I was riding a bus to a nearby town. I had met a woman at my stop who had seen me many times but hadn’t talked to me. We sat together and talked. She insisted on paying for my bus fare – 40 cents. I gave her a little card out of my wallet that I had printed up that has my blog site listed on it and we exchanged telephone numbers. She lives in between my house and my school and works at the fisheries dept. for the county. I put my wallet back in my backpack and zipped it up. She got off first and told the guy at the back of the bus where I needed to get off.

Indonesians are very worried that you won’t know where to get off the bus. And in fact this is a concern. Buses don’t really stop. They do a rolling stop so that people can hop on or off and they can continue on their way – the more people you pick up, the more money you make. The back of the bus guy (who helps you on or off and collects your money) tapped me on the shoulder and had me move to a seat next to the back door. This is common. He didn’t want to keep that bus idle while an old lady, white person, who obviously doesn’t know what she’s doing tries to get off the bus. At the stop before mine – there are no pre-determined stops – you just get on or off where you need to – but generally there are certain places where people often get on or off – any way – he asked me to change places to the last row. That was unusual. In retrospect, he may have been trying to position me in a better way for what happened next.

I always travel with my backpack on my lap, my arms wrapped around it for security. If it’s crowded, I wear it on the front, not the back. On long trips I keep my money buttoned into a pocket on my pants.

I wasn’t as careful this time. This was not a crowded bus. I kept my arms around my backpack as we traveled, but as we approached my stop, he signaled me to stand up and I put my backpack on. As I walked off the bus; there was a woman in front of me and a man behind me.

As we got off the bus I was aware that there was a disturbance about the woman. Sixth sense kind of thing. She got off but then waited a bit. I turned and began smiling and speaking with her in Bahasa – I’m a teacher. I’m from America, etc. Her face looked like this was a terrifying moment in her life. She clearly didn’t expect me to turn around and signal her out of the crowd of people and speak with her in her language. A motorcycle whipped around in traffic and picked her up. I was mildly aware that she and the man behind me were together but he totally blended in and didn’t stick out in my mind at all.

A real professional.

I walked about 5 or 10 minutes to a side street – not many people on the road and as I walked into the neighborhood a woman came running up to me and told me that my backpack was unzipped. I thanked her and zipped it back up. If there’s heavy stuff it sometimes comes unzipped, but there was no heavy stuff but I didn’t think anything about it. Angela, the PCV who leaves near me and I went to visit the new baby that her counterpart had. He is my vice principal’s best friend and we had spent some time together in Malang and I had been to his home before, the day we all went to the beach together. I had brought a gift for the baby. They had invited me to the 7 day old hair cutting, traditional blessing ceremony but I hadn’t been able to come. The baby was now 2 weeks old and a real cutie. Afterwards I wanted to pay for our lunch but when I looked for my wallet it wasn’t there.

I called our PC Security person, went to the police station and filled out an official form telling them that my American VISA card, my Indonesian ATM card, my Indonesian Univ. of Mohamadiah ID card and about $60.00 were stolen. This is a pretty significant amount of money – at my current rate of spending – it’s about a month’s worth of my average modest living. (My kids already know this – I am cheap. I just hardly spend any money on myself. I like to save it in case I need it, or someone else needs it.) It was so helpful to have Angela’s host sister there to translate everything. And Angela helped me get all the addresses I needed and we mailed the official document to PC in Surabaya. My daughter has cancelled the credit card, PC had the Indonesian bank call me to cancel the ATM card and it’s all taken care of.

Here’s how I think it happened. The guy who collects money on the back of the bus was a part of it. He had me stand up early, behind the girl, who made it look like standing up early was a part of what you do. I stood on the steps with the professional guy above and behind me. He must have unzipped my backpack while I standing there or as I was getting off the bus and took the wallet which was on top of the baby present.

So I’ve given my money away.

My host father felt awful. Held his hands in front of his face and told me that he was embarrassed for Indonesia. He feels that his job is to protect me from the evil in the world. Our home is a security fortress of locks and double locks and a big wall with broken glass imbedded in the top of the 10 foot concrete wall and barbed wire strung above that. I have heard the “Be careful” commandment every day from him before I leave the house.

I had some extra money stashed at home. I keep delaying making the decision about buying the bicycle, so I have plenty to hold me over till I get a new bank card – it’s supposed to happen in 10 – 14 days, but it could take a month or so.

As an interesting side note – while my daughter was in Africa, she also had her credit card stolen. I knew something was wrong – maybe this sixth sense thing is common in our family – asked the kids on my school bus to say a prayer / good thoughts for her (1st and only time I’ve ever done that.) and called Peace Corps in Washington DC (1st and only time for that too.) just to make sure they had my cell phone number correct. Then out of the blue, about an hour later she called me and told me what had happened. I told her not to get so upset, that I had lost my ID several times in life, and it can all be handled and that I had felt the trauma half way around the world.

I have now been lectured by many people about security and I assure you, I am, probably, the person best able to give the security lecture!

And I will be safe. The zakat is a yearly obligation and its fine with me if I get to voluntarily decide who gets it next year.

And all this does fit in with my philosophy of nothing happens by mistake. I learned a valuable lesson, will share the lesson with my fellow PCV’s and the “accomplice” girl on the bus was clearly being presented with a moment in which she can choose an outcome for the rest of her life. As I begin this month of prayer and sacrifice, she’s the one I’m praying for.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dancing Parade

Today I am going to veg out. For my Indonesian friends who are reading this – that means act like a vegetable – be lazy – do nothing strenuous – hang out at the house all day.
Yesterday I danced for 3 hours in a parade. I thought I was volunteering for a school program that would last 10 minutes and then walking in costume to a carnival at my town. I began to get suspicious when my host mother insisted that I take 2 boiled potatoes and a hard boiled egg and lots of water with me to school when I left at 9:00am.
The English teacher had come to my house the previous day to consult with my host mom about my costume. I wore a traditional outfit for an East Javanese Jaipong dance. My co-teacher has my camera. When I get it back, I'll try to add a picture.
At 11:00 the woman who told me to be there at 9:00 showed up. I am used to this. It’s like going to a doctor’s office. No matter what time a person very clearly tells you in both Indonesian and English, it probably will not be at that time. That’s okay, at school I read through a Highlights magazine that my friend had sent me from the states and got lots of good ideas for simple classroom activities during Ramadan, the fasting month, when I’m assuming the students and me, the teacher, will have a lot less energy.
Then the students began arriving. Each one of the dancing girls was so beautiful. Two teachers were in charge of putting makeup on them – to lighten their faces and using rosy lipstick and purple eye shadow transforming them into beauty queens.
Then we all got in a train! Yes, an amusement style train. A guy cranked a lever on the front of the engine, it sputtered to life and 30 dancing girls, (I was one of them) and another teacher were pulled along in two carts after the engine. We went a round about way following a truck blasting music so loud that speaking was impossible and wound up in front of the town park were we got off. For a while we all hung out in the park and watched as the beginning of the parade started.
I just re-read that sentence and it sounds so peaceful and organized. There’s no way I can describe the chaos and confusion and watching a teacher throw up and listening to mind numbing noise and keeping my eye on the black jacket, earrings, spiky hair boys who were hovering around my girls. (Relatives, boy-friends, trouble makers?) Laughing at the various teachers who showed up in crazy costumes and seeing the high school kids with their bikes all decorated. I’m guessing maybe 300-400 of our 850 students were there (on a Sunday) in various costumes. And maybe there were 20 or 30 schools represented. And no bathrooms.
Then a lot of our male teacher started blowing whistles and we all stood in rows. This began to look suspiciously like the beginning of the marching parade. We traditional dancing girls were located right behind the truck filled with 12 FOOT high speakers pointing directly back at us. (I am not making this up.) Thank God I had insisted on being in the last row! AS THE MUSIC BEGAN I tried to adjust my brain to THAT LEVEL OF NOISE. We did our dancing and followed along behind the music truck – not a pickup but a huge industrial truck with a generator and a sound system that was so loud that the people on the street put their hands up to protect their ears as we came by.
For 3 hours we danced behind the truck, weaving through the streets of my village. People were packed 8 to 10 deep on both sides of the street for the length of the parade – several miles. It began to make sense. I wasn’t going to a carnival! I was in the carnival! You could see the smiles and pointing as the people that we passed realized that the tall dancing girl in the last row was a foreigner! Some knew me and yelled out, “Oma.” Others just stared. The men on the truck began to sense what was happening and over the brain blowing blasting noise of the symbols and bells and sensuousness of the traditional music came wave after wave of announcement: “Send your sons and daughters to our school and they can be taught English by our English Teacher from America. Look, she can also do traditional Jaipong dancing!” I smiled and waved.
It was a slightly overcast day. Thank you, Allah! At various points some boys from our school would walk into the dancers and give us water cups or little pieces of candy. My friend, the English teacher, who had roped me into all this, was riding on a motorcycle behind our group. She did walk a lot of the way and helped to keep an eye on the cannons in the military group behind us. They liked to bring the cannon right up behind the dancers and blast us with the noise. Of course we were so deaf we couldn’t hear a thing.
We danced in unison for 3 hours! This is a lot harder than I can describe. Three steps forward, bend and sway to the left while raising you right hand in a sweeping motion and taping your right toe next to your left foot, then repeat on the other side. Watch carefully because the change in music is not obvious as we all move into the various parts of the dance together. The tilting the neck from side to side part always drew a lot of smiles. I think you have to learn this maneuver when your neck is still supple enough to get the vertebrae to move sideways. But I generally got the hand motions right and the bending and swaying and all. Occasionally I got distracted by someone in the crowd who’d come rushing up wanting a photo, but I pretty much kept up with the teenagers.
As the parade ended, I got my backpack, and knew I was 30 minutes from home. It took me twice as long to walk as it usually does because every body part was exhausted. I came home, ate a few bites of dinner and then went to sleep at 7:00pm with a splitting headache.
It’s now the next morning and I only have a slight ringing in my ears. And a new appreciation for the word “carnival.” And a realization that I live in a town where several hundred thousand people will stand for 3 hours to watch an Independence Day parade. And a new understanding that I really am different. In that sea of several hundred thousand faces not one other looked foreign. America, yesterday I gave my best to represent you. Today I’m recuperating.

My average day

I kinow I haven't been posting much lately. Here are some things that I wrote for the next group of volunteers in Indonesia and for Peace Corps National.

Information for Volunteer Activity Description (VAD) - Volunteer Comments

What it’s like to be a PCV in Indonesia or an average day in my life:

I wake up at 4:30 with the prayers from the mosque; by 5:00 I’m out the door. This is the only “cool” time of the day and I like to enjoy it. It’s still dark but there are lots of people out on the street, buying food from the backs of motorcycle carts and bicycle carts. I walk to the singing rice fields – this is the only place near my town where I can be alone and Sing My Heart Out, as loud as I want, then I walk the 25 minutes back to my house, take a splash bucket bath, eat the breakfast that my ibu mama has prepared: white rice, fish heads or fish tails, friend egg, vegetable soup and today a cold guava – tomato juice! I dress for school, long shirt that touches the top of my closed toe shoes, long sleeve shirt with a collar that buttons up to my neck, and the modified jilbab that I negotiated to wear at my Madrasah High School. I cover my hair, my forehead and my ears, but I leave a little neck exposed along with my hands and face. I walk 20 minutes to my school and arrive to shake hands and then put my hand to my heart with all the female teachers and fingertips together, nod slightly to all the male teachers. By 7:00 I am teaching English with one of my two team teachers. I teach 600 students in 15 different classes of 40 students each, 1 or 2 hours of English every week, plus a class of English for teachers and English club for students. I use the time at the end of the day to walk to town, buy minutes for my cell phone, materials for games, occasionally a new jilbab or batik shirt, (Fri and Sat are batik days at my school) print up some pictures from home or print off materials that I need for class from my flash drive, gab with my Indonesian “town friends” and buy Ice Cream – only 30 cents and I figure I walk almost 2 1/2 hours a day, so I deserve it! Then I walk back home for another mandi splash bath, dinner, lesson plans, check email and I’m in bed and reading with a flashlight under the mosquito net and the window open wide by 8:30. Welcome to my world! I hope you accept this invitation from Peace Corp. Because the program here is so new, we’re a small close knit group of PCV’s and would love to have you join us!

Colleen Young, Indo4 2010-2012

Subject: Re: Peace Corps 50th

Quote about how PC has opened my eyes or influenced me:

Before Peace Corps service I was a contented grandmother to 2 grandchildren in my little corner of Salt Lake City. Now I am a grandmother / teacher / story teller / cheerleader / life guide for 579 Muslim High School students (450 of them girls) at a Madrasah in the heart of Indonesia. Every day I ask, "Who is the teacher and who is the student?" My students teach me generosity - After a 3 hour community march they were all given a box with water and 2 little snacks. I saw them share their food with the woman who was collecting the trash. They teach me patience - Even if their teachers do not attend the class, they clean the room and peek out the door watching to see if someone will come. They teach me joy. They insist that I am "beautiful." When I say, "I am already old." They say "No, Oma (grandmother) your spirit is young." I think they are right. I am becoming younger.