Sunday, August 8, 2010
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.