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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.

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