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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!

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