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Friday, September 24, 2010

Teachers Field Trip & First School Day

All 52 teachers and their families met at the school at 7pm.on the Saturday before school started. At 8pm we were on the 3 buses, sitting in our assigned seats. Each teacher brought his or her spouse and children. Single teachers brought a parent. Around midnight, we stopped at a mosque to pray. The teachers explained to me that the 3rd (or possibly 4th,) president of Indonesia (they weren’t sure) was buried in one of the graves near the mosque. He had helped to spread Islam in the country.

At 3 am we stopped at another mosque and this time the teachers brought their backpacks and carry ons into the mosque. They asked me if I wanted to take a bath. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes. All of them had. They went into the bathing / cleansing / purification area of the mosque and every one, even the children emerged with clean clothes on. Then there were official prayers, not just the random say prayers on your own, like they did as a group at the first mosque. A man came into the women’s section and I’m not sure what he said but after he left about 2/3 of the women, who didn’t have on the long white prayer robes, went through the gate and stood on the other side. At my own mosque, it’s okay for women who are not praying to sit on the edge of the stairs, but I guess it’s not okay at this mosque. I excused myself and stood about 10 feet away from my friends.

Then we all got back on the buses and drove to the new bridge that goes from Java to Madura. I think its a few years old now. Each bus paid the toll, drove across the bridge, circled around to the return lane and started back across the bridge. Next to the roadway were souvenir stands and we stopped and spent about 20 – 30 minutes buying souvenirs to document that we had been on the island of Madura.

At noon we arrived at a really neat Safari Park. The kids on the bus were excited and adults and children cheered as we drove under the banner proclaiming the entrance to the park. All the little kids were invited to stand at the front of the bus leaning on the front window, looking out. Some of the teachers started making jokes – oh, look, there’s an ant! But eventually the buses drove past elephants, hippos, lions, giraffes, lots of different deer, buffalos, bears and other wildlife in their natural habitats. There was no fence between the tigers and the cars and buses. But there were guards standing around with guns. In between the different wildlife sections there were electric fences and cattle guards and automatic gates. I think they were automatic gates – they were open every time I saw them.

When we finished with the drive through tour, we all got off the buses and were given boxes of rice and cooked veggies and some meat and a little plastic cup of water. The park had an amusement area, playground, and baby zoo and water park. It also had a mini-mosque so the teachers could get in another set (or two) of prayers. The prayers involve washing with water, standing and reciting Arabic, bowing, kneeling, touching your head to the floor, reciting more Arabic prayers, and sitting leaning on your left hip, glancing to the right and left and reciting more prayers in Arabic. And then the sequence gets repeated. It’s mandatory that Muslims pray 5 times a day.

I walked around with some of the teachers and we watched their kids go on the amusement rides. Then I went back to the bus and hung out with some of the other teachers. At 3:00 almost all the teachers and their families were back, but a few were missing. My vice principal talked about the concept of “rubber time” in Indonesia and we waited till around 4:00, then some of the male teachers went out looking for the rest of the people in our group. They came back with a few. Around 6:00 the last teacher and his family showed up and we all got back on the buses and headed back to school.

We stopped at one more mosque for prayers. At 11:00pm we were back at school and I walked the 15 minutes back to my house.

The next day school started at 7am. All the students and teachers were lined up in rows on our soccer field, assembly ground. The kids assembled, reported to the leader, saluted the leader, saluted the head teacher and one teacher gave a half hour speech. Then one by one, every single one of the 900 students in my school, went down the list of teachers and apologized individually to every teacher for the wrongs they had committed. The boys held hand together and bowed to the female teachers. The girls took my hand and pressed it to their cheeks or foreheads. When they were finished with the teachers, they continued the line so that every student greeted and apologized to every other student. Each teacher also greeted and apologized to every student and every other teacher.

Then the teacher in charge made an announcement and all the students cheered. All the teaches went back to the teacher room and I asked my co-teacher what we would teach today. She said, maybe we wouldn’t teach till tomorrow. Today the students will clean the classroom. After an hour of hanging out in the teacher room, giving away the gifts I had bought in Bali, (I had saved a few special ones for specific teachers but the rest I just let the ones who descended on my desk pick through and take what they wanted.) Then I walked around campus and came back to discover there was a meeting with the principal going on. Oops. I looked on the announcement board. No announcement. I guess everyone just knew that if classes are cancelled we have a teacher meeting. It’s good I was sitting down in time to sign my name to the official roster of who was present for the meeting.

At first they were talking about jilbab / headscarf colors. Then the teacher, who was the last one to come to the bus the day before and held people up for 2 hours, asked for forgiveness and apologized for being “alone.” And not with the other teachers, just with his family. Several other people apologized for things and asked for forgiveness. I didn’t understand most of what was happening.

It seems pretty good. The first day back at school after a long vacation, nobody wants to do any work anyway. Everyone just wants to hang with friends and find out what they did on vacation. This day seemed to accomplish that. It felt good to start the season off with asking for forgiveness for all the wrongs we have committed.


There’s a reason it’s called an Island Paradise. It is!

Living as a Peace Corps volunteer in a little town as the only “bule” (foreign – white person) has a charming set of adventures built into every day, but I have to tell you, that it feels like heaven to be in a place where you can talk to almost everyone and understand a large percentage of what is going on around you. I know why Peace Corps Volunteers bond so much with the people in their group. It’s like waking up from a dream to discover that you really do have a family and a place where who you are makes sense.

16 of the 18 volunteers in Indonesia met for our fist vacation to spend 4 days together in Bali.

Here are just some of my random thoughts, highlights from that trip:

Andy and I left our training village together after spending the day visiting our first families and asking them for forgiveness for the wrongs that we had done. We got an overnight bus and then negotiated for a bemo (mini van with no side door) ride to get to our hotel at 4:30 am. The hotel had a swimming pool and we fell asleep in the lounge chairs beside the pool for about a half hour until it was light enough to see and then the desk clerk let us check into our room early and didn’t charge us for the night that we didn’t sleep there, so it felt like getting 2 days for the price of 1. Yea! When we were wandering around the town we ate breakfast with bacon. Our island, Java, is mostly Muslim and so there is no pork. Bali is mostly Hindu, so cows are sacred. And we had pizza too.

The plan Andy and I had was to spend the first day in Ubud, and do some shopping away from the big tourist areas. We went to the Sacred Monkey Forest. I had a banana inside a plastic bag in my purse. When I took it out a little monkey jumped on my neck. My first thought was, “Please don’t bite me, I don’t want to take the rest of the rabies shots.” And my second thought was, “I hope Andy is getting a picture of this monkey attacking me.” When I talked to Andy he told me his reaction was, “Oh no, I have to think of a way to get that monkey off Colleen.” As it turns out, I dropped the banana and the monkey jumped off, didn’t bite me, but didn’t get the banana either, because a bigger monkey came and scared him away. The Sacred Monkey Forest is an awesome place with carved dragon bridges and steep canyons with streams at the bottom and rock temples carved into cliffs. And Monkeys. Lots of monkeys. It started raining and we walked under a little shelter with some other tourists and some monkeys. One man had a stick and shook it at a slightly aggressive big monkey and the monkey came over and bit his finger. Yikes, Andy and I figured it was safer to just get wet than hang out with that group of monkeys!

We joined the other Peace Corps volunteers at a charming little hotel where Sarah had rented 4 bungalows for the 16 of us to share. Almost every morning I got up before dawn and walked to the beach, just 5 minutes away and sat on the sand and watched the waves and walked along the tops of the cliffs overlooking the ocean and one day I followed the Google earth map in my brain to try to find the McDonalds, After a while I got hungry and bought some ice cream and decided I’d better head back to meet the group for breakfast. On the way I found an abandoned McDonalds French fry wrapper. So I figure I was close!

The Flowerbud Bungalows didn’t have electric lights. Every night there would be 3 kerosene lanterns on the porch and we would hang them in our little cottage. The bathroom was outside. It had steep walls, so no one could look in, and a great little shower to rinse off the salty sand from the beach. And fresh fluffy towels rolled up with flowers stuck in the end. Sarah and I slept upstairs in a room with no glass windows, but wooden panels that you could close if it started to storm. Our beds all had mosquito nets and it felt like a secure little nest with a view of the ocean and the cliffs below.

I got an impressive amount of sea shells. When I took them to give away as little gifts to the other teachers in my school, someone suggested that I just give them to the biology teacher. So I did. Oh well, people at home, never appreciated all my shell collection efforts either. Sometimes we went swimming in the ocean and a few times I walked and swam past the big cliffs to the secret beach where I laid in the shade and let the waves just roll me around on the sandy shore.

One night I went clubbing till 3:00 am. I danced my heart out, mostly with Gio and Sarah at a Reggae bar, where I was really glad that I didn’t drink alcohol because that left me with more money to buy presents. It was fun bringing back 20 presents and just letting whoever wanted one, take it. I kept out a few to share with my Indonesian family and the co-teachers and a few special teachers, but once you make up your mind that the things are no longer yours, it’s fun to see who wants what. Now this clubbing thing is a little out of character for me. I’m 62 now, officially that’s old enough for social security and I can’t remember going clubbing “ever.” It wasn’t called clubbing when I was younger. But I had a blast. It was great to just hang with my buddies and sing karaoke and wander from place to place and dance like nobody cares. I really liked the dancing part. At one point Bart told me I sure was polite to the guy who just offered me drugs. I said, “Drugs? I thought he was offering me a motorcycle ride.” Oh well. It was strange to be with so many white people and I was with the first group of 6 who were ready to call it quits for the night and riding home with Scott and Maggie and reviewing how far our lives had come in the 6 months since we started this Indonesian adventure.

I was the first one to leave the group and the taxi driver spent about an hour telling me why the trees are our brothers and if we cut them down there will be mudslides and people will die. And if we respect the trees and the animals like our family, then we create harmony in the world. If we try to dominate them then we invite in the anger and that is why Bali is so peaceful. Because almost everyone knows that stealing and being angry are not good for your spirit.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Birthday - More!

My friends had a surprise birthday party for me! People from the church and people from the town came over with cake and presents! Then the fireworks in the sky continued till 4:00 am. Now I'm heading out the door on my Bali adventure!

Ramadan 13 - My Birthday

The fasting is done. The feasting has begun. Outside there are 5 or 6 different loudspeakers that I can hear from the mosques. All of them are broadcasting children singing / praying Allah….Allah….. Allah. There are firecrackers and the sky is filled with shooting fireworks in 20 different directions that I can see from my upstairs porch.

One of my co-teachers had me give out my cell phone number to the smartest kids I teach - 11th graders that are studying the science track and the ones with the best scores on the entrance exam got put into a class together. So I have been receiving birthday greetings and happy idul fitri greetings since 1:00 this morning. Actually I got up at 3:00 for the last meal of the fasting so it didn't matter. Here's what I have recieved-

gOod mOrning Oma.

Happy bridy Oma.. YOU is the best.

It's is nice feeling when u know that someone likes u, someone thinks about u, someone needs u, but it feels much better when u know that someone never ever forgets u'r birthday. May Almightys best blessings shwered on u'r HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

(note - Assalamualakum is Arabic for Thanks Be To God.)

hAPpY B'DAY Oma, I HOPE u happy IN OUR SCHOOL yea, I'm very happy have teacher as Oma, Oyea, Have a Nice Trip to Bali OMa, toMOrrow, From Student of Science 3

Today, As we humble ourself, forgetting our arrogance defeating our head. As we were occupied motionless at the front of the window of u’r heart, waiting for u’r forgiveness to open for us. Holy hold Ied 1431 - from Henra Gnawan n family

And from my Peace Corps buddies:

Sami - Happy birthday Colleen! Can't wait to see you.

Maggie - Good morning my beautiful Colleen! Happy birthday - i still remember when Sept 9 seemed so far away when we were in junrejo, and soon enough every muslim in the world will be celebrating on your birthday :-) can't wait to see you in a few days. Miss you!

Diana - Happy birthday Colleen! Hope 62 is even better than 61! See you soon!

Scott – Happy Birthday Colleen. Muslims all over Indonesia and the world are celebrating today, for good reason! Hope all is well. (And he gave me a CD of music – to be opened today!)

And lots and lots more – I just stopped writing them down.

And from the US Embassy in Jakarta - Sep 9, 2010– Amcits (American citizens) are advised that there may be anti American, possibly disruptive, demonstrations to mark an announced Koran burning on Sept 11 in Florida. We again remind Amcits to exercise prudence and continue to take active, personal responsibility for their security. We suggest that Amcits monitor news reports, follow the instructions of Indonesian authorities and avoid demonstrations. We remind Amcits that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. Amcits are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.

From our Peace Corps security – more of the same – basically don’t get into a fight about the cost of a cab ride, your life isn’t worth it. Remember, it may be something you did, or said, or the way you dressed that made a person feel that you have offended them.

And my family here, my Ibu-mama and host dad and my sister who just graduated from nursing school sang Happy Birthday to me and gave me a beautiful black and gold piece of fabric with fringes. She told me I could use it when I take a bath. I have no idea if she means that – it’s too beautiful to use as a towel! They had a little teddy bear paper out of a notebook tucked inside and I could read (mostly) what they had written to me:

To Oma Happy Birthday, we wish you long life and health always. From family here. Happy repeat year!

This morning I went to the big market - tons of dead chickens and fish and vegetables and clothes and shoes and everything in the world you could possible want - our market is gigantic! It started raining so I was staying inside visiting at lots of shops that I have just walked by, but since there was nothing else to do, I just started talking with different shop keepers. I had a blast. I actually was looking for a type of snack that they make here out of peanuts and sesame seeds and sugar from coconuts. It comes in flat little squares and it tastes like cracker jacks. I want to take some to Bali with me to give to my friends. I think of them as Indonesian Energy bars. I know where I can buy them at a super market type place, but I wanted to see if they were less at the big market. People were fascinated with the idea: "What do Americans think is a great snack." and several people helped me find someone who had some but he wanted too much money for them - who knows, maybe he buys them from the supermarket too!

And then I got to talk to 2 of my 3 children in America!

For my birthday dinner I had all my favorites – hot noodle soup, cold French fries, hot white rice, a cold fried chicken leg, a cold fried egg, tomatoes, lettuce and watermelon. My ibu-mama knows what I like!

Okay, I’m going back out on the porch in the night air and watch the rest of the fireworks and listen to the kids chanting. I think they are saying Allah akbar. God is Great!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I wrote this before Ramadan so it's not the brainchild of my food and liquid starved brain. (1 day, 1 hour and 7 minutes left of fasting.) It's not intended to be offensive to anyone. I respect and value the Indonesian way of doing things. I hope Indonesians who read this blog realize that. I'm interested in more discussions about this topic. The purpose of this post is to challenge your regular way of looking at things. I wrote it after the one day I spent singing English songs at the pre-school near my house.


This is a battle that I’m choosing not to fight. It’s so prevalent that I’m trying to look at it from a “different culture” perspective.

During national tests I sat beside teachers who were grading the tests. I sat there for hours. The teachers compared the answer key and counted up the errors, but just glancing at it myself, I would say there were some tests where more than 50% of the answers weren’t correct. And every student got between 70 and 95.

I watched them mark all the yearly scores into several different record books and once again every student got between 70 and 95 on every single test given during the year. In some subjects the range was 75-95.

My principal has given the same speech 4 times: twice to the teachers, once to a group of parents and once when he addresses the whole student body. It’s about the criteria for minimal competency. This is very important to him.

This week I received a pamphlet of teacher papers. Page 1 - the schedule for the year. (It’s already changed.) Page 2 -the list of which teachers are teaching which classes when. (That’s changed too.) Page 3 - the Kreteria Ketuntansan Minimal. All 4 varieties of Religion class KKM is 75, Civics 75, Bahasa Indonesia 75, History, 75, Sports 75, Technology Information 75, Mulok (whatever that is) 75. All the rest: English, Arabic, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Sociology, Geography – the minimal competency is 70.

What I take this to mean is that we must give students the minimal competency grade. An alternate way of thinking is that we must teach so that the students understand and test out at 70 (or 75%).

In my school last year, only 2 boys did not pass (naik) to the next class. The teacher with the final say, after all was argued, about shoes and families and attendance was the religion teacher. If they were respectful and could say some of the prayers, they passed with the remedial requirement.

During national testing students would “sneakily” or not so sneakily ask each other for answers. In one test they asked the teacher and she told them the answer. In some classes the teachers looked the other way. During most tests the teacher was reading a magazine and didn’t care.

In the PC booklet “A Few Minor Adjustments” it talks about Accepting Host Country Behavior. The steps are: You become aware of your own cultural assumptions and values. You accept the reality of your own cultural conditioning. And you accept the reality of the cultural conditioning of others and although you don’t have
“Wholehearted acceptance of the local cultural norms, you start to see the host culture in a genuinely different light” and “change your own behavior.”

Okay. Here’s my justification for what I see going on.

It’s like speeding in the States. We all know there has to be some big law that keeps idiots from driving like maniacs and killing all the children, so we passively agree that speed limits are an okay idea. But do we follow the speed limit – No. I personally know of a few old ladies who never drive over the speed limit, but almost everyone drives a few mph over. Now, when we see a cop, do we slow down, Hell yes! Who wants to get a ticket! We know we’re doing “wrong” but we’re not going to permanently modify our behavior, just change it enough so we don’t get caught.

What I can figure out is that Indonesia is a “collective” society. At the pre-school where I’m a volunteer; even the 4 year olds can stand a uniform distance away from each other and march into the classroom. When it’s time to get your colored pencils, every kid takes out his individual box and opens it so that the pencils are half way out of the carton but not spilling all over the table. In America the pre-school workbooks give the kids choices about does the egg go with the chicken or with the cow? Here the dashed lines are drawn to the right animal. The kids draw in over top of the lines. It’s designed so that every kid succeeds.

Maybe it’s the same in High School. Is the system designed so that every kid succeeds? This week when the HS students teamed up and introduced each other, the teacher graded each group. Everyone got between 70 and 95. (Actually the ones I thought did an outstanding job were no more likely to get the highest scores than the ones who could barely squeak out “This is my friend, Putri.”)

I know not every student who wanted to come to my Madrasah got in, but what if all those scores are arbitrary!

If the goal of a society is to produce outstanding individuals, then competition and individual recognition are important. If the goal of the society is to produce a cohesive group who pretty much all think alike and dress alike and accept group standards then there’s not much of an incentive to reward an outstanding individual.

Students helping each other on tests may be a way for the whole group to achieve a higher standard. If group loyalty is more important than individual achievement, why wouldn’t you help your neighbor?

Because it’s wrong! (Maybe that’s my cultural conditioning.) They know its wrong that’s why they are sneaky. (Maybe. But all of us do a lot of sneaky things. It’s kind of the nature of being human.)

The day the announcement was made as to which students “naik” (move up) a kid and his dad came into the teacher room. The parent had the written report but couldn’t read it. He asked the homeroom teacher if his kid passed. His kid looked to me like what we call a special needs kid in the States. When the teacher told the parent and the kid that he had “naiked” you could feel the joy in the room.

What’s wrong with letting the less than competent kids pass the tests and the grade? What’s wrong with helping them, letting their friends help them and doing everything you can to make them like everyone else?

The outstanding ones float to the top anyway. I can already identify the smart kids and the natural leaders.

Two years of me telling them it’s wrong to cheat is not going to change their minds. I’ve decided not to battle this one. Every one in my classes will achieve the minimum standard. I may have a conversation with the teachers or the students about this, but right now my Bahasa sure isn’t good enough.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ramadan 12 - Things I Like and Don't Like

Many volunteer have written their list of the top 100 things they love about Indonesia. You can read all about the fascinating adventures of my friends here by going to Peace Corps Journals and look under Indonesia. I thought I would make a list of things which have been on 2 of my lists: Things I DON’T like about Indonesia and Things I LIKE about Indonesia. For something to qualify for this summary it had to personally drive me nuts and also at some point come to be something that I enjoy.

Things that have made both lists: LIKE and DON’T LIKE

1. Shrimp tails. When I was in Pre Service Training Maggie would always let me eat her shrimp shells. They’re cooked and crunchy and really yummy and because we had no access to vitamins for the first 5 months or so, I thought they were a really good source of calcium. Now, I sit at the table and look at their little beady eyes and antennas and all those legs and I have to close my eyes and think happy thoughts in order to get them down.
2. Firecrackers. I didn’t like it the first time I was out walking and someone drove by on a motorcycle and threw a lit firecracker at my feet. At first I thought it was a cigarette butt. Then it exploded. When I looked at the faces of the people around me they were watching to see how I would react. I started laughing. They started laughing. Now I don’t mind the little pranksters.
3. I love you. As I’m out strolling in my village, often 20 and 30 year old males will yell out, “I love you.” after I have walked past. I really don’t like being yelled at and being the object of affection of someone who is showing off to his friends and it used to feel kind of creepy. Now when ever I hear it, I turn and smile and yell back, “Thank you, Good English!”
4. Worms in the mandi bath water. They are about ½ inch long and look like threads. Maybe they’re pin worms. The mandi water is the clean water that I bathe with and use to clean myself with after going to the bathroom. Then I remembered, “What’s worse than biting into an apple and seeing a worm?” Answer, “Seeing half a worm.” Every worm outside is not a worm inside of me and I now brush my teeth in bottled water and keep my mouth closed when I take a splash bath.
5. Text messages. Oh my gosh! Sometimes I would just hand my phone over to one of my Peace Corps buddies to text back a response. It just took me so long to hunt and peck out an answer and the printing on the phone is so small I can hardly see it. Now, it’s like, okay, no problem. It’s hard to remember the resentment I had about all the technology, it’s just so handy.
6. Long meetings with Indonesian speakers. Because I still understand so little, it can be painful, but now I play a little game I really like. I try to listen to the meaning beyond the words. Is he just talking to himself? Does he care about the audience? How is the audience responding to him? What about the body language of the people around me? And sometimes I have my dictionary and look up a word every now and then.
7. Horns honking. My usual pattern is that I walk for 2 and a half hours a day. That’s a lot of time on the streets and alleys and path ways of Indonesia. Cars and motorcycles honk when they pass you. It used to scare me. Why are they honking at me? Good grief, you can see me from far away. I’m like a giant flag pole dressed in orange with white hair, why do you have to honk at me? Now, it’s often accompanied with a, “Hello, Oma!” And even it it’s not, I know they’re just warning me they’re going past so I don’t accidentally step in front of them at the wrong moment.
8. Mosquito nets. They’re hot. They limit the amount of air that can flow around your body. They’re a pain when you have to get up and pee a lot because during thefasting month, the only time you can drink water is when it’s dark. Then I looked up and saw some brown spots on top of my mosquito net. It’s keeping all the little house lizard poop off of me!
9. Loudspeaker prayers. Sometimes they are really loud. Like it’s hard to sleep or even read a book – loud! But at 5:32 pm I listen for that melody – Al … Lah…Ak Bar – I don’t know what they really are singing it sounds like, “Thanks be to God, it’s time to eat.” to my hungry ears. I love that music!
10. Walking with my 84 year old friend. She’s really slow. When she sees me she grabs on to my arm and for the next 20 – 30 minutes we’re arm in arm going where ever she’s going. I like to walk fast. But those 20 – 30 minutes are pure joy. She knows about the same limited vocabulary in Indonesian as I do. (Her first language is Javanese.) So I can often understand what she is saying and she loves to talk. And she doesn’t ask questions. That’s a big plus. We usually visit her friends and she tells all of them that I’m Dutch!
11. When my host father calls me “Baby.” He absolutely doesn’t understand the slightly sexual overtone. He’s just beaming from ear to ear because he remembered English and used in the way he thinks is right. I just smile back at him.
12. Forgetting things. After I practice saying something 20 or 30 times you’d think I’d remember it. This used to drive me nuts. Now I think, “Oh well, maybe those brain cells need to be dedicated to something else that’s helping me survive.” I just giggle.
13. Not being smart. This is along the same lines, but slightly different. When I was a student I was the smart kid in class. By the time I reached college, I no longer got any thrill out of being Class President, but I still liked the role, “smart kid.” We all chose different roles for ourselves. I was the good, smart girl. In Pre Service Training I found out that I’m no longer the smart kid in class. Now I think, “Hee, hee, I don’t have to be smart. I can be anything I want to be.” Sometimes I’m wise. Sometimes I’m just plain clueless. It’s kind of fun to try out different options.
14. Kids cheating on tests. At first I thought, “This is wrong.” for a zillion different reasons. Now I look at it like, “Oh, look at how people in this culture help their neighbors.” I wrote an article for our “volunteers only” blog site. I may post it so people can see where they fall on this issue.
15. The smell of the cow poop next door when it rains. For obvious reasons, most being that it often rains in the afternoon when I’m sitting on the porch waiting to hear the call to prayer / dinner and I’m really hungry. Now it brings back memories of when I would drive buses cross country and just before I got to the terminal in Corona, California, the freeway went past the stockyards in Norco. And I think, “I’m almost home, in 10 minutes I can get out of this bus and stretch my legs and sit in an air conditioned office.” It’s strange. The smells are intense here and so are the flashbacks.
16. Oh my God! Very religious people say this all the time. The first time I heard it I considered correcting the sweet teenager who said it and telling her that’s it’s not really a polite social thing to say. Now I know people are just acknowledging God’s presence in their lives. When they hear this saying in an American movie, they think we are making a spiritual connection!
17. Malaria medicine dreams. I had one where I was eating my dead grandmother’s brain! Okay, all dreams are weird, but I swear there is something in this medicine that makes you tons more emotional and it comes out in your dreams. My daughter thinks it’s just the regular Peace Corps stress I’m under. (Katrina, I really do value your opinions even if we disagree. Smile.) I used to dread the wake up in the middle of the night, holy cow, what’s just happened to me feeling. My current attitude is, “Wow, I sure am gagging down a lot of stuff I don’t want to eat, or maybe I’m connecting to my grandmother in some beyond visceral way. Whatever.” And I don’t want to take the other medicine which requires a daily dose rather than the weekly mefloquine pills. And its okay, we all got tested to make sure our livers are good, because at the end of Peace Corps we all need to take some other medicine which flushes out all the stuff that we’re now taking. Or maybe it kills the malaria that this medicine is just suppressing. I forgot. (Oops, I forgot. Giggle!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ramadan 11 - عيد مبارك

In Insonesian: Mohon maaf lahir dan batin. (Beg Sorry Born And Interior)

Forgive my sins, both those of the world and those within me. I’m sorry if I’ve sinned against you in the past year whether through commission or omission.

عيد مباركIn Arabic
Which is pronounced: Mean Al Eye Jean Wall Fa Eee Jean

I just cut and pasted that from Diana's Peace Corps blog - it just looks so cool and her translation is so great!

My family has had me practicing saying this in Arabic and Indonesian for the past 3 days. It's important that I get this saying right. I may use it several hundred times during the next few days. When the fasting month is over (in 2 days 13 hours and 35 minutes) people gather with their families and friends and neighbors and eat and ask each other for forgiveness. They wear their new best clothes and give small amounts of money to little kids. I'll be with my current - 2 year family that first night celebrating my birthday. And something secret is planned. That much I can figure out. Some one apologized to me for breaking the surprise. But they said it in the Javanese language so I didn't get it anyway. There is a forgiveness ritual which begins with the oldest person present - which is why when you meet people one of the first things they ask is how old you are.

Then the next morning I leave at 4:30am to catch the train. I have food and presents to take to my first family at my training village where I will take the hands of everyone in my family, beginning with my host father and then my mother and then proceeding down in age and lift the hand and press it to my check or forehead while asking for forgiveness for all the mistakes that I have made.

And let's face it - I, Oma Colleen, have personally committed sins, both the kind that the world saw (Like sitting and crossing my legs and letting the bottoms of my feet face someone and handing something with my left hand and probably a zillion other things that I was and am still clueless about) and the kind within me. (Impatience, anger, frustration, greed, well, probably everything except lust - well, I guess a little lust too.) And I can see that it's useful to say "I’m sorry if I’ve sinned against you in the past year whether through commission or omission."

This 2 days holiday - Idul Fitri - and the week before and after is the biggest and longest school break time. It's kind of like Christmas and Thanksgiving and Confession all rolled up into one giant celebration after starving and thristing yourself for a month. (I don't think thirsting is a real word, but it fits.)

It saddens me to read that there is a church in America that wants to use this time to publicly protest Islam and has discussed burning the Qur'an, the Muslim bible. I think I'll include in my heart asking for forgiveness for the sins that other people also commit.

It's only this illusion of separateness. We really are all the same stuff. All the same oxygen and carbon and hydrogen. All our lives began when stars were being born. We'll all recycle into something else. This little blink of time while I've shown up as this particular woman is just a teeny speck of who I am. Am I really a drop of water distinctly different from other drops of water? We're all a part of this river of life.

Okay, I gotta get ready to go. My Ibu-Mama and I are catching a bus and going 2 hours away to do some serious shopping. I can hear the gate in my courtyard being opened. I need to take a mandi bath and get dressed in town clothes and put on my money pouch. My family specifically told me last night, "No backpack, keep your money tucked inside your clothes." Oh, yea, I guess that's another sin I committed this past year.

Love and hugs, Colleen

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ramadan 10 – Sharing Shoes

Before I joined the Peace Corps and came to Indonesia I gave away everything I owned. I set up a trust fund for my children and put the rental house on 20 acres in the National Forest in New Mexico in that account. My savings account and checking account are a part of what we call the “Family Fund.” My children borrow money from the fund and then repay it. So far, it has financed the purchase of several homes. My brother and my daughter have Power of Attorney and really, it’s not mine any more. I gave my car to my son. I saved 2 Rubbermaid boxes of winter clothes and some camping equipment and gave everything else away. All the photos went to my kids. The antique furniture went to their houses and they had their pick of anything else. All the rest was taken to places where people could pick through it and take what they want for free. Some big things I put on a free Craig’s List and people came and picked them up.

So what I arrived here with is pretty much all I have in life. My plan when I return to the States is to get a little RV and travel, so I really don’t need any of those possessions. And spiritually it felt like the right thing to do. So with that as an introduction let me say both that the few things I have are precious and that once you give away everything, it’s not so hard to continue giving away more.

My host dad likes my shoes. My daughter gave me these Keens for Christmas. They are awesome sneaker like shoes that you don’t have to lace up; you just pull the little tab. In my Indonesian family we keep all our sandals outside the front door, but shoes are placed on a little shelf just inside the entry way. (In Indonesia, you always take off your shoes and walk barefoot when you go into someone’s house.) When my friend, Corky, sent me an extra large pair of American flip flops he wanted them right away. Any time I get a package from home I have 2 options: open it in front of people (the teachers or the family) and let them pick out what they want or sneak it up to my room, pick out a few things that I totally don’t want to share and then share the rest. I don’t have a set pattern, but a lot of what gets sent is shared with other people. Okay, back to the shoes. I like these shoes. I have to wear black flats to school every day and I do walks in my sandals but I wear these shoes for long hikes and I plan to take these shoes back to America. He asked if he could wear my shoes. I told him “Yes, but I like these shoes.” I did not pick them up and offer them to him with 2 hands held together like you do when you offer a gift. I said, “Okay, you can wear them, but I get to wear them too.”

I’m leaving for Bali next week. The beaches in Bali are a $3 train ride, $2 ferry ride and a couple of $2 bus rides away. I think. It takes 18 hours to get there. I think. Anyway, I’m excited. I will spend the night with my first family in my training village, here on the island of Java and then meet up with Andy, my adopted son from pre-service training. (Smile. We already know that when we hike and take buses together that people think we are mother and son so we’re going to just go with the flow. And all 17 of the other volunteers age 22-26 are some version of friend / sister / brother / son / daughter. In some ways they are more mature than I am, but I have the old lady costume for skin.) Then we’ll travel to Bali; spend 2 nights near the Monkey Forest, then 4 nights near the beach in some rental cottages with 16 of the 18 Peace Corps volunteers. I forgot to mention the day before I leave is my birthday! And that’s the day that the month long fasting ends! The whole Islamic world will be feasting for 2 days! Can you imagine any more fun way to turn 62 years old!

So I may blog my little heart out this week because we have no more school and next week, no computer. I’ll be lounging around in Paradise on my well earned Peace Corps financed vacation. Every month of work entitles me to $24 and 2 days off! Now, all of you back home don’t be getting too jealous. You too can sign up for Peace Corps and get your own vacation pay! Of course, this means that this vacation will be little on the “not so extravagant” side, but what the heck – Bali!