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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Popcorn Surprise

Thanksgiving Eve

I ate my first cockroach yesterday. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I had skipped lunch and arrived home with a sealed bag of popcorn. I had to return to school in 2 hours so I decided to just lay on my bed and read a National Geographic and eat popcorn. As I was absent mindedly munching away I noticed a texture that wasn’t popcorn. I looked inside the popcorn bag. There was one half of a cockroach covered in ants. I spit the mouthful of chewed up popcorn and the other half of the cockroach into my hand, walked outside and threw it away. Then I washed my hand and took some bottled water in my mouth and rinsed it out several times. Then I ate one of the little packets of M&M’s peanuts Halloween candy that my grandchildren had sent me to fully get rid of the cockroach taste.

Then I took a mandi bucket bath and got dressed to return to school for “Reading of the Qur’an” to celebrate my school’s 15th birthday. Earlier in the day I had received an official letter from the Principal, with his official seal and his signature and my copy had my name on it, stating that this event would be from 4pm till 7pm. I arrived at 4pm and was the first person there. Around 4:15 the custodial staff arrived and I helped them sweep and pick up trash. Then I sat on the steps outside the room where the Principal and some men teachers were reading the Qur’an (in Arabic) into a microphone. At 5:00 some women teachers arrived so I followed them. They went to the covered picnic table area next to our canteen and began assembling snack boxes. First you fold the decorative cardboard box, then you line it with brown paper waxed on one side, then you add a measured scoop of about a cup of white rice, one piece of fried semi barbeque flavored chicken, one slice of cucumber, one lettuce leaf with a sprig of basil, add one 1” by 2” little plastic baggie of sambal hot sauce, cover with another piece of brown paper and put a crupik – (fish / shrimp paste homemade cracker) on top, close the box, put it into a plastic bag and knot it and stack them 3 high. All this is done by the women and children in an assembly line type fashion, but if you get bored with folding and inserting tabs to make boxes, you can scoop rice or add cucumbers or help at whatever stage in the process there seems to be a bottleneck or do whatever your friend is doing so you can be near her and gab. I think we made about 200 boxes. Then we went to an area under a big (150 feet by 50 ft.) tent that had outdoor carpeting. We took our shoes off so we could walk on the outdoor carpet and all the women sat together at the far end. The men who had begun the initial reading of the Qur’an arrived and were joined by more men. We each received a little pamphlet in Arabic and the official welcoming and recognizing everyone was beginning. I stayed for the first half hour but by then it was 7pm and I was hungry. I had thrown away the rest of the popcorn and cockroach snack, so I told the women next to me that I was going home. One other woman had already left with her small child. They jumped up and handed me one of the meal boxes and a snack box with 2 kinds of cake and sweet rice. I put them in my backpack and began the 20 minute walk in the dark to my home. I stopped and bought a piece of chicken that I like better than the barbeque kind, ate that, gave my two boxes to my Ibu-mama and went to sleep.

Thanksgiving Day

I woke up at 3am. That’s a little early, even for me. Usually I wait till I hear the loudspeaker prayers that begin around 3:30am. But I’ve got some itchiness and sometimes I wake up and can’t fall asleep. It’s either some bugs biting me or scabies, which is little mites that burrow into your skin and lay eggs. It’s their fecal matter that people are allergic to and you usually wake up at night with a big urge to scratch. Yesterday, before I ate the popcorn I had bought a can of bug spray and my plan was to fumigate my room today and seal it up for several hours. I called my sons and left a Happy Thanksgiving message on their cell phones. That’s one great thing about Indonesian time – 3 am is 3pm in Texas, or maybe Boston now that it’s daylight savings time. Any way I wasn’t sure which time zone my traveling children were in anyway. I sealed up the room, did the big bug spray thing and went to school dressed in my fanciest outfit.

Because, I know you shouldn’t start a new paragraph with “because.” But, I kind of like to be naughty… because today is a very special day at my school! I had been asked to sing a song for 1000 people! We were having a Happy 15th Birthday Party for my school.

When I arrived I said “Happy Thanksgiving” to all my teacher friends and lots of my student friends. I was given a schedule of events and there at 1:00pm, was Oma Colleen. Okay. We began at 7am with prayers by selected speakers then a full assembly reading of the Qur’an. Then a sweet little old man who looks like he’s in his 70’s, who has seen me before and is head of the birthday celebration committee started to speak. He loves to sprinkle English into his speech and referred to me maybe 5 or 6 times. Most of the time what he said about me wasn’t true. Example: “Oma says you must discipline.” Or “Oma says “Money is time.” Every time he used my name I nodded and smiled. When he was done and came back and sat directly in front of me I told him, “Thank you, very much.” I really do appreciate that he uses some English. He’s an inspiration to the students. The student groups singing religious songs for several hours were really great! When the mayor of our county started into his second half hour, I excused myself and went to the bathroom. I came back to join in the clapping when he was finished.

Then the student announcers were saying my name and something else. I glanced at my cell phone clock. It was only 10:30. They motioned me forward. I walked up on the 3 foot elevated stage with 10 microphones and the announcers left. The piano player who practiced twice with me during the week, started playing the music. And I said, in Indonesian to the students: “I need your help.” And it was clear I really did! I started on the stage but then took the microphone into the audience and all 579 of my students and the other 300 students who have heard us sing this song many times and the 50 teachers and the 50 – 100 honored guests all joined me in “It’s a Small World After All.” It was fun.

The students at my school have amazing talent. This past week we have had volley ball tournaments and soccer tournaments and art tournaments where student groups compete with turning trash into art work. We’ve also had Arabic singing tournaments and drama contests and rock groups. Our best groups did a karate- dance routine and ice chopping demo and played the best rock music in Indonesia. Kids were dancing by the stage. Then the teachers took over and sang love ballads to each other, which the kids loved. Our men teachers did a really good job with a drum / guitar number too. We finished the day by unveiling a banner proclaiming that our school has a new name! We are now the Something, Something, Something Beautiful Campus of the Madrasah National Islamic School in Wlingi. We had a birthday cake with candles and the principal blew them all out during an amazing rain / thunder storm that did NOT knock the power out. I counted 22 speakers about 4 feet high. When I say, we PARTY, we party LOUD. My school is adjacent to rail road tracks and I have to tell you that we were LOTS louder than the train today.

At 2pm it was raining so hard the teacher in charge went up on stage and said we should call it quits. I ran back to the teacher lounge, put on my poncho, and walked the 20 minutes home in the rain. Inside my room the kill was good – dead flies, mosquitoes and a few of my less than tasty friends. I ate another bag of popcorn because once again I didn’t get any lunch. First I poured it into a Tupperware bowl that my Returned Peace Corps Volunteer daughter had said would be a good thing to bring with me to Indonesia. She was right. I could clearly see there were no cockroaches in this batch. I ate it all and now I’m waiting for my Thanksgiving Dinner.

I just got some texts from my fellow PC buddies.
Gio: “Well, eating thanksgiving dinner alone officially sucks! :- / How’d everyone elses day go? I want turkey and family…def going out 2 buy ice cream tonight!
Erika: Happy Thanksgiving guys. If you pretend REALLY hard, you can make your rice taste like turkey! No, really, try it:)

For the record, I had fried rice, a fried egg, lettuce leaves, tomato slice and semi pickled / fermented cucumber chunks. I ate alone, like I usually do. I pictured my family sitting in the 5 other chairs around the table with me and I tried to make the rice taste like turkey. I thought about the things that I’m grateful for: having a family, even if they are far away; having food to eat; having a place to sleep and having good friends who understand that we gave up a lot to come here.

On Saturday I am going to go to the US Consul General’s home 6 hours away and eat a turkey dinner with Americans, spend the night at the Peace Corps hotel, which may be where I picked up the crawling/burrowing bugs, then return to my site. I’m grateful I have this life in Indonesia.


  1. Hi Colleen,
    I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I have followed your blog from the very beginning. I have found your writings informative and inspirational. I admire the way you accept new and unusual experiences. I also admire the honesty in your writing. Your blog was the sole reason I signed up for a google account (so I could post comments)

    I am an ESL teacher in Memphis TN and have a wife who comes from your neighboring country of Malaysia. As such I have been to the region often and many of your stories bring back some great memories. My wife is Iban (native tribe of Borneo) and comes from the town of Kuching. Reading your posts about animal slaughtering and the bugs really makes me smile.

    Thanks for sharing your experience of a lifetime with us!

    Your loyal reader,

  2. Oh my gosh, Jason. I am thrilled that you wrote. Please feel free to email me - I would love to hear your ESL (and life) experiences too! How did you ever find this blog?