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Friday, January 28, 2011

Love Letters that can melt your heart

(These two friends wrote for the English Contest. The rules are: You must write in English. You can write stories, poems, love letters or anything that you want as long as it is in English. NO COPYING.)

Hello Oma Collin…..

My name is Dwi Lestari. I usully to call Dwi. I am seventeen years old. I live in Bence – G_____. My hobby is reading and swimming. I am scool in MAN W____ right in class eleven sains (science) three.

There are I have a Teacher. She is from in Amerika Seidat. (United states of America) She is very beautiful, clever, good and friendly. Her name is Omma Collin. She to teach in MAN W_____ without the salary. She sincere with what her given for me.

She is teacher enormous ever I know. Every day she always spirt (spirit) deer teach her student. So only to make we spirt for study English.

Do you know Oma…..

Since you teach in MAN W______ excellent in my class eleven three I so spirt for study English. You many introduce till circumstance – circumstance the new for my live. (You tell me about many things I have not experienced.) Many Eksperience I pluck from every lesson in you given. You lesson me singing, eksprecion in forward class (speaking in front of the class) And you always tell me about circumstance the extract for my live. (life)

Thany you Oma…. I am it’s very-very love you….goodness and honesty you can’t ever forget me.

I (heart) U Oma.

For "Oma" Collent

Hello Oma!!! My name is Ulum Chotipah! Usually friends call me Ulum. I am sixteen years old. I am senior High School from MA Negeri W_________, specially XI Science 3.

Oma do you know? Iam very happy can school in MA Negeri W________ because I can study English language with you. Maybe I don't school in MAN W_________,, I not meet and / not study English with you. since you teach in my class I am became spirit for study English language. I am very sure study English with you will better.

Oma, although your old, your spirit fitting our imitate such as young generation. I am very happy, in this class we just not study English but also we can tell our experience. I hope you be patient that teach English.

Oma, I love you. Many experience that you tell I will remember it!

(picture of 3 layer cake with candles.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Teachers Play Games and Learn English

On of my jobs at school is to teach an English Class for teachers. This is always a crazy fun adventure. In the middle of the day on Wednesdays most of the teachers have a free period while the students attend English Club or Journalism Club or Sewing Club or French Club. I think my school also has an Arabic Club and a Math Club. Sometimes community members teach the students in the “Clubs” so there can be 20 to 40 teachers and maybe 10 staff members who are there. The school principal and vice principal have asked me to teach them English. On alternate Wednesdays there is a Muslim man who comes and talks to them about Allah and being good Muslims.

Well, let me make that a little clearer – this is their FREE time so the teachers are in the teacher room: chatting, grading papers, planning lessons, etc and my job is to engage them in learning some English. The class gets cancelled for all kinds of reasons. So far I have taught: 1. How to read English on snacks, 2. Basic Introductions and 3.English words to use in the classroom.

Yesterday the lesson was “4. Giving Directions.” The objective was to get them to use “Turn right, turn left, go straight, across from, near, far, up, down” and some other words so they could give me directions in English so I could come visit them. Many teachers have asked me to come to their house. Not one could tell me where they lived.

I had prepared a hand out of a copied map showing an Indonesian community with a mosque, train station, market, etc. On it I had written key words and phrases in both Indonesian and English. As part of our training, we PCV’s have been taught that all lesson plans are supposed to have “Motivation, Presentation, Practice and Production.”

For Motivation I took a packet of money, (about $4.00 worth of Indonesian bills) put it on a desk, walked to the opposite side of the room and put a blindfold on and had the teachers tell me in English how to get to the money. I really couldn’t see and wound up banging into desks and walls as they attempted to give me directions.

Then I took the blindfold off, and spread the money out all over the room: on top of desks, on the floor, taped to columns, sticking out of books, etc. I told Eka who is the youngest male teacher that if he could find the money he could have it. Then I put the blindfold on him and asked him to spin around and told the teachers they could only speak English.

What craziness! Some of the other teacher puts coins on top of desks and had poor Eka work like crazy to find a penny. One teacher stuck a large bill under a gooey plastic bag. One teacher would walk over and move the money whenever Eka got close. They did use English, but as they got excited they would forget which was right and which was left.

After Eka found a lot of money, he took the blindfold off and said – “Now, girl teacher.” And all the teachers persuaded little Nanik into putting on the billfold.

I have no idea if the teachers found all the money or they all learned any English, or if they will do the “homework” and draw a map and write English directions to their house, but they all participated in an alternate teaching method to “Open your books and learn what is on page 61.” And I had fun! And that’s my criteria for a good lesson; make it fun enough that I (Oma Colleen) want to show up again tomorrow. Selfish, but it works for me, if I have fun, the kids and the teachers can tell and they are attracted to what I am offering.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My average weekend

On Fridays I get out of school early. All classes end at 11:20 because it’s the day of the week when Muslim men go to the mosque for (approx.) noon prayers. I just checked my school calendar which lists the exact prayer time for every day of the year. They now are at 11:45. They range from 11:18 in October to 11:48 in February. Usually the teachers and I wait around till all the men go to the mosque just to see if there will be any announcements. But today I was at school at 5:25 am and I’m hungry so I leave right away. I say goodbye to each female teachers and clasp her right hand in both of mine then let go and bring my right hand up to my heart. To the men, I just say goodbye in English or Indonesian or “See you on Monday.” to the teachers who are trying to learn a little more English.

Today is the first day I have worn my new teacher uniform. It took the tailor woman a month to get it made, but it is so worth it. I totally blend in. The shirt is a green, purple, blue and white print that maybe looks like the ocean or a field of shredded wildflowers. It has a little Neru collar that covers up my neck and it’s so long that it goes past my wrists and covers down to the bottom of my butt just like it’s supposed it. The black shirt is fairly form fitting polyester with a slit up the back. The seamstress specifically made that slit longer so I could take normal size steps. I can’t. I have to roll it up at the waist several times to bring the bottom – which touches the top of my shoes a few inches off the floor so I can have enough mobility to walk home. Also I wear a white jilbab with this outfit. About 15 people stopped today to tell me how beautiful I look in the traditional jilbab and the full "cover every inch of your self" outfit.

As I pass the crossing guard shack I lean inside and say goodbye to the guard. He likes to talk to me. I have no clue what he’s saying.

As I go around the corner to the next road, I take the jilbab off. It’s so hot. I fold it and put it in my backpack.

On the 20 minute walk home I pass the house where my 84 year old friend stops and chats with me. Her 7 year old granddaughter always runs away like I am some strange white giant out of a scary fairy tale. As I walk past the shacks where the food sellers have set up their stalls to sell meals to people, my friend Wati grabs me and pulls me inside. She wants me to have a free drink of something with her so I sit for a few minutes but I tell her I need to go home. When I walk past the hospital, my favorite parking attendant yells, “Good Morning, Doctor.” I smile and wave. At the place where the construction guys are building a new house I see there are twice as many workers today and some of them are pointing me out to the new ones. I say “Mongo” (Javanese) and wave at them too.

When I walk down the little alley to my house I can see there is a lot of water on the dirt. The pipes at Dr. Rina’s house keep spewing water into the alley. I walk past the house that processes chickens and see that 2 of their 6 cats are sitting in the sun watching the fish in their fish pond. At my house the gate is locked, so I ring the bell. My host father has been changing the chime sound. This time it says “Assalamuallicum” (Aribic prayer.) He unlocks the house and unlocks the gate and I walk inside and head upstairs and take off my hot clothes and put on shorts that cover my knees and a T shirt.

My ibu-mama calls out that lunch is ready and I go down to the dining room, lift up the plastic fly cover and see that it is vegetable soup, a fried fish (warm) and a fried egg (cold) and a plate with lettuce, cabbage, 2 tomato slices and 2 cucumber slices. And diet coke in a glass with ice. She leaves the coke open so all the bad bubbles will get out of there and she makes her own ice in plastic bags so I’m careful to strain it through my teeth so I don’t get any plastic in my throat. Also there is a pear that I take up to my room and set on my desk for later. When I’m finished eating I wash my dishes and walk through the house to find that my Ibu-mama is in the other kitchen cooking some more food. I tell her “Thank you. It was delicious.” Then I head up the stairs and lay on the bed and listen to the sounds of music blasting from loud speakers a block away. There is a wedding. People block off the road and set up a big tent and play loud music for 3 days. After 20 or 30 minutes I write out a list of things I need to buy and walk out of the house heading for the school supply store. When I’m there I find exactly what I want – a small white board that I can hold on my lap and write on when I am teaching outside to my small classes. I am thrilled. I also buy some red ribbon because I’m thinking I might do something for the teachers for Valentine’s Day. They loved the paper snowflakes.

I walk the 30 minutes home and open up my computer and re-read what I’ve written for our first semester evaluation that has to go to Peace Corps national. Because I teach 15 different classes I have to list each one individually and tell how many boys and how many girl students and how many have made improvements in several different categories. Also I list English club for students and English club for Teachers and The English Camp (campout) and The English Contest project that I’ve had. I have to evaluate my integration level into the community and my language assessment and tell about my challenges and success and lots of other stuff. I had written for several hours and saved it to my desktop and then found out that it had disappeared. I called the Peace Corps IT super hero and we tried a sample of saving it to a flash disk instead. That worked! So I check my numbers to make sure that boys and girls totals add up to the total number in each class and change some of my answers and finally push the send button and send it off to my Peace Corps supervisors. I eat the pear and throw the core off the balcony across the alley into the pen where the geese and ducks are.

Now it’s 5:00pm and time for a mandi bath. I take another set of clothes downstairs to the bathroom and dip water out of the bucket and pour it on me and wash and put on my 5th set of clothes for the day – nightgown, taking a walk clothes, school clothes, different walk around town clothes, post mandi-bath clean clothes. Around 6:00 my host dad calls out “Oma, eat.” And I go down stairs and have dinner, do the dishes, pause to say thank you to host mother, watch a few minutes of Indonesian TV, then head back upstairs. I feel like vegging out, so I play sudoku puzzles in a little book I have - Mensa Absolutely Nasty Sudoku- I can only get about ¼ of them but I figure I may improve over the next 2 years.

At 8:00 I’m tired. When I go to the bathroom I stop in the living room where my host parents are still watching TV and tell them “Good night.” It’s hot but not unbearable. I open the window a few inches, crawl in my bed under the mosquito net and fall asleep.

Saturday morning I wake up when I hear the call to prayer on the loudspeakers – 3:57 am. I lay in bed for a little bit, then get up, dressed and I’m outside walking at 4:30 am. It’s still dark and Mr. Muhl, the homeless man who sleeps on Dr. Rina’s back porch is asleep on the bench with his motorcycle helmet on. I walk quietly past him and go to the gate at the alley. It’s already open. The people who come to get the chicken from the chicken processors next door have already been down the alley.

I walk in the darkness, not looking at the steams and ditches at the places where I know people will be using them as bathrooms – giving them a little visual privacy. Most of the rural homes in East Java do not have bathrooms. Before it’s even daylight several people call out, “Oma.” I can’t even see well enough to recognize if someone is a man or a woman, how the heck do they know it’s me? I go past the open air traditional market where everything in the world is for sale but most people are buying food from farmers.

At 5:35 I’m home, take a mandi-bath, dress in school clothes, eat breakfast and walk to school. Today I’m there at 6:10 and I’m the 2nd teacher to show up. Yesterday we started the early classes for grades 11 and 12. 15 teachers are paid extra to show up at what the schedule says is 5:30 but my host dad explains that is “rubber time.” I go to the extra English class for 11th graders who are taking the science track – generally the smarter kids. I walk in, say the Arabic greeting prayer and teach the whole class (no books yet, so we have a discussion about why anyone would want to study English.) I pass out the colored markers and the students have to write one sentence on the board about English. English is hard. English is international language. English is fun. I like Oma English. I like to read English. I not like speak English. Etc. I let them write anything, as long as it’s in English. Around 6:30, the regular teacher shows up. This is what I have been waiting for. This is why I come to school early on Fridays and Saturdays. I get to have some personal time with just a few students. In both my early morning classes, there are 6 students who signed up for English Club, so when the regular teacher shows up I have them bring their chairs and come outside with me and we sit in a circle and I talk to them. Because I teach 15 different classes with 40 students an average of 50 minutes a week, I don’t get to know any of them well. I know very few names. So I love this special time with just a few students. We are working with a set of cards that are for kids age 5 -7 but are just right for my students. Simply understanding the instructions is hard for them. I put the little white board on my lap and write out any thing that I think is confusing. It’s much easier for them to understand something written than it is to understand something spoken.

At 7:00am (approx.) the bell rings and we begin regular classes for the day. My main objective on Saturdays is to find out what my two team teachers want to cover in classes next week. Over the course of the morning we have several conversations and I develop a tentative lesson plan with each teacher. The printer in the teacher room is broken, so I write the lessons up on my computer, put the pages to be printed on my thumb drive and go into the office and wait for the staff to have time to print out my papers. Then I take the originals to the co-op at school where there is a copy machine and if the electricity is working I wait, sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes a half hour, till it’s my turn – I don’t let students push ahead of me – and they will if you’re not paying attention – I talk to the copy guy and tell him how many copies I need of each paper. I pay for them out of my Peace Corps “pocket money” $4 a day – that’s what we get to live on after we pay our host families for food. I use my money for school supplies, usually one meal a day at school, snacks, transportation, clothing, internet access, and everything else I need.

Around noon on Saturdays I head home. Okay, I’m bored writing all this down. You don’t have to read this. Saturday afternoon it’s raining so I don’t walk to town. I study a little Indonesian from my Peace Corps text books, read my email – yea, my modum is strong enough to get a good a signal today and read the past month’s worth of blogs that my fellow volunteers have written. Same routine.. Take a mandi bath before dinner. Watch the chicken people deliver 30 live chickens to the house next door - they are sold by weight. By 4:30 the next morning they will all be slaughtered, spun in a centerfuge like thing to get the feathers off, hacked into random pieces and put into plastic bags. I go downstairs when my family says “Oma, eat.” Thank them for the food. Go to bed at 8pm.

Sunday morning I’m up and out the door at 4:30am. I walk around the neighborhood, going to the place where there are just terraced rice fields and no houses. I pass an old woman who grabs my arm and wants to talk and won’t let go. I smile and talk with her for several minutes then press cheeks with her while we both sniff. We’re both smiling when she releases me and I continue on my way. Sunday mornings are the “walking time.” There are lots of teenagers out on the streets. I usually speak to them in English. I speak Javanese to older people and with young families with babies I speak Indonesian. The older people had to study Indonesian in school, so they know a little but they feel a lot more comfortable in Javanese. (I just know a few greetings. I can’t carry on a conversation.)

I’m back home in time for the twice a day mandi bath (You stand up, get a scoopful of water, pour it on you, lather up, rinse off, dry off fast before the humidity gets you sweaty again and put on clean clothes) Then I go to church from 6am – 8am. I love it. We sing Onward Christian Soldiers in Indonesian and a song about Praise Allah, Alleluia. God, Father and Allah are used interchangeably. A family with a little baby who can crawl but not yet walk sits next to me. She likes to grab hold of my purse and try to eat it. I bring my English Bible which I got from Erika – thank you, Erika! And my dictionary and my contribution envelope and my extra money for the collection bag, my cell phone and my glasses so I can read the dictionary and the Bible. When church is done I shake hands with everyone, walk home and eat breakfast.

Then I do laundry. This takes several hours, washing, rinsing, hanging out the clothes on the balcony and ironing the things from last time. I take the sheets off my bed and wash them almost every week – it helps to keep the itchy stuff off my skin. We have a semi automatic washing machine. I dump in bucketsful of water and there is a mechanism that spins them around. Around 1:00 I run out and bring all the not yet dry things inside because it’s started to rain again. Just a little bit this time.

I get my fanny pack and my umbrella and head out to town to buy the things on the list that I wasn’t able to get last time. I’m almost at the first store when it starts to pour. I run down the street and into the shop. I take my time buying folders to hold papers , a pencil case, a little eraser and some black clips to hold papers together. When the rain lets up a little I go across the street and try to buy some regular flavor potato chips. No luck. There is chicken flavor, beef flavor, BBQ flavor, seaweed flavor and cheese flavor. I buy the cheese flavor, I haven’t eaten them yet.

On the way home I pass a family where I often stop and chat. They are butchering a pig! Wow, I didn’t know they were Christian. The father is slitting and washing out the intestines.

As I go past, I see that the streams are full to overflowing. All the trash that gets dumped in the streams and creeks and rivers is all flowing out to the ocean today. I stop by a new computer store and they have a protector sheet of plastic for my keyboard – the last item on my list. Yea! On the way home I stop and pick an orange and red flower from a bush by the side of the road. The flowers are like the purple verbena that grow on my land in the mountains in New Mexico. I put it in a little 3 inch high green bottle that I found washed up with the sea shells on my vacation. I’m looking at it right now. It’s in front of the box that holds all my envelopes and pencils and pens and the little hand held fan that I use when it’s too hot and the power is off. I have a picture of my kids taken when my son got married and a picture of the Dali Lama on the front of the box.

It’s Sunday evening. For dinner I had white rice, a 1 inch cube of beef, a hard boiled egg and some totally yummy tofu and cabbage in a hot peanut sauce, a plate of lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes and cucumber slices, the same bowl of spicy vegetable soup from 3 days ago and a glass of water.

It’s raining really hard outside. It’s 7:15 and I need to get my stuff organized for school tomorrow, figure out what clothes and jilbab, make sure I have my dictionary, then brush and floss my teeth so I can crash at 8:00 and get up at 4:00am. Welcome to my average weekend.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Safety and Security

All the volunteers in Indonesia just got a text message from the country director that tomorrow night 20/20 will air a segment about Peace Corps Safety and Security. The text said to contact him or the assistant director if we had any questions and that safety & security is the single most important priority of the Agency. I thought I’d give you my viewpoint on this issue.

While my daughter was serving in Peace Corps in Malawi one of her fellow volunteers died. She had been drinking and went swimming in a lake with two friends who couldn’t save her when she was far from shore.

Before I arrived in Indonesia I had read that 10 years ago hundreds of elderly people were killed in East Java because they were “witches.” I brought this up in our training sessions and frankly was not impressed with the answers they gave. Maybe they didn’t want to alarm the other volunteers; maybe they thought I was being dramatic. I don’t know. Peace Corps did not seem to even know about the incident of a human head being paraded in the town where our training was being held. They mentioned that there was political and civil unrest and that we would be immune from all of that. I wasn’t convinced.

However, it now seems to me that they were right. I am strange, white, tall and have long gray hair, but that doesn’t fit the description of “witches” in Indonesia. I feel well protected and loved by my neighbors and the people at my school. It is a little distressing that people really do believe in witches but that’s the culture here.

We have an emergency action plan that goes into place if there is civil unrest or a natural disaster. The few times when people have demonstrated against the United States, we were warned in advance where the demonstrations would be and were told to avoid those areas.

The main danger I see is being killed by a vehicle. The roads here are narrow enough to qualify as “one way streets” in America, but here the traffic goes both ways because mostly people ride motorcycles. The line that is sometimes painted down the middle of the road is merely a suggestion. When I walk along the road, I am very careful to step into the weeds whenever I hear a honk. Then I look to see if it is someone I know. Often it is just someone warning me that they are driving past me. As far as I can tell cars, buses and trucks have the right of way over pedestrians and bicycles because they are bigger! I want to definitely be off the road when a truck and a bus pass each other.

I have felt in danger a few times. Once was on the boat to the private island off Lombok. The sea was really rough and sometimes we were in the middle of 5 foot high waves of water. Our little fishing boat had about 10 inches of clearance from regular water level to the edge of the boat. I put my life jacket on. Peace Corps Indonesia requires all volunteers to have life jackets when they are in boats. Some volunteers don’t bring them. They are bulky and awkward. I strap mine around the outside of my backpack and this was the first time I actually ever put it on. I figured even if I died people would say, “She died doing what she loved.” And it would be true.

Peace Corps medical requested that we keep a little card with us that contain emergency phone numbers and addresses. I have a little laminated card on the back of my cell phone and I try to keep a spare one in my pocket most of the time. When the seas got rough I practiced saying in Indonesia the 2 phone numbers that I have memorized – our Indonesia security officer and our Indonesian doctor. Memorizing the numbers was also was a suggestion from Peace Corps staff.

During our pre-service training we had a session on sexual assault in Indonesia. We were told that usually it is not reported and that the standard procedure is that the girl must marry the man who raped her! Of course, we as Americans would receive the best of care, blah, blah, blah. My mind couldn’t take in the rest – usually the girls family makes her marry the man who raped her! I know that being older is not a guarantee of freedom from sexual assault, but it helps. I have never felt threatened or intimidated by a man here. When construction workers yell, “I love you.” I smile or sometimes say, “Great English.” It’s often one of the few phrases they know.

I have been in 3 earth quakes that were serious enough for the family that I am living with to check and make sure I was okay and nothing got broken. I live a few miles away from a volcano that is on the “active” list and sometimes gets upgraded to “more likely to explode.”

I was robbed but I didn’t know it at the time. A man standing behind me on the bus opened my backpack and took out my wallet. I’m a lot more cautious now. I lock my backpack with a little flexible lock and I keep my money in a canvas money pouch on a string around my neck and inside my clothes.

Once I was on a bus that felt totally unsafe. The driver was driving erratically. He was passing cars when there barely was enough room. If I was going to a far city, I would have gotten out and caught the next bus. That time I took my chances and prayed and put an imaginary plastic bubble of safety around all of us. I may not be a witch, but that doesn’t stop me from trying a few magic tricks of my own and asking for spiritual assistance!

We were told that last year a third of the volunteers in Cambodia had come down with Dengue Fever. We have been supplied with mosquito nets and ceramic water filters. We’ve taken 3 pre-rabies shots so that if we get bitten by a rabid animal we only need a few more. Rabies is fatal.

Sometimes sanitation is a problem. In a country with no toilet paper, what can you expect? But I signed up knowing that this might be like it was when I lived in rural Appalachia. Or the years I lived in the mountains with an outhouse. It’s not so bad. My facilities here are much better than they’ve been at other times in my life.

I walk by myself in rural places while it’s still dark because it’s the only cool time of the day and I don’t feel afraid. There really are a lot of community members that I greet most every day and they may not know exactly where I live but they know I’m a teacher at the Madrasah and they would help me if I had any problems.

I remember in Jakarta when we were warned that sidewalks sometimes have 3 or 4 foot holes in them. It’s so common now that I don’t even notice. Sidewalks are often built over the sewer system and the access holes cave in. Very few people walk anyway, so I guess they don’t need to repair them.

Once some fellow volunteers were literally taken for a ride by a taxi. They called our Peace Corps security officer and he told the cab driver to take them where they needed to go and even helped the guy who may have been lost or just thought the volunteers would pay the extra money if he drove them around a lot. I don’t know. Wawan, our security officer is awesome.

And I’d trust our medical officer, Dr. Leonard, with my life. There are only certain hospitals that meet international standards and those are the ones we’d be sent to if we needed care – or they’d send us to Thailand or back to the States if it was really serious.

We have a lot of safety rules: World wide Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to ride motorcycles because they are so dangerous. If we ride a bicycle, we have to wear a helmet – which Peace Corps provided. We get free sunscreen and mosquito repellant and vitamins and band aids, all kinds of misc. medicine and condoms. And we get instructions on how to use all the above mentioned items!

One of my friends, Phil in Arizona told me that when I return to the States it will probably be too boring because it’s like I’m in a battle zone here. Bugs, exotic diseases, crazy bus drivers, a few drunken tourists with fireworks…. yeah, it’s a little different. But I don’t think very many people here have guns and there are a lot fewer cars. Sometimes it’s hard to step outside your comfort zone, but that’s where the rewards are the greatest. Safety and security – I don’t know. Life doesn’t come with guarantees. I am doing what I love and I feel supported by Peace Corps safety and security policies. I’m curious about the 20/20 program. If someone watches it, please tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Private Island

This is what paradise is made of: sunshine and beaches and palm trees, swinging in a hammock on your own personal porch 5 feet from the ocean waves, waking up at dawn and taking a half hour walk around the edge of the island hunting for the perfect sea shells that washed up on the shore during the night, finding shells so big you can only carry one at a time back to your little bungalow on stilts.

It’s called Gili Nanggu, Lombok, Indonesia To get there you take a fishing boat from the harbor for a half hour ride to the sea turtle sanctuary island. There is a protected holding area where the eggs are buried in sand and several tanks where mini sea turtles swim for a year under the protective care of the staff.

The snorkeling is awesome. At first I wanted a partner – I mean it’s the ocean and it’s big and who knows what is swimming out there. By the second day I was content to cruise by myself over the coral beds, looking 3 or 4 feet down into a living aquarium. I would hold my hands out and wiggle them and little fish would come up to my fingertips. I counted over 50 in view at one time. Neon green and fluorescent blue, pink ones and black and white stripped ones, angle fish and nemo fish. Occasionally bigger fish, like the kind we ate for dinner would swim by in schools. And all this just 20 feet from the shore with gentle waves and no current.

On the main Lombok island I bought a pearl pendant, bracelet, earrings and ring – all for $10. I had shopped at the fancy stores and I didn’t care if the pearls were slightly misshapen, so I bargained with a woman on the beach.

If this sounds like an ad for coming to Indonesia – it is! $25 a night to rent the bungalow, meals about $5 each, free breakfast – what more could you want! Just take a flight to Bali, then a fast boat to Lombok and you are on your way to bliss.

So, to all my family and friends who are looking out their windows at snow – come visit me and share in my paradise. Check it out on the internet.


New Years Eve

I think I will remember when 2010 became 2011. To be honest I have to tell you that I remember very few New Years Eve’s mostly because I usually go to bed early – why wait till midnight – it’s already New Years someplace in the world.

This year was different. I was on vacation in Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia. In backpacker circles, Gili Trawangan is know as the party island. It’s small, you can walk around the perimeter in an hour or two. And there are no motorcycles or cars or trucks. You can rent bicycles or ride in little carts behind horses. It’s borders are all beaches perfect for snorkeling. It’s an hour boat ride away from the main Lombok island. I had arrived there 2 days before. Angela and I had completed the 3 day overnight English Camp with our schools and had headed off on our 8 day vacation. We met up with Luke and Noel, Erika and Gio and we saw Agnes, who is the volunteer support person in the PC office. We were staying at a home stay – several rooms that a local person rents out. Each room had a bathroom but the water was salty, so you never really felt like you could get clean. An interesting invention was a sink with running (salty) water but no drain pipe so you could wash your hands and feet at the same time. The beds did have mosquito nets and they turned on the generator in the evening so there would be lights and the ceiling fan would work.

Every day we would get up and walk around, do some shopping, some laying on the beach, some snorkeling and find food. There was an excellent Mexican food place and a breakfast café that had great bread.

On New Year’s Eve we walked to the sea turtle sanctuary next to the ocean. There were several hundred baby sea turtles swimming in 3 big pens. The sanctuary had a roof and we all sat on the steps and looked out at the fireworks lighting the sky across the bay on the main Lombok island.

Then we went to an Irish bar where the music was loud and the tables and chairs were on a little deck over the ocean. The rocks and the surf were about 5 feet below us. Some guys were shooting off fireworks from the beach and the rocks. Heavy duty, commercial fireworks – the kind that go hundreds of feet up into the air and then blast into a big fire ball with sparkling lights on the ends. I saw a guy shoot off a big tube with 6 of these loaded into it, then it stopped and he looked inside to see why. Totally unsafe. I really enjoy watching fireworks but I don’t like the danger. My brother’s best friend’s little brother died in his mother’s arms after a fireworks accident. Another guy started lighting off more of the giant display type fireworks and then he dropped it and it started shooting in the direction where we were standing. I felt sparks on my legs. There were so many people, you couldn’t move out of the way. Some big Indonesians who looked liked bouncers came over and then there weren’t any more fireworks in the trees. You could still look out and see them on different parts of the beach and across the water on other islands.

Then it started to rain, a lot! People stopped walking in the street and crowded into the bars. It was packed, body to body with everybody dancing. By 1:30 I was cold and my feet were tired of being stepped on. I had danced till my feet hurt and was ready to head home. Angela came with me and we stepped out into a knee deep flood of water that we walked for about a half hour till we got to our home stay “hotel.” I had my sister Pinky’s chaco sandals so I was able to navigate pretty well. Angela had her shoes on and kept trying to go barefoot, but the rocky road was a little rough under all that water.

English Camp

We spent three days and two nights at an all English speaking campout! I had fun. The students had to repeat the phrase: “Enjoy the game, catch the knowledge. Okay.” It was accompanied with special hand signals.

Sixteen students from my school came with me and a few teachers to the English Campout at the Madrasah (Islamic High School) where another Peace Corps volunteer teaches. Angela’s school had sponsored this event for their 11th grade students for several years, but this year they invited my school to participate too.

The students set up their tents (8 kids to a tent) on the grassy area where school assemblies are held. Some groups had brought their own cooking and washing equipment. They decorated their tents with pictures of the President of Indonesia and multicolored banners. They brought their costumes for the English drama contest. They brought their guitars and drums for the English talent competition.

One evening Angela showed the beginning of the movie, “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” then she stopped the action and the students wrote their own ending to the story.

One night we had a huge bonfire. It began with fireworks fired from the 4 directions and was complete with a flaming ball on a wire that was designed to carry the fire to the giant pile of kerosene soaked logs. As the fire roared, I was invited to throw little baggies of kerosene at the fire and admire the resulting fire spectacular. Angela and I sang and taught the kids “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

The 12th graders, who had attended the camp last year, were in charge of all the activities, including a neighborhood navigating adventure where the students made up poems in English and each small group marched with English instructions and answered questions like: I have sharp teeth, I have a long tail, and I live in swamps, what am I?

I helped judge the speech contest. The students had memorized 10 minutes of English literature or any speech that they liked.

They woke up at 4:00am for the prayers that begin the day and then had calisthenics and breakfast. The other students at the Madrasah were attending classes on Islam teachings. The ones at the English Camp had a full schedule of activities. I really liked the drama competition where the boy groups put on plays where they portrayed women and the girl groups put on plays where some of them had mustaches and swords. I was exhausted long before they were when the program ended at 10:00 or 11:00 each evening.

There was a vocabulary race. The different tents competed with each other in finding all the words in different categories – “jobs” or “animals” or “tools” or “fruits.” There were hundreds of laminated words in cardboard boxes and the students had to pick out a word and then race to another table where the words were checked for accuracy.

Here’s the schedule for one day:
4.00 – 4.30 Pray Subuh
4.30 – 5.30 Gymnastic
5:30 – 6.30 Break and Breakfast
6.30 -7.00 Prepare To Exploration
7.00 – 12.00 Exploration
12.00 – 12.30 Pray Dhuhur
12.30 -13.00 Happy Lunch
13.00 – 14.00 Drama
14.00 – 16.30 Games
16.30 – 17.00 Pray Ashar
17.00 – 17.30 Break
17.30 – 18.15 Pray Maghrib and Kultum
18.15 – 19.00 Great Dinner
19.00 – 19.15 Pray Isya’
19.15 – 23.00 Fire Camp and Art Performance
23.00 – 4.00 Fly to Dreamland

I had brought a stack of English magazines and activity books for the students to enjoy in their spare time. I have to say I was ready for vacation by the end of this wonderful experience.