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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day

Thank you, Bart, for the photo. It’s from an Islamic magazine.

Last week I had an idea that I would give each of the 54 teachers in my school a little snack for Valentine’s Day. I began making little hearts with the saying “Happy Valentine’s Day” to attach to each one. Several teachers saw me doing this and there was an agitated discussion in Javanese. I can speak beginner Indonesian, but I only know basic greetings in the local language. When people want to include me in the conversation, they speak in Indonesian. When they are just chatting with each other or they want to exclude me, they speak Javanese.

Two days later, my co-teacher timidly said to me, “Actually, Oma, there is something I must tell you.” This was very unusual and I gave her my full attention. She said, “I am so sorry, Oma, but Muslims are forbidden to share Valentine’s Day.” I asked her if it would be wrong for me to give a snack with a little heart attached and she said, “Yes, actually, we are forbidden to accept it.”

I immediately sent out a text message to my fellow volunteers with a heads up that at my Islamic High School, Muslims aren’t allowed to accept a small snack with a heart attached for Valentine’s Day.

On Sunday, at Church, I saw the words written in English “Happy Valentine’s Day” so I figured I could leave my snacks at the church / pre-school.

I woke up early on Monday, February 14th and called my daughter in the States. It was perfect timing, Sunday afternoon at her home and she was just putting her children down for a nap. My heart filled to the brim as my grandchildren said, “I love you.” And gave me kisses into the phone. My daughter said that Peace Corps should warn us in advance about possible social blunders like Valentine’s Day. I explained that it’s just part of the process of being in the first group of volunteers in a new country.

I dropped off my Valentine’s Day snacks at the little pre-school / church on the corner and went to school. At school there was a flag ceremony and assembly and I listened to a half hour speech about why Valentine’s Day is not a part of Islam. I was told that at some schools there was a raid to confiscate any Valentine’s Day cards or hearts or candy that students might want to give to each other. At another volunteer’s site, they were having a co-ed sleep over at the school because the next day, Feb. 15th, is the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday!

I have been hunting for a new place to live. My current family told me that they are spending more than what I give them on food and they want more money. This may be true, I have no idea what food costs and they make me wonderful food. I offered to eat less meat and expensive fruits and vegetables but that was not the solution they wanted. Peace Corps said that I should not give them more money. The vice principal of my school went to visit my family and he decided that the school would not give them more money. He said the problem was cultural, that they just want to give me the best of everything. I eat alone and my food is set out under a plastic fly cover. Sometimes I can not eat everything and if I don’t eat it for breakfast, it’s there for me to eat for lunch or dinner or breakfast the next day. So I started eating just half my meal and saving the rest for the next meal. My vice principal told me that I should eat all my food.

There was another discussion with Peace Corps concerning the money that the local police station is taking every three months to “register” me. The Peace Corps person in charge of safety and security visted my local police and they all agreed that I no longer need to be “registered” but did not admit to taking any “administration fees” I asked Sukmawan, my hero, the Safety and Security Officer for Peace Corps to tell my host father that he doesn’t need to go to the police station any more.

My host father had a stoke several years ago and I don’t know what behavior is normal Javanese behavior, what behavior is just his personality and what behavior would be attributed to possible brain damage from the stroke.

After the discussion, Sukmawan told me that I absolutely need to find a new place to live. He then called my vice principal to tell him also.

My vice principal told me to look around and find a new place to live and that I should wait until I found the new place to tell my current family. So I have been asking people that I meet on the street if they know of a boarding house that has an available room and I made an announcement to the 70 students in my English Club that I was looking for a new home.

Anyway, on Monday, Valentine’s Day, my vice principal asked me to accompany him to look at a nearby house. Another teacher went with us because it is a few blocks from her home. It seems fine. This family was also concerned because they don’t always cook meals and they eat the food from previous meals and they don’t have a refrigerator. I explained that I am not a raja (a queen) and that if there was no food I would eat “outside” at the school canteen or the little shops set up along the street, that sell many different foods.

We agreed and hooray! On the 1st of the month, my vice principal will help me bring my things in his car to my new house.

On Valentine’s Day after school I went to my local school supply place and got some more colored paper for a lesson on giving compliments and they charged me half of what they did last time! Most places do not have prices on the things for sale and bargaining is one of my least favorite things about Indonesia but I love it when I feel like I get a good deal!

That evening I told my host family that I would move to a new house on the 1st of the month. They said they wanted to go to Kalimantan, the different island where one of their daughters and her family is living.

I will probably never know the reasoning behind all this. Did my family want me to move out so they could go to Kalimantan? Did they ask for more money because it is a part of the Indonesian bargaining system? Was I actually eating too much expensive food? Do Muslims at my school think that Valentine’s Day = Free Sex? Do they not like Valentine’s Day because it is Catholic? Is it wrong to say I love you?

I may be culturally inappropriate but I’ll say it anyway. Thank you to my family and friends and people who read my blog. I appreciate your love, support, interest and concern. I love you.

Oma Colleen

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