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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Clubfoot Chick and Duck Smackdown

My new host family has 6 baby chickens. They started out living in a cardboard box in the kitchen. Every night my host father dangles a light bulb into the box. My ibu-mama said that helps them keep quiet at night. It’s true. They are so cute. By the end of the day they are exhausted and just stick out their necks and fall asleep under the light bulb or half way lying in the little wooden box my host dad made that holds their baby chicken food. (It looks like sawdust.)

We also have some 2-3 week old chicks that have graduated to life outside in the yard. One of them has a club foot. He (she?) can’t walk very well and just drags the foot around. The other chicks – there are 10 in this combined liter (What do you call a batch of chicken eggs that hatch?) from previous cardboard boxes – run after each other and peck at stuff in the dirt. They still eat the special baby chick food that my host family buys in the market.

Our big chickens live in a walled off section behind the house. We give them the leftover rice each day. About once a week one of them becomes our dinner/breakfast/lunch. My ibu-mama likes to boil them first and then fry them. Every person eats a small piece of chicken for each meal and generally the whole chicken is eaten in a few days.

When we have chicken I eat about a 1 inch cube (with bones) at each meal until it’s gone. Our other protein sources are fish, eggs, tofu and tempe. An inch cube or sometimes two is about average for a meal.

There is also one large chicken in the yard. When I asked my host father “Why?” he told me that she will lay eggs soon. I asked if they lay an egg every day and he said, “No, every month.” Obviously there are some language difficulties with this conversation but I just chalk a lot of this up to “Oh well, there are lots of things I will never really know.”

I asked about the clubfoot baby and my host mother said that baby chickens don’t taste good. They don’t have much meat. She said they are waiting till it gets bigger and then…. “dead” and she used a cutting motion at her throat.

On a slightly different side note: there is a small outside food stall near my school that sells Bebek (duck) Smackdown. I’ve always been curious about it. How does one “smack down” a duck? What does Duck Smackdown taste like?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Peace Corps Trainees & Graduation Day at my school

Krystal and Nicole, new Peace Corps Trainees, came to my school and we got to teach together and attend graduation.
We also went swimming and I got to show them around my town. It was fun. My students wanted to know if they were married and if they knew Justin Bieber!
The headmaster of my school attended one of our classes so he got to see us in action.
Nicole and Krystal were wonderful teachers! Today they get their permanent site assignments... somewhere in East Java. I wish them all the best!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Testing Time

I resist testing. It just seems so pointless. Last month was the national exam for seniors so all high schools here shut down for a week.

A week ago my co-teachers announced that we would begin semester tests and yearly tests and district tests so that means there will be no more teaching for the rest of this year. I made up 2 exams for each grade level, then scrambled the questions so that kids sitting at the same desk don’t wind up with the questions in the same order. Then I gave my co-teachers the master copies so they could get them reproduced. I pay for my own copies for the students but often the “real teachers” get money from individual classroom funds and quite honestly I hate testing so much I wasn’t about to fork over my tiny subsistence allowance ($4/day) to pay for copies of tests.

This past week when I asked what we are doing in each class the co-teachers said that they had already administered the tests I made up and I needed to teach them something! I only see my students for 1 or 2 class periods each week, so I really don’t know what’s going on for the 2 or 3 English class periods when I’m not there. I had some review questions prepared so that’s what I taught.

Then on Saturday one of my co-teachers gleefully announced that we would be going over tests all this week so that we were “free.” I wasn’t polite. I just turned and walked away. I come all the way from America, giving up 27 months of my life to teach English and I just can’t get into the cultural adaptation that a “good” day is a day when we have a good excuse not to teach.

The actual testing is painful. Normally I join a teacher and watch the kids do “cooperative testing.” But this past week I supervised some classes on my own. The sample national tests that we’re using were way too hard. I had just finished grading some of them and the scores were 20 – 55%. The smartest kids got only 55% right on a multiple choice test! (With the “help your neighbor” philosophy in full force!) The teachers don’t seem to care. I get the feeling that students are supposed to do horrible on the first round of tests so that the teacher can lecture them about studying harder! Never mind that the teachers themselves can’t come with the right answers or that some of the questions are worded so poorly that even I can’t come up with a correct answer – or on some questions it seems to me that several answers are correct!

The “remedy” (remedial test) is that the teacher gives the kids the same test as a “take home exam.” Because there aren’t enough copies, she gives the test to one student in each class. I assume that the kids will just pass around an answer sheet and each copy that with their name on it so they really don’t individually need tests anyway but maybe this is also something that the class fund takes care of. Maybe.

The “minimal standard” at my school is 75%. That means that every student has to achieve that level of competency. Testing is a way to document that our students are achieving the minimal competency. Ultimately every student will be given a score between 75 and 95.

It’s a system that encourages corruption. The scores mean nothing. There is a kind of end of the year frenzy at my school. The teachers are positively gleeful that they don’t need to teach any more and the kids are on “test mode.”

I watched one boy sit and talk to his neighbors for a full 40 minutes and not write down one answer. His obvious strategy was to wait till the end and get the answers from his friends. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I brought him up and sat him down beside me. I read each question to him, slowly pointing at each word and then asked him which on the 5 answers could be correct. I translated a little – this teacher allows the kids to have dictionaries. He actually was able to figure out several questions, and I could tell he was surprised. When I sent him back to sit in his real desk, so I could work with another kid and he again chose to just talk to his friends. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out!

I’ve tried to understand the cultural benefit of cheating. Hypothetically, if the kids cheat a lot and everyone in the class achieves the minimal competency, then the teachers don’t have to cheat when they grade the exams.

I’m not saying that the teachers or the students at my school cheat. I don’t want to jeopardize the standing of my school. Any Indonesians who are reading this blog should know that all this is all an assumption. I think my school is about the same as every school in Indonesia.

I’m trying to look at what is happening and tell myself that all is well in the world and things are exactly the way they are supposed to be.

I wonder if all our western values of “individual achievement” are a little on the crazy side too. Maybe it IS better if the group as a whole succeeds.

Okay, this is a stretch, but maybe the survival of our species is dependent on us acting more like bees or ants and putting the common good before our individual good.

Maybe I just individually need to learn patience and deep breathing and this is a chance for me to grow into the much better person that I’m invited to be.

End of semester vacation is scheduled to start Monday June 27th. That means I have 5 weeks of pre-tests, (called try outs), real tests, post-tests, grading and report making! It’s a little testing of my commitment to hang in there and feel the breeze in the midst of the heat wave.

Some things I am truly thankful for:
This week two new Peace Corps Trainees will come visit my site and spend 2 nights at my home!
My extension cord that provides power to the little fan on my desk quit totally last week (I've taken it apart and rebuilt it 4 or 5 times)and I was able to get a new bigger, better one made at the electrical store!
One of my co-teachers loaned me some traditional clothes: kabaya – long tight shirt and lacey, flowery long sleeve top so I can wear the appropriate thing (with a jilbab of course) to our grade 12 graduation ceremony!
We have new baby chicks in the yard and in box in the kitchen at night! (It's okay, Dr. Leo, I'm very cautious about bird flu and don't go close.)
I found a secret spot down a narrow path where 2 rivers join and sometimes I go there on my morning walks!
The smell of diesel in little butter tubs under the feet of the dining room table truly doesn’t bother me as much as it used to! (And it really does keep the ants off the table!)
And I’ve come to love that cold splash of water on my hot body twice a day when I wash all my cares and my sweat down the drain!

I keep telling myself this is just a test. In the event of a real emergency I will be given instructions on where to go and what to do!

There’s a little gecko crawling on the floor near my toes.

Love you guys, Colleen

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day to Me!

Here’s my new grandson – Arlo Stephen Young. He’s a week old now and my son says that he already has a really great personality. “He’s optimistic, but realistic at the same time.” David and Anna are thrilled to be his parents and I am pleased to show him off to the world.

I'm sitting in my bedroom at my desk, drinking some herbal tea that my daughter sent and thinking this is a really good Mother's Day. I may be far from my children and grandchildren but with all the pictures in my room I see their faces all around me.

The night before Mother’s Day a neighbor came to my house and gave me a 3 hour massage for $3.00! Actually it was only supposed to last for 2 hours but I think it takes her longer to do my bigger body. Indo. massages are a little different. My host mother put a 4 inch thick mattress on the floor in front of the TV and turned it down low and she and my neighbor talked while my body was gently and not so gently kneaded and pulled. It ended up with her walking on my bottom and thighs while she held my leg for support. By the end of the session I was ready to sleep and this morning I feel great – there are a few muscles that I’m more aware of now…overall a great experience.

As I was walking this morning I saw a group of teenagers riding their bikes. One of them had a monkey on his handlebars. I laughed and told him, “Wonderful! I like your monkey!” The monkey seemed to be enjoying the ride as much as the boys.

I was able to talk with my three children and skype with 2 of them so I’d say it was a great day. And I am in the process of figuring out how to get an internet cable to my house so I can watch the youngest Young grow up over the 14 months that I will still be here. It costs a little more than the modum usage fee I now pay each month, but the current signal is often so weak I can’t even get my mail and I really want to keep my eyes on this beautiful new baby in Boston!