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Friday, June 24, 2011

Cultural Exchange

Beautiful jilbab girls.

The purpose of this blog is to ask you to stretch in ways that may be difficult. It does not reflect the attitudes or opinions of Peace Corps, the United States or anyone else. It is NOT an account of life here in Indonesia!

You have been selected to participate in a cultural exchange program. For the past year you have filled out forms, asked people to write letters of recommendation, been interviewed, and visited 5 specialist doctors to certify that you are healthy, been to the police to obtain a report that you a good person and finally you get the paper that says you will go to a foreign country for 2 years.

It is such an honor to be selected for this program! All your friends are so happy for you. But some of them are worried. You will be going to a different part of the world where your religion is not common. They tell you to be strong and true to your faith.

When you arrive in the foreign country, many things are different. To begin with it is so cold, but people do not wear jackets. They say that the temperature is perfect and that if God had wanted people to wear jackets he would have given them fur. We are not animals. We do not wear jackets.

The people eat bread 3 times a day. You live with a very nice family. They know that you like to eat rice so every night they give you a very small amount of instant rice. Instant rice looks like rice but cooks in 5 minutes. It tastes like rice from last week that has been re-cooked. You smile and tell them thank you for the delicious food, but in your mind you miss your own good food that you had at home.

Your new job is teaching in a religious school. You are told that you must dress like a person of that religion but only while you are at school. For this religion people show their arms and legs. They believe that God made women to be beautiful and that it is right to show how beautiful they are. They are especially proud of their long hair and they like to feel the wind blowing through their hair. You feel very different with so much skin exposed but they tell you that you are beautiful and talk about how comfortable it is to have their skin and their hair in the wind.

For weddings they dress their little girls in shockingly provocative outfits! It is disturbing how little clothes they wear and how much make up they put on their faces. But your job is to be a teacher and to learn about their culture, so you try to be polite. Every time you wear clothes like they wear they tell you that you are a good woman. Only people who are ashamed of the body God gave them try to cover it up. It is a good woman who is thankful for what she has been given.

They love the color of your skin. They tell you that it is like sweet brownies. They call you “black sweet.” In the store you see that they sell soap to make your skin darker. And you see stores called “tanning salons” where rich women go to lay down under special lamps that make their skin look darker. They also like your small ears. In your own country, small ears were not considered beautiful and you are embarrassed that your ears are so small. But here you see people looking at your ears and talking about them all the time. A pregnant woman wants to touch your skin and your ears and then touch her belly so that her baby will also have dark skin and little ears like you.

One day in the teacher room, you hear talk about a man who is going to prison because he has 2 wives. The teachers are all saying what a shame it is – that everyone knows that one man and one woman belong together. For a woman to have 2 husbands or a man to have 2 wives is wrong. You keep quiet because the religious leader that you admire the most has 4 wives. The people in this foreign country just do not understand these things. You also hear that one of his “wives” was 14 years old. The teachers are outraged that a man would do this. He deserves to be punished and maybe even die. You do not tell them that your own mother was married when she was 12. It was a very good marriage. Her father married her to a wealthy family and you are proud of your grandparents and your mother and father.

At school you are required to say the special prayers for the religion. At first you do not understand what they mean because they are in a language different from the national language that you have learned. You say the prayers because you believe that God listens to all prayers. You want the students to respect you. The headmaster of the school tells you that he thinks you will be a model and an inspiration.

Your friends invite you to eat the holy bread that is a part of their religion. You do not want to offend them so you eat the holy bread. It doesn’t really taste good and you eat so much bread every day you can not understand why someone would want to eat more bread but you do it to be polite. Every day for 30 days they give you the holy bread. They talk about how it makes a person so holy. They say they feel so close to God when they eat the holy bread. They ask you if you feel peaceful inside and you say “yes.” You feel peaceful inside most of the time. You do not think it has anything to do with the holy bread.

Now your best friend is having a big party at her church. She is in charge of the program and all her friends and family and neighbors want to meet you and hear about your experience in their country. It will be held early in the morning. It is called a “Sunrise Service.” She wants you to come to her church and join the other people of her religion. It is a special occasion to honor the prophet that they think is God. She wants you to wear the clothes of her religion. She wants you to give a speech and tell about eating the holy bread and what you felt. And she wants you to talk about how you know you are a good woman when you wear the clothes of their religion. She wants you to give your opinion of people in the religion who believe their prophet is God.

You do not want her to be sad, but you do want to go to the church. You do not want to talk about the clothes. You do not want to talk about eating the holy bread for 30 days.

But she is your friend and whenever you try to tell her something that she does not like she says, “Never mind.” You know that she means, “No problem.” But still, it bothers you. Every time she says, “Never mind.” You think, “I DO mind.” “What is in my mind is important.”

You are worried because you can see that the people in the foreign country want you to believe what they believe and they want you to think what they think. But you do not believe what they believe. Your thoughts are different from their thoughts. You will be in the foreign country for another year. It is important to make friends. You do not want to disappoint her family and all her friends who want you to come.

What should you do?
Will you go to the church?
Will you give the speech?
Will you tell your friend that you do not want to go?

Your friend insists that you come. She says you must wear black on bottom and white on top. You don’t have the right kind of clothes but she says she will get some for you. She says if you don’t want to talk about religion, you need to write a funny story about your life here. She will translate the speech for you. If you do not go she will be embarrassed because she told many people that you are coming. You said you would go but now you are not sure.

What will you do?

Monday, June 20, 2011

English Camp at my school


That’s the theme of the first ever annual English Camp at my school!
And the motto is “Diligent and Show It” during which the students salute (diligent) and then put their fists to their hearts (show it)

Yesterday the kids began setting up the 9 sleeping tents. This morning when I arrived they had been decorated with potted plants and elaborate latticework arbors leading to the entrance of the tents. Some of them have decorated their front tent pole with fabric. Inside the tent is a sleeping area, and a lounging area. My co-teacher commented that each tent should have a little table with food and flowers to make it more hospitable. Each group has a name: The Sweet Smart Girls, The Cherry Blossoms, D Boyz, Dream Light…..

There is a stage set up with our “theme message” proudly proclaimed on a banner and a huge sound system to blast songs in English.

It’s raining, just a light sprinkle, but no one seems to mind. It has been relatively cold for the past week – no rain, temperatures in the low 70’s – that’s really cold by Indonesian standards. My fellow teachers have told me that many people have stomach aches because it is so cold.

Later on I need to sing a song and give a speech. The trick is to make it all in simple enough English so that the students can understand what I am saying. I’m going to sing:
“If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops
Oh what a world this would be
I’d stand outside with my mouth open wide
Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah
If all of the snow flakes were cookies and cupcakes
Oh what a world this would be
I’d stand outside with my mouth open wide
Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah”

I learned the first verse at Girl Scout camp and my wonderful sister, Pinky, made up the 2nd verse.

I’m also one of the judges (the jury) at the speech contest and also a jury for the movie activity. Each tent has to participate with at least one member giving a speech and the group together has to come up with a reasonable ending when the movie stops. They also get points for the games and “orienteering” activities.

The campfire tonight is scheduled to last until 11:30 and gymnastics start tomorrow at 5:30am, but I told the teachers that I will walk home and sleep in my own bed. Being 62 years old entitles me to some privileges and I’m not really that excited about spending a sleepless night on the ground in the rain trying to keep track of teenagers in tents.

There are 83 students who are attending English Camp and 14 of these students are the “committee” who organized all the games, activities, schedule, equipment, campfire activities, etc. This is out of a pool of 575 students in grade 10 and 11 who were eligible to join English Club. I’m pleased that so many students are interested in English. When they signed up for English Club at the beginning of the year, the campout was just an idea that they wanted to do. In December my students were invited to the English camp at the school about an hour away where Angela, another Peace Corps Volunteer is serving. We sent 17 students and a team of 4 teachers who were there off and on during their 3 days English Camp. That experience was enough to launch the official request that the students and teachers needed to come up with – the budget and proposed agenda that the Principal of my school had to approve. The proposal document is 11 pages long and includes all the necessary signatures from all the school officials. I’m impressed that they are willing to jump through so many hoops to accomplish this English Camp. All $300 for the funding came from local sources: the students each gave $1.50 and the English club provided some from its activity funds and the school donated about $200. The money goes for the large stage and sound set up, the badges and certificates and prizes.

We started with the official opening ceremony complete with marching and saluting and the address from the principal of the school. He mentioned the rain in English! He called it “rain: dot, dot” which I think is the literal translation of light rain, just a little more than a mist. Today it has gone from rain: dot, dot to rain: big drop, big drop!

The speech contest consisted of a representative from each tent who gave a 5 – 7 minute speech in English and answered questions from the jury. I think all the speeches were taken from the internet except for the boy’s tent which was only a 30 second speech. The topics were: Follow your Dreams, Education in Indonesia, The Importance of Adolescence and why Ramadan is important to Islam. When I asked the students – What is the title of your speech and why is it important? They had a difficult time answering. They would scan through the written speech and try to find the answer. My students are very good at reading written English but have a much more difficult time formulating their own ideas and getting the courage to speak in English.

I was given a badge with a smiling star to show that I am part of the committee too! Or maybe the kids just thought I’d look good with a smiley star on my jilbab.

The movie was the first 30 minutes of “Barbie and the Three Musketeers.” The students enjoyed it and asked to watch it again so that they could come up with a good ending.

The Neighborhood Exploration was a blast. For 3 hours the kids followed a route through the back streets and rice fields near my town and found their way to various “posts” where they had to do charades in English, or compose an English poem, or answer riddles or complete other quizzes.

The campfire was 5 feet tall complete with a ball of rags soaked in kerosene and put on a string so that at the significant moment it could be cut loose (from 15 feet away) and dropped onto the candle in the middle of the bonfire which caused a huge flare up. Disclaimer: this is my own personal observation: Indonesian kids and adults are pyromaniacs. They loved the sparks glowing 50 feet up in the air. And they kept adding more little baggies of kerosene to make the fire more dramatic. I think it was test of my patience related to all years that I worked with the fire fighters in the National Forests in America. I know it’s different here. Everything is so wet, it’s probably impossible to start a forest fire.

The students also stopped all the activities to pray 5 times a day. And they all took a bucket bath (mandi) twice a day so that they wound up changing clothes many times.

For the final closing ceremony they were dressed in their school uniforms, all standing in rows and saluting and listening to the closing speeches – so polite. In America they would be impatient to hear the results of all the competitions and receive their prizes.

What amazed me the most was that all the activities were directed by the students on the committee. Teachers were judges, but the MC and all the organization was done by the students themselves. This year’s participants will be expected to put on the program for next years students.