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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ramadan – Starts Tomorrow

Actually it doesn’t start until the Muslim official in my district says that the new moon is over the horizon at the crack of dawn (or something like that) but generally everyone knows that we start fasting tomorrow.

Fasting means no food, no water, no liquids, no smoking and no sex from 4:15 tomorrow morning till 5:33 in the evening when you hear the call to prayer on the loudspeakers. At school every student and teacher was given a chart showing the exact time for the 8 different prayers every day during the month of Ramadan. It’s mandatory to pray 5 times a day but during Ramadan there are lots of extra prayers.

The prayer times for tomorrow, in my village are Imsak 4:15, Subuh 4:25, Syuruq 5:42, Dhuha 6:09, Dluhur 11:41, Ashar 15:00, Magrib 17:33 and Isya 18:44. (Note – that is FOUR different prayers before 6:30am!) There is also another number listed for Arah Qiblat. When I asked what that was, I was told it was the direction for Mecca, but it also changes by about 3 minutes every day, so I don’t really know, maybe it has something to do with the moon or the sun too. The times for prayers vary at every location, depending on when the sun comes up. It’s not really consistent – I wonder if the presence of mountains figures into the calculations.

Religion here is not just something you believe. It is a way of life. It regulates what you wear, what you eat, when you sleep, who you marry and how you get buried. It’s fascinating and a little overwhelming. Every Indonesian carries an identity card and a religion must be listed on the card. One of the 5 principles of Indonesia is belief in a God and you need to carry a document showing which God you believe in.

Mon, Tues and Wed there is no school. Then I teach on Thurs and Fri. Then I spend a week at the regional capital having a mid-service conference with the other Peace Corps Volunteers in my group and a co-teacher from my school will be there for 2 days too. Then I return to school, teach on Mon and Tues. Then Wed is the official National Day of Independence, so no school, but mandatory flag ceremony at the town assembly field. Then we have a week called “The Cottage of Ramadan” and during that time all classes will be cancelled so that the students can study concentrated Islamic studies for a week. Then 4 days of vacation before the big holiday when there is lots of feasting – Idul Fitri.

That means that I will teach for only 4 days during the month of August. I like to teach. It brings me a lot of joy. It gives me something to do besides just thinking about being hungry and thirsty. This year Erika, another Peace Corps volunteer suggested that we pray for specific groups of people every day. Monday we will pray for the Peace Corps staff and the US staff.

Last year I fasted for the 30 days of Ramadan. This year I’m beginning again with the same weak commitment to “have a go at it.” The no water part seems strange, but it is true that many people in the world do not have access to clean water. Being hungry and thirsty is a part of the human condition. I’m not Muslim. I do this as a statement of solidarity with my Muslim friends here in Indonesia. I have NO intention of doing it in America. But there is a certain camaraderie that develops when people support each other in doing something difficult.

Because it’s what’s on my mind almost constantly I’ll title each blog during this month: Ramadan – with whatever subtitle seems to fit.
Here’s some information from Wikipedia.:

Ramadan (calendar month)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the Islamic calendar month called Ramadan. For information about the holiday and religious observances during that month of the same name, see Ramadan.
Islamic Calendar

1. Muharram
2. Safar
3. Rabi' al-awwal
4. Rabi' al-thani
5. Jumada al-awwal
6. Jumada al-thani
7. Rajab
8. Sha'aban
9. Ramadan
10. Shawwal
11. Dhu al-Qi'dah
12. Dhu al-Hijjah

Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and the month in which the Qur'an was revealed.
Ramadan is the holiest of months in the Islamic calendar, and fasting in this month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month is spent by Muslims fasting during the daylight hours from dawn to sunset. The name came from the time before the Islamic calendar, when the month of Ramadan fell in the summer. Fasting during this month is often thought figuratively to burn away all sins. Muslims believe that the Qur'an was sent down to the lowest heaven during this month, thus being prepared for gradual revelation by the angel Jibral (Gabriel) to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Furthermore, Muhammad told his followers that the gates of Heaven would be open all the month and the gates of Hell (Jahannam) would be closed[citation needed]. The first day of the next month, Shawwal, is spent in celebrations and is observed as the "Festival of Breaking Fast" or `Eid ul-Fitr.

[] Timing
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year and contains no intercalation, Ramadan migrates throughout the seasons. The Islamic day starts after sunset. The actual and estimated start and end dates for Ramadan in 2005–2015 were and are as follows:
First day Last day
2005 1426 4 October 2 November
2006 1427 24 September 23 October
2007 1428 13 September 12 October
2008 1429 1 September 30 September
2009 1430[1] 22 August 20 September
2010 1431[1] 11 August 9 September
2011 1432[1] 1 August 29 August
2012 1433[1] 20 July 18 August
2013 1434[1] 9 July 7 August
2014 1435[1] 28 June 27 July
2015 1436[1] 18 June 16 July

Many Muslims insist on the local physical sighting of the moon to mark the beginning of Ramadan, but others use the calculated time of the new moon or the Saudi Arabian declaration to determine the start of the month. Since the new moon is not in the same state at the same time globally, the beginning and ending dates of Ramadan depend on what lunar sightings are received in each respective location. As a result, Ramadan dates vary in different countries, but usually only by a day. This is due to the cycle of the moon. When one country sees the moon, mainly Saudi Arabia, the moon travels the same path all year round and that same moon seen in the east is then seen traveling towards the west. All the countries around the world see the moon within a 24 hour period once spotted by one country in the east.
Each year, Ramadan begins about eleven days earlier than in the previous year.[2] Astronomical projections that approximate the start of Ramadan are available.[3]
At the end of Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr is celebrated by Muslims.
[] Events
• Ramadan is observed by Muslims during the entire lunar month by the same name. The month of religious observances consists of fasting and extra prayers.
o 02 Ramadan, the Torah (Tawrat) was bestowed on Moses (Musa). (According to Shia Islam)
o 10 Ramadan, death of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid – first wife of Muhammad
o 12 Ramadan, the Gospel (Injil) was bestowed on Jesus (Isa). (According to Shia Islam)
o 15 Ramadan, birth of Hasan ibn Ali
o 17 Ramadan, the Battle of Badr was won by the Muslims.
o 18 Ramadan, the Psalms (Zabur) were bestowed on David (Dawood). (According to Shia Islam)
o 19 Ramadan, Ali bin Abi Talib was struck on the head by a sword.
o 21 Ramadan, Ali bin Abi Talib died due to injuries he sustained by a sword.
o Laylat al-Qadr is observed during one of the last ten odd numbered days of the month. Muslims believe that this night which is also known as "The Night of Destiny" is better than a thousand months. This is often interpreted as praying throughout this night is rewarded equally with praying for a thousand months (just over 83 years i.e. a lifetime). Many Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.
• In the Ottoman Empire, the sultan presented trays of baklava to the Janissaries in a ceremonial procession called the Baklava Alayı.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DAY 500

One day when I was truly missing my grandchildren I marked milestone days on my calendar. Today is 500 days since I left America and began this Peace Corps Indonesia adventure. (There are 810 total.) So I thought I’d write about what today is like, just to give you a little slice of my life.

First of all it’s Wednesday. This semester I don’t teach on Wednesdays or Saturdays. I got to arrange my own schedule and I crammed massive amounts of teaching into the other days so I could have these days to do all the other things I do. Wednesdays I teach English Club to students and Saturdays I spend several hours trying figuring out what I will teach next week and making copies and discussing with my co-teachers what they need to cover and what part they will play in my games, songs, stories and presentations. I also use my “days off” to go to the school supply store, the Post Office, the bank, do laundry and schedule any thing else, like last semester when Angela and I taught English at a hospital near her home and also when I gave English lessons at the little elementary school near my home.

Today, 27 July 2011, we are celebrating 17 August 2011. Every August 17th is Indonesia National Independence Day but because it falls during Ramadan my town decided to celebrate today. For Ramadan this year people where I live fast from food and drink from 4:09 am till 5:35 pm – well it varies a little each day – I just looked it up on my Islamic calendar to confirm the times. So any parties or celebrations need to be held before or after Ramadan. Yesterday I was told that today at 1:00 pm my students will be marching in a parade to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day.

This morning I woke up at 4:16 which is the current time when loudspeakers begin the call to prayer. I was having a dream about eating sliced potatoes out of a jar and when I looked inside there was a little snake looking at me. I take malaria medicine weekly and it has a tendency to make dreams a little more vivid. (That’s putting it mildly.)

I got dressed in below the knee pants and a T shirt and waved to my ibu-mama who was already outside starting the fire to heat water and beginning to cook the rice for today, then I went outside and put on the shoes that my daughter left me. My own Keens were completely worn out with no tread on the soles and I was using string for shoelaces, so after we hiked up Mt. Rinjani I left them for recycling in the little hotel where we stayed. My daughter and I have the same size feet.

I looked at the new school shoes that my friend Corky sent me. Two pairs!!! Such a wonderful thing!!! Women’s size 10 narrow and they both fit! When I opened up the package from America last week I knew that I needed to show my host family because we keep all our shoes near the front door (because no one wears shoes inside a house) and they would surely notice 2 new pairs of black flat shoes. So I carefully explained how my feet always get “sick” and showed them the current blisters and sores and told them how my friend in America had sent me these wonderful new shoes. My host father immediately reached for them and tried them on. I pointed out to him that they were way too big for him and he sadly agreed. I still don’t understand all the cultural ins and outs of living here. I have learned that I need to open packages from home alone in my room because people ask for (or simply take) what they want! I figure I will leave behind almost everything I have and I selfishly want to use these things during the 310 days I have left.

I walked in my neighborhood till 6:00 am saying “Mongo” (Javanese) to the older people and Selamat Pagi (Indonesian) to more middle aged people and Good Morning to kids that I think can understand a little English. They always beam when they understand and if they don’t then I switch to a different language. It was so cool (relatively) and nice. I love mornings. I saw a “Christmas” decoration – blinking red, white and green lights strung around a tree trunk in front of a home. Then it dawned on me what it was – red and white lights to signify the Indonesian flag! It was a national pride symbol not a Christmas symbol!

When I got home I took a mandi splash bath pouring dippers of cold water over my head. Then my ibu-mama said breakfast was ready and I sat on the sofa next to the dining room table where the food is displayed under big plastic fly protection covers. There was noodle soup with spinach and carrots and white rice and chunks of fried tempeh (chunky soybean squares) and some fruit that looks like cherries but the skins are inedible and they taste like grapes with big pits in the middle and water. I always drink water at this home. It was much easier to just tell my new family that I don’t like coffee or tea. Hot drinks with tons of sugar are the norm in Indonesia.

I took my dirty clothes into the front bathroom, sat on a 6 inch tall stool and made several basins of soapy water and rinse water and washed my clothes by hand. I always try to wring them out pretty good – they dry faster if you squeeze out as much water as you can. I hung them out on the clothes line in our side yard. Baby chickens were walking around my feet, so I try to be careful where I step – to avoid the chickens and their droppings.

I got a text message from another Peace Corps volunteer asking if I was going to the regional meeting for English teachers today. I responded, “No, no one asked me to come :/ ” The problem is that Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to ride on motorcycles and very few people at my school have a car. The vice principal who has a car will probably go to this meeting but he lives a half hour away in the wrong direction.

I logged on to the computer in my room and read email from another volunteer, Maggie, who wants to do a Ramadan in America project so that Muslims there can share their experience with Muslims here. I also did some checking on my own project – visiting a turtle sanctuary at a National Park here on the island of Java during our vacation time the first week in Sept. when Ramadan is finished. There may be a group of us who will go there together. I use almost a fourth of my monthly allowance on “communication” – cell phone minutes, modum and internet cable into my house. But it is sooooo worth it. Because next I skyped with my grandkids in America. Yes! I got to see and talk to them and their parents for “free.” They told me that they don’t want me to wear glasses because I don’t look like the same grandma. My 5 year old grandson told me that he wants to invent a spray that you squirt into people’s eyes and then they can see better!

Then I took out my stash of recycled cardboard containers and cut them all apart to make some sturdy cards that will last through 16 different times when I use them for different school classes. My plan is based on the information I got from Maggie. I will have 20 different “question cards” and students can select one they want. They need to answer:
What does Ramadan mean to you? Why do you fast? Describe what happens on a typical fast day. Do you have any special customs, traditions or activities that you do before or after you fast? Describe the first time you fasted – how old were you? What is important to you about being a Muslim? How does your religion impact your daily life? What do you like best about Ramadan, etc.

That’s my plan. I need to get these translated so the students can understand what I am asking for and develop an English-Indonesian vocabulary list to help them with their answers. If I can get my co-teachers to agree to this then I’ll have a start on an activity I can use during Ramadan when class periods are reduced to 20 minutes for 1 “jam” (hour) and 40 minutes for 2 jam.

Now it’s 11:30. Half of my laundry is dry. I just brought it in. Because there are no clothes driers here, clothes get a little misshapen. My socks are 16 inches from toe to heel. If I am going through a particularly itchy period in my life, then I iron all my clothes to kill any bugs that may be in them, bur right now I don’t feel too itchy so I’m not going to iron everything, just the stuff I have to wear to school.

Lunch was fried pond fish tails (as opposed to ocean fish or catfish) served with cut up cucumbers, tomatoes and soy sauce, white rice, left over cold noodles and spinach and fresh papaya (maybe from the tree I can see in my yard, which has a lot of ripe papaya on it right now) and water to drink.

The day is becoming overcast. Because it’s a little cooler when there are clouds, I think I’ll go join my students marching for the Independence Day parade.

Later – My body is so sore! I walked for 45 minutes to the Green Park assembly point, waited about a half hour for the program to start, then marched with the students till 5:00 pm, then walked back home – another 45 minutes. The students did great! I marched with grade 11 Religion class because they gave me a ribbon that matched all of theirs. In my school when students enter grade 11 they need to choose between 3 tracts – Social, for average students; Science, for students who want to go to a University and Religion, for students who want to become religion teachers. (Four of the eighteen subjects that they study are religion subjects so there is a need for a lot of religion teachers.) Teachers and students with first aid kits drove among the marchers on motor cycles and passed out water when there was a lull in the marching. My school had 12 different groups of marchers – 21 students in formation with a lead student at the front right and a 2nd in command at the back right. I was the only teacher marching in the whole parade. I waved and spoke to people along the route. The students had to concentrate on the marching. They told me the route is 5 km (3.1 miles)long.

At the end of the program the students sat on the ground, drank water and ate a brown paper folded meal of rice and chicken and vegetables. I took mine home and gave it to my family. I took another mandi bath and ate what was still on the table from lunch, except this time I ate the fish head instead of the fish tail.

Then I laid on my bed and played Sudoku on my cell phone for about 20 minutes and realized I was way too tired to do anything else and went to sleep. I woke up dreaming that I had swapped bodies with a woman in Minneapolis named Margo who sold Real Estate. I was worried that she wouldn’t know how to speak Indonesian and use the squat toilet and find her way around in my life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The ghost inside my student

Today I walked into the grade 10-D classroom and the co-teacher and I were just starting to kick into high gear teaching “Greetings, Introductions, and Leave Taking” complete with squeaky yellow rubber duckies when one of the students slumped over in her chair. Several students nearby stood and were pointing at her. Three boys and a girl quickly picked her up – her body was stiff – and carried her to the health room. The co-teacher went with them.

I asked the students, “Was she dizzy?” and they said, “No, a ghost is inside her.” I asked how that could happen and they said that if you put your hands under your chin and begin to day dream, it is like an invitation for a ghost to come inside you. They said the ghost comes into you from the top of your head. The students were quiet and we could hear the girl screaming in the health room, although she looked “passed out” when they carried her out. The ghost had gone into the girl once before, on the weekend, while they were camping in tents. None of the other students in the tent had seen it.

I asked if there were other ghosts in the classroom and they seemed hesitant to comment. They told me that ghosts like corners. I said, “Aren’t ghosts supposed to live in cemeteries?” and they said that this ghost was from the train tracks near the school. The story is that a person was killed by the train and the ghost just hangs out near the school.

I asked if everyone believed in ghosts and 2 students out of 39 shook their heads, “No.” I asked again and the 2 initial non-believers were hesitant to go against the group consensus. I asked if it would help if there was an older person around who had some “spiritual power” and the students said yes and they seemed relieved.

When the co-teacher came back she told the class that there is no ghost, that the student was depressed because her older brother was mean to her and that they were sending her home.

At the end of class I asked her about the ghost again and she said that she personally doesn’t believe in ghosts, she thinks it is the active imagination of the teenage students, but that the Holy Qu’ran does mention “spirits.” She had called her friend who is more “religious” than she is and he had told her that she shouldn’t do anything to the student because you can’t usually make it any better, but you can often make matters worse.

This is the new teacher at my school. Half of my time is now spent in her classes. We teach 5 different groups of students for 2 class periods each week and then she teaches by herself for 2 other class periods. She told me that she likes to teach alone because I am so cheerful and patient and she feels she needs some time to teach when she doesn’t have to be so cheerful and patient.

I laughed and told her that as the year continued she’d notice that I’m not always cheerful and patient!

My schedule this year is that I teach to 16 different groups of students – approximate 40 students in each group. (A little over 600 total students.) 5 groups get 2 instructions periods per week and 11 groups get one co-teaching session and 3 sessions with just the Indonesian teacher. I like being the “fun and games” teacher – it’s kind of like being a grandma!

PS I’ll let you know if any more ghosts come to my classes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hike up a sacred mountain

This blog is mostly for fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who are considering climbing Mt. Rinjani on Lombok. The only higher mountains in Indonesia are on Papua. You start close to sea level and climb to about 7,700 feet.

After the climb we spent the next 3 days on the beach at Gili Meno and we all really needed it. My daughter has run a marathon and her husband is in good shape too but it really kicked our butts! It was hard to walk up and down stairs for the next several days.

It’s a great hike mostly because ¾ of the climb is through a forest with lots of shade trees and monkeys, then when you get to the crater rim there are awesome views of the ocean and the lake in the middle and the slightly higher summit.

My daughter booked the tour in advance through a company listed on line and it was pretty much what is described in Lonely Planet.

We did the 2 day, 1 night hike because we wanted to sandwich in as many activities as we could and that 2 days was plenty. We met some other people who had planned the 3 day hike but were so exhausted after day 1 that they didn't do the summit climb on day 2.

We used Adventure Lombok Tours but all of them are pretty similar. You can call Ronnie at +62 370 6650238 or +62 8175773060. They need 1/2 the money down, sent to their bank account in Indonesia - you go to any BNI with cash in hand and they send it to their account. Then the night you arrive in Lombok Ronnie stops by and gets the rest. It was the busy time and we wanted the security of knowing we had it all booked in advance.

We did the economy hike (I think each tour company has several levels) and it was fine. You are supposed to bring your own snacks and no cokes are provided and I think there wasn't supposed to be a toilet tent, but another couple in our group of 5 paid for the next step up and they gave all of us cokes and cookies and we got to use the toilet tent too. Up on top of the mountain there is no privacy and they dug a small hole in the ground and put a tarp like tent around it and it was nice to have that for pooping in. The total cost for the 3 of us was 3.500.000 Rp approx. for 2 days and pick up and drop off before and after. The guide and porters carried all the tents & sleeping bags and fixed all the meals and give us water, coffee or tea.

Between 5am - 5:30 am they picked up people at Senggigi hotels, and took us to a place near the north of the island where we could stash any extra gear at a guy's house and we ate pancakes there. We were on the trail by 8am and hiked till about 4:00 pm. It's STRENUOUS! I was able to do it but I hike about 2 1/2 hours every day - my 62 year old body needed the hiking sticks the guide cut along the way.

That night they put up 2 tents for us & we got a light weight sleeping bag and mattress pad too. It was cold on top but long pants, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shirts and a polar fleece were fine for me.

The view from the top of the crater was awesome! I really enjoyed it! There are longer hikes to walk up to summit the mountain on the side or go down to the hot springs but I felt the basic hike was sufficient and didn't feel like I needed to abuse my body any more than that.

The next morning at 6am we hiked down using a different set of leg muscles and were at the bottom around 2pm. We spent the night at a nice hotel on Lombok (Holiday Resort Lombok) but in retrospect there would have been enough time to catch the last boat from Bangsal Harbor over to the Gili Islands.

We met several local people who talked about the special times when there really is a ceremony at the top but it felt sacred just to be standing on the edge of the world with that “Oh my gosh, I really did hike up this mountain” feeling.