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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ordinary Day

Here's a picture of my 5 month old grandson, Arlo.

My life is not exotic or wonderful. I’m not a hero or a wonder woman. I’m caught in the middle of doing what I said I’d do and some times not loving it – just plodding along – trying to stay motivated from one day to the next. My days have become almost boring and routine. It’s hard to find the motivation to write a blog. Okay, I know there’s a story in there and I’m going to try real hard to pull it out and maybe learn something about myself in the process.

Monday morning.

I wake up at 3:56am with the Call to Prayer. I turn off the fan which is beside my pillow, blowing air on me all night so I can keep from sweating. I crawl out of the mosquito net, go to the bathroom and then lay down for another few minutes. I convince myself that I really do need to walk NOW because this is the only time when it’s relatively cool.

I put on my “modest walking clothes” - below the knee shorts and a t-shirt which covers my butt and goes almost to my elbows. Then I lean out the door to the backyard and wave at host mother who is up making a fire, take the key and open the front door and lock it behind me. It’s still dark when I sit on the edge of the step and put on my stretched out socks with holes in them. The good thing is they have become so long I can put the heel hole on the top of my foot and the ankle socks still go up several inches higher than my ankles. Shoes… cell phone with a little money attached with a rubber band… keys… a scrunchy to hold the hair off my neck – all set.

Last week I walked in a different direction. Then I looked on Google Earth and it appears that there’s a wide path or a road that goes through the fields Northeast of where I live. It’s dark as I walk across the busy road, just a few trucks out. I take the short cut to the new road; go past what looked like a school from the satellite image and it does look like a school. Then I turn right and I’m walking through a village where I’ve never been before. There are enough lights on to see the road. One man is backing up his car and looks out the window. I say “Mongo.” And continue walking. The village ends and it’s almost light enough to see. The side of the path is cornfields and tomatoes and chili and rice.

Hey, this is pretty nice! I can feel a smile on my face. I think about hiking in the mountains in Utah. I try to remember what a cool October day feels like. I listen to the frogs and enjoy the little breeze as the sweat begins to trickle down my neck. It’s a long path and I don’t see anyone for about 15 minutes – wonderful serenity! Then there are houses and I can see people who have come down to the stream. Before I came to Indonesia I had read: “Most rural homes on Java do not have indoor plumbing.” I would have to say that I think that’s accurate. People use the irrigation ditches and streams for bathrooms, washing clothes, washing children, washing animals, dumping trash and irrigating their fields.

I look up in the sky and see kites with blue and green lights. Some of the kites also have “noise makers” in them. The wind blows through and makes a whirring noise. Hindu people say these are like prayers for the gods. I think the kids here just like them because they sound really wonderful.

I take a few more turns that kind of make sense if I am remembering the mental map I made when I looked at Google Earth. Then I’m in another village area. There are lots of people out walking here. I smile and greet them and keep walking. Suddenly I come to a place where I have to turn right or left. Uh oh, I don’t remember this part. It’s okay; I still know where I am. Another turn. Now I’m not sure. I see a man in his 20’s. I tell him that I am lost and ask him the way to the big mosque. He starts to laugh. I realize he doesn’t speak Indonesian and maybe he is a little retarded. I smile and say “Mongo” to him too. And I keep walking.

If I keep the sun on my left I will be heading south and eventually I’ll hit the big road. I’m a little south of the equator so sometimes I get confused when I try to figure out the directions from the shadows but mornings are good because the sun still comes up in the East. I make another turn and things are starting to look a little familiar. Okay, there’s the school I saw in the dark this morning.

There are lots of woven mats about 3 feet by 6 feet tall propped up against waist high walls. The crinkly brown stuff on top drying in the sun is shredded tobacco. It mixes with the smell of cows and goats and chickens and people and burning trash.

Close to home a school bus honks and I wave. One day they gave me a free ride. I flagged them down not realizing it was a school bus and they invited me on anyway. There’s the teenager who always says Good Morning and the old couple who sit on their porch and play with their cat who has a string around its neck.

I’m home. Walk in the door, look at the clock – 6:00 – okay, this new route takes 1 hour and 50 minutes. Grab my towel, washcloth, underwear and school clothes. Say hello to my host father as I walk into the bathroom, strip and begin pouring dipperfuls of cold water over my shoulders. It’s shockingly awful and wonderful all at the same time. It’s been 19 months without hot water. My school clothes are a long sleeve shirt and long pants. Tan because it’s Monday and all the teachers wear tan uniforms on Monday and Tuesday; blue on Wednesday and Thursday; sea colored batik on Saturday and Sunday. Except for the 17th of each month when they wear black & white in honor of Independence Day and the 25th when they wear light blue for National Education Day.

I have a cell phone message from Nisha – another volunteer – it’s a picture of an angel and a reminder to take our Monday Malaria Medicine. I send her a quick thank you. She really is an angel to send out a super cute message every Monday.

Breakfast is something that used a lot of my negotiating skills. My host mother doesn’t want me to light the stove. But she keeps hot water in a thermos so that my host father can make coffee in the morning. I convinced her that I really am getting fat and it is because I am eating so much of her food because it is too delicious. But I do not want to get fat, so I need to eat oatmeal in the morning. It worked! Joy! I can buy oatmeal in the regional capital and get one good healthy meal every day. I put some cut up finger size bananas on top. I sit on the floor looking out into the little courtyard. She told me it looks like baby food and I asked her if she wanted some and she laughed. I really like my host mother.

6:30 – I put on my head scarf – jilbab, fasten it under my chin with a fancy jilbab pin, put on my closed toe shoes, say goodbye to my host parents and begin the 5 minute walk to school. The only thing that is showing is my face and my hands. I look like a good Muslim woman – which I’m NOT. I am good and I am a woman but I have no desire to become Muslim and I hate wearing the jilbab. It’s hot. I can’t hear well with it on. Gripe. Gripe. Okay, I have a lot of cultural reasons why I don’t like to wear it too, but I’m not going into that now.

On the way to school I say hello to 20 or 30 students who are walking at a much slower pace than I am. I go into the office, press my finger against the “sign-in” keypad – then walk into the teacher room and sign the paper forms that show I’m here for the day. The key pad automatically resets the time whenever the electricity goes off so it’s not necessarily accurate.

I press my hands together and bow to all the male teachers and touch the hand of each female teacher then touch my heart. The female students reach for my hand and then press it against their forehead or the side of their face. The boy students just yell, “Good morning, Oma.”

Monday 7:00am – flag ceremony. All the students assemble on the playing field standing in rows with the leader of each class to the right of their columns. The gym teacher yells into the microphone and they all stretch out their arms and make sure they are exactly the right distance away from each other. The leader of the students marches to the front. All the class leaders stand in front of their group and yell: Ready! Then they run to the speaker platform and stand in line again and formally announce that class 10 A is ready, class 10 B is ready, 10 C, etc. Then they all salute the leader of the students. Then the teacher in charge stands on a podium and all the students salute the teacher in charge. Then the announcer tells the flag bearers that the school is ready. The flag bearers march up with the flag and we all salute as it is raised on the flag pole and the glee club sings the national anthem. Then we all say a prayer and repeat the 5 points of the National Unity Statement and listen as students read the Student Pledge and 2 Other Important Things that I don’t understand. Then we stand “at ease” with arms behind our backs as the teacher in charge gives a speech about discipline. The teachers are lined up facing the students. I always stand in the back row because I don’t have a Monday uniform but my tan outfit blends in pretty good. Thank God it’s not a long speech.

40 minutes later all the teachers head back to the Teacher Room and students go to their classrooms. I have a bag with all the materials I’ll need for the day. Mondays I teach 4 different classes of grade 10, and 1 class of grade 11 with 3 student teachers and 3 regular co-teachers. I go to the first class – no student teacher, no co-teacher. I teach the class. It goes pretty good. I stand next to the boys (each class of 40 has about 8 boys) and tell them repeatedly to take out a pen. They say, “Yes, Yes,” but don’t do it. I walk over to a different set of boys and ask them, “Where is your paper?” They say, “Yes, Yes,” and keep fooling around and talking to each other and the boys finally make it 1/3 of the way through the assignment. 2 girls actually finish the whole set. It’s a matching game where they need to figure out which statements are correct.

My co-teacher tells me not to go to my second class because I need to go early to the third class because there are observers from a different school.

I watch a teacher from Angela’s school teach my students. She tells them to take out their dictionaries. This group of 37 students has 4 English-Indonesian dictionaries. She tells me that in her school she insists that the students have at least one for every two students. If they don’t have them she waits until they go to a different class and borrow them from their friends. I tell this idea to my co-teachers and they say: “The students don’t have enough money.” My co-teachers regularly borrow my dictionaries. I don’t even know if all of my teachers have a dictionary.

My fourth class of the day is a double (80 minutes long) with a new teacher. She had told me last week that she would be giving tests this week, so I didn’t prepare any materials. When we go to the class she decides to have them open the books and read a story instead. I read the story in English and she translates it. The students answer questions. It’s about a lion and a jackal and I tell the students about the time I was on a safari in Africa with my daughter and the jeep broke and we had to hike out of the area on foot, holding the little children on our shoulders so the lions and hyenas wouldn’t be tempted to go after the smaller more vulnerable “food source.” I’d call this a successful lesson. We repeat the whole performance for next class.

Then it’s 2:00. Time to go home and get some lunch. It’s so hot. I stagger into my room, pull off my jilbab and put on shorts (they still need to go below the knee) and a t-shirt. Lunch is fried fish - tail section, fried cut up tofu, white rice, green leaves in soup stuff that you spoon over the rice and some papaya. I eat, thank my host mother, go into my room and shut the door. I put the fan 6 inches from my face and try to cool off as I lay down on the bed. I read a novel for about an hour then I chat a little with the student boarders who also live at my house. I make an album of pictures of my new grandchild then sit down at the computer and try to figure out what I’ll be doing for lessons plans for English Club & English for Teachers.

Okay, what have I learned from this exercise?

My normal days often feel frustrating. I didn’t tell you about the part where I felt really angry with my co-teacher because she didn’t show up for class. I’m practicing just watching my anger and it took a huge amount of patience to hold my tongue. I saw her later and she said, “I have so many work that I have to do. Oma, I have to finish it.” Then she offered me some of her snack, “Oma, do you like it? I think it is so nice.” I didn’t like it. But I thanked her anyway. I don’t like admitting how often I just wish I were back in America where I could have a direct conversation with someone and know in advance what my co-workers are planning and make adjustments.

I also noticed while writing this that there really are a lot of times during the day when I feel happy. They are not usually the times I remember when I think about my day.

And I realized that the thing that makes me the happiest is my new grandson and the thought that I will see him in 7 months so I’m going to put a picture of him at the top of this blog. It will be like a little prayer kite – out in the universe. Keep him (and all of you, family and friends who read this blog) safe until I see you again.

Love, Oma Colleen

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