Official Peace Corps Disclaimer

"The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Final Chapter

This blog has been the hardest to write. How can I sum up coming back to the United States and being with my family and all the things that seem familiar and strange at the same time?

I got a drivers license the day I came back. If the state of Utah knew the status of my brain at that time they would absolutely NOT let me drive. The urge to pilot the car on the left side of the road was overwhelming. I had to tell myself “drive on the right” several times every day. Once I made a turn and oops – I forgot my mantra and found myself on the left side. (Don’t worry, kids, it only happened once and my grandkids weren’t in the car with me.)

Food is so delicious. I keep trying to eat moderately but I feel like I DESERVE to eat all the yumminess that I haven’t had for 27 months.

The medical stuff has been a pain. I forgot how slow the layers of medicine happen. It’s all check-ups: dermatology, mammogram, and trying to figure out what bugs are causing what inside my intestines. I have a colonoscopy scheduled for Wednesday and then hopefully I’ll be done with round one. The doctors here don’t take the forms that Peace Corps issued so I wind up having to get pre-approval, then pay in advance and now I have to wait several weeks to get an itemized bill and then I’ll submit that to the Peace Corps Insurance Co. and hopefully get reimbursed. It seems nutty that you must give a hospital several thousand dollars but they can’t give you a bill.

When I walk into a restaurant or a store I am SHOCKED at how expensive everything is. My daily budget in Indonesia was $1.30. The first time I filled up the car with gas I thought there must be something wrong with the pump.

We went camping last weekend and in the morning there was SNOW on the tent….real, true, cold, snow.

Some of the things I love here are: grandkid hugs, in fact Talon is sitting on my lap as I write this, hot water, refrigeration, healthy bread, cheese, and the availability of bathrooms. I was a little skeptical of toilet paper. I mean – it’s really not that sanitary – but it’s okay, I am acting like a regular American and using it. I miss the Islamic greetings that my students give me, so I’ve taught my grandson to take my hand and press it to his forehead and say the Arabic greeting. And then I give the response. And I find I still press my hand to my heart after I shake hands with someone. Air conditioning is so wonderful and so is the ability to understand what people are saying.

Emotionally I find I’m in a cautious, contemplative place. I’m just a lot more comfortable watching than I am in engaging in life. I feel like I am being disrespectful to my friends, but all I want to do is be a grandma, love and take care of my grandkids and very slowly take baby steps back into the life I used to be a part of. It’s so overwhelming. It’s hard to remember names and things important to people. It seems familiar but vague, like I’m not sure if I dreamed my time in Indonesia or I dreamed my time here.

My daughter-in-law wants to take this blog and print it up as a book. I always wondered what my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s life was like. Now, I’ll have something that I can hand to those future generations and say – here’s what your crazy great grandma did when she was 61 – 63 years old. I didn’t bring a lot of peace to the world, but I feel like I succeeded in making a difference in an Islamic High School in a little village in a little corner of Indonesia.

So I’ll end with the prayer that we said (in Arabic) as we started each lesson:

In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful. Praise be to Allah, the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds. Most gracious, most merciful. Master of the day of judgment. You do we worship and your aid we seek. Show us the straight path. The way of those on whom you have bestowed your grace, whose portion is not wrath and who go not astray.

(Yeah, it doesn’t totally make sense, but that’s what my Peace Corps service was all about…staying committed each day even when it didn’t make sense. I have to say, it was totally worth all the growing pains it took.)

Thank you, faithful readers, for coming on this journey with me.
Oma Colleen Young

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Farewell Party & Appreciation

My school took most of the day off and all the teachers went to the beach to spread out tarps and have a feast in my honor!  The Principal, Vice Principal and Teachers gave speeches and there was an Islamic prayer session.  They presented me with a ring with the name of the school engraved inside.  I tried for 4 hours to include a video, but my internet connection is too slow.

They even had a cooked turkey. I am holding its neck and head in the photo at the end of this blog.

I feel so loved here! I have such good friends in the states who have walked this journey with me, just an internet connection away, amazing Peace Corps Volunteers and staff who have been an integral part of my stay here and students and teachers who will always be in my heart.

My daughter, Katrina, who was a PCV in Africa (Malawi 1997-2000) said it well:
Those last few weeks are REALLY hard, probably as hard as or harder than the first few weeks. You're mentally straddling two worlds, trying to prepare for leaving one of them pretty much completely. It's hard to stay engaged when you know you're leaving soon. These weeks are going to fly by.

And they have. One more day to pack, one day to teach, one day for graduation, then I leave my village, 3 days in Surabaya to complete reports, check for TB, parasites, do a hard core malaria flush, close bank account, take a language competency test, turn in books, life jacket, bicycle helmet, unused medicine, write my description of service for my permanent file, the last volunteer report form with details about the education progress of all my students, a final interview with the country director then I'm on a flight home!

I want to share with you the bounty of love that I have received recently -
Appreciation from friends, fellow volunteers and students:

Dear Colleen
I just read your blog.
Have a safe trip back to the U.S.
You are an amazing woman!

(My reply)
Oh thanks so much, A.
I got tears when I read your message.
I really appreciate all the love and support you have given me during this journey.
I really am not amazing. I am sitting here - it's 4:38am, I woke up with the call to prayer, I'm already sweating and I feel too tired to go outside walking like I usually do because I'm coming down with a cold and I realized that I sent out that email and didn't even spell the word "only" right and the first version of the blog had a email attached at the bottom that originally inspired me to write but I forgot to delete it!
I'm a mess.
It takes someone beautiful to see something amazing in all that!
Love and a hug and see you soon.
Wonderful blog, Colleen. I think part of it should be required reading fro every new PCV recruit.
I think you may enjoy this song about senior moments - not that you or I have any of them.

Dear, dear Colleen -
My apologies this is not the nice hand-written note I had planned on the beautiful paper sitting on my desk beside me just for this purpose. Things happen.

I am so completely sad that you are leaving us. I comfort myself in the fact that you are probably so completely not sad to be returning to your family and grandkids. It has been a long road, and I think you've served your time to deserve some quality time with them.

Before I came to Indo, your blog was one that I read most. I even showed it to my mom and said, "See this is Colleen. She is doing it. Maybe we'll be friends and she'll show me how things go." I am not sure if it comforted my mother, but I hope her knowing I'd have a role-model here would help a little. After that, she still asks about you, and I believe she is still a devoted follower of your blog (you'll maybe have to start a baby-sitting blog so she won't lose out on that connection).

When we first arrived, it seemed like you were really the only one trying to prepare us for things, to try to leave some trail for us or make the path easier. With the blog of things we should know, plastic bags for the ladies, maps of Surabaya left at swearing in - these are things that should have been provided - but if not for you, we never would have had them. I thank you so much for those little things.

You also gave me probably the best piece of advice I've received for serving. After showing us how to put a condom on a banana : ), you told us that our first job was not teaching English, it was not secondary projects or even representing America - it was getting ourselves through to the next day. It was doing what we need to do to make it to that next day and to find a way to be happy here. That, above all things, has kept me going.

I was also super-siked to get to travel to Bali with you - to share bus and train experiences, crowd into a little room with you and 3 other ladies, see you finesse drivers and master all directions everywhere, to hear all about your wonderful life and your matter-of-fact take on experiences - to have you meet my brother and to share that horn implants are not an immediate deal breaker in a relationship. Colleen, it has been a supreme treat to be able to be here with you for a little while. It makes me wish we had longer together. You are such an inspiration in all you do, and I am certainly better for you having been here to show me the way.

I am so happy you will get to enjoy your time with your family, and I really hope you will visit NY at some point if I can ever make it back there after this.

Thanks again, Colleen. I can't wait to see you on the other side (the US)!
Much love,  E

(my reply)
Oh E,
Thank you! All the love you expressed has made me cry.
I honestly, really, truly, do NOT deserve all this praise.
I survived. Not especially gracefully or with any mega wisdom.
Thank you so much for this message. I really feel appreciated I do hope we get to meet up on the "other side."
Love and hugs,  Colleen

"oMaa,..............I never forget yOu,,...
i will remember you in my life forever,,.......
I LOVE YOU,,...."

And finally one from a person I will label “anonymous”

Dear: Oma Collen Young
Oma, I know there must be a farewell meeting in every.
It feels heavy when I had to part with you, but it is the truth.
The time you work in Indonesia has ended.
I hope you will always remember me, my school and my country.
I also hope we can meet again someday.
I am writing this letter to the accompaniment of tears oma…
Because the weight of when I know I will not see you again and maybe may English lessons will boring without you.
Oma pray, I can be successful, so I can visit to your country and meet you…
This might be my gift is not expensive, but maybe it makes you always remember me
Oma I like you eyes, your smile and the way you teach, you can make we laugh
Thank you so much oma
If one day you miss me, please send a email to me, and say that you miss me.
Oma, please don’t tell anyone if I’m sending you a letter, I expect this to be a secret between you and me….
Please replay my letter….

Dear anonymous,
I am sharing your secret letter with the world. They need to know that wonderful students like you are waiting for them if they too sign up to be Peace Corps Volunteers. But I will keep your name a secret in my heart.
I really enjoyed your letter.
I do hope that you will always remember me too.
It would be wonderful if you continued to be an excellent student and one day would come to America! Yes, that would be great~
I hope your life is going well.
See you in school for the rest of this week.
PS - Your gift is perfect! I just have a little card with some pictures that I will give to every student on Friday, but I want you to know that YOU ARE SPECIAL!

Here's the turkey...

And here's the card I have all the students, teachers and staff...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Loose Ends & Reflection

Tying up loose ends

The English Book for the “Best English Club”

My vice principal is getting panicky - he's pushing the project where I have to write a book which will teach my students English!!! I keep smiling and saying "Yes.” (God give me patience with this man.) I finished up the Grammar, Conversation and Cross Cultural chapters and then he wanted the Title page, Contents and Credits for all the editors (he and the other English teachers - who have not yet done their translation parts.)
Today he told me I need to write an acknowledgement and a preface!
He did apologize that I will never see the book because they won't print it till after I am gone!!!

You may think I'm slacking here in paradise - But I'm not!

Now he wants a Preface to every chapter!
And he wants all my music, all my photos, all my lesson plans (which I’ve already given him several times) and my shoes.
Give Me the Shirt Off Your Back

This is not unusual. Many other people have asked me for “a going away gift to remember me by” – there’s a special word for this in Indonesian. About 10 women have suggested that I give them the clothes that I am wearing!

Andrea, another Peace Corps volunteer took my pictures and made an awesome card that I have copied. One thousand copies, one thousand signatures, one thousand little hearts, one thousand sticky tags with my face book and email address attached to the back, stuffed in one thousand envelopes with one thousand stickers on them…. That’s so I can give one to every student and teacher at my school. It took me a week to get all that done.

Some bits and pieces being included in my Volunteer Report Form:

Community Integration:

I feel integrated into my community. I'm different, but accepted. I think I am the most loved volunteer in the Peace Corps Indonesia program - partly because I am old and that brings a lot of respect and admiration but also I think it's my attitude. I always tried to make each day fun for me so that I would want to come back again tomorrow. Students and teachers and community members can tell if you genuinely enjoy what you do. And I do.


Every day is a challenge. In looking back over the last 27 months I have to say that I never expected to feel so much despair, doubt and inadequacy. Peace Corps is much tougher than I thought. Who I am now is not who I was when I came to Indonesia. I used to be a confident, competent woman. Now I am much less sure of the meaning of things. I am humbled by my lack of ability to thoroughly learn Indonesian and Indonesian culture. It's okay. I am learning to be patient with this new woman that I have become. My "dis-abilities" are not the defining part of me. I am living closer to the “core” of who I am and in that place the challenges I experience are like waves washing over the ocean, they really don’t alter the essence of the water.

Lessons Learned:

I have learned to say “yes” and then figure out the details later. I have learned that if someone wants me to do something that there will be some reward in it for me even if it seems overwhelming at the time of the request. I said “yes” to Peace Corps service and I have learned that no matter how difficult the circumstances it’s worth it.

Planned Activities:

This week I will return to America and present a program on Indonesia to the kindergarten where my grandchild is a student. I am taking home many fabrics and crafts from Indonesia to facilitate telling my friends and family about my experiences.

Peace Corps Goal 2 – To promote a better understanding of the American people

I taught all 579 of my grade 10 and 11 students a lesson about Americans based on Barack Obama's book - Of Thee I Sing - A Letter to my daughters. We learned about Georgia O'Keefe, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Sitting Bull, Billie Holiday, Helen Keller, Maya Lin, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Neil Armstrong, Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

The students and teachers listened to uplifting and inspiring words from President Obama in both English and Indonesian. We discussed the impact that each person can have within their community.

Peace Corps Goal 3 – To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

That’s the main purpose of this 2 ½ year blog project

Success story:

I remember very little from my own High School language classes. I studied French and I recall that my teacher was beautiful yet almost cruel. She insisted on proper pronunciation. I know how to say “Bonjour” and I remember the words to a song we learned.

My legacy of what I will leave behind as a Peace Corps volunteer will NOT be a school full of fluent English speakers but the challenge has always been to leave them with a little more knowledge, competency and desire to speak English.

One of my co-teachers, Mrs. Ni’mah wanted to “use media” in the advanced grade 10 class. At my school, many classrooms do not have electricity. But one group of “gifted” students is in a classroom where there is a carpet and students and teachers must remove their shoes before entering. Not only is there electricity but there is an overhead projector where you can hook up your computer and project images and sound to the front of the room. “Technology” is not one of my strong points but my co-teacher insisted that I find something in English and teach it to this class. I suspect these students may pay extra for this privilege of being in this class – that is true in many schools in Indonesia, but I also wanted to do something special for my other, not so advanced classes.

I found a song by a Norwegian girl group – M2M - that I have heard a few times on loud speakers set up for weddings. I could play the music video on the overhead projector and in the other classes I could charge my battery and take the computer and play the song and then at the end of the class hold up the computer so the students could see the video. This song, “The Day You Went Away” expresses some of the pain of moving on in your life and has an easy to remember series of repetitions.

“And we were letting go of something special – Something we’ll never have again.” “I know. I guess I really, really, know.”

So I taught this song to my 3 co-teachers and then, together, we proceeded to teach the song to the 579 students that I teach every week.

The challenge was having the students achieve a sense of competency in a 40 – 90 minute session. Half of my students only see me for 40 minutes each week and in many of those classes the boys are often late coming to class and so I need to do something that gives an advantage to the students who are on time but still doesn’t leave the boys behind.

I went to each class and played the song, stopping at various times to ask the students what they heard. I wrote their responses on the board. Then we erased the board and I gave them lyrics with 20 blank places where they had to listen and write down the word they heard. After several times going through the song, we corrected the papers. The next step was to have the students sing the song reading along with the words. When they could do this well, then I had them put the papers away and sing from memory. The final step was to sing without the music.

They groaned as each step became increasingly harder. They tried to cheat and look at the words in the most creative ways. But at the end of the session every group was able to sing the song on their own without music! The students cheered. For most of them it was the first time they had massive success in speaking English.

Because so many other teachers heard us practicing this song, they also asked to learn the words.

On graduation day, the day before I leave my village permanently, my co-teachers, the vice principal and I plan to sing this song on the stage while Grade 10 and 11 students join in. I hope it will be a gift that we can give the graduating seniors and a tender farewell to this school that will remain in my heart.

“Why do we never know what we’ve got till it’s gone.”
“And I am letting go of something special, something I’ll never have again.”

No one wants to think that I will never return to Indonesia. They insist that I give them a date when I will come again. But the truth is in all probability, I won’t return. I am in the process of saying goodbye to the people who have dramatically altered my view of who I am.

Advice to future Peace Corps Volunteers in Indonesia:

Diversity – How it feels to be the only older volunteer for most of my time in Indonesia.
There were times when I felt Despair, questioned why I ever signed up for this job, Doubted if I could do it and felt like a bumbling idiot
I knew I was smart. I knew I was competent. How could I possibly not be that and yet by every measure I knew, I was not measuring up.
I was a failure in my own eyes.
In Pre Service Training I tried so hard to learn the new vocabulary but I just couldn’t remember it.
And I felt physical symptoms too. My hip hurt. My knees hurt. I had diarrhea. (a lot)
I suspected a lot of this was because I was old but no one in my village agreed with me. The other trainees said they all said learning Indonesian was hard and they didn’t feel great all the time either. But in my heart, I knew it was harder for me.

And then there was the whole being tethered to a family issue. It had been so long since I felt I had to answer to someone, to ask for permission to go outside, to have the request to leave the window open at night denied, to be told when, where and what to eat.
I was treated like I was old and fragile. In my permanent village people told me there was no way they would let their grandmother go to Surabaya by herself. Mandatory retirement age for teachers at my school is 60. The average life expectancy in Indonesia is 65.

Indonesians felt comfortable falling asleep against me. If I wasn’t talking to the person next to me on the bus or train I could almost guarantee that they would fall asleep on my shoulder. And one time I spent the night at another volunteer’s house with 2 local 22 year old girls. They both wanted to sleep in the same single bed with me rather than sleep in the top bunk! I finally just apologized and crawled into the top bunk by myself.

And then on the other side of the coin, I felt slighted when they always let the oldest teacher be the first in line and she was 3 years younger than I was!

And sometimes it was my fault. I don’t blame them for thinking I was senile. I would step out into the road after looking the wrong way, hand money with my left hand and say the absolutely wrong thing – oops, I just got one word mixed up!

And it sucks being the only older volunteer. My support group was kids younger than my children!

The delightful part of this situation is that I found I am still young at heart. Some days I’ll remember forever: The day we made the human pyramid at Borobodur. The night in Bali we stayed out clubbing till 3am. The day I jumped off a 50 foot cliff into a river with 9 of my closest friends. I made an effort to bond with those crazy youngsters and it all paid off. I feel closer to them than I ever imagined. They helped me get through this challenging Peace Corps experience.

I felt so frustrated. I tried to talk to PC staff but they just didn’t want to listen. I know they thought I was a complainer. I really thought there were things they could do to help the situation but all I got was that they thought I should stop complaining. I felt so alone.
I didn’t think any other volunteer was going through what I was going through. I wasn’t really close to any of the others anyway.
I cried alone in my room.

What got me through – I don’t know. I guess it’s my belief that nothing you experience is just about you. I figured that ultimately other volunteers would be forced into situations where they were pressured to give money, or situations where they had diarrhea and vomiting at the same time, or situations where they were worried about their host families feeding them.

I stayed here in Indonesia because of YOU, the future generations of Peace Corps volunteers. I figured that if I could face all my difficulties and figure out how to do it that maybe I could help you out in some way. Or maybe just by facing my difficulties I would inspire some of my students to face theirs.

But the truth is I don’t know How to explain what solved the problem.

I came to understand that every moment that challenges me is my teacher – a persistent yet compassionate teacher. If I don’t handle the difficulties in that moment, they will come at me again at another time in my life.

It’s not just this one counterpart who doesn’t value me, it’s my friend in America, or my co-worker at any job I have. Ultimately it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.

What do I do when I don’t feel valued, when I feel rejected, when I feel useless, when I feel used? Those where the dilemmas that my Peace Corps service presented me with.

I became much better at going with the flow, lowering my expectations and listening to what the situation was asking of me.

Often I just did not think I could do it. God help me. I am not super woman. But somehow, someway, I survived. Maybe just my example is all that I can give you.

The problems that you will be given each contain a gift that is unique for you. I hope you ultimately learn to treasure them. Because the person that you are now, the one who is beginning this adventure, is not the person that you will be when you finish. That new person is yearning to be born, but the birth process is so painful!

In the words of someone else: “Sometimes Peace Corps kinda sucks.”

But hang in there. In the end it’s really worth it. I’m curious to find out the new you that you will become just as a result of simmering in this Indonesian soup.

PS Peace Corps is the 2nd hardest job I have ever had. (I think "mothering" was harder. Happy Mother’s Day to all you other Mothers out there.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Can you find me?

I'm the one with long legs and a smile!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

34 Days till America

What I’m looking forward to:

In no particular order:
Being able to understand what people are saying.

Not being famous - stared at, spoken to, admired, watched constantly

Cool weather

No bugs in the food


Hugging Talon and Kira and Arlo (my grandchildren)

Going for a hike in the mountains

Being able to cook

Being able to sit down on a toilet

Showers with warm water

Being alone

Taking the grandkids to the zoo, the park, the living farm, the children's museum

Sleeping at night without a fan blowing on me

No mosquitoes

Driving a car - (well I need to get my license renewed first)

Sitting on grass

Watching a movie (or TV) and understanding all the words

Having a picture with all my children, their spouses and kids and ME.

Making a fort in the living room and having a picnic lunch inside

Food that actually tastes familiar and delicious

Meals without white rice


Not having to wear a jilbab

Dairy Queen peanut buster parfaits

No fish heads

Having people think I'm a superstar because I survived this (he he he)

Telling stories about different ways of thinking, believing, behaving

Drinking tap water

Drinking diet ginger ale

Meeting Arlo for the first time

Meeting Blue for the first time

Seeing my sisters (and brothers)

Being able to go out in the evening

Sleeping with the window open

Meeting my friends

Going to the library


.....and a zillion other things.....

Things I’ll miss:

In no particular order:

Hearing my name “Oma” called out when students walk by my class

Having students take my hand and press it to their face

Greeting every teacher in the morning and before I leave

The “coolness” of early morning walks

The tea sellers daughter calling out to me, “I love you.”

Smiles on the faces of kids too shy to talk.

My awesome hot pink flamingo school uniform (okay I’ll bring it home)

Star fruit, papaya, hairy fruit, mangos, dragon fruit, and lots of others that I don’t know in English

Hearing the sound of prayers 5 times a day.

Hanging out with 20 something year olds (my fellow PCV’s)

Cheap food (a Chocolate Sundae at McDonalds is 55cents or you can get a whole Indonesian meal for that amount)

Cats with mangled tails

People telling me I’m beautiful just because I’m wearing a jilbab

Pregnant women who want to stoke my nose then touch their bellies

Alarm clock chickens (& they taste so good)

Lizards on the ceiling

The sound of trains

Little spotted pigeon hard boiled eggs

Weddings and funerals in the middle of the street

Drinking fresh coconut milk

Getting change back in bills and candy

Palm trees and beaches

Sun dried sheets and clothes

Wearing a uniform so I don’t have to think about what I’ll wear

Feeling great when I remember a word I thought I’d forgotten

Teaching an awesome lesson when the kids really have fun and learn something too

Having people be amazed that I can take an hour long bus ride, by myself

Little bugs that glow in the dark

Taking my shoes off when I go inside a house

Being loved SO MUCH

....and a zillion other things....

White Water Rafting

Oh yea! It’s fun!

There are some unique benefits to Peace Corps life. Every month we get $24 and 2 days of vacation! In addition we are allowed to take 2 out-of-community days each month.

Given that this is National Testing week and there is NO reason to go to school because all my teachers are at a different school – well, I went white water rafting and camping with some of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

We met up at Sarah’s house in Probolingo and her host dad gave the 10 of us a ride to the rafting company. Sarah’s host brother had been a rafting guide for several years. Current volunteers who are reading this blog and want some of the action can check it out at

We camped out near the totally awesome shelter / food serving area. We took a hike up the river and then it started pouring rain and the river looked like it was straight out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After dinner the staff made a bon-fire and we roasted corn then played a game that Erika taught us about made up murder mysteries.

In the morning, after breakfast we put on safety helmets, life jackets with a little flap at the back to keep your head up, were given a bottle of water, a paddle and instructions. Then we all loaded into the back of a truck and drove about 20 minutes up the road. After about a 15 minute hike we were at the river.

No way! It looked like the trail just disappeared and they were sliding the rafts down a steep embankment, but as we re-assembled I could see the little steps down the mountain to the water. There was a painted water level on some rocks and we were within the safety zone so it was a “go.”

There were 5 “tourists” and 2 guides in each raft. In addition there was another raft with 3 guides who scouted out each set of rapids and strung rope across if it was really treacherous. I never quite figured out the rope deal – maybe that was to catch us if we all got dumped.

And we did get dumped! Well, let’s put it this way, we went swimming in the river 5 or 6 times. It was totally fun. At the sort of calmer places the guides had us stand up on the raft and spin us around, or they just dumped us out for fun or we sort of fell out of the raft and they pulled us back in.

Our raft was really good at scooping up water and splashing the other raft and not so good at following the guides directions – left side forward, all forward, right reverse, etc. But I did understand BOOM – which meant pull your paddles in and HOLD ON. It was like being in a pin ball game only these were giant boulders we were going over, around and crashing into. Some places we all had to duck because vines and branches were dangling into the water and we were zipping by too fast to move out into the main part of the river. Some places the river just disappeared as we went off the edge!

One time we all got out of the rafts and climbed up to an overlook spot and ate fried dough things and drank fresh coconut milk. Then they showed us how we could cliff-dive! Okay. I am totally afraid of heights. I just made up my mind that it was now or never, I would absolutely never be in a place like this again with crazy 20 something year olds so I screamed as loud as I could and JUMPED 4 or 5 stories up into the raging river. This may be the highlight of my Peace Corps experience…face your fears and go with the flow... It was incredibly fun!

All of us made it safely out except that lightweight Maggie kept drifting by and people needed to save her.

A little farther down we saw several Komodo dragons by the river. The guide jumped out of the raft and tried to catch one, but it was too fast. Scott said he thought they were monitor lizards but everyone else agreed that they looked like the Komodo dragons in the Surabaya zoo.

Even after we saw the wild animals in the water (which, by the way, like to eat live goats and I’m not sure what a pair of legs sticking out of life jacket looks like underwater but it sure wouldn’t surprise me if we resembled goat legs) anyway, even after we saw the Komodo dragons we still went “swimming” in the river.

We also floated past some ladies doing laundry and some naked men, who carefully held their private parts.

We got a certificate (this is Indonesia after all) that said that the rapids on the Pekalen River that we had just successfully navigated are rated at Class III+. I was impressed!

I’ve been rafting before but I have to tell you, this was absolutely the best!

If I can get some of the pictures Allison and Maggie took, I’ll add them to this blog.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

National Exams

In Indonesia very year during the month of April there are National Exams for class 12. Every Senior must pass these tests to graduate from a nationally accredited High School. My Madrassah is a religious school that also follows the national standards.

The pressure for students to pass these tests is intense. Last year, one student from my school did not pass. She only got 10% on the Mathematics part of the exam. I was told that this would affect her for the rest of her life. It would influence who she could marry. Her family would be ashamed of her. Two teachers went from my school to deliver the news to her family.

A month ago we had a community wide “Pray Day” to ask for Allah’s blessing on the students. About 1000 parents, grandparents and community members attended. We have a little less than 300 Grade 12 students.

For the past few months we have had 15-20 days of practice tests. (Sometimes we practice for a few hours, sometimes we practice for the entire day.) During these times, the other students do not go to class because their classrooms are being used for the “Try Out Exam.” That’s what it’s called. The grade 12 students sit only 1 student to a desk, rather than the usual 2 and every student has an assigned seat in a specific classroom. Different copies of the test are distributed so that no two students sitting next to each other get the same test.

Next week is the actual National Exam. Teachers from my school will go to a different Madrassah and they in turn will send their teachers here so that the exam proctors do not know the students that they are supervising. The purpose is to discourage cheating.

Yesterday we had a school wide prayer service in the mosque to ask Allah for his blessings on our students. Once again we had no teaching sessions. It was an emotional event. At the end of the prayers, all the female teachers stood in a row outside the mosque and every female Grade 12 student came and bowed and took our hand and pressed it to their face. Many of them had tears in their eyes. The boys gave the official greeting of respect to the male teachers. When the Grade 12 students were finished with the teachers, they then went to every other female student in the school. And every female student greeted every female teacher.

My co-teacher explained that is a difficult emotional time for students because they may not see each other again. (Well, we will have a graduation ceremony but at that event the Grade 12 students are dressed in formal lace tops and long printed skirts and have a lot of make up on their faces and last year they didn’t cry.) The crying surprises me. When I attended a funeral of a student who was killed on a motorcycle there were no tears. I was told that it was not proper to express emotion that way, that the Holy Qu’ran specifies moderation.

So next week there is no reason to go to school. There will be no classes and no teachers from my school in the teacher room. I’ll spend one night with Peace Corps friends on a rafting trip and another night in Jakarta attending a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer party sponsored by the Americans who did their Peace Corps service many years ago and are now living in Indonesia. I’m looking forward to seeing how “regular Americans” live. I think of this as a part of my re-integration process.

May 20th I will leave my village and go to the Peace Corps office and begin the 3 day Close of Service program when I turn in a massive amount of reports, materials that I’ve borrowed, make sure I’m medically okay and then on May 24th I’ll head back to the States.

My plan is to live for 3 months in Salt Lake City, with my daughter, her husband and 2 grandkids that I have missed so much. And then move to Las Cruces, New Mexico with my son and his wife and my new grandchild who is now 1 year old. I’ll live with them for a year or more.

And then… no plan.

I want to write about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown and who and what I’ll miss and the experiences that have shaped this new person who grew out of who I was but I find myself getting teary eyed and the sweat is dripping down my neck and there is thunder outside. It’s going to rain and this is the time that the little ants that I normally can’t feel anymore start to bite and I need to turn off the computer to keep it from getting zapped in the storm. I’ll write more another day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bali Blog


Yes, there really is an island paradise. It’s right next door (a 19 hour bus/ferry/bus/mini bus ride) away from my island of Java. It’s Bali! Terraced green rice fields, Hindu temples at every home, and a simply enchanting festival every year – The Bali Day of Silence.

Here’s the Lonely Planet version that first enticed me into planning this trip:

The major festival for the Hindu Balinese is Nyepi – the end of the old year and the start of the new one.

In the weeks before Nyepi much work goes into the making of ogoh-ogoh – huge monster dolls with menacing fingers and frightening faces – and into the preparation of offerings and rituals that will purify the island in readiness for the New Year. The day before Nyepi, Tawar Agung Kesanga, is the “Day of Great Sacrifices”, with ceremonies held at town squares and sports grounds throughout the island. At about 4 pm villagers, all dressed up in traditional garb, gather in the center of the town playing music and offering gifts of food and flowers to the ogoh-ogoh then comes the ngrupuk – the great procession where the ogoh-ogoh figures are lifted on bamboo poles and carried through the streets to frighten away all the evil spirits. This is followed by prayers and speeches and then, with flaming torches and bonfires, the ogoh-ogoh are burnt and much revelry ensues.

The day of Nyepi itself officially lasts for 24 hours from sunrise, and is one of complete inactivity so when the evil spirits descend they decide that Bali is uninhabited and leave the island alone for another year. All human activity stops – all shops, bars and restaurants close, no-one is allowed to leave their homes and foreigners must stay in their hotels. Bali International Airport is closed down. If you should wander off the pecalang (village police) will politely but firmly send you home. No fires are permitted and at night all buildings must be black out.

My sister was not able to join me but I had a great time with two fellow PCV’s Jay and Nicole – who took most of the pictures. They celebrated their joint St. Patrick’s Day birthday with green beer. We had fabulous food including rice and chicken wrapped in a banana leaf, burritos, pizza and fresh coconut in the shell!

Don't worry about the food, flowers and gifts placed for the Gods - they immediately absorb the essence of the offerings so all dogs who snack later are only getting leftovers.

Nicole and I wore sarongs every time we entered a temple. Jay was required to wear the Hindu head gear and a sarong when we attended the temple ceremonies.

You can see 4 people on one motorcycle, but the most I've seen so far is 5. Motorcycle duck transport is fairly common in Indonesia.

It took me 4 hours to download these pictures. I really want to show Americans what a wonderful adventure Bali can be. So come to Bali for Nyepi!

Next year it’s March 12th.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Love Story (Indonesian Style)

On the Tango Wafers package: (printed in English)
“Our original recipe was created by the master of chocolate makers from his personal experience. World class quality chocolate cream spread among layers of crispy wafer delivers a unique premium taste on every bite. It offers you an unforgettable memory, and is a perfect symbol of love for every moment.”

August. 2011
Himma is a new English teacher at my school. She is a delightful 24 years old, energetic and bubbly and a delight to teach with. She attended the school as a student before she went to the University. Her father is an Arabic teacher at the school as well. She told me that she thinks it’s time for her to get married. That was a month ago.

Here’s what’s happened since then:
She has another job tutoring students in English at an “after school” office with branches in several near by cities. Several days a week she also goes to Muslim instructions with a group of other young adults. She told her friends that she thought it was time for her to get married. One of her friends in religious instruction told her that she has a male cousin was also thinking that it was time to get married. Her friend asked if she could give her phone number to the cousin.

The condensed version is that she has met this young man 3 times – each time with other people present and now he has asked her father if he will agree to the marriage!

Okay, back to step one. I have to admit that I get so excited about telling this story.

First he called and told her that he thought it would be best if they met face to face and then just see if they want to continue it. So they met at a little outdoor café and Himma brought a friend with her.

Himma went to visit her Imam – her religious instruction teacher and he said that this young man was the right one for her and she shouldn’t question it any further.

They sent some text messages back and forth and agreed to meet again.

He had also met with his Imam and was told that yes he also should go ahead with these steps toward marriage.

She met with him again and told him that she was not like a traditional Javanese woman and she did not know how to cook. He said, “No problem, I have lived in a religious dormitory and learned how to cook for myself and I will teach you.”

He said that he wanted to talk to her father. She asked if he wanted her to be present and he said “No.” She was quite impressed that he felt confident to speak to her father alone. When he came to the house she was secretly listening to parts of the conversation. After about an hour both he and her father agreed that the conversation was over but then her father asked another question and he wound up staying for an additional hour.

She now says. “I hope this story has a happy ending.” “I am waiting for the answer.”

“When I am alone I have doubts. But when I am with him I think everything will be okay.”

She thinks that if her father agrees that the wedding day will be set for about a month away! This is currently the fasting month and so weddings are delayed till it is finished.
They met each other for the first time exactly 8 days ago!

“Everything is going well. It feels like I am being interviewed for an autobiography.”
“This week he came to my home twice – once to meet my father and the second time he met my mother. I will tell him that his story will be in America!”

“In Javanese custom we will be “lamaran” engaged or “sisetan” which means to hold me tight.”

“For the engagement celebration his big family will come to my house to officially ask me to be his wife.”

“He personally asked me after the 2nd visit.”

“I will tell you his name later. His nick name is HADI. I think it will look good on the invitation Himma and Hadi.”

“It’s not 2 days since I met him. Now I am waiting for the shopping time when I will buy the fabric for my wedding dress.”

“This week he asked me to go out and look for a ring. We will go shopping for a ring. I told him I don’t like gold. He said “Don’t be strange.” You will get the most beautiful and most expensive ring. You can get what you want...”

“Everything is good and why not.”

“My friend who first accompanied me, she didn’t believe it that we are going to have an engagement. She said Wow!”

“The ceremony is held at the girl’s home. Beside my home there is a little mosque. It seems we will have a Muslim ceremony there – actually we want to do it as soon as possible but we need to wait till the end of Ramadan. We will be married next month. Or October at the latest.”

“I wonder when we will meet again. I want to meet him every day, but not yet.”

“What will I wear? What will be the color of my dress? My life has changed drastically from a week before Ramadan till now - When this story goes to America he will have a big head.”

“Our wedding will be the Islamic way: 1st at mosque, then the official party at the house later. The wedding may last for 4 days. My grandma is still sick now so we need to wait.”

“For the engagement the big families meet each other. The man’s family proposes some plans about the date and the family discuss between themselves what date. The Javanese way of our ancestors. – Kejawen.” (This is based on the birthdays of the bride and groom to achieve balance in a marriage – kind of like astrology but the date of the wedding can affect the outcomes of strength and weakness in the qualities of the couple.)
“The Islamic way is to ask the Imam and he finds the best date. My father’s imam said when you pick which date - ask me first.”

“At night I have no other schedule. I am just waiting for him to call me or to text me. During the day we each have our own schedule but after prayers we communicate.”

“The first time we met was on a Saturday - 30 July. We met outside at a restaurant in Blitar. My friend came with me. Two days later he phoned me and asking for serious. I said yes. That week we were asking our own imams and the answer was its okay.”

“The second time we met at the restaurant next to the mosque and the school
On the 3rd Sat. he came to my home for the first time.”

“He didn’t want to date in the Western way. He’s never had an intimate relationship. He wants to find a wife. He lives in Blitar, about 30 minutes away by motorcycle; maybe I drive to Blitar a little bit faster these days.”

“The first time he told me everything about him. His father passed away when he was in Junior High School. He’s the 3rd of 4 siblings, 3 boys and 1 girl.
We’ll be married in September, maximum October.
We’ll talk at the upcoming engagement ceremonial.”

“After we met we decided YES for us but we must talk to our families.”

“He makes his own chicken farm. I don’t like it when a couple has the same job. Is he handsome? Actually according to me his is good looking, but honestly not handsome. He is willing to accept me the way I am. Maybe during Idul Fitri (the days of celebration after the fasting month) I will visit his family.”

“Will I wear a traditional Javanese dress or a long Arabian one? My elders said that girls should follow the traditions. I will wear a white kabaya and batik. Some of us have 4 or 5 outfits for taking more pictures. Some make up artists say now you wear this, now you wear this. My friend had blue, green, purple, pink and white dresses that she wore in 1 ceremonial. My personal willing – only 1 and as simple as possible. But I don’t know if I will wear snow white or broken white. My mother likes this best. He said when will you wear it again? For religious ceremony most of us choose only white. If I wear it another place everyone knows this is my wedding dress. At first he wants to buy the dress after the others agree he said. “I follow what you choose.” The ring will be chosen by his elder sister. She wants to help us out. He feels uncomfortable saying no. If I don’t like it, I will choose a different one later.”

“He said I don’t want to be a dictator. Everything will be discussed together. I said – It’s up to you. His father had very strong opinions. His mother said yes like a good Javanese woman. He doesn’t like that behavior. He said- do what you want as long as you don’t cross the limitation of religion. He says its okay for me to buy anything.”

“After his father died, every family problem he solved because his older brother is more shy than he is. I asked him - Do you want to come to my house with your elder bother as a chaperone? No, he won’t talk. When I said – let’s go to my friend’s house. She wants to meet you. He said “Of course not!” Now that we are talking about the marriage we will not be alone or together even with friends.”

“He is not shy with men. He said it was nice chatting with your father and then when he met my mother, he feels better. I have 1 younger sister and no brothers.”

“He has 1800 chickens. He raises them for eggs on 2 chicken farms. The chickens live in houses about 3 feet off the ground. He takes care of them himself: feeding, drinking medicine and collecting eggs in the evening. When he has 3000 chickens he will get a helper. His brother who started before him has 10,000 chickens. He sells the eggs. That first time we met he told me all about himself, his family, his school time, and his chickens. When he talked about the chickens I just said “OH yes, because I don’t know much about chickens.” This is my daily activity. The chicken farms are in a place where there are many chicken farms so the smell does not disturb the neighbors.”

“When we are married we will live with my family, but during the day he will go to his chicken farms and live there during the day at his own house.”

“I wonder what kind of color to wear what kind of model. He said why don’t you just wear a swim suit! He is talkative. He is the biggest gift for me. He understands me.
Sometimes I am selfish, stubborn. That’s really me.
After I give you the ring you must wear it for 24 hours every day. I will watch to make sure you wear it.”

“I just went to the wedding of my friend. She is not married happily. She is forced by her family.”

“One time I left my wallet and didn’t have any money to pay for a CD. He paid. He seems like a good person. I sound like a material girl...”

Maybe we’ll get married in February. So many things have happened. We cannot get married while my grandmother is sick. On Wednesday my family will go to meet his family and I don’t have to go but he asked me to. After the engagement he is being a little brave and asking me to meet him. He misses me more. His family hopes we will have the wedding in November but it seems my family is not ready yet.”

“He said his family will follow the decision of my family. My mother is a little stressed, a little bit nervous, never had this experience before. Yesterday when I informed him, maybe not till next year. He said, it’s okay. We don’t have to be in a hurry. We can go anywhere we like.”

“He is taller than me. I reach his shoulders. His picture is more handsome than him.”

“He is practicing to be a little romantic. To say I love you and I miss you. The love came after the engagement.”

“If you learn Islam from the Qur’an alone, the book alone, you learn from Satan. (The devil) If you learn from a teacher, you learn from his teacher, who learned from his teacher, from his teacher, etc. who learned from Mohammad, who learned it from Gabriel. You need to know if the knowledge you acquire is safe.”

“My fiancée lived in an Islamic Boarding House in Senior High School. He didn’t go to college, but then lived in another Islamic boarding house. Usually you try to find a spouse from the same background, but, fortunately, he wanted a wife from a different background.”

“If we have a child he will teach the child about religion and I will teach about general knowledge.”

“Today if the weather is good I will have a date. My date is sweeter than that date” (the kind you eat)

“We agreed that we would find love after we were married but we have it already. Now we know the wedding is planned for March 7”

“He said he wasn’t romantic but look at the text message he sent me – can you understand it? (The part I could understand was “love forever”) He said, I will love you forever, you who wear my engagement ring.”

It is a long time to wait, but it is good. I always wanted a chance to “date” and now my dream has come true. (Himma’s facebook name is De…LuvsRomance) Himma told me that at first she wanted to wait to have children but now she wants to make her husband happy and God willing they will have children soon.

“His mother has died. I am sad that she didn’t get to see our marriage. But it is good that she got to know her future daughter- in-law.”

The wedding is from 7 March to 11 March. There are 3 different invitations. Some are for neighbors, others are for teachers, and others are for special people who will be invited. Himma said that it is not a big wedding, only 500 or so people!

Wedding Day – When Teachers attend
On the final day the program said that it would start at 8:30, but “rubber time” is essential in Indonesia and the bride and groom walked out at 10:00. When I got there at 9:00 - I got a ride with my vice principal, I was ushered inside the main part of the house, so I took my shoes off but I didn’t have any trouble finding them in the pile of shoes that had accumulated by the front door – they were the biggest shoes – my size 10 feet were bigger than any of the Indonesian men.. Himma wore a red dress for this occasion and had a silver dress and a white dress and there may have been others that I didn’t see. I went to her house and got a tour of all the feast preparations. As each guest arrived we were given a snack box with a plastic container of water, peanuts, cake, sweet rice in a banana leaf and a little container of jello-jelly. Women are seated on one side, men on the other. I watched Himma get ready with her head dress and make up. Then the final ceremony began when she and her husband came from different directions, and her father wrapped a shawl around the couple and her mother held the shawl at the back as the couple walked to the stage, then they fed each other pieces of cake and a gave each other a drink of red juice, All 500 or 600 guests were served a bowl of rice with spicy beef and potatoes. All the dishes were collected and then every guest got a bowl of pink sweetened coconut milk with pieces of watermelon, other fruits and jelly cut into tiny pieces, floating in the bowl. Three different religious leaders spoke about marriage. Family and friends had their pictures taken with the new couple. Every guest was given a bag with crackers, a plastic container of homemade cookies, noodles and other snacks. And around 12:30 it was all finished. Except for the clean up! Himma will be back at school teaching in 2 weeks after the honeymoon time at her parents house.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Close of Service Conference

Seventeen of us - the first group of Americans to complete Peace Corps service in Indonesia in 45 years! A time to celebrate and look forward to the next phase of our lives. I'll be home in 74 days.

Swimming Lessons

I want an Indonesian bathing suit too!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My "Peace Mission" in the newspaper

Here is an approximate translation of this article in the Jawa Pos, a regional newspaper that is widely distributed in my area

Happy in Blitar

Colleen Young, grandmother of the volunteers from the American peace mission, veiled, admits that Islam in Indonesia is about peace and love.

There are three Peace Corps volunteers from the United States serving a mission of peace in schools in the Blitar area. Although dusk has aged her, Colleen Young still has spirit. Grandma, 63 years old, serves at Madrasah Alliyah Affairs (MAN) Wlingi, Blitar. Here's the report.

Last Saturday (25 Feb.) in a religious ceremony at MAN Wlingi a female caught my attention. Her face was very strange for the audience of thousands who follow these “prayer ceremonies.” She is Colleen Young, a resident of the United States. She is a volunteer from the Peace Corps, an independent U.S. government agency engaged in the deployment of volunteers all over the world.

At the show, Colleen Young, called “Oma”- look gorgeous wearing a gray Muslim garment. Her matching color headscarf looked fashionable. Although not a Muslim, Oma is getting used to the cloth covering the nakedness of women. Initially, the white woman admitted a little trouble using the hood.
She felt a swelter because Indonesia has very hot weather. That's very different than America. In addition, another difficulty is that wearing the jilbab made it a little difficult to hear because of the age factor. "It is hard for me to hear when I wear the jilbab." she said.

In this Islamic High School Oma has been one of the English teachers since June 2010. As a Peace Corps volunteer, she also brings a peace mission by introducing Americans to the Indonesian people, especially students. Vice versa, she has a duty to introduce Indonesia and especially Islam in Indonesia, to the American people. "To show the people of Indonesia what America is. And, to tell the American people about Indonesia, "she explained.

This peacekeeping mission, according to her, is important in order to erode the stigma that the American people have against Islam.

So far, the Muslims are always synonymous with terrorism. Moreover, Indonesia is a country with the greatest of the world's Muslim population. "Once, when I heard the word “Muslim family”, they always said that Muslims are terrorists. But after I saw for myself in Indonesia, it is not proven. “She added.

In Blitar, Oma lives with a resident in the district of Wlingi. She said she was happy with the family. Oma claimed to have considered it as her own family. In fact, when the fasting month arrived, Oma also fasted.

Although the mission is to bring peace, Oma does not teach students about the religion that she embraced, namely Christianity. But she is open to teachings about Islam. "I do not teach them about Christianity, but they taught me about Islam…obviously." she said, laughing.

Colleen came to Indonesia in March 2010. However, she arrived in Blitar in June of that year, because volunteers had to undergo training in Indonesian language for three months in Batu, Malang. This year is the last year she will serve in Indonesia. She is a citizen of New Mexico, USA, and will return to her village in America on May 25, after her term expires.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What my host family wants

Okay....phase two and I don't think this is over yet.

At school today I agreed with my vice principal, who talked to Peace Corps that I should give my host family $40 and buy all my food on the street "outside" using the other $40. This seemed a little unrealistic but I have decided that I don't want to move again and I will do whatever "they" tell me to do - Peace Corps, vice principal, host family, etc. And Peace Corps wants volunteers to give every family $40 per month even if they do not provide food. So be it.

I printed out my schedule showing what days I will be away from site: 23 of the remaining 99 days - the last of my annual leave and Close of Service Conference and final check out days, medical, dental - all that is done away from my site where I am living.

This afternoon the vice principal and I sat down with my host parents. My vice principal did most of the talking. My family saw how many days I will be gone and they said they will take all the money and if they don't feel like cooking they will give me a little bit back so I can go on the street and buy and some food. So they get $80 and I get $0. (Well I have my pocket money.)

I didn't ask, "How much is a little bit?"

Here's my attitude: I don't care what happens. I know I will not starve. I may be hungry. I may have to eat street food that I don't like at inconvenient times where ever my family tells me to. But it's only for 99 - 23 days. I can pretty much put up with anything for that short of period of time. (Please God, don't test me on that statement!)

I figure I gave in on everything - I won't cook. I won't put stuff in the frig. I will give them all my money. I can't plan in advance for when I should try to buy some vegetables or fruit or other food that I prefer. The one thing they agreed to was that I am allowed to bring the food back and eat it in my room rather than on the street.

You'd think they would be pleased. But they weren't smiling. I think they really don't want to cook anymore.

Day 99 and counting....

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

14 February, 2012

Dedicated to my wonderful family and friends, who care about me, even when I write long, crazy blogs.

When I arrived at school this morning my vice principal told me that he had talked to my ibu-mama and she doesn't want to cook my food any more. He asked me if starting in March if I would eat all my meals "outside" meaning at small food stalls on the street and the canteen at school. (The canteen is 5 food stalls in a row at the back of the school.)

I asked him to please clarify that they do not want the $80.00 each month that I give them for food.

Then I called Peace Corps. I wanted to talk to Betsy, who is the boss of my boss (Mifta) Yesterday Mifta came to my house. As far as I know they did not talk about food. He was there for 15 minutes and took pictures to document where I live and all the conversation was in Indonesian, but I thought I understood most of it. (Yes, Mifta confirmed, they did not talk about food.)

The reason Mifta came is because a week ago I met another Peace Corps staff person at a location 2 hours from my house and we went to look at some schools where future volunteers may live. That man, Wawan, the newly promoted Regional Manager asked if Mifta had ever come to visit my house and I said “No.” Now the policy is that someone from PC is supposed to visit your house every time you move. I moved to this house a year ago.

So for the past year I have been living in my "new house" with my "new family" About 2 months ago I started making oatmeal for breakfast, buying the oatmeal and milk out of my pocket money and still continuing to give my family the $80 ($80 is a huge amount of money here. A new teacher told me that she only gets paid $50 a month to teach almost full time at the school.) Since I have been living there my family has acquired a refrigerator, a washing machine, a new TV in my host family bedroom, built a new bathroom for the boarders at the front of the house and purchased and had installed a gigantic new metal fence with a sliding gate. That's fine, I want them to use my "food" money however it works well for them.

Betsy, my best contact at Peace Corps said that I need to be able to have access to the kitchen and the refrigerator. So far, my host mother has never let me light the stove. I do keep a bottle of water in the frig. I told Betsy I could eat a raw food diet for the next 3 months and supplement it with street food that is cooked, but she said No, that she would ask one of the Indonesians on staff to talk to my vice principal and maybe my host mother to clarify what is going on.

In addition to my "food" money I also give my family $20 a month for internet service. My family may be able to negotiate this lower, but $20 is the published rate and it's totally worth it to me for them to handle this as a part of their telephone bill. (Other families of volunteers regularly go to the telephone office and get their bill down to the "special" rate of $10 a month, so I know it's possible, but I don't know if my family negotiates or not.)

And my school gives $30 a month to my host family to cover the actual cost of me renting a room and electricity and use of other utilities. The first month they only gave $20 but I asked the school to please give them $30 because that is what they gave my previous family and they agreed and my new family was very happy. The amount every school gives is different based on the local price of letting someone live in your home.

So here's my Valentine's day dilemma:
Do they really not want me here? Do they not want to cook because they are tired of cooking? (the reason they told my Vice Principal) Do they not want me in the outside kitchen where the gas burner and the wood fireplace are? Do they not want me to put food in the frig? Do they not want me in the inside kitchen where we wash the inside dishes? (We wash the cooking pots outside.)
The market where I can buy fruits and vegetables in a 45 minute walk away – one way. Do they not want me to keep food in their house? Can I keep some food in my room? Do they really want me to eat ALL my meals “on the street” including the oatmeal I have for breakfast? Can I keep fruit in my room?

Okay. Wawan, the newly promoted Regional manager just called me. He talked to my Vice Principal, and now I need to go to school tomorrow to have my vice principal come back with me to negotiate the price I will continue to pay - I will now give $20 per month if they let me use the stove and frig, kitchen and dishes. (So the family will have a total of $50, 30 from the school, 20 from me - not counting the internet which is a totally different deal.) I really don't want to eat all my meals on the street!

I'll let you know what happens.

Sometimes Peace Corps life kinda sucks.

I wish I could go out and eat a hamburger and fries and have a chocolate sundae to celebrate Valentine's Day. Instead I know what it will be – the same food that was on the table at lunch that I didn’t finish – the tail end of a fish, white rice, green vegetable soup and a banana.

I'm so worried about how I'm going to eat for the next 100 days I forgot to tell you about the RAID.

A male teacher and 2 student council members came into my classroom (and every classroom) and had all the students stand at the front of the room then they searched every desk and back pack for valentines, chocolate, candy, hearts or flowers. Thankfully the class I was in "passed" with no contra band Valentine's Day items.

The Muslims at my school, at least, are convinced that Valentine's Day is a Christian holiday and really an excuse for free sex.

Life as a Peace Corp volunteer! ....99, 98, 97.....

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My home

It's not really mine but it's the closest I have to a "home" right now.

The front porch with the new gate.

The fancy living room where we only sit if company comes to visit.

My bedroom with the mosquito net over the bed and all my family & friends photos fixed to the net so that I don't make nail holes in the wall.

Me, my host mother and my host father - both many years younger than I am. He's a retired policeman. They were on their way to have their pictures taken for an official photo.

My daughter and I washing clothes when she came to visit.

The bathroom with the squat toilet and the "mandi" tub of water. The dipper is for bathing and washing up after using the toilet.

One of the students who also is a boarder at my house, ironing in the hallway outside my bedroom.

The outside kitchen where all the cooking takes place.

Laundry drying outside my room.

And my nearest neighbors, the alarm clock chickens who live 8 feet from my bedroom window.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fried Goldfish

Maryellen and I at Tanah Lot Temple, Bali, after we washed with the holy spring water and were anointed with salt/rice.

Maryellen, Nicole, Colleen, Mike (Erin's brother) Erin and Brianna with traditional Balinese dancers.

Erika was not enthusiastic about the monkey on her and I doubt she really liked the buxom statue next to her either.

I took the picture with Nicole's camera of my Peace Corps friends: Brianna, Nicole, Maryellen & Erin jumping in the air on the beach.

But Nicole took most of the others and the Bromo ones I took off the internet. But I wanted you to see what a super vacation in Bali and Bromo Mountain in Java look like.

At the base of the steep steps you can see ponies that bring people to the crater edge. And in the plains there is a Hindu temple because this mountain is considered to be one of the most sacred mountains and the father of Mount Agung on Bali. We walked from beyond the temple to the top of the stairs. The picture is deceptive. It really isn't far.

All in all it was a super wonderful vacation - from the beaches of Bali to the top of the world at Bromo crater!

And then back to normal life... Yesterday all the students and teachers returned to school and we had a "stand at attention" ceremony to mark the beginning of the new semester and then NO teaching.

My counterpart explained that it's an Indonesian culture thing - when you come back from vacation everyone likes to chat for 1/2 a day.

Then all 50 teachers piled into cars and rode motorcycles to go see the new baby that one of the teachers had given birth to on Dec. 24th.

Have you ever been in a car with a butterfly? There was a huge black and gold butterfly that came with us to see the newborn. All the teachers were chatting about what they did for the 2 week vacation but I could hardly keep my eyes off such intense beauty!

And today: NO SCHOOL. A surprise extra day of vacation so that nationally certified teachers can attend a meeting in a nearby town.

And that brings me to: FRIED GOLDFISH

Before I tell you this story I want to tell you another story. Six and a half years ago I had a pond in my yard. Goldfish from finger size to 12 inches long swam in the recirculated water. I named all 20 of them: Big Mama, Goldie, Streak, White One, Spot, etc.

Then one day the fish started disappearing. About a week later I saw what was happening. A snake had grabbed one of the goldfish by its mouth and was dragging it out of the pond. I stomped on the snake but it would not release the goldfish. Finally I stopped so much that the snake died and let go of the fish. The fish lived. I cut up the snake and fed it to the turtle.

Then I did some research about snakes in New Mexico which eat fish. There is only one species. And I have forgotten the name but I found out that these snakes mate for life. And sure enough, a few days later I found another snake in the pond. This one I scooped out and put into a cardboard box and drove 5 miles to the nearest stream and released it in the water.

I felt bad about killing that snake but mostly I felt very protective of my little batch of goldfish.

Yesterday we had goldfish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I did not eat them at breakfast, nor at lunch but when they were still one table for dinner I took a fairly large one and ate it all, head, tail, bones....all of it. Then I took another one and ate that too.

Goldfish here are food. They are a source of protein and calcium. It was hard looking at their eyes and remembering my little friends but I am in Indonesia. So I eat fried goldfish and I sit in the teacher room while the students chat. Maybe the teaching and learning process will begin tomorrow…