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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.