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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.