Saturday, February 23, 2013


So I actually have an excuse for not writing the last two months: Google wants me to pay to post more photos. So like a squatter who is now forced to pay for where he sleeps, I'm moving to another dilapidated house. Check it out.

It was a good run blogspot. No hard feelings. It's not you. It's me.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Let's Party Like It's 1434!

New Year's parade livery
Tahun Baru Hijriah 1434, or the Islamic New Year 1434. Why 1434 in 2012? And in November? Well, the beginning of the Islamic calender corresponds with the Prophet Muhammad SAW leaving Mecca for Medina, which was about 622 AD. The Islamic calender also follows the lunar cycle, not the Gregorian calender. (I apologize if my facts are wrong. Check here for more information.)
To celebrate, our town had a parade for all of the schools. Pre-schoolers to high schoolers donned their best and brightest and set out across town. Being Indonesia, no permits or traffic control was needed. Also being Indonesia, a parade that was supposed to start around 8AM actually didn't get going until 9AM+. By this time, the sun was pretty intense, and the constant stop-and-go left students dehydrated and scrambling for shade. But it was good to see the cool costumes and marchers. I even wore my shades for the full-effect, because everyone knows no parade is complete without a ridiculous bule. Enjoy the photos.

Elementary students ready to march
Kabaya, traditional javanese wear

My students waiting for things to get rolling again
Bu Dwi and Bu Ulfah, math and arabic teachers, along the parade route

Resorting to more desperate measures to hide from the sun

The parade clogged the only route through town

More parade related traffic

Middle school marching band

Yours truly in batik and kopiah hat during the parade. Photo from "Mr Photography" who apparently watched the parade then tagged me on Facebook. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Changing of the Guard and Why You Shouldn't Fall into a Rice Paddy

HIMPALA Cinta Alam (Nature Lover's Club) invited me along for another semi-outdoorsy adventure recently. They would be changing club officers and initiating new tenth graders into the fold. We packed ourselves into the back of a truck and headed about an hour south to Monumen Kresek. The monument commemorates the 17 people who were killed by communists in the late 1950's. Definitely one of the more disturbing monuments I have been too, with a giant statue of a communist with a big mustache beheading someone with a machete. But that wasn't the point of the trip. All we really needed was a place to put up some tents for two days and some rice paddies to trek around in. 

Piling into the truck

Getting off then walking a few kilos to Monumen Kresek 
Awkward and funny group stretching
Monumen Kresek: The giant beheading-communist statue is  top-left
 There was a navigation presentation by the geography teacher, lot's of group stretching and fitness, and various initiation activities for new members like making them eat gross things (a bowl of instant noodles mixed with bread, crackers, and whatever else was lying around). We also did some "survival" training like looking for things to eat near a stream and repelling from a tree with a homemade harness. I was happy to tag along but made the mistake of getting too photo-happy walking through the paddy. For those that don't know, rice paddy is usually irrigated all the time. So it looks soft and grassy, but it's all mud underneath. I lost my balance and in the process of trying to save my camera, I ended up back down in the mud with my hands and legs up like a upturned turtle. The students laughed. I had to finish the excursion with my whole back side covered in mud. But still good times.

Trekking through the paddy before my fateful slip-up

Thumbs up for being a ridiculous and unbalanced bule 
Wonder why cashews are so expensive? They actually come from a fruit, and at the top of each fruit is  one cashew.  So a lot of work for just one cashew, but oh-so-delicious when shelled and fresh roasted. 

The students get to practice repelling 
Not letting kids come down from repelling makes for good laughs

HIMPALA Cinta Alam 2012-13

New members celebrate
 With the changing of the guard of new officers and members, it was time to go home. Everyone piled into the truck again a little more tired than they arrived. HIMPALA has been one of my favorite extracurriculars at school, and I'm lucky my school has the club. They keep my yearning for the Colorado mountains at bay.
Sleeping standing up on the way home

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Life in the Day of October 1st, 2012

October 1st, 2012: Sunrise epic fail 
4:15ishAM- Wake up to the pre-dawn adzan (call to prayer). Fall asleep again.
4:45AM- Alarm clock goes off. Hit the snooze. Fall asleep again.
4:58AM- After 3 more alarms, finally get out of bed. Put on my shoes and head out the door for a walk.  There's a nice hour-long loop that goes through the rice paddies and is very quiet. Watch the sunrise. Sadly, today was a crappy sunrise. Just an orange disk in a grey-brown sky.

A woman's work is never done: My ibu sweeping. Note the oh-so-delicious mangoes hanging overhead
 5:53AM- Return home from walk. All of the neighbors are sweeping and tidying up their homes. Morning is also the time to burn your trash, so things get a little smokey. But morning is my favorite time of day because things are relatively quiet and not blazingly hot yet.
6:02AM- Take a mandi, or a cold bucket bath. Luckily, I don't live in the mountains so my water temp is tolerable (some other volunteers endure icy bucket baths everyday). Indonesians usually take a bath in the morning and before dusk every day. Note: Taking a bath after dark risks masuk angin (a vague catch-all Indonesian sickness) and a reprimand from bapak, ibu, and my neighbors.

Where the magic happens: Squatty potty and water basin. Note: That is not a bath tub. Water is scooped out with the blue bucket and splashed vigorously over you until you feel a light clean sensation.
6:12AM- Pack my bag for school: Laptop, papers, charger, books, water bottle, handkerchief for sweat management, and (if it's rainy season) a big rain poncho. Go pump up my bicycle tires.

My room
6:18AM- Sarapan (breakfast). Since Ramadan, I've gotten in the habit of skipping breakfast. It turns out that I feel better and more energetic during the day if I don't have a big belly full of rice. But ibu is very concerned if I don't eat. This morning I caved into the pressure and ate a little. On the menu was mie goreng (fried instant noodles with egg and cabbage), tempe goreng (fried fermented soybean cake, which is way more delicious than it sounds), little green onion scrambled egg discs that I don't know the name of, and buncis tumis (green beans, carrots, garlic, shallot, and a lot oil). Indonesian cooking is delicious, but can be very heavy. The main way to cook is deep frying in a wok. Sometimes it seems almost everything is fried. Even to reheat food, things will be fried again (I've eaten chicken that I know was fried at least 3 times). That's why I tend to gravitate towards dishes like nasi pecel, which is just simple boiled greens over rice with a spicy peanut sauce.

Mmmmm... breakfast. Note how the green beens and carrots shimmer in their oil. 
6:43AM- After brushing my teeth and gearing up for the day, I head out the door. The trusty Coconut Crusier/Flying Dutchman carries me to school in upright comfort and style. I wear my bright white Peace Corps-issued helmet because there's nothing that says "Bule!" more than a bicycle helmet in Indonesia. I ring my bell and wave to little kids yelling "Hallo misterrrrrrrrr!!" Sometimes I still get confused looks of incredulity and surprise from people on the street, but thankfully that's getting less and less the longer I'm here (as long as I don't deviate from my daily route).

Bule pergi ke sekolah: The monday-tuesday teacher uniform is full kakhi with patches. I added my own custom Peace Corps patch on the right. 
6:55AM- Arrive at school. Park my bicycle with all the other teacher's motorcycles. Enter the office and sign-in. Greet and saleem (handshake) any teachers or administration I meet.
7:04AM- Upacara Bendera: On the 1st and 17th of every month, we have Upacara Bendera (flag ceremony). All the students line up on the basketball court in their respective classes, and participate in a ceremony designed to instill Indonesian national values. The flag is raised while everyone sings the national anthem Indonesia Raya. The Pancasila (five principles of the Indonesian state) is recited and declaration of independence is read. After a couple more partiotic  songs, the time is given to a teacher or guest to impart wisdom and advice to the students. Today was special because it was to celebrate Kesaktian Pancasila, (sanctity of the pancasila). So history teacher (and highly-enthusiastic English learner) Pak Aziz gave a speech on the history of the Pancasila. And an integral part of every upacara is students fainting. Today, four students fainted and were carried off to the nurse's office. Theories abound. Indonesians say it's a lack of breakfast and/or rice, while fellow volunteers believe it's a combination of the heat and iron-deficiencies in some of the girls.

Pak Aziz speaks about kesaktian pancasila
7:51AM- Upacara Bendera ends and students enter go to their classrooms. Most Indonesian schools use a rotating teacher system, not a rotating student system like the U.S. So a group of students have a set classroom they stay in all day as different teachers come and teach each subject. Students in the 11th and 12th grade are grouped by track (a science or humanities track) and ability. So the best students are usually concentrated in one class, and then it goes down from there. (The merits of this grouping is up for debate). 
7:56AM- Technically, the bell rang at 7:50AM but there's no passing periods here. So teachers usually enter and leave classes at their own pace. This used to drive me nuts, but I've learned to work with it as best as I can. Today, my counterpart and I will give a test to Kelas XI-IPA-1 (11th grade science track #1). Cheating is a big issue, so I've found mixed seating and a 3-strikes rule to be fairly effective. Even then I still gave warnings to 6 students and took 25 points off one student's test. 

Test taking: Kelas XI-IPA-1 and my English teaching counterpart Bu Haniek
9:10AM- Collect the tests and return to the teachers room. I have no classes until 12:30PM, so I ride my bicycle to pick up photo copies of a listening dialogue I will use later in the week.
9:37AM- Return to school and start grading papers.

Bubur Ketan Hitam (black rice porridge). And yes I do own an "Angry Birds" pencil case.
10:25AM- Break time. I buy a bag of Bubur Ketan Hitam (black rice porridge) for 1000 rupiah (about 15 cents). Indonesians like to serve and drink things from plastic bags. It's weird at first, but now I'd have it no other way.
10:52AM- Go to class again to teach one hour of "English Conversation" with Kelas XI IPA-1 again. We are still working on introductions.
11:30AM- Another class. This time Kelas XI IPS-3 (11th grade social track #3). We finish up the first unit in our book and do a short review.
12:10PM- Lunch and prayer time. I usually don't eat lunch at school, but now it is mango season and Bu Haneik gave me a mango.
12:40PM- Go to class again for the last two hours with Kelas XI Agama (11th grade religion track). We play Jeopardy to review for their next test. It is a challenge to continue finding new activities in class for review and practicing material. Students seem to get tired of things after the 2nd or 3rd time, so I'm always searching for new activities. But Jeopardy for test review is always a solid choice. Students get into the competition.
2:00PM- School ends. Most teachers have already gone home. Students stick around for a smattering of activities. There's a schedule for extracurriculars at school, but I've never actually seen this mythical schedule. So usually I don't know what's going on until I stumble upon it. So I've found it pays to hang around after school for the slight chance something happens. Also, after school is the only time I really have to use the internet (if it's working).

Going home
3:41PM- I ride my bicycle home. I wave and ring my bell at little kids still screaming "Hallo misterrrr!"
3:55PM- I change out of my uniform and into shorts. Grab a book at head out to the front of the house to read. I read a lot in Indonesia. It's become a way to unwind for me lately.
5:08PM- Another mandi. Wait for bapak to return from mahgrib prayers at the mosque so we can eat dinner together.
Bule membaca buku: The steel doors are the front of my host families toko, or little shop they run out of their house
5:42PM- Makan malam. Dinner. Some familiar faces from breakfast make repeat appearances. The shiny green beans, instant noodles, and tempeh have sat on the table all day. Even though my family has a refrigerator, for some reason they don't refridgerate leftovers. They just sit on the table covered by a plastic cage to keep the flies away until someone eats them.
5:58PM- I take bapak's plate and do some dishes out back. This is a small victory for me because my host family wouldn't let me wash dishes for a long time.
6:10PM- Grade more papers and start grading the tests from earlier. I never realized how much work a teacher does behind the scenes. Just grading takes up a lot of time, not to mention lesson planning and making materials. You have to be thinking about twenty different things at once just to stay on top of teaching. It's been a steep learning curve for me, and I still suck at teaching now. But entering the classroom and planning is a little less daunting then it was at first.

Makan Malam: Note some familiar faces who've been hanging out all day.
8:14PM- I can't grade anymore. It's time for bed. Indonesia has turned me into an old man where even just 9:00PM is pretty late and 11:00PM is unfathomable. So I brush my teeth, crawl under the mosquito net, and call it a day. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Forgiveness, Fireworks, and Fun with Bamboo

10th Graders get ready for the pre-Ramadan parade at my school
Ramadan 2012. The month of fasting sunup to sundown was July 21- August 19. This year was a lot easier than the last because I knew what to expect: a couple town parades to kick things off, 3 weeks of half-day classes, then a two week holiday. I also had a whole cadre of books to get me through the long, hot, and thirsty afternoons. By the end of the month, I was a reading and fasting machine.

A truck from the local islamic middle school
 I realized this year that fasting isn't that hard. Even with days where I feel like I sweat out half my body weight, I learned how to deal. This included drinking 1+ liters of water before the sun came up, soft-pedaling my bike to school, and lots of napping. And Indonesian latitude makes for tolerably long days. For those muslims living at higher latitudes, Ramadan can mean fasting through unbearably long days (14+ hours).
Pre-Ramadan Kids Bicycle Parade (photo taken just before crashing)
Ramadan was also better because I've become slightly more "integrated" into my community. I'm no longer the shiny new bule I was last year, but a shiny new bule with a year of trial and failure under my belt. So things like crashing hard on my bike in front of the whole town during the pre-Ramadan kids bicycle parade isn't such a big deal (A little kid took me out, but I everyone thought that I just didn't know how to ride a bike).

Kid's Bike Parade-I need streamers for my bicycle
I also have more friends to hang out with during the day, which is crucial when there's no school in the morning and the afternoon nap seems oh-so-far away. There's actually a word for it in Indonesian: Ngabuburit. It's defined in my little Tuttle dictionary as "to fill in time waiting for the end of the fast at sunset." This could be any activity like going for a little walk, cruising on bikes, sitting and talking, or things like making little pop guns out of bamboo.

Fun with bamboo

One morning the kids in my neighborhood showed me how to make the little bamboo guns. It's basically just a short hollow tube with a plunger (also made from bamboo). Soak some newspaper in water, make a little spit ball to stuff in the barrel, and voila you have your very own little bamboo musket pop gun.
Bagus and his bamboo shooter
Cheap Chinese fireworks are also plentiful during Ramadan. Some of the kids favorites are these simple little flash-bang ones that your can light on the back of a matchbox. There's no fuse on them. They make a good deal of noise, but don't really pack a punch. So kids end up just throwing them at each other or lighting them next to their friends when they aren't looking. Or they'll light them and play broom baseball with them. (Peace Corps safety note: I do not condone nor permit the use of fireworks in an irresponsible manner. Part of my responsibility at site is to make sure kids stay safe and happy, so I remind kids of the need to be careful with fireworks.) 

My neighbor Udin with bamboo shooter and his little sister Eva (I promise they're not this menacing in person)
When Idul Fitri finally came and marked the end of fasting, it had much more significance this year. In the weeks after Ramadan, people greet each other with "Minal aidin wal faidzin" or "Mohon maaf lahir dan batin." Which I think roughly translates from Arabic and Indonesian to "Please forgive me for all my mistakes." I know it sounds cheesy, but for everyone it's about forgiveness. For all those who we've done wrong the past year, it's a time to let it go. It's a time for humility from son to father, daughter to mother, brother to sister, teacher to student, and on and on. When I sat down and thought about all the things I had done wrong in the past year, it was embarrassing: the many cultural misunderstandings, days when my patience ran out, people I ignored, students I should have helped more, the time I hid in my room when I should have gone outside, etc. It's really incredible a family and community have welcomed a complete stranger and put up with him for over a year now. I hope they can forgive me for all those things I've done. And I ask forgiveness from everyone at home too. For all the emails I haven't replied or sent, for all the gifts and packages I haven't been able to thank them for, for all the love and support they give me that I haven't reciprocated, for my poor blogging and update skills. To everyone and all, mohon maaf lahir dan batin. 

Idul Fitri 2012: My complete host family. Upper row left to right: Bu Qom, Pak Susilo, Me, Pak Totok, Bu Rina. Middle Row left to right: host father Pak Darus,  Siti, and host mother Bu Darus. Bottom Row: Dini, Tika, and Dana.