Friday, April 29, 2011

You don't swallow the whole apple at once...

Click on the link for my:

New Videolog!

...which is about using the bathroom to shower know what. Also some commentary regarding the taboo on the left hand.

I've been over three weeks now. It seems a lot longer. This week we began our practicum. My group of trainees went to a vocational school that specializes in Broadcasting, Multimedia, and Animation. The school has about 300 students and is located sorta kinda in the middle of nowhere. And by the middle of nowhere, I mean it's surrounded by agricultural fields and a beautiful mountain landscape. We got our first actual look at an Indonesian high school and its operation. The morning we arrived, we saw the upacara bandera (flag ceremony) that is performed at all Indonesian schools on Monday mornings. All the kids were standing in formation out in the field around which the school is oriented. The three who were supposed to put the flag on the flagpole and raise it had a rather embarrassing moment though...the first time they attached the flag upside down. It was a funny moment, and privately I was pleased. I don't like military-style patriotism anywhere, so it was satisfying to see a hiccup.

After the ceremony and what I suppose were the announcements, I was asked to make a short speech for the students introducing us and letting them know (in English) a bit about what we would be doing at their school. It went over well, and afterward we got down to business. We spoke for a long time with the English teachers, observed classes, examined the teaching materials and school resources, and we got a sense for how an Indonesian high school actually runs. We also interviewed a handful of students to learn a bit about their interests and gauge their level of English. While observing classes, I was asked to help and then spontaneously to create an activity/lesson on giving directions for the last 10 minutes of class. I had one kid march another one around the room using directions. It was fun.

My energy level really increases when I'm at the school. I feel very natural in front of a classroom, and having spent some time there has put to rest most of my nerves about being in front of a class. I thoroughly enjoy it and I'm confident I will be a good teacher. But I definitely have a lot to learn. It's one thing to be a guest teacher a few times and another to manage multiple classes of 30+ students hours at a time for a year. We also did some lesson planning.

Language classes are sailing along. We're half way through our six-week course in bahasa Indonesia, and I'm feeling really good about it. Most nights I hang out with my family in the living room for a couple hours and we talk. Often, I actually get to use the things I learn in class the same day. Indonesian is pretty easy, but there is still a lot to learn. The last couple nights I've had some dreams in Indonesian, or that at least involved me speaking the language. After the course in Indonesian ends, we're going to have a test to make sure we're up to snuff, and then we get a two-week crash course in bahasa Jawa, or Javanese. Javanese is the language of the home of pretty much everyone here, and it's much more complicated than Indonesian. There are four levels of Javanese in terms of formality, and (as I understand it) the upper levels are not comprehensible to speakers of lower tiers. But those who know high Javanese can speak/understand low Javanese. It's weird, ancient, and crazy. I look forward to learning about it. If, in a few months, I become good enough in Indonesian to not feel insecure about speaking in front of a camera, I will try to make a video of me speaking Indonesian for you so you can hear what it sounds like. Or maybe I'll write an entry in Indonesian.

And while on the topic of writing blogs, I've been finding myself reluctant to write at all. I'm not the kind of person who journals compulsively. Writing my feelings/experiences down is not an integral part of my identity. Yet I love writing and I want to keep a record of my experiences here for myself and for all of you. So there's this tension. The scope of the change in my life/environment is really too big to encapsulate in writing. It's too big to talk about even. I haven't had a chance to process it mentally yet. But things which were exotic and extraordinary are becoming normal now, so the newness of it all is quieting down a bit. Nonetheless, I am not able to articulate everything that's going on. So I beg you preemptively, loyal friends/readers, not to pose general inquiries like:

  • "How is it there?"
  • "What's it like in Indonesia?"
  • "Are you having fun?"
  • "Tell me everything!"
It is simply not possible to answer those questions with anything resembling completeness or justice, and they would only vex me. Instead, if you have specific things you are curious about (e.g. "Are the people friendly?" or "What is a normal day like for you?" or "How do you get around in Indonesia?"), please ask. This is all a long way of me saying that my blogs and videologs are going to attempt to address specific, manageable facets of my life and experience in Indonesia. In other words, taking bites, not swallowing it all whole.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Okay, I did manage to upload the videos! Maybe this can work. Here's the link to the playlist. It's about 16 minutes total:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

This will be inadequate

Sorry everyone, I know this post isn't really going to cover everything. Not nearly. I have barely written anything since arriving in Indonesia...just too busy. But I wrote this a few days ago and thought I'd post it when I had the chance. A couple nights ago I made a video about 15 minutes long that I was hoping to post to YouTube, but it's telling me it's going to take three hours to upload the poor quality that's not likely to happen. I don't have three hours of internet. But anyway, here's what I wrote:

Hey all,

I’m writing this with my host family watching, but they don’t know how to read or speak English. They’re just marveling at the magnificence of the laptop computer and the speed at which I type. I’m not sure they’ve ever really come across a computer this nice. I’m living in a village in the Batu area of East Java—Peace Corps asked us not to give a precise location for security reasons—with a really wonderful family. My Bapak (host father) is called Rodli, and my Ibu (host mother) is Siti. They have three children: a 17 year old boy named Wahyu, a 9 year old named Ahmad, and a 5 year old giggling dynamo of a little girl called Zahrotul. There is also Yudi, the younger brother of Ibu Siti. They are fantastic people, so warm and friendly. Actually, all the people here are nice. They smile and smile, and they laugh and ask questions and laugh more when you can’t figure out what they’re saying (but they laugh with you, not at you).

It’s unbelievable how quickly my language skills are improving. I swear to God, in my whole life I’ve never been as motivated to learn a language as I am right now. The first day of class after arriving in my village and spending the evening with my host family, my brain was like a sponge. The improvement from Day 1 to Day 2 was drastic. Of course, it helps that Indonesian is a relatively easy language to learn. Unlike European languages, they do not conjugate verbs (there is no past tense), words have no gender (other than words for man/woman). Sentence structure is extremely simple, so most of the struggle is learning vocabulary and keeping the word order correct. And understanding when people speak – the language sounds very different, and they do have some sounds that aren’t in English. But all in all, I feel very confident in my progress and I expect that by the end of training I will be well able to take care of myself.

Being a foreigner in the village is an experience. There are five of us here in my village, and we are all kind of celebrities. People stare, some point, they whisper to each other and smile and wave. Little kids learn our names and sometimes work up the courage to shout them and say hello to us. There are a couple intrepid youngsters who like to wave and greet us every time we cross paths (“Hello Mr. Tim! Hello Mr. Cody!”). After getting home from school and other Peace Corps activities in the evening, there have often been many children at my house, and they all want to learn English with me. They take out their English workbooks, riddled with mistakes by the authors, and huddle around me. I frequently see kids outside my window or other windows in my house peeking inside to get a look at the bule (white/foreigner). Usually I wave at them or make funny faces.

It would be difficult to enumerate the differences in lifestyle. There are so many that you lose count, or your brain stops processing something as “different” and just accepts that this is the way things are. But I know you’re hungry for some detail, so a few of the major differences. Here you must bathe twice a day (morning and late evening). And bathing is a very different experience. There is no hot water and there is no faucet. There is a sort of square tub filled with cold water and a bucket. You pour cold water all over yourself with the bucket, soap yourself up, and rinse yourself with cold water from the bucket. On the other side of the kamar kecil (bathroom; literally ‘little room’), is the squat toilet. No flushing, no seat, no toilet paper. In my bathroom (unusually) there is a small faucet on the left side that you get water from to scoop and wipe yourself with. It’s a dirtier process for your hands, but you end up cleaner.

Diet is different. Families cook in the morning and eat the same food throughout the day. There is white rice in every meal. Protein sources are varied…we eat a lot of tofu, tempeh, sometimes beef, sometimes fish, sometimes chicken, sometimes lamb/goat, and sometimes eggs. Usually there is some kind of vegetable stew/broth to put on the rice, and sometimes a kind of spicy creamy peanut sauce (called gado, I think).

Outside of the village there are many fields where all kinds of crops are grown – corn, soybeans, tomatoes, chili peppers, apples, spinach, broccoli, rice, oranges, guavas, and more besides. I went on a walk with my village-mates and family through the fields, and it was quite magnificent. My fellow trainees took a lot of pictures, and I’m just going to steal theirs, since I didn’t bring a camera to Indonesia.

There are many other differences, small and large. To be honest, with each day that passes I lose hope that I’ll be able to keep other people in the loop about how everything is going with me. There is so much that is new, so much going on, it would take forever to sort through it all, write it down, and then tell the same story to many people. So I ask all of your forgiveness in advance. As long as I’m in training, internet connection is going to be once every few days, and maybe for a half-hour or hour at a time. I think that once I get to my permanent site—that is, once training is over—I will be better able to keep in contact.

At the moment, I’m doing really well. Days are long and full, and I feel good at the end of each one. There are some frustrating moments, some challenging ones, but mostly things are peachy. The times that are hardest are when I think about what I’ve left behind. But those times are rare. Part of the reason I haven’t been more in touch is that I am really trying to embrace everything here. I don’t want my mind wandering around America while my body wanders Java. Being here and whole is critical now.

On Saturday I bought an acoustic guitar and a beautiful batik shirt. I’ll try to get pictures up when I can, but mostly I’m going to rely on fellow trainees’ pictures on facebook.

Yeah, there is it. I'll try to get some videos up instead of writing blogs. It's more fun that way.

Sampai jumpah.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I believe I can Surabaya.

I'm here at the San Francisco airport, sitting in a Tex-Mex restaurant with many of the new Peace Corps trainees. Our flight is leaving in a couple of hours. Then it's 14.5 hours to Hong Kong. Weeee doggy. I'm not sure what to write here.

The whole process so far has been great. Saying good-byes was tough, and I was very glad when it was all over. Still, even after saying all my face-to-face farewells, I've gotten lots of phone calls from people. I just want to say thanks to all of you that have called me to wish me a good trip and/or say good-bye. Your support means a lot to me, and I will do my best to keep you updated about what's happening with me.

Staging was fun. I've met all the other trainees (there are 31, including me), and I've even learned all of their names. We spent much of the day yesterday in the hotel conference room learning more about peace corps, discussing potential challenges and expectations, getting to know each other, and talking logistics. Afterward we split into different groups to go eat, and my group of eight went to a pizza/burger joint thing, where we said good-bye to American dinner cuisine by eating hamburgers and fries. Meanwhile, UConn and Butler were fighting it out in the ugliest, most boring NCAA championship game I think I ever caught a glimpse of. I passed out not long after getting back to the hotel room, but thankfully I mustered the discipline to do most of my re-packing at night, rather than at 6:30 in the morning before checkout.

We took a charter bus to the airport, and we waited at least 45 minutes in line check-in, because United is a crap airline and didn't have anyone working our line. But check-in we did, and security was easy. Ft. Lauderdale to SFO was the first time I had to go through the 'enhanced security procedures'. You definitely feel like a criminal with your hands over your head while getting a body scan.

But the Peace Corps staff have been fantastic. I really appreciate how organized everything has been. They have anticipated pretty much every pit of logistical quicksand and have saved the trainees from all the headaches. They've done a great job.

Internet access over the next couple months will be irregular, so I will write posts when I can. That could mean frequent or spotty publication...guess we'll find out.

See ya later, America!