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.

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