Friday, November 4, 2011


The trouble with not updating for several weeks is that it becomes hard to write anything at all.  There’s a backup of information, and the task of sifting through the sand for bits of gold is daunting.  And of course, all my PCV buddies have more or less beaten me to the punch in terms of blogging about recent highlights, and seeing as I read all their blogs, it’s a bit tough to say anything original.


October 17th to 28th was In-Service Training in Surabaya.  The 26 remaining PCVs from my group were shacked up together in a hotel for two weeks, where we attended approximately six thousand sessions on teaching, safety & security, and a sprinkling of other topics (medical, our feelings, cultural, language).  One teaching counterpart of each Volunteer was invited to attend the last three days of the Training, which were basically dedicated to improving teamwork and communication.  Ambitious boy that I am, I co-facilitated two sessions (one for PCVs only, one for PCVs + Counterparts).  Days would last from about 8am to 5pm, with a one-hour break for lunch.  The nights were free.

The 2nd Annual PC Indonesia Badminton Tournament, won by Nicole and Pak Winarto, was held in a stifling sauna that someone must have confused for a gymnasium.  Yours truly teamed with Megan from Peace Corps staff and appeared in the very first match of the tourney.  Under the glare of a thousand eyes, we handily dispatched our loathsome foes, Betsy and Cody.  Confidence running high, we were eviscerated in the second round by the eventual runners-up, Heru and Brianna.

The PC Indo Halloween Party and Costume Contest was held in my hotel room.  I will leave you with some links to the pictures, which are great.  I’m not gonna say I was shafted in the costume contest, because I think the best man won, but I think my cloud/pillow/sheet/flying squirrel/ghost/pious Muslim woman/toga/chameleon costume was worth an honorable mention.  Most embarrassing moment: Accidentally hitting PCV Whitney in the face in the middle of a party game when my face was covered.  

For pics of the Party and Badminton Tournament, take a peek at Dan's Post, Elle's Post, and Nicole's Post

Some thoughts, in whatever order they come to me

Surabaya might as well be a different planet from Kandangan (where I live).  The malls are tall enough to house Saturn V rockets.  You can buy alcohol, and even more shocking you can see people drinking it.  Some women wear clothing that doesn't cover their knees.  There are coffee shops and restaurants with “ethnic” food.  People don’t really stare at you for being foreign.  You can go out at night, and there are still shops open.  It’s a completely different side of Indonesia.  I can’t even imagine what it’s like in Jakarta.

In Surabaya, you can just feel the hunger to become Western.  But out here in the countryside, where I live, the mentality is utterly different and the culture is solidly traditional.  I wonder, as relative European and American power wane over the next few decades, will Indonesia (and the rest of the developing world) find some other model to emulate?  What would a world that wasn’t Westernizing even look like, and how would I feel about it?  As it is, watching people trade in misguided tradition for misguided modernity evokes ambivalence.  All I wonder when I walk through a nine-floor shopping mall is: This is progress?

Then I come back to the countryside and think how desperately this place needs to move forward, how a few “Western” lessons could solve so many problems the people face.  And then I remember how Westerners don’t seem any happier to me than Indonesians.  And then I think that maybe the happiness here is superficial.  And then I think what’s the difference?  And I just end up feeling confused, at least as far as society is concerned.  Being in this country has reduced the scope of my ambition.  I don’t even know what would be healthy for humanity, how can I hope to “save” it in any meaningful way?

My mind keeps going back to Voltaire’s maxim: Tend your own garden.  In a way, this service is making me more individualistic than I already was.  Where it concerns myself, I’m pretty certain what kind of change is good or bad, so I can endeavor to effect it with conviction.  For the rest of the universe and everything in it, I’m not so sure what’s best or how to get there.  At this moment, my best wisdom is just to take care of my own garden and hope the neighbors feel inspired when they look at it.

The last day in Surabaya and the few days after getting back to Kandangan were rough, mentally speaking.  My head was so incredibly full of information and thoughts and emotions, it was terribly difficult to concentrate.  I started feeling better after writing a long, meandering entry in my paper journal. 

Some of my personal highlights/random notes from Surabaya:

·      As I wrote, I co-facilitated a couple of the sessions for IST.  The first was with PCV Luke, the second with PCV Sarah and my counterpart, Ms. Ani.  It was an absolute delight to work with Americans again.  Even though planning for our sessions meant that I couldn’t socialize for a couple of nights, it was a great feeling to prepare and deliver presentations for the benefit of my friends.  It was also great to speak in front of Americans.  It felt like really meaningful work.  The positive feedback I got from some of my peers, especially for the second presentation, made me feel better than all the combined compliments I’ve received from locals for the last seven months.

·      I stood on a scale in Surabaya and found that I’ve lost between 10 and 15 pounds since coming to Indonesia, depending on water weight.  That is not insignificant, since there wasn’t so much of me to begin with.  Still, my weight loss has not been the most extreme among the group.  I don’t really see how I can gain that weight back on the local diet, but I hope that my weight has stabilized, because I don’t want to go south of 140.

·      I absolutely love spending time with other PCVs.  The more I get to know them, the more I like them and the more I appreciate the fabulous diversity of their personalities.  Just being able to float from one small group of Volunteers to the next and feel attached to all them was an amazing feeling.  It was also a pleasure to get better acquainted with the visiting ID-4s (that is, the PCVs from the group that arrived a year before I did [I am an ID-5]).  Specific shout outs to Luke, Sam, Sarah, and Noel—who is in Hawaii, the b----.

·      I got to eat food that wasn’t rice or noodles. 

·      Oh man, I almost forgot.  I was rooming with Cody, and we had to move to a different room after a week because there were bed bugs.  He had a bunch of itchy red bite-mark things on his ankles and arms. I had a bunch of red dots on my hands  and creeping up my arms (and even a few on my face), but mine didn’t itch and looked more like sea lice than bites.  Either there was a different kind of bug in my sheets or I just have a convenient resistance to the bites of bedbugs.  We took the minifridge with us when we moved to our new, smaller room.  The hotel did all our laundry for free, but it took them two days, so for a day and a half Cody and I looked like ruffians in the sessions.

·      I wore a sarong to the training sessions for a couple days because I didn’t have any clean pants.  I expected to be chastised, but people seemed rather impressed.

·      Repeat: I got to eat food that wasn’t rice or noodles.

·      Really, a ton of other stuff happened, but I cannot list it all and I seriously doubt whether you, dear reader, want to continue wading through the muck of my recollections, which are not pertinent to anything going on in your own life.


End of an Era

I bought a camera on my last day in Surabaya.  I figured with all the money I’ve been saving up by living like a skinflint at site, I could afford to drop a bit on a camera.  This is actually the first camera I’ve ever bought—and so a new chapter begins.  The plan is to use it at site to take pictures of people and help me integrate better.  There are a handful of teachers whose faces I recognize but whose names I cannot remember.  A secondary consequence might be that Thought Porridge might turn into Thought + Picture Porridge, but don’t get your hopes up.  Though I might throw in some photos once in a while, I am not a photographer.  I hate carrying around a camera and feeling the pressure to “capture” moments, lest they disappear forever.

Okay, I think that about does it.



  1. Well posted, sir I'm definitely on board with the confusion of evaluating "happiness" here.

  2. I am pretty honored to have received a shout out.