Thursday, July 19, 2012

More Stuff, This Time from June/July

Sulawesi Getaway

It might be more accurate to say that I took a vacation near Sulawesi.  Four other PCVs and I spent nine days on and near Sulawesi, mostly on the little island of Bunaken.  This was a good vacation.  Much better than the one I took to Bali and Lombok.  I wanted something calm-peaceful-serene.  Bunaken was the right place for that. But if you’re happy playing tourist…forget I said anything.  Bunaken sucks, go to Bali instead.

I don’t really like writing about “what I did” on vacations (or reading about what others did), but one minor highlight was Nicole accepting a challenge to put two large spoonfuls of cumi-cumi (squid) in her mouth and trying to chew/swallow it all at once.  The cumi-cumi was served in a black ink sauce, which made it look rather like a pen had exploded in her mouth.  To her credit, she got it all down after a couple minutes of working on it and claimed a free beer as reward.  

The peace and quiet afforded me a lot of time to think some things over, which I needed.  I finally finished filling up my first-ever paper journal, close to two years after starting it.  Good decompression.

The part of Sulawesi we visited is majority Christian, which was very interesting.  I’d never been to a Christian part of the country before.  There are just as many churches in Manado as there mosques in Jombang.  It was a little bit trippy.  It gave me the impression that the people there are equally religious and equally eager to express that religiosity, but they just do it in a different way.  It was totally different, and completely the same, if that makes sense.  It was also nice not to have the adzan screeching through the peace of the mornings and evenings.


Mid-Service Training (MST)

Mid-Service Training was at the Santika Hotel in Surabaya.  This was definitely a step up from IST last October, which was at the Oval Hotel.  Everything was nicer—the food, the air, the ambience.  And there were no bed bugs!  The only thing I could say for the Oval is that some of the rooms are bigger with pretty awesome windows.  And maybe the only thing I could say “against” Santika is that during mealtimes, the staff is a bit overzealous about offering coffee and trying to clear plates from the tables.  Other than that, it’s no contest. 

MST had a completely different feeling than IST.  IST was held about four months after we had arrived at our permanent sites.  At that point, most people had a lot of crazy built up in their blood.  There was tension in the air, as if every session was critical to our survival at site, and every evening after sessions had to be jam-packed socially or wasted.  There was something frenetic about IST.  For a few days afterwards, I felt totally sapped.

MST was relaxed.  There was no panic in the air, and nobody was begging for help.  Very few of the training sessions were run by the staff.  Rather, the majority were facilitated by Volunteers leading discussions about project ideas and sharing best practices.  It was pretty fluid.  Going into MST, I actually felt like it wasn’t terribly important (at least not in the way that PST and IST were important) and wouldn’t end up being very useful.  As it turns out, I was happy about the sessions that we had.  There were lots of good ideas floating around.  After some six weeks of neither teaching nor thinking about teaching, it was a great way to get my head back in the game.  And I gave my first-ever haircut to a very brave man.

MST was also the first chance for all of us to get together since Thanksgiving.  ID-5 has lost six people since then.  It was sobering to see how much the group has shrunk.  When we arrived with thirty people, there was definitely a big-group feeling.  Twenty made it to MST, and now this feels like a really small group.  Throughout the training I was periodically impressed by the maturation of ID-5.  We have come a long way.  Everyone is so much more aware of themselves and their environment than they were before.  People are calmer.  It’s like we’ve figured out who we are in this place.


Notes from the first few days of school

So, my second year of teaching has begun, and I’m not sure it’s possible to exaggerate the contrast to the first.  All things considered, I think I was about as prepared as one could expect going into the last school year.  I wasn’t really that confused, but the whole environment was still quite foreign.   This year, however, has a completely different feel.  I only started teaching on Monday, three days ago, but the last few days might be the most productive that I’ve strung together since getting here. 


·      We had our first teacher planning meeting for me and my CPs.  Everyone who was supposed to come DID come—no excuses, no complaints.  Because so much of the groundwork was laid last year, we’re farther in terms of organization after three days than we were after several months in my first year.

·      All the English teachers met with the principal to discuss our activities and making Speaking Club the school’s official English Club.  Honestly, I felt a couple twinges of pride looking around the office and seeing all the English teachers, two Vice Principals, and the Headmaster sitting and hammering out the details to make this activity legit and school-supported.  All the English teachers will be involved, and we received permission to recruit student facilitators from 12th grade so we can expand the capacity of the club.  The government funds that normally go toward supporting traditional English clubs will now be directed to the Speaking Club, so we can actually pay the teachers for their participation—a pretty important motivational tool for people who are used to going home to their families immediately after school ends (or even before it ends).  This was a huge step towards sustainability.

·      At MST, Ms. Ani and I decided it would be worthwhile to get an MGMP running for the schools in my regency that have PCVs.  There are only five state madrasahs in my regency, and three of them now have a Volunteer.  So we discussed this with the principal, and he approved the idea (and some funding).  We’re going to invite PCVs and their co-teachers from three nearby madrasahs and try to get some cooperation going between the schools.  Hopefully I can help out the new kids as they make their way through the wacky funhouse that is the first semester of teaching in Indonesia.  And farther down the line, perhaps we can organize some kind of English camp or competition. 

·      I’m infinitely more relaxed in the classroom than I was at the start of last year.  The students are less frightened, I think, because they saw me around the school for a whole year before becoming my students.  The main thing is feeling like a boss.


Fasting for Ramadan starts tomorrow.  I’m not going to do it this year.  I mean, there’s no way not to fast at least somewhat.  Eating or drinking out in the open would be unacceptable and cruel to all the hungry, thirsty people.  But having had the experience of a full month of fasting last year, and having already paid a significant physical price for the general conditions of deprivation (at least as regards food) where I live, I’m not interested in joining the fast again.  Anyway, I’m leaving for the US two weeks from tomorrow, where my goal is to do exactly the opposite of fasting.  I’m ready to pig out.

I would like to be more active in the next two weeks than I was last year during Ramadan.  Now that I actually know a lot of people, I can feel comfortable going to other houses to break the fast.  I would like to do that with my old students and with some teachers and maybe at other PCVs’ houses.  Ramadan also affects the teaching schedule.  Class periods are shortened to 25 minutes and all extracurriculars are canceled.  Still, I’ve got a lot I want to accomplish before my trip to the US, so there can be no slacking off.