Tag Archives: Adventures

Sampai Jumpa Indonesia, Shalom Israel!

18 Dec

Leaving Indonesia was almost (with one amazing exception) anti-climactic. I hugged a lot of people (mostly women) goodbye, shook a lot of hands, and promised I would return many more times than I said goodbye. Because this was my second time back, after only 3 months of being away, it felt natural to quietly slip out the back door and let everyone realize I was kind of gone later. Right now I still feel like I’m on vacation from Indonesia, and I’m not sure when that will change. It’s not an unpleasant feeling; it’s nice to feel completely content with where I am and where I am going.

Now for that amazing exception! I stopped in Jakarta (and Surabaya to get the rest of my things and say goodbye to Emily, TJ and Max over a delicious breakfast) because I thought a lot of my friends would be there as well (most of them had just finished a regional conference in Makassar and were on their way to Southeast Asia and beyond for winter break via Jakarta). We had planned to meet there for one last night, but in the last few days I hadn’t heard from anyone except Marjolein (who I stayed with) and Heather (a former ETA who is teaching in Surabaya). I assumed everyone was busy or hadn’t been able to make it (Heather also seemed confused as to why no one was responding to her SMSs), and was perfectly happy to have a last great Indonesian meal and go to a bar with Heather to complete my time in Indonesia. When Heather said we had to try this amazing resturant in Kemang, I thought nothing of it. When I walked in and saw my three friends Melina, Rachel and Jess sitting at a table, my first thought was “Oh wow, this is awkward, we just walked in on them having this private dinner, this is why they’ve been avoiding me all day, etc.” It took me 10 minutes of sitting and talking to them (keep in mind, I am running on ~3 hours of sleep) that they planned this surprise dinner for me to celebrate me leaving Indonesia and for getting the Shansi fellowship! Another current ETA, Chris (from the Malukku Islands) and an ELF, Michael, came as well. We ate amazing Italian food, laughed and loved, and I thought that was the end of the surprises. We then got in cabs to go somewhere they wouldn’t tell me about (I figured it out on the way because I recognized the streets after a while). We ended up at our friend Mia’s house, where we met Elena (another former ETA) and had carrot cake. I was so amazed that my friend planned this wonderful night for all of us and realized that I was sad to leave the community that we had all made together so far away from home (I even made a speech to that effect). It gave me so much confidence that I could again create that kind of community in India next year, at home in Boston, and wherever else I might go.

Israel has been relaxing, freezing at night, and full of warm people I love. I’m here mostly visiting the Reshef family, who my family met when they lived in the US and went to the same school as me and my sister for two years. I’ve been to Israel once before (with my Mom and Casey in 1999) but we never made it to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. It’s been amazing being here, very different than I remember and expected, and most of all, it’s been wonderful seeing my friends and Israeli family. This is what I’ve done so far (I have one more full day here, so there’s not a lot left to do):

– asking questions about EVERYTHING about Israel, Palestine, Arab/Israeli relations, how Christians/Jews/Muslims/everyone else gets along, etc.
– driven through the Golan Heights and seen some Druid ruins (as well as driven by a coffee shop called Kofi Annan, which means “cloud coffee” in Hebrew, and happens to be near a UN base as well – clever!)
– learn some new Hebrew words like “mud” (bots), “fruit” (perot), and “what’s up” (manishma)
– seen Jordan, Syria and Lebanon across the border fences (which happen to be electric fences, ouch)
– listened to a news report in English (very rare in Israel) about Indonesia on a Jordanian radio channel while driving to the Dead Sea
– felt the water of the Dead Sea (which is so salty it feels oily, and you can’t put your head under water because the salt will find a way to get into your eyes – also you can practically sit up straight in the water because it makes you super buoyant). The shore is mostly salt, which has accumulated over time, and the water is an amazing shade of green blue. It is a very strange and beautiful place. The water is rapidly disappearing though – around 40 years ago it was about 25 meters higher than it is today. This is happening for 2 reasons: 1) factories on the sea shore are using water from the sea to process the extraction of Dead Sea minerals; and 2) rainfall is not keeping up with the water that is evaporating/being used by the factories. Most efforts to get more water into the Sea (either by piping it from the Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee) would disrupt the Sea’s ecosystem, and other conservation efforts would cost billions of dollars. We’ll see what happens, but it’s not looking so good for the Dead Sea. Get here while you can! It’s also the lowest point on dry land at 418m/1,371ft below sea level.
– brought Gorontalo kerawang cookies and fabric to give as presents to my family here – Gorontalo meets Alon HaGalil (which means “the Galilee Oak Tree” by the way)
– went to Nazareth to see the Church of the Annunciation where Mary supposedly recieved the news that she would give birth to Jesus. My favorite part was the art of Mary and (sometimes) Jesus that came from countries all over the world and ranged from quite traditional to very modern.
– went to Haifa to see the exquisite terraces of the Baha’i Gardens and learned about the religion a little
– went to Akko (known as Acre in English) just north of Haifa to see the old city built by the Romans and go to the fabulous market there
– ate AMAZING food (most of it involving tahini, or trina in Hebrew, which is in lots of things sweet and savory). Highlights have included chalva (tahini mixed with sugar and sometimes nuts or coffee or other tasty things), hummus (of course), “Turkey” salad (tomatoes and hot peppers and other delicious things mixed up together), Michal’s famous cooking of soups, rice dishes, quinoa, etc. The most amazing dairy on earth is also found here – I will never think of cottage cheese the same way now that I’ve had it here!
– went to see Masada, a group of ruins of ancient palaces and forts on top of a pleateau near the Dead Sea. Allegedly, when the Romans tried to retake the city from the rebels living there, they all killed themselves rather than be taken hostage.
– hung around Tel Aviv University, which is really beautiful!
– went to Jerusalem to see the Western Wall, the City of David and just walk around the old city. I couldn’t go into some places, like the mosque, Al-Aqsa (Jews apparently aren’t allowed and it wouldn’t have been safe for me to go by myself). We went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls (pieces of the text that became the Bible and were preserved for centuries in caves near the Dead Sea) at the Jerusalem Museum as well.
– got to hang out with some amazing people. Hemyah and Meitar are now 13 and 9, and I last saw them when they were 10 and 6 respectively. Both were really shy and didn’t want to talk to me. Now Hemyah plays with my hair and we talk as best we can about American music, and Meitar wishes me good night and good morning in English every day. The whole family has been amazing to me and I can’t wait to come back and visit again!

I can’t believe that in less than 48 hours I will be home. Once again, I am mostly excited and somewhat nervous. I’ll miss all the places and people I love, always, but it’ll be nice to take off my coat and stay for a few months.


Re-envisioning To-Do Lists

1 Dec

This post is a conglomeration of things I’ve observed these last few days:

1. As some of you know, I keep a scary-long to-do list on the right side of my computer screen. Mostly, this list is comforting to me – it helps me get stuff done and keeps me on track, but sometimes it gets overwhelming. Today, I was updating things and adding things to do before I leave, and right in between “later: peace corps and master’s programs in public health (3-4 years), double/triple MPP/MPH/MLIA?” and the “Money” section of my list, I found this, (don’t forget to comeback to indonesia ❤ yheyen), from my adik (literally “younger”, but here meaning “little sister”), Yheyen. She had used my computer before to check something online. It made me laugh, and tear up, all at the same time. And it makes me realize I have to come back! I’ll never think of my to-do list the same way.

2. Here’s what I’ve already done in Gorontalo:

–   saw Marjorie teach at MANIC and got to meet the new 10th graders
–   hung out with Tyara, one of my awesome former students
–   went karaoke-ing with my MANIC ladies (Trisna, Marjorie and Cica, this time joined by Ibu Nita, a visiting English teacher from Malang)
–   went to dinner with Trisna, Ibu Dewi, Marjorie and Ibu Nita by the sea
–   played cards with my Indonesian brother, Sultan, and my Indonesian sisters, Yheyen and Rya
–   discussed (in very simple words) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Pak Herson, by Indonesian father (who I am getting to know little by little – he’s a really serious guy)
–   gone go-carting with Yheyen and Sultan, to realize that after 10 minutes, it’s a little boring (at least on the tiny track in Gorontalo)
–   visited Yunus at his training camp and met some of his lecturers and friends who will go with him to Nusa Tenggara Timur
–   went to lunch with Marjorie, Lisa and Mickie, the latter of which is an English Language Fellow (ELF) working as a lecturer at Universitas Negeri Gorontalo (Gorontalo State University) in the city
–   making an apple crisp (of sorts) with Marjorie and eating it with Lisa and Mickie in honor of Thanksgiving
–   drank air zam-zam with Ibu Sarkiah. Air zam-zam is holy (dzam-dzam: Arabic) water (air: Indonesian/probably Arabic too) from the large mosque in Mecca, and it is supposed to make you healthy and live a long life. My Ibu brought it from Mecca when she came back from hajji. (NOTE: I thought my Ibu said “air jam-jam” (jam means hour/o’clock/clock), which made her laugh in her adorable way.
–   Visited the school of my Indonesian mother, Ibu Sarkiah, who teaches English there. Her students were super cute and gave me 9 drinks (3 cokes, 3 chocolate milks, and 3 vitamin c drinks), all of which they expected me to drink then and there.

3. These are things I have left to do:

–   visit my school (MAN Limboto) – tomorrow morning, and probably again with Yunus on Saturday
–  hang out with Yunus and help him get ready to leave for a year
–   learn how to make milu siram, or corn soup, a traditional food from Gorontalo (this may or may not happen, we will see!)
– Take my Indonesian family out to dinner (tonight!)
– Shop in Gorontalo for gifts

More things will pop up, I’m sure! My schedule changes by the hour here 🙂


This is the blessing we said before (and supposedly you’re supposed to do it after too) drinking air zam zam (in Arabic) (I got this from Rya and Ibu Sarkiah):
Bismillahirrahmanirrahim (Rya claims this is one word)
Allahumma innii As’aluka Ilman
nafian warizqan waasian
wasyifaa’an minkulli daa’in
wasaqamin yaa arhamarrahimiin

In Indonesian (just for curiosity’s sake, the blessing is spoken in Arabic):
Dengan menyebut nama Allah yang maha pengasih lagi maha penyayang
Ya Allah aku mohon padamu ilmu
pengetahuan yang bermanfaat, releki
yang luas dan sembuh dari segala
sakit dan penyakit dengan rahmatmu.
Ya Allah wahai tuhan yang maha
pengasih dari segala yang berhati kasih.

In English (this, unlike the others, is a combination of Google-translation from Indonesian and my limited knowledge of Indonesian):

In the name of Allah the merciful, the Most Merciful,
O God, I beg of you knowledge that is useful,
and thorough recovery from all
Illness and disease, with blessings.
O Allah, O God the Almighty
Loving-hearted of all love (this last line doesn’t really make sense but I left it that way because I like it).

5. Things I learned on the day I was sick (yesterday):

a. Don’t put your hair up when it’s wet after you wash it – it will break.
b. Don’t shower at night, you will get sick (this definitely has some truth to it, but I am hot here ALL THE TIME and I shower at night so I can sleep…)
c. If you keep hiccup-ing for long enough, you will die.
d. If someone rubs icy-hot on your back with a coin really hard, you will feel better (this is true, but I doubt the coin has anything to do with it (also, it was a 1 cent Dutch guilder from 1938 – crazy).

5. Since Ibu Sarkiah and Pak Herson have gone on hajj, they have different titles that they are addressed by now; they are now Ibu Hajjah Sarkiah and Bapak Hajji Herson (abbreviated in writing as Ibu Hj. and Pak H.).

6. SKYPE CONVERSATION: A few days ago, I had a conversation with my family at my grandparents’ house in Rhode Island. My mom, Casey and Casey’s boyfriend Ryan got to talk with Yheyen and Rya, but Yheyen and Rya were off-screen because they weren’t wearing jilbabs and felt too shy to appear in front of my family that way. Instead, they talked from off-camera and occasionally waved at my family with their hands only. They kept saying very frank things about my family (your sister’s boyfriend looks bored, your sister looks like your mom because their hair is short, your mom looks young, your dad is handsome) which was hilarious to all involved. I wish I could have conversations like this more often.

Caption for the featured photo: My Indonesian family – Yheyen (2nd from left), Sultan (the boy just to the right of me), Ibu Hj. Sarkiah, Rya, and Pak H. Herson.

Bali, Jakarta and Some News!

27 Nov

Time has been moving so quickly and I feel like I’ve been in so many places since my last post, so here’s my attempt at catching up (no photos this time either, internet is too slow):

PEDULI ANAK NEWS: Samsul is getting glasses! He’s about 9 (though this varies according to which report/who you ask) and has trouble counting and reading, but LOVES to sing. Hopefully the glasses, which are coming in about a week, will help him in class! I miss this place so much and am definitely coming back (I also still need to write my volunteer testimonial, oops!)

BALI: I saw a lot of fantastic temples and places: Tanah Lot, a temple by the water; Bedugul, a temple (featured on the Rp 50,000 bill) in the mountains on a beautiful lake; Ubud (mainly just the Monkey Forest because we didn’t have much time); Padang-Padang Beach (as featured in “Eat Pray Love” when Julia Roberts almost goes to bed with the Australian dude, I believe). There was a TON of traffic because the ASEAN conference was going on, which Obama attended (I also passed very close to Air Force One (or Two or Seven, no idea) when I took off for Jakarta!) I also got to hang out with my friends Emily and Max and met these British travelers (Sophie and Dan) who are coming to Boston after New Years! Hopefully I’ll get to show them around.

JAKARTA: I hung out my friend from Holland that I met at Peduli Anak and her boyfriend last week, and had a great time. Last weekend we went to hang out with the Baduy tribe (what I know of them is explained below) for two nights, and watched the semi-finals of the Junior football teams of Thailand and Indonesia play each other (Indonesia won, yay!) for the SEA Games (not at the Baduy tribe site, they don’t have TVs!) We ran around around eating amazing Western food and buying oleh-oleh (gifts you buy when you travel to remind the people at home you haven’t forgotten them) for Gorontalo people and checking out her neighborhood (and catching up on much-needed sleep). For my last night in town, we went to see Zee Avi (a Malaysian artist) concert.

SURABAYA: I ate an amazing Thanksgiving lunch with Emily, Colin (her family friend who was visiting), and some of her friends from Surabaya, then went to the Consulate General’s house for MORE food. I met some more of the new ETAs this year who are all really amazing and nice. I also got to see Rachel and Heather, who I am going to miss so much when I leave here. That night really made me realize how important the web of support and friendship that I have here has been to me – I’ll be really sad to leave that behind.

Which brings me to…MY NEWS: After lots of work and help and love and support and lack of sleep and 2 essays, 1 resume, 4 recommendations and an interview and about 10 late night phone conversations, I am officially going to be working at Jagori Grameen as a Shansi Fellow from August 2012-June 2014! I’ve been working on this endeavor since I got back from Indonesia, and I’m so happy and excited to be embarking on yet another amazing journey (after spending some much-needed quality time at home). As of now, it’s a little up in the air as to what exactly I’ll be doing at JG, but in the next few months I’ll be talking with JG and the Shansi staff to create a great project. It looks like my skills in health education could be useful in being a health counselor that works with doctors and patients to address the health needs of the community around JG, which sounds fantastic to me. I also have some other ideas up my sleeve. This means I will be in Oberlin for Winter Term for orientation (January 4th-January 29th or so) then heading to probably University of Wisconsin-Madison to take some Hindi classes in June, then heading to India from August 2012-June 2014. This also (hopefully) means I’ll be able to come back to Indonesia at least once during my time as a Shansi Fellow, as they give annual In-Asia Travel Grants to each Fellow once a year (this is my current understanding). So excited! Please come visit (I’m telling you all early so you’ll have time to plan/save money :))

BADUY INFO: The Baduy (pronounced “bah-doo-ee) number less than 10,000, and are the only indigenous tribe left on the island of Java that still maintain their lifestyle despite modernity closing in all around them. There is a division of the Baduy into two groups: the inner and outer Baduy. The inner Baduy have maintained their tribal lifestyle – they walk barefoot, wear very plain clothing (usually black and white, with the men wearing white cloth tied around their head), only travel by walking (including to Jakarta), and live off the land (for example, they don’t use soap – they make their own cleaning solution out of ground up leaves). Non-Indonesians are not allowed to enter the territory of the inner Baduy. The outer Baduy are larger in number and wear more colorful clothing, usually blue (especially the women). They often walk barefoot, but sometimes wear sandals or shoes. They do not own motorized vehicles, but they take public transportation over long distances. All of the Baduy have their own tribal religion, which is based on a belief in the power of nature and ancestors. There is one Muslim village in the outer Baduy, which the elders of the community permitted for the first and last time. The village we went to was so organized and clean – it made me think we’ve complicated our lives to the point where we’ve forgotten we don’t need as much as we have.

GORONTALO: I have about six days left here, and I have so much to do! Yesterday I went to MAN Insan Cendekia to see Trisna, Cica and Marjorie. I visited Yunus at his training center (he’s having orientation to go teach in Nusa Tenggara Timur in south-east Indonesia, so proud of him!) and then spent the night at Cendekia. I really want to go to the beach one last time, go to my school, hang out with students, and generally say goodbye to as many people as I can, until (hopefully) two years from now. I’ll miss my second home so much, but I know I’ll be back.

More East Java Adventures + A Quick Jaunt to Gorontalo

21 Oct

On October 7th, I flew to Surabaya from Lombok. From the time I got to Lombok (so 3 weeks ago) until I left for vacation, they has already opened a new airport, which now supposedly has international flights. It’s so much dirtier than the last one, and after 6pm there isn’t anywhere to buy food. It’s also almost an hour from Peduli Anak, whereas the other one was a maximum of 20 minutes away! My flight was delayed 3 hours (which I’m just chalking up to new airport malfunctions), so I met Rachel (current and former ETA, she renewed this year), Heather (former ETA now teaching at a tri-lingual school in Surabaya), Emily (works as a Foreign Service Officer for the Consulate General in Surabaya), TJ (Emily’s housemate, works at the Merlion Singapore International School in Surabaya), Rem (a current ETA in Surabaya) and Rizky (Emily’s boyfriend, former rockstar turned businessman) at Emily’s apartment rather late. We stayed up until 3am eating terang bulan (like a pancake filled with chocolate, peanuts, sometimes coconut and sometimes cheese) and catching up – I hadn’t seen Emily, Heather and Rachel in months!

The next day, Rachel and I woke up, thinking we had made a reservation for a travel car to take us to Malang, a city 3 hours south of Surabaya, at 9:30. When it was clear that the person we told to make the reservation did not make it, we hurried to the train station to see if we could catch the next train. There was one at 11:00, but it was economy, and therefore we were not guaranteed a seat and would be surrounded by cigarette smoke the whole time. We opted to stay in the taxi that had taken us to the train station and pick up McDonalds take out on the way. While the ride was comfortable and I was able to sleep, it was about two times more expensive than we thought it would be. However, we got to Malang in time to catch the car that was taking us to climb Gunung Bromo, a still-active volcano that actually erupted in March the day after a few of our friends had climbed it, 3 hours south of Malang. We met up with Iris, an ELF teaching at Brawijaya University in Malang, who had arranged the whole Bromo trip, and Herbert, another ETA from this year from Genteng (south of Malang). Together with Gozi, a friend of Iris’, and his four friends, we began the car ride there. We stopped to buy instant noodles, eggs and bread for the night. At first we were going to go through what Gozi and his friends called the “Sea of Sand” at night as a short-cut – when they told us that yes, there was a slight chance we would get stuck in the sand and have to wait until morning for help, we decided to go the long way. As we wound our way up the mountain, it started to get cold – luckily I had brought enough layers for myself and others. We ended up camping on the side of the mountain huddled in our tents under one blanket – we barely slept, but the sight the next morning was completely worth the lack of sleep.

We woke up at around 4:45 (thanks to Herbert!) to try to catch the sunrise. Walking over the hill and seeing the sun hit the sides of the mountain was like walking onto a movie set – it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and the sunrise looked surreal. We sat there a while, huddled in our sheets and blankets, and watched the world embrace a new day. Now we could see the Sea of Sand, and we were really glad we didn’t go through it at night – it would take an hour in the day time and cars take no particular road through the sand, they just go in the general direction of the hills. After some breakfast, we hiked down to the sand and trekked across it to a Hindu temple that was closed. Though the sun was up, it wasn’t hot at all – there was a strong wind that blew the sand everywhere and we were relatively comfortable in long pants and a long shirt. To get to the caldera of the volcano, we climbed up a mountain of ash and then around 290 steps to the crater. People were selling medical masks to block the ash from getting in your lungs and nose – I totally should have listened to them and bought one! By the time we came down from the crater, I was covered in ash, more so than any of my friends for some reason. They cleaned off half my face, called me a coal miner and took pictures of me J We then rode back through a town in the mountains that rests in between two cliff-sides and disappears into the mist when you go through it. That night, after a vigorous shower, I met up with Emily and Rizky, who had come to Malang for business, and met Max, Emily’s friend and colleague who helps her organize her educational outreach work when she comes to Malang. We met in the Tugu Hotel, which has a museum of Javanese art in it and it one of the most carefully decorated hotels I’ve seen. After getting my tarot cards read, I got a ride with Max to Iris’ where I slept for about 11 hours after barely sleeping for two nights.

The next day, Monday, we woke up late and went to a coffee shop called the Java Dancer for lunch and some of the best coffee I’ve had in Indonesia. We hitched a ride with Emily and Rizky in a car back to Malang, and half way there I realized I had forgotten my wallet and several other less important things at Iris’ house! We called Iris, but she was sick from dehydration and wasn’t getting out of bed. Then I called Max who I had met the night before and asked if he could send my things via a travel car. He opted to drive to Surabaya himself on his motor-bike to see friends he hadn’t seen there for a while. On Tuesday, After I got my ticket to Gorontalo, Max and I went to the mall for some lunch, a movie (Green Lantern! I know I’m late in seeing it) and some Sour Sally frozen yoghurt. We hung out and then went with TJ to get some pasta, pizza and ice-cream, and then watched Thor. He’s a really nice guy and wants to go traveling in Bali with me and my friend Rachel, so hopefully we’ll make that happen!

I finally got to Gorontalo (via Makassar, where I stayed with Emily in her hotel Thursday night) on Friday, and for the first time, there was no one who could pick me up there. Ibu Sarkiah and her husband were on haji, Yunus was in Pohuwato, and Ria (Ibu Sarkiah’s daughter) has given her motorbike to her uncle to borrow. So I took a “taxi” for the first time ever in Gorontalo, which made me feel somehow grown up and independent, even though only tourists take taxis there. It costs Rp. 100,000, which is really expensive for anything in Gorontalo, but it was over an hour to get to Ibu Sarkiah’s house. On Friday I just hung out at the house, got some work done, played games with my sisters, and watched five six-year-olds dance to the Indonesian song “Playboy” for me, which was super cute and also disturbing. Yheyen and Ria’s aunt, Mei, was there and helped cook and keep everyone safe – she’s really nice and had a sad story to tell. She has been divorced from her husband for three years, and is “already” 32, and she worries that she won’t get married again, but she’s still in shock from the divorce and doesn’t want to try to find another guy just yet. She also asked me a lot what I ate in America to get so fat, which would be so offensive elsewhere, but I just shrugged it off and told her Americans eat everything :).

Saturday I went to my old school, MAN Limboto, where everyone said I had gotten so thin (last time, for a reference, they told me I got so fat – I can’t tell anymore!) and hung out with the students, who didn’t have anything to do after sports ended at 11. I ran into my old principal, who said I could stay at the school any time and asked if I could come back to teach (it was hard to believe the veracity of either of those sentiments) and also met a lot of teachers there and some staff too. Since this is my second time back in Gorontalo, people didn’t rush to see me as much – the teachers were so busy preparing tests, and some of them even said “Oh hi, you’re back again? Sorry, I have to go, see you later!” and ran off to do the important thing they had to do. I was really happy about this actually, because it’s nice to know I’m becoming somewhat of a usual thing to see around the area, rather than a princess who needs to be taken care of every second of the day.

I talked with my students about their hopes for next year, and what they think of school and we reminisced about last year. We made plans to hang out the next day and eat at Farlan’s house, one of my students.

Then I went home to get ready to go to the airport with Trisna and surprise Lisa and Marjorie when they got off the plane from Manado. We picked up Ibu Dewi first (she manages the canteen at MANIC). We dropped Lisa off in Limboto, and then went to see Ibu Dewi’s aunt (I think) in Limboto. Her nephew had just come back from Canberra and his English was great, so we talked for a while. Then we picked up Cica and made our way to dinner and a karaoke place that had more cigarette smoke than air in it, and then they dropped me off. I love those ladies so much – I felt a little bad because I forgot about a very important thing that happens in Gorontalo – when you say you like something someone has, often they give it to you. I told Cica I loved her bracelet and asked where she got it, and at the end she just GAVE it to me! I was so surprised. I felt bad because I think Marjorie was super tired and I feel like I’m hogging the attention sometimes because I’m loud and outgoing and she’s much more like my sister, who watches everything and adds very salient things to the conversation. I make jokes in Indonesian and take on the character of a Gorontalo person, which means I get even louder than I already am! Jolie and I also just had this rapport with them that developed very early on, and they’re so easy to be with. I really hope I’m not stepping on any of the new ETAs toes – they are AMAZING and rarely complain about anything. I feel like compared to them I was a spoiled brat when I first got there, and was really uncomfortable with some things. Now I don’t want to leave!

Sunday I went to Farlan’s house on Tyara’s motor bike and met some students, including Irwan (a 12th grader from last year) who moved back home from Manado because he missed his friends J. I love him so much – he told me I was like a sister to him, and I almost cried. I told my students that if I win the lottery, I’ll build a house in Gorontalo. They told me they would all come live with me there, and I told them I’d throw a party every Saturday night for everyone I knew. A nice dream for another life. I’m trying to think of something I could do, like start an NGO, in Gorontalo – let me know if you have any ideas. I was thinking something having to do with the environment or women. I’ll refine that idea and get back to you all – just a dream for now!

Now (Monday) I’m waiting for my flight to Mataram in Surabaya, which is delayed, as usual. I bought a sweet political thriller about Indonesian politics and the Suharto regime (which should give me a fictionalized version of what actually happened) and The Space Between Us, which sounds a lot like The Kite Runner, but with women, and in India.

Here’s a slide-show of some pictures from the trip (a few are courtesy of Iris Laurencio):

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More updates later about Yayasan Peduli Anak!

San Francisco, San Diego and Mexico!

11 Sep

The past two weeks have been magical. I LOVE California and the Rosarito Beach area of Baja California and will need to live close to these places at some point in my life. Hanging out with Jasmine Mote, Cynthia Guggenheim, Emmy Brockman, Lindsay Sutton, and Jolie Colby have been amazing and therapeutic, and digging in deep with Jolie’s clan and family made me feel like I can find home anywhere I go.

I had a teeny bit of a rough start to my journey west – Hurricane Irene caused Manchester, NH to pre-emptively cancel ALL their flights. After much stressing and me staying on the phone with a woman named Monica for 2 hours, I got one of the last flights out of Boston (to Philly, then Cleveland, then San Fran…). If not for Monica, I may have been holed up on Boston until the following Tuesday! In San Francisco, I was surprised by both the cold wind and temperature, and the beauty of the area! It doesn’t surprise me that so many people I love live there and few intend on coming back. Any time I tell people I’m going to California (the Bay Area in particular), they say “Don’t go! You’ll never come back!” I can definitely see why. There is so much to do around the Bay Area and the hills give the City so much character. The University of Berkeley (or “Cal” as the locals call it) is so beautiful and in such a great area. One of the quirky things about the Bay Area is the amount of transient people/homeless in the area and how aggressive (in a friendly way) they are! In Harvard Square, I am used to seeing a few homeless and occasionally give money to a few, but in the Bay Area they completely overwhelm you and you feel weird giving money to one because it would almost be unfair to favor one over the hundreds around you! Some of the highlights of my time in the Bay Area:
– riding an old-school trolley up and over and down the hills of San Francisco
– watching the seals roll around on the docks near the bay
– hiking up Panoramic Hill and seeing most of the Bay Area (and using leggings for the first time haha)
– eating brunch and having a potluck with Jasmine, Cyn and Emmy (and meeting Alex, Emmy’s boyfriend) AND seeing their fab apartment
– seeing a series of short films celebrating contemporary Bay Area animation
– eating breakfast at a place called Sconehenge…enough said.
– getting a $2.00 custom made fresh ice-cream cookie sandwich
– eating pizza on a street median with some ladies in Jasmine’s clinical science cohort
– making a spicy Indonesian chicken dish with Jasmine
– catching up with my cousin Lindsay and getting some fantastic soup and salad

I may have forgotten some things, but it was definitely a blast – some pictures:

Jasmine on the trolley.

Apparently Mr. Bogart himself was there...

Alcatraz Island

So much seal love!

Cyn, Me, Jas and Emmy at our potluck.

My life's worth for the next three months!

San Diego, from what Jolie told me about it, was a lot like I had pictured it. Small-ish with surfers everywhere and the chillest people you’ll ever meet, and GREAT Mexican food. It was really nice to spend some time with Seth, her fiancee, meet her amazing and diverse housemates, acro-yoga buddies, and of course her sister and mommy. I had met her mother, Cathy in Gorontalo and she was so warm and hilarious as ever 🙂 It was so nice to see all the different facets of Jolie reflected in all the people in her life. We went to Mexico for Jolie’s engagement party, and crossing the border was an experience in and of itself – she lives about 30 minutes from the border. Mexico was also lovely – we stayed in Las Gaviotas, a gated community village near Rosarito Beach, with its own beach, pool and hot-tub. Highlights included:

– meeting Jamie, Jolie’s childhood best friend, and being “single” buddies with her
– laying out on the beach in a tiny bikini and feeling super self-conscious
– swimming at Blacks, a beach and prime surfing spot and reading tarot cards
– driving across the border to Mexico
– playing volleyball with Tori (Jolie’s sister), Michael (Seth’s friend), Seth and Jolie
– eating amazing tacos and tres leches cake for Jolie’s engagement party
– playing “Extreme Charades” and “About Time” with new friends and family
– eating amazing Mexican brunch (with free margaritas!)
– surfing for the first time
– eating burritos on the way to the airport


Gone surfing.

I want to live here for this.

Lovely beach.

They hook you up - instantly!

You can even bike to Mexico!

Crossing the border.

Trying out tacos for Holie's engagement dinner and drinking Tecate with the girls!

The view from the window of the house in Las Gaviotas.

Volleyball kids.


The engagees getting the royal treatment from Elijah and Willow 🙂

Kameron, Mama Cathy, Roxanne and Uncle John

Jamie, Tori and Holly

Jolie and Seth do acro-yoga.

Getting to Indonesia was surprising painless. I sat next to a Chinese nun, an amazing Indonesian woman from Kalimantan named Cindy, and met a girl named Putri who lives in the US but her parents are from Jakarta who said my Indonesian and my accent was really good (I think I have a ways to go). I did wake up in the middle of my Hong Kong flight and wonder what I was doing flying all the way to Indonesia, but I got over that quickly by watching some Diamonds are Forever and Goodfellows. When I landed in Jakarta, I was met with the chaos of the airport that I had expected – I felt I had the insider knowledge that only come from having lived in Indonesia before. The crowds didn’t stress me out and I had a nice talk with my taxi driver. Mia and Ab have been so accommodating and sweet to me – I’m still recovering from jet-lag and they don’t laugh too hard at me sleeping all the time. I can’t go to Gorontalo until Wednesday because ticket prices are so expensive after Idul Fitri, the celebration of the end of Ramadhan, but I’m having fun seeing friends and former ETAs that live in Jakarta.

I’ll report next from Gorontalo to tell you what I find there – yay for second homes!

A Crazy Idea

26 Aug

My first thoughts as I boarded the plane to Jakarta from Gorontalo, and then again from Singapore to Japan were: I can’t not go back to Indonesia. Part of me will cease to exist if I don’t. I have to go back. These dramatic/”lebay” (Indonesian for overly exaggerated) thoughts stuck with me through my flight and into my first weeks of being home. Don’t get me wrong – I was and still am happy to be home, especially with the people I love, my bed and hot water. Still, there are a lot of things pulling me back there. I also have not done well with culture shock in some ways, and have felt like my time at home has been more of a long vacation than a homecoming. I am not done with Indonesia quite yet. In Indonesia, there are still friendships to develop, places to explore, and thankfully for my resume something to do that is related to my career. So yes, I am returning to Indonesia for a few months, which is definitely a little crazy but also the thing that is going to make the most sense and bring the most joy to me at this point in my life!

For the majority of my time in Indonesia, I will be volunteering with Peduli Anak, an organization that provides former street children education and job-training, as well as a wonderful place to live and a huge family to belong to. I will be teaching English for two months, and I’m thinking of framing the classes in a way that brings in health education and/or theater, depending on interest and ability. I’m pumped to be working with such a renowned NGO (they now have an office in Jakarta and have been visited by the Minister of Education himself)! I think it’ll be great to get experience working with an international NGO and will give me an idea of what I’m up against in pursuing a career in international relations/development. I’ll also be spending time before volunteering at PA in Gorontalo visiting friends, and then after Peduli Anak, traveling, visiting other friends/former and current ETAs and returning to Gorontalo. Before I even get to Indonesia, however, I’m making a 10 day trip to San Francisco to visit Jasmine (my long-time Boston/Oberlin buddy) and Lindsay (my cousin who just moved there), and then to San Diego/Mexico (where I have never been!) to celebrate Jolie’s (my soul-girl from Indonesia) engagement party. After Indonesia, I’ll be going to Israel for 2 weeks to visit the Reshefs, family friends of ours. Then I’ll be home in time for Christmas! Don’t even try to stop me 🙂 Here’s the itinerary:

Saturday August 27th: fly to San Francisco
Thursday September 1st: fly to San Diego
Friday September 2nd: drive to Mexico with Jolie and Co. for engagement party
Wednesday September 7th: fly to Jakarta
Sunday September 11th: fly to Gorontalo
Tuesday September 20th: fly to Mataram, Lombok (where Peduli Anak is located)
Monday November 14th – Sunday December 4th: travel and return to Gorontalo
Monday December 5th: fly to Israel
Tuesday December 20th: fly to Boston

After this trip, I will have traveled to 4 different countries on 3 different continents in 4 months. I will also have circumvented the globe, which is exciting because the furthest east I have flown is Israel and the furthest West in Indonesia. I know it’s crazy, but it’s what my heart wants.

I’ll use this blog to document this journey, and I think I’ll use it to chronicle any other independent travel I do from now on.

Above is a picture of my family (in Bermuda in June 2010), who will collectively always be the place I come back to, no matter where they or I end up.

I’ve got packing to do and hugs and kisses to give – expect an update from San Francisco 🙂

FYI: Two of the best goodbye messages I have gotten: a painting from my 3-year-old neighbor Cole that is green and glittering with the words “Bon Voyage” on them, and my friend Adam’s literal translation of “hati-hati di jalan” – heart heart on the road 🙂

Hard Goodbyes: Leaving Indonesia and Australia

24 Aug

Picture: my Indonesian siblings and I at my going away party.

So it’s been a long while – oops! I could make excuses left and right, but in the time since my last post (around 3 months), I’ve been doing one of three things: enjoying the last few weeks in Gorontalo, going to Australia with my friend Luca, or hanging out with my friends and family that I so dearly missed. I’ll elaborate on those things below (complete with pictures, of course) and tell you what I’m up to next.

My last few weeks in Gorontalo were some of the best of my life. I spent them hanging out with amazing people, developing new friendships, realizing how much I loved and was loved, and eating amazing, fresh, flavorful food. My friends Mary and Melina came to visit me and got to see my crazy Gorontalo world, I said goodbye to some of my favorite places and embarked on new adventures (climbed to Lombongo waterfall, hung out near the sea at Tangga Dua Ribu eating grilled corn, going to a beautiful beach on the northern shore with most of my students, and going karaoke-ing, of course!). I tried local alcohol called casgaram and another one made from distilled fruit that I forget the name of (but it tastes like kombucha). For a break in April I went with Jolie, Heather (who taught in Bandung) and Polly (who taught in Amurang) to the Togean Islands for some RandR for a week, and met up with some other ETAs there. I took my WORDS competition finalists (minus Yheyen who was sick) to Saronde Island, which has one of my favorite beaches in the world). I traveled with Yheyen, Jolie and Mutiah (Jolie’s WORDS competition winner) to Jakarta to compete with 41 other students, and acted like a crazy person trying to look after Yheyen (who is super responsible and laughed at me for worrying so much) and helping to organize the whole competition. I taught my kids Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” and after discussions on building peaceful relationships, we were all in tears. Some of my students threw me a going away party, which ended with me covered in baby powder (we played a game where you have to pop balloons and do whatever the message inside says, and mine just had baby powder in it!) and full of delicious food they cooked me. I had an awesome going away party with tons of gifts, including a watch from my 12th graders that I wear every day and a tea mug from Yunus that I drink out of whenever I have tea. I realized that my friendships and relationships I discovered here ran deeper than I possibly could have imagined.

I bawled my eyes out, quite unexpectedly, when I finally dragged my suitcases out to the car which would take me to the airport. I felt like I was leaving home, forever, not returning home. I was afraid everything would change when I came back, and vowed, for many reasons, that day to come back as soon as I could. I’ve left part of my heart there and I don’t really feel like I’m done with Indonesia, or the people who live there, quite yet.

Australia was so great – Luca and I felt so independent and in charge, being away from loving yet over-protective Indonesians. We holed up in Luca’s friend-from-college’s mom’s house in Melbourne for a few days to get over the culture shock, including food shock (dairy and berries and kangaroo, oh my!), COLD SHOCK (it was freezing there because it was winter) and jet lag. We went everywhere wearing at least 4 layers of clothing when most people had on a sweater. We went out for a day in the city and to buy some food, but mostly we just relaxed. Then our trip to Uluru, the mystical Aboriginal rock in the middle of Australia, came and was amazing – such beautiful views and walks. We also learned a lot about aboriginal culture, such as the fact that in the 1960’s you could shoot an Aboriginal person because they were technically considered fauna. One woman who married an Aboriginal man and was accepted into the community said there are still Aboriginal people who remember white people coming to their village and taking it by force. Racism, gentrification, and rejection of white society and culture is alive and well in Australia – going to some parts of Australia and seeing the racial segregation is what I imagine the Jim Crow south to be like pre-Civil Rights movement. That being said, the area is extremely beautiful and we got to visit a Waldorf school (which they call a Steiner school). Sydney was really great and I definitely toured the opera house. We stayed with Couch Surfers the whole time, met some wonderful people, and became addicted to Emirates Air (they have stars that come out on the ceiling at night…) Coming home to see my family was so awesome, and not immediately strange, like I had expected.

Here are some pictures from the last few weeks (narrowed down to under 10, hard to do!) and some Australia pics:

Yheyen and me at the WORDS Competition!

Winners of the WORDS Competition

Yheyen doing a bowling "spare" pose (we taught them all a spare and strike dance).

My student Soli teaches me how to draw.Soli, one of my 10th grade students, teaching me how to draw (in English, of course).

Me and the family of Mr. Marwan, the guy who cleaned my house - he is one of my favorite people.

Best friends forever: Chicha, Jolie, Trisna and YunusBest friends forever: Chicha, Jolie, Trisna and Yunus in cute glasses.

My kids jumping for joy at the beach!

Look, over there - America!

My 10A class getting teary and huggy.

My students threw me a going away party. I love them so much!

Friends for life!

We were really excited for sponge cake.

Kangaroos everywhere! We totally ate a few of these guys eventually.

 Jules, me and Luca in front of Uluru at sunrise.

Jules, me, Luca and Uluru at sunrise.

The Sydney Opera House by day...

...and by night!

Next post: my plans for what’s next – return to Indonesia!

The Togeans, and Life as Usual

10 Mar

Below are some pictures of the Togeans.  I only went for 24 hours on a whim because Jolie and her friends Brianne and Laurel were going, and every minutes was worth it! I will let them speak for themselves.


Some guys from Gorontalo who were really excited to be chatting with a bule 🙂

Laurel, Jolie, Brianne and I waiting to disembark!


more ahhhh...

These little guys serenaded us with some pretty cute voices while we ate coconut meat.


Jolie looking pleased as punch 🙂


If I was going to live in a village, this is where I'd want to live.


A boat, islands, blue water - what more does anyone need?


The beach near our bungalows on Malenge Island.


Goodbye to Wakai, the largest town in the Togeans.
On an unrelated note, I went to a jazz festival in Jakarta last weekend – these are Emily and Elena looking cute at one of the concerts 🙂

Life in Limboto has been great – I’ve been a little sad because I’ve been going on so many trips lately on the weekends and have had to turn down some great opportunities to hang out with teachers and students.  The fact that I am leaving in about 2.5 months is both awesome and really sad, and I am really looking forward to the five-week stretch of time after this weekend where I can really hang out with my kids and friends in Gorontalo and go to the beach or the pool or a party on the weekends (although rumor has it that my 1-week vacation in the middle of April is really 2 weeks…).

I have been saying yes a lot more to people who want me to visit their schools and their classes or help out at English camp or record listening sections of English exams, and as a result have made some new friends, including Pak Jasman, who runs English camps all over Sulawesi, and Carl, a Swede who has been living in Gorontalo for over 4 years teaching politics at Universitas Negeri Gorontalo (the public university in Gorontalo).  They’ve gotten me out of my school a little bit, which makes me feel more free and like my world is just a little bigger.

I’ve also been getting my kids ready for the WORDS competition, which has been exciting – my kids have some awesome ideas and are really good writers! So far four kids have shown me their work and I’m pretty impressed.  It’d be nice to get 10 students at least to compete, and I know that more students have some good ideas.  We have three weeks left until the competition at my school, which my , and I’m working hard to get their pronunciation of words like “prosperity” and “realize” down pat.

In addition, I did a presentation about some scholarships for 10th grade students to apply to study in the US, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, and other countries. Ten students showed up, which was more than I expected, and I really hope they apply! They had some really surprising questions for me about the programs though, such as “Can we wear a veil to school? Do we have to wear bikinis if we go to the beach? Will our host families give us food? Are Americans nice?” It lead me to talking about how socially, America is a pretty free country, and the only thing that is unacceptable in terms of clothing is if you wear nothing at all.  I also told them that host families apply to host exchange students and aren’t just picked at random, like they thought! I have this book on Muslims in America, and I want to do a lesson on it ASAP because I’m pretty sure my kids think they would be the only one wearing a veil/praying five times a day in the whole country.

After the grant, I may have told you I’m going to Australia! I am so excited, especially after purchasing a Lonely Planet Discover Australia guide. Luca and I will do Melbourne for a few days, then rent a car to go to Uluru, which will take at least two days to get there. Then we’ll return to Melbourne, go to Sydney, and maybe even hit Tasmania! Luca’s friend from the US also might come.  We’re not excited about how outlandishly expensive it is compared to Indonesia, but that’s a bit of culture shock we’ll have to get used to 🙂

Grace, Abbey and I are currently debating going sightseeing in Surabaya in lounging around Emily’s apartment before her birthday party! (I came to Surabaya to add pages to my passport, which didn’t take as much time as I thought). Tonight Grace and I take a train to Genteng to see her friends and go to the beach.  Then I come back to Surabaya Sunday night to take a flight the next day back to Gorontalo!

I have fallen in love with where I live and the people who I live around. It will be incredibly hard to leave Limboto! I am looking forward to going home, but my heart breaks a little at having to leave my huge family here :/ I’m just going to enjoy the next 10 weeks as much as I can – I’m looking forward to the WORDS competition, to making a speech in Indonesian at the end of the year, to having an auction of the stuff I want to leave behind (the proceeds of which will go to the school), and to hanging out with my kids and friends.


A Long-Overdue Update: Vacation and Limboto Life

20 Dec

There are many reasons why I’ve neglected my blog for over a month.  I’ve been falling in love more with the people here and, with a few exceptions, prefer to spend my time with them when I have free time.  I’ve also been on some awesome vacations, where, again, I preferred people to computers.  Then, I had some pieces in a handbook to edit, which occupied my time for a while.  Now, one day before my next big adventure, I’ve decided to update you on what has happened since mid-November!

Side-note: I received 4 priority packages today from the US that were sent before November 5th, but it was amazing to actually get “Christmas presents” of a sort the day before I left for vacation! One of the packages was completely destroyed by Fluff that was lovingly sent to me (sorry Bridget, Paul and Jeremy!) but I was able to save the peanut butter and chai tea inside.  THANK YOU to Mom, Dad, Casey, Bridget, Paul and Jeremy for thinking of me!


On November 17th and 18th, I got to celebrate a really important Islamic holiday, both with Jolie’s school (the 17th) and my school (the 18th).  Idul Adha commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, before Allah/God presented him with a ram to sacrifice instead. At Jolie’s school, we woke up early and had soto ayam (a sort of chicken soup with rice and lime) and cookies.  Then the sacrificing of the bulls began (there were eleven in total) – I was beginning to wonder what all the cows with numbers on them were doing hanging around Jolie’s school!

The elaborate ritual goes something like this.  Someone begins by roping the bull’s feet so it can’t run, and gradually they lay the bull down.  They then tie its front legs and back legs together so it can’t kick.  Then, an old Ibu along with an old man comes over to say a prayer over the bull and calm it down.  The old man slits its throat quietly and majestically, covering the bull’s neck with a huge leaf to prevent blood spattering the many people gathered around. You know how in the movies when someone gets their arm/leg/head cut off and then blood sprays everywhere, sometimes comically? Thy had to get that inspiration from somewhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was animal sacrificing.  After the bulls throat is cut, it does one of a few things.  I saw some try to walk again, which only made it worse for them because their head had no support.  I saw some kick a lot and snort and struggle. I saw some take death lying down.  I was asked to stop taking pictures and comfort one of the bulls as it passed onto heaven instead – this involved me talking to it and stroking it as it died.  After the bull  is completely dead (which can take up to 20 minutes) the carcass is dragged by students (male, of course) who are eager to dismember it and divide up its parts (which can be really interested to watch – the students get so excited!). If this process sounds horrible and you’re wondering why I would want to watch something like this, I don’t exactly blame you – just remember that all that beef Americans was once a cow/bull that was killed by someone.  Granted, it’s done in a completely impersonal environment, probably by machines, but does that make it any better/worse? Personally, I’d rather have someone say some soothing words and be with me to watch me die then get electrocuted.  Jolie’s mom Cathy was also there and it was so fun to be a part of her first Indonesian experience.  If I had pictures, I’m not sure I’d post some of them, but I hope you can imagine whatever part of this experience you’d like to!

On the 18th, I went to an Idul Adha party at Ibu Nurmiaty’s house (one of the vice-principals and a teacher at MAN Limboto).  I missed the potong sapih part (the killing of the bulls) but was able to enjoy delicious sate, more soto ayam, and take some pictures!


Ibu Warni, me and Ibu Aisa all dolled up.

So many curious ibus.

Me and Ibu Sumarni making sate!

Students and adorable children.

Two of my favorite MAN Limboto boys.


Many people have told me this already, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it – Gorontalo has some truly amazing diving! There is a sponge in Gorontalo that was discovered and named by Rantje, an American originally from the American and Canadian Northwest who runs Miguel’s Dive Shop in the city.  It’s called the Salvador Dali sponge because it looks like something weird and angular and out of place (it could belong in one of his paintings, for sure).  You can only find it here! Rantje has also discovered several new species in the area and often sends samples of wildlife to Australia for tracking and cataloging.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself here though – I went on 5 dives in 2 days with 5 Indonesian guys from Jakarta and Kalimantan.  It was hilarious hanging out with them and I learned a lot.  I went a little deeper than I’m supposed to (beyond 18-20 meters is what I’m certified to dive as an Open Water diver), and it was really awesome.  We dived some walls, went through a fish traffic jam, dived a wreck (!!!), saw many cuttlefish, one sting-ray and one lobster! I was hoping for a whale shark because on of the ETAs who went here before saw one (sometimes they come feed on the plankton nearby) but I’m determined to see one before I leave Gorontalo! I paid $200 for 5 dives, including equipment, and it was completely worth the price (which is pretty standard and even a little better than most places in Indonesia, and certainly cheaper than US prices).


Resting after my first dive!

Me and the dive team!

The view from the boat!


…was awesome! Even though I only had Thursday-Sunday for vacation, I definitely made the most of it. First, I met a bunch of other ETAs in Surabaya to go to a dinner at the Consulate, where we met other buleh doing really inspiring and interesting work – some of the English Language Fellows (ELFs) from orientation were there as well and it was nice to reconnect with them.  We were all so grateful to have real Thanksgiving food – turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, two kinds of stuffing, green bean casserole, brussel sprouts and herbs, SALAD (it’s sad that this was one of my favorite things on the table), WINE, fresh fruit juice, and three kinds of pie.  It was so nice to gather with Americans and to dress up a little nicer than normal.  After the dinner, we headed to the Majapahit Hotel, which was the site of a lot of Indonesian resistance to Dutch rule in the early 1900’s. It’s a beautiful hotel and we got to have a little tour, as well as enjoy some delicious iced tea and meet some foreign service officers (FSOs) who worked at the consulate in Surabaya.

The next day, a lot of us headed to Lombok, where we met with other ETAs to catch a boat to Gili Trawangan, a smaller island with amazing beaches, delicious food, great snorkeling, and nightlife! The next 24 hours of my life were spent bar hopping, dancing, eating a bagel and lox, swimming with a turtle, and being able to be on a beach in an actual bathing suit (as opposed to a t-shirt and long shorts, which is even a little racy for Gorontalo).  I had to head back to Lombok early because I had an early flight to catch the next day back to Gorontalo, and I had an adventure haggling for affordable transportation while trying to make sure no one made off with my bags, in the rain, by myself.  I stayed at Ben’s house and had some killer gado-gado (rice, vegetable and tofu with peanut sauce) and fresh pineapple for $2 at a hotel across the street from his house. The next day my flight from Mataram on Lombok to Surabaya was delayed for 4 hours, and because there are only 3 or 4 flights in and out of the Gorontalo airport per day, I ended up staying in Surabaya for a night and crashing with Lupi, a friend of Jack (an ETA) who is a member of Couch Surfing. I got to see several ETAs that day too and got my mall/consumerism fix in as well (and I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for $2.50!). I’ve found that if I have more than 3 flights in one day and one of them is delayed, I end up with an extra day of vacation!


We all imitated our favorite Indonesian while posing for a picture in this photo. From left: Rachel, Luca, Jack, Rick, Leif, Grace.

Luca, me and Rick toasting to wonderful food.

Croquet at the consulate (Leif and Brett)

Hanging out on Gili T - another Indonesian impersonation.

The view from the boat back to tha mainland.


I had a random vacation between December 3rd and 7th (the 7th was Islamic New Year, so we had no school) and decided to go to Surabaya to visit Adam (an ETA working in Gresik) and Emily, an FSO working at the consulate.  On the way there, I met a really nice Indonesian man who ended up buying me a scarf and playing cards, which I didn’t know what to make of, and a woman who lived in Gorontalo and had a hair salon business there.  Adam and I were supposed to leave the night of the 2nd for Banyuwangi (where our friends Grace and Leif work as ETAs) but they didn’t have tickets until the morning, so we crashed with Emily (and saw another movie – they are so cheap).

The next day we took a 7-hour train to Southeast Java, which was really delightful – it was air-conditioned and had a ton of leg room.  We met a really interesting guy named Jimmy, an American who runs a small home-stay in Thailand and teaches English there on the side.  He was tripping around Indonesia, and I’m so glad we ran into him because he had some amazing stories.  He has worked in so many places, but his most riveting adventure he told us about was the time he spent in Yemen.  I think he said it was the early 1990’s (around the time of the Gulf War) and he was teaching English there and ended up getting put under house arrest and was in prison for a while because they thought he was an American spy.  He also was jailed in the US for a while for being a conscientious objector for non-religious reasons.  He made our trip really entertaining and now if I ever go to Thailand (which is looking increasingly likely), I will have a place to stay near Bangkok.

We arrived in Banyuwangi (we got off at the wrong stop because we were unprepared and they only stop for 45 seconds so we literally jumped off the train) and got some nasi pecel (like gado gado, but set up differently and with different veggies) and got to meet some of Grace’s neighbors and see where she lived, as well as meet Grace’s counterpart, Shinda, who lives with her. The next day, we went to a wedding with gorgeous flowers and delicious food, a rujak party (we cut up young mango, papaya, and other fruit I forget the names of while an ibu made some delicious sweet and spicy peanut sauce – you combine them and MMM), toured a salak farm (known to Americans more as snake-fruit for its brown scaly exterior) and then ate some delicious ikan bakar (grilled fish) with a tomato-like sauce and some cumi rica (squid with pepper sauce) at a little place near the beach.  Definitely one of the best days I’ve had in Indonesia so far, despite my HORRENDOUS allergies (I was sneezing so much I couldn’t talk). I also learned a tiny bit of Javanese, which amuses my Gorontalo friends to no end. The next day Grace, Adam and I ventured back to Surabaya, where we got some great pasta with Emily and pigged out on ice-cream and cookie fondue at Hagen Daas – I left the next day for Gorontalo, and Grace too a train to Yogyakarta (in Central Java).

I didn’t have time to post pictures from Banyuwangi before I left, but I will when I get back!


…is going great.  I’m really beginning to feel at home here, despite being away so much.  I’ve gotten to know the security and staff who work for the school more, been more accepted in the social circle of men who work at my school (I keep a lot of their secrets now, which helps) and generally feel like I actually live here now.  Just this Sunday I went on an outing with several teachers, staff and the 10th grade of my school.  First we went to the site where Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, first landed in Indonesia.  Then we hiked up a million stairs to a really nice view of the valley and I got to see the hilly part of my area, which made me overjoyed for some reason (mainly because I see all the hills and I never get to go up them!) Then we went to the beach and I had an amazing time laughing with the staff, walking and dancing with the students, and snorkeling. Each time I hang out with my students after school, I love them more and more – most of them are incredibly eager to learn and we really enjoy swapping languages.

Over the next 5 weeks, I will not be spending more than a few days in Gorontalo.  Tomorrow, I’m heading to Bali for a night, then the next day going to Labuanbajo, Flores, in hopes of chartering a boat with my friends Rachel, Luca and Nicole to the Komodo and Rinca islands.  Hopefully we will do some amazing hiking and snorkeling there, as well as seeing some Komodo dragons! (And maybe a Flores hobbit – they supposedly inhabited the island thousands of years ago and could have been the first example of human dwarfism, but maybe some of them are still around!) On the 28th of December, I head to Ubud for a night with Luca and Nicole, and then we head to our amazing villa that I scored north of Seminyak until the 2nd of January! After that I have until the 9th to get home, and don’t know where I’m going yet for that leg of the journey.  I teach for 4 days, then head to Surabaya for a fun two days with Emily on the 14th of January, then spend until the 18th at one section of the AMINEF mid-year conference whe all the ETAs will gather for more training and merriment.  On the 19th we all head to Lombok (Mataram) for additional training. Then, on the morning of the 21st, I will go MEET MY MOM IN BALI! We’ll be there until the 24th, when we’ll head back to Gorontalo.  She’ll stay and watch me teach/go see Saronde Island and other beautiful Gorontalo sites before leaving for the US on the 27th of January.  I cannot express how excited I am for the next month of my life, and especially for seeing my mom.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to update again, but I will try to find time between searching for Komodo dragons, learning to surf, diving with manta rays, eating chips and guacamole, bungee jumping, and any other crazy adventures I come across. Much love, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

A Surprise Vacation Itinerary: Part Satu

20 Nov

Day 1
I got up at 3:30am to gather my things and wake my driver up so I could make it to the airport to catch my flight to Manado by 5:30.  I got there around 5 because we left late, but because the airport is so small and I have made this trip before, people know who I am already and make me feel like the tiny jet is my personal Air Force One.  I landed in Manado and am greeted by Reagan, the brother of Ester, who is Polly’s counterpart.  Reagan was named after none other than Ronald Reagan, who was president when he was born.  We first went to Reagan’s school, where I introduced myself to grades 1-6 and took pictures with the gym class while they played tug of war (I was too tired to ask them to take a picture of me pulling on the rope against 25 4th graders with my camera and while I was definitely being a good sport, just wanted to either nap or hang out with my friends!) After going to his school, Reagan was extremely helpful – he helped me take three mikrolets to the bus to Tomohon, but then, in true Indonesian fashion, invited himself to hang out with Melina, Polly and I when we had our whole day planned around just us girls.  Polly was really nice and gently recommended he return to Manado because he wouldn’t want to do all of the girly things we were going to do that day.  Tomohon is definitely cooler in temperature most of the day (i.e. not when the sun is at its highest) and I wore a sweatshirt on the bus ride up! Total culture shock after being in sweltering Limboto!

I went to Melina’s school first, SMK Santa Familia (a Catholic school, completely with a mission, brothers and nuns!) where Ms. Riah, Melina’s counterpart, took me to meet ALL of the classes (16 in total…).  Melina’s school is different than mine in almost every way possible – her school has many floors, many more classes, and walking through the school, there always seemed to be another room to discover! Her students are also learning hands-on skills, such as tourism, administration, and cooking/fashion.  Most of these concentrations prepare you for jobs that require/prefer proficiency in English, especially tourism.  This was really inspiring to me – here is a school where English teaching is completely applicable to most of the students! At my school, I know some students want to be English teachers, some just LOVE English, some may leave Gorontalo for their career, and some may go to graduate school, but most will not NEED proficiency English to find gainful employment in the career they wish to pursue if they want to stay in Limboto/Gorontalo (which most of them want to do).  I mentioned this to Melina, who agreed, but then pointed out that SMK schools are a second choice for those students leaving junior high school – most want to attend an SMA (or if you’re Muslim, a pesantren or a MAN such as MAN Limboto). Ergo, most of the students in her classes, she says, are largely unmotivated to learn to begin with.  This gives Melina the added challenge of instilling a love of learning in her students, which I admire her for immensely and know she is completely capable of doing.

We taught the class about question words (what, where, who, when, why, how, etc.) and then asked each table to come up with one really interesting question for me or Melina.  The most interesting question I got was “Why did you want to be a teacher?” I found myself struggling to easily answer this question, and I didn’t answer it this way for them, but honestly, I’m not sure! All I really know is that communicating with my kids, in whatever way we can, is what makes me happy.  When understanding, however small, is achieved, I get extremely happy.  The other day, a girl in one of my shy classes, Lisna, correctly demonstrated the difference between “her” and “she” after being completely silent for the entire class up until that point, and I was so happy I practically cried (instead, I gave her a high five and sort of jumped a little in an effort to awkwardly contain my excitement). Those are the days where I’m so glad I’m here!

After hanging out at Melina’s school (which has a kitchen and an OVEN, so she can BAKE at school!), we went to her house, which is super interesting – one part, the downstairs, has a little kitchen, a living room, and an extra bedroom; the back part opens up to a huge concrete room with a ton of space (she has her bathroom, sink and stove here); upstairs (the best part) is a traditional Minahassan house (the people who live in North Sulawesi), which looks and feels like a nicely carved tree house! Polly arrived with Ester, her counterpart, and we went by car to Lake Linow, which is both green and purple-ish (we were told it changed color, which wasn’t quite the case).  It was so beautiful there and it was so nice to just sit and sip coffee and eat cookies with my girls 🙂 The lake also had the nicest bathroom I have seen since leaving the Sheraton in Bandung – you notice these things when you live in Indonesia! Later, we picked up some provisions at Cool, the local grocery store, and caught up over tea! Here are some pictures from Lake Linow:

Me, Melina and Polly are so excited for cool weather and coffee!

Me and Polly are really excited by the pine trees and were experiencing mild culture shock - when we looked up at the pine trees and wore our sweatshirts and felt the breeze blowing, it almost felt like early fall in America!

Ester, Me, Melina, Polly and Vica by the lake 🙂

Our coffee and the lake (the lake has different colors due to the concentration and mixing of sulfure and another mineral).

Day 2:
Polly and I woke up at 7am to catch the bus back to Manado, where we headed to the lovely Santika Resort/Thalassa Dive Center to do some diving and snorkeling. I met one really cool veteran diver in particular named Ian – he was in his early 60s and from Perth, Australia.  At first, being around so many buleh was overwhelming and reminded me of how individualistic Western people can be sometimes.  Ian was really great though – he was my buddy on my first dive in Indonesia and helped me navigate currents and make my initial descent.  On that dive, I saw mini-seahorses, nudibranchs, a million fish, beautiful coral, and some tiny crabs.  Most of the people on the dive had HUGE cameras that must have cost them tens of thousands of dollars – it made me want one some day, but at the same time, most of your time under water is spent with your camera! I feel like it would be hard to really appreciate the beauty of being underwater if you were constantly seeing it through a camera lens, but there’s something really appealing about capturing that world on film.  After the dive, Ian gave me some pointers on diving – I needed much less weight on my weight belt, and I needed to spit in my mask before using it so it didn’t fog up 🙂 Polly and I both were tired from the dive and snorkel, so we decided to pack up our things (instead of doing a second snorkeling session as planned) and head back to Manado to meet Melina in the Mega Mall, after which we returned to Tomohon.

Here comes the “surprise” part of the vacation: the night before, I had received several texts from teachers at my school (Ibu Anthy, who teaches 10th grade, and Ibu Sumarni, my other counterpart who teaches 12th grade) telling me I had the whole week off because of Idul Adha.  Half of what they said was in Indonesian, so I tried to get in touch with Yunus to translate and tell me, definitively, which days I had off this week.  Yunus was doing survey work for his second job working for a polling company on some islands between Sulawesi and the Philippines and had no cell phone reception most of the time, so through a series of phone calls and consulting my AlphaLink, I learned that yes, I did have the whole week off.  I did want to go home for Idul Adha on Wednesday, and after a million texts, phone calls in English/broken Indonesian, and car rides to Lion Air, we all made extending my vacation for two more days possible (special thanks to Ester, Polly and Yunus for helping me).  This took until Sunday morning to finalize, fyi!

I definitely experience culture shock when I go to North Sulawesi/Manado/Tomohon/Amurang, largely because the entire area is mostly Christian.  It’s so different seeing most women without jilbabs and to see churches everywhere instead of mosques.  Not hearing the call to prayer was also really different – I definitely missed it, despite its frequency in my life and the fact that it wakes me up most mornings at 4:30 am.  Christians are also really fascinated by the fact that I, a seemingly Christian girl, work in a madrasah (the M in MAN Limboto stands for madrasah).  “Do they make you wear a jilbab when you teach?”, “Is it difficult working there?” and “Do you feel safe?” are often questions I get asked by Christians (not just in Manado/Tomohon/Amurang) – I almost get the sense (Melina has also thought this) that they’re protective of their religion because they’re in the minority in Indonesia.  Yunus told me about his experiences as a Muslim coming to Manado, and has always had great things to say about Christians – they’re so welcoming, they buy him a bowl that’s never touched pork/non-halal food, and they tell him where the nearest mosque is if he needs to pray.  He had really enlightening conversations with his Christian hosts about religion, and even traded Bible/Koran stories.  My experience living in a Muslim community (which I am very attached to) and traveling to a Christian one is so different from my friend who is Muslim and traveling to a Christian area.  Perhaps the Christians are afraid of me converting to Islam (converting being the wrong word because I’m not Christian in the first place)? Sometimes I inwardly because frustrated with the questions I was asked by Christians and just wanted to say “the people where I am are just as nice and hospitable as you are and care about me very much – they just wear more conservative clothing and pray more often, but for a shorter period of time, than you do.” Other than Muslims not eating pork or dog, that’s pretty much it.  It’s hard not to get defensive of my area because they are some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my life – I would hate for their culture and experience to go misunderstood.  Keep in mind – Manado is 40 minutes from me by plane; the fact that Melina, Polly and I are so close but share such different cultures is just one example of how diverse Indonesia is.

Day 3:
On what was supposed to be my last day in the Manado area (but ended up being the middle of my trip!) we walked around Tomohon and later met with Maryo, a really bright student studying in Manado whose English is amazing for being 16, his mother, father and little sister Glory.  Melina told him about some scholarships he could apply for, which got me really inspired to talk to my school and surrounding schools about some of them.  One is only for 10th grade high school students – it’s a scholarship for them to study in a high school in the US for one year! After the talk, Maryo’s family invited us to go to Lake Tondano with them! We first ate at a restaurant along the shore (fish, kangkung and rice – always!) that had HUUGE koi-like fish in a sort of net for eating! Then we went to a pretty spot further along the lake to watch the sun set.  After the lake, we drove to Ester’s house and began a long trek through the mountains to Amurang at night 🙂 Pictures:

Me and Polly looking tough - I have no idea why I wanted to pose this way...that's a volcano in the background, by he way!

Melina and Polly being cute.

Melina with some kids haha!

Lake Tondano!

More Lake Tondano.

Melina, Maryo, and me.

MarMaryo, Indri (Maryo's mom), Me, Melina, Glory and their dad at Lake Tondano.

Day 4:

The three of us woke up at 7 to catch a mikrolet to Polly’s school by 7:45am – we briefly went to her first class before heading to Manado to pick up my ticket back to Gorontalo for the next day (bye Polly!).  We were driven there in a “dark taxi” (taxi gelap) which is basically someone’s personal car they use as a taxi unofficially.  It cost about 1/15 of what a normal taxi would charge from Amurang to Manado though! The guy driving was SO nice and spoke amazing English – he works for a gold mine teaching aerobics.  He wanted to take us to lunch, but we took too long in the Lion Air office and told him he shouldn’t wait for us.  We went back to Tomohon and hung out for the rest of the day 🙂

Day 5:

The next morning, we walked/caught a mikrolet to SMK St. Familia with Melina in time to go to her first class at 8:45 and chat with the teachers in the kamar guru (teacher’s room).  She taught a class on numbers – students had to practice “calling” their friends and repeating their phone numbers to get better at saying them.  This was really useful for the administration kids! Some kids were also practicing a local instrument for a competition, and they apparently made nationals!

Students practicing at SMK St. Familia.

After class, I said goodbye to Melina until probably January and caught a mikrolet to the bus station, where I hopped on a bus to Manado.  Our bus stopped half-way to Manado because a car burst into flames on one side of the road.  After sitting and waiting patiently in line to go by for a while, my bus driver decided to gun it past the burning car, hoping we wouldn’t catch fire ourselves.  We made it, but it got REALLY hot in the bus for a while! I went shopping for some cheese for Jolie and some grapes for me, then gradually made my way home via a taxi, then a plane. Good times!

Coming up next in Part Dua: Idul Adha and DIVING!