Tag Archives: Intercultural Stuff

Almost Famous

21 Oct

Written on October 5th:

I step out of the car that takes me wherever I want to go with Ibu Nurmiaty and Ibu Sarkiah, my entourage.  People immediately begin taking pictures of me (including Yunus, with my camera) as I walk towards the school.  I meet Chandra, one of Yunus’ friends who asked me to come speak at his school, smiles and tells me how happy he is that I could come.  Teachers crowd around me to shake my hand, kiss my cheek, and touch me in random places (like my butt (women only) – for real), all while the cameras are snapping away. I walk through the hall and see children peeping out of windows and doors and giggling or running away or running towards me or shrieking.  I walk with my entourage towards a large room.  When I enter, the room roars and immediately comes to life – about 300 students are standing up and shouting and laughing and clapping.  I take a seat among other teachers (phew!) but them am immediately asked to speak about America.  I talk about who I am, where I am from, what America is like – all the while, the students are literally falling out of their chairs and giggling and seem to be unable to contain themselves in my presence. After I speak, I am asked to pick five rows where they will take pictures of me. First of all, I cannot choose from 200 students (all of which are gesturing for me to sit next to them) and secondly, when I do sit down, the students run away and giggle or get or shy that they scoot over and don’t want to be anywhere near me or are so excited they almost hit me in the face.  When I sit in the back among a group of boys, they almost injure me with how much they are squirming around either trying to get closer or farther away from me (boys here are particularly shy and giggly around me and I presume most older girls who are not from their culture).  When I leave the room, the students follow me and walk alongside me.  I don’t get very far because people want to take so many photos – I take two steps and there are more people lined up.  Some of the ibus even put their cameras right in my face, five inches from my nose.  I shake hands and get touched in comfortable and uncomfortable places and smile and thank people and say I am happy to meet them and to come to their school until I am escorted back to the car.  Sometimes, it is all I can do to keep thinking that the children at this school have never seen a bule before in person, and that is why I feel like a celebrity and an object but I know just by being there, I am doing both my school and the schools I visit a service that is very easy to offer. I also leave with about four times more food than I could eat in a week (mostly peanuts, bananas and cookies), half of which I later give to my friends and neighbors.  Another school sings “If you’re happy and you know it” to me and the people there are more low key.  I would love to see what happens when Obama (hopefully) visits a school in November in Indonesia, and compare experiences.  Perhaps the cameras will be bigger, there will be actual press there, more people, and he will speak faster in English than I did.  Sometimes I feel like the local celebrity, the status of which comes solely by virtue of me being white, American, and an English speaker.  I can’t say I am proud of my celebrity status, but if it makes people happy I think it’s worth the hassle. Here are some pictures!

My principal, the principal of the school I visited, and me getting to know each other.

Me speaking to a sea of wide-eyed students.

My favorite of all the pictues with the students - these boys nearly flipped my chair over before this was taken in an effort to be just close enough but not too close to me.

Me and all the teachers - some of them were nice, and some stuck cameras in my face!

Students at another school singing "If You're Happy and You Know It" for me.

Meeting and greeting students.


A Little Bit of Everything

8 Sep Me, Karen, Erin and Mary M staying dry.

All in all, I’m really enjoying learning Indonesian. It’s so different from any language I’ve tried to learn (granted, outside of romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish) I’ve only dabbled in German) for several reasons. First, it is largely vocabulary-based.  There are no conjugated verbs, and therefore no past or future tenses for verbs (future or past is indicated by adding an adjective, such as “in the past”, “yesterday”, “tomorrow” or “in the future”.  Secondly, there are no gendered pronouns – pronouns relate to the type of object being discussed (for example, there’s a different pronoun for animals (seekor) then there is for humans (seorang)). Thirdly, there is no verb for “to be” (outside of the word for there is/there are (ada – it’s similar to hay in español).  Also, there are a few sort of quirky things about the language – to imply that a noun is plural, often you say it twice (for example: cucu-cucu (pronounced choo-choo choo-choo) means grandchildren – it’s one of my favorite words!) Also, there are two different ways to say “we”: one includes the person you’re addressing (kita) and the other excludes them from being in the “we” (kami).  There is also a different goodbye to say to someone when they are staying and you are going. Indonesians are always happy to practice with you and are very patient when you make mistakes. Another thing: there is a verb that means “to have a moustache” – it’s berkumis. It’s harder to learn than I thought, but I’m getting better. If you want to learn a phrase, selamat pagi means good morning! I’ll add some more phrases with each post.

The education classes have been really good for me too. I helped prepare a lesson the other day (I didn’t like the activity we were given), and yesterday I co-taught a lesson on adjectives. We had the kids list some adjectives on the board, and then had them write three adjectives to describe themselves.  We then had a discussion about which member of the class the adjectives described.  It was really fun! I tend to talk down to people in my tone, I and others have noticed, in that I tend to have a more motherly and overly kindergarten teacher like quality to my voice.  This was really good feedback – I need to speak more naturally when teaching and tend to be overly kind and enthusiastic.  Today, I taught a lesson on giving directions – I used a map of part of my town to help them use different vocabulary like left, right, straight, turn, and also to have them learn a little about me. Some of the feedback I got was that I explain simple things too much (like what a map is/directions are) and don’t explain the more complicated things (like what right and left are, or go over the names of my street).  I think next time, I’ll make a map of the village that I’m going to be living in so that I can explain less and my students can talk more! I’ll be teaching again on Monday. It’s so excited to be teaching though, and I really like it – much more than I thought I would. I feel relatively confident up there even though I make mistakes.

I want to talk now about something that’s been troubling me a lot, something that my fellow ETAs and I are going to have to address and something that is going to make our jobs even harder and more important.  If you haven’t heard already, there’s been a lot of buzz in the news about opposition to building a mosque in New York City (note my accurate, if general, choice of words for the location). This heated argument has produced one of the most horrendous challenges to the intercultural harmony which is (hopefully) being constructed on our end, and has manifested in the planned burning of several copies of the Koran on September 11th. I can’t actually think of a more unpatriotic act at the moment. Even Petraeus is urging this group not to go through with the event because it will endanger the lives of our troops overseas (I agree with him). It’s incredibly frustrating when the same law is being twisted in two different ways: we should not have to weigh freedom of religion with freedom of speech. This news may be small potatoes over in the states (50 people are burning a book, big deal!) but over here, it’s huge.

Hate only breeds hate, and so I refuse to hate the people doing this (I also have never met them, so who am I to hate them) and fuel this huge inferno. I just hope they realize the implications of their actions. I also hope that Muslims around the world realize that if this event goes as planned and the Koran is burned, that it is not the fault of the US government that this event happens – stepping in and ending this event in the name of religious freedom would only undermine another American value, that of free speech. I hope that people realize that, like religious extremists everywhere, the people of Gainesville, Florida who decide to burn copies of the Koran are a miniscule minority that does not represent the views of religious or non-religious people and religious leaders as a whole, nor the views of the US government. Not in my name, nor the name of my country.

On another note, I’m getting very comfortable in Bandung, and it’s not just the bed at the hotel. It’s getting lost on an angkot four times (actually it was four different angkots) with two of my friends in the rain and laughing about it, unconcerned about getting back on time or where we’re even going.  It’s going with my friends on a walk to a waterfall and watching the rain fall from the shelter of a gazebo and spiders weave beautiful webs (yes, I used spiders and beautiful in the same sentence!) It’s crossing the street by myself (don’t laugh! it can be challenging and usually I tag along with a group of locals/other ETAs). It’s meeting people and speaking sedikit (a little) Bahasa and getting to know my Bahasa and education teachers and getting a feel for the way life operates around here.  It both makes me sad that I have to leave and comforted that I will be able to settle into my community once I get there!

I also want to talk about the call to prayer that happens five times a day. The other night, it was raining outside, and it was around 6:00pm. I was walking outside listening to the rain and the call to prayer sounded – from 4 different directions at once.  Each was a different melody, at different speeds and each finished at a different time.  It was so humbling to hear such devotion vocalized and performed in such beautiful symphony. The call to prayer is like a song, but simpler in its message. It brings a community together from a long day of more individual work. This experience reminded me of the moment I chose to apply to Oberlin early over all the other colleges I was looking at – I was walking down North Professor in the wee hours of the morning and on one side of the street, I head a violin. After a few seconds, a flute from the other side of the street joined in, playing its own melody, but echoing the same love of music. I knew I belonged there. And hearing the music of the calls to prayer, I feel like I could belong here too, for at least a little while.

Here are some pictures from my walk in the Dago Forest, as well as one of my favorite meals!

One of my favorite meals: barbecued chicken with sambal and rice and avocado juice!

Mary B walking down to the waterfall!

The river in Dago Forest.

Me and the waterfall.

Me, Karen, Erin and Mary M staying dry.

Tomorrow, I’m fasting for the last full day of Ramadan with a bunch of other ETAs (I’m getting up around 3:40am to eat before the sun rises).  I won’t be eating or drinking anything until sunset. I also met an awesome woman named Asmi who works at the hotel and will be helping me with Indonesian – I’ll talk more about her later! On the next post: an Angklung performance (pictures and videos!), some Indonesian music videos, and a discussion of the intercultural education session we had this week.