Tag Archives: Language

The January/February Update

9 Mar

The above picture is of the Shansi fellows with our TESL certificates on the last day of class and is provided courtesy of Veronica Colegrove.

Wow, I have really let this blog go! No longer – here is an update of my homecoming and where I see my blog, myself and my writing, going.

Minus the lack of snow, I had a great Christmas with my family. I had so many presents for them from Indonesia and Israel, including Ahava skincare products for my sister, my mom and even my dad. I definitely spoiled my family this holiday season! I was then lucky enough to have a visit from the loveliest duo there is, Aisha and Jasmine, and got to mostly eat amazing food and ring in the New Year with my loves.

Unfortunately for me, and probably for those around me, I was undergoing some serious culture shock. First of all, I was SO COLD. I felt like I had the flu because every part of my body ached as part of some reaction to the temperature. While my friends were wearing your average winter jackets and sometimes gloves, I was still shivering INSIDE in my outdoor heavy-duty jacket and gloves and sometimes even a hat. I felt ridiculous. I wanted to go ice skating, but even on a day where it got up to 40F, I couldn’t bring myself to spend more than 10 minutes outside. I was also really missing Indonesia and Israel, and all the people that I know that are a part of those amazing countries. I felt like being around all the people I loved best was made very strange by the fact that I had been away for so long. Relating to people was really hard, and I felt like I was walking around with some sort of cloud around my head, making it possible only to partly communicate with people around me in a way that was mutually meaningful.

Still under this culture shock haze, I made my way to Oberlin. Initially, I was not super excited to go. I was pumped about the Shansi Fellowship, but I was apprehensive about spending my winter covered in snow with people who I pre-supposed would be younger than me in both age and maturity. Upon meeting my exceedingly talented and amazing co-fellows, all of those conjectures melted away to be replaced by a warm fuzzy blanket of love. I’m sorry that’s corny, but that’s how I feel. These incredibly mature students who see such value in spending time overseas and who also love studying languages and nerding out about other cultures were the cure for my own culture shock. It took me no time at all to compartmentalize my feelings for Indonesia and immerse myself in the opportunities that lay ahead. I was with these fellows almost 24/7 – I was also fortunate enough to have two 2009 grads living in the same house as me, which mainly amounted to late-night Mad Men watching and happy-hour frolicking. We all took a class together on TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and had 5 wonderful ESL students originally from China and Korea to teach and bounce ideas off of. We stayed up late lesson planning together and coming up with cool themes to frame our teaching around. We bonded over tons of homework and a love of Asian food. We ate an entire box of tofu that was leftover from a co-op (we’re talking 40 sizable slabs, of which we ate around 30). We hosted a potluck for the ESL students and other teachers at Shansi House, and had an amazing retreat weekend with some former Fellows. We were inundated with information about the many awful viruses, bacteria and parasites we assuredly would encounter. We all came out forever fused at the hip. I have my Shansi Fellows and the former Shansi Fellows) to thank for getting me over my culture shock, and putting the amazing future into perspective. I’ve already been back to Oberlin once to visit them, and plan on going two more times, including over Commencement Weekend! We all have to do a skit for this mini-ceremony in our honor, which I am pumped for. An article on the Shansi website and an article on the Oberlin OnCampus website highlight our awesome stories 🙂

I think I’ve done a really good job of embracing the fact that I am living with my parents at 25 and  have no real money of my own. I’ve been dog walking, last-minute baby sitting, standing in as a model for a wedding photography company (I got to be a fake bride for two days AND wear a really nice wedding dress), and later this month I’ll be burning CDs for attendees of a UMass Medical School conference relating to mindfulness in medicine. I’m also reading a lot about India (currently getting into “Makers of Modern India”, edited by Ramachandra Guha – I also have a huge stack of books on South East Asian feminism to get through), watching Bollywood movies, trying to learn Hindi (I tried to sign up for a class at the Boston Language Institute, but only one other person signed up so they had to cancel the class – I’m doing some studying with programs from the library, plus looking into tutoring though!), and running every day (I’m up to 25 minutes, and “WOW CHRISTINA THAT IS SO AMAZING!!!” is what I need to hear from you right now…) I’ve also been catching up with old friends I haven’t seen in years, going to lots of trivia nights, reading almost every article in the Economist, and getting into shows such as Downton Abbey, Parks and Recreation, and Big Love. I’ll also be trying to see family more, including my dad’s parents, who moved to Annapolis from their awesome house in Rhode Island this January. Another big project I’m working on is uploading all of my remaining Indonesia and Israel photos to the internet…it will take a while!

I also figured out a lot of what I’ll be doing in India, which is very exciting! I’ll be working for the Aware Women’s Action for Justice team (AWAJ) at Jagori Grameen (for an outline of the fellowship, see this post). Below is a rough outline:

  1. strengthening the Jagori team on issues related to female empowerment
  2. teaching rural youth English language skills
  3. organizing activities and workshops for adolescent girls on issues of self growth and confidence building
  4. developing creative counseling programming to strengthen the emotional and mental well-being of the AWAJ collective members
  5. documenting and preparing reports of various events organized by the AWAJ team
  6. designing and conducting short research projects related to women’s issues
  7. training young Jagori team members to utilize street theater as an educational tool for social change
  8. standardizing the body literacy school program (I’m still a little unclear about the exact meaning here, but I’m assuming it means strengthening literacy in the students who attend school?)
  9. participating in all activities of the organization

This was written in a letter to me crafted by Ahba and Anoop, two of my supervisors at Jagori Rural, and by the Associate Director of Shansi. I’m really happy with it, and am glad English teaching is only a part of what I’m doing, despite how much I like it.

I’m also attempting to put into words my experiences in Indonesia (inspired by a friend). We’ll see what comes of them – if nothing else, it will be therapeutic for me, and possibly entertaining for others.

For now, I’ll be writing intermittently about Shansi-related or travel-related stuff, getting ready to leave, etc., but the real fun on this blog won’t start again until mid-June, when I go to Wisconsin to study Hindi at the South Asian Summer Language Institute (SASLI). I think I’ll keep my blog at this website, but somehow change the name – we’ll see!

Until I have more news, sit tight!


Peduli Anak Updates

20 Oct

Sorry I’ve been so bad at updating! I have no excuse – with the exception of 5 days on the road in various places, I have had excellent internet access. People have just been so awesome and wonderful, yet again.

In the past few weeks I’ve been figuring out my role at Peduli Anak, and I’ve already established a few activities that I’ll be doing every week. First, I am teaching English to all six elementary school grades, but this only takes up 6 hours of my time. I’ve also been organizing 3 English clubs (which may become 2), helping kids who go to the junior high school at night do their homework, training Syafaat and Agus on how to give tours (they gave one without me the other day and I was so proud!), and giving a teacher training class once a week on Saturdays to all the elementary school teachers with Pak Ali. It’s been going well so far, but it’s a lot different than last year. I’m speaking more Indonesian in class this year because my students speak less English because they’re younger, and most of the teachers I teach with don’t speak English because they teach all classes at the elementary level. This means I have to improvise a lot in Indonesian, which is making my language acquisition a little better everyday. I also sing A LOT more – it keeps the little kids from getting bored. I’m excited too because the teachers are learning more fun ways to teach English, and I can already see the English of some of the teachers improving. It also means each class is an adventure! I’ve been teaching anything from learning how to say “Good morning, good afternoon and goodnight” through song to the 1st graders to describing celebrities (are they tall, thin, athletic, etc.) with 6th graders.

The entrance to the Foundation - it's a really nice place.

A view from the school, where I teach.

Emily and her assistant Esmi came to visit! Nurul (on the left), Dian and Kiki hung out with us for a while 🙂

English Club is also interesting – last year the only disruptions I had were students talking, but this year I have to keep them really interested otherwise they get out of their seats! I end up with six or seven kids who really want to be there (out of about 10-15) which is totally fine – right now we’re playing games and dancing and occasionally drawing (the younger kids tend to want to do that) so I’ll be working more in the framework of having fun rather than doggedly pursuing skills learning. I am also going to be setting up a volunteer position specifically for English teaching at Peduli Anak so hopefully they’ll have someone there most of the year who’s had experience and is a native speaker :).

In Narmada, where Emily, Jess and Jen (the two ETAs on Lombok this year), Ibu Grace (a lecturer and researcher at the University of Indonesia and also one of the teachers at ETA Orientation) and I went one afternoon.

All the kids lined up for a school photo 🙂

One of my 4th grade students, Nana, took pictures during English Club - this is me, Elma (center) and Isnul having a conversation.

Me with Nana on my back!

I’m really enjoying my time there in other ways too. I’ve become good friends with Ibu Dian, Eni and Ina who all work in the office, and have worked a lot with Pak Ali (who is one of the school coordinators, and also a local volunteer!) and am getting to know him better. It’s been nice having Martina here this week to bounce ideas off of, get feedback and clarity on my goals, and hang out! The teachers and I also get along really well – it’s nice because most of them are still under 30 and are not married yet so we have a lot in common :). They tease me about finding a boyfriend in Lombok and have invited me to hang out with them when I get back, so I’m very excited for that. Marjolein and I are very good roommates – she’s so sweet and reminds me a little of Casey because she’s a little quiet but so thoughtful and caring 🙂 The volunteer who is here during the day, Sabrina from Germany, is really great too and we usually get ote-ote (flour and veggies fried together that form a lump, a traditional food generally from the Lombok/East Java area) and Nutri Sari (what I imagine Tang tastes like)/coffee at our morning break together. I’m quite happy here, and plan to do around 3 more weeks of work at the Foundation.

The following photos, including my featured photo above, are courtesy of Martina Natratilova Fetter.

Me teaching 1st graders how to say "Hi my name is _______."

High five, you got it dude!

Me and the kids in 1st grade reviewing a song about good morning, good afternoon and good night - we're singing about night time now, in case you couldn't tell 🙂

I’ll be leaving around November 8th – 10th, depending on what’s going on in Gorontalo and when my visa renewal gets processed. Two people (Mr. Zay, a security guard/general office guy at MAN Limboto, and Mr. Oi, the school driver) are planning on getting married around the 10th of November, the Bahasa Indonesia teacher at MAN Limboto and my former neighbor Ibu Fatma’s daughter is having a mandi lemon (lemon-water bath) ceremony, which I think has something to do with coming of age in Islam, on the 12th, and Ibu Sarkiah and Pak Herson are coming back from haji (pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam) on the 14th, so I have a lot of invitations to go back to Limboto and Gorontalo around that time! Unless I pay to expedite it, my visa renewal could take up to 5 days, and once I renew it I have 30 days until I have to renew it again (at which point, if all goes as planned I will be on a plane to Israel). My visa expires around the 7th of November, so I’ll have to extend it before then and before I go to Gorontalo – I have a lot still to figure out with my supervisors at Peduli Anak. I realize now that Gorontalo is a huge priority for me now and I want to spend a lot of time there because after December 5th, I don’t know when I’ll visit Indonesia again – sometime in the next 5 years is all I can say for sure.

Next post: my adventures on my 10 days of vacation! The featured picture above is of me teaching 1st graders how to count to six 🙂

My Second Home, Gorontalo

27 Sep

Greetings from Lombok,

Now that I’ve had a few days apart from Gorontalo, I can tell you all about it.

In so many ways, it felt like coming home, and while I was there, it seemed as though being in America felt like an extended vacation. I swear if I strike it rich someday, I’ll build a house there so I can visit whenever I want. I lived with my Indonesian mother, Ibu Sarkiah, and my sisters, Rya and Yheyen, and my little brother Sultan (bad-ass name, huh?). I saw so many people I loved. I met the new ETAs, Lisa and Marjorie, who are so much more prepared and adaptable than I was when I first came to Gorontalo and Limboto. I went to my school and saw all my old students, teachers, and friends who work there. I hung out with my friend/former student Tyara and went to the house of Mr. Marwan, the guy who cleaned my house, to drink coconut water and give his family baby clothes. I went to MAN Insan Cendekia to see Trisna and Chicha, two of the funniest ladies I know. I had my 25th birthday party at Ibu Sarkiah’s house, and everyone I loved, including the principal of Insan Cendekia, Pak Suwardi and his family, came. I sang karaoke with some amazing Indonesians. I went to a village where few people spoke Bahasa Indonesia and rode horses, snorkeled, and went to the most beautiful beach in Gorontalo province. I got to eat amazing food like milu siram/corn soup, ikan bakar/grilled fish, gurita sate/octopus satay and gohu/(banana “heart”, coconut, lime, and chili). And, perhaps best of all, I got to see my best friend Yunus and talk every day about things I rarely talk about with my American friends – religion, peace, and the wonders and horrors of the world. It was extremely hard to leave, and I cried on the plane rides to Lombok. People from there say that they will miss me, but they don’t have to, because I’ll always come back. While I was there, I also did some work on some essays for the Shansi Fellowship (two-year fellowship to do outreach and mobilization in northern India for women and other minorities, funded through Oberlin) – Gorontalo turned out to be a really inspirational place for writing about cultural exchange. I’ve learned that though I would like to spend my time in between both Gorontalo and Boston, there’s almost no way to make that happen in the way I want to. So I must be insane for trying, right? 😉

It’s hard to get specific about being in Gorontalo – not to get sappy, but when I’m there, it’s like I have everything I want. But there’s no way for me to be fully made an insider, and I will always be given special treatment, which, while it’s very nice, is an indicator that I will always be a princess, and will never quite fit in. I went into the ETA experience expecting 9 months to be the perfect amount of time to be at home in a place, and I thought that feeling would disappear little by little once I went home. Now I know that if I let it, it could stay with me forever. Unless I get off the fence, I’ll never been truly happy about where I am at the moment. I am a person that, despite my love of traveling, needs a place to put down roots. I’m not there yet, but I will be someday soon. I’m afraid that if I keep up all this traveling, I’ll be constantly torn between what I know/what I’m comfortable with, and a world that can only exist short term. Then again, I have been told that traveling an exploring the world is exactly what an adventurous 25-year-old should be doing. But people say that as if this is a phase of my life I should be getting out of my system, before I have things that tie me down, like marriage and a job and kids, that prevent me from traveling. What if I don’t want to be tied down, and what if I never get to the point where I’m happy staying in one place?

Here are some pictures of Gorontalo:

Rici and Yunus at my friend Ibu Yuni's house.

Rici, Ibu Yuni, Syifa (her 3 month old baby) and I

In Boalemo, Yunus' second home - all these bananas are going to be fried!

Yunus 1 and Yunus 2 - everyone says the little one could be his brother.

Milu (corn) and gohu (heart of banana, coconut, chili, deliciousness) - I LOVE Gorontalo so much for its food.

They caught this while Yunus and I snorkeled...gurita (octopus) sate later! I should send this photo to the Patriots - I guarantee you their logo has never made it to a place this remote.

Me and half the village 🙂 I love these guys!

I look happy, but there is so much fear of falling under that smile...

This beach is the most beautiful one in Gorontalo province - I just thought the height progression in this photo was hilarious 🙂

Pak Suwardi, the principal of MAN Insan Cendekia, and Yunus decide who's going to karaoke for me first 🙂

Sorry this is from so far away, but I needed to show you how tall the tree is and how that man is climbing it like it's no thing.

Princess Tyara and me 🙂

At Mr. Marwans house again - babies!

Karaokeing with some of Yunus' friends - they are so cute and great singers!

Enough. I’m in Lombok now, at a wonderful foundation called Peduli Anak. I’m going to be teaching here for a few weeks, for an as yet undetermined amount of time. I have about 10 weeks left in Indonesia, and I want to spend about half of that time here at the foundation, and the other half traveling, diving and in Gorontalo. I’ll be teaching 1st through 6th grade English speaking class, running English club, organizing activities for the girls shelter, tutoring and helping with homework, and training Agus and Syafa’at, two 15-year old boys, to be tour guides for the Foundation. I’ll also be training the teachers in how to incorporate more speaking and fun activities into their teaching and probably doing some grant research. It’s nice to have my priorities so clearly mapped out, and to be able to design my own program. I feel really needed here, and it’s been great getting to know the kids, from 3 year olds to 17 year olds. I also have been hanging out with Jess and Jen, two ETAs teaching at high schools in the area, and Marjolein and Sabrina, two volunteers working at PA from Holland and Germany, respectively. Marjolein has a background in anthropology and is thinking about doing research here, and she’s also my lovely roomate! Sabrina just arrived yesterday and she’s going to be working during the day with the kids in the shelters doing various activities – her background is in child therapy. All of us are 25 and get along really well. Everyone here is so nice and my Indonesian is rapidly improving, to the point where I am exhausted just from speaking it all day! I just got an invite from one of the ladies who works at the canteen and the kitchen to come see her family at her house tomorrow, which should be a great time, since I don’t speak a word of Sasak, the local language! In my experience so far, the more you talk to the people around you, the more comfortable everyone feels. I think I’ll start waking up at 6am to get to morning tea with the teachers by 7am, because we all have a lot of work to do together and making friends will get me a lot farther and make me seem less foreign to them.

More later when I get settled! (That’s a picture of my birthday cake up top, by the way.)

On Religion, “Nevermind”, and Bike Rides

5 Nov

“I’m a little Christian, and I’m not a very good one.” Such is my answer to the question “What religion are you?” in Indonesia.  I describe my religious status this way because in Indonesia, if you’re not religious, people don’t understand you. To my closer friends, I’ve told them religion really doesn’t play a part in my life.  I haven’t gotten up the nerve to tell them I’m named after Jesus Christ because he is an important person to my mother. Being constantly reminded of how religious the people around me are is really fascinating – I don’t think I’ve ever lived among people or been friends with so many people who value religion as much as the people at my school.  It is a code by which everyone operates, and the rules of Islam are rarely broken (as opposed to Catholicism, for example).  Yes, there are some people who skimp on the praying five times a day thing, and men definitely drink when they’re not supposed to, but overall people are completely devoted to God.  Getting used to this life isn’t difficult – as a non-Muslim, I am not subject to most of the rules.  When I teach, I wear a uniform or clothing that reaches my wrists and my ankles, and a jilbab.  After school, I become more “American” and wear a t-shirt and jeans rolled up to my knees.  I don’t eat pork because there isn’t any around.  I don’t pet dogs when I see them (mainly because they look mangy and dirty). Seeing other people live out these rules is a different matter, however. I’ll give a few examples (these might be more cultural than religious, but mostly those things are the same here):

– My friend Yunus’ little sister is not allowed to call her brother by his name – it’s disrespectful.  Instead, she calls him kakak, or “older brother”.

– Often, when I am shopping with some of the Ibus in the city (though never when I am shopping with men, hmmm), they ask me “Is it ok if I pray now?” (I tell them that they never have to ask me because I know how important to them praying is!) We stop at a mosque for 15 minutes, and I watch as many women dressed in long, flowing gowns and intricate jilbabs  and men in smart dress with small caps on their heads calmly enter to speak to God.

– In some families, husband and wife are not allowed to call each other by their names – instead, they call each other “husband” and “wife”.

– Here, when you’re dating, the closest you get in public is walking around and talking.  Occasionally people will hold hands.  The way people subtly show affection is by getting cozy on motorcycles (because, you know, you have to hang on tight :)).

– Men seem to get a lot of freebies to these rules.  Sometimes they drink, and sometimes they don’t pray.  No one really ask them why, but they seem to have more of a choice (or care less about religion) than women do.

On me wearing a jilbab: I wear a jilbab because it makes me look a little more like the other women who teach here.  It’s more a sign of respect than anything else.  I feel slightly uncomfortable wearing it outside the school, mainly because people assume I’m Muslim.  It’s the deeply religious beliefs of Muslims that I have a problem being so intimately identified with – as someone who doesn’t know what to believe yet, Islam is a pretty serious thing to be tied to.  There isn’t really any equivalent to the jilbab/hijab/burqa outside of Islam – my Dad and I talked about a cross necklace being similar, but I don’t think any Christian would be looked at weirdly or talked about negatively for NOT wearing their cross necklace that day.  There are some women who are Muslim that do not cover their heads here, but there are very few.  If you’re a good Muslim woman, you wear a jilbab here.  I may be making a ton of assumptions, and still have a lot to learn about Islam, but these are just my observations so far.  Forgive me if I sound like an anthropologist – I am definitely a part of this community (as much as a white girl from New England can be). I am not doing conscious research, but can’t help but notice things that are so different from my life in America.

Another thing I need to talk about is the phrase tidak apa-apa.  I say this phrase at least 50 times a day.  It means “no problem”, but literally translates to “no what-what” (which the students love to say and then giggle about).  If you ask it as a question, tidak apa-apa? it means: “is this (whatever I asked you just now) a problem?” NOTHING here is a problem – everything is always ok.  Yet people constantly ask each other and tell each other this.  I have to ask permission to do everything by saying tidak apa-apa. Tidak apa-apa saya pergi ke rumaku sekarang? “It’s not a problem that I go to my house now?” Everyone does it, so I don’t mind doing it.  In Bahasa Gorontalo, it’s ja mongola.

I’m learning more Bahasa Indonesia every day and a little bit (sedikit) of Bahasa Gorontalo, which is very difficult (susa sekali) – there are a ton of rules for grammar and people are always correcting me (whereas in Bahasa Indonesia, they don’t as much).  I love learning new languages so much and am so happy I can communicate with the people here who I care about so much.  This week Yunus had to leave for a week, so I was forced to ask for somewhat difficult things in Indonesian (I need someone to film the eleventh grade dramas on Saturday, I have a rat in my drain, my screen is broken) and have been making new friends.  I went to visit the family of “Jay”, one of the men who works at security at my school, and spoke Bahasa Indonesia with them for a long time! Knowing more Bahasa Indonesia is one of the ways I’m becoming more comfortable here.

Something I really enjoy doing here is riding my bike around the villages.  There are some spectacular sites and landscapes, especially right before sunset. I’m also making a ton of new friends, some of whom ride behind me and follow me for a while on my route, trying to talk to me and me trying to talk to them without crashing, or the gentleman yesterday who rode up next to me on his motor cycle and risked oncoming traffic to speak Indonesian incredibly fast to me (I had to keep saying “slow down please” (maaf, plan-plan) and “sorry, what?” (maaf, apa?)).  These people are wonderful, but sometimes I just like to be alone and exercise! I almost run over children sometimes because they jump in front of my bicycle because they are so excited.  After four or five bike rides, most of the villagers know to call me “miss” and not “mister” (Indonesians have looser rules on gender in vocabulary than we do) and some people even know my name! I as riding yesterday and about 10 children raced after me yelling “STOP STOP STOP”.  I waved and kept biking, then thought about it and turned around – I have all the time in the world! I went back and took a picture with them and continued on, only to find that more people wanted pictures! I said next time and biked on.  I’m trying to balance community service with my need to be alone and exercise. My favorite thing to do is the bike and have conversations for as long as I can with the people I pass – we talk until I am out of earshot.

I really wanted to post pictures of my school and my bike rides, but the internet at Jolie’s isn’t cooperating with picture uploading. For now, enjoy the prose, and hopefully I’ll post some pictures soon!

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

2 Oct

Patience is the number one thing they told us to learn to cultivate during orientation – that, and to smile, or better yet, laugh at difficult situations.  Here is a list of things I have done in the past weeks that I didn’t expect to laugh at, during or after:

– I named my cockroach Larry (in honor or Larry David, for some reason) and I pretend he’s the only cockroach friend I have until I see another one.
– My toilet leaked the contents of the bowl onto the floor several times, so I had to be a little creative about going to the bathroom 🙂 It’s also still not completely fixed, and sometimes I wish I had just asked for a regular Indonesian toilet that doesn’t flush!
– I have talked to the thousands of flies that hang out in my house like they are naughty children.
– I kicked in my own backdoor, Law and Order SVU-style, because it didn’t open from the outside and I had two metal walls and one concrete one separating anyone seeing or hearing me calling for help and which were completely unscalable (I also left my phone inside).  It was already a little broken so I didn’t mind as much, but I still felt a little bad.
– I shorted out the power in my house with my stupid surge protector I insisted on bringing (it was on the packing list, to be fair).

I’m slowly getting used to the fact that every day here is an adventure and is going to be different and I have to constantly expect the unexpected.  I wake up every morning apprehensive and wary, and end every day wishing I could stay up longer.  Each day gets easier in most ways, but my life here is best characterized by the perpetual motion of stepping forward two times and then stepping back once.  For example, I am apparently getting cable TV tomorrow (for a whopping $3.00/month, I can get all the channels this area has to offer!), the class I taught went mostly well today, but my toilet is yet again broken, most likely due to flooding.  Of course, I’d rather my toilet work than get cable, but with so many gifts around me I have to be patient. I wake up every day with a to do list, which believe it or not keeps me happy! Waking up with The Proclaimers singing “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) also helps quite a bit 🙂

I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful, in most ways, my new home is.  By home, I include the physical house I live in, the school, and all the people in it and around it.  I’ve been waiting for things to be fixed and for the light to be right to take pictures of my house and my school, MAN Limboto, but those will be up soon.  The most important people to me right now are Ibu Sarkiah, the headmistress (yeah my school is mad feminist, it just doesn’t know it yet) and Yunus, the English teacher for 11th grade.  Ibu Sarkiah is the most adorable little woman ever, and she’s so in charge.  I think Sarah, the ETA who worked at MAN Limboto last year, told me that you’d be happy to do anything for Ibu Sarkiah, which I completely agree with.  She’s so cute and can understand some English – I try to communicate with her in both Indonesian and English and try my hardest to speak directly to her rather than through Yunus.  I went with her to a wedding and even though I think she likes me, she made me sing an Indonesian song RIGHT after I had consumed a large quantity of incredibly spicy food.  Then, she proceeded to tell me how sweaty I looked while singing – the next day, everyone at school made fun of me J She also takes incredibly good care of me and is always offering me something to eat, so much so that I cannot eat it all and end up hoarding it in my house. She is the queen mother in my new family and I love her, no matter how much she unknowingly or knowingly humiliates me!

Yunus is so many things to me: my fellow English teacher, my translator, my Indonesian cultural ambassador, my advocate, my teacher and my friend.  He is 23 and graduated from the University of Gorontalo in 2009 and has been teaching English ever since.  He has a great rapport with his students and constantly cracks jokes so they don’t get bored.  He helps me talk to people I cannot talk to because I don’t have the vocabulary yet, or helps me learn new words or Indonesian grammar.  He tells me what’s ok to do and what is not, and laughs at me when I ask some cultural questions like “How many times a week does your mom ask you if you’re going to get married soon?” He explains things I want to people and makes sure I have everything I need – if I need to go shopping, he usually comes with me.  The other day we went hunting for a hospital that would give me a rabies vaccine – we ended up going to three hospitals and two pharmacies by the time we got a vaccine for me (and I had to buy another one to take home on ice so we don’t have to go on another vaccine adventure!) and never seems to mind taking care of me, even though I ask him a million times if he’s ok with something or tell him it’s not a problem and that it can get fixed later. He loves sappy romantic music from America and Indonesia (from America because the words come slow enough for him to understand) and walks around campus singing) He wants to go to the US to get a graduate degree (maybe a PhD) but his TOEFL score is a little too low, so I want to help him raise it and find some scholarships.

It’s gotten to the point, language-wise, where I can understand things that people say about me when they think they can’t understand them – it’s fun to say “saya mengarti” (I understand) and smile and watch their adorable shocked faces! Learning the language is also a step-wise process – one day I’ll be very able to communicate, and the next I forget words I swore I knew the day before.  Sometimes I wake up and am very confused because everyone is speaking a language that I only know a little of. Another funny thing related to language is that people will look over my shoulder if I am checking my e-mail, even though there’s some kind of confidential stuff in there.  Because of this, on Gchat I’ve resorted to changing the way I speak by adding words that are more sophisticated than I think the people around me can understand, such as:

Me: there are several individuals peering over my shoulder

i’m attempting to utilize large phrases so that they misconstrue what i’m verbalizing

Jasmine: i comprehend your motivations.

It’s a fun game to play and one that I don’t mind doing to have both my privacy and my friends surrounding me.

Today I got my teaching schedule finalized (I have Fridays off, yay!) and my vacation schedule approved by Ibu Sarkiah (I’m still waiting for AMINEF official approval for Thanksgiving and for when I meet my Mom in Bali).  Hopefully I’ll be sticking around the Limboto/Gorontalo/North Sulawesi/Manado area until November 25th, and then traveling a decent amount (at least once a month) until April (I need to begin planning my 14-day trip outside Indonesia that I’m allowed!) Also, it appears that my toilet is finally fixed! The guy who was working on it took the entire toilet off the ground, so I’m hoping this is the last repair he has to make (this is at least the 3rd time it got broken).  The internet was also on for about 30 minutes today, so I got to check the news, my e-mail and Facebook really briefly.  I hope it comes back with some regularity soon!

My favorite class so far is the one I taught today (Wednesday September 29th).  They’re really bright and aren’t as shy as the others.  They really seemed to enjoy what I was teaching and to absorb the material well (I think it was also a little easy for them but it still made me feel good about myself!) They are also apparently the kids who test the best in the school, and I will be giving them extra English club time because of this.  They ask interesting questions and are super funny.  I’m going to be teaching them some more advanced stuff and moving more quickly through the material than with the other classes. There is also an advanced class for 10th grade, which I like a lot, and I will be teaching them extra as well. I’m also teaching a teacher’s class on Wednesday (although that’s not starting until next week), a one-hour club for some 12th grade students, hanging out with some extra-special English-lovin’ students on Monday nights (we’re thinking we’ll make dinner together and do things together while speaking English) and tutoring Yunus in TOEFL stuff.  I definitely have my work cut out for me but I’m so pumped.  Believe it or not, this only adds up to 35 hours a week, including prep time for class that’s allotted into our 40 hours.  I’ve been talking to other ETAs a little about their time, but I can’t wait to rehash first week shenanigans with them.

One thing I’ve noticed is that unless someone who comes into this community knows someone or is very friendly and introduces themselves, the community I’m living in is not super friendly.  It reminds me a little of Boston – if you’re friends with a friend of theirs, you’re ok, but you have to know someone first.  This community is also incredibly protective of me and won’t let me ride a motor-bike without a helmet (a good thing), but they tend to want me to only stay here on weekends or do things with them and I think they get a little sad when I go visit Jolie at her school. Hopefully this will disippate with time as I want to spend more time with the people I work with and also as they get used to me having my own life. I definitely have to balance my own desires with the feelings of the people here on a daily basis.

Today was really interesting in a few ways.  I made my first Indonesian joke! I was speaking to one of the officials in the Office of Religious Affairs and accidentally said “Danau MAN Limboto” instead of “Danau Limboto” in Indonesian (as a side note, I was really excited to see that the Indonesians borrowed danau from the Dutch who may have borrowed it from the Germans, or vice versa) which basically meant that I said MAN Limboto, my school, had its own lake (danau = lake), which was uproariously funny to my principal, Yunus and Ibu Nurmiaty.  Later that day, Gorontalo was hit with a deluge of rain that flooded a lot of the streets (banjir = flood).  I told them “kalau banjir, MAN Limboto punya danau” which means “if it rains, Limboto has a lake!” and they just lost it laughing. The fact that I am able to joke with them, however simply, in their own language makes them so happy, especially because Gorontalans LOVE to joke. Every other sentence is a joke, I swear! Which is nice, once you get to understanding Indonesian a little.  I also discovered that I just cannot take all this spicy food anymore. It makes my face hurt and my face turn red and I can’t taste the chicken/fish/etc. So today, I took a break and ate plain cooked eggplant (poki-poki in Gorontalese, which believe it or not I am slowly picking up also!), white rice and what they call ketchup (which is this brown sweet sticky sauce with no chili) and it was SO GOOD! They all looked at me confused at how I could be eating something so bland, but sometimes I’m just not a adventurous as I’d like to be. In Indonesia, thy say “kalau makan tidak pedas, tidak enak” which means “if food isn’t spicy, then it isn’t delicious”.  It’s going to take me a while to get used to all the makan pedas around here (only the rice doesn’t have something spicy on it, and sometimes it still does) but I’m excited to live in a place with so much love of flavor.

I also talked with Yunus a lot about religion and what Indonesians call “being a fanatic”, or basically taking Islam (or any religion really) to a dangerous level.  Yunus said that if you’re human, you have the capability to relate to other humans, regardless of religion which is really true. His main point for why people from different religions should get along is that no one knows what happens when you die – one can only theorize and no one can come back from the dead to tell you what happens.  So no one should judge the other for thinking a different truth. It made me really happy to hear this.  Yunus has some friends who do not have the best sentiments towards America and he is constantly trying to figure out why they believe what they believe.  I told him that there are religious fanatics in America (case in point: guy who wanted to burn the Koran) and that fanatic didn’t always signify dangerous thoughts – I told him I was both a movie and music fanatic! We also debated Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the concept of evolution for a while, In short, Yunus is awesome and I wish you all could meet him.

Overall, I am having an amazing time here.  I’ll talk about other people in greater depth later, but today, one of the male teachers at my school asked  me if I missed my family.  I said I did, but that I was happy here (true). He said something to the effect of “we can be your family now”.  This made me so happy because that’s exactly how I feel here – I have so many children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers that ultimately, I can’t be unhappy here.  Yes, it’s ridiculously hot during the day and I get frustrated and dehydrated and forget to be patient but it’s all a process of learning to adapt. I couldn’t ask for a more welcoming community – I can only hope to be as hospitable as “my family” has been to me. In the next post, I’ll talk about being somewhat of a celebrity here, as well as put up more pictures! The one at the top is me posing with the Liberty English Club, a group of girls who love speaking english in the Limboto area! They were so cute and enthusiastic and warmed my heart!

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.

Some Two-Weeks-Till-Adventure Thoughts

7 Aug

This is going to come out in a bit of a random order, but bear with me! Keep in mind – I’m leaving in two weeks!

– I do not have either my visa, my plane ticket, or my flight itinerary, which is slightly worrisome. Even when I get my permission from the Indonesian government (or in my case, because I’m teaching at a pesantren (Islamic boarding school), the Ministry of Religion), I have to send my passport to DC or NY along with other things, and I’m pretty skeptical that it will get back to me in time to leave.  I’m trying to look at this as my first lesson in patience about traveling to and being in Indonesia, however – I’m going to need a lot of patience in times to come, so there’s no use in me getting too worked up now 🙂

– I’ve decided against buying a B&N Nook (it’s the only e-book reader which would have gotten here before I leave) because I really want a Kindle (which is on mad back-order).  I am going to have to survive on printed word alone, and anything I can download to my computer before I leave! If anyone has good book suggestions, let me know!

– I have discovered the “Indonesia Fulbright ETA (’10-’11)” Facebook group, which has been such a comfort and a great way to meet people and discuss mutual concerns and joys about our upcoming sojourn to the East. Everyone seems so great and comes from such different backgrounds and it makes me so excited to meet people in two weeks!

– I’ve been pretty addicted to Rosetta Stone and took a break for a day (tomorrow I’m going back) – I think I’m going too slowly though, I’m still on Unit 1! I can say something to the effect of “the/a girl” (seorang anak perempuan) “the/a boy” (seorang anak laki-laki) and “the/a dog” (seekor anjing).  There are few, if any, dipthongs in Indonesian – therefore most vowels are separated, i.e. seekor is pronounced “seh-ehkor” (man  wish I could type in IPA…). The trouble is, as of now, I don’t know which words make which parts of speech, so I have a lot to learn! I feel like it will take me a few months to finish the entire program, and I also plan on getting a Bahasa Indonesia tutor once in Indonesia. It’s super weird at first (they don’t translate anything, just give you pictures or words or audio and you do matching and recognition exercises).  Having take a few language classes, they usually involve some English in the explanation of words, and you’re at least allowed a few freebies when you ask “como se dice eso/esto”, etc. It takes some getting used to, but is really fun, except when the accent detector gives you a low score when you try out speaking – I’m not that bad, I swear!

– I really lucked out in my placement in that there is a TON of diving right near where I live, so much so that I will most likely not get to all of the dive sites in 9 months (but I will sure as hell try :)) I’ve been looking at this website (http://www.miguelsdiving.com) which has some really nice looking dives that are somewhat reasonable (especially the packages). I’ve decided to buy some gear (a shorty wetsuit, flippers, a mask/snorkel, and a BCD with weights at the very least) in Indonesia because for the amount of diving I’m doing, paying the equivalent of $20 per gear rental will add up quickly.  I just hope it’s cheaper there than it is here! I’m so excited to expand my diving palate beyond Boston Harbor and the one dive we did in Bermuda.  My dad and I are actually going diving next Friday or Saturday near Gloucester (hopefully), so I’ll get my fill of cold water diving before the 80 degree water of Indonesia 🙂

– I’m also really interested in the musical and film culture of Indonesia and really hope I’m around for a local film festival! I’m pretty sure I’ll get to see a gamelan orchestra at some point. A fellow ETA posted an article on NPR that linked to this video, “Laskar Pelangi” by Nidji:

It’s really cute music and it gives you an idea of how beautiful the Indonesian language is. A DJ for Indonesian MTV talking about Indonesian pop music was quoted as saying “We’re romantic people…We love our mellow songs.” I’d be interested to hear more Indonesian pop and get a sense of what role music plays in the life of Indonesians.

– Finally, on a completely unrelated note, I just watched “The Hunt for Red October” (starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, and more!) with my dad, and we talked about the Cold War and how it affected his life growing up, and even in the early eighties. Since he lived 17 miles from Times Square, he had to do air raid drills where they would all go into the basement or hide under desks.  I think the threat of nuclear war really got to my Dad – it’s something that my generation doesn’t think about every day. He used to have nightmares about New York being destroyed and having to find food that wasn’t contaminated by radiation, etc. He told me some other good Cold War movies to watch, but I never knew how it affected my dad until today.

More to come on Limboto/Indonesia – I promise I have a bunch of random facts, they’re just scattered everywhere!

On Teaching English

29 Jul

Before I post about things I’ve been learning about Indonesia/Jakarta/Limboto  (some of which are interesting, frustrating, and hilarious), I want to talk a little bit about why I wanted to teach English and make some comments/raise some issues about English teaching in general.

My interest in teaching English first started in Eguafo, Ghana, in January 2009, on a volunteer trip to help out Sankofa Mbofra Fie, an orphanage and school for local children.  In addition to helping out with the organization’s infrastructure (such as figuring out what it would take to get properly accredited as a school and orphanage and taking on more logistical tasks like setting up an office), we came with books (English) donated from family members and friends back home.  Almost every night, we would read with the village children for at least an hour, and would have them read the books back to us.  Spending time with these children was the best part of being in Eguafo – it was so selfishly rewarding to see them smile when they got a word right and I would get excited, or a whole sentence, or when we would converse about the book in English.  It seemed to be an activity that was so mutually beneficial educationally and one that brought a lot of joy to both the children and to me.

As a group and individually, we Oberlin volunteers spoke daily, if not hourly, about the effect our presence was having on the village.  Part of that effect was the language skills we brought and were using to communicate with the village.  One thing to keep in mind is that English is the official language of Ghana, with nine other languages being government sponsored.  Despite this fact, many children in the village did not know how to read English very well or to speak it well either.  It was evident to us that language skills were a huge determinant of wealth and success: in Accra (Ghana’s capital), if you are a doctor/banker/lawyer/business-person/government official, then you knew English quite well, and knowing English was one of the factors that got you where you were.  To me, part of convincing these kids that they could do anything they put their mind to in life applied to learning English. Much of this rhetoric went into my Fulbright application.

At the same time, I struggled with writing my Fulbright application in an honest way while convincing the board that I was a great candidate for an English teaching position.  I do not fully agree with English teaching and see a lot of ways in which, to use an Oberlin term, it is “problematic” to a community’s perception of me and to the unique growth of individuals and cultures across the world.  English was the language of one of the many nations that colonized Ghana, and by using it and having English be a measure of someone’s ability to be of worth to society, local/tribal languages (such as Fanti or Bahasa Indonesia) can become less important outside individual villages.  Language and culture seem to be inextricably twined, and when a newer language becomes part of that equation, it seems that culture has to adapt to keep up.

This anxiety and my thoughts about English teaching as a double-edged sword carry over to my role as an English Teaching Assistant in Limboto.  Not only am I supplementing the English teaching program already in existence at MAN Limboto (the Islamic boarding school I am teaching at), but I am supposedly there to represent my country as a good citizen, as a minor cultural ambassador.  I feel slightly less anxious because there is an existing English program at my school and I will mainly be bringing my knowledge of English as a first language to the classroom, and I am so happy to be providing a service that is being asked of me (and not one that I am prescribing to the community I will be in). I know too that I am contributing to the proliferation of English as the international language, which makes me uncomfortable to a degree as well.

This article in the New York Times, pointed out to me by my good friend Tammela (who will be doing the Peace Corps in Ukraine in September!) makes me think about my upcoming experience in Indonesia: “As English Spreads, Indonesians Fear For Their Language”.  It offers an interesting view about how conflicted Indonesians feel about their children learning English.  The title is a little deceptive: it seems that though Indonesians do fear the loss of their language, they feel that English language learning is the inevitable way of the future.  It saddens me that it seems that bilingual programs tend to be heavier on English teaching as well.  I know that I have no business telling Indonesians how to shape their culture or to resist the influences of the West (that would be incredibly contradictory of me).

The positive thinking on my end that has come out of this is that in my classroom, I have decided that if the school will let me, I will be holding a discussion at least weekly on how learning English affects the lives of my students.  I want them to formulate an informed opinion about why they are learning English, and if they don’t know why, to ask. It’s really important for anyone, anywhere, to learn about why they learn things, but in light of this article and experiences I have had, I think a discussion about this topic would be good and potentially interesting for them to engage in. We could talk about the cultural importance of language, etc., and if nothing else I would learn a ton 🙂 We’ll see! I may post more thoughts on this later too.

The next post will include some funny/interesting/exciting things I’ve learned about Indonesia, and as much information I could find about Limboto (not much, don’t get too excited).  Until then!

Explanation of My Title

11 Jun

I figured I should explain my title since it is slightly cryptic.  I found this quote in the first few pages of a really outdated edition of Culture Shock: Indonesia:

“The Indonesian expression of thanks, terima kasih, literally means, ‘We have received your love’. The expression of acknowledgement, terima kasih kembali, literally means ‘The love we have received, we now return.’ ” (Indonesia: Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, 1991)

These were the first words I read about Indonesia, and they immediately put me at ease.  I love languages, and if this is any indication of the beauty of Bahasa Indonesia (the language spoken by ~80% of Indonesians), I am going to love it there.

(The image associated with this post comes from Free Images.)