Tag Archives: Religion

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.


New Beginnings Near the End

7 Nov

Sadly, I couldn’t put pictures on this blog post – we’re using a modem with limited data usage minutes (or something to that effect) because the internet provider in Indonesia, Telkomsel, is refusing to turn our internet back on, claiming we didn’t pay for last January and February. We definitely did, and we have the goods to prove it, but this is Indonesia, so I am thankful for the modem! This just means no pictures on my blog or Facebook, no Youtube and no video calling on Skype until further notice.

We have a new addition to the Peduli Anak family, and his name is Laurens (pronounced “lao-rents”, exactly like it sounds)! He’s from Holland, like Marjolein (pronounced “mar-(yuh)-line”, with the middle syllable like a schwa) and he’s really great! This is his first time to Indonesia, and he’ll be doing an internship here for six months. He has a background in psychology and is going to be observing and working with the children to look at some of the behavioral issues they may have. To welcome Laurens, we went to a restaurant called The Square in Senggigi, and Sunday we made Dutch pancakes at Jess’s house together. We also got a drink called es kelapa muda, which I haven’t tried yet in the (almost) year I have been living here! It’s coconut meat, coconut water, condensed milk, gula merah (red or palm sugar), and lots of limes and lime juice with ice all mixed together – so delicious!

Unfortunately, I and Marjolein are both leaving at the end of this week – M on Thursday, and I on Saturday. It’s sort of sad to see a new face come to YPA and then have to leave so soon! I’m definitely excited for this week though – it’ll be great to have time to say goodbye to the kids and to everyone else I’ve met here that have made me promise to return.

Sunday, yesterday, was an Islamic holiday, Idul Adha (Eid al-Adha in Arabic), which is a celebration of sacrifice and giving to the poor. It originates from the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, Ismail (Ishmael), to God (wherein God, impressed with Ibrahim’s willingness to carry out God’s will, told him to replace his son with a ram to sacrifice instead). Each year, villages band together to purchase a goat (cost: ~ 1 million rupiah, or roughly $113) or a cow (cost: ~ 7.5 million rupiah, or roughly $850 – both of these animals are VERY expensive for Indonesians). These animals are killed in a manner that is halal, or religiously acceptable according to the Qur’an, and then distributed accordingly, usually at the local mosque. The family who owns/buys/slaughters (depending) the animal retains 1/3; another third is given to friends, relatives, and neighbors; and the last third is given to the poor. Pak Agus, one of the people who helped Chaim found YPA, said this holiday is all about giving back to the poor. Because all of the children at YPA are considered to be impoverished, YPA kept the goat to have for lunch and dinner for the entire foundation.

This year, YPA sacrificed a goat and kept it relatively simple (things were a little different last year: my friend, Ibu Nurmiaty, had 4 cows sacrificed at her house, and MAN Insan Cendekia had 11 cows sacrificed at their school!). I found out today that Pak Dan, a social worker for YPA, went to Central Lombok for Idul Adha, and there they sacrificed 300 cows for the surrounding villages! If 25 people get the meat of 1 cow (what he told me) then those cows fed around 7,500 people.

This year, they hung the goat on a tree to make cutting the meat off the carcass easier, which definitely looked creepy. For some reason, the sight of blood and seeing an animal being killed, especially in the calm and careful, non-violent way the people in Indonesia do it, does not bother me. The kids also help a lot by sorting stew meat from sate meat, and taking apart and cleaning the innards of the goat (and playing with them dangerously close to you, too!) This might sound disgusting to some of you, but I think seeing where your meat comes from makes it more delicious. This year I also helped a little by putting the goat meat on sticks to make sate (basically pieces of cooked meat (can be chicken, beef, etc.) on a stick, this time with sweet sauce and spicy peanut sauce). With some goat stew and rice, it was the most delicious meal I’ve eaten at YPA so far!

In the coming weeks, I’m planning to travel to Bali to see my friends Max and Emily, to Tana Toraja to see some animist funerals and see Rachel, to Jakarta to see Marjolein and see Zie Avi perform, and of course go to Gorontalo to say goodbye to home again 🙂 Than on to Israel for 2 weeks, then HOME! I’ve been missing the snow recently (partly because I’ve been watching movies like Home Alone and Groundhog Day, both of which have snow in them, and also because in the afternoons it almost gets cold because of all the rain), and unlike last year, I am really REALLY looking forward to coming home for a long while!

As a PS (and a substitute for no pictures), I’d like to link you to two articles that are really pertinent to my life right now: Hillary Clinton’s article in Foreign Policy Magazine about America’s future collaboration with Asian countries (particularly Indonesia), and an article in the Jakarta Post about the pros and cons of having native speakers in Indonesian schools. Here is also a link to pictures of Eid al-Adha celebrations worldwide – look for a photo of Indonesians celebrating too!

Next up: my last week at Peduli Anak, and some things everyone should know about Indonesia.

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.)

Masi Cari/Still Searching

29 Apr

Today, I learned (at least the first steps of) how to pray like a Muslim. My student Tiara and I used my kitchen floor as a practice space and after 15 minutes, I had the steps down. It’s a lot less complicated than I thought. Throughout the whole lesson, I kept repeating what Tiara said (mostly “Allah hu akbar” in Arabic (forgive my spelling), or “God is great” in English) but then realized that when you pray in the mosque, you don’t speak aloud – you just listen to the imam (the guy who leads the prayer) and pray silently to yourself. I was totally ready to go to the school’s mosque today, Friday (the holiest day of the week – school ends early and prayer is longer on these afternoons), but Tiara wanted to wait until Monday. I get to borrow clothes from Ibu Fatma, my neighbor, and if I practice a few times, I should be good to go. I am nervous, but people assure me that it’s ok if I go, and I won’t be disrespecting anyone by participating. I even practiced by myself this afternoon and felt pretty confident!

I was inspired to ask how to pray from reading the book “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. This book has been captivating my attention a lot these days, when I’m not spending nearly every waking moment hanging out with my friends, “roommates” (Tiara and Yunus, especially, do almost everything except for sleep in my house) and newfound family. It tells the story of Greg, a mountaineer who stumbles upon a village in the mountains of Pakistan and decides to build a school for them, which leads him to do other wonderful humanitarian things for people in this region (that’s a pretty blasé summation, but I want to get to the point). On his first visit back to the village of Korphe, where he intends to build his school, in a gritty hotel in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Greg’s tailor, Manzoor, is preparing to pray. He simply asks if he will show him how, something I never thought of before. His justification for wanted to learn is that he respects Islam. As someone who has fallen in love with an Islamic community, I figured it was worth a shot. I had assumed that it was forbidden for a non-Muslim to learn to pray – my friends assumed I didn’t want to because I was “Christian”. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to participate in a daily routine that all of my friends participate in – if you pray 5 times per day, about an hour of that day is taken up by praying.

I realize that the juxtaposition of the subject of this next paragraph with the former may alarm some of you, but being in Indonesia has made me realize something fundamentally important to me – I am still refining my definition of God and looking for a set of beliefs (hand-picked by me or set down by someone else) that suits me. I know next to nothing about the religion I was raised under, nor do I know much about Islam (or Judaism for that matter). There have been times in Indonesia that I have struggled to present an argument clearly and effectively because I lack concrete information about the rules of the religion I am talking about. The most important rule that I have found to be true for myself is ‘do what makes you happy’. I’m not say I’m looking to add more rules to that incredibly short list – I just feel the need to inform myself about what I may be missing. I’m searching for an Al-Qur’an (I say that to distinguish the holy book from a “koran”, which is simply a newspaper in Bahasa Indonesia) that is in Arabic, Indonesian and English. I want to much to inform myself about the religion of the people in my second home. I also will be dusting off my copy of the Bible upon my return to the States (my name was engraved on one when I was 13 or something – I remember how meaningless the ceremony where they gave me the Bible was to me at the time) so I can compare and contrast. Someday I will also work my way through the Talmud. I believe knowledge of these texts, whether you are devoutly religious, an athiest, or somewhere in between (me), is crucial to my generation if we want to change the world. I cannot wait to begin my mini-course when I get home! I also am committed to learning Arabic, somehow.

Being here has changed me permanently, in ways I never expected. The more I learn about how different my beliefs are and my culture is from people here, the more I respect and love them. My mother knows this best about me, but when I argue with people, however benignly, I secretly (or not so secretly, Mom) try to win the argument. Perhaps because I know I can never win an argument here, or because I am wowed by the devotion to religion and somewhat strict code of conduct that surround me, I don’t care about winning. Every day I respectfully disagree with people, and am overjoyed when I find out we have something in common. I laughed until I almost cry every day at some misunderstanding or joke, usually at my expense  :).

The more I try to describe my experience here, the more I am at a loss for words. I know my first instinct, at least initially, when I get home will be to compartmentalize my life and keep my experience in Indonesia for me. This may be because I don’t want my view of my experienced to be changed by what other people think, or because I don’t think people will understand. I intend to fight this urge because I think my experience here will be somewhat of a waste if I don’t at least attempt to engage my friends and family with my experience.

My last few months here have been magical, in a lot of ways like a Broadway musical, or a Shakespeare comedy. The denoument has already happened, and we’re moving onto Act V/the final numbers, where everything gets resolved and we say our goodbyes. I’m even thinking of singing “For Good” from a certain musical to my school before I go, the lyrics of which I’m not going to post here for fear a certain person won’t be surprised :). I’m having a hard time convincing people here, including myself, that I will be gone in almost 3 weeks. The only way I am keeping sane is knowing that I will come back here. I plan on applying for several opportunities in Indonesia, Asiaand abroad, and know I will find my way back here someday. I am really looking forward to going home for the summer (4th of July, getting Jasmine sick of living in Boston, and seeing many friends and of course my family and dogs are just some of the reasons!) I feel like there is so much to do in the world though, and staying home will make me restless 🙂 We will see.

I will try to post pictures of what I’ve been up to recently soon (the internet cafe near my house is super slow right now, plus this Indonesian guy is getting a little too friendly). This may be my last post before leaving Indonesia– I’ll probably be writing a few reflection posts upon my return to the US, and definitely one about Australia!

I’ll be leaving my site on May 22nd, going to Singapore for the night, then leaving for Australia on the 23rd. I’ll be there from the 24th to the 7th of June, traveling to Melbourne, Uluru/Ayers Rock, and Sydney. I will be home the night of June 8th!

Looking forward to seeing you all, and goodbye for now.

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!

The Last of Bandung

23 Sep

I will tell all about my new placement, but first, I need to catch you all up on some important things in the last weeks of being Bandung! I just got internet a few days ago in Limboto – sorry about the wait!

We had a great session with Ibu Irid, a presenter who got a PhD in Intercultural Studies, for part of the orientation in Bandung. She gave us a picture into what our lives would be like in terms of our relationship to Indonesian culture.  We started talking about the things we loved (the people, the food, the hiking) and disliked (the dirty river, the smog, the “buleh price” which we foreigners are often charged, etc.) about Indonesia so far. Indonesians also talked about what they liked and didn’t like about Americans (in true Indonesian fashion, it was hard to get our teachers to be honest!) Some of the things they mentioned was the heavy use of sarcasm, how Americans can be loud and pushy, and the individualism in our culture as being strange to them. We were also introduced to the infamous “W curve” that expresses the amount of culture shock over time: first things begin positively, with lots of adventure and excitement – then uncertainty sets in as well as fatigue and discomfort.  Then you begin to discover knew things and learn the language and meet new people and things get better! Then you begin to question why you’re here, you see how different you are from others, until you rest and feel more secure in your new life. I feel like I experience this W curve on a daily basis to some extent and am definitely feeling its affects, both good and bad, in Limboto!

Also, some quotes Ibu Irid used were so funny; here are just a few (somewhat paraphrased):

“Yes, it is hot, but it’s hotter in hell!” – a woman in one of Ibu Irid’s stories, when asked if she felt hot wearing a jilbab in New York.

“You look like a terrorist – it’s cultural, not personal!” – when describing how she feels when she gets searched, every time, at airports (she dubbed herself Mrs. Random in honor or all the “random” searches she is subjected to)

“You need to learn two things in Indonesia: how to smile and how to squat.”

Ibu Irid included a Confucian saying in her presentation I liked very much: “Human beings draw close to one another by their common nature, but habits and customs keep them apart.” In my very limited experience with people from different cultures, I’ve found his to be true, and I have definitely let habit and custom keep me from becoming closer to people. During my time in Indonesia, it will be a test for all of us to balance our habits and customs with those of our host community.

I also met an amazing Indonesian woman named Asmi who works at the Sheraton (she said “you can asmi anything in Indonesian!”.  I went to get a manicure and pedicure to relax, and we ended up talking in very broken Bahasa and some English for two hours. She was really funny and amazing and really light a fire under me about learning Indonesian – she learned by talking to clients, listening to music and watching movies! She wanted me to come back and talk to her before I left, but I did not get a chance.

We also went to an angklung performance in Bandung which was really great.  It had dancing and an angklung orchestra! An angklung is a wooden instrument that is made from bamboo – it only makes one pitch so you need a bunch of them to make a full orchestra! We got to play them and at the end we got up and danced with the kids 🙂 Here are some pictures, courtesy of Bethany!


Sundanese puppets.

Sundanese puppet show

Angklung players

The tinyest angklung player ever!

Video of angklung orchestra:

We were also fortunate enough to be invited to our teacher’s house for Idul Fitri.  Idul Fitri is a huge deal in Indonesia – it’s like Christmas in the US (as in most people celebrate it with friends, even if they are not Muslim). It is the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting for 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. The day before Idul Fitri (September 9th), some of us fasted all day (nothing passes your lips from sun-up to sun-down).  We started at 3:30am by eating before the sun rose, then breaking fast together around 6pm.  The next day, we went to the house of our teachers, Ibu Vita and Ibu Lily, to eat tons of food. We were also taken to meet various neighbors, see their beautiful houses, and eat delicious food.  Pictures can describe this experience better than any prose!:

Erin, Leif and Demi eating some delicious Idul Fitri grub.


Mark and Jolie!

Rachel, Allison and Me!

Me and the best view in Bandung.

More food!

Mia, JT, Ibu Via's husband, Jack, Luca, Ibu Vita, Kelsey, Adam and Mark at the end of the party!

Here is a music videos we’ve been singing to in Bahasa Indonesia class. I’ve also sung this song at least 3 times every time I tell people I can sing. It’s about forgetting the words to a song, but remembering the chords (lupa means forget, ingat means remember):

Next: my counterpart arrives, I leave Bandung and make my way to Limboto!

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.

Religion in Indonesia

2 Aug

I have been getting a lot of questions and comments about what religion predominates in Indonesia, how religiously conservative Indonesians are, and how I will have to modify my behavior while there.

The easy answer is that it completely depends on where you are in Indonesia.  Indonesia is mostly Muslim, and is the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world.  In Limboto and the Gorontalo regency, Islam predominates as well, but in the neighboring regency of North Sulawesi is largely Protestant.  According to Wikipedia, “the Indonesian Constitution states “every person shall be free to choose and to practice the religion of his/her choice” and “guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion or belief”. The government, however, officially only recognizes six religions, namely Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.” Based on the 2000 census, approximately 86.1% of the 234.7 million Indonesians were Muslims consisting of Sufis, Shias and Sunnis, 5.7% were Protestant, 3% are Catholic, 1.8% Hindu, and 3.4% Buddhist and other or unspecified. Proselytizing is also illegal in Indonesia, which is interesting considering the religious diversity that exists.

The image attached to this post is a map of religions throughout Indonesia.  Limboto is located in Gorontalo (the center island in the north, to the left of the Protestant area).  I also intend to (at the very least) go to Bali (the smaller, predominately Hindu island in the bottom center) and I will be having training in Jakarta, on the island of Java (the second island from the right, lower down, light green).

In Limboto, I intend to wear shirts that extend to my wrists and pants/skirts that extend to my ankles.  I also will wear a jilbab (a headscarf covering my hair) when I teach/when I am at school (I may have to make a small exception when it’s unbearably hot).  I will not have male visitors to my home when I am alone. I also will not drink alcohol in the village or around anyone from my community. I can go to pray at the mosque with friends and community members when invited, except when I have my period. When I go swimming, I will most likely wear a t-shirt and shorts or something less revealing than that. In Bali, I will be a tourist, where it will be more acceptable to wear shorts, t-shirts, and a bathing suit.  All of these I am glad to do in order to feel more comfortable in my community and to have my community feel comfortable around me.  There is no possible way I can blend in, obviously, but I am willing to sacrifice a lot of things in order to do the best work possible in Limboto.

As to a definition of “modernist Islam”, I definitely need to do more research in this area, and I will most likely learn first-hand about how Islam permeates Indonesian culture once I am there, so more on that later.

Since I do not consider myself to be religious or a person who adheres to one belief system in general, people have told me that unless I say I am part of a religion (i.e. Protestantism) that people will never stop asking me why I do or do not believe in God/etc.  I haven’t decided what the best decision on that front is yet, but am leaning towards saying I am Protestant but am very curious about other religions, although I feel this will also prompt further questions.  Basically, I have strong opinions on some things relating to religion and want to create a situation where I don’t have to lie about my beliefs in order to be accepted by my community.  I want to be able to engage in open discussion with people about their own beliefs and religions as well.  I have confidence, though, that I will be able to maintain this balance and look forward to talking with Indonesians about how they see religion in their lives and the lives of others.  I am also interested to see how religions conflict in Indonesia, given that religious freedom is clearly important to the government and to its people.  This article in the New York Times, “Jewish Group Opposes Muslim Center Near Ground Zero”, has made me curious about how people adhere/do not adhere to laws about religious freedom and how religious diversity seems to inevitably lead to conflict and certain religions being marginalized.  I wonder how much this is true in Indonesia, and if I will become exposed to it and will be able to have honest discussions about it with my community without starting trouble or sticking out even more.

Also, I also JUST ordered some more books: “Grammar Practice Activities” by Penny Ur (it was recommended to me); “Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World” and “Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World”, both by Rita Golden Gelman and recommended by Ms. Tammela Platt (a PC volunteer going to Ukraine in September, if I haven’t mentioned it already); “Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo” by Faith Conlon; and lastly but probably most importantly, “How to Shit Around the World: The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling” by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth.  I have so much reading to do and so little time!

More later on random things I have been picking up about Limboto, Jakarta and Indonesia, mainly from Culture Shock! Jakarta 🙂