Just Another Day In Indonesia…

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from Week 1.5

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It’s been a week and a half since I moved to my new home. I’ve made some major changes (i.e., new house, new school, new family, new foods to try, new habits, new questions) and I’ve enjoyed some minor accomplishments (i.e., setting up my water filter, biking around and not getting lost (yes!), memorizing dozens of names, and remembering to take my malaria pill today because it’s Thursday). I have been doing lots of things and I’m sure I could fill many blog posts but I’ll keep it short and just give you the good, the bad, and the ugly of Week 1.5.

The Good

There’s a lot that can fit here, and for that, I am grateful.

First of all, my counterparts* are awesome. Especially Bu Chris, who is just an incredible woman. I really should dedicate an entire blog post to her, but for now I will just say that I am so grateful that I get to work with her for two years.

My school is really nice. It’s a big place with just under 1000 students. There is some cool stuff happening here! Lots of extracurriculars, student-designed murals advocating good environmental practices, and friendly teachers. The English department meets once a week, which generally is a rare practice in Indonesian schools (or so I have heard). I have been surprised by the amount of energy and enthusiasm behind improving teacher practices and methods already…I was expecting to come in and have to build this kind of motivation, but (at least some of) the teachers are ready. They are continually asking me if I have suggestions to improve things, which is a little overwhelming in my first week, but the intention is good. I’m excited to work here and encourage the teachers and strengthen the ongoing efforts to improve learning and teaching. I expect that sustainability will also be easier to accomplish here since the teachers are already trying to make changes. Awesome.

That being said, they have put me to work! I have been revising the curriculum (or part of it, anyway) for 11th grade that is used all throughout my regency. It’s exciting to know that I’m helping to create better materials not just for my school but for schools all over Tulungagung. The English teachers also want to meet with me to plan for the coming semester and make lesson plans. I thought I would have to twist their arms to meet with me, but they set it all up ahead of time…let’s hope this enthusiasm continues, as working with an American counterpart is usually a great deal more work for Indonesian teachers (but the benefits can be great). I’m here to work, so I’m really happy to be doing so, and I CAN’T WAIT to get into the classroom and actually teach.

Even though I’m not teaching yet, I have been meeting several students. It’s common here for students to hang out with teachers, visit their houses, and call or text them. Coming from an American background, that seems a little strange but it is awesome for community integration. Not to mention my students seem cool and I want to be friends with them! It reminds me of hanging out with my sisters. J Last weekend the students (I refer to all of them as ‘my students’ although I actually don’t have my class schedule yet, so who knows who I will actually be teaching!) had a school magazine (aka yearbook) competition with schools across three regencies. I didn’t fully understand the concept, but basically they had to create large 3D model with a theme based on environmental protection and design a 2D newspaper. I actually had helped create the 3D model the weekend prior and my students were so excited when I came to support them at the competition. It was held in an event hall and the whole thing strongly reminded me of the State Fair. I was basically in an exhibition hall and the days consisted of sitting and sitting and waiting and maybe explaining our model to anyone passing by. I didn’t mind the waiting though because I got to spend time with my students! Generally Indonesians (especially children and youth) are really shy when you first meet them, and most of my students fit the bill. I figure the more time I spend with them, the more they will warm up to me and the better the next 2 years will be. One of my students, Yoga, is fluent in English. He is so fluent, in fact, that the school had him translate my introductory speech from English to bahasa Indonesia, rather than using one of the English teachers. Yoga has been a bridge between me and the other students and other people in the community. I’m so grateful!

Biking has been another highlight. This area is FLAT. I love it. Bu Chris lent me her bike when I got here and I just finally bought my own beautiful bike today. Since Day 1 I’ve been exploring on my bike, and when I went to the school magazine competition (held in Tulungagung city) I actually biked there with Yoga. Everyone here was shocked and amazed that I would bike almost 20 km without dying of exhaustion (there are few Indonesians who would try to attempt such a feat) but honestly, it was really not a big deal. I’m pumped for more bike adventures…next on the list is visiting Justin (fellow Oregonian!) in a nearby (aka, 25-35 km away) city with Bu Chris.

My family here is pretty great and I already feel kerasan (at home, comfortable) here. I have the most adorable little host nephew Rafa, age 2. He loves kites so we will sit outside and count the kites together. Besides Rafa, there’s my ibu who graciously speaks ever-so-slowly for me, my bapak who always has a smile on his face, my host sister #1 + husband (speaks decent English!) + 13-yr-old son who, on my third day here, made me “tea special for Miss Sarah!” and host sister #2 (mother of Rafa) who also happens to be a tailor! Well, a tailor-turned-mother-and-school-teacher, really, but she is still making me a batik shirt. My house has 3 sewing machines, so maybe I will have her teach me her ways….

And that leads me to my ultimate highlight…yesterday my counterparts took me shopping for my uniform. I was dreading that….no one wants to wear ugly, hot khaki and grey uniforms day after day. Lucky for me, I have the perfect school for me. My principal has decided I have to have a uniform, but if it’s too hot, I don’t have to wear it. Also, teachers wear uniforms Mon-Wed but they wear batik Thurs-Sat. And…saving the best for last…they are uniform in color only which means I got to design my own uniform! Buying fabric and designing clothes has quickly become my new and most favorite hobby here and I’m worried that my budget won’t support this newfound addiction. Yesterday was my lucky day! My cps took me to a beautiful batik shop and told me to pick out two kinds of fabric…whatever I wanted. I was a little kid in a candy shop. I spent probably 30 minutes touching all the fabrics, holding them up to the light, laying them next to each other….finally I had to pick and that was the hardest part of the day. The icing on the cake was that the fabric was really nice and expensive cotton…far more than I would pay for myself. Thank you SMA for footing the bill! After that we went to another fabric shop where I got to pick out the fabric for my two uniforms (khaki and grey) and I searched until I found the lightest material available. My cps said I could get MORE batik there because it was so cheap. So 3 batiks and 2 uniforms worth of fabric later, we were off to the tailor. I was designing and drafting away in the car, and to any readers from Oro2Ombo, I copied was inspired by some of your designs so my new bajus may look familiar. J Ahhh…I still have a smile on my face from my day at the fabric store. I think my closest may fill rapidly if I’m not careful…

The Bad

So since coming to Indonesia and especially when moving to a new site, my personal policy has been “say yes to everything the first time” followed by “try it once before you pass judgment.” Of course there are situations in which this doesn’t apply, but that’s just my general rule of thumb. Part of the reason is because I want to portray myself as someone who wants to be involved in the community and who is eager to experience new things. I know that if I say ‘no’ to a lot of things right off the bat, people will hesitate to invite me later. All that to say, it can make my life exhausting at the worst of times and exhilarating at the best of times.

Last Sunday was my low point. My “say yes to everything” philosophy landed me square in the middle of a parade – and I was the main attraction. Let’s back up a bit. On Saturday evening two people I had never met before came to my house to invite me to a circumcision party (side note #1: circumcisions are a BIG DEAL here and boys are circumcised around the age of 12 or 13). Usually at such an event, there is only one boy who is circumcised but at this grand event, there were to be 29 boys circumcised. (Side note #2: Try communicating ‘circumcision’ across a language barrier and you get lots of awkward miming.) I said “yes” to attending the event, and the next morning I found myself bicycling on my way behind the gentleman who had come to my house the previous evening. When we arrived there were hordes of children all dressed up, waving flags and banners. Turns out there was a parade. To make a long and painful story short, I was asked to sit in the front becak (aka, rickshaw or peddicab) and I was told we would go “keliling” (around). I should have known better, but I was so overwhelmed by the amount of Indonesians jabbering about things I couldn’t understand that I just fell back on my “say yes” philosophy and got in the becak. For one hour we drove around the town through streets lined with Indonesians (armed with cameras, of course) who were eager to snap as many shots of me as possible. I was told to smile and wave (which I did not) and I quickly realized I a) never want to be famous and b) never have a desire to be in a parade again.

But the damage wasn’t done yet! Oh no, the entire parade was aired on television tonight, including prominent shots of me trying to hide inside my becak and a few shots of me shaking hands with various Indonesians. (Other interesting tidbits included circumcisions shown on TV – with appropriate blurring, of course – and a boy who, when asked, described his experience as “enak” [delicious]…I should count my blessings that I didn’t appear on TV while undergoing an operation!) My entire family crowded around the television to ohhh and ahhhh about their new celebrity while I just covered my face in embarrassment. Add that to the fact that I appeared in the local newspaper (Jawa Pos) last week (also without my consent) and I have truly become famous in a week and a half in Tulungagung.

More thoughts on life as an Indonesian celebrity to follow…

The Ugly

My mosquito allergy has reared its ugly head. Two days ago I was at school and sneaking beneath the desks (as Dr. Leonard would say) were some terrible mosquitoes who mercilessly covered my feet in bites. Whenever a mosquito bites me here, I feel something burning my skin, even before it turns red or swells. My feet were burning. By that afternoon the bites had swollen up to the size of quarters and on top of that they are bruising. I have no idea how or why but now my feet are all the colors of the rainbow and so stiff it hurts to walk. Oh yes, I almost forgot, the bites are blistering too. (I wasn’t joking when I said this was ugly…I will spare you pictures.) I think I’m on the upswing…at least they didn’t hurt so bad last night and I was able to sleep. I’m hoping that this is a rare occurrence for the next two years and/or my tolerance for these nasty buggers increases.

* counterparts (CPs for short) is one of those PC terms. Basically, when PCVs teach English in Indonesia, we don’t teach alone. Instead, there are always 2 teachers in the classroom: 1 American and 1 Indonesian. A friend of mine recently asked if that wouldn’t just be a waste of resources? Good question. It might seem that way at first with so many students, but actually a large part of my job as a PCV is teacher training. PC is really pushing for sustainable change (something I am 110% in agreement with) and so that means working with an Indonesian teacher to implement changes into the system that they can continue after we leave.


Author: Sarah

I'm Sarah and I like many things starting with the letter "S," including (but not limited to) Seattle, springtime, summer, sunshine, swimming, sunrises, surprises, and sociology. For anything else you want to know, you will have to read my blog!

One thought on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from Week 1.5

  1. It’s never too early to consider the Third Goal! You might wish to check-out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir.

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