Just Another Day In Indonesia…

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Blog Makeover!

Check check check it out, the new and updated blog style. My header photo is an actual panaroma from a series of photographs I took on a recent hike with my students, so this is what my part of East Java looks like. Gorgeous, isn’t it? And my new title “just another day in indonesia” is not meant to be negative or dull. On the other hand, it refers to the fact that I find myself having crazy/weird/unique/unexpected/ironic experiences just about every day here. Things that woud seem so strange at home are commonplace here…so when things get really weird I tell myself, “It’s just another day in Indonesia.” 🙂 


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I have to say today marks the first day that I woke up to realize I’d overslept…and the time on the clock read 4:30 AM. But today is Day 5 of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and my entire schedule has been shifted. I decided to join the fast with my family this year, mostly for community integration and to understand what people around me are experiencing. I also wanted to see if I could do it, and even though I’m lacking the spiritual motivation stemming from an Islamic command to fast, I still find spiritual significance in my fast since Christians fast too. Anyway, I’ve been anticipating Ramadan for a while now, mostly excited, a little nervous about how my body would handle the fast…and I came down with my first illness two days before the holy month started. (No sooner do I blog about being healthy and it comes back to bite me.) After unattractively vomiting in front of a dozen teachers and probably 100 students – which, incidentally, would make a great ‘most embarrassing moment’ story since I can never remember mine but honestly I wasn’t embarrassed as much as miserable because I was 45 minutes from home and feeling like I would die – I spent two days in bed, feverous, unable to keep anything down. I resorted to texting a PCV friend to send an SOS email to my parents to call me, since there’s nothing worse than being sick in a foreign country when you can’t speak the language (thanks for the call, Mom! Made me feel much better). And the medical advice and treatments I were offered were quite different than what I’m used to…and pretty funny. Everyone agreed that the wind had entered me, causing my illness. Oils are commonly used to treat all kinds of ailments here, and my ibu gave me oil to rub on my stomach – literally “Wind Oil.” The bottle reads, “Giving a refreshing cold sensation, relieves headache, dizziness, stomach disorders, motion sickness, and influenza symptoms.” Wow, all of that from a dab of oil? Well, it didn’t cure my stomach bug but it did help with nausea and there was a refreshing cold sensation. My family was shocked and scandalized that I wouldn’t eat, and each time my ibu heard me vomit into my trash can (part of following a blog of PCV means you get to hear all the disgusting details) she asked if I wanted to eat. “Of course not, that’s ridiculous, I am clearly puking my guts out,” I thought, but I just politely said, “Nanti,” (“Later”). Even so, my sweet and extremely concerned family bought me lots of food, including seaweed flavored popcorn, to make me feel better. After consuming 2 liters of Oral Rehydration Salts, which taste like they sound – like seawater – I recovered and got to join the fast a day late.

Back to Ramadan, it falls during the ninth month on the lunar calendar that Islam follows. This means the actual dates change year to year. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours from food, water, sex, and mostly importantly, cigarettes. Side note: almost every Indonesian male smokes cigarettes, and there are no regulations about non-smoking areas. This means I’m inhaling a lot of secondhand smoke…outside, inside, in the teacher’s room, in my house. There’s not much I can do about it except be grateful that Ramadan provides a break from that! I digress. In addition to fasting, Ramadan is a month to focus on charity, helping others, purifying oneself, etc. It’s a little like Lent, but with a lot more rules. The first meal of the day is called Sahur and it begins at 3 AM. Each morning my ibu or bapak knocks on my day and I arise, bleary-eyed, to stumble to the kitchen and stuff as much food into myself as I can. If I can, I sleep again around 4 for a couple hours until it’s time to wake up and get ready for school. The school days are shortened during Ramadan for the sake of all the fasting students and teachers. Then it’s back home to rest, read, and wait six more long hours until Maghrib, the second meal of the day when we break – or as Indonesians say buka (open) – our fast. The time for Maghrib also changes day to day so we usually watch television to track the little countdown (think New Year’s Eve for a whole month) until it’s time to eat again. So far, we’ve broken fast between 5:30 and 6 PM putting the total fasting hours at around 14+ hours.  The best part of breaking fast is that we usually have special drinks, like iced tea or coconut milk concoctions. After eating we retire to the living room to snack…apparently you can’t eat too much food in between Maghrib and Sahur. Then my family all goes to the musholla (small mosque) to pray for an hour or so in the evening, leaving one person (besides me) home to guard the house. I usually hit the sack between 7 and 8 (I know, unheard of, it’s hard to believe this was several hours before most of my floor meetings started when I was a RA in college). Sleep. Repeat.

So how am I doing? Remarkably well. With my previous experience fasting I’ve always had headaches, difficulty concentrating, overall irritation, etc. I actually haven’t experienced any of this (yet?). The hardest part for me is waking up at 3 am and stuffing myself full of food before I feel remotely hungry. Then I get pretty hungry around lunch time but it wears off mid-afternoon. (The second hardest part is trying to take a nap on an empty stomach. I really need to develop this skill ASAP or I will be sleep deprived for the rest of the month.) I did have another bout of nausea yesterday (perhaps related to fasting, perhaps related to lack of sleep?) so I took another day off fasting. We’ll see how many days in a row I can do, and if I experience any more problems. Hopefully not! It’s been a neat experience so far, although I won’t be sad to see the end of Ramadan when I get to sleep in until a luxurious 5:30 AM.

In other news, I’ve still only taught 3 classes (and that was only the introduction to classroom rules) so things are still moving at a glacial pace school-side. Tomorrow we are supposed to pick up where we left off and then have shortened classes for the next couple weeks before we get a two-week break for the end of Ramadan. All in all, it’s almost like having a summer break back in the states. I’m anxious to get started but I’m practicing patience…and honestly my fasting self will appreciate the shorter classes. J

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20 Things Indonesians* Like

 Disclaimer: To be fair, I hate it when people apply generalizations to me, so let me just be upfront right now and say that not all Indonesians like the things I’ve listed here. Furthermore, my list is based on my short experience in this country (and I’m sure it will change over time) so if I sound ignorant to you seasoned veterans, I apologize. Feel free to correct, add, subtract, etc! 

  1. TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS. Though they lack skill with cameras…I can’t tell you how many Indonesians I have seen hold up a simple point-and-shoot camera only to turn it off because they aren’t sure what button to press (maybe this is because they are used to using their camera phones instead). But seriously, I have seen people of all ages, drop whatever they are doing when they see a camera so they can join the photo. And, just like eating Pringles, you can’t have just one photographs…”satu lagi!” (“one more!”) is the constant refrain…and it usually means at least 4 or 5 more photos. People love group photos and individual photos, so often when I go places with my family or students or fellow teachers (or any Indonesians, really) I might spend up to 30 minutes just taking photographs. What I find most amusing, though, is that for all their love of photographs, people will not smile in photos. They may be laughing before and after the camera clicks but when it’s time to memfoto their faces turn to stone. (I have a personal theory that possibly they feel self-conscious about bad teeth? This is based on nothing but my own conjecture.) Also, while they LOVE photos of people they rarely take photographs of objects or scenery (which I love photographing). What’s the point of a picture without a person in it?
  2. Batik. Batik is a style of fabric here which is made by creating patterns with wax and dying (and redying) the fabric, basically the same way you decorate Easter eggs. With a quilter for a mother, I thought I knew what batik was before I came here…but I was wrong. In Indonesia, you can find all kinds of batik, including several fabrics with intricate motifs that I doubt are made via the wax method (although I’m probably just ignorant). Different cities/regencies/provinces are known for different styles of batik. For example, the batik my mom quilts with is most common in Bali…probably another reason why I knew about it before I came here since Bali is the tourist hot spot of Indonesia. People here love batik. They wear it for every formal occasion, and most informal ones, as well. When our regional managers were discussing a rather strict dress code for appropriate teaching apparel, they said, “You can’t go wrong with batik.” And it’s true. I, for one, am absolutely addicted to batik. I could spend hours in the fabric stores…and lucky for me, it’s cheap!
  3. Karaoke. It’s everywhere, all the time. And everyone participates. People karaoke at home, at school, at work, on the bus…everywhere. On my recent trip to Bali I got to experience about 5 hours of unending Javanese karaoke. I begged off participating, saying I didn’t know any songs, although on the trip back when “My Heart Will Go On” hit the list (see #16) everyone in the bus cheered me on when I chimed in. I’m pretty sure this excuse of not knowing songs won’t last me pretty long here, so, Mom, I might be giving you a run for your money as the Baggs who karaokes the most. 😉
  4. Microphones. Speaking of karaoke, Indonesians love microphones anywhere and everywhere. I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t want to yell or they just love the sound of their voices amplified, but either way, microphones are used for all gatherings of people, even in small, confined rooms, and you can usually find at least one on every bus. Putting microphones on buses was a cruel idea. It led our Bali tour guide (and a bus full of 50 students) to pressure me into singing a song on our way back home….to my chagrin and their great amusement.
  5. Television. Everything from Indonesian Idol to sepak bola (soccer) games – sorry, Dad, I haven’t found a Tottenham supporter yet – to incredibly cheesy dramas to the evening news to the call to prayer broadcast via your television screen, television is a prominent part of many Indonesian households. My Batu family was all about TV and would turn it on for noise, even if they weren’t watching (I promptly turned it off when they were in the other room…Indonesia has enough noise pollution as it is), but my new family usually only watches it in the evenings, which is fine by me!
  6. Instant coffee. So you might think, Sarah is in Java. Java means coffee. Sarah must be in the land of the most awesome coffee she has ever tasted. Wrong. It’s true that lots of coffee is grown up but Indonesians like to stick to drinking the instant variety (think Nescafe). Even so, there are some places to find real coffee. The only difference here is that it is so finely ground that you treat it in the same manner as instant coffee…add to cup, add water, stir, and let the grounds sink to the bottom while you sip away.
  7. Motorcycles (and any other way to avoid jalan kaki – walking on foot). Motorcycles are definitely the preferred form of transportation here. That’s why just about every Indonesian thinks it’s weird that PCVs are not allowed to ride motorcycles (break that rule and you’re on the next plane home…it’s actually a policy for PCVs worldwide). In general, Indonesians would prefer to drive their motorcycles rather than walk a few hundred feet (much less a kilometer or two). Those of us who have to walk or ride bicycles are constantly being asked “Capek?” (“Are you tired?”) I just laugh and say no, I’m strong! J
  8. Mandis. Bathing is a big deal here. People are very upfront about their bathing habits: “Saya belum mandi” (“I haven’t bathed yet.”). Asking “sudah mandi?” (“have you already bathed?”) when you see someone is another way of saying, “Hello, good morning.” I’m now in the habit of bathing two or three times a day…a big change from showering maybe every 2 or 3 days back home…but when you’re sweating this much, it is a welcome change.
  9. Facebook and twitter. If I’m not mistaken, Indonesia is the country with the greatest number of twitter users worldwide. I’m sure they aren’t far behind with facebook. Just about everywhere I go, people ask me if I have facebook or twitter (and they are usually shocked when I say I don’t have twitter, haha). I made a new Indonesian facebook and within a week of moving to site I have more than 60 new “friends.”
  10. Justin Bieber. Poor Justin in our group has been labeled Justin Bieber by just about every Indonesian he’s met thus far, which goes to show that a love of Justin Bieber is not limited to middle-school girls in Indonesia. On the contrary when I rode with my 50-some-year-old counterpart to meet the kepala desa (head of the village) we were rocking out to One Less Lonely Girl (HB and Natalie H, you would love this country).
  11. Fried food. See my earlier post on Indonesian food. Suffice to say there is more fried food here than you would find in all the state and county fairs combined. The general rule of thumb here is when in doubt, fry it. And when it cools, fry it again.
  12. Huge portraits (or possibly banners) of themselves and/or their children hanging in their houses. I can’t imagine being little Rafa (currently 2 years old) who will grow up seeing a banner of himself declaring his full name and birth date adorning the living room wall, but apparently that’s pretty normal here.
  13. Costumes. Indonesians will jump at the excuse to dress to impress while donning excessive amounts of makeup and hairspray. This starts from an early age as cultural celebrations (see Hari Kartini) are a chance for children to dress like miniature adults, complete with penciled-on moustaches for the boys and fake eyelashes for the girls. It’s honestly a bit frightening. Weddings are another chance to show how a human being can completely transform with the help of some new fabric, tweezers, makeup, hairspray, etc. Umm, Hunger Games, anyone? Sometimes I think I’ve been transported to the capital.
  14. Naps. Kali and David, this is the place for you. On good days, I manage to be able to sleep about 9 or 10 hours a night AND take a nap during the day. And it’s not just me…almost everyone in my family naps during the day and they all make sure to ask me, “Sudah tidur siang? Istirihat?” (“Have you already taken a nap? Rested?”) I alternate between feeling like a 5-year-old (“Sarah, time to nap. Sarah, time to eat. Sarah, time to take a bath.”) and not caring at all because it’s awesome that it’s culturally acceptable to sleep the afternoon away if I want.
  15. Squatting. Indonesians will squat anywhere and everywhere, including on top of prime locations for sitting, such as benches and chairs. Why? My language teacher said it’s more comfortable than sitting. Indonesians (and plenty of Asians in countries besides Indonesia) have been squatting since birth, basically, so their legs are used to it. Mine are not. I can’t squat with flat feet, but it is my goal to be able to accomplish this in two years’ time.
  16. The Titanic. I can’t say why but Titanic…the movie, the soundtrack, the story…is just as popular here as it was ten years ago in the US. Of course, Titanic was just re-released in state-side but I have yet to see an Indonesian movie theater boasting newly released 3D movies so I’m pretty sure it’s been an ongoing fad, nothing new this year. This popularity was most evident when I was at a karaoke competition at my practicum school a couple months ago and two girls sang a duet to “My Heart Will Go On.” By the end, there were at least a dozen girls sobbing because they were so touched.
  17. Spongebob. Everyone here loves Spongebob Squarepants, young and old alike. When I first got to Indonesia, I was sure that there was a channel playing Spongebob episodes 24/7 as it seemed to be the only thing playing in my Batu house. While there isn’t an exclusive Spongebob channel, there is still a LOT of Spongebob…and all dubbed in bahasa Indonesia with voices that sound strikingly similar to the original. Similar fads include Sean the Sheep (think Wallace and Gromit) and …
  18. Angry Birds. I was under the impression that Angry Birds is merely a computer game, but here you can find Angry Bird stuffed animals, pillows, pajamas, kites, t-shirts, notebooks, pencils, pens, and even children’s masks so they can pretend they are little Angry Birds. Everyone here can say “Angry Birds” in English, although I’m not sure they would understand the Indonesian equivalent is burung marah.
  19. Badminton. I would never have guessed this would be such a popular sport here, but it is (maybe you don’t sweat as much playing badminton?). Unfortunately for me, I suck at badminton. Fortunately for me, just because people here like it doesn’t mean they are [all] good at it. When I was at my counterpart’s house recently I was playing with her daughter and even though we spent most of the time chasing after the birdie, it was fun. Maybe this is the way to finally improve my hand-eye coordination, who knows.
  20. Asking rhetorical questions and/or questions to which they already know the answer. It took me about 3 months to figure out that when people ask me if I’ve already had breakfast or mandied in the morning, they aren’t really wanting to know about my morning routine, rather, it’s their way of greeting me and saying good morning. Likewise, whenever you are going somewhere and you pass someone on the street, they will either “Mau ke mana?” (“Where do you want to go?”) or “Dari mana?” (“Where are you coming from?”). At times, this question seems ridiculous…such as when you are wearing a school uniform and returning home at the same time as you do every day and passing your neighbors who you pass every day and they ask you where you’re coming from. Where do you think? Sekolah (school), duh. But seriously, it’s just how they say hello. And, as my language teacher told me, they don’t actually care where you’re going or where you came from, and even if you told them, they would forget immediately. Common responses to these question are “Jalan-jalan” (going on a walk) or “ke sana” (to there) and other generic answers.

* When I say “Indonesians” in this post and others, I really mean people living in East Java. Indonesia is a really big country with lots of different ethnic groups with their own language, culture, and customs…not to mention their own sets of opportunities, access to technology, and likes and dislikes. I would be amiss to assume that all citizens of Indonesia are similar to the ones I know here, and I apologize for overly generalizing (in my defense, it’s easier and more common to say “Indonesian” than “East Javanese” but that doesn’t make it the most accurate descriptor).