Just Another Day In Indonesia…


Idul Fitri

Idul Fitri (sometimes spelled Eid-al Fitri), also known as Lebaran in Indonesia, marks the end of Ramadan and is the biggest annual holiday in Indonesia. It begins the morning after the last day of fasting, when Muslims go to the mosque at daybreak for sholat (special prayer) and continues for a number of days as people go to their neighbors, families, friends, coworkers, distant relatives, etc, and ask for forgiveness for any sins they committed in the past year. And also to eat and drink and socialize, of course. In cities this may be concentrated into just one day before normal activity resumes and in other areas it last two or three days. Well, here in Tulungagung it’s currently Day 4 and going strong. I have plans for visiting folks straight through Day 7, and that will bring me right up to the end of vacation. My first Idul Fitri has been a somewhat chaotic blur, full of rapid fire introductions, short conversations, lots of cookie-eating, and probably thousands of handshakes. I have actually really enjoyed it! My house is constantly full of people and (for the most part) I love having guests, especially when they come to visit me, so it’s been great. Although I have been getting a little weary of answering the same questions over again, but I’ll save the downsides for later. To give you a picture of what my holiday has been like, here’s some snapshots of the experiences I’ve been having.


Day 1: I am still in bed when I hear my family getting ready to go to the mosque to pray. It’s 5:45 AM and it was enak (delicious/wonderful/amazing) to sleep straight through the time I had been waking up to eat Sahur for the last month. Bapak knocks on my door to tell me they are all leaving. I roll out of bed once they are gone and make myself a cup of coffee. I haven’t had coffee in a month! Wow! I try to absorb the blissful silence of the morning before what I know will be a hectic day. An hour later I am hit with newcomer anxiety. This is my first Idul Fitri so there’s a lot I don’t know. For instance, what do I wear? My family bought me a new shirt. Do I wear that today? Do I wear batik? Is this a long skirt day? Is casual clothing acceptable? The smartest move, of course, would be to ask my family but instead I text Emily to ask what her family is wearing to avoid dealing with the language barrier (cop-out, I know, but we all have our moments). Next moment of cultural maladaptation: my family all returns from the mosque to eat breakfast together. I already ate. Oops. Missed that memo. Luckily, no one is offended, they are more concerned that I don’t have an empty stomach. Cultural panic attack #3: After breakfast everyone gets ready to head to the neighbors. Ibu tells me to go with my host sister while she and bapak will go first. I say ok and wait, but then my host sister tells me she will be leaving first, implying that I can come later. I don’t want to contradict her since I never have a clue what’s going on, so I say ok and wait. I guess patience is truly a virtue because after waiting long enough I find out we are going in shifts and I’m in the third shift. Then followed several hours of visiting neighbors which was mostly really enjoyable, especially because I got to see the inside of all the houses I’ve passed by so many times. Downside: my family used me as a scapegoat so I had to makan and minum (eat and drink) everywhere we went while they sat back and watched. But luckily I quickly developed tactics to avoid excessively overstuffing myself.


Almost every conversation, both at home and while I’m visting someone else’s home, goes like this:


Host: Sit, eat, drink!

(moment of silence)

Host turns to my host family: Who is this?

Host family: This is an American person. She is a volunteer.

Host: Ooooh American person. [people really like to repeat things in conversation here.]

Host family: She is already fluent in Bahasa Indonesia! [this is not true. I occasionally deny this but after a while I just start accepting the praise.]

Host to me: Are you happy/comfortable here?

Me: Yeah, I am happy/comfortable here! [I repeat things just as much as any Indonesian]

Host asks me a string of questions: What’s your name? What do you do? Are you a high school or university student? [no, I am a high school teacher!] What do you eat? [they don’t really believe that I could possibly eat Indonesian food every day] How long will you be here?

(occasional interjections by me to my family to inquire about unknown vocab words, occasional interjection by host to my family to remark on how smart I am in bahasa Indonesia, occasional interjection by my family to host to answer the questions I don’t understand and explain everything else)

(glances exchanged between family members)

Host family: Time to go.

Host to family: Matursuwun (thank you in Javanese)

Host to me: Terima kasih (thank you in Bahasa Indonesia…although I understood the Javanese too!)

(handshake and exit)


Rinse and repeat.


Day 2: This day doesn’t really count in the blog entry because I biked with my counterpart to go see one of the PCVS who used to live in Tulungaung (now a third-year in West Java) and who came back for a few days during Idul Fitri. Thus, I avoided hours of going from house to house but I still had to shake hands with every visitor who came to Bart’s house.


Day 3: My family tells me we will be going to visit family members in Tulungagung city. “What time will we leave?” I ask. “7 AM, or maybe a little later,” they respond. I get up at 6 and get ready. We leave at 8:30. “Indonesian time!” they tell me. We pile 9 people into our small car and I brace myself for a good 20 minute drive to the city. Nope. We drive 5 minutes before we arrive at our first house of the day. I’ll spare you the details but we end up stopping in (I swear) every village between here and Tulungagung city so it takes us 3 hours before we arrive there. I’m beat. Seven hours later we come home but there’s no rest for the weary (we missed nap time) and it’s time to entertain the flocks of guests who are coming to our house. Most are family from faraway places and several are spending the night at our house. I also bike to a counterpart’s house with my host sister, return home because a student is waiting to visit me, and have an extra special surprise visit from my cultural facilitator from Malang during PST, Ophie!


Day 4: No plans to go anywhere today, phew! I wash my hair, lay in bed, read and finish another book…there’s still plenty of hosting to do but I start hiding in my room a little more frequently because I’m getting tired of the repetitive questions and most of these people are ones I won’t interact with often /ever (unlike the neighbors).


So that’s the basic run-down of my schedule but here’s a few anecdotes from the last few days:


First, the not-so-fun side to Idul Fitri.

– It’s tough to go from a whole month of fasting to suddenly gorging on food 24/7. As I mentioned to a fellow PCV, fasting is honestly easier than eating all these cookies! Despite my efforts to pace myself, drink lots of water, and eat small amounts, I have still had stomachaches every day. It’s much harder to enjoy 7 hours of visiting relatives when you’re hoping you won’t vomit along the way. Good news is I haven’t been sick, I think my system is just trying to readjust which makes me wonder, “How do Indonesians do this every year?” (Although that’s not to say they don’t suffer similar side-effects: ibu got sick and was vomiting on Day 1 and she explained it just like I did…after a month of fasting, it’s hard to eat so much.)

– I have the occasional interaction that really annoys me. In general the people who talk to me like I’m a 5 year old tend to get on my nerves. Then there was the neighbor who took to petting/stroking me while I was at her house. But the worst was a woman who came to my house on Day 3 and proceeded to yell at me in English. It was like the people who talk to me as if I am 5, except she was talking in my own language but using words that didn’t make sense. “EAT FLOWER BANANA?” “Ummmm…yes?” “FLOWER BANANA!” And I’m thinking to myself, “There is no flower banana, she is clearly trying to translate something that I undoubtedly would understand in bahasa Indonesia.” Sure enough she was talking about pecel, my favorite dish here. Normally I don’t draw attention to my language skills but I was so annoyed by her that I told her, “I can speak bahasa Indonesia!” That didn’t stop her from yelling at me in English and translating even the most basic of words that I’ve been using in daily conversation for the last four months. It’s alright though, even with these frustrating moments I know that people are trying really hard to connect with me and communicate. Her effort was impressive, even if her method was a little brusque. When you’re having conversations with a few hundred people, you’re bound to come across a few who might push your buttons. The difficult thing during Idul Fitri is there isn’t as much time/space to take a breather from these interactions. But it’s only a few days long, so it’s all good.


And, on a more positive note, the really-cool-and-interesting side of Idul Fitri:

– First of all, I feel like I’m really part of the family during Idul Fitri. My family is happy to introduce me to others and one time bapak even said I was the fifth child in the family. 🙂 They like to brag about my language skills, as I mentioned, and the fact that I fasted. I feel slightly uncomfortable when they brag about these things, but I also think it’s great to know that they are proud of me. And my best moment came when I mohon maaf-ed (apologized/asked for forgiveness) to my ibu and bapak on the morning of Day 1. Bapak smiled broadly and said, “You really feel at home here.” He later introduced me as the 5th child of the family to someone. 🙂

– On Day 3 when we were visiting relatives we went to one house with several elderly people. I don’t understand how they were related to us (this can apply to everyone I met, actually) but there was one grandfather who was older than 100 years, and still smokin’ like a chimney. After we left my family told me he is actually older than the Guinness World Record holder but because he doesn’t have an official birth certificate with a date on it, he can’t hold the title. Despite his age and chain-smoking, he seemed in relatively good health!

– I’ve been encouraging students to come visit my house since my first day here. Most students are still quite shy but it is tradition during Idul Fitri to visit your teachers. So far I’ve had a number of students visit, but ironically, they aren’t students I teach! Some are in English club and others are just students I’ve talked to but they came anyway. This morning I was visited by ten boys from Grade 12. I don’t teach Grade 12 and I only knew one of the students but he brought all his classmates to meet me. They are notoriously the most misbehaved class in school but they’ve decided they like me, so much so that they’ve made an effort to hang out with me outside of school more than almost any other class. (If you read my earlier post on Ramadan Reflections, this is the same group I buka paused with.) Then later this afternoon, 10 young alumni of my school came to visit. Again, I had only met one briefly when I broke fast at school last week but they all wanted to meet me so they came to my house. It was cool to hear about where they go to university and what they are studying now. I think I’m really lucky to have so many people visit me who are not my students. On the one hand, I have been pretty active meeting people, breaking fast together, and interacting with students/alums outside of school, but honestly, I think this has more to do with my school environment than it does with any efforts I’ve made. I’m grateful to be placed at a school where students are active and engaged!

– Overall, I’ve enjoyed the festive air to Idul Fitri. It reminds me of Christmas as everyone goes back home, spends time with family, and takes a break from their normal activities. This has brought on a short bout of homesickness, especially because I know Christmas will be SO different here, but it’s still super cool to be experiencing this.

– And then there’s the extra perks, like the fact that some visiting family members brought brownies and ibu just gave me a plate of them. Most brownies/cakes here are too light and fluffy and taste like plastic but these…these are the real deal. YUM.


On that note, Selamat Hari Raya/Idul Fitri! Mohon maaf lahir batim. (Happy holiday/Idul Fitri! I apologize and ask for forgiveness.)



Black Friday, Indonesian Style

Last Sunday my family asked me if I wanted to go shopping with them in Tulungagung. Lured by promises of popcorn and peanut butter (my staples here), I eagerly agreed. Sunday morning I was up early, only to find out that our departure was delayed thanks to Farid’s band practice at school. My family was concerned because they told me that by mid-morning it would already be very busy. “Aren’t we going to a food store?” I thought. “Well, I’m sure they know what they’re talking about.”

We finally hit the road around 10 and about twenty minutes later we arrived at Apollo Department Store. “Do you want a jacket or a shirt?” my host sister asked me. “What happened to popcorn?” I thought. “Umm…I don’t know?” I responded, to buy myself time (this is my most common strategy when faced with new situations here). We entered the store. It was a mad house, a stuffy mob of humanity: people shoving each other, long lines at the changing rooms, department store attendants spaced apart every 10 feet waiting to assist customers. “I haven’t seen this a store this crowded since Black Friday!” I thought. Then it hit me that this was a pretty accurate comparison because Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan, is a Muslim’s biggest holiday of the year. It’s like Christmas, so it’s appropriate that the weeks leading up to Idul Fitri would be like the weeks leading up to Christmas in the States.

During Idul Fitri (also called Lebaran here in Indonesia) everyone travels back to their families to ask for forgiveness for any sins they committed during the year. They visit families, neighbors, employers, teachers, and friends to mohon maaf (apologize) and consume a ton of snacks and drinks. I have yet to experience this, but I think it might make up for a month of fasting. Also, children receive money and everyone wears new clothes.

And that brings up back to Apollo Department Store, where my family was ready to buy our Idul Fitri gear. I must really be part of the family now, because I was included in this tradition. “Jacket or Shirt?” my family asked again. “Shirt,” I said.

When I first heard that everyone wears new clothes for Idul Fitri, I assumed they dressed up real fancy. But in Apollo we just looked at regular casual clothes. It struck me that when I get clothes for Christmas, they are usually casual as well. Anyway, I picked out a plaid shirt, which wasn’t hard because I swear at least half the shirts in that store were plaid or striped. I felt slightly guilty that my family was paying for me, but it would have been rude to try to pay when they invited me and offered. I have yet to figure out Indonesian gift-giving culture…

But even though my family wouldn’t let me pay, they did have a job for me. I was expected to pick out a new shirt for Farid. How I was qualified to chose a 13-year-old boy’s new clothes, I do not know. But I dutifully examined all the options: black-and-white striped polo, yellow-and-white striped polo, orange-and-grey striped polo…it was a difficult decision. I would chose a potential shirt and Bu Nova, Farid’s mom would hold it up to his back to see if it would fit. Farid hated this. He tried to squirm away every time and when Bu Nova’s back was turned he would start dashing off until she noticed and called his name loudly. I found this hilarious, but I never had to suffer through the experience of being a 13-year-old boy clothes shopping with my mom in a crowded store, so I guess I couldn’t relate.  As soon as we picked the shirt (orange-and-grey) Farid disappeared to play video games at the arcade in the back of the store. I couldn’t blame him.

Meanwhile, we had to fight the lines. A note on lines in Indonesia: they don’t really exist. People just shove their way where they want to go. You have to be pushy here if you want attention. I have been in supermarkets and I’ve been ready to hand the cashier my items when an ibu will push her way past me and throw her goods down on the counter. Being a foreigner and not wanting to offend anyone, I usually just bite my lip and wait. But in Apollo, waiting was not an option. If you weren’t pushy, people would walk all over you. Luckily for me, Bu Nova was the one who had to be pushy, not me! Once we picked out a garment, an attendant would write a receipt and hand it to us to take to the counter. The garment, meanwhile, was bundled up and handed to another attendant who was standing on a chair to see above the crowd. He – always male – would throw the bundle to the next attendant; there was a whole network of attendants-on-chairs. They would toss the garment to the next one and the next one until it reached the counter. Meanwhile, we headed to the counter, receipt in hand. This is when pushiness came into play. Every counter was swarmed by a mob of people. You had to elbow your way in and hand your receipt to an attendant who would locate your garment. She would hand the receipt to the cashier who would ask for your money. A third attendant handed your garment and change to you. It was an assembly line of sorts, every person playing their part quickly and efficiently.

It was exhausting. Despite the AC, the store was stuffy and humid. I was sweating, and my stomach was growling. I’m not good at shopping on an empty stomach back home, and this was only multiplied by the fact that I was fasting and I knew it would be another 6+ hours until I could eat. But, I got a new shirt, courtesy of my generous family, so I can’t complain too much.

We left Apollo. “Are we going home?” I wondered. Nope. Next stop was an equally crowded store that reminded me of Kitchen Kaboodle meets Linens ‘N Things. There were containers of any shapes and sizes (Indonesians love containers), tea sets, kitchen utensils, beddings, curtains, fake flowers, décor, etc. The stuffiness, the crowds, and the exhaustion repeated themselves.

Next we went to Toko Merah. This was the food store, finally! It was much smaller than I anticipated and looked and smelled like small Asian stores back in the states (Mom, think Anzen’s Market). The smells were overwhelming to me since I was so hungry and thirsty. But, true to their word, Bu Wiji found me popcorn! I also found minyak seree, citronella oil,  a natural mosquito repellent.

“Ok, let’s go home,” my family said. I couldn’t have been more ready. Of course, we made two or three more stops along the way, mostly grocery shopping, but I stayed in the car and dozed. We were finally home by 2 PM, and I was just as tired as I have ever been after shopping on Black Friday back home.

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Reflections on Ramadan.

Well, we are halfway through Ramadan, so it’s time for an update on my fasting experience.  Overall, I have really enjoyed the last two-and-a-half weeks of fasting. As I mentioned in a previous post, I really haven’t had many side effects from fasting, and I’m so grateful for that. Having a clear head and a positive attitude has made this a great experience. The sociologist in me is loving getting to observe and participate in a religious – and arguably, cultural, since almost everyone is Muslim – tradition first-hand. I definitely think joining the fast has led to more opportunities for me to integrate into my community*…see below for anecdotes on some of my favorite events so far. And, last but not least, I also joined the fast to see if I could do it. I’m excited to say that I can, and it’s been fascinating to watch myself adapt to a completely new circadian rhythm and dietary pattern.

Before Ramadan I was accustomed to eating and drinking lots of water all day long. Then it was off to bed for 8 or 9 hours of sleep every night. If I drank too much water before bed, it meant a midnight trip to the mandi, which in my house is a real pain because it means walking all the way through the house and outside to the mandi, unlocking two doors and usually creating a racket as I stumble sleepily through the house. But if I time my water intake correctly, I can avoid this spectacle and sleep blissfully. During Ramadan, this all changes. I wake up in the middle of the night to eat as much as I can force down and then I drink water until I feel like bursting. I can’t sleep right away because I’m too full, but I usually get back to sleep after an hour. When I wake up – generally even more exhausted than I was at 3 – I can’t eat or drink anything.** Getting ready for school takes hardly any time. Being at school can be the hardest time to not drink water because teaching makes me thirsty. But I’m usually not too hungry, and it helps to know almost everyone around me is experiencing the same thing. At home I try to sleep for at least an hour, although I’ve never been good at napping on an empty stomach. By 3 PM I’m usually feeling re-energized, so I might ride my bicycle or try to study Bahasa Indonesia. By 5:30ish when we break fast, I’m not even hungry! I think, “Man, I could keep going!” (Meanwhile my family is practically inhaling their food.) The next few hours consist of me eating and drinking as much as I can. Most people eat at least two times at night, while snacking in between these meals. I can’t do that. I eat once, and I’m full. I see no reason to stuff myself, but I do try to drink lots of water. All the fluid intake results in multiplied midnight mandi trips which means my sleep is broken up into 3 or 4 hour chunks. And that brings me to the hardest part of Ramadan: getting enough sleep. Between waking up with a full bladder and anticipating the 3 AM wake-up call, I sleep pretty restlessly. For this reason, I will not be sad to see the end of Ramadan. But, I’m only halfway through, and here are some success stories that make up for the lack of sleep.

While I didn’t broadcast the fact that I’m fasting, when one teacher or student found out, they inevitably announced the news to everyone who was around. This happened recently on the day that I attended the first regency MGMP (this is a meeting for all the English teachers from public, non-religious high schools in our area) in Tulungagung. Pak Bagas, one of the English teachers from my school told my counterpart Bu Chris that it would be difficult for me to join the MGMP because everyone was fasting and they would have to find me a place to eat lunch. Bu Chris  quickly told Pak Bagas it was no problem, I was fasting too! I don’t know how he missed that news, since I broke fast with him and some other teachers the previous Friday and they all knew I was fasting. Anyway, as soon as I arrived at the MGMP, Pak Bagas proudly announced to all the English teachers in the regency that I was fasting…he didn’t mention that he had just found that out a few hours before. 🙂

Breaking fast is my favorite time of the day. It’s a social event and it’s common for large groups to gather together to break fast. This stands in stark contrast to my experience during non-fasting months when my family members usually eat by themselves when they are hungry (and often they eat in front of the television, something I have done more in Indonesia than I ever did in America!). Two Fridays ago, I broke fast with several teachers at school. Some of them brought their children, and it was delightful to see their families. Last Friday I was sitting at home grading tests when one of the 12th grade students showed up at my door to invite me to break fast with him and his classmates. That was easily one of the highlights of Ramadan so far. I don’t teach 12th graders because they are preparing for the national exam, so none of the students were my students. There are pros and cons to this. On the one hand, I don’t get to interact with 12th graders often, but on the other hand, it’s easier to be friends with them because I’m not their teacher. I think I’ve been lucky because I’ve already had several opportunities to hang out with 12th graders – on the trip to Bali, through English club, and informally. Some of the most welcoming students/best English speakers are 12th graders and they’ve been some of my first friends at site. These students were from IPS 3 (look for an upcoming blog post explaining more about the different tracks in Indonesian high schools), and they cheerfully informed me they have a reputation as some of the worst students in school because they are always causing problems for their teachers. They described their schemes to get away with misbehavior, and it reminded me of some of my brother’s high school escapades. I wasn’t quite sure how to react, since I’m a teacher now, but I just laughed and decided I’m quite glad they can be my friends and not my students! There were about 20 students there and 4 teachers. After we broke fast, we had the obligatory photo session (the students informed me that almost all Indonesians are narcissists because they like to take photographs of themselves so often) and then a few students played cards with me. I taught them Egyptian War and they taught me their version of Black Jack/Poker, which I’m fairly certain was a distinctly Indonesian version of the game. When we played “poker” they told me we needed to have punishments for the person who lost each round. I immediately thought of several American versions of the game…strip poker, drinking games, etc. But sometimes Indonesia is endearingly innocent and our punishment was simply to hold a small water cup in our mouths until there was a new loser.  I was usually the loser, which meant I had a sore jaw by the end, but it was the most fun I had all week. Next Tuesday, I am breaking fast with the English club – can’t wait!

While Maghrib (the meal to break fast) is the highlight of my day, Sahur (morning meal) is the opposite. It’s never easy to wake up at 3 AM and eat. For one thing, I’m never hungry. I’m still quite full from Maghrib and the subsequent snacking throughout the evening. But Sahur is an important meal because it will give me my energy for the day, so I never skip it. Shout out to Emily for buying me oatmeal so I have another option for Sahur besides rice! And while it is difficult to wake up, there’s something about getting up in the middle of the night with your whole family that feels very communal. I definitely have felt like part of the family since joining in the fast.

I also really enjoy the evenings. Everyone is happy because they’re full and the lazy silence of the afternoon is replaced by a noisy excitement. Children ride their bikes up and down the street in the dark or set off firecrackers. Most males, teenagers and up, go outside to smoke. (While I dislike smoking, I must say I am impressed that these habitual smokers can abstain from smoking all day long. That’s gotta be tough!) Many people go to the mosque for special prayer services and reading the Koran. My family, though, has been doing this less and less which means there are more people to hang out with me in the evening. Sometimes we watch TV, sometimes we chat, sometimes we color pictures (ok, so that’s just me and my little host nephews, but hey, I love it), and we always snack. I love the social aspect of the evenings. It’s hard to pull myself away to go to bed, but I’m usually exhausted by 8 and well aware that it’s only 7 hours until Sahur.

Halfway through, and I’m feeling good. I’m excited to see what Lebaran/Idul Fitri (the end of Ramadan) is like. For Muslims, this is the biggest holiday of the year. It’s the equivalent to Christmas. Stay tuned for more updates!


* I should mention that Peace Corps in no way pressured us to fast. They left the decision up to us and gave us information on healthy fasting habits if we wanted to join. Likewise, no one in my community expected me to fast. Most people are very surprised to find out I am fasting. Many other PCVs are not fasting, and I don’t think this will harm their ability to integrate successfully in their communities. But, for me, I’m glad I’m doing it. It’s been interesting and challenging.

** I mentioned in a previous post that I occasionally drink water throughout the day. Muslims don’t drink anything during fasting hours but since I’m still adapting to the climate, I see no reason to force myself to adhere to a strict standard. At the same time, I don’t drink anything in front of people so I’m usually limited to the about 8 oz of water that is still in my waterbottle from Sahur. So, like my Muslim family, I pretty much get all my fluids after breaking fast.

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The Ramadan Diaries

I borrowed the entry for this blog post from an ID5 volunteer, Elle (thanks Elle!). It’s one of those “day in the life” posts with all my thoughts and ramblings during fasting. Hopefully it gives you a glimpse of what it’s like here during Ramadan!


1:55 AM. What is that noise? I wake up to loud music. I had heard rumors that during Ramadan there’s groups of boys who roam around beating loudly on drums to wake up the neighborhood for breakfast…although they usually come around 1 or 2, well before the 3 AM (or later) Sahur (morning meal). Is that what the noise was? Still mostly asleep I realize, no, there’s too many instruments, it must be coming from a stereo somewhere. I put in my earplugs, roll over, fall back asleep.


2:55 AM. My fan suddenly shuts off and I hear that obnoxious loud music again. My earplugs have fallen out. The electricity died, which is why my fan stopped. I hear my bapak knocking on doors, “Sahur!” as he works his way down the hall to my room.


3:05 AM. I stumble into the kitchen to find that my ibu has already prepared a bowl for me full of (left over) fried rice and an egg. She hands me a mug of tea. The rest of the family is there, except for Farid who is thirteen and notoriously difficult to wake up for Sahur (it usually takes the entire family’s efforts to get him out of bed). We eat by candlelight, which is actually a really nice way to enjoy a 3 AM breakfast.


3:30 AM. Too full to sleep, too tired to do anything…I start typing up the Ramadan diaries. I realize it’s awfully quiet, usually there’s loud calls from the mosque right about now saying, “SAHUR, SAHUR.” The electricity must be out everywhere. This is the quietest night of all of Ramadan so far. I’ve learned to tell the time in my half-asleep state between the hours of 3 and 6 AM, just by listening to all the noise. Around 3:30 or so is the call for Sahur. Around 4:15 is the call to prayer. This continues for what feels like eternity, but is probably about a half hour, as all the mosques in the area start the call at slightly different times. Then around 5:15 or 5:30 I hear Farid running around getting ready for school. I don’t get up until 6.


3:50 AM. Back to sleep. It’s Sunday, I get to sleep in a little (meaning I will wake up at 7).


3:55 AM. The electricity turns on again. The mosque promptly begins blasting “SAHUR.” Oh well, the calm was nice while it lasted. I sleep again.


6:30 AM. I wake up to Rafa, my 2 year old host nephew, repeatedly beating on a drum outside my door. I don’t get much sleep when he’s around but he’s cute, so I guess that makes up for it.


8:28 AM. I am thirsty.


9:30 AM. My family and I go on a shopping trip to Tulungagung. They mention popcorn and peanut butter, so I imagine we are going to a food store.


10:14 AM. I was wrong. We are shopping for new clothes for Idul Fitri, which was such a crazy experience, it deserves its own blog post.


1:15 PM. Finally we are food shopping. I’m so hungry and so thirsty. This might be my hardest day of fasting, but that’s probably because it’s the only day when I’ve gone food shopping at the height of my hunger. Cruel.


2:00 PM. We come home. I drink some water, which I allow myself on days when I’m sweating a lot – like today, thanks to the crazy crowds at the department store – and collapse into bed.


3:00 PM. Awake again. This has been a long day. Only two and a half more hours until we buka puasa (break fast).


5:12 PM. Ok, half an hour to go. Today has been a busy day and I’ve had really low energy. I can’t wait to eat and drink! Most days I am not hungry by this time…my hunger goes away around 3 PM. Today, though, I am still hungry and very thirsty.


5:25 PM. Bu Wiji flips on the television to check the time of Maghrib. Only 8 minutes to go, and we are watching a cooking show, of course.


5:52 PM. Saya kenyang (I’m full)!  A delicious dinner of rujak (which we’ve had probably 10 times in the last two weeks), sayur, and tempe chips has filled me up.


6:57 PM. The mosques are blaring. Time for evening prayer.


7:42 PM. I’m getting sleepy. Still trying to drink water. I can never drink enough at night to feel hydrated the next day.


8:15 PM. I go to bed.


8:20 PM. Bapak comes back from the mosque and there’s a guest. I don’t know who but my room is directly outside the guest room so only 5 feet and a thin wall separates me from the guests. Whoever this is has a booming voice and is smoking, I can smell it in my room. Gross. I hope he goes away soon.


9:15 PM. No sign of him leaving yet, and my earplugs, using my fan for white noise, and covering my head with my pillow can’t drown out his voice. Don’t people sleep here? This is the closest I’ve come to complaining about my house which has really been a fantastic set-up, but man, having guests over when I’m trying to sleep…my patience is wearing thin. There are also cats copulating outside my window. Less than six hours til Sahur.


9:38 PM. I leave my room for a trip to the mandi and a chance to show The Loudest Guest in the World that I am sleeping right next to the guest room. When he sees me, he apologizes and says I probably want to rest. I say, “Tidak apa apa” (No problem) because this is my standard answer to everything. Though he apologizes, he remains as loud as ever. I resort to listening to my ipod to drown out the noise.


10:07 PM. The Loudest Guest in the World finally leaves. Sleep.


3:30 AM. “SAHUR.” Up again, and I find out that our guest was the kepala desa (head of the village). Good thing I didn’t say anything rude! I guess when you’re the head of the village you can be loud whenever you want. Anyway, it’s far too early to be eating but here I am. Ready to start all over again.

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Eenie Meenie Mini Mo, or, why my students rock

Emily, a PCV who lives about 35 km north of me, came to visit on Sunday. On Saturday evening I texted one of my students to tell him that if he or any of the English club members wanted to practice English, they could meet me and my friend at school the following day to show her around. “If you can’t make it, don’t worry, it’s informal,” I told him. “We’ll probably be at school around 11.” Fast forward to 10:30 AM the next day. My student texted me to tell me everyone was waiting in front of the mosque. Not knowing what to exact, Emily and I nonchalantly showed up about half an hour later, to find 32 eager students waiting for the English club meeting.

We rolled with it. At first the students were still malu (shy) but one of the English club leaders remembered something I had taught him on a recent hike to a nearby temple. He jumped up in the center of our circle and after in the midst of some rapid-fire Bahasa Indonesia I heard the words “eenie meenie mini mo.” With Emily’s help coaching me through the East Coast version, we soon had all the students diligently repeating

Eenie Meenie Mini Mo
Catch a tiger by his toe
If he hollers, let him go
Eenie Meenie Mini Mo

As I sat back and watched, the students divided into groups and each small group practiced the chant, clapping their hands to the beat and repeating each word until they could say it properly. Next, they said it faster and faster until they just started laughing because the words ran together. After that, we had a competition as each group had their turn to repeat the rhyme. Then I had a brilliant idea of having each group chant in a round (think, singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a round) and with a little help and a contoh (example) from Emily, Bu Chris, and me, we had all the students repeating round after round of Eenie Meenie Mini Mo. And when we had finally exhausted all of these possibilities, we sat in a large circle again and used Eenie Meenie Mini Mo for its original purpose: to select one student who then had to ask a question to either Miss Sarah or Miss Emily. We did this around and around and around until every student had time to ask a question. Students who couldn’t think of questions in five seconds had to stand in the middle of the circle and do a dance or sing a song, to everyone’s great amusement. The system was clearly biased because whenever the English club leaders were selected, everyone counted to 5 at the top of their lungs and drowned out any question they could ask. We were treated to the shuffle dance and a rendition of “My Heart Will Go On.” It was a blast.

The best part was, as Emily noted, that the entire activity was student-directed. It was pretty amazing. I mostly watched from the sidelines while occasionally offering suggestions or correcting pronunciation. I was amazed by all the ways they used this simple chant: individually, in groups, in a competition, singing as a round, and using it as a tool for another activity – asking questions. All that to say, my students are awesome. I love how excited they are to learn silly rhymes, I love how they will take an idea and run with it, and I love that they want to be friends with me.