Gone

I left Indonesia a little over a week ago. It’s more than a little bizarre. For the time being I’m based at my grandparents’ house in a small city in SW Germany. Of course I’ve been thinking a lot about here and there, and how I won’t be going home-home for another two months.

I feel like I’ve been eating a lot, and I’ve asked myself if it’s because I haven’t had any rice, which means I can’t be full *wink, wink* or because I’m just excited to be eating things that aren’t rice. I’ve eaten more bread and dairy in the last week than I did during my entire time in Indonesia. Cream cheese type spreads and bread make up a significant portion of my grandparents’ diet. I’ve also been snacking a lot. It’s nice to reach for food without a lot of analysis or commentary.

I made myself a cup of coffee this morning. My grandparents don’t drink coffee anymore, so I just made one cup for myself. I put the grounds right in the mug à la Indonesia, but it was in a fact a mug with a handle and not a scaldingly hot glass.

The few times I’ve gone food shopping, the clerks haven’t bashfully scurried away or giggled when I walked into the store. My first thoughts post-Peace Corps.

I think I have a few more blog posts in me: Indonesian stories, post-Indonesian stories. I think I might even keep blogging when I start grad school in the fall. Stay tuned.

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Out

The time is nearing for me to leave Indonesia, and I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as goodbyes are concerned. I wasn’t necessarily expecting everything to be wrapped up in a nice bow, but it’s been a lot messier than I imagined. For one, I got kicked out of my host family’s house just over a week before I would have left anyway. I got a text message earlier that day saying they were tired of dealing with me. They might also argue that there was some miscommunication about when I was leaving, but I thought I was rather clear. I texted back that I’d pack as soon as I got home and leave that very night.

And I don’t even blame them. It must have been a nightmare, what with me trying to communicate and my host parents’ innate aversion to open communication. Or any communication. But it can’t have been all me. I got along with my ibu’s three sisters and I got along with my host sister and cousins.

I packed my things in a hurry, dumped everything on my host aunt and uncle’s porch next door and waited to be picked up by my previous host family. I walked to the garage to get one last thing and my ex-bapak told me to eat before I left. I answered that I was getting my bike. I think my ex-host parents were expecting me to say goodbye and go through the Javanese goodbye-apologies, to be more Javanese about the whole thing and just say no problem. Perhaps they thought that would be their chance to explain the situation. They must have been a little surprised when I left without so much as looking at the house again, but they shouldn’t have been. I’m rarely very Javanese about anything. My previous interim host family, now my current interim host family asked why I didn’t say goodbye. I suppose it will forever remain a mystery.

That was Monday. Today is Friday. Today I went back to the compound to say goodbye to my extended host family and my host sister. She hadn’t gotten wind of any of this until the next day when she came home from college. She was very upset, so I promised to visit before I left for good. When my extended host family tried to get me to go inside my old house and talk to my ex-host parents, I once again declined. I’m not sure what’s so confusing about the fact that I got kicked out.

Actually, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to pop my head in, say sorry, shake hands and leave again, but it would have been difficult to mean it. My actions would have been a favor to the rest of the family and would have meant nothing to me. I’ll admit I did feel pangs of how does this make me look, but I quickly remembered that I don’t care. If I’m an arrogant, stubborn foreigner who holds grudges, so be it. I have not been very successful in showing many people in this country who I am and what is important to me, in great part because everyone immediately decides for themselves who I am and what I believe.

If my ex-ibu regrets her decision, she shouldn’t. The only hassle it caused was me having to pack one more time than I thought I’d have to. I’d go so far as to say I’m fine with sacrificing our relationship, but I’ve already forgotten if there was anything to sacrifice in the first place. As unexpected, dramatic and disappointing as this event was, it doesn’t even come close to the worst I’ve felt during my two years in Indonesia. I’m not sure what that says about the project or the country or me, but there you go.

On the bright side, all of that happened after my school’s official goodbye ceremony for me, and since then I’ve gotten a few visits from students, which I very much appreciated. I won’t taint my bitterness with their preciousness though; I’ll save those stories for another time.

Food

This post has been floating around my drafts folder since I got to Indonesia two years ago. I kept waiting for a good food picture to post alongside. I still don’t have excellent food pictures…

Such a broad topic, I don’t know where to begin! I should probably start with rice, since rice is nearly synonymous with eating. I thought I’d be tired of rice by now, but the opposite is true. I enjoy it more than ever. In Indonesia, the rule is: if you haven’t had rice, you haven’t really eaten, you can’t possibly be full. That’s how biology works. A taxi driver once asked me what Americans eat to get full. I said food. Because food fills you up pretty well. He didn’t get it.

Snacks are pretty important, too, and omnipresent. You can find all sorts of crackers and cookies, dried fruit and vegetable chips, e.g. banana or cassava, peanuts (which you aren’t allowed to eat by the handful; you have to put each peanut in your mouth individually), fresh fruit, sticky rice rolls wrapped in banana leaves and fried everything.

There are boxes of snacks all over the teachers’ room, and people often bring something fresh to share. As the new guy and the foreigner to boot, I have to try everything. I like trying new things, but the experience gets a little trying when you’re constantly being handed food and told to eat. I know my colleagues are just trying to make me feel at home, but at some point I had to explain that I don’t usually eat everything in my field of vision and definitely not nonstop.

Eating with me is an event and I’m the main attraction. Anything and everything I do garners a reaction. I’m told continually to take more food, and if I don’t take more right away, it’s assumed that there’s something wrong with it: too salty, too spicy, etc. My strategy of taking less at first in order to leave room for seconds and thirds has proven to be pointless. I’m simply asked why I didn’t take more in the first place. Generous and attentive to a fault.

Volcano, part 1

This blog post got started in October 2017 and has been edited a few times since then. I’m not really sure why I couldn’t just finish it and post it. Anyway…

IMG_3725The unfinished blog posts are piling up on my digital desk, but I think I’ll try to get this one out of my system first. It’s a testament to how much I’ve learned and… how much I haven’t learned.

Last week I talked to Pak Suradi, a VP at my school, who also happens to be my previous host dad. He recently came back from Taiwan, where he visited a school of tourism, hospitality and gastronomy that likes to recruit Indonesian high school students. He told me that soon, the Taiwanese school would be sending a delegation of their own to our school, and we would probably organize a trip to Mt. Bromo for them. Would you want to come along this weekend? If we go…

I’m sure he said who the ‘we’ was, but I missed it. I said yes, and I ended up joining a test group that would help scout out and organize the actual trip.

Saturday afternoon rolled around. No news from Pak Suradi. Then, suddenly, he was at my door. I changed into long pants and a polo, stuffed a sarong and a jacket in my small bag, put on my sneakers and left. Bu Khoyima, my previous host mom, was waiting in the car.

Next we picked up Pak Imam, his wife and his youngest daughter. Then we headed north. Bromo is physically very close to Malang—just east of the city—but many people like to access it from the cities farther north. Traffic in Malang was bad normal. When we got to the other side of the city, Pak Imam remembered that he didn’t have a jacket, so we stopped at a few markets so he could look for one.

IMG_3728Soon, it was time for maghrib, the second-to-last of the five daily prayers required of muslims. Luckily for travelers, mosques are never hard to find in Indonesia. Unless you need one. We finally found a medium-sized one. I stayed in the car. I obviously wasn’t in any hurry, and I had chips for company, but it seemed to be taking longer than usual. After a while, Bu Khoyima came back and explained what was going on. The mosque was low on water, which makes it hard to perform ablutions. Muslims have to wash up, before they pray. Finally, everyone else came back, and we got back on the road, only to pass a big, beautiful, well-lit mosque a few meters down the road. Everyone laughed.

Because it had taken some time to find the first mosque, and because of the lack of water, it was time to pray again before long, the last prayer of the day, isha’a. We looked for another mosque and found one right away. I was asked if I wanted to use the bathroom. I wouldn’t have had to yet; I knew very well that we’d be stopping for dinner any time now. Curious if they had a particular eatery in mind, I asked where we were going next. To Bromo of courseFood being one of the very most important things in Indonesia, I knew we wouldn’t drive straight to the mountain without stopping for rice. I went to the bathroom anyway to stop people from worrying about me.

IMG_3731We stopped at least three times on our search for a restaurant, but the first few places had run out of food. The last one had plenty. I ordered chicken. I assured Bu Khoyima I didn’t need silverware. Pak Suradi, for at least the 100th time since I’ve known him, pointed out that there was sambal on my plate. Spicy Indonesian chili sauce is something I learned to recognize very early. Many, many dishes are eaten with sambal. I have absolutely no trouble recognizing it. I’ve even helped my ibu grind it up with her mortar and pestle. Sambal is as normal to me as having the obvious stated to me. Again and again. It’s just a way people try to connect with me. It’s safe. We can agree. This is sambal.

We washed our hands and hit the road again. At some point Pak Suradi and Pak Imam asked for directions. Most Indonesians I know don’t have much experience with maps or map apps. They prefer to just ask for landmarks, and if it’s a long trip, they just ask till the end. It’s not a lack of accuracy. I’m often asked if I have gotten lost in Indonesia. Personally, I find it hard to get lost with my map and ability to ask questions.

We snaked our way up to ‘basecamp’. We parked. Then, Pak Suradi and Pak Imam made the arrangements for our jeep. We would leave to see the sunrise at 3:00 am. I don’t remember what time we arrived at that parking lot, but we definitely had a few hours to go. We slept and/or tried to sleep. Anywhere I would have sat, my long legs would have been a bit cramped, but the back of this SUV was definitely a challenge. At about 1:30 it seemed like we had used up all the oxygen in the car. The two front windows were cracked, but not nearly enough to keep fresh air flowing. No one else seemed to notice. Finally, I asked if we could open more windows. Cold, breathable air made its way to the back and my latent feeling of claustrophobia dissipated.

IMG_3744Show time. We tumbled out of our car and into a big jeep. The two bapaks sat in the front with the driver. The other four of us sat in the back. We bounced up the mountain, still bleary-eyed, but slowly waking up. The higher we got, the more jeeps we saw. Hundreds and hundreds, with motorcycles and some brave hikers flitting between them. The exhaust fumes were some of the most noxious I’ve ever breathed, and I’ve been in the thick of some heavy traffic in Indonesia.

At some point, our jeep driver said he couldn’t take us any farther. We walked the rest of the way. For the first time since I’ve been in Indonesia, it was my Indonesian companions—and not me—who got badgered by guys on motorcycles without letup, asking Bu Khoyima in particular if she needed a ride. Still active, but no longer the lightest on her feet, she finally accepted an offer and rode off into the night with Pak Suradi.

IMG_3747Pak Imam, his family and I continued on foot. It wasn’t too far, but it was tricky navigating, bumps, holes and traffic. Finally, we made it to Love Hill, with plenty of time to pray before the sun rose. I climbed halfway up the hill with Pak Imam and his family. We found a spot on the stairs that wasn’t too crowded, and then we waited. And waited. We all laughed when Pak Imam said the sun was shy, because the full moon was still high in the sky. Then dawn began to break. I won’t describe the sunrise. If you’ve seen one before, it was like that. Actually, it was also a little bit like a sunset, so if you’ve seen one of those, it was like that, too. Except it was near Bromo.

The first time I heard about these sunrise tours, which are very common all over Indonesia, I was skeptical. I love a good sunrise as much as the next person, and I’ve seen plenty. Heck, I get up before the sun every day in Indonesia. I’ve seen plenty of spectacular sunrises, too, but all of them have been… dare I say it? The same. What distinguishes them is the rest of the situation.

Anyway, the sun rose; we watched; it was pretty.

We then met back up with Pak Suradi and Bu Khoyima and headed back down to the jeep. Our driver then whisked us away to the Sea of Sand, a rather wide expanse of black, volcanic sand, with spots of vegetation here and there. Quite impressive, and eery when covered with thick fog.

IMG_3739After another few photos, we made it to Teletubbies Hill. Not kidding. A big, official sign told us that’s what it was called. Does it look like a hill from the show? Honestly, I don’t feel like checking, so let’s assume it does. This was where we took the most photos. Dozens and dozens of photos in various constellations. I like photography, but I also try to take a few good pictures rather than 50 bad ones. That, however, is not the way of the typical Indonesian tourist. Photos aren’t memories, photos are the activity.

In the end, due to some miscommunication, I never made it up to see the crater. I was a little disappointed, but I figured I’d be back.

It wasn’t my favorite trip ever. We were on the road for ages, and we barely slept. I can’t have been the most pleasant travel companion. I tried to be on my best behavior, I really did. I appreciated being taken along. I posed for the all the pictures, I laughed at all the jokes, and I didn’t complain, but I wasn’t happy. I was exhausted, and I was being forced to do things I would have preferred not to do; I was coerced to eat and drink things I would rather not have eaten and drunk. I just can’t get feign enthusiasm under those circumstances. I looked for the positive, I found the positive, but they didn’t outweigh how tired and annoyed I was for pretty much the duration.

Chasing mountains

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Today was an absolutely gorgeous day. It was still so nice after I left English club in the late afternoon that I decided to take a longcut home. I chose some rice paddies and sugarcane fields that wouldn’t take me too far out of my way, but as soon as I reached them, I knew I’d have to stretch my ride home a little more. Rising up from behind the rice fields was Mt. Semeru, the king of Javan mountains, clearer than I had ever seen it before, its volcanic ridges glowing in the sinking sun.

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I whipped out my phone and started shooting. I stopped every few minutes to get a different angle. I was mesmerized. Instead of turning left to go home when I reached the end of the stretch of fields, I turned right to chase my mountain. The air was crisp, the breeze balmy. I wished I could ride my bike for another few hours.

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When I reached the next green expanse of rice, I took a few pictures, but I didn’t stay long. I knew the prime place for mountain gazing was still to come, and I was running out of time. I rode my bike along a road that I usually run. I rolled into a river valley, climbed back out, and there it was again. My mountain. My phone wasn’t doing the views justice, but I tried to get a few angles anyway. Finally, I stopped and just looked.

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My time in Indonesia is coming to an end, and I’m glad it’s stopped raining. The fact that my last few weeks will be beautiful and dry won’t make it easier to say goodbye, but it will make me want to come back all the more.

Family visit

When I wheeled my bike out of the garage a few days ago, the tires were a little flat. No problem. I grabbed the pump and pumped away. Except that the valve kept retreating. Unable to lock the head of the pump to the valve, I ended up letting all the air out of one tire.

Their Indo senses tingling, it didn’t take long for my host uncles to come over to see what the trouble was and how they could help. I explained the situation with my broken Indonesian. In a minute, I had a fully pumped tire. Then my uncles asked some clarifying questions, but my answers only seemed to confuse matters. Suddenly, one uncle was letting the air out of the tire we had just pumped together. I was frustrated, but I’m getting better at laughing in situations like that. It’s what you have to do. I was confused as to what was so confusing, but then again, I wasn’t listening to my attempts at explanations.

I’m actually relatively good at paraphrasing. It’s something I pride myself on. I might not know the correct word or phrase, but quite often, I can get the point across anyway. Throughout my years of language teaching, I’ve noticed that it’s not really a skill that is actively taught or practiced. Most of my students get hung up on the translation of a word, forgetting that they know so many other related words. Sure, paraphrasing is hard when your vocabulary is minimal, but it’s always worth a try. I must admit that my confidence in paraphrasing makes me a little lazy when it comes to learning vocabulary. Paraphrasing is a useful skill, but there’s something to be said for accuracy as well.

(not that Bali)

(not that Bali)

Back to my bike. Eventually, I had two full tires and I was ready to pedal the 33 km (20 mi) to my extended host family’s house in Jabung. As bike rides go, this one was pretty easy. The road climbed steadily the whole way, but I was only following one road for about 20 km. There were a few more ups, downs and turns for the last 13 km, but nothing too crazy. I found the street where my family lives relatively easily; I just had to find the house. This also turned out to be quite easy. Pak Mul was standing outside, keeping an eye out for me.

I heaved myself off my bike, followed Pak Mul into the house and sat down. A steaming glass of coffee appeared before me, and just a few sips in, I was asked if I wanted to freshen up. I did. Fresh out of the shower, I was told it was time to eat. Watered, fed and clean, I could finally give my attention to Fito, the four-year-old who hadn’t stopped talking since I got there. It’s funny: he had been to my house several times but had never given me the time of day before. Now he had a million questions. He wanted to learn English, he said. We tried to practice a few color words, but there was too much excitement. His attention span was shorter than the word attention. When his dad came home, the three of us went for a bike ride. Fito rode on the back of my bike. We went to a military base to watch a high school marching band practice, which was very cool to see. It definitely brought back memories of my marching band days.

IMG_5151When the band stopped for a break, Fito and I took over the field. We ran to one side to see a sculpture of a scorpion, then to the other side, where Fito showed me a decommissioned jet. Anytime we weren’t running, I served as a jungle gym. Fito was quite the little acrobat.

When we finally got home, we snacked on some grapes. Then Fito took me to his friend’s house a few blocks away. The idea was that he would ride his training bike, but the chain kept popping off, so I carried it. At the friend’s house, I was brought coffee and fruit. Meanwhile, Fito zoomed around like he owned the place. I finished the coffee and realized it was getting quite late. I still had to ride my bike home. I had to exert a little pressure to get Fito to leave, and I was a little nervous that there might be a tantrum brewing. Luckily, his general excitement still outweighed impending exhaustion, and any potential tantrum was averted.

Fito wasn’t done showing me around though. We took the long way home, and I got a little lost. I couldn’t tell if Fito was lost or not, but I figured I might as well trust him. At one point, we ended up at a main road, and I knew where we were again. The words come stand next to me had barely left my mouth when Fito booked it across the busy road. The heart attack I nearly had probably would have been worse if I didn’t know how traffic-savvy Indonesian four-year-olds are.

It turned out he had seen someone he knew. I followed him across the road to bring him back to the other side. There had been no reason to cross. Safe and sound, he booked it again, this time in the direction of home, staying 15 feet ahead of me but always turning back to make sure I was still behind him. When we got home, dinner was already on the table. Everyone laughed when he told them about taking me the long way home and running across the busy road.

Finally, fed and rested, it was time for me to ride the 33 km back to my house. It took me a few “tries” before I could actually leave, however. First I had to try some fresh cow’s milk from up the road. It was definitely fresher than any other milk I’ve had in Indonesia, but it was sweetened with sugar and flavored (and colored light green!) with pandan leaf. I casually mentioned that I had heard they also make yogurt in Jabung. “They do! Do you want some? I’ll go get some. What flavor do you want?” Cousin Luthfie ran out and came back with two bottles of plain yogurt. Finally, stocked up with dairy, I rode my bike home.

TESOL | Creating activities, now…

One of my weekly activities is my school’s English Club. It existed before I came, and it’s quite popular among students, so getting and keeping people interested has been easy. Generally, between 40 and 50 participants show up every week. Planning activities for English Club, however, has been difficult. Start and end times will change or a session will be canceled last minute; even when everyone knows what time we’ll be starting, that’s not when everyone will show up. Students usually trickle in the whole time. Of course flexibility is also something that should be built into lessons; if your big-group activity can’t be done with a small group (or vice versa), have a plan B.

At last Friday’s English Club, my counterpart reviewed present and past continuous with the students and had them write sentences. Useful, but not super stimulating. Then, with about 30 minutes left, she handed the session over to me. I’ve been shaking activities out of my sleeves for a long time, so I don’t panic when I’m put on the spot. I don’t love it, but I can deal with it. Writing today, I thought I’d do a little stream-of-consciousness post. How do I make up a game or activity on the spot? What goes through my head?

Just a few things to remember: What I’m posting obviously isn’t a finished product; I’ll definitely tweak some things if I do the activity again. Feel free to let me know what you’d change or add! Also, what I’m writing here is a stylized version of what happened in the classroom; some is more, some is less accurate. The way I actually explain things to my students would make for even more boring reading.

Okay. How many students do I have? 42.

That’s divisible by seven. Six groups of seven or seven groups of six? We’ll do more groups.

How can I keep them busy while I figure out what we’re doing? We just did present and past continuous.

“All right everyone! I want each group to write a list of 10 verbs. Use the -ing form.”

But wait: they’re all going write the same verbs. How can I prevent that? Alphabetically. We’ll do it alphabetically. Group 1 will do ABC. Just have to make sure Group 7 doesn’t end up with XYZ. I’ll write the groups and their letters on the board.

“Listen up! Each group will write only verbs that begin with their letters. And please include the Indonesian translation on your lists!”

Okay, now what can we do with these verbs? Charades? I need as many active students as possible though.

“Everybody finished? If you only have 7 verbs, that’s okay. Now each student gets one verb. That’s your verb. One student, one verb. Group 1, everybody come to the front. The other groups, please send only one student from your group to the front. That’s Groups 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, please send one student each.”

Is this going to work? We’ll find out in a minute!

“Group 1, you will all perform your actions at the same time. Students from the other groups, watch Group 1. You’re going to guess their actions. When you see an action and you think you know what it is, grab that actor. If two or more people grab the same actor, that actor belongs to the fastest guesser. I will be keeping track of time. When I say ‘Time’s up!’, I will ask each guesser to tell me what they think the actor was doing. If you correctly guess the action of the actor you claimed, your team gets a point. Give me your answers in a complete sentence. What was she doing? She was jumping.”

It actually worked!

“Okay, everyone! Good job!”

If I do the activity again, I’ll be specific about the time limit. I never told the actors how long they had to perform, but I kept it pretty consistent at around half a minute. I might also give points to the actors whose actions are guessed correctly. That way they have an incentive to perform well.

Sometimes I worry too much about doing new things with my students. I might be tired of an activity because I’ve done it multiple times with 30 different classes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the students are bored of it yet. They’ve only done said activity once or twice. Still, I like trying new things. Ideally, I plan new activities in advance, but as you can see, it’s okay to fly by the seat of your pants sometimes (and it’s a skill that can be honed!). Happy planning!

Getaway

I’ve written about visiting other volunteers’ sites before. I recently had another opportunity to visit a doozy of a Peace Corps site. Forty kilometers from my own town, it’s not what we would call ‘around the corner’. It’s around many, many corners. The village is nestled in a valley surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. When you mention the name of the village to people from the area, they all begin waving their arms around as if describing a rollercoaster. “Ah, yes, where the roads go like this.”

IMG_5087You might assume traffic would be light on these steep, narrow, winding roads. You’d be wrong. Fleets of giant trucks come and go every day, carrying all sorts of products: animal, vegetable and mineral. These trucks are also a typical way to get in and out of the valley if you’re not allowed to ride a motorcycle. To get there, I rode a bus as far as I could, with the instruction to “get off at the statue”. I did that. Then I walked to “the bamboo hut down the road” where I was able to flag down a truck driver. I asked if he was going my way and climbed into the cab. We chatted for a good while about different things, mostly about here (Indonesia) and there (USA). The driver honked merrily at every curve, drop and climb to let everyone know we were coming. As the driver’s focus shifted to the increasingly difficult roads and the honking drowned out every other sound, we chatted less. I sat back and enjoyed the stunning views all around me.

IMG_5093We stopped at the edge of the village, which is where the driver lived, and I wrote my friend Patrick that I was walking the last little bit. He found me and we made our way to his house. I had made excellent time. It was still morning, so we went on a bike tour of the area. We borrowed a bike for me. It was a little small, but I made it work. That first bike ride was pretty difficult, as I was getting to know new terrain and a new bicycle at the same time. I huffed and puffed behind Patrick, but both the bike and I stayed in one piece. I was tired, but not too tired to appreciate the stunning natural beauty of the place.

IMG_5099Eventually, we made it to a crystal clear, spring-fed sort of pool. Locals looked up from washing their clothes or washing themselves as we got off our bikes. We jumped in. It was that particular sort of refreshing that you only feel after strenuous physical activity. It was glorious. Aqueous refreshment completed, we got out and walked to a small food stall for some oleaginous refreshment, aka fried stuff. We chatted and dried off before we hopped back on our bikes and headed home.

As late afternoon progressed, some neighborhood kids came by. I taught them (and my friend) a new game to practice 1 through 10 in English, and we had a blast.

IMG_5109The next day, Patrick and I hopped on our trusty bikes again and sought more adventure. The hills from the day before weren’t nearly as daunting, and I was relieved that I already felt more comfortable on the borrowed bike in foreign terrain. The plan was to visit a particular beach, but the bridge to get there had been washed out. Plan B: other beach. We rode a good while along very sandy paths, took a cable ferry, which was really more like a rope raft, and finally made it to the beach. Then we climbed up a hill to a small Hindu temple and a spectacular view, one of the best I’ve had in Indonesia, let alone Java.

IMG_5107We trekked a bit farther and came to a few food stalls, frequented primarily by the local famers. We were disappointed to hear that that morning’s ice hadn’t arrived yet, but it didn’t take long before we could enjoy some ice-cold beverages. We also ordered two generous plates of fried noodles.

IMG_5103On our way back, we stopped at the pool from the day before and had a soak before we biked, hiked and climbed up to a waterfall. More exercise, more views.

When we got home, the neighbor came over with two coconuts. They weren’t the greenest anymore, but the water inside was delicious, just starting to ferment and slightly carbonated. Patrick told the kids he was too tired to play, but I gave in to a few rounds of the numbers game.

IMG_5117A different world from my much flatter, much more crowded town, and I’m grateful I got to experience it.

Lucky duck

My extended host family has two ducklings that waddle around the backyard every day with their mom. I love watching them explore and peck at specks of edibles on the ground. The adult specimens of the species (Muscovy ducks) aren’t real lookers in my opinion, but the babies are fluffy and adorable.

The other day, I took my journal outside and sat down on the stone bench out back. I watched the ducklings waddle around and explore. Two weeks ago, it was the mom who led the babies around the yard, but yesterday it was the babies who led the mom. Once in a while, she would walk away, not far, to inspect something or other on the ground, but she always had her eye on her ducklings. Twice the babies curled up for a three-minute nap, and mom stood guard nearby until they woke up.

The scene wasn’t all fluffy cuteness though. One duckling had a small plastic bag tangled around its middle. The bag still had some bits of food in it, which dragged behind the duckling as it waddled. I wanted to set the baby free, but I didn’t want to upset it or the mom. I waited and watched. Stuckling waddled around just as happily as its sibling despite the bag, only pecking at it once in a while. I started thinking that the situation was quite metaphoric.

surprisingly difficult to photograph as a family

from several weeks before this post

I wanted to help, but I’d have to wait for the opportune moment. Given some time, the situation might even resolve itself. Despite my good intentions, trying to help might escalate the situation and make things worse. The burden, though presently a mere annoyance, might cause serious problems in the future. Perhaps if I had more experience, I’d feel more comfortable diving in. Just watching and waiting, though, I might also learn a thing or two.

The metaphor is definitely applicable to my time in Indonesia, with me playing both the roles of Stuckling and the Onlooker. Really, both are roles I’ve played all my life. It’s the scenery and ensemble that have been so starkly different in Indonesia. Whatever else my Peace Corps service has been, it’s definitely been an invaluable opportunity to explore these two roles in particular.

At one point, the ducks wondered off, and I focused on my journal again. Later, I looked up, and I saw that Stuckling had come unstuck.

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Deus ex machina

It’s that time again: time for national exams. The 12th graders are apprehensive to say the least. As their high school careers come to a close, they’re covering all their bases, not just the scholastic ones.

The other day, late in the afternoon, when many teachers had already abdicated their teaching responsibilities, I happened to see a tension of 12th graders (that’s the official collective noun) going around from class to class. I approached one classroom to see what was going on and found the seniors asking their juniors for forgiveness for any misdeeds they may have been the authors of. Better to go into exam week with a clean conscience. I watched the proceedings from just outside. When the 12th graders came out and saw me, they made sure to ask my forgiveness as well, just for good measure. As they walked by in a line, I solemnly said Te absolvo to each one. I don’t think anyone got it, but they were happy.

Yesterday, my school hosted a prayer gathering in advance of exam week. Students, parents of students, faculty and religious leaders crowded into the gym and prayed for success. I should specify that it was the Muslim community that gathered in the gym. The vast majority of my students are Muslim, but there are a few Christians in almost every class.

student-designed, student-made batik

a work in progress

Having poured my spiritual energy into the more temporal activity of teaching for the last two years, I decided I was exempt from praying, so I walked around the school and enjoyed the quiet. On my walk, I asked myself where the Christian students might be. I doubted that they were allowed to stay home, and I was right. I followed the sound of church hymns upstairs and found that two classrooms had been combined to accommodate my school’s Christian community.

I hope the ceremony brought the students (and their families) some peace of mind. They deserve that much. However, if the school took even half the time and resources that it spends on symbolic ceremonies and applied those to academics, I believe the students would be significantly better prepared for their exams. Even without divine intervention.