Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Finally, Another Post!

Well, hello again. So I am officially horrible at blogging and checking Facebook. I could make some fancy excuses, but the truth is I am lazy. I like to watch T.V. or a movie while typing and there is no T.V. in my room and it was always too much trouble to just type. Well, I currently have the Words screen minimized and the movie “Australia” playing on the other half of my screen. It is working tolerably, but unfortunately the sound for movies in my regular computer mode is scratchy for unknown, very annoying reasons. But I am making due as I was beginning to feel guilty over not writing a blog.

This blog will just be written as a series of “Firsts.” And a way we go…

Cassandra’s Firsts

1) First time to celebrate New Year’s before everyone in the States. I spend the holiday with my Indonesian host family. They barbequed and it was a nice way to spend the holiday. I also had a bottle of sparkling apple cider that I enjoyed.

2) First time to eat shrimp. It was at the New Year’s Eve dinner. There were tasty kebabs with large shrimp. It was okay, but I didn’t really like it either.

3) Bugs are becoming a regular, if regrettable, part of life. First time (and second time as it happened twice) to find ants crawling in the peanut butter. In the States, I likely would have tossed the jar, but here I simply scooped out the ants and proceeded to have bread with peanut butter for breakfast.

4) First time to visit Makassar, the capital city of the island of Sulawesi. It was for the mid-year conference for my program AMINEF. It was just for a weekend, but it was interesting. I visited Fort Rotterdam which was built by the Dutch to protect the straits. Its layout is in the shape of a turtle.

5) First time to visit Balikpapan, Kalimantan. During my school’s week semester break, I went to visit my friend who teaches there. Balikpapan is gas and mining town. There are many expats there working in those fields, so foreigners are not quite the attraction as in other places in Indonesia. While I was there, my friend’s headmaster took us to visit the BOS Foundation (Borneo Orangutan Survival). It was very neat. It is located in a place destroyed by illegal logging. The Foundation replanted and has facilities to care for orangutans and sun bears (an endangered Asian bear). When the animals are able, they are released back into the wild. After visiting the BOS Foundation, we went to visit a crocodile farm. It was a funny place, just lots of caged areas fill of crocodiles that will eventually become purses and wallets. You could buy whole chickens to throw to some of the monster crocodiles—interesting. I liked Balikpapan, but the humidity is awful. Two minutes out the door and you are covered in sweat. It normally takes at least ten minutes in Surabaya. J

6) Although I have been sick more than I wish in Indonesia, nothing has been seriously worrisome, until the week I came back from Balikpapan. I started to feel ill Sunday tonight and didn’t sleep well. I decided to stay home Monday, hoping a day’s rest would be all I needed. However, by Monday afternoon I was worst and had a fever. I don’t normally run a fever, even when I am fairly ill. Well, I was a little worried as who knows what I am have picked up in Balikpapan? Kalimantan is slightly more dangerous for contracting diseases and I could have been bitten by a mosquito carrying something. When I had a 102 fever on Tuesday morning, I decided a doctor’s visit would be a good choice. What an experience. I was taken in a becak (a bicycle taxi) to the nearest hospital, which is also the nicest in Surabaya, so I have little to complain about in the way of the facilities. The only helper who can speak English accompanied me, but his speaking skills are somewhat lacking and I was not very reassured to be going with him (as my Bahasa Indonesian skills are very lacking I wasn’t sure if communication would be possible). Anyway, I got checked in and then waited 3 ½ miserable hours to see a doctor. There were two interns with the doctor and one of them spoke English and wrote down my symptoms. No one took my temperature or blood pressure, but they did listen to my heart. After that, the doctor prescribed an Advil-type medicine and an antibiotic that I already had for stomach issues—basically it was a complete waste of time. It all cost 6000 Rp. which is approximately $0.60 for economy service. Afterwards I learned that the helper was given the option for executive service which likely would have cost between $10 - $20 and would have meant no waiting and maybe a doctor who spoke English. However, the helper failed to inform me of this option. It was a miserable and unpleasant day, but I am none the worst for wear.

7) First time to attend a Chinese New Year’s party with a dragon dance. It was hosted by an organization in which the grandma in my host family is a member. It was really awesome to watch all the aerobatics of the dragon dancers.

8) First time to first the House of Sampoerna museum. It is one of the few tourist things to do in Surabaya. It is a museum of one of the major cigarette producers in Indonesia. It is very interesting and free. If you come early enough (which we didn’t) you can watch women hand-rolling cigarettes—hopefully I make it back to catch that.

9) First time to ride a motorbike in the rain. I was lucky to make it so long without this experience because my school schedule normally misses the rainfall. Fortunately, it was only a steady rain and not pouring (and it is a rather short ride home from school).

10) First time to visit Lombok during a long weekend. Lombok is an island near Bali that is similar but least developed. I went with friends and one day we took a boat to a neighboring island called Gili T. where there is no motorized vehicles and a very island time atmosphere.

11) First time snorkeling in the ocean. In Gili, we took a snorkeling boat ride. It was really neat, but you had to jump off the side of the boat and climbing back into the boat on the short ladder was not very easy. Jumping into the water proved to be a problem. I have funny ears and I cannot submerge my head underwater. Well, a few hours after returning from the boat ride, my left ear started to feel funny. Of course, I had gotten water in my ear and within a few days, I developed an ear infection. I was able to get the appropriate medicine, but it was an uncomfortable few days and I couldn’t hear properly for over a week.

12) First time to hold an English competition; my program hosts a competition. Each school with an American has a school competition with the winner going to Jakarta to compete against all the schools. Well, my competition went surprising well, but getting there was a little touchy. The theme used figurative language. It is unbelievably difficult to help non-native speakers understand figurative language. But alls well that ends well.

Well, that is all for now. Next week is National Exams in Indonesia, a very stressful test that 12th graders have to take. The other grades in senior high schools, 10th and 11th, have the week off and so do I. I will be traveling to Bali and Flores to visit Komodo National Park. So, hopefully I will have another blog entry soon with more interesting adventures. Selmat malam!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's Christmas, It's Christmas...Wait, Why Am I Sweating?

I managed to get it posted before December ended...Yay!! I started this blog on December 15 and I have added to it several times over the past weeks, hope it makes sense!

So apparently, I am good for about one blog entry a month. I was all prepared to post pictures on Facebook, since I have failed to do so since arriving in Surabaya. Well, guess what? The internet is down—the one time I am motivated and I am foiled by the internet. Maybe I will do it tomorrow, but if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (Update: Good thing you didn’t because I definitely didn’t post any pics.) So, I decided to type a blog entry as I am still feeling some motivation to do something. I said after the last entry, I would write my firsts. Since I never did that, I will start with my firsts:

Cassandra’s Firsts:
1) First time to see a Muslim woman in a bathing suit (it covers everything).

2) First time to eat soufflé (went out to eat with my host family and we stopped for dessert and I tried soufflé, it was pretty good).

3) First time to go to a restaurant with DIY cooking (This is the restaurant my host family took me to—called Pepper Lunch. I ordered a pepper steak and it was served raw. At first I was a bit worried because I didn’t understand the concept of the restaurant, but I quickly caught on. The food is served on a hot skillet and it cooks at the table, you turn over the meat when you want and put the meat on the accompanying spouts when you are satisfied it is done. It was really good.)

4) First time teaching. (It is went well and the students seem to like me).

5) First movie in Indonesia (wrote about that in the previous blog).

6) First time I received full-on bule status (bule is the Indonesian word for foreigner and sometimes people just shout it at you, I was like a celebrity in Madura which I wrote about in the previous blog).

7) First outdoor concert (I never went to a outdoor concert in the USA, but saw one in Madura).

8) First time I ate sushi (Okay, if you know me, please pick yourself off the floor and continue reading J, I went with a friend who likes it. I ordered chicken, but she let me try several of hers and I quite like the little rolls with tuna and salmon. I don’t know if it will ever be my favorite food, but it was pretty good.)
Postscript: First time to order sushi for myself and eat it all by myself. (On another outing to the same restaurant.)

9) First time in Bali (see previous blog)

10) First time to see people make batik (see previous blog)

11) First time to buy and wear a sarong (I bought it in Bali and I think it is pretty cute)

12) First drinking game (okay, I reached the grand age of 25 before playing a drinking game. I
played with my friends in Bali, but I not sure it really counts because I was drinking Sprite, but whatever.)

13) First time in Yogyakarta (pronounced Jo-Jo-Karta, in Central Java—will write about that in a minute)

14) First time to pee on the floor. (So I took a travel car back to Surabaya from Yogyakarta. A travel car is a van type of vehicle that you can buy tickets on to travel to different cities. Anyway, we stopped at one of the travel car company’s offices and I had to use the restroom. Well, the restroom was a floor with a small hole for drainage with a basin of water. Thank the Lord that someone had mentioned this type of toilet to me a few days earlier and while I was dismayed, I was not completely surprised or stumped. I also lucked out because there was no visual residue from previous users—which apparently is quite common. So I manned up and peed on the floor—so says the girl who could not even pee in the lake. I am guessing that will no longer be a problem—mind over matter and all that.)

15) First time to visit a Chinese Buddhist temple (went to Surabaya’s Chinatown with some friends—unfortunately most things were closed, but the temple was interesting.)

16) First time to dance in front of hundreds of people (So, my hula dance performance went well. Everyone said I did a great job. Who knows, but I didn’t chicken out or forget the steps. And hundreds may be a slight exaggeration, but it was definitely over 100. There is a video of this performance, shaky but watchable. Unfortunately the internet connection is not quite enough to post video on Facebook but it will be available to those who are interested at a later date.)

17) First time to ride an economy train (Referred to as the Indian train because it resembles the memorable picture of the commuter trains from India with people hanging out doors and packed onto the roof. The train station has a fence from the roof to try and stop people from climbing onto the roof of the train—needless to say it is not that effective. However, as it was a holiday weekend, it was considerably less crowded—people generally flee the cities at every opportunity. On the way to Jakarta, we took the Economy AC with doors that shut and well-kept trains, but still no chance to seat down as I don’t think the trains are ever that empty. However, by the time we returned to Depok, the Economy AC stopped running and we took an Economy. It was not cattle-car crowded, but the doors did not shut, there were no seats available, people hawking various items, and young hoods who fell in love with my friend. Walking out of the train station we were greeted by chickens—where else?)

18) First 3-D movie (Went to see the movie Avatar in Jakarta. Really neat movie and 3-D made it more awesome!)

19) First time to live with cold water and travel primarily by public transportation (So, I am one of the few ETAs with hot water and when I visited my friend in Depok, I got to experience another lifestyle—much closer to a normal experience in Indonesia. We travel by angkot everywhere because taxis are harder to come by and it is expensive to take one to Jakarta. I freely admit to being spoiled in Surabaya. I recently joked with another ETA that I hope I didn’t use up my karma supply with my placement in such a nice house with a great family.)

20) First time away from home at Christmas (I survived and I didn't even cry--see blog for more)

So, into the regular blog entry. The U.S. Consulate in Surabaya hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the Consulate General’s home. Several other ETAs traveled to Surabaya to attend and because I have an awesome host family, they were allowed to crash here. Altogether there were about 9 other Americans here—it changed because some stayed different nights. Everyone was very impressed with the swimming pool and hot water, not to mention the house itself. Anyway, the Thanksgiving dinner was great. There was great turkey and stuffing and even pork, which is a rarity here as Muslims do not eat it. It was a great evening and fabulous to see so many of my fellow ETAs again.

The day after Thanksgiving, a friend and I traveled by train to Yogjakarta to meet two other friends. The train ride was very nice, we traveled in the executive class, so that helped. The friend I traveled with teaches on Kalimantan—also known as Borneo. Well, her headmaster knows a travel agent in Yogja and he arranged for us to have transportation. A driver picked us up at the train station and drove us to our hotel and helped me arrange my travel accommodations back to Surabaya. Arranging the travel was a bit of a hurdle because, not only was it Thanksgiving weekend (which means nothing to Indonesians), it was Idul Adha. I do not know the history or significance of Idul Adha, I am afraid, but I do know it involves sacrificing animals—mostly goats and occasionally cows, which are more expensive.

The family I live with is fairly wealthy, so they donated a cow to the son’s school and had three goats tied up outside my room in preparation for Friday morning (the actual holiday). Maybe the goats knew their fate or just didn’t like the new surroundings, but they were loud. I made the mistake of talking to one while I waited for my friend to arrive Thursday—fortunately we left early enough on Friday that we missed the slaughter. All the schools also had a slaughter ceremony, but again I was lucky to miss mine. But one of my friend’s schools had it on Monday and she said it was not pleasant. The meat is given to those who need it, so it is a good practice, but I am quite happy to have missed that particular cultural experience.

On Saturday in Yogja, we visited the Sultan’s Palace—the town still has a sultan. I am pretty sure it is just a figurehead position. Unfortunately, the actual palace was closed because of the ceremonies associated with the holiday. We had gone because two of my friends wished to see the sacrifice associated with Idul Adha which they had been assured would happen at 9 am. We missed the actual event, but there was an awning off to the side where they were butchering two cows. I steered clear—the one glance I shot towards the awning was enough to turn my feet in the other direction.

After the Sultan’s Palace, we drove a little outside Yogja to visit the Borobudor Temple—the world’s largest Buddhist temple and a world heritage site. It was really awesome. Unfortunately, it started to rain as we were climbing down the temple and we were not able to do any more exploring, but we saw the temple and that is most important.

We tried to do some batik shopping because Yogja is famous for batik, but many places were closed for the holiday. Also, I am never sure if I am buying good, bad, or simply paying too much. Indonesians are very proud of batik and schools and businesses often have a designated day for everyone to wear batik. Our time in Yogja was too short, but it was a nice break and it was great to see friends.

Well, my trek back to Surabaya on the Sunday after Thanksgiving was quite interesting. Because there were no train tickets available and not an abundance of direct flights between Surabaya and Yogja, I was left with taking a bus or a travel car. As it was a holiday weekend, I really didn’t want to risk an overcrowded, hot bus, so I chose travel car. It costs a little more than the bus (but when you add the taxi fare from the bus stop to home, it is actually a little cheaper to go by car as it drops you at your house). It was suppose to be a six to seven hour drive. Well, that did not turn out to be the case. I was picked up at my hotel at 9:40 am and the car only picked up a few more people and I thought this is going to be a breeze, but we stopped in another city and filled up the rest of the seats. It was raining pretty much the entire way and I was super lucky (can you hear the sarcasm?) to be the last person dropped off. We hit Surabaya a little after 7 pm and I got dropped off at 9:15 pm. I was in that blasted car for almost 12 hours. I was very fortunate that there was a man traveling with his family that spoke English and I was able to talk with him a bit and figure out where we were, otherwise I may have indulged in a slight panic attack.

It is now December 23 and I am sitting on a train taking me to Jakarta. There are plugs, so I am able to use my computer for an extended period. A friend who teaches outside of Jakarta in a city called Depok came to visit me in Surabaya and now we are traveling to her place. This train is nice as well, but it goes fairly slowly and the ride is about 11 hours. It was great to have a visitor. Unfortunately, we didn’t really do anything exciting, but we had a nice time taking it easy—staying at my place is a bit like a resort for many of the other ETAs (I have hot water and a swimming pool).

A few weekends ago, my host family invited me to go to a wedding. Weddings here a bit different. The actual wedding ceremony is quite small with only close family, but afterwards there is a party for as many people as humanly possible. It is quite common for 1000s (and no that is not an extra zero) to come to the wedding party. The wedding couple stands up front and when you arrive you go greet them, as well as the parents. The bride and groom appear to stand there for the entire party. There are buffets with all different types of food, but no dancing or cake. I am sure there are some variations, but it is not quite the party atmosphere that one generally sees in America.

It is very strange to be away from home at Christmas. First, this is the first time I have not been at home and second, it is really hot here. Hot and Christmas does not mix well in my head. The malls here decorate for Christmas, so I have seen Christmas trees. I also had a great time singing Christmas songs with my students. Most of them are Muslim, but I chose non-religious songs and they love to sing. Everyone here knows “Jingle Bells,” but we had a lot of fun with “Rudolph,” too. I taught them the funny additional lines that we add to the song and everyone liked that. The week before I taught them “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which they enjoyed, too—especially the “Five Golden Rings.” I currently have a two week hiatus from teaching because they have final exams. I about fell to my knees in gratitude when I realized that the tests coincided with Christmas. It really stinks for the Christians at the school and I feel bad that they have to worry about studying on Christmas, but it really helped me. I will be back in Surabaya on December 30 because of the travel policy (I can only be away from my site for so many days). I start teaching again on January 4 and hope to have some kind of New Year’s themed lesson, but I am going to worry about that later.

For the most part I really enjoy teaching. The students are friendly, if a bit shy, and at times getting them to speak English is a little like pulling teeth. All the ETAs have different situations and mine is pretty well off, but there are times when I wish there was some kind guide to what the school would like me to teach. I am continually looking for ideas and interesting activities. I don’t think I am very effective, but I am different and hopefully something is clicking. One positive sign is my progress in getting people to answer the question "How are you?" with something other than "Fine." That is the common answer in the textbooks and absolutely everyone here is "Fine." Well, I make sure I always answer with something else and spent two weeks going over different questions that mean "How are you?"--like the infamous "How you doing?" (like Joey from "Friends")--and the many ways you can answer besides fine. Students are definitely branching out--it is encouraging. I also taught them "See you later, alligator" and "After a while, crocodile" which was very popular.

Well, I thought maybe I would get the blog posted sometime while I was visiting my friend in Depok, but there is no readily available internet here. So, I decided to just update with my Christmas activities. While Depok is close to Jakarta, it is a bit of a chore to get into the city. Unless one wants to blow lots of money on taxis, public transportation is the way to go. From my friend’s house, it takes at least three modes of transportation to get into Jakarta proper. One walks to the end of the street and grabs an angkot (or bemo or old van-type vehicle or sure-fire way to induce vertigo, whatever one calls it) to the train station. Off the train, one takes a public bus or taxi—depending on how well one knows what one is doing.

One of the ETAs’ family hosted an Indonesian exchange student a few years ago who married one of his cousins, so he has family in Jakarta. They were nice enough to invite us to their house for Christmas lunch—although they are Muslim and it was just a day off for them. Most of the family speaks English and are extremely nice. They even gave me a scarf, so I had a present to open. The mom of the household works at the Jakarta International School and she invited us to go to an open house with her. The open house was held by an American who works at the school. She is in Jakarta with her husband and two-year daughter—her husband is working on water sanitation through USAID. She had Christmas cookies which was a lovely treat. It was a nice visit and helped the day feel a little bit more like Christmas. I have had a nice holiday, but it honestly has not felt much like Christmas. I am not upset or really sad about it, but I kinda felt like I skipped Christmas this year. It does not feel like Christmas without family and I really cannot explain how important the weather is. When you have never been anyway but Indiana on Christmas, ninety degrees does not Christmas spirit make. Despite these trivial matters, it has been great to visit with friends and share American Christmas traditions with my students.

So, I have proofread the previous ramblings and I hope it is not too confusing. It is currently Tuesday, December 29 and I leave for Surabaya tomorrow. Hopefully, I will remember to get the blog posted when I get back to internet.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To Recap...

Okay, first I am sorry that it has taken me so long to post anything new. In my defense, I have been busy and I always seemed to remember my blog as I was going to bed. It is going to be a pretty long post. I started writing the day after I posted last and just bought it up to speed yesterday (now two days ago) while I was waiting after classes to go to the principal’s house for her birthday party.

So, I guess that is a good place to start and then I will go back. In Indonesia birthdays are quite different than in the USA. It is the job of the person having the birthday to treat others, not be treated by others. When some the teachers have had birthdays, they arrange for food to be available to all the others. But as the principal is the head of the school, the school had a shortened schedule and all the teachers went to her house for a birthday party. She had her front room open with plates of boiled peanuts for snacks—we sat on the floor as that is quite common here. Then there was a recitation of the Koran, prayers, and speeches. As it was either in Arabic or Indonesian, I didn’t understand any of it and just sat quietly—although I frequently pray while the others are too. After the religious element (religion is a central part of life here, regardless of the religion), it was time for the meal. It was quite a spread. As I was not very hungry, I just had bakso, which consists of meatballs (different than USA as there is flour mixed in) with broth over noodles. It is one of my favorite dishes here. Everyone received a small box with a slice of cake, fruit tart, and pastry to take home. These boxes are quite popular and it is quite common for food to be given to others to celebrate something or another.

So the blog I started the day after the last post goes as follows: On Friday morning (several weeks ago now), there was the monthly “coffee morning”—which does not actually involve coffee at all. It is a teacher’s meeting, while students have a reading day. So, there was a lot of speaking in Indonesian which I didn’t understand, so with my copy of the 10th grade class lists, I figured out the 10th grade demographics. For your information:

There are 343 total students in the 10th grade with 9 classes (eight with 38 students and one with 39). Boys represent 45% and girls 55%. And as religion is listed: 92% are Muslim, 5% Protestant, and both Catholic and Hindu make up 1% each. (I know this is not exact, but it is the best I could do with my limited math skills).

There are many female teachers and students that wear headscarves, but obviously not everyone who is Muslim chooses to wear one. Although I am sure there are parts of Indonesia where it is less of a choice, at least on most of Java it is an individual decision. I have never seen facial coverings here, but women that wear headscarves also cover most of their skin (although the clothes tend to be are very fashionable)—sleeves to wrist with tunics that generally come to at least the upper thigh with pants or long skirts.

At the malls and others places, many people dress in a very Western fashion. In fact, my first few days I was quite surprised by the amount of skin some women showed. Just goes to show what happens when you make assumptions.

My first experience teaching went pretty well. I taught all the 10th grade classes. I made table tents for the students, so I have some chance of learning their names. I brought in the folded paper and had them write and decorate their names. I made an example and brought markers for them to use. They seemed to enjoy it and I got several smiles when I explained it is called a table tent because it is folded like a tent and sits on a table.

After the table tents I explained the “if you can hear my voice, clap once” trick. So far it is working pretty well. I would categorize most of the students as high beginners with a few as low to high immediate and a few as basic beginners that understand almost nothing I say. It will be a constant challenge to engage everyone and not let them just sit there. For the most part, the classes are well-behaved and with only the usual talking and use of handphones (the Indonesian term for cell phone). But there are a few classes with disruptive boys that will try my patience.
It is culturally inappropriate to show anger here, so I will need to be careful. We shall see.

So far all my classes have gone fairly well with no major problems. I just need to find newer and better ways to engage the classes. Often I speak more than I should and I need to think of ways to get them to talk—I am working on it.

I have seen a few movies at the nearby theater. The movies cost $1.50 Monday-Thursday, $2 on Fridays, and $2.50 on Saturdays and Sundays. No change for movie time, only the day. There is assigned seating—when you purchase your ticket you pick your seat on a computer screen. It is similar in that when I got nachos and a drink, it cost more than the movie. It is a very nice theater and I enjoy going there.

A couple of weeks ago, two local ETAs slept a Thursday night at my house in Surabaya. On Friday morning, they went to school with me and after we went to visit the US Consulate. One of the other ETAs set up the appointment to discuss outreach programs and invited me and another ETA to join. The people at the Consulate were extremely welcoming and friendly. In fact, this coming Thursday we are going to the Public Affairs Officer’s home for dinner. Also, the Consulate General hosts a Thanksgiving party and invites local Americans, so I will have a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

We are now at the part that I just wrote in the past few days. I visited Madura Island a few weekends ago. It is just north of Surabaya with a new bridge that connects the two places. I believe the bridge is the longest in Southeast Asia—at 4 kilometers. We went to Madura to see the bull races. It was the championship where bulls from across Madura came to the capital city. On Saturday evening, there was a cultural concert with some awesome dances. The bull race was Sunday. We stayed in a hotel at a vocational school—obviously the students help run it—hospitality is an important part of the curriculum at vocational schools. The bull race was interesting, but it was difficult to see, very crowded, and very hot. There are two bulls yoked together and a long pole that runs down the middle of the yoke; the rider somehow stands on this pole and seemed to grip the bulls’ tails. I had no idea that bulls could run so fast.

I don’t think many foreigners make it to Madura, so it was like I was a celebrity. It was lots of fun at first, but by Sunday afternoon it was a bit wearing. Madura’s culture is a bit more forward than Javanese, so some people were a little bit more pushy in getting the foreigner’s attention. It was especially aggravating because a few times as I walked through the crowd people touched my arms—I didn’t like it, but it was fleeting, so I just kept walking. When my friend and I first arrived at the bull race, a private English teacher attached himself to us and would not go away. I stopped being friendly when he started talking about going to America by marrying a tourist.

It was my first trip outside Surabaya and I had a good time. Unfortunately the bus coming back was not air-conditioned and overcrowded to boot, so the ride back was less than comfortable, but its all part of the experience.

For Halloween, my Surabaya buddy (the other ETA here) and her counterpart (an extremely nice, young Muslim woman) went out to eat and to a restaurant/bar that decorated for the holiday. The only downside to the evening was a drunk local that “likes Americans” and would not leave us alone. When he bumped into our Muslim friend (she wears a headscarf and it is inappropriate for men to touch causally), my American friend had to firmly tell him to leave us alone. But is was overall a nice night.

The next day, Sunday, we rented a car and driver to visit a local safari park. On the way there we visited a Muslim boarding school where our Muslim friend use to work. We answered questions and took pictures. It was likely the first they had seen, not to mention, talked to Americans.

The safari park was awesome! Safari parks seem to be very popular on Java. The animals seemed well-cared for, so there were no guilty feelings. I have never been so close to so many animals. I touched a zebra, elephant, and a baby tiger and I held a baby lion and a pair of baby orangutans.

Unfortunately, I have experienced my first really bad case of stomach sickness. (I think it was caused by a cheeseburger, of all things, but it is hard to pin down.) When it was obviously not going away quickly, I took my supply of Cipro and it worked wonders and I felt well enough for my trip to Bali. I missed school the on the day before I was suppose to leave, so I was a bit worried.

I left for Bali on Friday afternoon, I have one Friday morning class. It was a less than 30 minute flight from Surabaya (and if not for the cost, I would want to go there all the time). It was one of my friend’s birthday, so that was impetus for the trip. Our hotel was at the end of a busy street, so Friday night we just moved from one restaurant/bar to another that looked interesting. Bali is gay-friendly, but the town we stayed in (Seminyak) is especially so and our first stop was a gay bar with a drag show—it was fun. Unfortunately, my favorite drink is nonexistent here (a fuzzy navel—peach schnapps and OJ—maybe because peaches are not common here), but my stomach could not handle much anyway.

The next day we hired a car and driver to take us Ubud which is further inland. First, we stopped to see a traditional Balinese dance which was really neat. As we came in, there was a woman dressed in traditional costume and a man taking pictures. On the way out they had plates for sale with the pictures on them. There were not many, but I happened to be one of them. I almost didn’t buy the plate—it is cheesy—but after walking away, I thought how often do you see a plate with your face and I went back and brought it.

After the play, we went to a store that had people making batik—batik is made by hand-painting wax on a design on cloth to control which parts get dyed certain colors. Unfortunately, they did not have the dyeing for us to see, but the rest was very neat. Next, we went to a jewelry store where I spent too much money, but got some great jewelry (so whatever).

Then we went to the Sacred Monkey Forest. It is not overly large, but monkeys move around freely. These are not warm, fuzzy monkeys, mind you, but macaques and can be quite aggressive. We chose not to buy the bananas for sale because the guide book warned to be careful. There was an American woman there that was stupid with the bananas and got bit. It was embarrassing as an American because she was quite loud and obnoxious (even before being bit).

My plane left Sunday evening, so a friend and I spent the day walking around and ended up at the beach. It was so beautiful and at least 10 degrees cooler on the beach. The water was also pleasantly cool. We walked in the surf and found some neat shells. It was an awesome weekend!!!

School is going well. Some of my classes are hit-and-miss, but I am still learning. The family I stay with is extremely nice and has invited me out with them several times. I am currently practicing a hula dance as my “Indonesian mother” is the MC of a charity Hawaiian party and I am part of the entertainment. Again, we shall see. The party is November 22. It is some type of hula love dance that I have to do with one of the helpers. I am trying to just embrace the ridiculousness of the situation. Well, enough for now. Later!

I will post a list of firsts soon--there are quite a few!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Haircuts in School: The Highlight of My Week

A regularly scheduled weekly blog is officially out, as I am sure people have figured out quickly. I will likely end up posting about once a week and half, but it will be there when it shows up. Anyway, without further ado…

I have been in Surabaya for almost two weeks now. I am settling in nicely and trying to gather the courage to venture further than walking distance.

Last week on Tuesday, one of the school’s four vice-principals picked me up and took me to the teacher’s holiday party (celebrating the end of Ramadan). Everyone was very friendly, but there was a lot of talking in Bahasa (which I didn’t understand) and mostly I just sat there smiling. I am not entirely sure, but I think there was a religious comedian—I say this because he was clearly telling funny stories accompanied with laughter interspersed with what sounded like religious chanting. Towards the beginning, I introduced myself to the teachers in a mixture of English and Bahasa—which went over well. They served fish, but my counterpart knew I do not like fish, so they had some chicken especially for me.

After the party, I visited my counterpart’s home and met his wife, sons, and mother-in-law. His mother-in-law has a food stall in front of the house and they made me a plate of gado-gado. Gado-gado is a local dish that is a mixture of different things (lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, tofu, boiled eggs, etc)—the base is a rice concoction steamed in banana leafs. I liked it (but I ate around the tomatoes).

The next day (Wednesday) was my first day of school. It was also the first day back from holiday break. There was a flag ceremony in which I introduced myself to the students. Afterwards, it was time for the tradition of asking forgiveness for the past year’s transgressions. This involves a variation of shaking hands and young people generally perform it on elders. So, the teachers were in a line (me, too) and the 500 students streamed by shaking hands with us and then formed their own line at the end of the teachers to shake hands with each other. People shake hands all the time: to say hello and good-bye! Also, the children take the hand of an adult and lift it to their forehead, cheek, nose, or mouth (I have seen variations of each). At first, they just shook my hand, but one the teachers told them to do the bow, hand lift thing to me, so I think there is probably no getting out of it. It is cultural, but it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I know it is just a sign of respect, but it appears to my American sensibilities as a sign of superiority.

I am still just visiting school. I don’t start to teach until next week on Monday. On the second day (Thursday), I was observing the first class of the day, when one of the vice-principals came in with scissors. At first, she went around to the boys checking for bracelets—if they had one, she cut it off. So, I am feeling not very comfortable because in the States the bracelets would have been confiscated, not destroyed. Well, it was about to get worse. After cutting off the bracelets, she precedes to start chopping at the boys’ hair right there in the classroom if their hair was too long. Apparently, this is a weekly occurrence—I learned later that it generally occurs on Monday after the regular flag ceremony.

Another interesting tidbit is the list in the teacher’s lounge. There is a paper posted for all to see with everyone’s salary including any loans they have with the bank and/or school cooperative, what payments they owe (monthly amount and the number of payments left), and their take-home pay at the end of the month.

Everyone at the school is very nice. There are only squat toilets and only AC in the office (where I don’t spend a lot of time). Some of the classes get very hot. As I am riding to school at 6 am, the temperature is not too bad and it stays bearable until about 8 (by which time it is over 90). The poor students stay in one class and it must get really boring and hot. From the classes I have observed there is very little engagement of the students and it is too easy for weaker students to just fall by the wayside. (On the every cloud has a silver lining side, I am hopeful that the low standards for classroom excitement will make anything I do great fun.)

On Monday morning, I tried the bemo (the local name for angkots, public transportation) for my trek to school. One of the household helpers went with me on the trip. We got on one on the nearest main road, and then we got off and walked to a nearby terminal. We got on another bemo and then waited. Often at terminals, the driver will wait for a full van—fortunately, the driver only a few minutes and we headed out. We picked up several ore passengers along the way, but we were going at a very slow pace. Soon we stopped altogether. The driver got out and stuck a stick in his gas tank—guess what? We were out of gas. So, here we are blocking traffic and the driver is running down the road off to buy gas. About this time, I receive a text message from my counterpart asking when I am coming to school. Back runs the driver carrying several glass bottles and part of a hose attached to a funnel. After a few tense moments, he hops back in and attempts to start the bemo. Yes, I used the word “attempt” because, of course, the vehicle would not start. But after several tries and maybe a few prayers, we are on our way again. After this experience, I have decided to avail myself of the motorbike rides offered by school. I get door-to-door service, but have to be at school when it opens and stay until the end, even if I don’t strictly need to be there for classes (but I figure that is part of the job, the other teachers have to be there). Overall, the motorbike is faster and far less hot. Also, I only need to pay for gas money every week, rather than worry about having enough small bills everyday for the bemo. (But not to worry, I have a helmet and the drivers go slower with me riding).

Although I live in a very nice part of Surabaya, it is mostly a residential area—so there are not a lot of easy, cheap transportation close by (at least that I can easily figure out). I think sometime soon, one of the helpers is going to ride the bemo with me again, so I can figure it out some of the routes.

My birthday was very nice. I have received several of the cards I know are coming. (I will let you know when I receive a card, if you sent one.) One Sunday, several of the local ETAs came to visit and one made me a cake—it was a great surprise.

Some observations. I am sure that everyone knows that rice is a staple of the Indonesian diet. Well, heaven forbid that I should not want rice with lunch or dinner. I have had noodles for dinner a few times and one of the helpers always ask why I do not have rice, too. I try to explain that noodles are enough—I don’t think trying to explain carbohydrates would go over very well.

Everyone at school knows this one English phase that they have been saying to me since the teacher’s party—it is “I love you ____.” It is from some famous Indonesian singer. At first, I thought they were saying “I love you beautiful” which I thought was very nice. But then I realized that the word was not that long and thought it was “I love you fool.” Which did not strike me as quite as nice, but I know that it was just a phase that they knew. Well, just two days ago I learned that the phase is actually “I love you full,” which is back to nice. Someone says that to me at least twice a day.

Dogs are not considered clean animals in Muslim culture, so they are not frequently kept as pets. But some people do have them. Anyway, I have seen a few strays and they are all purebreds—dogs that would cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in the States. It struck me as strange, but I quickly realized that only the wealthy would keep dogs as pets and of course they would buy purebreds. So, I guess they were some abandoned rich family’s pet. However, there are cats everywhere. Not really kept as pets, just wondering around after scraps.

During the classes I have observed, the teacher often offers the students the chance to ask me questions. I have received the standard questions: what’s my favorite movie, song, band, actor, etc; where am I from; where do I live in Surabaya, etc, etc. The two most interesting questions are: Is America or Indonesia better? (Not sure if this wording is a miscommunication or a serious cultural idea—I answer by saying one is not better than the other, just different) and the kicker was received today: What do I think of Malaysia stealing Indonesian culture? So, if you are unaware, there is some bad blood between Malaysia and Indonesia over which country and people are the true owners of certain cultural things prevalent in the area. Last month, the UN cultural something or other, officially proclaimed batik (which is a traditional method of fabric dying using wax—which is very popular here) to belong to Indonesia’s cultural heritage. Of course, claiming ownership is not an easy matter and the area saw so much trade and sea travel during its long history, but I think I will avoid a discussion of the evolution of culture and how aspects can belong to multiple to people without theft being involved because it is a very serious matter here. (But no worries, I lived in Baltimore for two years where the mention of the Indianapolis Colts could cause serious hard feelings, so I know how to avoid certain topics).

There are also a lot of bugs here. I am pretty lucky because the helpers here stray the indoors and take care of any infestations (unlike many of the other Fulbrighters who must take care of their own bug problems). But there is a courtyard set-up here and the primarily restroom and shower is somewhat outdoors (in that I have to walk outside to get to it and it is open on the side, but there are doors) and bugs crawl up into the area occasionally. The ants are not awful, there are lots, but they are little. The yucky one is, I am pretty sure, some kind of cockroach, but I are calling them beetles because it makes me feel better. (You can call me silly if you want but semantics comforts me). Anyway, these “beetles” have accompanied me to the restroom and once in the shower. It is not pleasant, but I have survived. But today, I innocently sat down to take care of some “business” and turned the toilet paper roll and there, pretty as you please, crouched a “beetle.” Well, that was just a little too much for me; I can handle them on the floor but not any higher. I quickly vacated and, just like a squeamish girl, asked one of the helpers to get rid of it for me.

Cassandra’s Firsts:
First time to ride a motorbike of any kind (I never did in the States, but they are more prevalent here). First time I witnessed a classroom in a foreign country (Makes me appreciative of American schools. Unfortunately, if students are not involved in class or do not do the work, they are labeled as lazy—it is never considered that they may not to understand or that the teacher has failed to engage them). First time to try so many foods I cannot even keep count (people at school frequently bring in food for others to share and I have no idea what exactly many of the things I have tried in the last two weeks actually are). First time to see a school official cut a student’s hair (Wow, I had no idea what to do when it started happening).

Here is a list of foods I know I have tried: boiled bananas (not bad, pretty sure it is a special kind that gets boiled), papaya (I actually don’t like it, but it is suppose to help certain stomach issues that I am currently having, so I am forcing it down—it is getting easier), all kinds of things made of rice, soto (which I thing is some kind of soup, but good), red and black soup (both have Indonesian names which escape me right now)—and countless other things that people stuck in front of me and asked me to try.

Well, that is all for now. Not sure when my next blog post will be—likely sometime late next week. Hope all is well for everyone in the States. Sampai Jumpa (Good-bye).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Surabaya--I Made It!

I meant to post this Morning evening (morning for you), but of course after checking my email the internet went all wonky and I spent the next hour of my life trying to get it back. Seems to be working this morning, so here you go. Love, Cassie

It seems like my pattern is to write on blog on Sunday, but feel too tired to get it online. So if you are looking for my blog on Sunday and is not up, I’m sorry—there will likely be a new post within a few days. Again a busy week.

We had Tuesday off because of the holiday and my friends and I decided to visit a volcano as it would be our last opportunity before leaving Bandung. Although Idul Friti was on Sunday, the holiday and celebration lasts for over a week. Many schools are still closed. A group of ETAs had visited the volcano the first weekend we’re in Bandung. It took them one hour to get there—it took us over 4 hours because of the traffic. The car was suppose to take us to the top, but there were so many cars that we got out and walked. It was steep and within minutes my calf muscles locked up. It was not too far to the top, but there were so many people—masses and masses—it was difficult to get through. It was neat to be at the vocano, but after the long ride and crowds, we were ready to go. However, we had already left our driver who was going to meet us at the end of the hiking trail; we were not really sure where to go. I started talking with a man selling sourveirs—turns out he was also a guide. The group that came before us said it was a nice, easy hike down. Apparently, I have very different standards. Although most of it was downhill, it was extremely uneven and not always stable. I felt like an ill-equipped mountain goat. Fortunately, our guide was very nice and helped me for most of the trek down. (Saving me from disaster at least 3 times). Once we made it to the car, it took over 2 and half hours to get back to the hotel. I am glad we went, but it was quite a day.

On Wednesday, our counterparts (the Indonesian teachers from our assigned schools) arrived. My counterpart is a man named Supratman. He teaches the 12th grade, but I will be teaching the 10th grade. ETAs are not allowed to teach the 12th because the primary focus in this grade is passing the standardized test at the end of the year and AMINEF does not want to waste native speakers on students concerned chiefly with tests. There are nine 10th grade classes at my school with about 38 students per class. I am teaching each class once a week. And for those unable to do math in their head (like me, who totally used a calculator to figure this out) that is around 350 students I will be teaching each week. Table tents with names are mostly definitely a priority.

I am in a senior high school (which is grades 10-12) with 850 students total. The school is renovating and there is a shortage of classrooms. Grades 10 and 12 go to school in the morning and grade 11 in the afternoon. The plan is for the building to be finished in January for the 2nd semester. We shall see.

Class begins at 6:30 am and I shall be teaching at least twice a week at this hour (pause for gasp). There is normally not school on Saturday at my school, but there is now because of the renovating. Also, I will only have to work in the mornings because that is when 10th grade class meets at this time. When the renovating is done, if I am still here, there will be a different schedule. The other the duty I have is the English Club, but I am still not certain when that meets. There is also a chance that I will be teaching the teachers English. The school is trying to obtain an international standard, which in Indonesia means that at least two subjects (outside English) are taught in English—generally these are science classes.

On Saturday, I traveled to Surabaya with my counterpart. I am living with a very nice (and wealthy) family. There is a large house—rather like a compound, in that there are different sections and a locked gate. I am living in the guest section and there is a swimming pool I can use. There is a grandmother that is my “Indonesian mother.” I am living in her son’s house with his three children. The eldest just started university, the second just started senior high school, and the third (and only boy) is 8. I am still feeling my way around as the culture in Java is polite to the point of saying you may do things that they would rather you not do. Hopefully, I come across the boundaries gently without any major faux pas.

There is a very nice mall within walking distance with a movie theater, trustworthy drug stores (prescriptions are not required in Indonesia and in some of the stores, you are taking a chance in what you are getting), a grocery store, and an English bookstore. I have not yet gone further than the mall (which is about a 5 minute walk)—we shall see how quickly I set out on adventures.

Today (my Monday) the other ETA in Surabaya came to see me with her counterpart. They are about an hour away by public transportation (called bemo here)—which I have yet to experience here in Surabaya, but I hear it is just like Bandung with the little buses. My counterpart will take me to school for a few days and then one of the servants (from now on I will be using the word helpers, because servant is just too strange for me) will help me figure out to get to school on the bemo.

My school starts classes on Wednesday from the holiday break for the end of Ramadan. There is a teacher party tomorrow (my Tuesday) to which I have been invited. I found out today that I need to cover my hair for the party, so I have to borrow something from my host mother because I have nothing suitable. There are 72 teachers at the school. Already I am having trouble with remembering and pronouncing names—I hope that I do not make a fool of myself, but when I do (and I do) people just laugh. At least I am amusing.

Cassandra’s Firsts:
1) First time to drive an angkot (the public transportation in Bandung)—my friends and I were the only ones on the angkot and we were talking with the driver and his friend with our limited Bahasa. The friend asked if we wanted to drive and one of my friends said yes jokingly—turns out he was not kidding and they let us climb over and steer (the driver was still there and we weren’t in complete control but we could turn—it was fun).
2) First time to sing Karaoke. I never did it in the States. It was a blast. A couple people put it together for our last night in Bandung. I sang “Barbie Girl” and “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll” by Bob Serger—not by myself and not well, but fun.
3) First time in Surabaya.
4) First time to eat jack fruit. It is different. I don’t not like it, but it is not an instant favorite.
5) First time I walked in Surabaya by myself. A helper walked me to the mall and I walked back by myself. Like I said, it is not far and I only got slightly misplaced. The helper wrote down the address for me and I showed it to one of the guards in the neighborhood and he pointed me to the correct street.

Well, I think that is all for now. Next week I should be able to tell you about my school and the students. I have two weeks to observe before I am required to teach, but on next Monday during the flag ceremony (not sure exactly what that is yet) I am introducing myself to the school. Keep me in your thoughts and/or prayers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting Closer to Surabaya

I have survived yet another week of extensive language and teacher training. I have picked up a few words of Bahasa but have not studied enough to be comfortable speaking. The teacher training (while not exciting) went will. I have taught a group of my peers without embarrassing myself.

Yesterday (my Sunday) I went hiking into an area outside of Bandung that has caves the Japanese used during WWII and then hiked up to see a waterfall. It was beautiful but I can feel all those hills today.

Yesterday was also Idul Friti (holiday celebrating end of Ramadan). On Saturday night, a group of us went to Dago Tea House for dinner. It had private huts with a platform to sit with a low table. I had sate ayam (which is grilled chicken with peanut sauce--very tasty). It was located on the top of a hill and we could hear all the city's calls to prayer. The eve of Idul Friti is very festive and we could see lots of fireworks that people set off and the drive back to the hotel was though streets full of families. While I normally see motorbikes with an abundance of people, on Saturday most of the bikes had entire families as people travelled to be with extended family. All night I could hear music and fireworks from my hotel room (don't worry, it didn't keep me awake).

Now, a little more on culture. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, religion is a key component of life in Indonesia. There are five recognized religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity (both Protestant and Catholic), Hinduism, and Buddhism. One's religion is listed on ID cards and while it is not entirely clear, I am pretty sure if you live here, you must be one of these religions (at least officially). Now, if you were living here, you can simply list yourself as whatever and no one checks up to be sure you actually believe such and such. There is also no civil ceremony for marriage here--all marriage must be performed by a religious official and only people of the same religion can marry. We asked what happens when two people of different faiths fall in love and were told that does occasionally happen. The couple must travel outside the country to marry (Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, etc). So, obviously, if you are not fairly wealthy marriage outside your religion is not an option. Conversion is possible, so I guess that is an option.

I didn't do a lot this week (we do get the mall pretty frequently), but here is the continuation of Cassandra's Firsts:
First time I participated in a traditional Indonesian birthday ritual (apparently, children here throw eggs and flour at the birthday boy or girl [it is a ritual for kids only, I think] to celebrate birthdays, I am not sure about the purpose, but one of the guys had a birthday and thought this would be fun, so some of the others did it, I only watched). First time I peer taught (like I said earlier, it went fine and I am pretty sure I can handle a class of Indonesian teenagers, if I say that enought I may actually start to believe it). First time to do "dining in the dark" (A local resturant called Blind offers this experience. We ordered and then were taken to a completely dark dining room. My chicken came pre-cut, so the eating part was not too difficult. It was a neat experience, but not one I would want to do frequently.) Finally, first time I did an Indonesian tongue twister.
For your amusement, an Indonesian tongue twister:
Kuku Kaki Kakak-kakakku
Kaku-kaku Kena
Kuku Kaki Kuda
It translates as:
Toenail Older Sibling
Stiff "Gotcha"
Horse Hoof
I know it makes no sense, I don't think it is suppose to. But there you go. Oh, another interesting piece of language trivia--the slang term for breasts is "buah dada" which means, wait for it, chest fruit or fruit of the chest.
We have tomorrow (Tuesday) off. Idul Friti was originally thought to be on Tuesday. I have not gotten a clear answer on why the date was uncertain, but Idul Friti was not definitely on Sunday until Saturday. Perhaps the moon has to be in a certain position because the Muslim calendar is lunar, but I honestly have no idea. But we still have Tuesday off, so whatever. On Wednesday our counterparts (the teachers we are assisting) arrive in Bandung. We have a couple days of seminars with them and then we travel with them to our sites on Saturday morning.
That's all for now. Have a great week!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Check Back! Sorry.

Okay, so once again it is late on Sunday night and I am too tired to blog. I went hiking today and while it was beautiful and I saw a very nice waterfall, I am exhausted. I will try again tomorrow, so check back Monday morning (if it is not there, check on Tuesday). I promise I will get it posted. Cassandra