The raw numbers: 80 camp participants, ~10 counterparts, 8 Peace Corps Volunteers, from 6 different regencies, 5 NGO collaborations, 4 days, 3 nights, a waterfall and a particular kesurupan (spirit/possession) decided to join, and countless Rp spent on crunchy oleh-oleh. To celebrate the accomplishments and successes of the Mojo area’s 2nd Annual Camp IGLOW – Indonesian Girls Leading Our World, I’d like to share 13 photos from IGLOW Pacet 2013. Some words of appreciation dulu, please: Thank you to everyone who poured their hearts and souls into this, those who spent hours upon endless hours translating materials, those who bugged their CPs and principals endlessly, those schools and CPs who supported IGLOW, those who donated, and those who were dedicated, sincerely believing in this project– who saw it from start to finish–for making this past weekend’s event one of the most inspiring and successful yet. Oh meee, this is getting keju-y.
Lastly congrats to all PCVs who built upon the first camp’s successes in 2012 and made it blossom into FOUR this year! That’s amazing. And to Bu Sari & Natasha, if I haven’t said it enough, you’re both too great for words to describe.
“I had an experience, I don’t know how to put it into words.” – Don Draper
Astagafirullah! My sister was here. I blinked once. Loh! Suddenly I’m left staring April deep in the eyes as January, February, and March, respectively, pretend like I didn’t just neglect them. I’m back. I realize that it’s silly to be quoting a fictional character from Mad Man. Don Draper isn’t exactly a person whom I particularly idolize. On a recent evening, feeling at a loss on how to revive this blog, I had some Mad Men playing in the background when this line caught me. For once, I could empathize with Don as he alluded to a series of indescribable complexities happening around him. Succinctly summarized, and I realize not the most unique of phrases, it applies to my service in this moment, and very well might be how I respond when rando’s ask me: “So, how was the Peace Corps in Indonesia?”
Trying to digest each memory, attempting to dissect and repackage those memories into something comprehensible for my friends and family had once made me neurotic, like I was always falling behind in keeping them up to date, even if it didn’t mean much to them, it meant a lot to me. Ultimately, I saw it as an investment into my readjustment phase for when I return to the States. An enormous amount of change was happening on every level—I was maturing, I felt it, and it was scary (!)—remember Java Dreamin’? With time, that urge to always be repackaging gradually dissipated but now four months deep into 2013, I find myself at a loss for real words to delineate what’s been happening without poking fun at something or composing something that William Zinsser wouldn’t scoff at (maybe he would scoff at this). I couldn’t sneak back in with another vacation post when I’ve been busy working but had little visually to show for it.
And would you really have wanted me to explain my recent thoughts on… how my brain often lags when speaking English at normal pace with friends because it doesn’t immediately register which language I should be processing? …what it feels like to be crammed into a tiny van originally made for eight but filled to capacity with TWENTY-THREE adults respectively (aduhhhh)…for two straight hours (mind you, as I compromise my personal space under a tropical blanket of heat during fumerific traffic jams)? …personal space, what’s that (no, really, I’ve sincerely forgotten. Why would you want to sleep two in a double bed when you could cozily fit four? That’s a serious question)? …my random cravings for gorengan? …recent lesson plans? …how I plan to prevent Dawar from becoming a factory capital/suburb of Surabaya?…how my heart flutters a little bit when my kids excessively roll their r’s out of habit? …the small, yet humbling moments where I found myself in the neighborhood shop having conversations with several ibu’s about laundry detergents that won’t make my hands peel…how the other evening between tutoring, the kids and I got distracted and chased mosquitos in my living room with an electrical racket like the cold-blooded mosquito exterminators we were (there were so many mosquitos [read: zapping and sparks], it was like the 4th of July)? …why during vacation, my friends and I decided to fall asleep, bertiga, hip-to-hip, in the same bed when we had already paid for an extra room? …how I feel about another student getting pregnant? …tedious IGLOW planning? … how terrified and thrilled I am about leaving my Indonesia family five short weeks from now?
Peace Corps for me has gradually grown from being several hills, valleys, and peaks (with the occasional jungle) into an eloquent Everest of memories that I can’t wait to look back on and fully understand in the years to come. Sure, there’s been a few hiccups that I could have done without. Excluding those, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Every day is a blessing. Every day is full of surprises –big and small, meaningful and trivial– all essentially adding up to something. That something, I’m still trying to grasp. I had an experience. I don’t know how to put it into words.
I took about ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE photos in the past two weeks. I just got home. I’d forgotten how stifling the Indonesian humidity actually was. Resettling back into the village, cleaning up the rainy season’s holiday gift that just keeps on giving (mold), and trying to settle a treaty between the laundry lords and the sun lords but so far the uninvited cloud lords seem to be dominating the talks.
Last night I dreamt I was still roaming the back streets of Yangon with some people I’m missing very much. Eager to share what’s been going on, I’ll leave you with a preview.
TWO sets of siblings (+ONE honorary sibling) coming together from THREE different countries to visit TWO more…
THOUSANDS of ancient temples, ONE gorgeous dreamlike lake, COUNTLESS adorable trash puppies, TWENTY PLUS hotel rejections, reoccurring confusion between FOUR different currency conversions during ONE big holiday reunion that was too much wonderfulness to actually quantify, REALLY…
(and ONE jar of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter confiscated by the Bangkok airport security, and that’s the closest I’ve come to really crying in a long time)
I had my first formal photography lessons when I was nine. While using an old manual Nikon, under the artistic guidance of Jen Fariello, I learned to visualize ordinary settings and situations from alternative perspectives. In short, it was an unforgettable summer, laying down the foundations of a creative platform to abide by and one of the reasons why I love photography and am a very visual learner today. I wish shooting with film was as common today as it was then (there’s nothing like the high from both the exhilaration and the chemicals that you get developing your own rolls) but I haven’t found one place in Java that accepts film — I’ve looked! Alas embracing digital technology is unavoidable and unless one has the right tools to get those creative juices organically flowing, homogeneity ensues, especially in a culture like Java’s. Now that I’ve got quite a following of neighborhood children, just as impressionable and curious as I was at that age, I’ve taken this as an opportunity to get their sticky sugarcane paws on my camera and see what happens…
Let’s be real: teaching photography isn’t easy, especially in a foreign language. Even I’m still learning how to use my camera. I’m not perfect at all. The kids I work with are naturally bold so what I’ve focused on the most is getting the kids to hold the camera properly, reducing camera shake, framing shots, and cleansing all posed ‘peace/punk/cherrybelle-sign-y’ shots of their friends out of their little systems in order to capture something more intuitive. They see things that I don’t. They value beauty in things that I may not. Some naturally possess the eye and some don’t. Either way, giving encouragement and trusting that they won’t shatter one of my most expensive possessions is crucial to their creative learning….
For being elementary school children, I’m impressed. A few of my recent favorites:
That brings me to ask: Does anyone have any ideas how to start a sustainable photography project in the villages?
I’m going backwards a bit with this post. School is school. Grading is grading. Teenagers are… [hormonal/temperamental/heartbreaking] teenagers. Cute village tots are still cute village tots. And if you forgot, Indonesia is still really, really HOT. Every day has its fair share of bizarre moments, of up’s and down’s, of beauty, but nothing sticks out enough that I feel the urge to share. I’d rather share some photos from a recent hiking trip to Mount Lawu that I took back in August, with a bunch of bomb-diggity friends of mine. I needn’t explain much because two of them have already done that quite well… check it: DP‘s ‘Doing Lawu‘ & JAlf‘s ‘The Sky Is Open‘.
What isn’t depicted in these photos (thanks JAlf):
A group of 7 of us rode up to the trail head, driven by a slightly crazy and more than slightly awesome person, to begin at around 10 at night. We made our leisurely way up through the posts along the trail, stopping at post 3 (of 5) to eat and sleep a bit. We sat in the frigid night air consuming trail mix, cookies, and peanuts. Unfortunately, the stop also lowered our body temperatures to the point that it felt my muscles were doing some sort of sadistic foxtrot under my skin. We, again, relied on the Cuddle Puddle™ to save us. We raked ourselves together into a leaf pile of people and attempted to get some fitful rest before going on toward the top.
All I have to say is, thank goodness for Cuddle Puddles™ or I’d have frozen to death.
(1) The initial ‘we peaked’ jig looked something like like this. note: I have about 25 more of these –
(3) After the bromance wore-off [just a little], there was more dancing, pop-tart toasting (minus a real toaster, more like a cheersing), mini-naps in the sun, and overall happiness to have peaked Lawu together.
(4) Perhaps hiking down wasn’t as smooth as it should have been. There were some wrong turns that led us to rock climb (it wasn’t enjoyable), we were hungry and tired, legs felt like jell-o, thighs were kiiiiiickin’ tight, and we all felt gross. The aftermath was nice though as we slept and were fed liiiiberally.
side note: Not a day goes by where I regret that I brought a down vest and wool socks to Indonesia. Even though Indonesia is HOT, mountains are COLD.
Did August 17th really just come and go like that? This year’s independence day was essentially the same as last years… it still overlapped with Ramadan, we still had a massive militaristic flag raising ceremony in a crunchy dry nearby field and there was lots of yelling of commands — this year was different in that the sun was less forgiving (translation: more students fainted), there was more sweating, there was less staring, I knew what to expect, and I had a keren fisheye lens to capture the ceremony.
Selamat menikmati foto-fotonya! (Scroll over for captions)
(merah – red, putih – white, selalu – always, hati - heart)
Tarawih pronounced ::baby tongue roll:: /tae/RAH/weh/
‘Refers to extra congregational prayers performed by Muslims at night in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Contrary to popular belief, they are not compulsory. However, many Muslims pray these prayers in the evening during Ramadan. Some scholars maintain that Tarawih is neither fard or a Sunnah (obligational), but is the preponed Tahajjud (night prayer) prayer shifted to post-Isha’ for the ease of believers. But majority of Sunni scholars regard the Tarawih prayers as Sunnat al-Mu’akkadah, a salaat (prayer) that was performed by the Islamic prophet Muhammad very consistently.’
(Thanks for having my back, Wiki)
One evening, I was spending time with my principal at her home in Mojo – she’s like my Indonesian mother – and naturally she’s always making sure that I’m getting the full ‘Indonesian experience’, following everything up with ‘Miss Elle, mau ikut?‘ (wanna come?). When I seemingly found myself to be failing at one of my Ramadan goals, to be invited to Tarawih, I nearly jumped out of my batik with excitement when she invited me to come along. She lent me a mekeno / rukuh (the covering that all women wear to attend these prayer sessions) and a sajadah (prayer rug) to borrow. Once I slipped on the rukuh, that covered my hair and the rest of my body, leaving my face and hands exposed, I felt protected, my identity concealed — blending in, I felt fearless entering the mosque in a neighborhood that wasn’t my own.
Being in the mosque reminded me of being in a yoga class to an extent – the amount of concentration and channeling an alternative mindset – the relaxing atmosphere, where you could leave or take a rest at your own discretion, no pressure. Even though I didn’t understand the prayers being read over the mic, I interpreted them in my own way. It was very calming if anything. I sat next to my principal as she went through the motions several times, just observing. Those brief moments of cultural observation brought some of the most unique feelings that I haven’t channeled in awhile. Something that I can’t quite explain or put my finger to, but it was powerful and in those moments sitting there and hanging out with the kids, I felt something deeper for Indonesia, a beauty of understanding maybe or accepting something… I don’t know what… but it was the perfect time to feel that way amongst all of the Ramadan repetitiveness and having been here for over a year-semi-slump. Photo-time: scroll over for captions.
The pinnacle of one’s public school education in Indonesia ultimately dwindles down into a weeklong test-taking marathon prompting student freak out on national levels that the government formally recognizes as the ‘ujian nasional’. These series of examinations are heavily flawed (‘ignorance is bliss’ applies to those readers elsewhere), result in the worst collective cheating I’ve ever heard of, and unfortunately not only determine the futures of thousands upon thousands of Indonesia’s youth but also teachers and entire school systems. It’s heartbreaking really. It’s also funny because once the tests arrive in their respective regencies, they’re kept under close watch at the police headquarters for ‘safe keeping’, and when I say ‘safe keeping’ I really mean to say ‘corruption prevention’. I’ve heard horror stories of people selling the answer keys to teachers, proctors reading the answers aloud or even blatantly leaving the room to let the students have free reign. During the week of these examinations, my 11th graders had vacation time, and so I too felt it to be the appropriate time to take a brief hiatus from this reprehensible time. Fortunately for me, these examinations overlapped with the Laos New Year celebrations – perfecto!
Hannah, a best friend of mine since kindergarten, has been living and teaching in Vientiane, Laos through Princeton-in-Asia for almost two years now. I had made it a goal to visit her since receiving my Peace Corps invitation. After some easy persuasion and wooing, Hannah and I convinced two of our other close childhood friends, Ben and Joe, to make the trip over to celebrate Pi Mai Lao with us. Pretty sure neither of them regretted their decisions. Joe flew over First Class for free using his Chase points while Thai Airways provided purple pajamas and free massages! Meanwhile, as we speak, Ben is still doing some solo traveling around Asia… I’m not jealous or anything.
According to Lao calendar, we were celebrating year 2055. And what did that really mean? It meant three day celebrations of wet debauchery that would sureeely send all ibu’s and bapak’s here on a tailspin of disapproval and utter disbelief that there was an actual religious purpose to these festivities. It meant legitimizing day drinking (and copious amounts of day drinking it was, #cultural norm), being forced to chug endless cups of Beerlao (or else you’re considered rude according to the stranger giving it to you, #cultural obligation), being soaking wet all the time and covered dyes and baby powder all while gracing the streets of Vientiane wearing gaudy Hawaiian t-shirts and bro-tanks, being invited to complete strangers’ homes and roadside parties only to be hand fed questionably soggy French fries, it meant chucking buckets of water on anyone walking the streets or riding by on their motorcycles/cars and not having them get angry (again, #cultural norm), and dancing on the sidewalks with locals to American Top 40′s hits until one could literally no longer stand.
Since I arrived the day after Pi Mai began, I missed the first day of religious rituals, of going to the temples and throwing perfume water on and cleansing Buddha statues. As intriguing as the religious aspect was, I was there for the reunion with my friends and to partake in the ridiculousness that I’d been reading about (celebrating 2054 & photos). After living in Indonesia, you could say I was religiously burnt out. I’d be going too far to label these celebrations ‘the Mardi Gras of Southeast Asia’ but it was pretty damn close minus the beads and the boobies.
I’ve convinced myself that attempting to accurately convey my first Pi Mai experience into words still wouldn’t do it justice — instead I’ve pieced together a short video accompanied by one of my favorite Daft Punk songs.
What’s not depicted in the video:
- The obscene amount of times we listened/terribly sang to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ and LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’ (so what if I’m living in 2010?)
- The amount of Western food consumed… I may or may not have teared up while consuming a real veggie sandwich and some mac ‘n cheese. Hey, it happens.
- The number of times we referred to Twitter, #hash#marks#, and commenting on something being ‘swag’
- How surreal it was hanging out at an ex-pat gym/pool trap
- Nostalgically reverting to old high school ways aka dispensing ‘necks’ (see Luang Prabang video)
I do advise you to check out the other two videos that Ben put together, the experience will more or less make more sense!
90 Seconds in Pi Mai Lao:
90 Seconds in Luang Prabang (& divvying out ‘necks’), I’m fun to travel with, I swear!:
During my brief week of chaotic times in Vientiane clouded by culturally forced inebriation and the calm moments spent in the sleepy cultural capital of Luang Prabang, I felt a sense of appreciation and admiration for Laotians; for embracing how utterly ludicrous this once traditional event had evolved to become but still being able to maintain a strong sense tradition and distinct cultural awareness. I’m not sure if this is a communist-thing but I felt that despite Laotians being at a geographical disadvantage, having struggled but persisted through a dismal colonial history, and taking the unfortunate trophy for being the most bombed country in the world — a fervent sense of national pride for was still quite evident.
There’s no question, Laos seemed to be everything that Indonesia wasn’t, naturally I shrugged off my PCV hat for those moments and indulged (imagine: soaking in a kiddie pool fully clothed, sipping Skittle shots and eating fingerfuls of fresh pesto by itself, I know, I’m a monster) but ultimately I realized that having lived in rural Indonesia for over a year, stepping outside and coming back in again, had not only clarified how I’ve grown in several ways to become exponentially more patient, appreciative, confident and forevermore curious — but it also confirmed my own personal values and perspectives which have fundamentally led me to feel quite content about the pace and direction in which my life is currently going, all completely under my own control. Now that’s a good feeling.
Khawp jai, Laos, sampai jumpa lagi!Special thanks to Joe for bringing his GoPro, strapping it to his head like a total falang and capturing hundreds of amazing shots and videos that serve as proof that we’re not just making up this inconceivably fun festival. That’s a true swagleman, people.
Oh yeah, and then on the way out of Laos, I ended up missing two of my connecting flights back, one of which left me alone, stranded, and broke in Bangkok. Not fun. Read about that adventure nightmare here.
(if you look really hard, you can see Venus on the left edge, middle section, pretty wild, no?)
Thanks to some RPCV’s who work for NASA promoting science education, many of us were lucky enough to receive packets filled with educational materials about the Venus’s rare journey across the Sun. Aside from all of the cool learning materials included, the most useful things we received were the stylish solar-viewing glasses.
Confession: Like many around me, this was also my first time using solar glasses
Personally I haven’t studied astronomy since I took a course at UVA many summer’s ago. Another confession I’d forgotten the order of the planets. I brushed up on some solar knowledge to give people some idea of what to expect, not to mention new terms in Indonesian so others would understand why I was telling them to put on funny glasses. Once or twice while briefing people, I heard ‘Venus? Apa itu?’ — Venus? What’s that?
All of the buzz was getting me so excited about the event, so much that the night before that I had a wild dream about it. Sort of. In that dream, I could see a rotating reflection of the Earth, or something like it. Perhaps what I had imagined was a hybrid of what the Sun and the Moon would be like if they produced a beaming offspring. Even though I was on Earth, it was like I was looking at it from another planet. It was so magnificent in size, swallowing the surrounding bits of sky, sparkling as if trapped in a storm of glitter, with cartoon like stars twinkling (like when a Looney Tunes character punches a villain), lighting up the night. I kept chasing the Earth trying to get a better view of where I stood on the Earth but constantly failed, wherever I went, the view was blocked by wild branches…it was trippy.
The following day at school, my CP and I told students and teachers about Venus’s journey across the Sun, an event that wouldn’t occur for another 105 years from now. Let’s be honest, unless we all learn how to Austin Powersify (yes, I make verbs in my free time) ourselves, we ain’t gettin’ another chance. Try making that pitch clear to people who were blatantly terrified of putting on solar-glasses (I’m looking at you Yakulit lady). Saying they weren’t berani (tough/brave) enough. Oh come on. Sure, the glasses weren’t exactly styled after chic Rayfarer’s and surely they weren’t covered in Satanic saliva, so what’s there to be scared of? They’re safe! Once the glasses were on, students trickled out of their classrooms in packs until the crowds began to form lines, waiting to see the Sun’s temporary beauty mark.
The majority of the responses were:
- Oh it’s so tiny!
- Miss, it’s so itsy bitsy!
- Waaaaaa cilik (little)!
- It looks like a fly on the sun!
- Ngak ketok! (I can’t see it!)
Additionally, before the semester ended, my counterpart and I taught a brief section on basic poetry. I set up poetry stations around the room, demonstrating different poetic exercises, one of which was a sense stimulating creative writing exercise based on one’s personal relationship with the Sun, any way they interpreted it. Aided by a fierce poster of the Sun (thanks again, NASA), the kids came up with some pretty creative stuff; some quite impressive and made me laugh. In their own words, I will leave you with a few odes..
If I go to the sun
I can’t run
And it’s not fun
In there it so hot
And I want to out
Because in there not have a lot
So we can’t to sport
The sun is very big
Well, in there we can’t find a pig
and you will sick
if you see it
(students from XI IPA2)
My Journey to the Sun
When I have a chance
To go to the sun
I will invite my son
I’m thankful for it to God
I will fly like bird
And roast some breads
Sun is very hot
And I feel ‘cekot-cekot ‘ (throbbing pain in the head)
I will go around the planet
like an astronaut
And it very entertain
I will sleep in the sun
Cook in there
Take a bath by sun’s warmth
And when I go to home
I will be a “Dust Man”
(Wahyu from XI IPA2)
Your color is beautiful
Your shape is like a ball
Yours rays decorate the world
You’re never tired to ray this world
Without your ray, the world becomes dark
You’re always there every afternoon
You bright the dark with your rays
Although you far over there
I can always fill your wam
I’m sorry if I often abuse you verbally
Because your hot ray
You’re very present in my life
(students from XI IPA3)
You look circle
Out light in afternoon
Give hot weather in Earth
No life, no people, no trees, no water
Lonely, be alone, and hot
It’s a source of life
(students from XI IPA3)