Some excerpts adopted from an e-mail….
Right now I am sitting in the teacher’s office at my school… the Internet has stopped working and I’m not ready pulang or return home just yet. While the past two in a half weeks here have been a complete blur of random activities (or lackthereof), strange/unique conversations, and other culturally immersing experiences, yesterday was pretty strange and I still feel wiped out. In the morning, I sat at a table and looked pretty while new students paid a small fee to register for their classes. School starts on July 11th, and it would be an understatement to say I’ve been patiently waiting for this day to come. Afterwards, I had plans to go with my kepala sekolah or literally “head school” aka principal to Mojokerto to see her home, and hang around until an evening religious event that I was invited to. This turned into stopping by a fellow teacher’s home, who was busy preparing for his son’s circumcision party (which is later this afternoon), and then being shown off like a new puppy to various friends of my principal. We went to some ministry of education’s office, where after 10 minutes of knowing each other, I was invited to go with the official to his home and also accompany him and his family to Surabaya at 5:30am the next day (Thanks, but no thanks!)! It got quite old… and I reached a close to tipping point in the car on the way to the event later that evening (it was a mixture of having met like 30 new people, having to explain myself that many times, and just being tired and exhausted as a result, can’t blame me!), when I was asked the same series of questions (asked in a variety of different ways, a mixture of bahasa Indonesia and Javanese, as if I couldn’t be MORE confused):
-How long have you been in Indonesia
-Are you krasan, or feel at home here?
-Have you been to Bali?
-Where do you live?
-Why do you come here?
-What do you think about Indonesian food?
-Do you like sambal, or hot sauce? Do you like to eat bakso ? (Refer to www.freshtodeathindo.tumblr.com, for a nice photo of bakso!)
****this question is always followed by my principal, or someone explaining to the person that I am a vegetarian and that I don’t eat daging atau ikan –meat or fish. BUT always assure them that I do however LOVE (ha!) tempeh dan tahu –tempe and tofu
-Are you married yet?
-What do you think of Indonesian people?
-Can you speak Indonesian? Oh…my English is very bad… I want to learn more… can you speak Javanese? ***followed by my principal giving me the eyes to say in Javanese “ya, iso basa Jawa” even though I really CAN’T speak it, but it makes the people go wild with laughter.
-You are very beautiful…
-NOT only do I get these questions, but my principal HAS to tell EVERYYYYYone EVERY mistaken thing I’ve said, just for kicks. And then they all laugh at me.
… just so you can get an idea of why I want to hide in a cave sometimes!
While at my principal’s home, which is under construction, I took a nap. Because the house is being renovated, everything is really disorganized–the bed is in the same room everyone walks through, and also is where the dining table was… so my nap wasn’t a real nap… then my principal told me to “get up” and barely gave me a chance to actually wake up, so I was still groggy, and sweating, and felt jelek or ugly, and she paraded me through her neighborhood. She kind of treats me like a 5 year-old, nudging me to introduce myself and say ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ to people in Javanese. She loves me so much, she even told me she wanted to me become her daughter-in-law (she has three sons, sidenote: one of whom I met and found out his ring tone is that song “the club can’t even handle me right nowwwww”), and then proceeded to slap my butt! As we prepared for the religious event, I was told I had to wear a head scarf—I wrapped this light pink scarf around my head, and laughed at myself. I looked incredibly silly and will post a photo soon. I was pretty surprised with how uncomfortable I felt wearing the scarf to the event even though it was more custom rather than them trying to impose a belief on me. Something didn’t feel right—It made me appreciate being able to show my long black hair and eccentric earrings. The religious event was at this very fancy, air-conditioned venue, rightfully named “Astoria”. I could tell this was a high-society event when I saw all of the SUVs in the parking lot… and surely the women were dressed to the T, in flowy batik dresses, and colorful jilbabs with sparkly pins. The event was sponsored by the biggest paper manufacturer in SE Asia, and there were many “motivational” speakers, or something to the equivalent. Of course it wouldn’t have been a true Indonesian event without snack boxes, big speakers, and lots of singing of religious songs. Additionally there were magic tricks, lots of laughing about how orang China or Chinese people speak, and a raffling of an LCD 32’ flatscreen! I didn’t get home until 12a, making my day about 18 hours long.
Another highlight of my week was going on a trip to Surabaya (capital of East Java) with my principal and a couple other teachers to buy supplementary books for school. It’s about an hours drive away, but really would be 30 minutes if the roads weren’t so damaged by trucks and if Indonesians knew anything about 4-lane highways (Sorry for sounding like an ass, I know they exist, but I haven’t seen any yet!) and driving over 40mph! We passed through Gresik, another region where two PCVs are located, and I saw many recycling facilities… so they do have recycling in this country—I am dying to learn more. It was a nice chance to bond with other teachers in a non-work environment. Once we got into Surabaya, the teachers told me I lit up completely and I told them it made me feel refreshed to be back in a city, where I am anonymous, a city with banyak aktivitas, a stark contrast to Dawar. We ended up stopping by the PC HQ Office, where I was able to reunite with the staff, and get extra mosquito repellent from our doctor. It felt like reuniting with family, I almost wanted to cry (even though it had been less than 2 weeks since I had last seen them!) because Peace Corps has become my umbrella family here, they support us 500%. Lots of hugs exchanged, but it was strange to be in the office without the rest of my PCV brothers and sisters—all of the attention was on me. It was strange to be able to hug, to speak English at a normal pace again, to honestly talk about my feelings, rather than just telling everyone around me that I am krasan. I grabbed some new books, and then had to say my goodbyes, again. Peace Corps is all about saying goodbyes!
Oh an speaking of sounding like an ass, I felt like a complete jerk the other day because Mbak Sum, the tomboy who is also a masseuse, who always gives me this squinty ‘intimidating I did something wrong and she’s trying to make me confess’ look, came over, and I asked her in BI “why do you always look at me like you’re angry!” and she was confused for a moment, and so I imitated how she looks at me, and she was like “oooohhhh… it’s because I can’t see!… I need glasses!” She still loves me though, and there were no hard feelings! It was actually quite funny, and the people at the PC Office got a big kick out of that.
I was sitting outside of my home with my host sister eating fruits, and she was trying to explain this one fruit to me, but I had no idea what she was talking about, so she said “melon friend”. We both burst out laughing because usually in America we say “oh you know, it’s in the potato family” or in this case the “melon family”. Now the running joke and also the silence-breaker in both my neighborhood and school is to say “melon friend” or “_______(insert noun) friend”. It still gets me each time. So the whole pusing or headache-joke, is finally fizzling out, although I do still enjoy pointing to my legs and telling people my legs are pusing.
Nearly every day, when I know the children in the neighborhood are off at the masjid praying, I try to squeeze in some quiet time to myself and read outside on my porch-esque area. However, neighbors keep coming by to watch me, and ask me quizzical questions like “Why are you reading…? Aren’t you tired? Maybe you want to take a nap?” It makes me feel a little bit sad inside knowing that a handful of these people have so much free time, and don’t do much with it, but sit and stare at the road or watch really bad dramas on tv, when they could be doing something to stimulate their brains…like be taken to another world and time by reading a book.
One of the new books that I picked up at the PC Office is “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. I felt it was appropriate for how I’ve been feeling, and while I’m going through a big transitional point in my life– where I’m trying to figure out how to react and respond to both new and uncomfortable situations—cultural shock, and trying to figure out myself and answer perplexing questions about what I really want in life and how do I want to live when I pulang. I found this quote within the first few pages, which I have been trying to apply to these moments, to calm down, to reflect, and to overall adjust and feel more comfortable with living and integrating into this village, it’s going to be my home for the next 23 months and I’m trying to be more of a YES person, like when I’m invited to sleep over at teacher’s home that lives in my village, strange to an American, but very normal to Indonesian culture.
“Whether it is an old friend or a new friend, there’s not much difference anyway, because I always believe we are the same, we are all human beings…consisting of the same human body, and the human mind. Our physical structure is the same, and our mind, and our emotional nature are also the same.
…If we can leave the differences aside, I think we can easily communicate, exchange ideas, and share experiences”
–Dalai Lama, “The Art of Happiness”
This quote means a lot to me, but in reality, it’s very difficult to actually LIVE this way. It’s natural to judge people, and to put up a safety guard when you feel uncomfortable. It’s easy to become frustrated with the repetitive questions. BUT for now I am trying to be OPEN OPEN OPEN, no matter how weird and curious people are about me.
Oh! One of the teachers who saw me with the headscarf on last night, just put a table cloth on his head and started prancing around the room pretending to be me saying “assalamualaikum” really slowly. The fun never stops the teacher’s office! I just said kurang sexy or less than sexy.
SERIOUSLY ALL OF THIS WAITING FOR SCHOOL TO START HAS MADE ME AGE LIKE 40 YEARS. Other times I really do feel a child and not like an Indonesian teacher—like when I sit on the floor in my room and turn my music up REALLY high, plug in the headphones, and close my eyes and bob my head…or when I can’t finish my rice, and throw it outside to the chickens when my host mother’s not looking… And sorry for exposing my the weird transitional-nostalgic-moody-side lately. I swear that despite all of the challenges, I am enjoying myself and learning a ton to say the least.