Sometimes the days seem endless, sometimes the days all seem to blend together, and those seemingly endless days have evolved into weeks, with hiccups of reunions here and there, and now here we are six months later…I’m not going to pretend like it’s been the easiest six months, but it’s definitely been some of the most formative and intense six months I may ever experience.
There’s a pregnant teacher at my school whose stomach just keeps growing bigger and bigger with each day. She’s started hobbling around the school with her swollen ankles, and she must wear the school uniform that she once had custom made for two previous pregnancies. While a new life is emerging and the baby will be here by the New Year, the growing bump in the belly is also a constant reminder of how much time I’ve been here, how my life here has developed and is still developing, and how much I’ve personally grown.
(Speaking of pregnancies…. My host sister just discovered that she’s 2.5 months pregnant! She’s almost 30, so it’s kind of a big deal that’s she’s finally pregs…I’m going to be a host-aunt! And when that baby’s here, I will have been here for over a year, yaaaa Allahhhh, that’s a long time)
I was at the tailor yesterday, getting measured for a new stylish (not) khaki school uniform. To my demise, my measurements had to be augmented since my last visit to the tailor. “Not to worry…” my counterpart giggled, assuring me in English, “it means you are lebih krasan”. That word, krasan, which roughly translates into Javanese as this cutesy-cozy-comfy-‘feel at home’-feeling, is something I’m asked at least once per week, a conversation that goes roughly like this (which I’m almost sure is nearly identical for most PCVs):
Co-worker/Neighbor/Student: Miss Elle, are you krasan?
Me: Yeahhhh… sudah krasan (already comfortable)
Co-w/N/S: …but don’t you miss your family?
Me: of course I do, but not that much, I live here now, and when I miss them, I can communicate easily through e-mail and video-chatting!
….that response usually triggers some affirmation of understanding shown by some nodding and usually accompanied by a puzzled look, think scrunched eyebrows and forehead creases. At which point, I already know what’s brewing behind that forehead crease, the same predictable series of questions that I’m always armed and ready to answer, like clockwork: “no I don’t plan to go back to America anytime soon, the plane ticket, it’s too expensive… I don’t know when I’m getting married, it’s not that important to me right now… nope, my sister’s not married yet either, but she has a boyfriend too… no, I don’t think I will marry an Indonesian… because I already have a boyfriend!…okay, sure, I’ll come visit your home soon!”
School. Unsurprisingly, I’ve come to accept that this semester is all about challenges and learning to understand how everything works… or doesn’t work. From an outsiders view and to me, even, this should have been obvious, I’m new, inexperienced. I’m trying to work with teacher’s who’ve been working in a system that doesn’t challenge them in the way teachers should be and need to be challenged and rewarded, in a system that doesn’t necessarily value the quality of education they’re providing, instead it’s about numbers (many falsified) and appearances. Indonesia’s education system is no different from most developing countries’ education systems, and the US isn’t immune either as it has its own black hole of flaws. Resources for having an outstanding education system are widely available, but they’re just not being used to their full potential, and that’s challenging. I’ve been observing these past couple of months and in the beginning, I felt like I was trying to hop aboard a moving train that had an obvious destination, but somehow didn’t want to stop for me, and now that I’m on board, the train stops, it goes, it stops, it goes, the train feels like it’s somewhat derailed and has been from the start. Each time we start a new chapter or lesson, I think to myself ‘okay, this time will be different, we’ll do this, this will be more consistent, we’ll plan lessons together, etc etc etc’ and with each new chapter, it IS different, there ARE improvements, but there’s so many unexpected hiccups that prevent xyz from working out as I had hoped. Sometimes it seems like the negative moments outweigh the small triumphs, that are actually bigger triumphs retrospectively speaking. That’s Peace Corps though. It’s a constant juggling act.
Counterparts. We all work really well together… when we’re together. One of my counterparts, Bu Yke, has been at workshops for the past month, so I’ve been teaching alone, or with the religions teacher (who speaks pretty good English and has a wonderful sense of humor), and sometimes with my other counterpart who already has too a heavy workload. As a result, one of my lowest performing classes is lagging quite far behind the rest…top that with some disciplinary problems. Whew! Even though the counterparts and I have good chemistry both in and outside of the classroom, we’re still learning how to work together, and it’s a lot more challenging than it sounds, it takes lots of waktu. Their idea of lesson planning and my idea of lesson planning are quite different, and that goes for most of our approaches. It’s like getting a new dance partner [with two left feet]. Perhaps they’re classically trained dangdut dancers, but I’ve got a modern hip-hop background (couldn’t be further from the truth). Different ways of thinking, different backgrounds in training, different ways of approaching situations, different ways of measuring success, we’re trying to concoct our own style, together, while trying to stay with the beat that won’t slow down for us to take a breath. Bu Ary, whom I teach three classes with, is a good friend to me. She’s one of four Christian teacher’s at our school, she’s got an interesting sense of humor, she lives near the school, her family is like my second family, she has a daughter whom I sometimes tutor in English, and without her I wouldn’t have been able to discover as much of what’s around me. Quite recently she relieved me of all of my laundry woes by introducing me to neighborhood laundry service. I don’t want to guilt myself into thinking “I’m in Peace Corps, I SHOULD be washing my clothes by hand, blah blah blah” but to be honest, there’s several legitimate excuses I have for not wanting to continue, among them, high on the list being my family insists on buying the lowest quality detergent that causes the skin on my hands to peel for two straight days, not to mention most of my clothes will likely be completely stretched and too worn for me to wear by the one year mark… so this laundry service is like an investment! Plus, I’d be crazy to not use the service, it’s so damn affordable… and they iron. I loooooathe ironing.
Professionalism. Not to rag on Indonesian teachers, but they could use a dose of this. By nature, a good chunk of my students are lazy until I actively elicit involvement and participation. Teachers have no excuse to be lazy, it’s their job to work, there’s a time and a place to relax. I have never seen such sloth like behavior from teachers until I came here. It’s really disheartening to see teachers gossiping, sleeping, clipping their fingernails, shopping, playing mindless bubble-buster computer games, smoking cigarettes in the teacher’s office next to pregnant teachers, eating, giving/receiving massages, watching TV, etc, when they could be doing something more productive with their time. Sometimes they go into class late, and sometimes not even at all! Not ALL Indonesian teachers fall into this category, there’s quite a few who work hard, use their time productively, but a hefty handful could use a daily reminder that they put their uniforms on for more than superficial reasons every day. After my Peace Corps site visit, my counterparts and principal voiced that I have a good work ethic and that I’m well disciplined (great to hear)….my principal went out of her way the other morning to make an announcement (while everyone should have been in class) to all of the teachers that they should adopt my disciplined mannerisms, which then led the rest of the teachers to think that I was a whistle-blower, policing their behaviors, and for a day, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. My counterparts had to clarify to all of the teachers that what the principal had announced were HER thoughts, not mine. Even though I didn’t disagree with the principal in her attempt to motivate all of the teacher’s to be more proactive and professional, because at the root of it, I’m not a professional, but it was upsetting to see many of the teachers get riled up about something they should have already known and been practicing. There’s an obvious cultural difference when it comes to this. I’m good at multitasking, I can make teaching materials while sending out e-mails or g-chatting. It’s not like I’m ALWAYS working when I have time between my classes but I’m always doing something to keep my brain stimulated. To be honest, today I felt like a fool frantically printing and organizing my next classes materials, while teacher’s just lounged away, goofing off together, like it was a holiday. It’s hard to stay motivated in a sloth-like work environment. Sleeping in the teacher’s office is not something I could ever do, first of all it’s too loud, and second, I just wouldn’t do it, if I needed to sleep, obviously I should go somewhere it’s more appropriate…like home! If somehow my “commendable” work ethics are contagious, that’s just an additional triumph, but I’m not sure I can force people to change a manner they’ve always known, enjoyed, and in the end, benefited from. Even if they’re sleeping in the teacher’s office and going into their classes 30-minutes late, they’re still getting a respectable salary at the end of the day. The Indonesian education system doesn’t value or grant incentives to truly outstanding teachers—good teachers, bad teachers, hard-working teachers, lazy teachers, in the end, they’re all teachers, they’re all the same. Who loses? The students. The future. Indonesia.
Friends. I’ve got a group of 12th graders whom I go exploring to other villages with, we ride bikes, cook, listen to music, and main-main, jalan-jalan together. They teach me things about their culture, how to speak Javanese and I teach them things like “Mrs” is for women who are already married and that the ‘c’ in ‘scenery’ shouldn’t be pronounced, that tempeh is alternative hippie food and that mangoes are expensive in Virginia. I would have never imagined that I’d be sitting on the floor of a traditional Indonesian home, listening to Lady Gaga from a hand phone, making rujak with a group of Indonesian teenagers. It’s nice to get away from my village, to have other people to talk to, to laugh, and hang out… who aren’t in elementary school or who don’t already have children. I’ve got a comfortable handful of PCVs that I keep in constant communication with, for emotional and mental support and quite importantly for humor. PCVs have a unique bond that can’t be compared to relationships that we share with friends and family back home. It’s special, I can’t really explain it.
A few bumpy months back, Allison, my first PC friend (!) texted me, “It’s amusing that all we wanted in America was adventure and all we look for here is stability”. This has always stuck with me. Is it totally possible to have both of these important facets of life while being a PCV? Definitely. The recipe to this is still perfecting itself, but an important component that naturally binds adventure and stability together, is FRIENDS. So dearest PCV family, you are a wonderful, multi-talented, innovative, crazy resourceful, hilarious, unbelievably resilient, dedicated and obviously FLY bunch, so terima kasih banyak for being there and for being yourselves (looking forward to spending the next two weeks with y’all at IST!).
Happy enam-bulanniversary, ID5’s!
Anddddddddd commence The Beatles “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends”, a cheesy classic “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, or the comforting tones of a baby MJ and his bro’s singing “I’ll Be There”.