I had my first tamu (guest) stay in my village last week! As if that couldn’t be exciting enough, it was also my first Couchsurfing (CS) experience! For several weeks, I’d been in steady contact with Alex, a ‘Returned Peace Corps Volunteer‘ or as we fancy people like to refer to as RPCV’s, who served in Peru a few years back. I’ve been a member of CS for a few years now, but never been berani (tough, brave) enough to actually do it. Whether you’re a novice traveler who’s barely broken in your new gear that you got on sale at REI or an experienced traveler having kicked every gastrointestinal bug’s ass out there, you’ve gotta know about CS. It’s essentially a social networking site for often lone traveler’s traveling with very little looking to get the ‘real’ local experience of visiting another country through a willing host with extra space and time to spare and share with the travelers their own knowledge, along with a piece of their lives and home. The cost? Well it’s gratis (free). Among the many perks of CS’ing, I think one of the most rewarding parts is learning about other people, their backgrounds, stories and perspectives. After Alex left my village, it was clear that I have a place here. Surely I have my fair share of complaints about village life, but there’s no doubt that despite these occasional challenges, I love living here and that my experiences in Indonesia will forever stick with me. So whether you’re a traveler looking for a unique adventure or a person who happens to have a spare bed, I highly suggest joining the Couchsurfing network. Ha, and believe me, I had a fun ‘ole time explaining CS and how Alex and I met to people here.
I’ve been able to visit several other PCV sites, it’s always fun to meet their families, see their schools, get a taste of their lives, but it’s not the same as having a visitor from outside of Indonesia. We’ve all been living in Indonesia long enough to understand certain customs and we speak enough of the language to convey our differing personalities and quirks. Though our words can get a little lost in translation, there’s nothing like speaking through a translator who still can’t understand a full article in the Jawa Pos without taking a few peeks in the dictionary first, ie. aku (me).
I’ve mentioned several times how monotonous and mundane village life can be, especially when you’re restricted to the range of kilometers humanly possible to peddle on an ordinary bicycle while the sun’s still up. How did I give Alex the full Dawar (the village where the roosters never sleep) experience while still putting in my hours at school and fulfilling my weekly obligations? Let’s just say that between the long conversations about cultures and how contrasting our PCV experiences were/are, we were busy and I promptly fell asleep before 8:30 on more than one occasion…
Most of you reading will probably never make it out to visit my home here, but if you did, this is most certainly what we would do!…
After introducing Alex to hoards of curious teachers and shy students alike, and explaining an innumerable amount of times where she’s been and where she’s going next (both responses were a laundry list of countries), Alex sat in on one of my classes. She gave a brief introduction before winning the hearts of everyone by saying ‘hello’ in Korean, one of the phrases she picked up while teaching there this past year. That day’s lesson: ‘Hortatory Exposition’. Yeah, what’s that? A text with the intentions to persuade a reader to agree with several proposed arguments and to follow the recommendation that something should or should not be. Simply put, it may be one of the hardest and most boring of the ‘genres’ to teach and learn. My CP and I tried to spice it up a little bit by having mini in-class debates, it worked in some classes, bombed in another, but I survived. Alex had difficulties understanding my students’ thick accents but it wasn’t just her giving puzzling looks, my CP and I too had a difficult time deciphering some of our students’ arguments. C’est la vie. Terbiasa saja.
Alex, being a world traveler and having painted several maps during her time in Peru, was quite the superstar with my kids! Last Thursday (March 1st) coincidentally happened to be ‘Peace Corps Day‘, so it was fitting to have another volunteer with me to work on a worldwide Peace Corps initiative: World Map Project! Since the beginning of February, OSIS (student government) and I have been giving the exteriors of some of my classrooms a little facelift if you will, painting two massive murals: one of Indonesia, the other of the entire world. Working with these students has been the highlight of my recent weeks. Despite being exhausted after a full day of classes, they still show up energetic and ready to work hard together. After receiving enthusiastic approval from my principal, I proposed the idea to the group, who have since then completely taken ownership over the project, that they barely need my guidance, it’s a beautiful thing. Aside from that many of the OSIS students are MY students, which has made teaching their classes more personal, more engaging. We’ve got inside jokes. They look at me differently. They are more confident. I know most of their nicknames. They can identify Virginia on a world map! When the sun is beginning to set, we usually wind down over a light volleyball game and drink fresh sugarcane juice out of plastic sacs before heading home when maghrib commences.
Sprawling out the world map that was given to me as a gift from Brad, my sister’s thoughtful boyfriend (hey, you two!), Alex and I pointed out our hometowns (she hails from Orange County, California) which couldn’t be further away from one another, along with several other places that we’d visited, and aspired to go someday. I posed the question ‘if you were given a free plane ticket to go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?’ to one of my best students, and without hesitation he immediately extended his index finger, took a few seconds to peruse around the Middle East before confidently descending upon Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest Islamic city, Mecca. It was a quaint but astute way to remind us that we were where we were, as if the jilbabs didn’t completely do it.
I can’t get anywhere in my site without a bicycle. People seriously don’t walk on foot where I live. I have never ever walked to my school from my house before and so I was very grateful when my CP’s son allowed me to borrow his bicycle for a few days while I showed Alex the places I go when I’m not in school, the places I go to unwind and reflect, the places I buy fruit, the places I go to appreciate Indonesia for what it is, and the places I go to release some of that pent up adrenaline. Taking the long and scenic route back home from visiting Balongpanggang in the neighboring Gresik regency, we stopped to chat with some friendly farmers, we managed to scare away some children who usually get more amusement than I do at them shouting nearly every random English word they know at me, met some neighbors, and replenished ourselves from the heat over a couple glasses of fresh es tebu (sugarcane juice).___Wrapping up Alex’s last afternoon in Dawar, we gathered at a friend’s house to make one of my favorite traditional snacks, rujak manis. Rujak is made in a layah or cowek (depending on the size) by crushing and combining freshly fried peanuts, a dash of salt, as many tiny red peppers as one desires, a chunk of Javanese brown sugar (I got weak at the knees for this stuff), and bit of water, with a ulek-ulek (pestle), before dipping in freshly sliced fruits, vegetables, and kerupuk. We sat on the front porch as dangdut blasted from a nearby wall of speakers where a wedding party was being arranged. As we yelled over the music, my friend’s mother made several trips out to us, bringing various snacks she’d bought over from Malang. Our mouths still simmering from the chili peppers, we sat content and full of rujak. Suddenly it seemed like an appropriate time for a photo-shoot before calling it a day.
Between my host mother awkwardly gawking at us as we fluidly spoke English, and beaming over how refreshing cold bucket baths several times a day are, and me secretly allowing Alex to eat with her left hand (oh lefty’s!) and shaking a million and one hands every day, it was great having a guest but also socially exhausting at times. I’d forgotten how much I do on my own, how upon getting home from school, I need my quiet time, how my family no longer monitors and questions the quantity of rice on my plate (they nagged me to nag Alex), ha, and how I have graduated from being toilet paper dependent to well…you know, you know. This is just how my life is, and this is how people here live, it’s all become so habitual that having a tamu brought a lot of clarity and confirmation of the progress I’ve made overall, with building positive relationships in my community and at school. Things aren’t perfect, I still have bad days, but overall I feel a sense of general gratification.
Yo Alex, Thanks! Thanks for reminding me that I wear shoulder pads daily! Thanks for the jar of peanut butter! Thanks for unintentionally reminding me that I’m gettin’ shit done. Thanks for being a flexible, understanding, and a wonderful first tamu, and good luck on the rest of your travels!