I Had An Experience

“I had an experience, I don’t know how to put it into words.” – Don Draper

My backyard where things get real rural.

My backyard, my calming escape, where things get real rural, a place where the dancing paddies remind me that nature is always effortlessly soothing and beautiful.

Elaine, Erin, Nis, and the kids do a happy jib as my two worlds collide. I'm hidden in there somewhere.

Elaine, Erin, Nis, and the kids do a happy jig as my two worlds collide. I’m hidden in there somewhere.

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?”

lazy sunday

Roni and friends daydreams in the hammock on a lazy Sunday.

Rony and friends daydream in the hammock on a lazy Sunday.

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.

The world map and motivational wall now graces the walls of the new computer lab at school.

World map (not pictured) and motivational wall that was once open space outside now graces the walls of the new computer lab at school. I begged my principle not to paint over it.

End of the semester sandwich making contest, 17 groups representing each class at SMANDA. The winner? A mixed tempeh patty with homemade peanut sauce.

End of the semester sandwich making contest, 17 groups representing each class at SMANDA. The winner? Class X6 who made a  mixed tempeh patty with homemade peanut sauce.

sammy

The winners, X6, who made my taste buds dance with their creative twist: a Javanese veggie patty.

Devi, part of the prep team, who made my taste buds dance with their creative twist on the veggie burger: a Javanese tempeh patty.

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?

The word boss is thrown around frequently in Java, people like to say "yes, boss!" even though no one is really talking to their boss. Well, here I am with my boss and other teachers at the school posing for our annual calendar photo.

The word boss is thrown around frequently in Java, people like to say “yes, boss!” even though no one is really talking to their boss. Well, here I am with my boss and all of the female teachers at the school posing for our annual calendar photo.

Another lazy, hot Sunday, spent in my room with the kids. They like to play in my room because it "smells good", I have a spring bed (which isn't very common in the desa) anddddd because I have a FAN!

Another lazy, hot Sunday, spent in my room with the kids. They like to play in my room because it “smells good”, I have a spring bed (which isn’t very common in the desa) anddddd because I have a FAN!

My host niece, Kela. She's just turned one and is walking/wobbling around quickly. Points to me where you ask her where her "auntie" is.

My host niece, Kela. She’s just turned one and is walking/wobbling around quickly. Points to me when you ask her where her “auntie” is.

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.

Backyard paddies.

Backyard paddies.

I met my host grandmother for the first time last month.. she was on her way out to the fields. She gave off the loveliest of auras!

Last month while walking in the paddies with my host sister, Nis, I met my host grandmother for the first time .. she was on her way out to the fields. She gave off the loveliest of auras!

My host sister just started taking a photography class at university, on Sunday morning, we went out to practice. This a result of that. Sugar cane stalks on my head but also represents my constant balancing act.

My host sister just started taking a photography class at university, on a Sunday morning, we went out to practice. This a result of that. It may just look like sugar cane stalks on my head but it also represents my constant balancing act that I call Peace Corps.

Community Night With James, Toilet, and “Free Sex”

Scribblings from my journal on Tuesday night, April 24th…

A man with a small caged trailer trailing behind his loud gas gurgling motorcycle, pulled up in front of my house earlier this afternoon. No one knew where he was from or why he had arrived in our village. Before I knew it, he was unloading various equipment–a makeshift children’s carnival (this is actually normal by Indonesian standards, the most common: men riding modified bicycles with either a  ferris wheel or ‘carousel’ in the front, merely powered by peddling). Several unfamiliar men followed with their ‘kaki lima’ (standing/portable carts with 5-legs), whipping out precarious gas tanks, woks, and frying oil to make fried tofu and ‘ote ote’, some to sell cigarettes, some to sell cold artificial drinks, and others a cornucopia of plastic junk. All of this happening directly in front of my house. I watched in amazement as the caged trailer transformed into a playpen of colorful plastic balls that children would later dive and slide into, a plain box converted into a temporary pond where children could fish out baby catfish with rusty nets, and to top it off–a massive piece of white tarp was strung up to a couple of trees and bamboo poles for what I thought had great potential to be a community-family-oriented movie night. Once the massive wall of speakers were set up and facing my house, I knew that I wouldn’t be getting my typical 8 hours of peaceful sleep that night.

I did what I usually do when something out of the ordinary happens. I took out my camera, slipped my feet into my worn-out Birks, let the little ones gravitate towards me, and started digging around, for information, but also to just converse with people in my community because they were all out of their homes and in the spirit to socialize. ‘Apa kabare?’ (how’s it goin’?). No one asked me if I was ‘kerasan’ (feeling at home), woo!

<snap snap>

‘Gak tahu’ (I don’t know) was the general response I gathered from both adults and children when I asked them what this big set up was for. Maybe it’s someone’s birthday. Maybe it’s not. An older man began setting up movie equipment. We’ll call him ‘Pak S’. His English was decent despite claiming to not have spoken English in over 20 dry years. He’s from my village and is the owner of the local movie rental shop–the one in town I always pass when I go to drop off my laundry. Pak S tells me there’s three movies scheduled for tonight, set to start at 8:30pm (I think to myself ‘kok malam!’, that’s late!). The films (in order) are James Bond’s ‘007 Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘Toilet 105‘ (an alleged horror film, and after seeing the trailer, looks like teens with very little clothing getting killed in a high school locker room), and ‘:: unintelligible words that I don’t recognize:: Free Sex’, “for adults only” Pak S utters. When he tries to clarify, I naively process this to not be what is really is (I mean, how could it be? I live in a tame conservative Muslim community… I can’t leave my house with my thighs exposed, so how can some get away with showing a porno?) and we change the subject to projection methods. He’s brought with him an entourage to operate the ancient projector along with a truckload of stuff…namely the stack of reels… yes REELS (!!) that each movie dominates at least three of. It’s time for me to take one last bucket bath before the sun goes down so I tell him I’ll return later on.

Before I cross the street, Danny, an 11 year-old  friend of mine hands me a questionable clear gooey brown substance on a popsicle stick. It is a mixture of honey and other cavity expediting enhancers. Yum. It gets caught between my teeth and I awkwardly try to chew. The kids laugh at me.

A splendid blend of pink and orange delicately grace the sky, the sun cradles to rest and I attempt to cross the street once more, waiting for motorcycles so I can pass. I am interrupted once more. One of my neighbors, a great-grandmother gestures for me to come sit with her. The entire ‘event’ has engulfed every centimeter of her home’s exterior. I plop down next to her on a rickety bench and she playfully but vigorously pinches my chin, my cheeks, my arms, in complete disbelief that I’ve become ‘tambah ayu’ (more beautiful). I sit for a little while longer, skipping bathing altogether, other female neighbors join us, we stare into space, I soak up everything around me, the kids screaming, the babies, teeming with joy, the ibu’s (mothers), watching their kids with fervor, making sure they stay out of harm’s way.

I see Pak S again. He is holding a poster under his arm and he tells me it’s for the adult film. He begins to unfold it where my assumptions are confirmed by the stills of people making love! I begin to ask several questions trying to make sense of it all. Absolutely baffled. How is this okay?! Isn’t this illegal? Obviously people watch porn but out in the open? A communal event? Isn’t that so 1980’s New York before Giuliani cleaned things up? So many things don’t make sense. I’m not necessarily against porn but when it’s shown out in public, in a neighborhood with many, many small children, I have a problem. It’s encouraging men’s inner-creeps to surface, for their dirty minds to be momentarily accepted in the community, together. While I know Indonesia, despite its religious intensity, is not immune to people like this, I would prefer not to see, meet, or mingle with them, especially when they are without a doubt students (I would find out the following day that a couple were MY students), fathers, shop owners I support, and community leaders in the village we share. Obviously these titles have never prevented people like this from partaking in gross societal events in the past, anywhere in the world.

I walk across the street to my house, to tell my family about the ‘late-night’ viewing. I don’t know what kind of reaction or actions I expected of them. But they didn’t appear to be fazed, just responding with an awkward giggle followed by “well, I’ve never see one, so I don’t know”. Meanwhile I was mildly furious.

I went to sit outside as the loud speakers began to blare the ultimate Indonesian favorite, dangdut. Full blast. Not only will I not be getting good sleep tonight, but I’d have to lay in bed knowing there’s a gathering of creeps right outside of my window, while I have no choice but to listen to the ‘bow-chicka-wow-wow’ porny-tunes. My sister, who had just given birth the previous week joins me outside and says in a thick accent in English “May-be my bay-bee will cry” accompanied by a look of worry. We giggled, but I become serious again, reciprocating the same look of worry, and tell her “Maybe I will cry”. When I told her my hope that the electricity goes out, she laughs, and says “diesel”–meaning everyone had brought generators. I let out a big whiny groan. BAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Update: It turns out Pak S was the organizer of the event. He’s going on a mini tour to several different villages to promote his movie rental business. I had attended the first 40 minutes of the event, watching a handful of previews, showcasing Indonesian movies from love to horror. It seems like many Indonesian horror films involve barely clothed women implying sexual gestures dancing under outdoor showers as a killer/zombie hides behind a tree, plotting her death while becoming inexplicably turned on. It’s weird. Other than the weird previews, it was a great and unique experience, sitting on the ground, in front of this huge tarp, as children fell asleep in their mother’s laps, while the men sat in the back together smoking away their lives.

Late into the night into the early morning, drifting in and out of interrupted sleep, I heard bits and pieces of the movies, shrieks from ‘Toilet’ and then awkward saxxy-jazzy-synthy music as the soft-core ‘Free Sex’ movie played. Feeling restless, I got up to pee, where I found my entire host family soundly passed out even though without a ceiling anywhere in the house but my bedroom, the sound was much more amplified.

The next morning, I told my counterpart who was appalled to hear what I had told her. A couple of my students (all male), jokingly asked me “miss, you see movie last night?”, and when I scoffed, they knew I knew what they were implying. When I asked which film they saw, they all said ‘film hot’. My counterpart did some snooping around, where she concluded the film wasn’t real porn, but something like it. Turns out the movie selection is one that is requested by each specific village. Regardless, I don’t approve! Women in my village clearly didn’t get any sleep that night as they strutted slowly around in their dusters (housedress) carrying out their daily errands.