Friday, December 30, 2011

December 24, 2011: 'Twas night before Christmas and all through the house the only creatures a'stirring were bule, mosquito, lizard, and mouse

On Christmas Eve Day all my family on my mamah's side was home. Early in the day I went to the market with my mamah, aunt, and two cousins (including my adorable little girl cousin :) ). After my mamah and buday bought some krudungs, we went to the bakery and my mamah bought a Christmas cake for the family; The day before I'd bought some snacks and a stocking for my family with the intention of playing santa clause for them. When we got back home I put out the stocking and explained the concept of Santa Clause, that there was a stocking out for my family, and that later that night Santa Clause would come--but they had to believe. The whole night my family kept teasing me and challenging me that Santa Clause would not come; playfully I repeated what my mother (when I say mamah that means host mom; mother means biological mom) used to say to me when I was little, that if they didn't believe then Santa wouldn't come. Later I was hanging out in my mamah's room when Andrew showed up at the house and gave me a batik fan for Christmas; he is so sweet! Then he joined my family and I in eating a yummy soup-noodle dish. He and I took some photos together and then he took a picture of me with all my family--that's the attached photo. I will cherish it forever. <3 I love how close my mom's side of the family is, my grandmother frequently comes to say at our house and she likes to teach me bahasa jawa--which I really enjoy (especially because when my whole family is together they don't really speak bahasa Indonesia, but rather a mix of bahasa Indonesia and bahasa jawa or just all bahasa jawa... [even though Karawang is a little more Sunda land, my my mom's side of the family all lives in Tegal--a Javanese city in the province of Cental Java] so the more of the language I learn, the less confused I am). Before Andrew left we made sure to give him some of the Christmas cake to share with his family; he went home and my whole family talked and hung out for a long time. A little while before the family went to sleep, I realized they were under the impression that I had put out the stocking for myself and was expecting Santa Clause to bring me gifts! I explained that Santa Clause was coming to visit my family, but not me because he "didn't know I was in Indonesia." We had a laugh about it and I began to worry what they thought of me that they had believed I put out a stocking out for myself and kept talking about how excited I was for Santa Clause to come and bring presents... XP That night it was so crowded that I slept in the front living room on a foam mattress; also sleeping in the front room were five of my cousins and two of my sisters. The sense of community was so comforting and enjoyable. :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Religion and Superstition

A couple of weeks ago, a girl in my class got "possessed" by a ghost/demon.
I put quotations because I do not buy it. But this is becoming such a common "event" that it made the news the other night. No, I'm not kidding. People in Indonesia really seem to believe in possessions, ghosts, and maybe even zombies and vampires--though the latter two don't seem as commonly accepted as really existing. My conspiracy theory is that these "possessed" individuals are actually dehydrated, having asthma attacks (but they probably don't know they have asthma), having an extreme migraine, or perhaps being dramatic. Nonetheless, the teacher will try and "exercise the demon/ghost" by means of hypnotism. At least half the class gathers around to observe the scene--which if it's an asthma attack, I cannot imagine that's helpful--and the other half is so used to it that they continue with their business. My host mother, younger sister, and various students in my class always warn/instruct me not to stare off into space--as I am often prone to do because of my reflective nature/ if the teacher is excruciatingly boring--because if I stare off into space I am likely to be possessed by a demon/ghost. Ugh, yea, I just nod my head and thank them for the thoughtful reminder--they say it because they care about me and genuinely worry about me being possessed...which is nice even if unnecessary. :)
Speaking of hypnotizing, when I first arrived, often I would see "live" TV broadcasts from malls. The attraction of these shows was that they would take "random" volunteers from the mall audience, hypnotize them into sleeping, and have hilarious conversations with them out of their hypnotized-induced sleeping that somehow still enabled them to hold a conversation and answer questions...
I'm a skeptic, what can I say.
As to the ghosts, in Indonesia there are--don't quote me on this--about five famous ghost/spirits. Each of these famous spirits has a name and distinctive appearance. People will ask me if I've heard of the famous Indonesian ghosts and then matter-o'factly ask me if the States, too have ghosts, what do the ghosts look like, what are their names, etc. Since these spirit characters are part of Indonesian popular culture--they are portrayed in music videos, sitcoms, and soap-operas, I have a hard time clarifying if my friends are asking me if there are equivalent pop-culture figures, or if they accept these/that ghosts are real and wonder if the US has such real spirits, too. The latter option always amuses me because it's suggestive that the US is an entirely separate world from enchanted Indonesia. The spirit I've seen portrayed the most in pop-culture is named ** and is usually played by a person wearing purple make-up under their eyes to look like black-eyes, and they hop because they are wrapped in what looks like a bed sheet that's tied candy-wrapper style on top if their head. Google a picture for a better idea. The hopping and bed-sheet apparatus just don't strike fear into my heart, which is maybe why this ghost appears so much on sitcoms? :P XD
My classmates generally enjoy telling me about the more traditional parts of Indonesian culture. One friend recently shared with me, the details of Indonesian witch-doctors. She described their prowess at manipulating voodoo dolls to inflict pain and even death upon real people. What an interesting encounter!
Why bring up religion in this post about superstition? Islam strictly prohibits superstitious beliefs--like believing in voodoo. Let me be clear, I do not say this to be judgmental, or point fingers! I bring this up because it's a good illustration of my learning environment here. I'm on this scholarship to learn about Indonesian and Islamic culture, which, since it has the largest Muslim population in the world (in terms of number of people), is heavily influenced by Islam, so it's Islamic culture, too. Maybe that was repetitive but you get my drift. My learning environment here is not made up of really educated everyday people, that's just a fact. What I want you to take away from all my clumsy rambling is the fact that everything I'm learning here about Islam is not pure Islam. Though many many people subscribe to this religion, since in Indonesia you HAVE to have a religion--and you pretty much inherit that religion from your parents (who must be of the same religion to have an Indonesian marriage license)--everything I'm learning about Islam is a people's interpretation of it--but it's very much intertwined in Indonesian culture--to the point that religion teachers teach their students that something is a tenant of their religion when really it's a tenant of the culture... So while I am aware that this is happening, mostly because Andrew is Muslim and has read the Quran (most Indonesians never read the Quran in their native language, they only read it in Arabic...but that does not at all mean they understand the words or the meaning for themselves...usually a religion teacher tells them what it means...and they know from another person) so he has an educated eye for these instances. This is a huge revelation for everyone I think, because it's a fantastic reminder that religion should not be blamed for violence, but that ignorance and human interpretation are the real roots. Not every one is right all the time, regardless of their religion! And Islam has just as many sub-sects/denominations as Judaism or Christianity...just to remind everyone. :)

If only I could insert a song soundtrack for each blog post...
"Very Superstitious...writing on the wall.. Wow naow wowwww....."

On a personal note...
As of right now I'm particularly homesick for (not listed in order of importance):
•My dad's holiday coffee
•My stepmom's chocolate chip pecan pie
•Making holiday cookies with my little sister...GINGER BREAD PEOPLE!!!! :(
•Vegetables. Especially broccoli--I just can't get enough vegetables here.
•Food that's not fried or sweetened with extra sugar.
•My friends. Miss these crazy goofballs a lot. <3
•Toilet paper. :(
•Hot showers.
•Sidewalks/ decent roads.
•Advent at church
•The cold/snow
•My older sister, Anna. <3

Things I'm really enjoying about Indonesia:
•bahasa sunda
•bahasa jawa
•how friendly everyone is
•surprising people with my language skills...whenever I meet new people it's so strange to them that I can speak bahasa Indonesia that at first they generally ask other people about me--thats when I answer and enjoy their consequential facial expression :) hehe
•Attending wedding ceremonies
•Eating with my hands
•Oreg tempe
•Sunday mornings when the roads are closed to traffic and the city comes out to exercise. People do aerobics; little kids play soccer barefoot; people run; people walk; vendors sell breakfast food, balloons, and stuffed animals. It's like a mini-fair every Sunday morning. This morning I saw my bahasa Indonesia teacher from school! (December 11, 2011)
•Sitting in the living room on the traditionally-carved couch and hearing the water sounds of the fish tanks and fish pond.

Ready For A Close-Up?

This is a better shot of the potty trio--the Western toilet, water hose, and water basin--note: the ciduk isn't visible in the picture...but the floor drain is.

It's Potty Time!

It's come time to have "the talk."

About Indonesian bathrooms.
The attached picture is of the bathroom that I share with my younger sister, cousin, and any other family members or guests who come to visit for any length of time.
It is a really nice bathroom. Really nice. It's very Western, too--it has a sitting Western toilet and a Western shower fixture (the silver thing in the picture in case you couldn't tell).
Unless you go to a glitzy Jakarta mall, you will be hard pressed to find a bathroom in all of Indonesia that's outfitted for the use and disposal of toilet paper. Maybe you can see a white hose looking thing in this picture? It's next to the toilet for convenience--in some parts of the world people use toilet paper to clean themselves after using the bathroom, in Indonesia they use water. Just water. That pink basin thing in the picture? That's the more traditional water basin...from which water is scooped using what's called a "ciduk" (pronounced "chee-dook") to bathe or clean oneself after *ehhm* movements of any kind. So one can either venture to use what's essentially a bucket of water or use a water hose as substitute for toilet paper.
There is one drain in the bathroom, because in Indonesia, "wet is clean." So generally the floor of the bathroom is wet from the water basin or shower head.
Now to gross you out! Sewers in Indonesia are generally open, on the side of the street. From what I can gather, the drain in our bathroom goes straight to that sewage ditch--there's no treatment of any kind--so it's kind of like a hole to the outside. Worms and bugs will crawl up out of it into the bathroom, seeking shelter. And when it's really hot, the stench of sewage comes wafting into the bathroom, too.

Like I said, my bathroom is really nice. And it's very clean, too.
When I get a chance, I will take a picture of the bathroom at school. It is a much more traditional and "normal" Indonesian restroom. It's picture won't be cute and pink. It's picture will be dark because there's no light fixture in it--only shafts of sunlight.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chicken feet!

My friend was lunching on this the other day; in my disbelief I took a photo-for proof. I didn't try it so I don't know how it tastes.

I Ate Me Some Pumpkin Pie !

On the 28th, there was a Thanksgiving Dinner Party at the American Ambassador's house: that was awesome because there was decent pumpkin and pecan pie there--something I'm really missing but don't have the guts to try making here--yet.

Among many other events, I had my first real fight with my family...
I live in Karawang, where there's another YES scholar, so he invited me over to his house to cook Thanksgiving food with him. When he invited me he said that a bunch of his friends were planning to come over and help us make the food... Buuut....
Just a few days before I'd prepared a cut up apple (a normal food to eat in Indonesia) and sprinkled some cinnamon (another extremely common thing in Indonesia) on the apple. This is a snack that I eat like everyday in America; my family members kept asking me what I was eating, so I offered them some. By their responses and facial expressions it was easy to tell that my family found what I was eating less than appetizing, but I was eager to have them try something "American" (except not really because both ingredients are very common in Indonesia) since I'd been trying all kinds of Indonesian food for three months straight (I wanted to get some exchange going on!)... Thus I kind of insisted until finally my older cousin tried it; to my utter disappointment and slight offense, my cousin disliked the apple so much that he spit it out and denounced it as tasting like soap. :(
Thus, after such an experience with my family, it would not have been a logical line of thinking to believe they'd want me cooking all kinds of strange Western food in their kitchen that they'd be extremely reluctant to try. So I explained the concept of thanksgiving to my family and then asked my mom if I could go over to Andrew's to make some thanksgiving food. She acquiesced and I felt bad about not doing something with them. The next morning I was getting ready to go over to Andrew's when the thought occurred to me that I should invite my little sister to at least hang out.... Very long, long story (filled with cultural nuances such as offering a plate already filled with food instead of a clean one to insist that newly arrived guests eat even though they are late and everyone else has eaten) made light-speed short: since Andrew's friends were missing in action, I had a day-of idea to make the feast a host family-exchange student banquet; Andrew had representatives from his family there to try and appreciate our hard work and only my older cousin and little sister could make it--very very late to the dinner party...and they'd already eaten and.... Cultural miscommunications and misunderstandings...blah blah blah blah... they felt uncomfortable and we went home in silence, my feelings exceedingly hurt and feeling what I hope was the peak of my homesickness because they had refused to try any of the food I'd spent literally all day making for them...
Its all forgiven and understood now, so no harm done, but now I definitely feel like I have a clearer perception of my family members' personalities and comfort zone...which forms a pattern with other comfort zones I've seen among my friends and family to suggest to me this conclusion/observation: Indonesians that I've interacted with so far are extremely the point that hanging out with other families is very awkward unless they know them really well. Whereas in the States I'd have no trouble going over to a classmate's house and hanging out with them...talking with their parents, blah blah, people seem very uncomfortable with the casualness of such a situation if they don't already know a person's family really well.
It's my perception so far that Indonesians are very concerned with other people's opinions of them.
December first was a momentous day because I had my first necessary encounter with the school bathroom. Unless you've used a "normal" bathroom in Haiti or another country with equivalent WC conditions, you cannot imagine an accurately uncomfortable situation. Let's just say I'm glad I didn't fall in. Haha
I have this great little iTouch App now which allows me to compose a blog post without Wi-fi--in format and everything--and then it automatically posts it whenever I have Wi-Fi! So I can type up things easily And post later...this might provide for a confusing timeline though.

On a more somber note, I'm definitely feeling the typical three month mark homesickness kicking in. :( I'm tired of being such a visible outsider all of the time. And I feel endlessly stupid for not knowing how to say everything in Indonesian....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Catching Up Just a Little Bit

Some quick thoughts from the beginning of the month--originally taken down as an iTouch Note. I touch on the topic of gender roles...but only briefly--don't fret, there's more to come! :) Haven't forgotten my promise to contemplate the double-standard of dressing conservatively, don't worry!

November 4, 2011
Gender roles within my family are very interesting. Often I must remind myself of the AFS saying, "it's not bad, it's not good, its just different."
For instance, the other day I was inquiring as to why a Muslim man may marry a Christian woman (but she has to convert according to Indonesian law), but a Muslim woman may not marry a man of a different religion; the explanation I got was that the man is the leader of the household, so the woman must follow his same religion. When I asked why the man is considered to be the head of the household, my mother said because the man is required to be the financial supporter of the family-the woman may work but her income is her own, exclusively. Personally, I rather share my income and bypass the hierarchy altogether--but I can totally see how back in the day, this was really progressive thinking. Personally now I think it's out-dated and not compatible with the level of autonomy that women have finally achieved.
This is difficult for me to write about because I'm still processing everything and thinking through all the differences and trying to develop my own opinion about life and personal values while still withholding judgement about dynamics that I'm already sure I do not want to implement in my own personal life. I do not want to say anything that would offend my new home culture!

-It's hard to immerse myself in one important way in Indonesia--music! On iTunes there's very little Indonesian music!!!
-I truly love Three Dog Night--it's irreversibly part of my identity. Even all the way in Indonesia.

Friday, October 28, 2011

National Youth Pledge Day

    Maybe I mentioned before that every Monday there is a ceremony at school. We stand at attention like soldiers, solute our principle, recite the national ideology, sing two or three national anthem songs, listen to a lecture from a teacher or the principle, and watch as the student leaders of the ceremony march like robots. All of this takes place first thing in the morning, outside on the school courtyard/field, under the already sweltering sun.
    Today was National Youth Pledge Day, as I am told, and so there was of course a ceremony. This ceremony was at this track type court that's open to the public and within a short walk from the school compound. There were at least three different high schools represented, a group of uniformed soldiers, a very small marching band, students from middle school, and teachers; all of whom lined up in blocks of school and age, and stood at attention like soldiers during the whole ceremony. The choir was from my school and we (I was lucky enough to be allowed to sit with them) under a curtained tent near the open stage. On the open stage sat dignitaries of the city, I assume, and perhaps the principles of the schools. The whole thing was a much more intense version of the weekly ceremony at each school. This time a general read out the orders to solute and stand at attention, and he was very loud! Even though he had a microphone! And he would emphasize his orders by dragging out syllables, it was a little bit funny because of how dramatic he made it. Just saying. He would be like "SIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP" [which means "ready"]. It was seriously that long. Almost like he was yell/singing! :)
    At every formal occasion in Indonesia, and this is not a generalization but a statement that holds true to every formal occasion, there is food for at least the honored dignitaries. Thus the people on the stage and the choir got a little box of delicious, catered, Indonesian food.
   Something that was special about today was seeing some of the traditional dresses of the various cultures that make up Indonesia. When three military officers took turns reading Pancasila (the national ideology/propaganda, take your pick), behind them stood, in solidarity, couples [one male and one female, Indonesia is super hetero-centric] from maybe seven of Indonesia's cultures. There was a couple representing the Sunda, the Jawa, the Padung, the Kalimantan, the Sulawesi, and none of m friends could agree on what the other ones were.
   Everyone was very proud of the ceremony, my impression is that Indonesians like to impress people with ceremony but they don't exactly listen to the speakers or pay attention. One of the things that really dazzled my friends was this kind of marching brigade. A group of men and women [yay for an example of inclusiveness :) despite the fact that there were no women in the soldier block of attendees] marched out and sort of danced except like robots, and the big deal was that they were "one." One unit, one person. This reminds me of Pancasila, which I too am starting to memorize from hearing every Monday, the second tenant of which--when translated--is something like "One supreme national identity as Indonesians." Indonesia is made up of SO many different cultures, I think this instance really shows how much the government socializes the citizens to put a great deal of value on "being one [in the national identity]." I can see how the citizens buying into this theology/propaganda/idea (I don't know what to call it) really helps the country maintain a sense of unity, cohesion, and harmony despite widespread culture differences.
   Unfortunately I fear that my posts will be few and far between now because my internet connection at home is really not very good--even weaker because it's now rainy season--and I rarely have a good enough connection to type up a blog post. I'll try to drop by some wi-fi places more often, but when I'm there I'm with people who like to engage me in conversation... thus be my prob....
   On a more personal note, the biggest thing I'm struggling with here, so far, is the extent to which religion is a part of every day life. Today is Friday, the day when school ends early and students have religion class. At my school, there is only religion class for Muslims, so the other students have to wait for the teacher with a key to come and unlock the school gate. On Fridays, all Muslim students are required to wear baju Muslim, like a white linen shirt that's usually very delicately embroidered. Thus, when letting students out of the gate, the teacher pulls back any student wearing baju Muslim because they have to stay at school for religion class. Only my school is so strict, though--because the overwhelming majority of students are Muslim (in my class there are fifty students, two of whom are not Muslim), and I think because we are mainly funded by an Islamic organization. My point is only that literally every day of everyone's life, people are defined by their religion...there is no escaping it. And while maybe some people are fine with that, I know for a fact that I am not. I do not enjoy my personal beliefs being relegated to a category of government approved religions. It's not fun to have people assume that because I'm Christian, they can tell me how I should practice my religion. A couple of times I went to the Islam religion class and subsequently got a talking to from the only other student in my class who is Christian. He wanted me to promise not to convert and he is very insistent that I go to religion class with him (I went one time, but then I found out he is Baptist; not saying anything about Baptists, the religion class was just not my preferred expenditure of energy). He is convinced that all Protestant religions are the same, so I should just go to religion class with him. I don't think there's anything in the Book of Order about how my church should support me while I face this situation (hahaha, that's a very poor and cheesy joke that you will get if you identify as a Frozen Chosen [Presbyterian]).  What's frustrating about that is that my complex and long thought out beliefs are reduced to a label from a list of government approved religion labels that everyone is plastered with all the time. If this happened in the States, I would be totally pissed off that any one felt like they had the right to so adamantly insist that I follow my religion in a certain way. As it is I am certainly frustrated, but I also see clearly that my friend has grown up his whole life as being labeled with a religion that is a minority. People who are also Christians literally try to high-five me when they find out I am Christian. I'm sure that he's just as frustrated that I don't seem to want to be labeled with religion all the time--it is the norm for him. I am more than my religion, my beliefs don't fit inside the tenants and theology of any one defined religion, and I'm happy about that. I see very clearly now that I value spirituality over subscribing to a particular religion; I value constantly developing and reforming my own beliefs and theology; I believe that doubt and "straying from the path" are important to one's spiritual growth and discovery of identity/values.
    Oh, I have SO much more to say on this issue. I can't possible say it all before I'm completely devoured by the mosquitoes who are currently snacking on me.

   Next time I will explore my thoughts and questions about Indonesia's values of conservative dress and the double standard that exists between male and female discretion with regards to skin.
  In the mean time I'll leave you with some funny anecdotes:
-When my friends say "Cadbury" as in Cadbury eggs the chocolate, it completely sounds like they are saying "Get booty." So hilarious. You can't even imagine.
-The other day I had to have an intensive pronunciation training session with my class after someone asked me to please "Shit down..." when they meant to ask me to "sit down." Oh goodness.
-My friends wanted to learn American slang, so I taught them the first phrases I could think of. These included the expressions "She got a donk." "Shawtie is fly." and "I rolled up."
-The other night my sister asked me what kinds of music are traditional in America, I said Rap, country, tried to explain folk music/ blugrass (and then played her some Old Crowe Medicine Show), Jazz, and R&B. Then I acquiesced to her request to rap. My song of choice was "No Hands" by Waka Flocka Flame. :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just Feel Like Sharing

My sister asked me on my facebook wall what I do on weekends, if I spend them with my family or if I go to parties. I'm going to share the answer with everyone!
     So, the explanation needs a context:
     In Indonesia, most students go to school from Monday to Saturday...usually. At my school, I go to school Monday to Saturday from 7:00am until 1:30, except on Fridays when we get out earlier because that's prayer day, so all the Muslim students stay at school for prayer and religion class and the few other kids go to their various religion classes off school grounds (my school has two mosque/prayer rooms in the compound).
    Thus, I only have Saturday night and Sunday for my weekend plans. Lately my family goes to Jakarta pretty much every weekend because two of my sisters live there: one will graduate in the next two weeks and the other one is only in her first semester...but both of them are at Trisakti). This past weekend we went up for Sunday and went shopping for kebaya and batik! Since my older sister is graduating sebentar, we had to buy the appropriate formal attire..which for women in Indonesia is a kebaya and batik skirt and for men is a batik shirt and dress pants. I bought my first kebaya-batik ensemble! Yay! I feel so assimilated :)
Anyways, the weekends are really chill so far, but after my sister graduates my family has plans to take a weekend vacation to Pulau Seribu ("A Thousand Islands" but there aren't actually a thousand; located off the coast of Jakarta) and I'M SO EXCITED!
    I wear a uniform to school: Monday and Tuesday I wear a white-collared short-sleeved shirt, a blue tie, and a long blue skirt; Wednesday and Thursday I wear a long-sleeved, blue batik shirt with my blue skirt; Friday I wear the white shirt and tie again (because I'm Protestant, Muslim students wear baju Muslim: beautifully embroidered white linen long-sleeved shirts); Saturday I wear premuka: Scout uniform, brown quarter-length sleeves shirt and a brown skirt. Everyday all students must wear black shoes and tall, white socks, but I always wear my ankle-length socks because I don't have long socks and I'm the bule, so no one really holds me to the dress code rules, hahaha. When I get home from school, I wash my face because there is so much pollution in the air all the time! The water is actually polluted too, so it's nonpotable...sometimes it smells bad...this is the same water that I use to bathe.... :( But it's all good in the hood!!!! Then I change into house clothes (what I normally wear as pajamas) and unless I go out somewhere to eat or hang out, I don't wear what, in the States, would be considered "real clothes" (i.e. not formal at all). When I get home I pretty much just hang out, it's really chill...I like to read my little Lonely Planet book about Indonesia; study; bother my sister when she gets home from her school (which is a different, more expensive high school than mine, so they get out of school around 4 pm); watch TV that I don't really understand quite yet--although I've totally got the cheesy commercial jingle lyrics down....because they're only like three words ahaha--though I do understand more and more everyday...oh! I've come to love Shaun the Sheep, so funny without an words at all!!!
If my sister isn't home yet, or she's doing her homework, then I like to bother my older cousin with discussions about cultural differences, or just stupid questions like did he already eat and what did he eat...these days I announce even the most trivial things...such as what I ate for the last meal, or if I'm about to go brush my teeth...anything to practice my Indonesian! He is really good about teaching me new words and being patient with my language difficulties.
My parents are really hard workers, so when they are at home, they are tired and hang out in their air-conditioned room or they relax in front of the TV. Although in the evening they like to come and hang out in Devi's room....I join in and so do my cousins sometimes and it's quite the little bonding time.
I LOVE MY FAMILY. They are pretty dang sweet. I can share anything with my sisters, and my parents are the same (except there's still a language barrier between us because they can't speak any English at all). My younger sister is the one I hang out with most and she is just as silly and joking as I am...except she has a lot more homework than I do so she has to focus and be serious more family likes to jokingly mock each other about appearances. Especially me, my older cousin, and Devi all like to play around and call each other ugly and crazy in various languages ("gila"=crazy in Bahasa Indonesia; "goreng"=ugly in Bahasa Sunda; etc)....of course it's the most light-hearted of light-hearted joking...mostly I think it's just a good icebreaker for when the language barrier prevents more meaningful conversation.
    Since it's so extremely hot here all the time, Indonesians shower at least twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon between three and five...since I can't think of anything else to share I'm now going to go engage in the culturally mandated hygienic practice...
Feel free to email or facebook me if you have any specific questions to which you want answers and I'll respond in a blog post.
Love from Indo,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

1 Oktober !

    So, I'm just going to plunge in the water, here, today I had some serious cultural exchange dialogue goin' on, ya'll; it was so interesting because at the same time I learned about Indonesian values, I also saw my own values more clearly defined. Today I went to SMAN 1 (I attend SMAN 3) for a Debate Competition in English. Since I'm clearly already fluent, I went as support and was a chatty spectator with my friends. The topic of the debate was "Brains vs. Beauty*" (the arguments presented are a whole nother blog post but I'll cover that some later) which somehow led my friends and I to talking about the term "free sex." The term in Indonesian is "seks bebas" which of course literally translated means "free sex" but a more accurate translation is "sex before marriage."
    The first time someone asked me if there is "free sex" in America, I had to work hard to stifle my immature internal only makes me laugh because the implications are very ironic.. free sex implies that there is sex that must be purchased and my friends were asking me if there was free sex in America, so the misconstrued interpretation of the the question implies that in Indonesia one must always pay for sex while in America its always free. Of course, Indonesia is a very conservative country and extramarital relations and sex before marriage are highly frowned upon, so when juxtaposed with reality, this misconception is a hilariously sloppy abstract painting. It's hard to explain the social expectations and accepted behaviors of a country as intensely diverse as U.S.--only in Indonesia have I come to realize just how diverse the U.S. actually is...and right now I'm measuring this purely on the fact that in the U.S. when I saw someone who was obviously from a different heritage/race/skin color, it was nothing extraordinary because everyone in the U.S. is really a foreigner (except the Native Americans) included. But I ended up telling them exactly how I personally perceived the situation (and I tried to explain that it was only my specific perception, filtered through my life experiences and sub culture): there are head-butting opinions about sex before marriage, all the flavors of religion in the U.S. that I can think of discourage if not forbid sex before marriage, teenagers are especially inclined to get caught in the cross fire because they get mixed messages about how much freedom they should be able to have in that aspect of their lives and in the end I think it's mostly just the teenagers decision--though not always an informed one--of how he or she wants to live his or her life.
[As a side note, this is not to say that there's isn't prostitution in Indonesia; in clarifying the implications of the term my friends were using, we had a sorrowful side conversation about young girls--the example they gave was an 11 year old---who sell their bodies to help their families pay the bills...]

    This little girl's story led us to talk about yet another pivotal cultural difference. I'm under the impression that in the States, although religion is frequently invoked ("God Bless America"), we value having an education more than we value subscribing to a particular religion. In talking with my friends, they told me that they valued education but that if they had to pick, religion is most important because it gives morality and values peace. I realized that if I had to pick, without hesitation I can say that I believe education is more important than religion. When I think about it, I'm living out that belief right now...because I've traveled as far away from my home as possible to devote a year of my life to educating myself with first-hand experience, and I'm sitting here sweating in front of the computer with painfully slow internet, being devoured by mosquitoes, to share my knowledge and educate you. All this because my life experiences have shown me that religions differ and interpretations of ancient texts can be reinterpreted and misconstrued and cause crusades and endless conflict, but education can show people that in essence all human beings have a common thread; through education we learn that even though people may have different cultures and contexts and languages and hopes and dreams and life goals, all those differences don't make a person bad, just different. It's been my experience that while peace and love are the goals of most religions, real harmony/enlightenment comes from learning to understand one another... that's not to say that religion doesn't catalyze learning sometimes, but religion isn't the necessary component to harmony... 

*Pretend that this is a really well written transition*

Randomness about my life:
 -Everyday I ride to school on the back of a Scoopy or motorcycle with my cousin (not the young one, now my older cousin lives with us, too because he works at a bank here). I don't wear a helmet and it was really scary at first but now I'm getting used to it and the other day I even texted on my phone while holding on! Maybe that's not a good development according to my parents, and they'll probably freak out when they read this, it's actually just another sign that I'm assimilating well. :)
-I like to eat with my hands, the traditional Indonesian way! I'm still trying to master the art of eating rice with my hands, but I'll get there!!
-There are cats everywhere!
-It's HOTTT!!!!!!!!!
-I like to drink coconut juice right out of the coconut.
-I like when my food is wrapped in banana leaves instead of packaged in plastic
-The power will randomly go out for about a minute, it's no big deal.
-There are little street vendors everywhere and they sell delicious food and drink that they make in their portable mini kitchen
-Everyone stares at me ALL the time, everyone knows my name! When I ride anywhere on a motorcycle/scooter, when people spot my pale skin and bright hair, they yell out "bule!" (foreigner). And then they recite carefully prepared English phrases like "I love you!" "What is your name" "Where are you going" "Hey Barbie!" and my favorite "I like it!" (Like what, I don't even 
-The other day I was waiting outside of my school for my cousin to come pick me up and I was standing in the sun so this vendor lady that I do not know called me by name and showed me a nice seat in the shade. I sat next to some Indonesian school girls who were curious about me and the vendor lady proceeded to tell them my name, my neighborhood, how long I'd been here, how long I'm staying here, what class and grade I'm in, and even my Indonesian name (different from my real name). It freaked me out. Just a bit.
-People like to take pictures with me, make it their profile picture, and then add me on facebook. It's kind of adorbs.
-I'm freakishly tall everywhere I go, pretty much. I tower over my friends at school.
-Almost the second thing people will say when I meet them is how beautiful I am, they say I look like Barbie and they compare their skin to an extent I'm flattered by this but I must admit that I'm also quite disturbed. On TV I always see commercials for skin whitening products, FREAKY! They show the paint strip--like for teeth whitening commercials--and then they show a girls face progressively getting whiter. While it means that everyone loves my pale skin and encourages me to protect it by staying in the shade and wearing sun screen, it also means that the beauty psyche of an entire nation values a standard that is unnaturally can't actually change your skin color...and it bothers me that dark skin is considered ugly...all my friends envy my pale, vein-revealing skin...which makes me so upset--society should affirm that they are naturally beautiful! There opinion of themselves is tainted by some stupid beauty standard that is completely flipped in the States. I can't even fully put words to why this bothers me so profoundly. I will work on processing my thoughts and reflecting more.
-So much sugar all the time! And everything is fried! I am so getting fat! The other day my mom pinched me above the collarbone and told me that when I arrived I was really skinny and it was ugly, but now I' fat and sexy! AHAHAHAH, SO FUNNY!
-I'm so white that the other night, when my cousin left his phone playing music all night and woke me up with it so I went in his room to make him turn it off, my other cousin saw me and got the fright of his life because he thought I was a zombie or Indonesian vampire...since I'm so white... HAHAHA
-Even before that, on Leburan break, I was sleeping in the same bed as my sister and had a dream I was swimming. I kicked and talked in my sleep and my sister got scared and went to go sleep with our mom because....I'm so white I looked like a zombie! HAHAH :)
 Now, I gotta wrap it up, I'm being eaten alive by mosquitoes and it is SO HOT at the computer desk.
 Uh, malas, maybe later I'll talk about the debate :)
Oh, and I'm really happy because maybe in November I will go to Kalimantan! Wahoo!

Oh, and now I'm going to go to a bonfire at my younger sister's school! Yay!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So the last three weeks of my life...

Time has flown by! Today marks exactly three weeks with my host family!

  Now that it's been (oh my gosh!!!!) three weeks, I am settled, have started school, and have felt out an appropriate time to use the internet.

  Puasa (fasting) was quite the experience! I'd fasted in the states to prepare for my adventure, but stopped while traveling to Indonesia. While still at orientation in Teman Mini, I started fasting again--and it was difficult! Jet lag, adjusting to the hot climate, and learning constantly took the spark right out of me! The first day I tried to resume fasting I had to drink water at lunch because I felt quite faint. The next day I was able to fast completely, and for the rest of Ramadan I continued to fast. At Teman mini we learned the basics of Indonesian culture and language; we studied appropriate greetings, telling time, numbers, very basic communication, and culture of daily life in Indonesia. In Indonesia, greetings are very different. When greeting anyone older than you, and when leaving, you have to cium tangan--this literally translates to "kiss hand." In my experience, only little kids, sometimes, actually kiss an elder's hand; generally, this consists of touching an elder's hang to one's forehead or nose. I prefer forehead because lately I've had flu ("sniffles") and I don't want to spread my germs. This greeting, however, is not appropriate for very religious people of a different gender than such case, the two people kind of "ninja chop" eachother...haha, maybe that's not the best way to describe it but that's how it looks to me. This same greeting is also appropriate when greeting someone around your same age, or sometimes they "shake hands" but they don't actually shake hands, they just touch hands as if they are going to shake, or they loosely shake hands...very loosely.
  I'll talk more about greetings later...
So anyways, Lebaran was very festive! It was quite beautiful. We woke up early in the morning and went to mosque--altough there were so many people at mosjid that we were only outside the mosque praying. I wore baju muslim and jibab; me and my sisters has matching dresses in different colors. We prayed, I didn't solat, though because I don't know how, and then we went home and took a lot of pictures! Once picture time was over, we went to rumah nenek (my maternal grandmother's house--she speaks Chinese, f,y,i.!) and all the family came over and we had brunch. We asked each family member to "minta maaf" (forgive) and visited the grave of my maternal grandfather and spread flower petals and prayed. People came by the house the rest of the day, asking forgiveness from nenek and other family members.The whole experience was deeply touching and I had a very meaningful day.

Now to describe my family! I have three sisters and a mom and dad. My older sister lives in Jakarta and goes to Trisakti University (maybe you know its relation with the Reformasi period in Indoensia), and this past weekend my sister who's my same age--a few months younger actually--moved into the same apartment-type (you rent a room and there's a common bathroom and kitchen for like 30 people on one floor) as my older sister and this is her first week at Trisakti. My younger sister is fifteen and she goes to a different school than I do--she goes to the top school in Karawang, I go to a bigger, less expensive school--and she is my only sibling that lives at home...
except one of my cousins also lives in our house and goes to school here. The rest of his family lives in Tegal...I have no idea why his situation is like that, my Indonesian is good enough to ask but not good enough to understand a response. Oh and then at the house is an old woman who is related to me...I think she is my dad's aunt...? Lol, I'm not sure. But my family is really nice--both of my parents are loving, hardworking, goofballs; my mom is quite the cool lady! She has raised three bright young ladies and she owns her own catering business--which I might add makes delicious food!! She works very hard and is usually in the catering building that is next door and connected to our house. My dad is an engineer and I'm told he travels a Bali! For work! What fun! Speaking of Bali, soon--Idk when--my family is going to take me there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'M SUPER EXCITED! Yay!
Oh, and my family has alot of fish! We have an aquarium in our front living room/mom's office and a pond/fountain in the family room area, it's pretty sweet. To get to one of the bathrooms, and to get to the door that connects to the catering business, you have to walk over this carved wooden plank bridge, and sometimes the fish will jump and splash you! They are huge fish, I'lll be chilling out on the carpet in the family room, several feet away, and the fish will jump and splash me! It's sweet! But, yea, my family is awesome! They like to speak Javanese, though, which I can barely understand (Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia, but my family speaks javanese and the students at my school speak Sundanese--so actually I get to learn three languages while I'm here...wahoo!!).

School: This is my first full week at school. Last week, school began again after Lebaran break on Wednesday. It was shocking for me to find that absolutely nothing was taught that day! My sister Dea, she is about my age, drove me to school and walked me in to meet my teachers. Then we walked over to the huge field where the whole school was gathered; she left and I was asked to introduce myself on a microphone to around 1,500 students. Eeek! I introduced myself in Indonesia but I was so nervous! Afterwards I went and stood with my class, none of whom I'd met yet, and then all the girls from each class lined up and we greeted the teachers with cium tangan. Then we went to our classroom--here the students stay in one classroom and the teachers move around--and just hung out for the rest of the day! We didn't even have a teacher in the classroom! As evident, school is very different here, but I'm starting to adjust...I don't know enough Indonesian for my teachers to consider me a test-taking student, though, so school is purely language acquisition and friend-making time. 

I've learned so much these past few weeks and traveled quite a bit! It's quite hilarious, but when keluarga saya (my family) traveled back to where we're from (mudik), I didn't even have the name of the city right. We went to Tegal, not Temang, or whatever I said...I don't even know if there's a place called Temang... hahahhahaha :)

F.Y.I. That last "Report" was actually an email I sent to my mom, that she posted for me. So it sounds jumbled because 1) I was jumbled and 2) It wasn't meant to be a blog post!
 But my mom was nice enough to post the update, because I didn't have much time for blogging.

I have so much more to say and I regret not keeping up with my blog more. I will continue to try and catch up though, I've picked Wednesday as my blogging day, and will try to blog at least every two weeks. This week I will try to blog more to catch up, though.
I'm a little bit homesick, but that doesn't mean I'm not having a blast! Every day is an adventure!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Report from Indonesia

Doing awesome!  Makan ada inak/enak?
At my family's house for mudik/Idul Fitri.
Going to eat some delicious cake  tonight.
My family is erfect, I love them.
Don't have much internet access though.
Soon we will buka paus (break fast).

Tidak punya (don't have) wireless at my house so my iTouch is kinda moot. 
Also forgot the right charger for it!  Haha! 
 I am having a blast and saya suka (I love) keluarga saya (my family)! 
Mareka baik (they are nice)!

I saw a post on facebook about the earthquake in Virginia!
So everyone and everything okay? 
I would not mind a detailed update on everything in Virginia.
I am trying very hard to learn Indonesia but I feel really
stupid for not already being fluent, heheh.  You know me!

I will try to go to an internet cafe later this month.
This next week (now/sekarang) I am visiting relatives
in Temang for Mudik (family goes to hometown to pray with relatives)/
Idul/Fitri (the end of Ramadan). The food here is so good
(Ini makan enak)!!

Kalkak saya ada hilarious (my sisters are so awesome and and cool)
Saya cinta keluarga says (I love my family)
Gue (slang for I) cinta) pronounced chinta/meaning love)
lo (slang for you)
Biscous (french for kisses)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Context: A bit of a digression

  Today, I started packing for Indonesia.
  I'm contemplating the dimensions of my suitcase, trying to make a mental check list of every thing I'll need to bring for a year-long adventure! :D
Specifically, I'm intensely analyzing and profoundly pondering what I should bring as a gift for my new parents!
 I've been trying to think of something special, really personal about myself that would be a good conversation starter/really meaningful.
  With this on my mind, I was passing by this book of poems by my namesake: Ruth Thomas Halbrooks. I can't give my host family this book of poems but maybe later on I can translate this one poem that particularly resonated with me--it's a good depiction of my hopes for the next year and, more generally, my life outlook.
Here's hoping sharing this on the internet doesn't make dear Mrs. Ruth Thomas Halbrooks roll in her grave (RIP)!

By Ruth Thomas Halbrooks

"Let me be kind and gentle with this world,
Embrace it, not with crushing arms, but eyes
That gaze on vast expanse of earth impearled
In space when ebon heavens tranquilize
The night with velvet peace and soothing psalm.
May I be sensitive to life and find
I can yet hold a petal in my palm,
A sunset in my color-conscious mind.
Let me caress the earth with open heart,
Enjoy each birdsong with attentive ears,
Watch tides that change by moon's magnetic art,
Feel gratitude as each new dawn appears.
Aware of all creation still unfurled,
Let me be gentle with this treasured world."

  So, if you know me, you know that this poem just happens to also be completely in line with my passion for loving and respecting the Earth; it also happens to mirror a wish for many ideals I strive to embody: an open heart and mind, greet every day with gratitude, listen more than I talk, appreciate differences, and learn about different cultures. Maybe you don't see all of that in there, it's how I interpreted it.
Now I'm going to actually get my second suitcase out of the attic! Woooo!