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....