“Sometimes moving away to do something radical can be admirable, but it can also be an escape—from how hard it is to make a difference at home and how hard it is to become a different person. Is this okay, not okay or just something to be honest about?” -Kent Annan
35 days to go. 35 days left to stay. 35 days to make it through. 35 days to make it worth while. I once had a friendly debate with a friend (Randy) who insisted that a moment could be calculated down to the second. Someone had defined a moment and stuck it in the dictionary. I disagreed then and I disagree now, respectfully of course 🙂 that words like “moment” should ever be defined scientifically. After all, how many moments are left on this trip? Many it seems now, but I know long after I’m home I will reflect on this summer and all the memories will have gathered themselves together to form one strange faint moment I spent in Malang, living on Segura-gura V street with strangers-turned-friends.
I never thought of myself as one of those people who experienced culture shock. But I realized this week, I’ve been wrong. Those obnoxious cultural adjustments travelers must make, are much more clearly defined, actually as they’ve begun to wear off. I realized that whenever I go somewhere I end up spending the first couple weeks in a bit of a daze…sort of like sleep walking. But the good news is, I think I’m starting to wake up. I eat more (not enough by Javanese standards but still), I take more pictures, I notice (Re: appreciate) more about the country around me and begin to dream about visiting/living in countries other than the US again. The experience is sort of like trying to fit something square-shaped through a circle opening over and over again until you realize you have to change your own shape to get anywhere. I think I’m rounder now… despite my best efforts to decline second servings. 🙂
This doesn’t mean that I understand what on earth I’m doing here. I have my moments, walking home through the jalan kecil (small streets cars can barely get through) and marveling at the colorful shops-houses, toothless smiles, stray cats, cheeky food vendors, Mosques full of kneeling Muslims, random rice paddy fields with the sun beating down and the mountains protruding high above the tallest buildings in the background. Many times I’ve been greeted by random Indonesians (usually men) who attempt some English with me as I walk by and (quite often) say “Where are you?” (instead of the intended question, “Where are you from?”). I usually just keep on my way rather than get pulled into a conversation with a strange man but the question always lingers…yeah… Where am I?
For class we’re required to choose a topic and write a term paper and present on it. I’ve taught a few of my teachers some basic signs from ASL so one of them suggested studying sign language here in Malang for my topic. I explained that I’d love to but in the states I had a hard time finding good sources for it (given it’s not a top priority here at the moment) but they said there’s a school for deaf kids really close to the university and I could probably get a tour and some interviews there to write the project. I’m ecstatic over it 🙂 I’m so interested to see how Indonesia handles their deaf population given that they value a common language (Bahasa Indonesia) and the strength of the nation as a whole over the individuality that springs from thousands of islands all with their own language and culture. Have deaf people developed their own language here? Is it suppressed in an attempt to learn a government-designed Indonesian-based sign language? (Like SEE, Signed Exact English, in America) Hopefully I can understand enough in the interviews to write my paper; My Indonesian is improving but only small painful steps at a time.
Speaking of my Indonesian, I’ve had some pretty funny blunders with my Host family already. On Sunday I was trying to explain to my host parents that I would be going to a pool with a group of girls that day to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Often whatever I say most frequently comes out first rather than the words I actually want to use. I always forget the word for swimming pool and end up opting for the easier “place swimming” (place to swim) instead. Unfortunately when my host mother inquired about the trip the following came out: I’m not sure about everything, I only know I am going to bed (place to swim becomes more often said, place to sleep) with Pak Peter.” (Pak peter was driving us). Sigh. She was quiet for a minute and then started busting up laughing as I realized what I’d said. A few days later I was trying to tell her about a trip to get iced coconut juice with some friends and getting caught in the rain. (Wonderful little trip where we all cowered under a small bit of roof to avoid the golf ball sized raindrops). I unfortunately replaced “Es Kelapa” (iced coconut) with the more familiar “Es Kepala”. I told my host mother “Today I tried some delicious iced head, man it was so good!” Surely the entertainment I provide my host family is worth more than the small stipend they receive for my staying here. 🙂
The war over my eating habits rages on, and Indonesians fight dirty.
Personal choice: A while ago I decided I didn’t want to be one of those pansy Americans that wouldn’t eat something just because they’d never heard of it. I decided if something was offered to me that I couldn’t get at home, I would commit to always trying at least a bite of it (be it dog or animal brain or whatever). So far, I’ve succeeded.
About a week ago my host mother made a really good vegetable dish with a vegetable I’d never had before. I try to encourage her a lot whenever I enjoy a dish because I know she feels self conscious about her cooking since I don’t eat the meat etc… She responded to my enthusiasm by going and getting the vegetable to show me what it looked like before it was cooked. I happen to have my camera right there and said “Oh, maybe I’ll take a picture of them together so I can show people later”. (With all the language I have to remember I don’t try and remember the names of all the dishes I eat.) She smiled and nodded. (In my experience living overseas, slight smiles and head nods usually means nothing’s being understood.) Last night (days later) I climb onto the bus and a friend (fellow student) who lives down the street said “Hey my host parents were talking about you at dinner tonight.” Huh? “Yeah they were saying how your host parents have been telling them you are really weird because you never eat rice, like only once or twice a week and you love this one kind of vegetable so much you took a picture of it and sent it home to America.” …So apparently I’m a pansy American because I don’t eat white rice three times a day 7 days a week. (Not to mention the embellishment of the vegetable story. No one in American has seen that picture.) I couldn’t believe it. Why aren’t the neighbors talking about how amazing I am for eating tons of really spicy food? Or how courageous I’ve been to eat dishes where I didn’t understand the ingredients in them? Couldn’t I be famous for that? No, my ibu kos has resorted to gossiping about me to all the neighbors so that I become the crazy American who doesn’t eat white rice and fried chicken for breakfast. Two can play at that game. I recently hid three pastries (greasy doughnuts) that she forced on me in my bag and handed them out to my teachers and peer tutor at school. :] Like I said, raging on.
This week has been busy and full of trips and parties. On Friday we visited the famous religious site, “Gunung Kawi”. That was interesting. We went on Thursday night because that’s the lucky night. We spent two hours walking up a smoke filled bustling street with flower and food vendors and people squeezing past each other (all of us American’s clutching our belongings tight to our chest). We stopped to watch a bit of a Wayang (Javanese Puppets) show. The story behind the famous site (which attracts thousands from all over) is that a soldier died and is buried there. People come to pray to/for him (an important distinction that is obnoxiously blurry) to get into heaven and request whatever they want (usually wealth) in hopes that Allah/whoever is listening/God will give them their request as a sort of reward. When we finally got to the temple (after passing the fortune teller’s booth who uses boiled animal blood and keeps a snake in a suit case to channel the spirits and tell the future) I saw hundreds of people crowded in a candlelit room, eyes closed, lips moving quickly but silently. Outside on the courtyard are hundreds of people (mostly very poor) sleeping all over in hopes that one of the courtyard tree’s leaves will fall on them while they sleep and promise good luck for the rest of their lives. On the long walk back to the bus, back through the thick clouds of smoke, we passed a group of people gathering around something. There were two men in the middle of the circle, one making strange, loud, yelps and cries, the other clearly some sort of witch doctor. I didn’t stay long to find out why.
We also visited a different village on Saturday (Desa Kidangberik) and visited various peoples homes who made things like colorful mats, a certain type of sugar (used to make sweet ketchup here) and bricks. It’s certainly strange to meet a man who looks 60, is around 30, and spends all his days shaping mud into squares and laying them out to dry. Strange is probably the wrong word. On the other hand there are kids running through the fields flying kites painting a picture straight out of a children’s book. It’s hard to do these things in such a big group, but other than that I more or less enjoy them. They are long hot days walking around and cramming into small houses but it’s stuff I want to see. Most of the time anyway. 🙂 And it makes me appreciate my home in Malang.
Friday we celebrated fourth of July at Pak Peter’s house. That was actually a wonderful day. A lot of people attempted to make their favorite dishes/sauces from America so for the first time since I’ve gotten here, there was food I actually wanted multiple helpings of. We lit sparklers and though it was no river side American fireworks show, it was the first time I’ve gotten to light a sparkler in several years and…well definitely made my day. The rest of the time we just visited and played a few games. Javanese absolutely love to embarrass themselves it seems and any time someone with a guitar is around they coax someone into playing it and sing for what seems like forever. They really love to sing…at least the ones here!
I’ve planned my long weekend trip to Jogjakarta (the 15th through the 19th) and I couldn’t be more excited. I am going with a friend from class by train through the night and I plan on picking up some special items for friends and family back home. I am also hoping to visit a school (UGM) there and maybe wander around the English department to see if anyone’s around to meet me. I would love to apply there later for a teaching job.
I’ve been really enjoying the opportunity to get to know the people on this trip. Sometimes I feel bad for spending time with Americans rather than Indonesians (when I have the option) but I also feel that my time with them is valuable. I enjoy hearing about Ethiopia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Spain, other parts of Indonesia, Italy, Germany, and others. The variety of educational backgrounds also gives me a lot of opportunities to listen to mini lectures about separatist movements (like in East Timor and Kosava), special needs education in Latin America, small business development and NGO work in Rwanda. I’m quite happily discovering that this trip is not just about me learning Indonesian. I really appreciate the company I’m with and the times when I’m not particularly fond of it, they make for really interesting case studies and psychoanalysis. 🙂 (Makes me wish Emily were here!)
Alright that’s all for now. I hope you all are doing wonderful. Excited to see you in five weeks. 🙂
“Everybody is just a stranger but
that’s the danger in going my own way
I guess it’s the price I have to pay
still “Everything happens for a reason”
is no reason not to ask myself
If I am living it right…”