Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Well the end of the term is here… at least for me. The university continues for a couple of weeks and then has finals. I made sure to finish my classes by this week and am already giving finals. I couldn't imagine still having to work on Christmas Day, it is so ingrained in me that this entire week should be off that this was one unexpected surprise to me. Of course an Islamic University wouldn't celebrate Christmas! Not that I expected them to but somehow I just expected the academic calendar to follow an American one. It is a weird feeling, like a small tickly itch and you can't quite figure out where to scratch to relieve the discomfort.

There hasn't been much show for the Christmas holiday season here. On TV there are plenty of commercials telling you how you can download a Christmas ringtone, and some TV announcements of something going on in Jakarta but locally, not really anything. I was surprised with a small thrill of joy and comfort when I saw a small amount of Christmas decorations adorning the local mall. It does get dark here early and with the rainy season, it feels like the season for light festivals is due for us. My internal clock seems to know its Christmas.

I won't be home for Christmas. I am sad about that but I will celebrate in style. Those of us ELFs who are staying behind are going to do it up properly with a party on Christmas Eve in Yogyakarta hosted by ELF Ben. On the 27th I will fly from there to Bali and meet mon amour, Jacques. I haven't seen him since my departure at SFO. Even though we make it a point to talk to each other every week, it's not the same. He's going to be my Santa too bringing me tons of goodies I've requested from the U.S. (mostly food from Trader Joes!), and then we'll travel around together. Highlights to look for in my future blog posts will be a deeper look into Bali's art and temple culture, a trip to see the orangutan in Kalilmantan, puppets in Yogyakarta… I'll don't know when I'll be able to post the photos nor my next blog post but I will keep the stories coming so definitely check in after the New Year!

Happy Christmas, New Year, Yule, Hanukah… See you next year!


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Banjarmasin is a city that has its fair share of dirt and pollution. The rivers that run through it are a muddy chocolaty color due to the rainy run off from mining and presumably non environmentally sound construction practices and who knows what else. To that end, it is nice to know that some areas of South Kalimantan show the same purity Mother Nature intended. Loksado is one of these places.

Last weekend I experienced Loksado, one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in person. Getting to Loksado requires about a 3 ½ hour 'taksi' to a small town called Kandangan. From there you hop on another hour long transport up a small and slightly windy road into the hills, past small villages and through a remarkable jungle. Accompanied by Puji and Citra, one of the students and friend from the University, I rode to Loksado local style. I rode from Kandangan crammed in the back of a truck carrying other passengers and supplies for some of the villages saving about 140,000 rupia by not hiring a car with a driver.

We stayed at a newer hotel in Loksado, a good rate and perched on a little island in the middle of the river right in the middle of the village. From there, we gathered some water, and our things and we went on a hike to the nearest waterfall. We left the hotel around 1:30 and it was going to be about a 2 hour hike in to the falls. Our guide was Darsani, one of Puji's students whose family lives in a small village down the river from Loksado. Having a local guide is important for a number of reasons. One is to have someone who can speak the local dialect, Banjarese, which may share some similarities to Bahasa, Puji says she really can't understand it. Another obvious reason to have a guide is a local knows where to go and how to get there. The third reason is to help prevent you from being the subject of black magic… or so I'm told.

Dyak tribes are the 'pagans' of Borneo. Some of these tribes were once head hunters, but still practice their old religious spiritual ways refusing to be converted to government recognized religion. It is unclear whether I met Dyaks while in Loksado, I saw no rituals, sacrifices nor heads on spears. My company wouldn't want to admit if the friendly people in these villages were Dyak… it would just be too scary to fathom. But the signs of Islam were most definitely not as evident as they are in Banjarmasin. Although I saw a Mosque in Loksado, I didn't see Mosques in any of the villages we hiked through. Women weren't covered and people lived their lives more in line with surviving in the Jungle and with the resources that were available right there such as using bamboo, extracting sap from the rubber trees and cultivating/drying spices for sale. The villages have longhouses where you can be invited to stay the night and sleep on a bamboo mat on the floor for a small fee. Although I know some Americans who have done this, we didn't. Part of the reason is my travel companions' worries of black magic. There are many stories, some claimed to be first hand or of a friend or relative falling victim to mysterious black magic pranks. One such is how the Dyak will cast a spell on your food and you will find yourself throwing up glass or pieces of metal or stories of the vampires and vampire ghosts, or the unborn baby missing from its mother's womb; stories for perhaps another blog post. These stories I find intriguing as part of the rich history of Borneo but my colleagues shudder in fear if they even hint about these stories to me.

So we focused on the beauty of the area. The 2 hour hike to the falls, what normally in my normal climate would have been fairly easy ended up almost causing me heatstroke at the 1.5 hour mark. Note to self: don't forget to bring pump water filter on next hike. The weather was hot and humid, mosquitoes were in full force, but despite these set backs, it was amazing and gorgeous. We zig zagged across the river over swinging suspension bridges that might make you wonder if they could support anyone's weight. But knowing many motorcycles use this path (and having seen it myself) I knew these bridges would hold and I walked across with full trust.

It was cooler at the falls and breath taking. We walked across a makeshift bamboo foot bridges onto the rocks around the fall and the cool pool of water. I released my feet from my hiking boots, dangled my feet in the pool and eagerly splashed myself with the water. After about 30 minutes there, we headed back. The hike to the falls was a gradual incline most of the way so needless to say it was faster getting back. A good thing too as it gets dark early here and it was already 4. Once we arrive to Loksado it had just gotten dark and luckily there were enough lights out so that we could see the path ways… at least until we got into the hotel room and then the power went out, Borneo style.

Our second and last day in Loksado was the day we went bamboo rafting which was the best rafting trip I've ever taken. We took a transport down the road to where a hot springs resort is. Bypassing the fabulous opportunity of being the only girl in a swimsuit (and the only bule), we decided to just go for the rafting trip before heading home. We walked through the small village, past our rafting guide's home with his curious family looking on then down to the river where the guide lashed together a seat for us on the bamboo raft in just under 20 minutes.

The rafting trip took about an hour and all I can say is look at my photos. I found it to be calming and soothing and if I ever had any doubt that we have a Creator or a God, this doubt would have been sincerely challenged while meandering through this beautiful scenery on Borneo. It really makes you realize how important it is to protect and sustain what gifts we've been given. I can honestly say that this will be one of my best memories here. And a worthy punctuation to this rafting trip was that it ended at Darsani's home (right on the river) where his mother cooked us an amazing lunch from things found right there on the riverside.

She served us rice, the soft meat of the bamboo plant cooked in coconut milk, boiled leaves from the sweet potato plant seasoned with garlic and onion, egg for me, river fish for everyone else, tea, and as much fruit as we could manage to carry home. I still have tons of rambutan (the hairy fruit) in my refrigerator. Hope I can eat it all or distribute it soon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bule Bule… or Being Thankful

Bule, or bulai, is the term Indonesians use to describe people like me. It means a Caucasian individual but it pretty much refers to all westerners. So the call out to us is usually first "bule, bule" followed with a "Hello mister." Yeah, mister. Although I may have blogged this before, it stands to be repeated because over the past two weeks I've had a lot of 'bule' time and it surprises me how refreshing it is to not be a mister, or as my students call me "mom" a translation of "Ibu" which can be either Mom or Ms.

My most recent bule action was last night I went out to pizza with some of the local bules here. One was the roommate of one I met back in September (Americans) and the others are an Australian couple and their 6 month old baby. The baby, Jack, kept staring at me as intently as Indonesian children do. I think he was curious about the bule that wasn't his mother. Although the pizza isn't like home, the company was good and we hope to get together relatively soon again before everyone scatters for Christmas.

The biggest bule gathering was the fabulous Thanksgiving feast in Surabaya. Surabaya is the second biggest city in this country, of course Jakarta being the first. The U.S. Consul's house hosted the gathering. She wasn't there but others from the U.S. expat community were. This meant I had a real Thanksgiving with all the smells and flavors of home. There was roasted turkey (although I didn't eat any), mashed potatoes, STUFFING, cranberry sauce, STUFFING, pie… and of course STUFFING. About 7 of us ELFs were able to make it and then a large handful of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETA) were there enjoying the wine and festivities with us. It was good times.

To make this event even more special, I shared a nice hotel room with my ELF friends, we shared stories, had the hotel lights go out on us at a climactic point of a horror film and I had a couple of nice HOT showers. Oh bliss! Not all sites here are as sparse as mine but living in Indonesia really teaches you to live without… and, well, I'm still learning not having mastered this exercise. So I indulged… came back and experienced a days worth of culture shock once again. It was weird because I really thought I was over that. All the things that I had broken down and learned to accept over the past months came reeling back, the things I was happy to forget while in a more modern environment. What was even more surprising was how quickly acclimated back to my life in Banjarmasin. What helps the most is staying busy, teaching. What doesn't help is frequent cancellations of my culture and language class with the faculty on Fridays and my attempt to do collaborative workshops here with the teachers never seems to be able to launch for one reason or another. Banjar time, Banjar time, Banjar time: My mantra to help me try to understand. I really want to stay busy and really work with the teachers here but you know the famed Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

Another bule adventure I had last week was when I met up with my local ETAs, Dan and Emmy. They live about an hour from here and teach at pesantrens, the Islamic boarding schools. They definitely are more remote than me so coming into Banjarmasin is coming into the big city. We went to the floating market with my office mates. I kind of wondered what the hype was, especially since getting up at 4:30 was pretty tough. But I can now say that I did one of Banjarmasin's famous attractions. It is a real commerce event, not really a tourist attraction. They trade fruits and veggies out on the water and it is said you can get the best price here… but that also means you have to hire your Klotok (a wobbly motorized boat that takes you out to find these great deals) so maybe it balances out in the end. We bypassed the monkey island and from the stories I've heard of it, a good thing. I didn't want to slap any vile monkeys who are pretty aggressive while looking for food handouts from the visiting humans, another sign of man's disruption of nature's balance. My Australian friend, Mick, said one of them bit him on the back of the leg for denying it food.

Dan, Emmy, Puji and I also went to Snow World that same afternoon. It is essentially a big freezer on the way to the airport full of ice sculptures, a big snow slide and no photos allowed. Puji is great at showing us Indonesian style… pretend you didn't read the signs until the security guard says something. We got quite a few photos. It was fun to play on the ice slide and amazing to be in this cold environment that I didn't think I'd see until next winter. I also enjoyed witnessing Puji's intrigue with watching her breath exhale in small clouds. My first comment walking in there, remarking on the energy it must take to keep so much ice cool in Indonesia, was "Ahh, so THIS is why we've been having so many rolling blackouts!"


Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Road to Kotabaru

It's a long drive to Kotabaru. I found this out, first hand, this last weekend. Kotabaru is a small city on an island (Palau Laut) off the eastern coast of South Kalimantan. Looking at a map of Borneo you would think… "oh, not so far." And in fact you would be right. A flight to Kotabaru from Banjarmasin is under an hour. But if you look at a map that shows roads, you would see a road that winds close to the coast to Batalucin which is where you'd catch a ferry to the island. There are some mountains, or as I learned on this trip gunung, between Banjarmasin and Batalucin, making a direct crossover difficult. But this indirect route was not really the key reason the trip to Kotabaru took 9 hours each way. It was the road itself.

Originally we were going to get flown there but the plane used between these two cities was grounded for repairs. I say better to know before being in the air. So the organizers of the workshop offered to hire a driver to take us. Before leaving Banjarmasin I heard many different estimates as to how long it would take to drive there. 6 hrs was the lowest bid whereas 8 was the highest. Only after our driver picked us up did we get the most up to date travel time as he had come from there to get us. Oy, I thought…. Well I've been in an airplane much longer than this so I figured I'd just try to sleep and relax. Not at all possible because of said road.

The road, like the rest of us in Kalimantan, suffers from the whims of the rainy season. It's pockmarked with sinkholes that the drivers have to swerve around, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic. Some stretches the road were completely washed away leaving those bumpy craters my brother would be proud to 4 wheel drive through. The Lonely Planet makes no mention of this. They say it takes 5 hours by bus. My driver passed these busses, leaving them in a cloud of dust.


Once in Kotabaru, we ate and went straight to our hotel so I could get my beauty rest as my workshop was scheduled to begin at 8 the next morning. I was nervous as I usually am before meeting a new group of students. I had no idea what their level would be. I was about to teach a handful of high school English teachers, all with a variety of backgrounds. Kalimantan, and much of Indonesia, has a shortage of English teachers who have degrees in English. It seems that the ones who do have this degree want to be in the bigger cities and are unwilling to live in more isolated areas. So my students had educational backgrounds in Biology, Economics, Mathematics and only a couple with degrees in English.

The workshop lasted for a day and a half. The first day was set up to weave between theoretical background and real activities that implement more communication in English, less grammar translation. But their first reaction to me when I first began speaking was priceless. As excited as they were to see and work with an American, many of them cringed and gave me the wide eyed look of fear as if they didn't understand me. But I continued to talk in my teacher voice and once the initial shock wore off (within a few minutes) they were nodding and answering my questions and engaging fully in the activities I'd planned for them.


As successful as this workshop was and as jazzed as I felt about working with these teachers, who showed themselves to be quite creative and motivated, my highlight of the trip was meeting Linda, whom I'm affectionately calling my healer. I may never meet her again but I have the greatest fondness for her which began the first day I was there.

To begin, she cooked all the food we ate and was sure to make special vegetarian arrangements for me full of a yummy variety of mushrooms and vegetables. She gets her coconut milk from the coconut, uses the best ingredients and knows a heap of information about what grows in the forest. I had noticed there was a forest behind the school and asked at lunch if I could walk around and take pictures. So they obliged me and she led the way. She showed me plants that were used for coughs, for helping women heal after birth and just pointed out things that your eyes would pass had you not known it was there. She didn't really speak any English so everyone translated for me but it didn't matter, I was in awe of this person. And only later did I find out more: she learned how to do traditional massage and was pretty good.

I had been battling a small cold the week before leaving but the long bumpy drive and the fact that I didn't sleep well in Kotabaru made it so that on Sunday I felt sick with some sniffles and a slight sore throat. I still had a couple of hours of the workshop to facilitate, luckily it was a group work brainstorming session at this point and the participants were now doing 90% of the work. But once I hit the two hour mark I needed a break and I was adamant not to let the organizers make me stick around without taking it. So I hurried up to our central "chill out" spot and Linda was there. I was coughing feeling dizzy and she encouraged me to get a massage. I didn't argue. It worked wonders. It was the break and attention I had needed for a while and helped me to feel much more centered.

We drove back that same day, leaving this beautiful island at noon. I really hope it doesn't get over developed with time and industry. What we didn't see on the way due to arriving at 10 pm at night was now illuminated in day light. This gave me an opportunity to see villages and the beautiful beach at Pagatan as well as some bits of natural rainforest. But what you've read about Borneo's landscape is true. I was recently emailed the most recent National Geographic article about what is happening to the rainforests here. (Thanks Cat!) The road we took happens to cut between huge expanses of palm plantations. Other areas show signs of having been cleared with charred jagged tree stumps poking out amongst some youthful green grassy growth as the land tries to recover. Palm oil: a fabulous new replacement for those trans-fat laden hydrogenated oils in those pre-packed cookies you and I adore and the base for many of the bio fuels we all know and love. And of course rubber trees, rice fields, all those tropical crops are here. Next week, I'm leading my speaking students to discuss this topic we venture deeper into our unit on 'discussing controversial issues.'

Kotabaru's key industry is cement. One of the main organizers of the event, I Nyoman Rudi (Rudi for short) is Hindu from Bali. He says there is a small (couple hundred people) Hindu community there. Although Kotabaru is primarily Muslim like Indonesia, the use of the jilbab (Muslim head cover for women) was far less than in Banjarmasin.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Man Fishing Under the House

Well it is most definitely the rainy season here. The most obvious of tell tale signs is… well it rains a lot. Sometimes it rains so hard that it pounds in the tiled roofs while I'm teaching. It can be so loud that all I can do is quickly yell out some group work directions and put the students into groups to talk amongst themselves. It makes it much more difficult for me to monitor their English output… or was that Banjarese for a moment? They are supposed to monitor each other… I've set that into their group work job descriptions but you know how language learners are. Those silly students will always gravitate towards the easiest path and the L1.

It was one of those intense rainy afternoons that I saw one of the best heart warming sights of my visit here. The rain had stopped and I was on my way back to the house after teaching. A young girl about the age of 6 was proudly stomping through puddles of water that had accumulated on the road leading into campus. She was happily occupying her time while waiting for her parents to finish their conversation with some other boring adults. Sadly I only had my camera phone to immortalize this joyous celebration of Kalimantan's famous rainy season. Just this last week I saw an article that the plain wooden 'stick' has been inducted into the toy hall of fame. This and the cardboard box are universal toys that open the child's imagination to wonders beyond our mere planet. Right? I too remember sitting in my cardboard space ship with my wooden light saver pointed at my annoying older brother. Well I nominate the mud puddle for the next round of inaugurations. That and a pile of autumn leaves. This girl was so simply happy jumping from the sidewalk's edge making the biggest splash imaginable followed up by her own "whoa!" of amazement and personal discovery… yes some things are universal.

But the highlight of the week was the man in the title… fishing under my house. Oh I know, it's bizarre but true! I couldn't stop laughing at the notion of someone fishing under my house. A rough translation of Kalimantan is "land of rivers." So what happens when you have this much water flowing everywhere? Well we basically live in a swamp, marsh, whatever you want to call it. The houses are built over this water, at one time on high stilts. Now the modern day house is built only a few feet from the ground. There is water under my house as with all other buildings here. I can hear fish splash and I'm sure other animals as well… under my living room! On Thursday afternoon last week, after I finished teaching, I saw a man standing next to my house, with a fishing pole pointed towards my foundation. Yes, fishing under my house. But really, aren't they my fish… on my property??? I didn't know whether to pretend to be incensed or just break into laughter. Actually I was not angry at all, it was the most surreal thing that I could think of to tell you about. And so that you would believe me, I got some photos from both outside and through my window. I have to say; so far this was the wildest cultural thing I could have ever imagined here! I certainly hope he was able to feed his family after trolling under my house!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Expat on Election Day

If there is anything that would make voting feel more important, it's probably living abroad. This is an amazing year to be living abroad. Indonesians here have been caught up in the fervor of the U.S. elections, but oddly, on Election Day, I was the only one who really wanted to be glued to sources of information.

I had conducted a series of culture workshops on U.S. elections and politics. We entered discussions of what characteristics are representative of a good leader and a successful politician. I also guided them through analyzing political cartoons filled with topics of the sinking economy, and politicians that never address the main issues by changing the topic or distraction tactics. The students loved it. The faculty culture class was all over it.

The day of the elections, as the polls were closing in each of the time zones in the U.S., I was watching speeches. It was the debate and speech competition week here at my University so I was sitting, listening and evaluating students' speeches on "A student's role for leadership." Although interesting to hear their take on this topic they couldn't compete with the best speech of the day: Obama's. Afterwards, my colleagues insisted that I go out to lunch with them, after all it was free as we were judges for the speeches…. But I had no appetite. I tried to encourage them to either come over to my house or let's go find a TV to find out who won, what happened! (It was about noon my time.) They just looked at me and smiled in their Indonesian way of saying… "It's not a big deal, just eat your lunch. Eating is important right now." It felt so odd at this moment to realize as much as the world watched and waited, it wasn't with the same intensity and anxiety as someone who had actually participated in the elections! How could I eat in a historical moment like this? Who won?

Two weeks ago, I cast my ballot. I found out through an ELF colleague here that Fed Ex would mail ballots for expats for free. With the Fed Ex office being so close, the hardest part was studying all the measures. Everyone here was so excited that Americans could vote by mail. It isn't the case in Indonesia. You must either show up to the polls or if abroad, travel to an Embassy. We really have it good! Perhaps they spent their excitement on my voting early… who knows but all the while during lunch I was visibly anxious and they just smiled in wonderment at me and talked about other things, like the student's speeches.

So I returned home, first turned on BBC news which was giving some pretty good and well rounded coverage of the event. It was already decided, according to the news scroll, Obama had secured 330 of the electoral votes at this point. It was a victory and yes I was very, very happy. (Probably to the disappointment of Uncle Curtis… sorry) I turned to the CNN coverage; yes the verdict was the same… of course! And within an hour, Obama began his very eloquent and unifying speech. I was in tears, excited, thought of all my friends at home who were celebrating and the party in Santa Cruz where Jacques was and I was with them in spirit as an expat in Kalimantan.

The Banjarmasin Post, the local paper, came knocking at my door to see how I was with the results and was I having a party? They knew how I felt, they had already interviewed me about it all last week and at that time I had given the reporter a U.S. Embassy issued booklet about the U.S. government for extra background knowledge. No celebration was planned for or by me last night but I am attempting to gather my friends (expats and Indonesians alike) who are living in Banjarmasin to have some fun, go to Karaoke etc. this Saturday. A celebration of… well, a new hope is in order. If you are in the neighborhood, stop on by!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Far from the Shire

Last week was among the busiest since I've arrived here. Up to this point things have just been status quo with teaching my classes but now the requests for my ELF expertise are starting to roll in, or so it's beginning to seem. Last week I was a judge for the speech contest and debates. I also got an invitation to speak on Communicative Language Teaching in Kota Baru, an island just off the eastern coast of South Kalimantan. It's exciting to think of going but we're still negotiating the amount of time they want from us. They want me to run a 3 day workshop.. and did I mention with me leading it. I don't think I'm quite ready to do that, not to mention I also need to focus on my classes here and with a 3 day workshop that ends up being nearly impossible for that week. So I told Nida that we need to ensure that we don't do more than 2 days which is still quite a lot, however they are flying us there and putting us up.

But all these duties and requests for my skills had come at a week that I could feel my energy waver. More specifically, the will power that I'd been using to adapt to the new environment and stave off homesickness AND suppressing my culture shock had been dwindling and exhausting me. I knew I had hit rock bottom when my computer didn't turn on one morning and I felt like a ton of bricks fell from my heart right into my stomach. Such a simple thing (and a typical American addiction) was the straw breaking the camel's back for all the feelings I'd been bottling up.

I'm recalling a scene the film "The Fellowship of the Ring," the first in the Lord of the rings series, where Sam and Frodo are leaving the Shire and Sam just stops. Frodo turns around to see Sam's wistful face then Sam says, "This is it. This is as far from the Shire I've ever been." I can identify. This is as far from home I've ever been and the longest I've ever been away and possibly the most different culture I've ever experienced. The time away from home hit HARD last week as I crossed the threshold of month two in Indonesia.

So what have I learned so far from this? If you reach out to people many will reach back. Like a fisherman, I cast my net to find as many people as possible both here and at home with whom I can talk, laugh or just find out what's new back home. From this, I want to share a wonderful evocative quote from my friend Jessica who responded to my question of how she maintains an upbeat persona. These words, even pulled out of the context of her email to me just seem to hold so much power. "And when you are in the middle of figuring it out, it is so very exciting and delicate." For me, it's the duality (or even multiplicity) of feelings while confronted with negotiating a change in environment and perception that's important to confront and understand.

In all the intensity of goings on, I finally got my Kitas and most of my visa situation is settled. This means I can continue to work here and I also can get the prices the locals get for hotels etc. I still don't have a multiple entry visa. I have to go to (or pass my passport around) a few more government offices and I think now we have to get one more letter drawn up and sent to Jakarta. They changed their long term visa rules this year and I half wonder if they are still in the process of changing these rules based on how new things pop up every week. Even Nida and the other teachers who have accompanied us to the offices say "why didn't they tell us this last time we were here?" Luckily we got the most dire portion of it over and done before my 60 day visa expired; otherwise late fees would have ensued. So far I've paid around $70 U.S. for the extended 10 month visa and likely more for the multiple entry stamp. I'm keeping all the receipts for the taxes and crossing my fingers. The sad news about the delays is I was going to try to go to New Zealand this week to see some family, including my mom, for a family reunion… Not gonna happen.

In addition this busy week, I had a site visit from the ELF coordinator, Jeff last Thursday and Friday. I found a new fabulous restaurant that they took him to last year. They'd been holding out on me! Puji and I vowed to go back… she didn't know about it either. It's called Wong Solo, and has Javanese style food which is like what I'd experienced in San Francisco at the restaurant Boroburdur. A group of us went out to Karaoke too, always a blast. AND then this entire weekend I've been creating tests for the classes I've been teaching. Although I had been good about keeping notes about what I taught, I found myself trying to recall the subtleties of how I taught things in order to make those test questions have a sense of validity and not be a total surprise to the students. Even with a review… it's hard to know if I did it or not. Cross your fingers for my students! Hopefully I'm not torturing them too much this week. Next on the agenda: tons of grading before next week. Busy, busy, busy.

I am counting my blessings being here and taking the time to recognize the great things around me, and acknowledging it's not always going to be great… but isn't that the same everywhere? I have a wonderful group of colleagues who are helpful and friendly. It is also the rainy season which means it's cooler more of the time and hotter less of the time. And I've got something to look forward to: Jacques got his ticket to come visit and will be here at the end of December.

Oh and Happy Halloween! I am very sad to miss passing out candy. Someone will have to tell me what costume was most popular. And is the Castro still 'closed' this year?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Light and the Dark

Last weekend was full of the senses. To start with Puji and I did part of the Lonely Planet self guided walking tour in central Banjarmasin. We took a Kota Taksi to the big Mosque that is featured in my photos from last month (the one that is described by the lonely planet as a space ship). We missed our stop so had to back track by walking (not too awfully far). At the intersection by the Mosque we met a kind policeman who let us sit in his air-conditioned hut to cool off before crossing the street and continuing to the first stop: A Taoist Temple. Turned out the police officer is from Java. Puji is meeting quite a few Javanese here (she is also from Java) so now we're calling Banjarmasin "New Java."

The Taoist temple was amazing. Atop the entrance gate the yin-yang symbol is displayed full force. The guide told us that no matter how good you are you have a little dark inside and no matter how bad someone is they always have some light deep within. The temple is used for Buddhist worship as well as Confucian and Taoist ceremonies and prayer so the beautiful images we saw related to all three of these belief systems. Sadly my photos aren't that great but you can get a sense of it. It's not surprising to find bits of Chinese culture here. There are plenty of Chinese immigrants and business people here in Borneo.

After visiting the temple we walked to Gramedia bookstore where I bought a non-bootleg DVD of the Nightmare Before Christmas full on with Indonesian subtitles. Non bootleg DVD's in Banjarmasin run about $5 U.S. Bootleg… I hear the going rate is about 60 cents but don't ask if I know firsthand….

To finish off our walk we stopped at Depot 59, also listed in the lonely planet and I had Nasi Padang, similar to Gado Gado but with rice. It consists of peanut sauce, rice, cooked veggies, egg and maybe tofu or tempe. I think you can also get it with chicken. There I rehydrated with tea and water and then we went grocery shopping and picked up my new batik from the tailor that I in turn wore to the wedding party on Sunday. People think we are crazy for walking so much all the time. Nobody walks here, it's like LA.

The wedding party was in Martapura, which is about 1 hour away from Banjarmasin and is well known as a place to buy stones both precious and semi-precious. There are diamond mines in the area, as well as coal mines… So we went to the party (the actual wedding was a week ago) had some good food, took photos with the bride and groom and then headed to the market place in Martapura. We looked at and bought some beautiful stones and visited a beautiful mosque at the edge of the market. (See my profile picture and the photo link) I was complimented on my traditional Kalimantan Batik called Sasirangan wherever we went. A tailor even ran out of his shop and told me it was beautiful. I got quite a different reaction wearing this than I usually get walking around here. It seemed that they were impressed and full of pride that I wanted to wear this style of batik. Wearing this didn't change the amount of stares but it did conjure up more traditional respect from the locals in their interactions with me. Puji even commented on noticing this.

So these were things that were full of light and fun but living here is not without moments of darkness. The least of my worries was that we just had a power outage the other night that lasted for a couple of hours. I coped by doing some yoga in candlelight. Worse… I've had two incidences over the past two weeks where my water was turned off, once officially by the water company likely in part due to the half work days of Ramadan and there was some confusion as to which campus office receives the water bill and pays it! Then someone turned off my main line again last weekend… maybe they were trying to help with keeping costs down or the water dept. thought nobody lived here? I sincerely don't know but all I can say is I started to feel cranky when I couldn't take a shower in this hot and humid weather. But the saddest news of all, you may remember I wrote about visiting a young boy's family at the hospital while he was in the ICU a few weeks ago. Laela told me that he passed away the week I was in Bali. I'm beginning to think I can handle a day or two without running tap water.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The American and the “Yeti”

For those of you who never believed a Yeti existed, I have news for you. I met one last night. But this one is much smaller than you'd think and she spells her name Yetty. She's an Indonesian girl from this city, very articulate in English and teaches at the private school Intrax here. I met Yetty in a not very surprising series of events that is entirely based on my nationality.

Being here at IAIN for a month means that word has been leaking out that there is an American teacher roaming around Banjarmasin. Aside from constantly being asked to ride on someone's motorcycle (generally following the question "where are you going?") and having camera phones pointed at me all the time, I'm most definitely talked about as the high point of people's day. I can just hear the dinner conversation. "Honey, I saw a bule today! I asked her 'How are you' in English!" <followed by much laughing and smiling> It is likely that I saw, met, waved to Yetty's mother in all the 'hi miss's' and 'hi misters.' She is also somehow connected to IAIN and knows Nida.

Earlier this week one hot mid afternoon while lounging under the AC at home between classes, Nida called and told me about this friend's daughter who knows some Americans in Banjarmasin, can she give her my number and then I can meet them… Why not? So this leads me to meeting Yetty which in turn led to my meeting the blog title's said American." Bet you thought I was referring to myself in the title of today's entry… I'm not THAT self absorbed!!

Last night, Puji and I met with Yetty and Jeremy, the man from Tennessee. We all went to a small restaurant across the busy street from the IAIN campus and I learned that he works for what sounds like a great non-profit U.S. based and Indo sponsored company. One of the things they do is help poor families/communities get good drinking water here. Indonesian tap water is NOT for drinking so many families who can afford it buy bottled water for a dispenser. If you can't afford it you boil it which takes time and energy either by burning expensive gas or burning who knows what (garbage, plastics, rainforest?) for a fire. One of the projects this company does is help the locals make ceramic filters much like the technology in the Katadyn one I brought with me. These will filter out all the bad guys and voila, drinking water. Oddly, I had read about these and other groups before coming here when researching safe drinking water. It was really cool to reflect back on that and know that like finding a needle in a haystack, I meet someone working on one of these projects. The company is called Oasis if you want to check them out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Banjarmasin -- Post Ramadan

I've been back now for a week at my host institution. We started classes on Monday, back to the white board. Things are different here now that I'm back and I'm only beginning to see what has changed after the Eidl Fitri holiday. First off everyone in this city whom I've been in contact with had been fasting for Ramadan, a whole month of fasting in the Islam Religion. Put Lent on steroids and you have Ramadan in Banjarmasin. Sun up to sun down nobody would eat or drink even a drop of water, except for menstruating women who have to make up the fasting time later. Restaurants were closed until about 6:30 pm but you could still shop at the stores for food.

Fasting apparently also applies to other worldly pleasures. Thanks to the ELF who was here before, I have cable hooked up in my home which includes HBO, Star Movies and Cinemax. During Ramadan, these channels were blocked during the day with Islamic programming in Bahasa Indonesia, English and Arabic taking their place. Now that Ramadan is over, I can lazily watch these channels all day if I want. The local government evidently is pretty strong in upholding the Islamic tradition. I was told by Nida, my counterpart that if a restaurant wishes to be open during daytime hours in the month of Ramadan, they have to pay a fee to the local government. She says this is to encourage respect for the traditions here.

Now that food is allowed during the day, there are so many more smells to experience. There are little cafeterias that I walk by each day on my way to class that sell food to the students and I can sometimes smell the cooking while I am teaching. That's rough. I was able to go out to lunch with Laela and Nida yesterday at a traditional restaurant. I didn't have my camera so I will do my best to describe it. First off, Nida asked if I eat fish, I said as long as I don't have to look at the head while I'm eating it, they all laughed at me. So they brought me the tail end which was quite meaty.

The restaurant was a covered open air roadside structure. It was sparse for decorations but the atmosphere and food was authentic. The floor was just old water beaten wooden planks, and like all buildings here was built a few feet above the swampy ground. The food was great, real sambal not the 'ketchup' version found in stores. I had nasi (rice) a spinach soup, and we shared a bowl of tofu, tempeh and these corn fritters that Nani will scold me for not remembering the name of. Sorry Nani. Cats were running around every where like they do here. While we were eating, a loud calico begged food from the dishwashing area and what I think was her tiny 4 week old kitten with eyes barely open mewed around the tables.

Today I was introduced to another restaurant that serves some of the best down home Gado Gado, and it's only about the distance of 2 city blocks from here! Lunch was only 6000 Rp (divide by 10,000 to get your $ amount) I also understand they serve some good grilled chicken (I saw it but didn't try any). Every region serves their own recipes: this place was serving chicken Jakarta style and Gado Gado Surybaya style which means to my taste buds that the peanut sauce was mixed with yummy coconut milk.

In addition to my new found love of Banjarmasin restaurant reviewing, I'm continuing my classroom prep. Presently I'm preparing for my Writing A class. After 2 weeks away from me, they haven't used any English, unless they were in my speaking class on Monday. I've been starting the writing class with a 10-15 minute journal writing exercise. I'll collect these journals the week before midterms and then the next batch the week before finals so at this point I don't know how well they are doing. I do know that when I glance around the room, they are pretty intent and it seems like I get at least a paragraph's worth. The goal is to promote writing fluency/confidence and hopefully give them a chance to go use the sentence structures learned in class, but it's a no pressure no grade (aside from participation) kind of assignment. Although I don't really know the true impact I have yet with these guys , I did just receive an email today from one of my students that said "I'm so happy when you come to teach our class." It's those moments that make all the difference, isn't it?


Friday, October 3, 2008

Read Down

I am posting this random entry to encourage you to read down. If you are not getting these posts mailed to you then you might miss that I posted 3 Bali posts today: Fish Out of Water, What a Difference 30 Meters Make, and The Indonesia Everyone Wants to Live In.

No more Bali posts for a while tho. I'll be teaching over the next few weeks back in Kalimantan but hopefully I can soon plan to travel again.

Oh and thanks so much Mom for sending me the metric conversion application!

The Indonesia Everyone Wants to Live In

Bali is wonderful and beautiful and I can see why people call this place a paradise. I really had the time of my life there with the diving, the walking, the sights sounds and smells, and I had a hard time leaving it, one week there flew past at warp speed. The weather is similar to Hawaii, balmy, warm breezy… Ahhh. But I am home in Banjarmasin, listening to the wild rains of Borneo nailing the street, my house and any pour soul who is brave enough to navigate through elephant sized rain drops.

I spent my last day in Bali in Ubud and only had the appetizer plate of Ubud… No make that the "to go eat-on-the-run" version of Ubud. One day is not enough for that perfect little artist town. I did get to see the Sacred Monkey Forrest. One came up and sat on Melinda's lap, hopefully I'll get the photos from the other ELFs for this part and some other things I saw and experienced there. I spent my camera battery on the cremation ceremony that we arrived just in time to see.

It was breath taking and amazing to be part of this ritual. I got some video and lots of pics for this. They carried a big tiered tower with the body inside to the cremation grounds, spinning and wobbling the tower around so that the spirit gets confused and won't try to find its way back home. The goal here is to be reincarnated or essentially reach nirvana. Of course with any funeral rite it's hard not to think about those you've lost before. I found this to be a good life affirming thing for me. I did feel a little weird, though, being a tourist at this event, shooting photos and video until I realized everyone including the locals were doing the same. So I attempted to keep a distance, but without knowing what would happen next, I found myself at times right in the heart of things.

If that wasn't enough to bring me to tears, the health food store 'Bali Buddha' almost did me in. I found quinoa, lentils and those great fruit and nut bars I like so much. And it had that familiar health food store smell, probably from those organic soaps. Images of San Francisco's Rainbow, Mt Shasta's Berryvale Market and Santa Cruise's Staff of Life just came flooding to me. (In case you can't tell… I am a little homesick for some things).

And of course you can't visit Ubud without taking in a shadow puppet show. This one was a story of a demon who kept eating people. It was full of heroic puppetry moves, great chase scenes a smattering of humorous English phrases bules hear all day (need a transport? Special price for you…) all the while hypnotizing the audience with the candle light the puppeteer behind the sheer screen wore on his head.

What a Difference 30 Meters Make

So Ben (ELF like me) and I decided we just wanted to cruise around, get out of the main spots and walk/window shop. We walked for hours on Tuesday afternoon. It was fabulous. We headed north of Seminyak along the beach and cut through the 'restaurant' district. We had only one mission, he needed to buy a hammock and he had a place circled in the Lonely Planet. It was all just a good excuse for me to explore and have some company. We walked through streets that varied between shops and rice fields. We meandered around dogs lazy in the hot afternoon sun and then we got to the busy street where his hammock shop was supposed to be. They were no longer in business in Seminyak. So we kept walking, getting more tired and hungry and irritated with the sounds of the motorcycles and cars. Then Ben sees a sign, an Indo restaurant allegedly 30m off the road, through what looks like jungle.

We start to walk and end up at someone's house. Oops wrong path. We backed up and go down the other path on this great bamboo and tropical plant forest path. It was carefully tended to by the locals that live there…looks nothing like a resort landscape, very natural. We ended up at an outdoor restaurant right on the edge of a rice field. We paid Indo prices (not Seminyak prices) for our food. Fresh Gado Gado, lemon tea all for about $1 each. And the most amazing part was the ambient sound. All throughout the rice field were these hand crafted noise making fans. Essentially a hand made pinwheel blew in the wind which made something else turn and clank inside of a tin can. I'm sure you engineer wizards at home can figure this one out. We had walked from so much street noise right into a tucked away retreat with this hypnotic sound that was like a wind orchestrated gamelan ensemble. This was the first time I wanted to use the video component on my camera. I'll try to You-Tube it and then link it on the sidebar.

So the end result of the hammock mission wasn't quite as disappointing as I may have led you to believe. All day long we just took risks. Lets try this, lets go down this street… well our last turn before heading back the way of the beach, there, glowing in a heavenly beam of light through the clouds and angels (geckos) singing, was a hammock shop, where they make them right there (and sell them to Japan). It was randomly set in a sparse area full of rice fields. Who knew? And of course I had to buy one myself.

Fish out of Water

So when I went diving on the USS Liberty wreck, the dive masters told us that there will be tons of fish because some of the other divers and locals have been feeding them in order to entice them to hang around the wreck. Feeding animals underwater is not really recommended say naturalists like me. It can ruin the habitat and then you get a bunch of pan handling fish just expecting you to hand them some food. What this means is when you do the Liberty wreck dive, you will be harassed by fish looking for a handout. They come up to your mask or respond to your hands if it looks like you are reaching for something in your pocket…even if you are only just adjusting your buoyancy. They all just want to be fed.

So walking along the beach and streets in Seminyak, Legian, Kuta area is just like this. "Transport? Transport?" Or "I give you good price, you try?" Once you start buying from one, others come swarming in, looking for that little bit of fish food you might have in your pockets. It doesn't matter if you are just "jalan, jalan" -walking- they all want to sell you something. There are tons of tourists in Bali. They don't call us "bule" there like they do in many other places, they call us tourists. It has altered the habitat because we do bring money, we do feed them… but you can't feed everyone and since we drive the prices up there, it makes prices for the locals high too. Just some food for thought.

For some pics of underwater diving, here's the link to Bali Scuba's gallery. I didn't take a camera down but I saw a LOT of these things (eels, mantas, turtles, etc).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Meters, Kilos and Centigrade, oh my

Okay, If I could just take a moment and voice one iddy biddy complaint about the U.S. standard of education for children... Why, why why haven't we been properly taught metric conversions? Why? I have so much I could blog about on this but the most salient point I want to make is it makes traveling to other countries like taking a math test.

I've struggled with this concept off and on since I've been here but I complain about it now because of my two days of diving in Tulumben where it would have been most useful for me to have been fluent in metric conversions. I am now officially an Advanced Open Water diver. I just completed three days of diving, 5 dives in Tulumben for the Advanced Open Water course and 2 dives today at Nusa Penida... a drift dive. For this course I did a naturalist dive (learning about fish and habitats), a wreck dive (the USS Liberty), advanced navigation (swimming in a square pattern with compass headings), a night dive (diving at night), and a deep dive to 30 meters which is about 100 feet. Depth gauges here are measured in meters, water temperature is in centigrade and well, I had to wear 8 kilos on my weight belt. So As you can see, I'm well on my way to finally understanding conversions... or at least having a better handle on them.

So why didn't I bring my own gauges? Sadly my dive computer didn't make it to me in Banjarmasin before I left for Bali... I think it's there now though, but that's doing me no good. So I ended up using the dive center's (Bali Scuba) gear. And it wouldn't have mattered because they all talk in metric here. So it looks like I have to learn Bahasa Indonesian, Banjarese, a smattering of Balinese, maybe some Javanese and of course Metric, I better bust those books! In any case, they were fun dives, I highly recommend these people if you are coming to dive in Bali.

The drift diving was amazing. You basically drop down into a current and just go with it. We went along a huge reef with millions of fish and other marine life. Just amazing. At one point the current got pretty strong and you had to hug close to the reef so as not to get swept along out towards the sea. I'll blog more details later and of course pics (none from below... sorry) once I'm back in Kalimantan.

Advice for you folks back home: Learn your metric!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Changing Faces of Reality

I just finished my last class before my week in Bali. Yes a short vacation is upon me. It does mean I need to get up at 4 A.M. tomorrow but big deal… I'm going to Bali!

I've been teaching now for 3 weeks and have settled into a regular routine of things, for the most part. My class schedule is pretty set but I have other things that have been taking my time and of course I'm always looking for some leisure time to go to Duta Mall with Puji and just hang out, walk around the Hyper Mart and have strange kids approach me and yell "Hello mister!" I told my students about this, we all laughed. They assured me that it's the only word they probably know. I assumed as such but some how I wonder if I should grow a moustache just to fit in with their perceptions.

It's weird how in many ways I'm getting used to it here. My home has quickly become my refuge to relax in at the end of the day. My bedroom eerily has the exact same layout and dimensions of my childhood bedroom growing up. This last week I noticed that out of some old habit from the recesses of my memories I was reaching for the light switch next to the door but only to realize that in this place it's on the other wall. When I come home I call out "hello" to my roommate… a rat, when I walk in. He still freaks me out when I see him scurry across the kitchen floor but I'm opposed to poison and traps so I just keep it clean, food sealed up and assume he's probably eating scraps from the cantina that is shares a wall of my house. He might disappear when I leave this next week as there won't be even a stray grain of rice that was somehow dropped in the frenzy of measuring and pressing buttons on the rice cooker.

Last week I laid low and didn't have anything eventful to speak of except being invited to breaking the fast with the students one evening. They held the event at the auditorium next to my house, drummed, sang from the Koran and then gave everyone there food. Also I got a chance to visit the hospital. Nida and some other teachers invited me to join them to visit a lecturer's son who was sick. We went to the hospital thinking we'd get a chance to see the child but he was in ICU. He's grade school age and has had a type of immune system attack or allergic reaction. It's apparently unclear why, but one suggestion is that it's a reaction to MSG however I'm told this particular condition happens more commonly in older people here. The women talked with the mother for about 20 minutes, comforting her, quite an emotional event to witness. Laela, one of my co-teachers in the English department talked to the mother the most. Both were crying. Just last week when talking about my grandmother, Laela had told me that about 5 years ago she lost her son to cancer. He was very young too. I asked Laela how she was holding up as we were leaving. I told her that I imagined coming here today must bring back memories. She said yes.

Since I will be underwater for the most part in Bali and living in another world, blogging will probably not be easy over the next week. I'll be taking an advanced open water diver class and joining a dive group as well as reconnecting with some Fellows, getting in some bule face time. But I promise to take a ton of photos at least above water and maybe some from below as well and tell you all about it when I return to Banjarmasin next week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I wish I could be there with you

Homesickness is definitely something I've prepared myself for. I was even proactive about it by packing my favorite chocolate, breakfast oatmeal, and those movies that I've watched over and over again. But the hardest thing I will probably experience is the news I knew would eventually come since before I left. No matter how much mental preparedness you have about it but nothing can make you 100% ready to lose someone important in your life. Just yesterday, I got news that my grandmother, one of the most amazing women I've ever known, passed away: her body was just too old to house her active spirit.

It's going to be hard not to make this blog entry carry notes of sadness, but I think it's important to express that being so far away and doing something so amazing has its costs. Part of experiencing something new means letting some things go: some temporarily and others for much much longer. My grandmother has been the greatest inspiration for the adventures I've taken in my life. She was originally from New Zealand and has always had the explorer's spirit and was also very creative. She sailed, traveled, and continued to pursue her art in form of painting, drawing, photography and jewelry making. AND she could make a mean pie. I am so very fortunate to have learned many of these skills directly from her. I can sincerely say that I know she lived a full life.

I came to Indonesia knowing she would not make it through the year, I said my goodbyes and gave her a hug. She encouraged me to come here, I'm sure she would have been more than interested in coming with me if she could have managed. Nevertheless, it is a loss that I feel deeply. I am lucky to have very supportive people here In Banjarmasin as well as supportive friends and family back home and am able to contact them in an instant thanks to the fabulous net and the intermittent Skype that is at times fraught with delays and echoes. I tried to make as much peace as possible before coming here in knowing I won't physically be with my family at this time but I wish I could be there with you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It’s Always Hottest Before the Rain

I know that title sounds a little like a proverb but it's the truth in Borneo. I can tell when it will rain based on how hot it gets just before the clouds gather and let loose. I think this is one of those laws of thermodynamics, Cat, you're teaching Chem this semester maybe you can tell me which one. Puji and I were standing in line at the big Macro store, looks and feels like an Indonesian Costco, but you don't necessarily have to buy in bulk. We complained about how hot it was… I said global warming but I realized with her response that they don't have global warming. She smiled and said "global hotting." Yes global hotting here. I asked people and they say yes, they've noticed a climate change over the years. What do they say… "admitting the problem is the first step?" I hope the gulf coast is weathering Ike okay. Alright, enough of the weather, by the end of this month I won't notice how much I need to rehydrate anymore. It's becoming a way of life.

And week one of teaching has come to a close. My schedule isn't half bad. I teach 12 units (about 12 hours) and that's comprised of 2 sections each of 6 courses. All my regular classes meet on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. These students are in the English department at IAIN and aspiring to be English teachers. This semester I'm only teaching skills courses: Speaking and Writing A as well as Speaking C. Each class only meets once a week so coming from the intensive English program at SFSU's ALI where students met 4 days a week I wonder "how will they learn this stuff?" My curriculum plan merely gives a suggested topic which I'm free to expand on or change. For example next week's writing A class will do "basic sentences and compound sentences" and that's all that is in the curriculum for this 2 hour class meeting. They have some books I can use to pull activities from and I brought my own so I'll be supplementing and if time permits, making handouts. Since copyright laws aren't even considered here, it's common to tell students what books/pages you will cover and they go and copy it themselves. I've been lazy, though, and need to buckle down. The plan is to get the core materials up through week 6 settled and then get the latter half of the semester settled once I really see what these guys can do.

They are not half bad with their English and comprehension skills except in the afternoon during Ramadan when they all have that glazed over look like they are ready to go take a long nap and any attempt comprehend English is just way more energy than they can possibly spare. I have a multilevel class and had to explain (more to the higher students so that they don't try to answer everything I ask) that I want to make sure everyone is following. I speak slow, long pauses with simple language, comp check… all the usual tricks. Level A is probably just below ALI's level 42 (which doesn't mean anything unless you're one of my colleagues at home). They are always smiling and look at my height with amazement. And of course attempting to pronounce their names will be my comedy act every week.

On Wednesdays I will run a discussion group with the rector and vice rectors and other administrative staff, at some point, maybe this will start next week. A big word I hear around here a lot is "maybe." Side tracking for a moment, in DC during our Pre-Departure Orientation it was suggested to really look at body language and intonation with this word "maybe." Yes, good advice, but I also realized that most of the time "maybe" really means "maybe" and it is part of the cultural consciousness here. In some ways it's comforting and in some ways very Buddhist (even thought they are Islamic). I'm finding it hard to explain what I mean so I will just continue with listing my schedule…

And on Fridays I have the discussion group with the faculty from all departments. Last week 10 came, this week about 10 but some not all the same people. These meetings are by invitation and optional so it's up to them to come. Yesterday I addressed opinion language and began discussing the answers to their questions from last week, especially the one about families and the idea of "independence" since that seemed to be a hot topic. One teacher asked me about the idea that 18 year olds leave home and parents don't take responsibility of them after that. I said yes, generally/somewhat true, I gave them a general sense of what that means for many, not all Americans and then gave my own story of my dad saying "You can stay here as long as you are in school (college) but if you drop out of college then you will need to move out and you are 'on your own.' Then they got into groups and expressed opinions as to what is positive or negative about the way children become independent in the U.S. They are a very thoughtful group. To briefly boil down the results, they came up with the idea that kids can learn self sufficiency, responsibility, and succeed in life easier and faster, but the down side is disrespect for others and selfishness… the notion of 'too much independence and self sufficiency'. This was a very cool discussion.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

You too can be a teacher of American Culture!

It's been a slow start here in terms of teaching duties and to be quite honest I have been lazy about preparing much. The students arrive for classes this Monday but this last week have been full of meetings where the English language featured was under 10%. I sat through one thinking "why am I here?" Between you and me, had it been in English I probably would have said the same thing.

I had my first class on Friday with the faculty of IAIN. It went well and I felt good about it. I've been itching to do some teaching so this was a good start. I had a hard time getting my brain wrapped around preparing something at first but then ultimately decided a mini lesson on giving and getting directions would be good. I based this on my own experience here in Banjarmasin. I still don't know how to ask for directions in Bahasa Indonesia and don't feel quite comfortable going out without company, so for teaching it was at least relevant to me as a newcomer.

I kept the lesson it simple, a review I'm sure for them but it built confidence. At the end I had partners role play giving directions to a famous place in or around Banjarmasin while the rest of the groups scored them like Olympic judges. At the end of this task., I decided I would give them a chance to write down a question for me that they have about American Culture and that I would attempt to answer it each week. A lighting bolt of inspiration hit me upon collecting these. I though about you: my friends, family, and colleagues who are there in America now (or other places). Wouldn't it be great to have your opinions represented? So I will post their questions for you to view and you may choose to answer as many as you like. Remember, I teach on Thursday US time so in order for me to include your opinion, I'd need your response by your Wednesday. (Just in case you didn't know, I have passed the international dateline and am enjoying the same day of the week as my Kiwi rellies). And IF you are in or from New Zealand, I'd love to include you into "Western Culture" for contrast and increased diversity. My goal by the end of my 10 months is to potentially confuse the Indonesians' current perceptions of the western cultural norms and demonstrate that there are as many perceptions on culture as there are people in the world. So here goes!

  • Do most Americans believe in ghosts? What kinds of ghost are they? Vampire or others from TV/Films?
  • What do Americans think about black cats?
  • Could you tell me about your etiquette in the American family?
  • In history, Americans like sailing/having adventures. Do they still do it now? And what is the motivation?
  • Why is racism always a topic to discuss in the American News? How is it actually the fact?
  • What is the customs for American life in winter? Is it the same or different than Indonesia?
  • Can you tell me about music and country music?
  • What kinds of clothes do Americans wear? (Keep in mind I, the teacher am dressed conservatively.)

Please explain American Culture including norms, values, beliefs, religion, what is right and wrong? (A big question that I will essentially address throughout the entire year)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Wild Rain of Borneo

It's not the rainy season, yet, but it may as well be. It's been pretty wild all day long, the weather. Sadly, photos don't do it justice although I tried. The positive side to the rain is it has cooled down a bit. Did I mention that Banjarmasin has been hot and humid? Well now it's just humid.

I haven't had much to blog about lately since I've pretty much been holed up in the house reading through teaching materials. This is in part because Nida wanted to make sure I was registered with the Police Department before I go out wandering around unsupervised. Honestly, I'm not ready to go around without some company because my Bahasa Indonesia is not up to communicative standards and forget the local Banjarese dialect. So today was the last step in making sure the local government knows I'm here and clear for wandering. Nida took me to the prosecutors office where I met with him and his staff. We had a fun conversation translated between me and the boys who probably understood at least half of what I said.

Every where I've been where I've met someone in their office such as the prosecutor or the Rector at the university (IAIN), I'm offered water, sweets, other drinks etc. Here's where I've been facing my biggest cross cultural dilemma. Currently it is Ramadan, the month of fasting, and everyone who's Muslim is fasting until about 6:30 p.m. each day. Generally you don't want to eat or drink publically in front of a fasting population, definitely rude. So the question in my mind has been," Are they just being polite and hope I politely refuse or is it custom to accept graciously?" It's the latter. This is a very gift giving culture and it is important to bring gifts and receive gifts, all the time. So when the prosecutor asked if I wanted something to drink or eat, I started to say I was fine but Nida made a barely imperceptible nod type of body language that was probably even subconscious on her part, but I interpreted it as prodding me to "yes" and "thank you". I was then offered a generous array of drinks and candy dishes full of various sweets to choose from. Everybody seemed fine and happy that I took some water and was encouraged to bring the sports drink with me when we were leaving. And so the intercultural lesson learned during Ramadan here: if they offer and say its okay, then it's okay to politely and discreetly eat and drink in their presence.

We then went for a drive to the big bridge crossing the Sungai Barito, Banjarmasin's largest river. Continuing on this road would have meant going towards Central Kalimantan. The view was amazing, especially with all the rain and the moody sky. Looking out from the height of the bridge, I could also feel some pangs of sadness for the rainforest. There were big expanses of cleared land that are used for rice fields and other types of cultivation. Sadly, the rainforests of Borneo are disappearing and it's a complicated issue here as it is anywhere rainforests are being depleted. Seeing these flat lands that were likely once full of rich and diverse plant and animal life warns of what I am sure I will encounter when I venture to one of the national parks to search for the Orangutan later this year.

In the city of Banjarmasin during Ramadan, food vendors are set up pretty much everywhere you turn, more than usual. Near the city center is an area where booths with blue awnings lined the street all with Indonesian food: lots of fried chicken, fried tempeh, huge river shrimp (that I believe is a type of crayfish) and other Indonesian favorites that I'm still learning the names of. This was our last stop today. We were barely there 10 minutes when the rains began again, bigger and heavier than ever. I'd say that I'd worry about floods here, but Banjarmasin is already flooded. My house is built over a pond with fish flopping around, catching mosquitoes I hope.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saya Dari Amerika and a Visit to a Mosque

I arrived in Banjarmasin, Borneo around 6 pm Thursday evening. We were met by Puji, a new teacher here who was the counterpart of another ELF last year in Malang, Java. While we were landing, it was amazing to see the amount of green and the huge river called the Sungai Barito. The sun was already very low in the sky at this point. It will take some time for me to remember that it gets dark earlier so close to the equator.

My first day here, Nida, my counterpart took me around to meet the staff of the English department and then shopping for my cell phone. Sadly, T-mobile wasn't able to send me the proper unlock code for my old phone… the one with all those phone numbers and pictures. I hadn't slept well at all Thursday night so I was much more vulnerable to the heat. By the end of the afternoon of shopping for groceries and other things I'll need for the first week, I was severely hit with heat stroke. I won't complain about no warm running water for showers because all I really want are cold showers here anyway.

My house is basic. Although there are glass windows, there is an open air section above the window that is screened in. It means hearing all the sounds of the campus. I hear the children of some of the students playing kick ball right now as I type this. Early in the morning, I hear the prayers at the mosques. It is eerily beautiful.

While out yesterday with Puji, I was able to take lots of photos of Banjarmasin. I was the celebrity in town. Every where we went I heard "bule! Bule!" Which means "westerner" or
"foreigner" Little kids stared at me in awe. All the Banjarese wanted to be in my photos, with me, even if they may never get a copy. People asked Puji where I was from. I was at least able to say 'Saya dari Amerika.' By mid afternoon Puji asked me if I minded coming with her to a Mosque so she could pray. "Of course" First off they wanted me to wear a Hijab, the head wrap for women before entering. I put it on and the men and women around were watching intently. A couple said "oh, beautiful!" I just smiled and said "terima kasih" thank you. We had to take off our shoes. Puji had already done the ritual wash, a splashing of water, before entering and we went in. I was told not to take photos inside. Puji believed it was just not to disturb others who were praying so she insisted on taking my picture while inside. As my usual careful self, I tried to discreetly hand her my camera inside of my hat. Silly in retrospect because nobody seemed to be looking or seemed to mind. The mosque was very beautiful as is the custom of many spiritual places of worship.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Tearful Goodbye

I arrived in Jakarta today, a little disoriented but enjoying the cultural differences none the less. Motorcycles and scooters are everywhere. While riding in the van, it felt at times like we were surrounded with swarms of buzzing bees. I was picked up from the airport without hassle. The other "taksi" drivers didn't even have time to swoop in to try to bring me to my destination, well except for one. Ironically I had just made eye contact and a nod to my driver who was holding a sign for me. The other random driver stepped out in front of my driver with full force, "Maam, need a ride?" Armed with "tidak, tidak usah" I told him "not necessary". This was met with a sense of confusion. I know he didn't expect me to reply with an Indonesian phrase. I just smiled and gestured to the man behind him. He said, "oh, I see!" and proceeded to jump out in front of other Westerners leaving Jakarta's intl. airport.

What feels like just a few sleepy hours ago, I was saying good bye to Jacques at the airport. I'd been so busy finalizing things, going to DC for my pre departure orientation that I hadn't had time to fully understand what I was about to go do. On top of the stress of getting everything packed in bags weighing less than 50 Lbs (impossible), we'd just come from our dear friends', Wendy and Kishore, spectacular Indian wedding… wow add that in the mix of saying good bye to your loved one. By the title, of this post, you can imagine it was emotional for both of us. We kept waving at each other until he couldn't see me any longer past the security check point high tech machinery. We're looking forward to him coming to visit for about a month in late December. Also we're all set up to communicate in this great technological age of web cams and Skype. And of course it was tearful to say good bye to the cat. He knew something was up but he didn't quite understand why I wanted to smother him with hugs and tears so much as I was leaving the apartment to go to the airport.

The reality of what I'm embarking on comes in waves. There are times when I think of how exciting this will be. While in DC I was not only inspired by meeting the teachers coming here to Indonesia but I also with some other great people who are going to teach in other countries. I spent a lot of time just feeling motivated and excited while talking to people during our breaks. But under the surface and sometimes very faint there are always these little pulses of a more primal emotion that resembles a mixture of fear and confusion. This emotion emerges when I'm at my most vulnerable: half sleeping in an uncomfortable contorted position on the plane, waiting for my million Lb. bags to come around the carousel, or the cat nap at the hotel where all of a sudden perspective makes a drastic shift and 10 months seems like a lifetime. I predict all these things will fade as I get involved in my project…. Now I'm off to go eat gado gado while the camera battery charges.

Preparing for Departure


So the photos in the slideshow that have been up for weeks are courtesy of Sussanah, the ELF who was teaching at my assignment all last year. Yes that is my house, classroom, potential students and pizza delivery system.

The last couple of weeks before leaving had been spent putting my ducks in a row by amassing all the material things I want and need for this trip. Now I enter into the information gathering mode. Washington DC, where all the ELFs come together and learn everything about this program from the bureaucratic record keeping and expense report end to special teaching projects we might get involved with.

The pre-departure orientation (PDO) in DC was interesting and informative but a big info dump that takes time to process even having had read through the handbook. Like any bureaucratic system, there was a lot of paper and many ways to make sure people get the point. Knowing how to submit expense reports was a big take away from this. We're paid as an independent contractor which basically boils down to "save all your receipts." Sadly DC came and went so fast that I didn't have much time to see much even though the Smithsonian and Capital were visible from my room. I did walk around a bit and assuming all goes well (at some point soon) with the photo uploads you should be able to see some of what I saw.

I won't waste your reading time explaining all that happened in the meetings but if you are reading this because you want to join the program, read the handbook that is linked to the English Language Fellows website. It will give you a run down of most of what the PDO is all about.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

T Minus 2 Months

I'll leave for Indonesia in just under two months and the planning and excitement is already in full swing. On approximately Aug. 25th, I'll arrive in Indonesia for a 10 month assignment teaching English in the city of Banjarmasin on the Island of Borneo. Why? Funny, I keep asking myself this question now that it gets closer (I'm just a teensy bit scared). Four months ago I would have said to have a little adventure and to understand the world and another culture a little better. This is still true but as I near departure, I'm looking around a lot more and noticing my own culture and environment, the things I'll miss and the routine that I'm used to. Maybe it's good to do this now, to kind of say good bye (or at least a "see you later") to San Francisco because Indonesia will be vastly different in many ways.

To give a little background, after graduating this year with my MA degree for teaching English, I applied for the English Language Fellow Program, a program that is run through the U.S. Dept. of State. This program places English Teachers in countries all around the world for a 10 month period where we will teach English, English teaching methods and share American culture.So, I'm going to Borneo, known in Indonesia as Kalimantan. It's the third largest island in the world with one of the most diverse species population in the world. So what's so scary about going to this exotic place (besides the comforts of home)? I can name plenty starting with malaria, dengue fever and other tropical diseases. I anticipate culture shock and, oh and did I mention, it will be hot and humid? To begin preparing for these exotic diseases and also to be cleared to leave with a clean bill of health I've turned myself into a human pin cushion (vaccinations and tests) and will have to be a pin cushion once more in another six weeks to get some follow-up vaccination boosters. YAY! Lukily I'm not the 'afraid of needles' type and the U.S. Gov has lots of information about international travel online including recommended vaccinations, warnings, visa info. etc. AND if anyone is worried about me traveling to Indonesia (or you coming to visit) Indonesia was taken off of the U.S. travel warning list earlier this year.