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.