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).