Monday, June 22, 2009

10 Months in Borneo

Well I did it… I just finished the end of my time in Borneo. I left today with a beautiful send off by my colleagues and friends who escorted me to the airport. It was tearful as I know it will be quite some time before I see these people again but we all agreed that we weren't going to say "goodbye" but rather "see you later."

This last week was a love fest. My students showered me with praise, the faculty and administrative staff of IAIN had an official going away ceremony including the full gamut: microphones, opening ceremony closing with prayer and a bounty of gifts that made me feel so humble. I also did my best to do a bilingual speech, English, Bahasa Indonesia, and a smattering of Banjarese which made everyone giggle with pride. Of course I had help in writing it.

I was also given a party in my honor by the PPB crew (language department). They had great food, many photos were taken and I got a chance to say goodbye to the wonderful young and vibrant group of teachers whom I'd been working with this term; observing their classes and leading teaching strategy workshops.

Yesterday I was 'kidnapped' by my students. They took me and Puji to Batakan beach which was about a 3 hour ride from Banjarmasin, near Pelaihari. This was a fun place, a popular holiday spot for the locals with 15 min klotok boat rides that take you to a little island called Pulau Datu, or island of the ancestors. It has a grave yard, short hiking trails and big bolder rocks jutting out of the sea that the students were excited to climb all over as if they were conquering the world. Some rocks offered perfect perches for fishermen patiently waiting for dinner to nibble on whatever was tethered to the tip of their long bamboo fishing poles. Fishing boats bobbed in the distance as well and here the water was a milky turquoise unlike back on the beach which had the churned up color of coffee and cream.

Once back on the beach we ate lunch, chatted, and I took tons of photos of the many things that are constantly going on there. Young boys on ponies race up and down the beach and I was told they probably offer rides to people for a small fee. You can also hire a pony driven cart to take you around the beach and I saw many a family pile in and tour around. Goats wander around eating leftovers and rubbish left behind on the beach and cows were seen wandering in between the groups of people gathered on various tarps spread between the pine trees that offer much appreciated shade from the equatorial sun.

These kids were an amazing group. I loved their enthusiasm all semester. I had them do things they never even heard of. They diligently turned in 8 or more listening logs that catalogued things they listened to that was in English, citing new vocabulary and their opinions. I showed media on global issues and I had them do lots of talking in a class that was only labeled as "Listening." I will miss them.

I am now in Surabaya, Ea. Java. I volunteered for one last presentation on Academic Writing which will go on for tomorrow and the next day. After that Vacation! I will keep blogging even though I will not be in Borneo; my experiences from this journey are far from done.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Waterfalls and Dragonflies

With my time here winding down, I've been working harder to get out and see more, do more and be with friends more. Within two weeks I saw two separate waterfalls, one on Java near the city of Solo and the other near Pelaihari here in South Kalimantan. This country is vast, the archipelago of islands has span rivaling the width of the U.S. and I'm hit with regret that I've not seen anywhere near as much as I would have hoped to, but I also believe it is important to cherish the gems that I have experienced already and those I have yet to experience.

Last week, after my presentation in Pelaihari, the students guided me to Bajuin, about 2- -30 minutes away and up into a small mountain. In Bajuin there is a short hike up a hill that takes you to some fabulous vistas and to a waterfall that courses its way down the hillside in stages, some more extraordinary than others. When I'm hiking in the jungle, I'm reminded as to why I thought Borneo would be so fabulous. It is. We walked up the trail past interesting hairy trees, through a swarm of yellow butterflies, past a rocky vista point where we took in an amazing view of the valley below, all the while dragonflies buzzing in and out of the bushes. My photos of this place of course once again didn't do it justice. A photo just can't catch that feeling you get when you find yourself witnessing Mother Nature and all her amazing beauty and natural balance.

Finding balance is something I've been trying to seek while on my personal quest here. I haven't blogged about this much but I've been trying to understand spirituality more deeply. Before I came here to Indonesia I had visions of shadow puppets telling tales of Hindu lore, traditional dances that discuss the tree of life through animal stories. I had images in my mind of jewelry, batik, and amazing costumes. In some places, all of these rich cultural things exist in a mix of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and local lore and magic. Sadly, my experience of Banjarmasin didn't match this expectation I had. But perhaps it is being in this place that I've not taken for granted when I do encounter the amazing mix of historical influences.

While visiting my ELF friend Angela at her host city Solo two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to feel some of the 'magic' of this country. It seemed like every corner I turned, every event I experienced contained synchronicity and serendipity. One of the first places we visited was the Sultan's palace. A sister palace to the one in Jogjakarta, the complex boasts it's Dutch/European influence as well as a museum showcasing a variety of artifacts from the region: stone carvings of Ganesh, Arabian swords and knives, a Dutch colonialist era carriage and a shadow puppet display. It is here while looking at all these artifacts that symbolize this region of Java that I remembered my initial images of Indonesia. I remembered that I chose this country for its diversity of art and culture, and it got my mind wheels whirring. We went into the courtyard where there is a magic well with water that is rumored to keep you youthful. We splashed ourselves with the water and I got to thinking even more.

In the car ride to our next adventure, haggling for souvenirs, I asked Angela's friends and our tour guides of the day, Yusuf and Talfiq, if they knew anyone who could read auras. The practice of reading people's energy is very common here. In central and east Java there are the Dukun. They are a sort of shaman that go into the mountains without food, water, proper hiking attire, and they meditate centering their energies to practice magical feats much like alchemy. Yusuf turned around from the front seat and said, "My father can read energies."

That same evening, Yusuf's father and two of his friends who also practice this art of 'magic' came to meet us for dinner. Speaking in only Javanese, translated by Taufiq and Yusuf, I was told that I had a strong aura myself. Ahh, I bet you say that to all the girls… They asked me questions like why I'm interested in this, and asked us about teaching here, what we think of Indonesia… etc. But mostly talked about the responsibility one has when they can read people. A person who reads energies must take care when, if or how they tell another person what they see. It is not in the reader's best interest to influence the decisions or path that someone will take. These men are Islamic in religion but they also practice what the Dukun have known for many generations.

They sensed my intrigue and invited me and the rest of our touring group to join them the next evening for a type of a meditation ritual. I was told that if I wished, which they could tell my enthusiasm, I could open up my own personal energies and I too could begin to read people's energies, however it would be a mystery as to how it would manifest. Would I see things, hear things, get flashes in my mind like a movie? It could all be revealed in time as I practiced the meditations I would learn the next evening.

So the next day, we continued with our plans to go up to the mountains near Solo and go see a beautiful lake and a waterfall. What should have been about an hour's journey there at most, ended up taking longer AND we never made it to the lake. We used a taxi driver that Angela usually hires but his car was not well maintained so it burned up on us on the way, but we couldn't have been in the middle of more beautiful scenery and after a small hike down the road and grabbing ankots for transportation, we made it to the waterfall. We weren't stranded. We had Yusuf with us, our hand phones and even in the middle of where we were in the mountains; there are villages, people, and transportation for hire.

Taufiq came to meet us later half way down the mountain where we had a delicious lunch in a hut built over a river. The atmosphere was like visiting the Shire from the Hobbit, and here I ran around trying to take photos of this amazing place: the river, Yusuf building a paper boat and a dragon fly patiently letting it's wings dry after the rain. I realized in this moment that I was already much calmer in this type of situation than I used to be. A car breaking down in the middle of nowhere would have filled me with a huge amount of anxiety. Living in Indonesia for this length of time has increased my tolerance of ambiguous situations. It was then too I realized I was not only ready for whatever ritual I was going to witness that evening but that this was one of my most interesting and perfect days of my time here.

That evening I journeyed by taxi to meet Taufiq and we went alone to this event. Angela was busy working on a presentation for the next day and Yusuf, although it being his father's place I was going to, has no interest in this sort of event. Indonesians can be very, for lack of a better word, superstitious about things. Many people have told me that they've seen ghosts, seen black magic, white magic… many many stories abound. A Banjarese woman, a midwife, told me a story of being in the Loksado region where she's witnessed babies born through cesarean and the womb was closed with some magical substance the Dyak shaman put on the woman's belly. Puji has told me that her father was also trained in Dukun practices and could talk to spirits and they would protect the family. I was told that some people seek out to learn what I wanted to learn this night because they want the power and ability to control. One of the first questions I was asked when I arrove that evening was to test whether or not I was seeking to gain such power over other people.

Was this a ritual a series of amazing mind blowing events? No, at least not exactly. Things did not magically fly across the room. I did get to hold and see a couple of Yusuf's father's many kris, ceremonial swords and daggers with a curvy blade. If one is made well and with the magic inside, it will stand on its tip alone. His were of this kind much like ones Jacques and I saw in Jogja a few months back. The ones tourists buy cannot balance on their tip.

One of the men I met the evening before was there. He's the teacher or guru of Yusuf's father and I had told them the evening prior that he had looked very familiar to me. I was told through translation that he said the same thing and it was because of our auras vibrating on the same frequency. I never got his name but it was decided he would be my guide. He talked about the 4 elements: earth, air, fire and water and explained that we are made of these and that we should keep awareness of ourselves in this order: body, spirit and intention. If we contain all of these in our awareness, we will become more pure and higher beings of light. I really felt the room vibrate with energy and everything he said made so much sense. I've heard it before; it's the core beliefs of Native American medicine men, the Druids, Celts, Alchemists. At the end he had Taufiq pick a leaf from the bush just outside the window and he began to roll it in his hand, folding it up making it smaller. He said that this was for me as a memory and souvenir of the meditation. He continued to roll it in his hand; I could see this little gummy leaf, cellulose all broken down in his hand. I was then asked to hold out my hand and as he tilted his hand over, out from his hand rolling onto mine was a small emerald green glass gemstone.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just Another Day as Key Note Speaker

Let me just preface this post that I have no intention of insulting the culture I am currently living in. I work with very bright and insightful people in Banjarmasin, but you can't live anywhere in the world where it's impossible to laugh at some people and wonder what is really going on in that cranium.

Yesterday I did a presentation 2 hours from here in a town called Pelaihari.  This was organized by our students who are doing a two month long community service program in a lesser developed region that is about 30 minutes away from Pelaihari.  The students worked really hard with a small team of local teachers and principals to put this on including a boxed lunch, door prizes, and of course a special photo shoot with a live American at the end of the event.

My topic was on reflective teaching.  In my presentation I talked about how I've been working with our language department teachers on reflective teaching practices.  I talked about how we hold bi-weekly meetings and how I offer my insights as a peer observer in their classrooms if they wish. I gave insights and a variety of examples for participants to try the reflective process themselves including self journaling and peer evaluations.  I had the usual combination of 100 plus participants including a strongly interactive principal who was a brilliant woman I had the fortune of talking to after the seminar. There were also some outspoken and motivated teachers, a typical group shy ladies looking demure under their sparkly jilbabs, and of course the group of men who pretend they understand you up until you ask them directly to answer a question or to offer their opinions/experiences during the presentation.

It was one of the participants from the latter group that will make me laugh until the cows come home (by the way Pelaihari is famous for raising cows so that idiom happens to fit well with this).  It was now the question and answer time for participants to share insights or ask me to explain something in further detail... or simply ask the standard question "How can I motivate my students?"  Now I'm still not clear on the true meaning of that particular question... sure maybe they want to motivate their students to want to learn English but it is always state so vaguely so I've come to the personal conclusion that the asker wants to hear his or her own voice in the microphone. I come to this conclusion based on the fact when I answer with some ideas that are a bit less generic as the question, I'm usually looking into a glazed-over set of eyes.  But see, now I'm off topic much like my participants get... back to the beef.

A man stood up with one of those Indonesian smiles that could mean anything from, "I'm so happy to get a chance to talk to you.." to "Your batik shirt is on inside out, I can see the seams."  His question went something like this, (of course not without its long introduction and the obligatory "thank you for this time"): "When I see this title 'reflective teaching reflective learning' I thought this is a good idea for your university in the U.S. or to use with University teachers at IAIN but I really don't think we can do this in our teaching at elementary, junior and senior high schools in the region of Pelaihari."

Was he listening to the seminar?  Did he take note of my most simple formula that I repeated like a mantra: 'Being reflective means looking back on what you taught and asking yourself what went well that you want to continue and what didn't that you would like to improve on?'  So my response was simply: "I disagree."  I repeated the mantra and then continued to say that this particular activity of being reflective can be applied to any job you do.  Any field of work can stand to have people self evaluate their work and set goals.  I smiled at him that could have meant anything from "Thank you so much for asking an insightful thought provoking question" to "Your head is full of air, I can hear the whistling from the breeze between your ears."

Thank you for this time....