One of my counterparts explaining the lesson in Indonesian before we dive into English.

One of my counterparts explaining the lesson in Indonesian before we dive into English.

Indonesia is different. We’ve been over this. There are a lot of things here that take getting used to when you come from America. This, in no way, makes it bad or inferior, just different. Sometimes these differences frustrate or confuse me, sometimes they make me smile. It depends on the day, as my world has been changing on a nigh daily basis over here. I’m thrilled to report, however, that I think I’m the happiest I have ever been.

I finally started teaching last week. My week goes from Tuesday to Saturday starting at 7a every day except Saturday. Much like when I was enrolled in school, I have managed to find an extracurricular for every day of the week because, free time, what?

On Tuesdays and Saturdays I have Pencak Silat (Language Note: the “C”s in Indonesian are pronounced like “ch”). I had my first class this week and I LOVED IT. Most of you who know me are probably aware that I do have a background in martial arts, so I was obviously wicked interested to learn about the nuances of this Indonesian based style. I show up after a full day of teaching to about 150-200 students waiting for the lesson to begin. I did not begin to fathom a class this size; to my pleasant surprise half or more were female. After a brief hello, Pak Tata (the coach) split the group into males and females and had us begin the class by running around campus.


That’s right, folks, you heard me. I ran (well…jogged and walked quickly) around my campus barefoot to ‘strengthen my feet.’ I tried not to laugh as I recalled the days of old when my feet were akin to leather. After my face had turned bright red from running (jogging) in Indonesia, we ladies reconvened in the large school center to stretch and practice our basic fighting positions. It differs a little from the styles I’ve studied but it’s nothing extraordinarily foreign so I was able to gleefully follow the patterns of stances, kicks, breathing, and punches. I did, however, underestimate the added complication of doing this study in another language. I suppose I went in assuming it would be fine and I would just follow along with the instructor, but you depend a lot on the added vocal tips! It was a humorous process for all involved, with plenty of help from the girls around me. (Miss! Miss! Right leg!)

On Wednesdays I help with theatre club. That’s right folks, I moved across the world and I’m still doing theatre. It’s such a great group of kids to work with and the teacher is an absolute gem. We talk about the differences between Indonesian and American theatre while combining the practices into a really wonderful experience for these outstanding students. In fact, this week they will be performing a piece about transgendered issues in society. Talk about a well informed and open bunch! When Bu Diah told me about it I was absolutely amazed and thrilled to help.

The other sort of kid we have on campus. Just hanging out. Like ya do when you're a goat.

The other sort of kid we have on campus. Just hanging out. Like ya do when you’re a goat.

Thursdays are reserved for a project that has yet to begin, Study Club. It will be a smaller, more focused version of English Club in which the students get more individualized attention.

I was fortunate enough to already have an established English Club when I arrived (we have t-shirts!). This involves a room full (I mean, standing room only on a crowded muni train, FULL) of students who stay after school every Friday to play games with the crazy American English teacher. I’ve yet to perfect a game for over 60 students in one small room, but I will find a way!

Finally, we circle around to Saturday, my easy day. I don’t start class until 10a (which is basically afternoon here) and I only teach for a few hours. I then head over to the music teacher’s house to learn Sundanese songs for an hour or so. I can’t tell you how fun it is to be singing again, not to mention how much I’m learning about such a different kind of music! I had no idea they’re basic Do-Re-Mi was different than ours. This will also help me learn a little more of the local language (Sundanese) in a super fun way. Also, it makes everyone giggle, which is fun. After my music lesson I head back to Pencak Silat to get sweaty and (eventually) even spar!

Starting school was exactly what I needed. I’m exhausted and I’m happy and I’m finding my place. These kids are such an inspiration. I’ve met so many aspiring doctors, nurses, policemen (and women!), and even a few who want to be astronauts!

I think the part that keeps me smiling the biggest, though, is my name. Since I arrived in Indonesia I’ve been “Bule” or “Hello Mister”. In the past two weeks I have turned into “Hello Miss!” or Bu (the Indonesian equivalent to Mrs). My students still giggle when they see me, but now they come up and say hello (often in English!). I feel so welcomed and such a big part of a wonderful community. So, yes, Indonesia is different and that’s what makes it so special.

The Continuing Odyssey

Traveling in Indonesia is unlike any travel I have previously encountered. Granted, most of my previous travel experience has been primarily with family and friends in the States, but still, this ain’t that. Traveling here is like getting dragged to a really bad documentary on dirt with random, chaotic fight scenes that you’re not allowed to leave.

This has very little to do with anything but I found this old photo on Gunung Gelap and I think it's pretty nifty.

This has very little to do with anything but I found this old photo on Gunung Gelap and I think it’s pretty nifty.

First and foremost, you never really know when your bus is going to leave. Usually when it’s full. How long will that take? How long will you be sitting on this bus in sweltering Indonesian heat? No way of knowing. Then you’re on the bus, usually on roads with more holes than a rotten tomato, for hours. Where are you going? It doesn’t matter. It will take HOURS. In fact, most Indonesians will tell you to leave around 4 or 5 in the morning so that you can hope to get there before it gets too dark. No matter where you’re going.

Sometimes, I’m lucky enough that someone in my host family will flag down some distant relative or friend to drive us somewhere. I am not, however, often that fortunate. To get from my site to Garut (the clostest big-ish city) you must traverse an ungodly, miserable, tiny, winding, mountain road. It’s called Gunung Gelap (Dark Mountain) and it’s the first time I’ve really gotten car sick. In a car, in a bus, in a mini bus (called an ELF), it’s miserable no matter what you take. So, you grab an ELF to Garut and it usually drops you off at the main bus terminal. Immediately upon disembarking there are about 10 men who rush to the entrance shouting at me in various languages. I emerge to “HELLO MISTER!” “MAU KE MANA” “BADE KA MANA” “BANDUNG BANDUNG BANDUNG DUNG DUNG!!!!!!”. It’s super awesome. When traveling with the family, it’s a little easier to ignore them because they believe I belong to someone. If ever I disembark alone it’s a whole different story. People follow me to make sure I ride their bus, or to try to get me on their buddy’s bus and almost always try to over charge me for the fare.

You know, just snuggling with as many children as possible.

You know, just snuggling with as many children as possible.

So, how do I survive? I know where I’m going (the station name and the city name); I assert myself and immediately shake off all of the jerks who bombard the bus; I find someone in a uniform and ask them which bus, when it leaves, and how much it costs; and, finally, once I board the bus I look for a sweet looking Ibu and I sit down near her with a big smile and a hello and proceed to inquire as to the destination of the bus, the price, and about how long she thinks it will take. In this way, I make a new friend who will look out for me on the bus ride and I know that I should argue if they try and charge me 50.000 IDR for a 20.000 IDR bus ride. (I don’t get paid, jerks!)

That would be my Idul Fitri in a nutshell. My host family has a lot of family that lives in Garut, so we went up there to spend some QT with the fam and see Court while she was visiting her family. I’m sunburned and happy. I get in the classroom this week to start observing the classes. I’ll be teaching shortly thereafter and I couldn’t be happier about that fact. I’m finally beginning to feel a sort of freedom and independence in a country that, until now, has suffocated me with rules and restrictions. (Ask my mother, that doesn’t turn out well for anyone involved.) Makes sense that it should happen so close to Indonesian Independence Day! Selamat Hari Raya!