Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mati Lampu

As I’m writing this on my laptop in almost complete darkness, I realize that I have failed to mention one of the annoyances that almost all Indonesians experience. It is an annoyance that we all, rich or poor, bule or Indonesian, politician or teacher must deal with while living and working in Indonesia. This annoyance is a little thing we call mati lampu, or dead light.

In my town of Limboto, I can expect the power to go out about once a week for a 4 hour period. At my school it seems to go out a little more often, and frustratingly, during the day. Today in fact there was tidak strom (no power) for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. Unlike in the United States, school continues to be held, and the teachers, students and administrators try to work around it as best they can.

In my school, where almost all useful light is natural light shining in from the door and windows anyway, there’s not much of a difference in the classrooms. However, I was visiting an ETA friend of mine whose school is a veritable tower, and when the power went off there, I had a hard time seeing chairs that were right in front of me. Still, as everywhere in Indonesia, school continues anyway.

I must tell you that these outages are scheduled. A few years ago the government of Indonesia realized that they did not have enough sources of energy to power the entire country for the upcoming year. The demand exceeded the supply. Wanting to provide the most people they could with power as often as they could, they began to schedule power outages so that they would expend exactly as much energy as they can produce and no more. They have calculated what is needed to get by for a year, and they have consequently scheduled power outages to make ends meet. In some cities this means a power outage almost every day, often during work hours, when the most electricity is being used. For other towns, or in big important cities like Jakarta, there are no power outages. But there are only a few exceptions.

During the workday it’s not the lack of lights that cause such a problem, but obviously the lack of electricity to power a computer, or access the internet. I imagine that businesses grind to a near halt when the power goes out. Productivity has gone down as a direct result of this energy crisis, and entrepreneurs the country around find themselves looking to the government to resolve this pressing problem.

In their defense, there are a lot of pressing problems, and so these outages continue.

My own productivity has been affected at times; my lesson plans have gone out the window due to these power outages. I can remember times that I had wanted to print out a worksheet that I had made only to come to school and find that there was tidak strom. I then had to use the board and my imagination to fill the gaps in my lesson that would have contained the students working on a worksheet. But all this has just made me a more flexible, prepared teacher. I no longer try to print something the morning of my class. The risk is too high that something will go wrong and my plans will fall through. My thanks goes to Indonesia for making me a more flexible teacher.

As I write this the children on my small street have continued to play, ride their bicycles in the pitch darkness, very much accustomed to these power outages as a way of life. Frankly, as children always are quite resilient, they don’t seem at all fazed. I’m not even sure if they dislike it. When the power goes out the whole family comes outside and sits on chairs on their porches, while the children play outside. They make fires sometimes, and grill fish, or just sit out with a few strong lamps and talk into the night. I might find this all very exciting and even romantic if I were a child. At this time the coolest place (temperature-wise) is outside, and at this time, your whole family talks and passes the time together, with absolutely nothing to distract you.

I’m not saying these power outages are all roses, but it forces you to slow down and enjoy the people that are right there with you. There’s no internet to distract you, no tv to watch, there’s only the company of your friends and relatives.

Alexa and I have some of our best talks when the power’s out. I have laughed hard and shared some very personal things by the light of a single lamp in Indonesia. I’m not just saying that to be poetic either. I really mean it. The lack of power, and consequently the lack of distractions, forces you to talk a little longer, get a little more comfortable with the company since, really, you have nothing better to do.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Remembering our Dead

I haven’t posted in awhile, and I’m feeling pretty guilty about it. Apparently though, I’m not the only one who’s noticed. I had a number of complaints yesterday that no new posts had been put up in while.

I must say, I’m glad that people are reading, and care when I don’t post; but I’m pretty new to this, so forgive me for not being a great blogger. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that I have something interesting to write about.

And now for something completely different.

I woke up on Wednesday feeling tired. Extremely tired. I did not want to get out of bed, I did not want to take a cold shower in my bathroom, and I did not want to teach. My classes started at 8:45am, and at 8am I was still in bed. So, I rolled out of bed, skipped showering, ate a quick bowl of cereal with long shelf-life milk, and got dressed in a flash. I decided that since I put little to no effort into making myself ready for work, I put on one of my most beautiful outfits: a long, simply embroidered golden blouse with my long, white, full skirt.

I hopped on a bentor and took the 7 minute ride to school only to arrive and find things not as they should be. Something seemed off - different. There was a group of 10 students standing outside discussing something intently with a teacher in Bahasa Indonesia. The Language Teacher’s Lounge was empty save me upon entering. I looked at my watch, class should be starting in one minute, but no one was making a sign of changing classes. What was going on? Was there a ceremony? Was class canceled? Were the classes strangely quiet, and all of the language teachers just in class at the same time?

A teacher came to the entrance of the Language Teacher’s Lounge and called a student to her. The discussed something, and then the student entered, and then in broken English, said this, “Taufik’s mother has been died this morning. Can 10 B go to his funeral now in Telaga?” I hurriedly agreed and told them to please go and be there for Taufik.

They asked me if they could go because I was about to teach their class. Taufik is a student of mine, in class 10 B. He is one of my best students. I was shocked. How could someone so young, die so suddenly?

Just as I’m really letting this news sink in, another student comes in and asks if the students in class 10 A can go to the funeral too. I again say, “Of course,” only to their cheers of approval. This I find strange. I can only think that they cheer at the opportunity to support their fellow student whom they love.

Everyone loves Taufik. He’s a very sweet boy, and a great student. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole school was going.

So there I was. I only had to teach two classes on Wednesday, 10 A and 10 B, and both of them were gone, at a funeral. Suddenly I found myself with nothing to do. Contemplating going back home and mulling over death and how it’s perceived in this culture, a year 12 student enters my lonely teacher’s lounge and asks me if I want to go to the funeral. Without hesitation, I say, “Yes, of course.” Quickly, she and I leave the lounge, hail a bentor, and take the ride to Telaga.

I must stop here, and tell you a few things about Indonesian culture. I agreed to go to this funeral so quickly because in this culture it is essential that you attend every funeral event associated with anyone in your community, and anyone you know. Whether you know them personally or not is not important. If they are a member of your community or extended community, you are expected to attend the funeral, and support the family. At a different funeral I attended with Alexa, there was a teacher from her school that was missing, and people asked about her. When you don’t show up for a funeral, people notice and ask questions. Luckily this teacher had a good excuse to miss the funeral, and since every teacher was present and accounted for, the community, collectively, felt at ease that everyone who could be there was there to support this family.

So, I felt that it was pertinent that I go to this funeral. Not to mention, I really like Taufik and I wanted to support him during this time of mourning.

Now, logistics.

From what I’ve gathered, once the funeral starts that wrap the body up in a bag and tie it closed at the end, cover it in a pretty cloth (blue and white for Taufik’s mother), and put it on a flat gurney-type thing made of bamboo. They then pray over her with everyone present at her house. At this point she has not left the house since she died.

After praying over her a bunch of men pick up this bamboo gurney and lead her out of her house. Other men have attached long pieces of bamboo to the end of umbrellas, and fastened about a foot of lace around the edge of the umbrella cloth. These improved umbrellas they position over the body as it is processed from the house to a nearby mosque.

this point everyone at the funeral, which is a lot of people (250-300), is already there, dressed in white, and following the procession of the body from the home to the mosque.

Once everyone has reached the mosque, they crowd into it, and begin to pray again with the body. The many of us who could not fit in the mosque stand around outside in the heat, respectfully standing, or praying to ourselves.

Then the body is again processed back to the house, where a burial site has been prepared. Two mounds of dirt stand on either side of the 5-foot hole. With a very large white piece of lace being outstretched above the body, men crouch down and carefully place the body in the hole. They are carefully to untie the bag that the body is in, but leave the body bag on. This is an important step, because with the bag untied her spirit is free to leave her body, but if left tied, her spirit will be trapped inside her body, in that bag, forever. The gurney-like device is discarded before this, and she is placed in the ground on top of a very large piece of plastic, which lines the sides of the deep hole.

The 4 men who have lifted the body down into the hole, remain there and begin to place 3 feet long pieces of bamboo over the body. The bamboo is all cut to the same length, and has been cut at an angle at the end, so that the pieces of bamboo can be placed above the body, protecting it, at an angle. From left to right the pieces are placed above the body, and the four men, simply pick up their feet, place it down, and stand on the bamboo, instead of the ground. When finished, the bamboo makes a platform above the body that sits at a 45⁰ to the earth.

Once the bamboo is in place other men take shovels and begin to shovel the dirt into the hole. The four men remain in the hole and use their feet to compact the dirt above the bamboo. Their white funeral clothes get very dirty in the process, but this is their honored job, and they don’t seem to mind or notice how dirty they are getting. A few more minutes follow like this until the dirt on the burial site is a little higher than that of the earth around it.

Then bits of flowers are distributed to a select few, and these flowers are sprinkled liberally over the new mound of dirt. Then the last prayer begins. Seven men (sometimes more, sometimes less) then begin to pray from the Holy Qur’an. They are crouched beside the fresh mound of dirt, and then begin to read aloud from the Qur’an, in Arabic, and they all appear to be reading from different passages. Their prayer, the mixture of their voices becomes a din, and all you can feel is the powerful love and devotion to their god with which they all read. After minutes of this the various prayers become one unified rhythmic chant. The chant has one strong beat, and five softer, less important beats. The six beated chant becomes faster, increases in speed. You begin to think it will spin out of control in gets so fast. Then beats are simultaneously dropped, and the six beated rhythm becomes a four beated rhythm, and then quickly just two beats.

Suddenly, as you might expect, it just stops.

The funeral, at least the first day of it, is over.

The participants must wish blessings and good health individually to those in the family before they leave and go back to their days. I shook the hands of the family members, including Taufik, who upon shaking my hand thanked me for taking the time to come to his mother’s funeral.

My goodness, I thought, don’t thank me. Your mother has just died, please don’t be concerned with little old me. But, throughout their days, their respect for me and their love of me prevails. Even though it was his mother’s funeral, he showed real thanks to me that I had come, indicating that in some small way, he was honored by my presence.

This of course seems crazy to me when I think of how infrequently people are honored by my presence in America. I’m going to be in for a real culture shock when I get back, and people just don’t care that much that I’m there.

I am sorry that this has been so long, and I must tell you, that I’m not done yet. I have some thoughts, and reflections to now share with you.

I have been to more funerals and funeral related ceremonies in the last 3 months than I have been to in the previous 4 years of my life.

I’ll just let that sink in.

What does that mean? Do more people die in Indonesia? In Gorontalo? Am I just invited to more funerals?

I think I have been to so many funerals recently due to a combination of the above factors, and one other very important one. Here, there is not just a funeral on the day that someone dies. There’s a ceremony seven days after, twenty days after, and forty days after. In Gorontalo you wear white to every ceremony, except the last, to which you wear blue. The forty days after funeral ceremony, I have heard from Alexa, is a pretty big deal. This is one of the biggest celebrations, with the most food. We decided that this is because it is the last occasion for the whole community to jointly mourn the loss of a loved one.

Death here seems to be a little more frequently occurring, and maybe as a consequence is understood and accepted more easily than I accept death. Death here seems to be a much more accepted part of life, and something to be taken in stride. Few cry, although the immediate family sheds some tears, the death is taken mostly as a reminder that life is meant to end, and that is why trust and faith in god is so important.

This acceptance of death is hard to handle for Alexa and I. We are constantly shocked at how easily they are able to handle death, and not let it negatively affect their lives. As a culture they have accepted its presence and learned to live with it. It is truly amazing, and fascinating to behold. It is power and boldness like I have never seen before.

Lastly: When did our culture, our American culture, stop putting so much time and festivities into our celebrations of the dead? It seems to me that in many cultures, the dead are celebrated or remembered with much ado, or for a long time after that first funeral.

In short, this upsets me, and I want to bring this tradition back to America. I want a big celebration for my funeral, and I want to be remembered for weeks after my death in a public, communal way. The family really does mourn for this long, but our American society cuts off the communal mourning long before mourning is done.
Indonesians wisely have a ceremony seven days after the funeral, at the home of the deceased, in which the community prays along with the family of the deceased. This is perfect. For anyone who has lost a loved one, it is in the weeks following the funeral that you get the most lonely, the most sad, and possibly the most angry at god for allowing this to happen. But when, on the seventh day after your loved ones death, the entire community, everyone important to you and your loved one, gathers at your house to keep your faith strong and show you the great amount of love that still exists in this world, how could you be angry at god? All of this love and support helps your mourning seems a little less solitary, and I promise it helps keep your trust in god strong.

Don’t we all need a little more love and support in our lives?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Next year

So I feel as though I should mention here that I just found out that I’ll be doing Teach for America next year in South Louisiana. Hopefully (Insuh allah) I’ll be in the city of Baton Rouge with my brother Kris, Ellen and Eliza!! It will be great to be near them. But Teach for America is really going to be hard.

You see I first applied for Teach for America last year. I began the application after I had finished my Fulbright application, but before I knew that I was going to get it. However, when the final interview for TfA came around, I already knew that I had gotten the Fulbright and was going to be in Indonesia the next year. My friends, parents and mentors all told me to finish off the application because it’s always good to have another job waiting for me after Fulbright. Due in large part to my relaxed demeanor at my final interview, and the fact that I’m a mathematics major, I secured a spot on the 2009 Teach for America Corps! It was very exciting for me to have been accepted into a movement that does so much good and is so competitive.

I was originally placed in Baltimore in the 2009 Corps. I had put Baltimore down as a top choice for placement because it is near my brother John and his wife Karen. Not to mention I would get to see my two nieces grow up. It really seemed like a good place for me.

But when I got my assignment to teach in Baltimore, Baltimore seemed like a lot more than just a city close to my brother and his family. It’s big, and a pretty scary place for a girl who’s never spent more than a weekend there. I knew from Sociology class that Baltimore has the highest murder rate for any city in the U.S. That fact, which was just a curious fact when I was in Sociology class, seemed very real and scary when I realized I would be living and teaching in this rough city. But then, someone’s got to do it. And would I be that bad at it? Would the students listen to me? Most of the time - no. The trick is to not take it personally. At least that’s what they tell me.

Well, I’ve never been good at not taking it personally. Ask any of the orchestra conductors for whom I sat first chair cello. I seemed to take every comment directed towards the section very personally; assuring them that I had not held that G out too long, I had been certain to keep it short. So, maybe I couldn’t do it. Maybe I can’t do it. My opportunity to test myself has been delayed however, for another year and another place – South Louisiana.

So I wrote to Teach for America last year upon my acceptance to request a deferral. They granted me a deferral after I wrote a persuasive essay convincing them that a Fulbright was an adequate enough reason to defer Teach for America. It was then that they told me that I would not have to apply again, but that I would have to resubmit my list of preferred cities.

That is how I came to be reassigned to South Louisiana. I did not put South Louisiana first in my choices, in fact it was third. I put Atlanta first, Philadelphia second, and South Louisiana third along with about 3 other cities that I know can’t remember. So, I really wanted to be in Atlanta, with so many of my wonderful friends from college – Erica, Mira, Cara, Trica, and maybe Maya and Allison if they are still going to be there. I love Philadelphia, and still want to live there again someday. But Teach for America did say that they really need teachers in South Louisiana. I guess I’m needed more in South Louisiana. I just hope this all works out for the best.

I would be lying if I said I was not sad that I won’t be in Atlanta. Living here in Indonesia has really made me miss the city, and I find myself daydreaming about walking around the streets of Decatur and buying candy from Greene’s. But something tells me that I will fit in to Baton Rouge soon, and living near my brother Kris, some of my family, might be just what I need right now. It might be what both of us need. I know he wishes he was closer to family, and I think I miss it more than I’d like to admit.

Here’s to the Red Stick!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 10, 2009
As you’ve been reading my blog, perhaps you’ve been wondering why it’s titled ‘Mangos for Breakfast.’ Before I give that away, let me tell you that I considered naming this blog 37 minutes or 0 degrees and 37 minutes, or Teaching in the Doldrums (which it was actually temporarily called). I debated over a number of names that I’m not even listing here, even enlisting my friends’ help for idea titles. In the end however I settled on a title of my own.

The title comes from an unwritten list that Alexa and I have been making of things we are not supposed to do according to our very kind and helpful friends here in Indonesia. The Ibus (read women with maternal instincts) especially like to tell us what things we must not do and why.

Here’s the list thus far:

1. You cannot eat mangos for breakfast. Doing so will result in an upset stomach (pronounced with a hard ch)
2. You must eat rice for breakfast. You can eat other things as well, but rice must be a component.
3. You absolutely should not take a shower in the afternoon. According to the Ibus this will dry out your skin considerably and turn your lips purple.
4. Washing your own clothes yourself will make you sick. Anna did so and came down with a fever. Don’t tell, but she’s still washing her own clothes. (For those of you who don’t know, Anna is another ETA here in Indonesia who is stationed in Manado. I love her. She makes me laugh, and reminds me of my sister-in-law Shaela).
5. Using hot water from the hot water dispenser for your instant noodles will make you sick to your stomach. You should always boil your water (i.e. Sarah stop being lazy).
6. Generally you should not eat just fruit for breakfast, it will, as many other things, make you sick. I tend to agree with this one, since I notice that sometimes in the US if I eat a lot of fruit for breakfast and nothing else, I get a little sick. Just thought you all might want to know that.

For now, that completes the list, as far as I can remember.

So, the idea of eating mangos for breakfast sounds both delicious and daring. Mmmm. Doesn’t it also somehow sound so Indonesian? They have so many mangos here, a tree in half the front yards, that you really could have a mango for breakfast every morning. And best of all, you can’t beat the price. If you do have to buy a mango, then it won’t cost you more than 40 cents I’d say. But because our Ibus know that Alexa likes them so much, we often get mangos just given to us. It’s glorious. And wouldn’t you too be tempted to eat a nicely ripe juicy mango for breakfast? I know I’m tempted while living in this tropical paradise.

So now you know. Mangos for Breakfast. Delicious.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November 4, 2009
I remember an ETA (English Teaching Assistant) telling us while in Bandung that we need to realize the great effect we have on many Indonesian’s lives. I recall them saying that often we don’t realize how deeply and significantly we touch people’s lives, and here we affect some people we don’t even remember meeting.

This is due in large part to our celebrity-like status here. I was warned kindly beforehand that because for many Indonesians I will be the first Westerner they will see or meet, they will be transfixed by my appearance and shocked to meet me. Literally every single day I am here people clamber to get a picture with me, shy to ask, but once I agree they almost fall over each other to get a spot in the picture. (I should mention that 70% of these pictures are being taken on camera phones…just thought you’d like that image).

Alexa (my house mate) and I have really started feeling like celebrities. I’ve started actually expecting people to want to take my picture. A young lady joked with me at the beach, after I took a picture with some children, asking me if they had wanted my autograph. With no change in expression, I just told her that, “No, they just wanted a picture.” She burst out laughing, and then I realized how ridiculous a question that had been. Of course they didn’t want my autograph! I’m not actually a celebrity. But the fact that her suggestion didn’t even faze me is really pretty concerning.

So, yes, I do have an effect on people’s lives, but until today, I did not realize to what extent.

Today was like any other day at school for me. I had two 10th grade classes that I taught and I ate a delicious meal of chicken and rice prepared for me by one of the kind teachers at my school. As I was finishing up my meal, a teacher came into the language teacher’s lounge and told Ibu Anti, who I work with, that one of the teachers had just had a baby!

I was so excited! I had seen pregnant Ibu Fatma every day at work, and had thought she looked like she was ready to give birth any day now. Ibu Anti realized that I had a break from my classes, so we could go to the hospital right then and see her.
We hopped on a bentor (think motorcycle with seat/cart in front for passengers) and headed towards the close-by hospital. On the way I thought of Ibu Fatma and how she would ask me to touch her belly every day, hoping that by touching her belly her child would have a nose just like mine. She so badly wanted her child to have my thin, small nose. I never thought of my nose as small until they mentioned its small size every day.

So we arrived at the hospital and began to walk down an open-air walkway towards one section of the hospital dedicated to births. Just as in any home in Indonesia, we took off our shoes upon entering the hospital and crossed the threshold. No sooner had I entered then I heard a child screaming. I turned the corner to find a naked 2 year old boy crying in pain on the floor. No explanation was given, so I only have my imagination to know why this was the case.

Ignoring the boy, we turned into the first room on the right to find a group of about 7 women sitting on a rug on the floor. One of them was holding a newborn baby girl. She was beautiful. She almost took my breath away. I had never seen a baby that small - that young. She was born at 3 am, and as it was 1pm, she was only 10 hours old.

I saw five or so men against one wall, and then the exhausted new first-time mother lying on the only furniture in the room - a single bed. As any new mother she looked exhausted, but happy. I kissed her, and then began cooing at the baby.

Then they told me her name - Sarah. The mother had named her after me.

I looked at her, my eyes filled with tears, and I beamed. What an honor. I was overwhelmed, and still kind of am.

I held her and they remarked how beautiful the scene was. All I could see was this beautiful little baby girl whose life is now forever changed and has been forever affected by mine.

She will always hear about the ‘beautiful’ American Ms. Sarah that she was named after her. And I will forever be grateful to know a baby girl was named after me. They said every time they see her, they will think of me. She will be a remembrance of me to them. I almost cried.

I hope this girl doesn’t feel overwhelmed, like she has a lot to live up to. I know I feel that way sometimes, and it’s no way to live. I’m working on it though.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why teaching is hard...

October 19, 2009
Today marks the first day of my second week of teaching and I’m beat. These kids, I love them all, but they take a lot out of me. I’m reminded often of my own days in high school, and while I look back at my teachers and classes fondly, I can’t stop feeling sorry for all of the times my classes, and I admittedly, misbehaved. I apologize for the poor sentence structure in that last sentence; while I could change it, I’m not going to.

Really though, I am beginning to have such a deep respect for the way my high school teachers commanded our respect, and guided our interest in the direction of their lesson. What skill and what prowess they all demonstrated! This is a time tested skill that I know I can’t acquire after just a week or even just a year of teaching.

I say all of this because my after school 10th grade English club was taxing today. The lesson was their second as a club, and I was focusing on talking about habitual actions. I chose this topic for two reasons: because it uses only the simple present tense, something they’re comfortable with, and because the habitual actions they participate in every day are actions they will need to know how to express in their foreign language. I remember often writing, “Cada dia yo como almuerzo.” When recounting our days, we usually mention eating, because we do this every day.

Before I go on, it just occurred to me that maybe some of you don’t know what my circumstances are. For those of you that don’t know, I am in Indonesia this year on a Fulbright as an English Teaching Assistant. I am at MAN Limboto teaching an English class a week to all of the 10th graders and all of the 11th graders. These classes are all taught once during the week by their regular English teacher, and once by me. So as you see, they have English class only twice a week, but these class periods are 45 minutes long, and the periods are always taught in blocks. This means that I teach one class for 90 minutes at a time. This is very long, and I really struggle to keep them interested during the entire class. In addition to teaching the 10th and 11th graders, I teach all of the 10th graders in an English club on Mondays, all of the teachers in an English club on Wednesdays and all of the 11th graders after school on Thursdays. These clubs last for two hours after school and are taught solely by moi. And just so you can imagine it, that’s 80 10th graders with me in one hot room for two hours after school on Mondays and 112 11th graders after school on Thursdays.

Now that you have a better idea of what I do, I can tell you a little bit more about my experiences today with the 10th grade English club. I felt that I did a pretty good job introducing my first activity, leading into it for about 20 minutes. They brainstormed most of the words they were about to be using, and the sentences they would be saying most frequently I modeled for them beforehand. They loved the activity I had them do where they act out the habitual actions of someone in a particular profession and their group members ask them yes or no questions until they can clearly guess what kind of profession they’re acting out. So each person chooses a card that has a profession printed on it, and then they act out actions that that person might do every day, while their group members ask them questions like, “Do you work outside?” or , “Do you work for the state?”

I must give credit where credit is due and tell you that I got the idea for this activity from the book Grammar Practice Activities by Penny Ur – a very useful book.

I then transferred the focus to them; what kinds of habitual activities do they do? Well, we brainstormed for a while about what we do every day, what we do once a month and then what we do once a year. The brainstorming went well, and they understood what to do when I asked them to make three lists of their own of what they do every day, once a month and once a year. I gave them 20 minutes to come up with their own individual lists, and then I put them in groups of 10 to share what they wrote with everyone in their group. The catch here was that, if someone read aloud a habitual activity that you also had on your list, then you must both cross it out. In this way, at the end of the activity each student in the group is left with a list of habitual activities that are unique to them.

I had lots of problems during this second activity. After counting them off into groups of 10, I found that my 8 groups were very uneven. Being a math major, I knew I myself had not counted them off wrong. But somehow my group 2 had morphed into containing some 17 members, when I knew at most it should have 11. Where had these extra 6 or so members come from, and why were groups 6 and 3 so small? Had these students all forgotten their numbers, and just joined group 2, or had they wanted to be in the group with their friends? Moreover why was this discrepancy in group size bothering me so very much? I was getting very flustered before they even began sharing their lists with one another, because I could not stand how uneven these groups had turned out, and more importantly why my system had failed.

I earnestly asked the members of what I thought to be the large group 2 to raise their hands, but to no avail. I asked and asked and asked them to raise their hands so that I could determine just how many more people I needed to move out of group two, but I never really got them all to raise their hands. I think this may be because some of them knew they were not actually members of group 2. But I’m getting a little bogged down in the details here.

So yes, grouping was a problem, and so was reading aloud. So many of the students simply allowed others in their group to view their lists, and subsequently cross things out, instead of reading their lists aloud to each other in English. That was the third struggle: getting the students to use English when I wasn’t listening. This is perhaps my biggest challenge. I don’t know how to encourage them to speak English when I’m not listening. I almost resorted to begging. Almost.

The last problem, and by far the most upsetting is the students lack of respect for me, but more importantly, for their fellow students.

I have been to high school. I know that many times we do not respect our classmates, but this is more brazen than I have ever seen. The students continually have side conversations that almost always drown out any student that is speaking out loud in the class. That means when their fellow classmates brave speaking out loud in their foreign language, in front of everyone (something I shudder at doing myself), they laugh and talk in Bahasa Indonesia and don’t bother listening to a word being said. It really upsets me to see. I got very upset today when they would not listen to me, they never stopped talking, and when their classmate stood up to speak many continued on as if no one was standing and talking to all of them.

And do you know what really discourages me, making me think I will never change their habit? The student who stood and spoke to the class, clearly did not expect them to ever stop talking and listen to him. When I told him to wait with me as I waited for complete silence, he continued speaking long before total silence was ever reached, because even he saw this as a unachievable goal.

Please, for those of you that are reading this blog – what should I do? How can I make them want to respect each other? Can this be instilled this late in the game?

If you are a teacher, maybe you have dealt with this. What can I do?

I did end the class by giving them a quick talk about how I wanted them to respect each other and me when we’re speaking. I made sure to define respect, and I think they understood what it meant. They clearly sensed that I was upset, but while I was disciplining them, they were still talking amongst themselves and having side-conversations. I felt so discouraged after this lesson.

Well, a little time has passed and I’m feeling a little more hopeful, but I think this will be a challenging problem to face.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My first blog post!

October 10, 2009

This blog has been way too long in the coming. But as my closest friends and relatives, you know that my perfectionism and poor communication skills combined make this fact far from surprising. However, even in light of that, I am sorry for the delay. Thank you all for gently nagging me, and waiting patiently. This is as much for you as it is for me, and I think I have overcome my fear of your judgment to let you all read my most personal and reflective thoughts so that you can share this other-worldly experience with me.

Let’s begin.

I think I am required to say at some point that the opinions and information expressed in this blog are solely my own, and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State. THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL DEPARTMENT OF STATE WEBSITE. Let not the wandering souls of the internet be confused.
Well, now that that’s done, I can begin to tell you about Indonesia.

October 16, 2009

So…great ready for a great read.

Today, I went to the gym. In Indonesia. It was so much more than I could have hoped for.

So, you’re thinking, “Okay, it’s a gym in a small town in Indonesia, how great could it be? What, does it have some treadmills or something? Maybe a few weight machines? Wait. Does it have air conditioning?! It’s got to have air conditioning, right? Right?!”

No. No air conditioning, no weight machines, and no machines at all except one stereo. This is a one room gym run by one amazing women. I really, truly wish you could all meet her.

This room reminds me a lot of a dance room I know from Gainesville in a small dance studio that goes by the name Cameron Dance Center. This room, like the one at Cameron Dance Center, has one wall lined entirely with mirrors (for the obvious help this gives the dancer when practicing for good form). Unlike the room at Cameron Dance Studio, this room has tile on the floor. Now these large white tiles on the floor, were I swear, the cleanest white tiles I have ever seen on a floor. They looked brand new. Maybe they were. Alexa and I commented that we can’t even keep our floors at home this clean, and supposedly, these floors have women sweating all over them.

Oh, I should mention, that like my tap class that I took at Cameron, this gym/room was filled only with middle-aged women, and of course Alexa and I. Oh and a few children who were there with their mothers, being watched.
So, we walk into this all women’s gym with Ibu Selvi (pronounced sel-fee), and were welcomed by other aerobic-enthusiasts. And wow - I was worried about my work-out shorts being too short…I had nothing to worry about. These women were wearing matching work-out outfits, that were skin-tight, and sometimes the tops were more like bras. It was awesome. I felt so much more comfortable, like I could have easily been in America.

We had the usual picture-taking with the Americans, and then the instructor arrived. She was wearing a matching two piece red, white and blue ensemble, that looked striking like an American flag. It made me so happy. Just like home  And man she was toned. This small framed woman was compact and strong.

So, then we began the only real thing we could have done in this gym – aerobics. And let me tell all of you who don’t know that I’ve never done an aerobics class in America, but this class was INTENSE. Alexa and I were both drenched in sweat by the end. I mean we were more drenched then I have ever been. Ever.

The work-out started slow, with marching in place, something that never stopped throughout. There were two thirty minute sessions: one very active, and second (which we didn’t know about until the first one was over) was more like ‘slow’ dancing. At least that’s what they called it. It was not slow, but it wasn’t as hard-core as the first one. In the second half we did a lot more dancing that they told us was Indonesian dancing. It was so much fun – lots of hip moving, and hands turning.

But what you really need to know is that this work-out was the most sexual of any I’ve seen ever. You’d be surprised that in this conservative culture where I get stares for showing my shoulders, that these women were pulsating and gyrating their hips hard and with real enthusiasm. I’m glad to see that they have a release, where behind closed doors they’re able to get out any sexual frustration that they may have. I mean these women were working out but having a great time pulsing their bodies to “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me.” You all should have seen it.

Well, since there was no air conditioning, I am really dripping with sweat still, so I’m going to go take a nice cold shower. Mmmm. Finally, I’m looking forward to that cold shower I wake up to every morning.

Now, I will finish off my night with a little “Save the Last Dance” on the tv, and then “Definitely Maybe.” Be jealous. It’s going to be a great night…