Alumna Blog: On Assignment in Indonesia
by Lauren Ebersole '07
Happy Belated 4th of July. For me, it was just about the same 4th of July as in America ... a four-hour Muslim religious program where I believe I was the subject of more than one conversation between the 150 or so women in attendance.
An important lesson I have learned: suede ballet flats from Italy and hand-made leather sandals from Greece do not stand up to the climate and conditions of Indonesia. Shoe-lovers everywhere are devastated.
I am now on holiday from school, although there are school activities during the break. I just returned from Bali with my family and teachers from my host father's school. Bali really is beautiful, just like you always hear about ... amazing beaches, lush vegetation, interesting architecture. I won't rehash all the details site by site but here are a few of the highlights. Ulu Watu, a Hindu temple perched high on the cliffs where from the top it seems like you can see for miles. Watch out for the monkeys though because they will steal your belongings; just ask our tour guide who tried to chase a monkey that stole her cell phone. Luckily one of the workers was able to retrieve the monkey and the cell phone. Barong dancing, a traditional Balinese dance that is more drama than dance. Like public transportation, there is no limit to the number of tourists you can fit into an amphitheater. While I did not completely understand the story of the dance, there were a
surprising number of sexual/phallic references. The beaches are beautiful, although I didn't actually spend much time at them; in fact I never even put on a bathing suit. I also received numerous offers to change noses with any number of teachers. And evidently when I cover my head I get infinitely more beautiful.
There is a common cultural concept in Indonesia called oleh-oleh, essentially it means you better bring back souvenirs. If someone goes on vacation or even a short trip there is an expectation that that person will return with a small gift for family members and even co-workers. Food is the most common because it is the cheapest way to bring gifts, for say 55 teachers.
My language study sessions with my family have progressed from just English to a rotational language schedule. Mondays and Thursdays we study Bahasa Jawa, Tuesdays and Fridays are Bahasa Indonesia, Wednesdays and Saturdays Bahasa Ingriss (English), and Sunday is a mix. We have a white board where we put up words of the day and translate sentences. Bahasa Jawa, which is the language predominantly spoken between actual Javanese people, is a bit complicated seeing as how there are three different levels depending on with whom you are speaking. My chances of actually learning Javanese seems slim to none. More on my host family: I have three host sisters, 12, 16, and 19 years old. I haven't met the 19 year old yet as she is in university. I am the closest with my 16 year- old sister, who I think is absolutely great. We already have a "sisterly" relationship ... i.e. we pick and make fun of each other constantly, but she also holds
my hand when we cross the street and spent many hours of the bus trip to Bali asleep on my shoulder. My whole family thinks I do not eat enough and my ibu likes to tell people I am takut gemuk, afraid of getting fat. My host family is extremely affectionate with one another, which is very different from my previous family in Batu. It is nice to see, but also makes me a miss my own family (Mom, this is your cue to cry).
I think I have developed an unfortunate reputation as the girl who doesn't want to bathe or brush her hair. This isn't altogether untrue, but it's not exactly the kind of impression you want to make in a culture that values cleanliness. Part of this probably came from the school trip to Yogyakarta where I was the only person out of about 200 who didn't bathe at the gas station/restaurant/mushollah.
I am still working on fitting in at school. I am not the kind of person who automatically feels comfortable in a new situation, it takes me a little time; just ask my college roommate who I didn't really speak to for the first month or so of school. (You were very intimidating, Kelly). Anyway, throw in the language barrier and it becomes even more difficult. Not to mention I still don't really know when I'll be teaching, what I'll be teaching, or how to teach and it makes for a less than comfortable situation. At times, I feel as if I am in a perpetual state of confusion.
I have a mosquito net up, but the only flaw is that I am occasionally forced to leave my bed.
P.S. it is still hot; actually it has gotten hotter now that it is the dry season. Evidently August is even hotter, so that should be really great.
As usual take care and much love,
PHOTOS: On Assignment in Indonesia