Alumna Blog: On Assignment in Indonesia
by Lauren Ebersole '07
I am by no means an expert on Islam or its followers, but having lived in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world for the past six months, I am going to assume I have a little more experience than much of the American population. So now, please allow me to get on my soapbox in regards to recent events in the U.S.
I am a big believer in our Constitutional rights, but the question is to what ends do we use those rights. Do we use them to express reasoned, thoughtful opinions, or do we use them to incite fear, hatred, and further distrust? Blatant acts of disrespect directed at an entire group of people do nothing to further our position in the world. To say that all Muslims are evil or terrorists is as ignorant as saying all Christians or Americans want to burn the Al-Quran.
Here in Indonesia, a country noted for its friendly, tolerant people, the planned Quran burning sparked protests and demonstrations outside the Embassy and Consulate. What effect do you think it had on countries and peoples a little less friendly to the U.S.? I kept wondering what does my host family think about this, does it change their opinion of me in some way? I tried to explain to my host family that there are people who do not want to learn or understand other religions and cultures. My host mother responded with "Different is beautiful."
Now I will step down from the soapbox and tell you what’s been happening in my life.
Ramadhan has ended and fasting along with it, although I’m considering doing the optional Monday/Thursday fast from now on to keep my new Ramadhan body. And also so that it is easier to reject the many food offers. The culmination of Ramadhan is the holiday of Idul Fitri aka Hari Raya aka Lebaran. September 10 and 11 were spent visiting family and making apologies. Everyone buys new Hari Raya clothes. The morning of the 10th my family got all dolled up and then made the rounds through the village. The custom is to shake hands with your neighbors and say either "Mohon maaf lahir dan batin" or "Minal aidin wal faidzin." Both of which basically mean sorry for anything I may have done in the past year.
After the village, we moved on to my host father’s family in nearby Mojoduwur and then on to my host mother’s family in Babat. We stayed the night in Babat and visited many, many people. It was a whole group of people who had never seen me before, so I was once again the main focus of attention.
I broke fast one evening with a group of teachers, all 20-somethings, and while not exactly like sitting around talking with my girlfriends from college, it was the closest I’ve come since arriving in Mojoagung three months ago. We talked about curse words in Indonesian and about their hopes for me finding a boyfriend in Bali and about kissing (so kind of like college). Anyway, I appreciated the evening more than my co-workers probably know. In that same evening, I also felt once again like a child, having been dropped off and picked up by my host father.
After Idul Fitri, I took a nice, relaxing vacation in Bali with the other volunteers. It was a slightly different experience than the first time I went with my Indonesian family and teachers. This time I pretty much spent all my time lying on the beach or by the pool, gorging myself on hamburgers, pizza, and pasta. I did not visit cultural sites and I did not go souvenir shopping (o.k. only once because I dared not return home without some oleh-oleh). I had a beer or two and vented some frustrations. It was a trip I definitely needed to recharge a bit. Lately, I have found myself getting angry and frustrated a little quicker than normal. Part of it stems from my still limited language skills. It is draining to know that a conversation is going on about you, but to not understand what is being said. Part of it stems from difficulties at school and a feeling of ineffectiveness. Basically, it takes a lot of energy just to exist here.
It is quite possible I have shaken more hands in 6 months in Indonesia than in the previous 25 years in America. Yesterday at school, we had Halal bihalal, I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I do know that I shook over 600 hands.
I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but for now that's all.
Much love, Lauren
PHOTOS: On Assignment in Indonesia