Alumna Blog: On Assignment in Indonesia
safe and sound
by Lauren Ebersole '07
So far I have been nowhere near any of the natural disasters that seem to strike Indonesia every few days. The latest earthquake and ensuing tsunami were on a different island and the volcano that is erupting is in Central Java.
I apologize for the large lapse in emails and consequently probably a pretty low point in your life.
Evidently my body is returning to its pre-Ramadan form as one of the teachers from school so lovingly told me I was fat again. In Indonesia being called fat isn't necessarily a bad thing, it means you are happy, but my American female body-image conscious sensibilities don't exactly take it the same way.
On the school front, things have been going pretty well, at least from the standpoint that I think my lessons are improving. I'm still working on the team part of "team-teaching." I did have a really great moment with a student that I want to share. Prepare to be inspired.
I had a one-on-one test prep session with one of my students. We were doing some listening activities and she was having a difficult time focusing. I asked if she was ok because she looked sad. She then confided in me that one of her friends was mad at her and she wasn't sure why but she was really upset because her friends meant so much to her. I offered her some advice which then turned into just general conversation about music and family and so on. We ended the session with her saying, "I'm really glad you are here because I can be myself around you." If I were a crier, that may have done it.
A Tale of Two Cities
For the past two weeks, I have been in Surabaya, a city so "American" I almost forgot where I have been living for the past 7 months. Surabaya is a city of many millions, with more shopping malls and larger McDonalds than I am used to back home. Between the Pizza Huts, the KFCs, the Gaps, the Banana Republics, the movie theatres and the other white people, there is almost no similarity to the reality I've been living. Going to the city brings out my worst cravings. In America, I am not a soda drinker, or a fast food eater, or a "mall rat." In two weeks, I went to the mall more times than I'd like to admit. A mall so large and overwhelming I couldn't possibly even enjoy myself, but nonetheless felt compelled to visit.
The 18 PCVs (Peace Corps volunteers) gathered in Surabaya for IST (in-service training). PC really loves acronyms. We spent each day sharing successes, venting frustrations, and trying to become better at our jobs. We also had a volunteer-staff badminton tournament, where my team took 2nd place. A few free afternoons, we played futsal and in true Lauren form, I banged up my knee and got a black and blue toenail. My fellow female volunteers and I kept our streak alive by impressing male Indonesians with our ability.
Being in Surabaya did leave me with one important piece of knowledge…food poisoning is better dealt with in AC and with toilet paper. The volunteers went out for some burgers and beer for our last night together. Unfortunately, that left about half of us pretty sick. On the bright side, my symptoms started early so I was able to stay in the hotel for a few days to recover. Some other volunteers were not so lucky as their symptoms started after returning to site.
Post food poisoning, I am now considered skinny again by the teachers.
So now gone are the luxuries of AC, toilet paper, a staff doctor, English-speaking friends, a hot shower, and the occasional meal sans rice. But Surabaya also lacks a lot of things. In Mojoagung, I have an Indonesian family that takes care of me like one of their own, I have students that say they have missed me, and co-workers that wonder when I'm coming back. Ok I still would really love having toilet paper and AC.
This happened a while ago, but I forgot to mention it or maybe intentionally didn't mention it, I had head lice for I think the first time in my life. After going for probably too long with an itching head, ignoring the fact that I might have head lice I finally told my host mother, who said ok let me see. She looked through my hair and didn't see anything, because lice are small and my hair is kind of like a bird's nest. She then got out the comb and sure enough there were the little buggers. Ibu proceeded to comb through my hair twice, killing lice along the way. Then she bought me medicine and helped me apply it. Except for the lice part, it was a nice bonding experience.
We had a volleyball tournament in our village, but we were just hosting, not playing. The talent level was much higher than the previous tournaments. I went pretty much every night and helped collect tickets and then watched the games. I also got a pretty sweet t-shirt that says Panitia SBR Cup, which means I was part of the tournament committee. The tournament went really well, with everyone helping sell tickets, collect tickets, call lines, keep score, park motorcycles, and so on. The only disappointing part of the whole thing was the final. One of the teams bought almost an entire team of ringers. It was a whole new group that had not played in any of the other games. I tried to explain that I thought that was cheating, but was told that there were no rules against it, so it was fine. I said I understood there wasn't a rule, but that didn't make it right and it was like the team just bought the championship, they didn't win
it. My indignation was shared by no one.
A large group of government officials came to observe my class at the end of September. It was a little intimidating walking into a room with 13 people around a conference table. They only asked a few questions and then observed my class for a while. The visit went well and the Peace Corps was happy too. One of the down sides to being in the closest group to Surabaya, we usually get the visitors.
With the rainy season come the mangoes and with the mangoes comes the fresh mango juice.
I will try to do better on my emailing, but I make no promises. Know that I am still enjoying myself, that I cannot believe I've been in Indonesia for over 7 months, and that I miss you all and think of you often.
Much love, Lauren
PHOTOS: On Assignment in Indonesia