Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bobbing for Apples

What better way to celebrate Halloween than with the time-tested American tradition of bobbing for apples! There are two inherent ironies to this situation: one being that I have never personally bobbed for apples because I think the idea of sticking my face into a bucket of water that other people have spit into is revolting and the second being that there is absolutely no way that I would be allowed to have 300 students bob for apples in an American school right now due to the swine flu frenzy.
My students absolutely loved this activity! All the other Halloween songs, games, poems, costumes, scary stories, and even candy were quickly forgotten when I pulled out the bucket of water and explained what I wanted them to do. They laughed, took pictures on their cell phones, exclaimed in surprise at how difficult it was, and clapped with incredible enthusiasm each time one of their classmates successfully got an apple.

For me, there was something quietly inspiring about watching girls in jilbabs (Muslim headscarves) determinately bob for apples. I did not tell them that they had to do it, but they watched the boys do it and they stepped right up for their turn. They flatly refused to remove their jilbabs (even when I offered to kick all the boys out of the classroom) or have help holding them out of the water. I felt honored to watch them go after their apples with fiery determination and gusto. And I was touched by the way they cheered for each other and even more so by the soft, kind way the boys encouraged them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Students

I am planning the most elaborate Halloween experience! Or, at least as elaborate as you can get with one piece of orange paper, really bad candy, some markers, tape, and a pair of scissors. Good thing I have a big imagination! Photos to come soon.
To tide you over, here are some pictures of a few of my favorite students (I can't possibly put up pictures of all 300 of them even though they are all wonderful):

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Kids Say the Darnedest Things...

My mum is a teacher. My whole life I've been listening to stories from her classroom that have had me in tears from laughing so hard. Kids just have a way of framing their world in words that can be either profoundly astute or deeply humorous. Actually, I'm not really teaching children. My students are 14 to 17 years old--solidly teenagers. They are more like American children though than American teenagers. This is partially due to the language barrier--most of my students are on a 1st or 2nd grade English level. Their childishness is also a factor of their relative lack of maturity, which comes from growing up in a collectivist society that does not place value on individualism (aside: On a index of individualism, the U.S. ranks a shocking 91%, while Indonesia brings up the rear of the rankings with a 14%!). And my students have come out with some hilarious statements and questions so far!
I handed out a "personal fact sheet" to my students the first week I was here. The purpose of the sheet was for them to introduce themselves to me so that I could tailor my lessons to their interests and make English relevant to their lives. I asked questions about their families, their favorites (color, food, music, sport, book, etc.), their hobbies, and also why they wanted to learn English. I'm going to share some of their responses with you now (some funny, some inspiring)!

What are your hobbies?
-"Play football, I'd like to eat a meatball."

What do you want to be when you grow up?
- "I want to be a sailor man."
-"I want to be Advokat [advocate]."
-"I want to be U.S. Army."
-"I want to be President Amerika, like Barack Obama."
-"I want to be a succesman."
-"I want to be a human which usefull for everyone, I want to be a career woman."
-"I want to get job and mate."
-"I want to make my parrent happy."
-"Man succes."
-"I want to be an ARMY."
-"Body builder."
-"I will look for many science for my life in earth and the here after."
-"I hope become a electrical."
-"I hope become a elektion."
-"Super viser in big office."
-"A poem."

What do you want to know about America?
-"I want to know how America be a forward country."
-"I want to know the faforite foot in America." [I checked, this was not a spelling mistake, he did not mean food]
-"Why Americn people are tall?"
-"I want to know about night race in the street. It's ilegal."
-"I want about, do you life?"
-"Most of the American tall?"
-"About people, football [soccer], and girls."
-"America have a people is very smart?"
-"About America have Amazon River." [several students asked about this, in Indonesia "America" means U.S.A., so they must think the Amazon River is in the U.S.]
-"The brain of people."
-"I want to know about morning activity of American's peoples."
-"America is the country that people have attitude like: dicipline, clever, but not too polite them."

Why do you want to learn English?
-"Because English is verry funny!"
-"Because I want to add my knowledge more spacious again."
-"I am forget."

What about English do you think is fun or easy?
-"I think learning English is fun or easy because the teacher is friendly and beautiful."
-"I think learning English is fun because Miss Sarah is very beautiful."

Photos of the students to come soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I'm working very hard at recording all the unique moments of this adventure in my memory. I'm endeavoring to suck the glory and the joy out of every second of my life here. When I talk with the other ETAs we make the distinction between "real life" and our lives in Indonesia. We use this distinction with a smile because we know that this is real life. It can just feel so surreal at times. I find myself mentally pausing at points throughout the day to savour what I'm doing at that moment. I often smile or giggle at the ludicrous and ridiculous things I catch myself doing or the bizarre situations I find myself in during my mental role call. This is made all the more hilarious for me because everyone surrounding me is business as usual and recognizes no cause for uncontrollable laughter. Truth be told: I revel in the hilarity.
This is my second week of teaching English as a second language! Most of my "what the heck am I doing? this is absurd" moments occur in the classroom. I have pantomimed everything from scuba diving to witches to zombies to growing up to talking louder and beyond. I have repeated the same sentence word by word with different intonations and eyes pleading for the dawning of comprehension on the faces in front of me countless times. I have grown accustomed to students professing their love to me and taking my picture while I attempt to teach them the English color words. And yet, while I often question the realness of my "job", I unquestionably enjoy it. I am honestly surprised by how much I like to teach. I have 8 different classes of 36 students. 98% of my students are male. I am teaching in a classroom a total of 20 hours each week. I also run English clubs for both the teachers and the students and join in other school extra curricular activities. The English level here is mixed, but on the whole very low. These past two weeks I have been teaching self-introductions and color description. Even if my students frequently have no idea what I am talking about, I am impressed by their enthusiasm and energy. I think the next eight months will be rewarding for the students, the school, and myself.
Stay tuned for some photos of my students and excellent quotes from the first two weeks. I'm sorry that my last few posts have been wordy and philosophical. I promise photos and fun soon!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Deluge

Last night a crack split open the atmosphere, exposing the Earth without her protective cover briefly to the heavens. And out of this crack gushed an ocean's worth of water. It was all of the tears that had been cried over the year. All the tears spent over hunger, persecution, violence, poverty, injustice. All the tears cried by all the human eyes in all the countries around the world. For a whole year they had been collecting up there in heaven. Until our collective grief was overpowering and its weight finally broke through. Our tears were returned to us--transformed; our griefs sent back down to us in the form of nurturing rain.
I was suddenly exhausted. Purged. And I felt somehow clean. This is what I heard whispered on the wind, this is what was carried down on the sheets of rain: People of the world, your suffering was not for naught; it has made you stronger. It will restore you now. We are all in this together.
And so the monsoon began.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lessons Indonesia has taught me, truths Indonesia has made me appreciate

I've told you that a lot gets lost in translation, but here are some lessons and truths that shine through any language or cultural barrier.
1. The meaning of generosity: Indonesians take generosity to the next level. In terms of money, most Indonesians are relatively poor. I make more in a week than many of the teachers at SMKN 1 Magelang make in a month (and it's not like I'm making a fortune...I'm paid far below the U.S. poverty line). Yet, my Indonesian friends and colleagues are always giving. I am invited to lunch almost every day, and no matter how much I argue, I'm never allowed to pay. I told one teacher that I love mangoes. I now have 13 mangoes (4 different varieties!) in my refrigerator. All the teachers that had trees in their yards brought me mangoes! Indonesian generosity stretches far beyond money. I am amazed by how much time everyone has given me. People will stay after school to take me to the grocery store, they will take a two hour lunch to chat, they will draw me maps by hand so I don't get lost at school, etc. I am constantly in awe and full of gratitude for all that I am given.
2. The early bird gets the worm: This maxim has a whole new meaning in Indonesia. I swear, no one sleeps here. First of all, school starts at 7:00. For me, that is a little rough...and I live at school. Many of the teachers live up to two and a half hours away...and take public transportation to school! Moreover, the majority of teachers are Muslim and get up for 4:30 a.m. prayer every day...they don't go back to sleep afterwards! So, you're now thinking that they must go to bed super early. Wrong! I go to bed around 9:00 p.m. so that I can function when I have to get up at 6:00 a.m.. All of the Indonesians think I'm crazy; they stay up until 11:00 or 12:00. Yet, every day they are so friendly and chipper!
3. Everyone, everywhere, loves children: Whenever I'm in a situation where I don't know what to say or I don't have the language to talk about what I want to, I always revert to talking about children. It is a universally happy topic. It hardly ever fails because it seems like everyone I've met is married and everyone who is married has at least one child. It is also amazing how long you can drag out a conversation about someone's kids. People are also tickled when I tell them that I think Indonesian babies are way cuter than American babies.
4. A smile is a universal language: When in doubt, smile. When happy, smile. When upset, smile. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much, but I keep getting compliments on how friendly I am. If all else fails and you can't communicate at all (like with my maid who speaks Javanese), just smile. It's amazing how much you can convey by flashing some teeth. And it is amazing how many wonderful friendships start with just a shy little smile.
5. The secret to youthfulness is laughing: Indonesians look so young! They have made it a game at school to have me guess how old everyone is. It is funny because I'm usually off by 5-10 years. I swear, one man claims to be 31 and he looks younger than my 18 year old brother. What is the secret to their youthfulness? Indonesians laugh all the time...almost as much as they smile. And these aren't just little chuckles. They laugh big belly laughs. They laugh until they cry. I swear, it keeps them young. Really, I don't know, but I'm practicing my belly laughs just in case my theory is correct.
6. The most powerful thing in the world is the ability to communicate: Communication is something that we take for granted in our everyday life. It is only when we lose the ability to successfully express ourselves that we realize how important it is for our mental health to be able to tell other human beings how we feel, what we need, etc. and reciprocally to be able to understand what other people are telling us they feel and want. I have a new awed understanding of the frustration that Max, the non-verbal 3 year old with autism that I worked with at Colgate, feels every day. This experience has reaffirmed my desire to be a speech language pathologist and my belief in the beauty of the work that they do. If you can give someone the skills for a successful communication episode, you give them one of the biggest gifts imaginable.
7. The simplicity of the name "Sarah": Today I met a man whose name is 57 letters long. Kindergarten must have been a very rough year for him. Don't ask me what his name is...I didn't stop and wait for the 5 minutes it would have taken me to write it down.
8. The definition of tedious: Is, in fact, picking 2 millimeter long bugs out of a 10 kilo bag of rice. Nothing keeps all bugs out, nothing kills them all. I've learned that you want to have lizards in your house because they eat the nasty little bugs. In the end, bugs don't kill, they've also taught me the lesson of acceptance.
Stay tuned for more words of wisdom learned on this small cluster of islands...

The Divinity of Children

Meet Rio. Rio (for those of you who speak Spanish, exactly like "river") is the youngest son of Pak Heru, the principal of my school. He is 10 years old. I met Rio last weekend when I stayed at Pak Heru's house. He took me to the fish market to personally pick out my fish for dinner. Rio likes cars. He builds model cars from kits that he orders from America. His latest project was a remote-controlled "American Jeep". It took him one whole week to build by himself!
This picture is of Rio while we are reading a car magazine together with the help of a Bahasa Indonesia-English picture dictionary (what an amazing invention! such a great way for kids to learn another language). Please notice that he is wearing a Harry Potter Ministry of Magic outfit! He is going to borrow my Harry Potter book if I ever finish reading it. Rio is my best friend in Indonesia.
You may be wondering why my best friend is 10 years old. The answer is that Rio understands me better than anyone else I've met here. Which brings me to the title of this post, "the divinity of children". Anyone who has spent time with kids knows that they are uniquely perceptive, receptive, and adaptable. Children are patient. It is often difficult for me to communicate with people here because of the language barrier. Sometimes even when people are saying words in Bahasa Indonesia that I recognize, I don't understand the meaning of their sentences. Rio showed immense patience and diligence in our conversations. He spoke slooooooowly. Adults are not patient enough to say one word and wait until they see the understanding dawn on your face before moving on to the next word in the sentence. Children are generous. Rio carted around his picture dictionary the whole weekend so he could look things up when needed. He would take things off of shelves, tell me about them, and teach me the words to describe them. Often no matter how slowly and simply I speak in English, most of the meaning is lost in translation. Rio searched for the full meaning of everything that I said. He told me, with the refreshing frankness of a child, when he didn't understand something. He waited for me to look up words in my dictionary and taught me how to pronounce them correctly. Children are kind. Rio never laughed when I butchered the pronunciation of a new word. Children are not bashful or easily embarrassed. Rio was not above using hand gestures, noises, or pantomime for communication. Children are inquisitive. Rio asked and answered questions for hours on end about everything from names of objects, to likes/dislikes, to how to properly set about eating a whole grilled fish. Children are genuine and pure. I was able to relax with Rio and not worry that my friendliness would later lead to a request for a phone number or date. Children are always ready to be silly and laugh! Children adapt quickly. Rio is so smart...I swear that between Saturday and Monday he learned 1/4 of the English language!
Rio and I created our own little pidgin language. We adapted what each of us knew about the other's language and pooled our knowledge to create a full method of communication that allowed us to understand each other completely. I can't fully express the relief and comfort that come from being understood after a week of inquisitive looks. So, for all of those reasons, and most simply because he is still a child, Rio is my best friend in Indonesia. And when my parents come to visit, I fully intend to ask them to bring a big model car for us to build together!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bionic Ants

I'm begging for suggestions on how to kill enormous ants with pincers. Any advice?!?!? I also encourage suggestions on how to keep them out of my house to begin with. They freak me out.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saya Belajar Bahasa Indonesia

One of my major tasks besides teaching English and absorbing Indonesian culture, is learning to speak Bahasa Indonesia. There is no incentive to learn a langauge quite like being thrown into a situation where no one speaks your own language. I can now say from experience that there is nothing as frustrating as never being completely understood by anyone.
During Fulbright orientation in Bandung I had Bahasa Indonesia lessons twice a day for a total of 3 hours every day. Since I've been at my site, however, I've had to teach myself. I have a book, "Teach Yourself Bahasa Indonesia" and a English-Indonesian dictionary that are very useful. I'm amazed at how quickly I'm learning! But there isn't much interesting in my book or in my basic conversations. So, how to make learning Bahasa Indonesia interesting?
I bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Bahasa Indonesia! I've read two pages so far and it took me 2.5 hours. I have to look up a lot of words in my dictionary. But this is an incredibly fun way to learn a language.
If you're interested in learning some Bahasa with me, here are a few key phrases I've learned (pronunciation is similar to in Spanish):
I am afraid of spiders. Saya takut laba-laba.
My name is Sarah. Nama saya Sarah.
I am from America. Saya dari Amerika.
I'm sorry. I can't speak Bahasa Indonesia. Maaf. Saya tidak bisa berbicara Bahasa Indonesia.
Thank you. Terima kasih.
I am happy. Saya senang.
Nice to meet you. Senang berjumpa dengan Anda.
I already ate. Saya sudah makan. (This is because people are constantly trying to feed me. Which is very nice, but sometimes it is just impossible to fit more food into my stomach.)
I like... Saya suka...
I want... Saya mau...
I am a vegetarian. Saya vegetarian. (This is very confusing to people. It takes a lot more explaining than this to get food without meat. Also, people think that because I am a vegetarian I must eat 4-5 eggs every day. I have no idea why they think that...I don't even really like eggs.)
1 satu
2 dua
3 tiga
4 empat
5 lima
6 enam
7 tujuh
8 delipan
9 sembilan
10 sepuluh