Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'Gate Girls Do Mt. Bromo

I had a surprise this week: a visit from one of my Colgate friends: Sachi, who is currently completing a Watson Fellowship year traveling to study and film speed-cubing. Sachi is the first person that I've seen that I knew before I came to Indonesia. It was incredible to see someone from school and catch up! I'm so thankful that she was able to make time to visit me during all her travels.
Sachi stayed with me in Magelang for two days. She visited my classes to meet my students and try to expand their conception of Americans ["Are you sure you're American? You look Japanese!"...cue Miss Sarah cringing in horror]. It was very interesting for me to hear Sachi's reactions to my Indonesian life. I've lost a lot of perspective on the oddities of my experience here because now everything seems normal to me--most of the shock value has been lost. It was refreshing to regain some of the incredulity that I had when I arrived. I felt vindicated when Sachi proclaimed that my situation is strange, trying, and absurd and that she was impressed with the way I've adapted. Sachi videotaped one of my classes and is going to make a short video that I will be able to upload and share with all of you.
On Friday we took an overnight travel car to Malang to hike up to Mt. Bromo, one of the most beautiful and popular volcanoes in Indonesia. Despite spending three nights sleeping in cars, this was one of my favorite trips of my time here. Sachi and I stayed at Courtney's house in Malang and were able to explore the city a little bit with Courtney and Carrie [two other ETAs].
We woke up at 1:00 AM on Sunday in order to hike to a lookout point and watch the sun rise over Mt. Bromo. For the first time since I arrived in Indonesia, I was freezing! Now, I'm sure it wasn't that cold compared to Vermont or Hamilton, but I could see my breath and despite my fleece and my rain jacket I couldn't stop shivering. It reminded me of how much I do not miss winter and was a nice change from the full body sweats I'm usually enduring. The sunrise was beautiful and definitely worth getting up for. The photos barely do it justice! The volcanoes were cloaked in clouds that transformed the valleys into a seascape. Indah sekali!
After the sun rose we jumped into the van and drove across the Sea of Sand, essentially a valley of volcanic ash, to the foot of Bromo. It was shorter than I expected, but the sides of the volcano were deeply ridged from previous lava flows. We hiked up Mt. Batok, the neighboring volcano, past a Hindu temple. This grouping of volcanoes is sacred to the Hindus in the area. They hold annual festivals of worship that involve throwing offerings of food, animals, and money into the crater. The crater was impressive and was letting off a lot of steam and a sound that eerily resembled what I imagine an eruption would sound like. The view from the top was quite impressive as you could see out over the Sea of Sand to the other volcanoes.
After another overnight car ride to Yogya, Sachi and I said goodbye--time for me to return to teaching and time for her to get to work at a cubing tournament in Jakarta. It was so nice to see her and share our various travel experiences with each other. Thanks for visiting Sachi! Best of luck in the next six months of your Watson adventure! I'll be thinking of you.

There's No Place Like Home

Meet my new roommate. He's a tokek or at least that's what they call him here. He's about 15 inches long and he can run like lightening across my walls and ceiling. I mentioned him to the teachers at school and they laughed at my concern. "Miss Sarah, he bites, but he's not poisonous!" Well good, that is very reassuring. My biggest question is, 'how the heck did he get into my house?'
Speaking of home, I have a new homey touch in my room this week! Thank you so very, very much to Mary Ann for the beautiful homemade pillowcase. I love it! It makes my room and bed so much more mine. I smile every time that I see it and think of you, your wonderful family, and Vermont. Thank you for the thoughtful surprise Mary Ann!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Epic Month that Was December 2009

December was an epic month of travel, holidays, meeting up with friends both old and new, and exploring the world. I know that posts with long lists of things seen and places visited can be tiring or even boring if you weren't there also. Therefore, I will try to include lots of pictures and interesting info. Feel free to just look at the pictures if you're feeling antsy. So, let me share a few highlights from my journey...
The month started with a trip to Manado, Sulawesi and Bunaken [a small island off the coast of Manado]. As you can see from the photo above, Bunaken is something of a tropical paradise. In my opinion, it is 100% honeymoon destination worthy. We spent the weekend eating fresh grilled fish on the beach, swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing in the sun. One night we went swimming after dark. As we were wading out into the ocean, we noticed lights in the water that swirled around us when we moved. It was bioluminescent plankton! They were everywhere in the water. The plankton made the water look like a mirror reflection of the stars in the sky above...a mirror reflection that moved to incorporate us into the picture. Pretty amazing! The next day I spent about 4 hours snorkeling. It was the best snorkeling of my life, I could have stayed out there all day long! I don't think I stopped smiling the whole day. The water was a clear blue that gave a perfect view of the coral reef, fish, and sea creatures below. I found myself repeatedly wishing my father was there to identify all the beautiful things I was seeing. Some of the highlight spottings included: a tiger fish, an eel, a black and silver sea snake, finding Nemo [clown fish], huge blue starfish, giant clams, and so much more! I felt just like Ariel diving down to touch the sea anemones! I would recommend Bunaken to anyone with a love of the ocean.
The mountain is Manado Tua, a volcanic island just off the coast of Manado and next to Bunaken.
I returned to Magelang just in time for my 23rd birthday. My fellow ETA Alexa met me at the airport and came back to school with me. We were greeted by my students who came to celebrate with me. My students are truly the sweetest, kindest kids. They gave me the most thoughtful presents. First, they gave me a stuffed Santa in a heart that said 'Merry Christmas!' to add to my Christmas window decorations. Then, they gave me a photo album filled with pictures of me with them and photos of them posing around the campus [see photo below of me opening the presents]. I can't wait to show you all the album when I get home. It is pretty funny because in many of the photos they look extremely happy and I look sweaty, confused, and bemused. A picture is worth a thousand words...
Alexa and I had a perfect birthday lunch thanks to my Mum! We started out with some Vermont Cabot cheddar cheese and garden veggie Wheat Thins courtesy of my mother's amazing holiday package. We rounded out our meal with some organic pesto and pasta from Milas, my favorite restaurant in Yogya. All in all, I don't think I could possibly have asked for a better meal.
On the night of my birthday, Alexa and I went to my Principal's house for another celebration. Some of the teachers and the Principal's family gathered for dinner in my honor. It was very sweet of them. They sang karaoke for me and even had a cake. This is Rio and I cutting the looks a little like a disturbing wedding photo.On my birthday I finally had the chance to give Rio the cars from Emma! They made an absolutely perfect Christmas gift [the Principal's family is one of the only Christian Indonesian families that I know]. Rio was thrilled! We played with the cars for, no exaggeration, hours. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out which cars were our favorites and finally came to the conclusion that they were just all too cool to pick just one! Thanks again Emma for your great present!
The day after my birthday Alexa and I headed out to meet up with Thom and Anna and leave for our two week grace period in Thailand and Cambodia. What a crazy wonderful two weeks we had! Alexa and I knew that the trip was going to be amazing when we found peppermint mochas at the Starbucks in the Singapore airport. To me, peppermint mochas mean two things: hockey season and Christmas. Steve and I often got them before hockey games on the road (well, Steve got hot chocolate). They were exactly what we needed to remind us that it was actually the holiday season.
Our first stop was Bangkok. Bangkok was overwhelming and honestly not my favorite city in the world. I'm sure that there are lovely parts, but we didn't have the chance to go explore them. We hightailed it out of the city at the first opportunity. We did stick around long enough to discover that we hate "sex-pats" and to explore Wat Pho [above], which boasts a huge golden reclining Buddha. If you are ever kicking around Bangkok, go see this Buddha. He is incredibly impressive and awing.
Our next stop in Thailand was Koh Chang, an island off the Eastern coast of the country. The island is supposed to be slightly less touristy than the other beach island that Thailand has in ample supply. Well, after months in Indonesia, Koh Chang seemed pretty touristy to us; which is not to say that we didn't have a wonderful time. We relaxed on the beach, treated ourselves to Thai massages, and ate our way through as much Thai food as we could. The highlight of our time in Thailand, in my opinion, was an excellent private cooking class that we took one night. Two great Thai sisters taught us how to cook spring rolls, red curry, and pad thai. I must admit that I was impressed at how well our food turned out. If anyone wants some recipes, let me know!
After Thailand, we shipped off to Cambodia. I admit, Cambodia shocked and surprised me. It was a beautiful country full of interesting and thought-provoking sites and people. Our trip to Cambodia started at the consulate in Thailand where we got completely ripped off for our visas. In the end it didn't matter, but it did serve to remind us of the problems that Cambodia is still dealing with--namely corruption, poverty, and recovering from a genocide. We spent 3 days in Siem Reap taking in the views of Angkor Wat and the other temples in the Angkor complex. I am something of a temple-snob and I admit that the Angkor complex of temples is incredibly impressive. Some of my favorite temples were the the ones in Angkor Thom including the one pictured above which features huge heads of the ruler at the time that it was built.
We received blessings from this giant Buddha via some monks. They prayed over us and gave us red prayer bracelets. There are many, many temples around Siem Reap. Some of them are Buddhist and some are Hindu. Some of them even started out as Hindu and were later converted to Buddhist when different rulers came to power. It was interesting for me to see how the temple art was altered to become more Buddhist. I had a lot of fun guessing which temples were which religion and then checking my accuracy in Alexa's guidebook.
Cambodia was surprisingly beautiful and full of pretty scenes. I happily stumbled upon this man fishing.
We got up early on our second day in Siem Reap in order to see sunrise over Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, the sunrise really wasn't that impressive. But, it was still a special moment.Here are Alexa and I at the entrance to Angkor Wat. We look tired but happy; which is a theme I think you will find in almost all of the photos from this trip.
Angkor Thom is a fortified temple complex. At each of the four entrances there are huge sculptures of men fighting a giant snake. I loved those sculptures. On our last day, I had our rickshaw driver stop so that I could have my picture taken with them.
We all agreed that our favorite temples were the ones that were the least kept-up and touristy. There was something so romantic and profound about seeing nature reclaim the temples. It just seemed right. The way that the trees were emerging from and encompassing the stone reminded us of how powerful nature is.
Christmas in Cambodia does not compare to Christmas in Vermont. I'm sorry, but I'm a white Christmas kind of girl. We did our best to make the holiday happy and not sad. I think we did a great job considering what we were working with [90 degrees, sunny, no family, etc.]. We bought each other little surprise presents and opened them together. Thom bought Alexa and I very necessary pedicures! We had a delicious fancy dinner and a bottle of wine at an Italian restaurant. It was not a bad day, in fact, it was a great day! It just wasn't what I was used to. But, most importantly, it taught me that next Christmas I want to be home with my family.

After Siem Reap we headed to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh was a great city. Our enjoyment was heightened by Thom's college friend Jesse who now works at the Phnom Penh Post and who gave us an awesome introduction to the city.

The day that we visited the Tuol Sleng genocide museum and the killing fields at Choeung Ek was extremely emotional. With perhaps the exception of the missions in Western Australia, I have never been to places with such bad energy. I don't want to depress you, so I won't go into details. If you'd ever like to talk about what I saw and felt, please ask. One of the major issues that I encountered was feeling angry about the lack of archaeological integrity of the killing fields. Above is a monument to the victims. Inside are victims' skulls. The monument is open to the air. This means that the skulls 1. are not being preserved 2. are not being protected from visitors. In the photo below, you can see a pile of bones at the foot of the tree. The entire area was strewn with bones and scraps of clothing. There were teeth and leg bones in the pathway. Visitors are walking on human remains. This makes me sick. Choeung Ek is supposed to be a place where people can come to pay respect to the victims of genocide and also learn about what happened. Is it a respectful place? Is it honoring the memory of genocide victims? How can a place be honorific if visiting it requires literally treading on victims' remains? I have no easy answers for you.Jesse introduced us to a great Cambodian woman named Rina. Rina owns an awesome restaurant and store that sells her handmade clothes and jewelry. She gives 40% of her profits to different charities around Phnom Penh. She is incredibly talented. We all bought some of her jewelry and wished that we were there long enough for her to make us some clothes! We decided that we would just have to go back to visit.

During our long trip we all got a little crazy. It helped us bond. And now we are all really close.

This is essentially what I saw of Malaysia. We camped out on the floor of the airport for the night because it turns out that the airport in Kuala Lumpur is actually 70 km outside of the city. It is really not worth the trip in for only 10 hours.

The month ended with us getting dressed up to say goodbye to 2009 and welcome 2010! All the jewelry in the picture above is courtesy of Rina. We celebrated in style thanks to champagne from Cambodia. It was a month full of adventure, happiness, learning, and fun! I hope that you feel like you came along for a little piece of the adventure. Lots of love!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Glancing Back, Facing Forward

Finally home after a month of exciting traveling experiences, I am just starting to recuperate and readjust to my Indonesian life. I promise that as soon as I have some extra time and energy, I will post about all the exciting places I went and things that I did in December. But I thought it was important to do this post first, before it was too late to be relevant.
On some of our recent travels, my friend Alexa found an article written by an English woman living in Indonesia detailing the 17 highlights of her year—things she was proud of, things she enjoyed, etc. Alexa recently wrote a response on her blog []. I enjoyed both the article and Alexa’s post. Then, yesterday, one of my students asked me, “What do you like about yourself? What makes you proud of yourself?”. When one of the other students responded for me [“You’re beautiful!”] with an answer that I would not have said, I decided that it was time for me to write a list of highlights myself.
Here is my list of highlights and accomplishments for 2009:
1. In May, I graduated from Colgate University. I graduated with honors, but most importantly with the knowledge that I am not done learning yet. I love to learn and I know my time at Colgate has equipped me with the skills to remain a life-long learner. In 2010, for the first time, I have started a new year without being enrolled in school.
2. I turned down an opportunity to achieve. I know, it sounds like the opposite of an accomplishment, but let me explain. My entire life I have been an overachiever. I have always taken every opportunity for extra credit, for more involvement, for leadership positions. In January, just before the start of my last semester at Colgate, I wrote an email to my advisor detailing my decision to NOT write an honors thesis in Sociology and Anthropology. I made the decision to spend my last semester at college enjoying college and spending time with my friends rather than shacked up in the library struggling to write a paper that would let me graduate with more academic prestige, but that would ultimately have no affect on my future. I resisted the urge to achieve and it was the right decision for me.
3. I found that my passion and my purpose are for practicing speech language pathology with children with autism. Once I knew that, I created opportunities for myself to learn about and participate in this field even though Colgate does not offer SLP courses. I worked with, and became friends with, Max. Max taught me that I could handle, and even enjoy, the challenges of working with children with autism. I volunteered at Camp Kaleidoscope. At Camp K I learned about the impacts of autism on whole families and met SLPs and SLP students who were able to give me more information on the field and the process of entering the occupation.
4. I traveled to my 5th continent—Australia—not as a tourist, but as a scholar. I’ve loved to travel for as long as I can remember; which I blame completely on Nana Vickery who initiated me into the world of adventure at a young age with all of her stories of globetrotting and that first trip to Colonial Williamsburg. In June 2009, I went to Australia and was invited to live among the Noongar people, to hear their stories and learn about their lives under the aboriginal policies of a white-run Australia. I saw parts of Australia that tourists never see and that many Australians don’t know exist. For that I am thankful.
5. I packed my life up into a backpack and moved halfway around the world to accept a Fulbright scholarship and teach English in Indonesia. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I found the courage to say goodbye to everyone and everything I knew and take the plunge into a complete unknown.
6. I became a teacher. In Indonesia, I don’t just teach English, but I am a teacher. I’ve learned how difficult and stressful it is to create lesson plans, to make sure that everyone in the class is paying attention and learning, and to create a balance between fun and discipline. I’ve also discovered how wonderful it is to see the dawning of comprehension on your students’ faces, to know that you taught them something, and to see the impact that you have on their lives. I’ve learned that teaching English can be unbelievably fun and rewarding!
7. I had my first non-white Christmas and my first Christmas away from home. While Christmas in Cambodia was exciting and unique, the major lesson that I learned from the experience was that I never want to have a non-white Christmas again. I love Christmas. Christmas is not Christmas unless you are surrounded by family. I love Nana’s Xmas party and I want to be there every year from now on.
8. I learned that time has nothing to do with the depth of friendship. This year someone very intelligent whom I greatly admire, Professor Ellen P. Kraly, told me that we all have many soul mates each of whom complete a different part of us. I already knew this to be true because I have many friends from Colgate and Vermont who are absolutely indispensable. But now I find myself reliant on people whom 4 months ago I did not know existed. Our time in Indonesia has bonded us in a way that is difficult to explain. I know that without the other ETAs I would be unlikely to survive my 9 month stay here. And like Ellen said, they each serve a unique role in keeping me functioning. I have Alexa for encouraging me to try everything once and for dusting me off when trying becomes falling; Sarah for sharing life lessons and adventures; Anna for responding calmly to all my minor crises; Ricky for instant self-confidence boosts; Jimmie for smiles and dancing that solve most problems; Thom for taking me back to my flannel-clad VT roots; Lolly for the always available home-away-from-home; and the other 24 ETAs who all complete me in their own ways. They are truly wonderful people whom I know will be important to me for the rest of my life. [sorry for the Fulbright love fest...moving on]
9. I learned that very few things that we in the Western world consider essential to life are actually, in fact, essential to life. It is completely feasible to survive without electricity, internet, water, English, a schedule, reliable transportation, bug-free food, cleanliness, etc. It is, however, not feasible to survive without chocolate.
10. I have practiced acceptance. I’m a tightly-wound person [surprise, surprise]. In the last 4 months I have had a lot of practice dealing with stress. I have learned to stop, breathe, analyze, accept, and let go. Of course I have yet to completely perfect this process, but I’m working on it. I have also learned to identify when I can handle stressors by myself and when it is necessary to phone a friend…or a parent.
11. I have practiced being content alone and entertaining myself. I’m still not good at it, but I’m getting better every day.
12. My father shot two deer this hunting season. I know what you're thinking, "Sarah, you're a vegetarian. Why is this a highlight of your year?". Yes, I'm a pescetarian. No, I will not be eating any of the venison. This is a highlight of my year, however, because it made my father so happy. The last time he shot a deer was the year I was born. Clearly, shooting TWO deer means that good things are coming!

Some goals for 2010:
-Study Bahasa Indonesia every day
-Write in my journal frequently
-Blog more often and more substantially
-Make more age-appropriate friends in Magelang
-Engage with my students more outside of the classroom
-See as much of Indonesia as possible
-Learn Javanese dance
-Laugh more; laugh loudly
-Do things that make me happy; acknowledge when I am happy

“That if we are living…we had to be awake with the people who are still dancing.”
– Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity!
-Engage with and appreciate my Fulbright experience as much as possible; always be one of the people still ‘dancing’

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Many Thanks!

After a month of travel around Southeast Asia and Indonesia, I am finally back 'home' in Magelang! And waiting for me when I arrived were some birthday and Christmas surprises!
Laura Coyle is a goddess disguised as a hardcore scientist! Not only did my wonderful Colgate roommate send me a package, but she sent me a package full of goodies from Trader Joe's. Very few things in life compare to organic chocolate, peppermint tea, and dried organic fruit. Thanks Laura!
More thanks go out to my Aunt Laurie and Uncle Paul who also put together an amazing package! Various wonderfully scented soaps, loofahs, Cheez-Its, M&Ms, books, card games, star decorations, a desk set, iced tea mixes, and many more wonderful goodies were all included in the huge box. My stomach and my mind will be thanking you for weeks to come!
The biggest gold star, all the ETAs agree, goes out to my mother! She, as most of you already know, is a saint. She managed to send me blocks of Cabot cheddar cheese. Additionally, she sent Wheat Thins, M&Ms, books, movies, school supplies, etc. Eating real cheese and crackers on my birthday was the best celebration I could think of. Thanks Mum!