Sunday, February 7, 2010

Making the Most of Every Situation: Murphy's Law and UNO

Everyone who endured high school science knows about Murphy's Law. "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". What they don't teach you in school is that the magnitude of Murphy's Law varies by global region. Murphy's Law is exponentially more powerful in Indonesia than in the U.S..
You want to take a shower before you go to work? The power is out and, therefore, so is the water. You want to finish your last application to graduate school? There's no internet today. You need your laundry back so that you have clean clothes to wear to school tomorrow? Sorry, it rained today...maybe on Wednesday. You want to cook a healthy dinner tonight? There are no vegetables at the grocery store today. You want to go to Medan? Your flight is delayed 4 hours; you're going to miss your connection in Jakarta. You want to give your students a handout? The copier is broken...still.
So how do you survive? You adapt. You stop making definite plans and you add ample extra time into every scheduled activity. You become a master of contingency plans. You let go. You stop caring so much that things happen the way you want them to. You accept Murphy's Law; you anticipate it. Then, when something is easy or something does work the first are pleasantly surprised.
The most common inconvenience of my life here is power outages. I lose power almost every day for a few hours. So when the power went out on Wednesday around 1 p.m., I sighed and resigned myself to another afternoon going past without sending off my graduate applications. I read, I did some lesson planning, and I tried very hard not to move because it was stifling hot. Dinnertime came and I cooked by the light of my headlamp. Around 7 p.m., I was starting to get antsy...this was a long outage. I looked out the window--"hey, there are lights out there!". Sure enough, all the buildings around me had power. I went and checked the fuse box. Nothing wrong there. I even reset the master switch just to be sure. Still no power. Now I was a little annoyed. I'm alright with going powerless if everyone else is, but why do I not have power and the people around me all do?
It was a mystery that I wanted to solve. I pulled on some more appropriate clothes, grabbed my keys, and with headlamp securely on my head went out to find someone to explain to me what was going on. I didn't have to go far. The internet man, Mas Dar, was only about 50 feet away from my house sitting with two students. His little internet shack is attached to my house. He didn't have power either. Mas Dar doesn't speak English and after a few minutes of bumbling through Bahasa Indonesia together he explained that they were doing some electrical repairs to one of the buildings at school and the wires were connected to my house. Great. He told me to sit down with them and wait. So I did. After a few minutes sitting silently and having the three boys watch me I started to think about what I could do to entertain them while we waited. The idea came to me and I ran back into my house to get two things: a dictionary and UNO.
UNO. You know, the card game. I love UNO. It entertained me during countless plane, train, and bus rides in Spain and Australia. Lucas and I played hundreds of games of a Harry Potter themed special edition last summer. I could play all day long. I had brought a pack with me to Indonesia in the hopes of using it in the classroom [little did I know that I would have 36 kids in each class]. UNO is perfect because the rules are simple and you really don't need to know how to speak English. I explained the rules and added one of my own: no Bahasa Java. If we spoke in a mix of Bahasa Indonesia and English then I would at least have a fighting chance of understanding what everyone was saying. They agreed.
We started to play. They loved it. We played for two and a half hours. We played until my power came back on. And then we played a few more rounds. We played until I finally had to announce that I really needed to go to bed if I was going to be able to teach in the morning.
It was great! We laughed and joked and taught each other words. It was wonderful to feel them finally relax around me. It was great to have people to share the long wait with. It was nice to have people smile and look at me because I was being silly and not because my skin is white. It was nice to interact with individuals enough to actually remember their names and faces [Dedi and Ardi]. We made the most of the situation. The power was out and we were hot and bored; but then we forgot all about that. Instead, I came out of the power outage with some new friends and a story to share.
Some UNO terms:
Reverse: Kembali
Draw two: Ambil dua
Skip: Meloncati
Draw: Minum [interestingly enough this literally means 'drink']
Red: Merah
Yellow: Kuning
Blue: Biru
Green: Hijau
Tricky tricky!: Licik-licik!
This morning the internet wasn't working so I went outside to search for a wireless signal in the hopes of checking my e-mail. Instantly, I was joined by some of my students. So much for checking my e-mails privately. I spotted Mas Dar and Dedi sitting outside the internet hut. Come on, I told my students. I went back into the house and got my UNO cards. Mau bermain UNO? [Want to play UNO?] This morning's games were even better. We played for over 3 hours until my stomach was growling so loud that I had to go inside and make some lunch. We got 8 players involved at one point. Everyone relaxed enough to eventually gang up on me and work together to make sure I didn't win again [Is it because I'm a girl or because I'm American? I joked]. And, surprise of all surprises, they started to talk in English. Maybe it was because they finally realized I'm not going to roast them and eat them if they make a mistake. Maybe it was because I wasn't acting like a teacher and we weren't in a classroom. Maybe it was because there weren't 35 other students listening to them. I don't know. But they started to say more than I had ever heard them say before. Revenge!, one of them cried after I put down a +2 forcing him to draw two cards. 'Revenge' is definitely not part of the lesson on self-introductions. I wonder what other gems of knowledge my students have been hiding from me in the classroom.
All in all, it feels good to have a way to connect with people outside of the classroom. It is nice to play a simple game and relax with people. When I leave in June, I know I'll be leaving behind my UNO cards.


  1. Sounds like you made the most of a tough situation... We'll have to pick up UNO games to bring as gifts.
    Love You,
    Mum xoxo

  2. I forwarded the link to this post to two UNO playing ELFs I know. I think they will also appreciate your story! Good work.