Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Musings During School Testing Week #2

I have had a lot of unstructured time this week due to an unexpected additional round of testing. It has also been raining constantly which has kept me primarily caged up indoors. This has led to several musings, some of which I will now share with you.
  1. There is a lot of testing in this country. I would go so far as to consider it a ridiculous amount. I had a month off for testing in December. I've just had a week off in March and then this week. Rumor has it that there will be two more weeks of testing at the end of April/beginning of May. What exactly are the students being tested on? There isn't all that much time to teach in between all these tests.
  2. Just because you want to be friends with someone does not mean they want to be friends with you. Case in point #1: There is a tiny orange kitten that has been mewling loudly outside of my house all day long. I love cats. I especially like small orange ones. During a break in the rain I decided that I would befriend this poor kitten. Thinking it must be hungry I brought it a can of tuna. It ran away from me...again and again. This decidedly amused all the Indonesians watching me [see musing #3]. The kitten finally stopped meowing and fleeing from me long enough to eat some of the tuna. Then it hightailed it out of there and hid in the drainage trench. Clearly, this cat did not want to be my friend or my pet.
  3. In America, going to work, or school, is an obligation. Most people go to work because they must do that in order to be paid. Students go to school because the government and their parents say that they must. At my Indonesian school every teacher has Sunday off and one other day during the school week. For example, my Ibu has Wednesday and Sunday off while Ibu Mila has Sunday and Monday off. Yet, on most Wednesdays when I walk into the teacher's room my Ibu is there and most Mondays Ibu Mila is there. At first I was confused, "Isn't this your day off?" I would ask. "Yes," they would answer. "Then why are you here?" "I just came to visit." They come to visit and they stay all day long. They have no obligation to be there, they simply like to be there. Their friends are at school. Their friends are their coworkers. "But don't you have other things to do?" "No. I can do them later." The same thing happens with the students. There are always students at school. I can't take the trash out in my pajamas at 10 pm on a Sunday or 5 am on a Thursday because someone will see me. They meet their friends and they just hang out. It's interesting to me because I find myself thinking--usually in frustration when I don't want to get fully dressed to take out the trash--Don't you have somewhere else to be? But the answer seems to be: "No, there is nowhere else I'd rather be."
  4. The world is full of ants. Indonesia is especially full of 'semut'. There are more different kinds of ants then you could possibly imagine. According to Wikipedia, there are between 12,500 and 22,000 species []. I am not a fan of any of them, but some are decidedly worse than others. There are big ants here. Ones that are red and ones that are black. The red ones have visible pincers. It's the enormous black ones that have infested my house. Frankly, they creep me out even though I know they are harmless. They don't bite, but they are fast and they are everywhere. They can crawl on the ceiling and the walls. There are also normal sized ants. The kind you would expect at picnics. Then there are small ants that bite. They're small and they're red and man it hurts when they bite you. They leave little welts that itch like crazy. Then there are small ants that seem to exist solely to live in my computer keyboard. Finally, there are extremely tiny ants. Ones that you can feel crawling on you, but you have to look really, really hard to see them on your skin. I do not like that. A good rule of thumb for life in Indonesia: if you feel like something is crawling on you...something probably is.
  5. Body piercings and Indonesia do not mix. Indonesia's wet and hot climate is perfect for infections. It's amazing how a tiny paper cut can flame up in less than a day. One ETA had a small scrape on his leg that a week later was an abscess that had to be treated in the emergency room. My problems revolve around my ear and navel piercings. None of them are happy.
  6. Although I am still irrationally terrified of spiders, I have become much more adept at killing them myself. No one comes running when I scream in Indonesia. I don't like the idea of letting spiders live in my house. So the killing comes down to me. FYI: Anti-mosquito spray kills spiders too.
  7. I need to stop talking to myself aloud to compensate for being alone in public. It only reaffirms people's beliefs that I am crazy.
  8. I've recently been amazed by the importance that food plays in people's lives. People's dietary habits and their fierce attachments to their dietary habits are fascinating. When you ask someone who is away from home what they miss they start with family, friends, reliable electricity, etc. But very soon they shift their list of items to food. All those foods they miss. Bagels, salad, cheese, pesto, Greek yogurt, list goes on and on. Why is food so important? What is it about food that is linked in our minds with home? People here think it is really strange that I don't eat white rice three times a day. I think that it is really strange that they can eat white rice three times a day every day. I try to explain that Americans like variety in their meals. "But rice is healthy," they say. I don't even enter into conversations about that statement. What is it that makes me jump up and down in the isle of the Yogyakarta Carrefour when I find a bottle of Tabasco sauce or yellow mustard? It's not that I don't like Indonesian food because I do. Indonesian food is spicy and I love spicy food. But when I receive a package in the mail from my mother with a block of Vermont Cabot hunter sharp cheddar cheese, I am over the moon with excitement. I would think that maybe I just have an unusual attachment to food, but other people react the same way. I have had conversations with ETAs over the deliciousness of Cheez-Its that have lasted for over 30 minutes. Song Young, the Korean teacher at my school, tells me excitedly every time he gets a package with Korean food in it from his parents. There is just something about familiar food that makes us feel home...even when we know we aren't there.
  9. I'm nervous about reverse culture shock when I return to America. One reason is that it will be very difficult to remember that the people around me can understand what I'm saying when I am talking in public. In Indonesia, I take for granted that the people around me do not understand what I say in English especially if I am talking at a natural rate. I know that ETAs and myself have had public conversations that would have been completely culturally inappropriate if anyone had understood what they overheard. So it is difficult to remember that other people could potentially speak English. For example, in Sumatra we were having one of those conversations on the dock. One of the ETAs told us we should quiet down a little because of the other guests. "It's okay," someone responded, "they're Russian." "Yes, they're Russian, but they understand English. They were talking to us perfectly clearly in English this morning." We had forgotten to censor ourselves because the concept of being listened in on is foreign now.
  10. Non-verbal social cues do not work in Indonesia. Neither do hints or innuendos. If you want to communicate something, you need to be direct. Yesterday I found out that my grandmother died. I was upset and really not in the mood to interact with anyone. I was sitting on my porch writing an email and listening to music through my headphones. A teacher came and sat down next to me. She started talking to me. I was acting in a way that was not rude, but clearly [to me] indicated that I did not wish to continue the conversation. I wasn't making eye contact, I was continuing to type my email, I sighed, etc. She continued talking. Finally, I told her that my grandmother had died and I was sad. Another hint, I thought, that I wanted to be left alone. She started asking questions. A lot of questions. All about my grandmother's death. Frankly, her line of questioning was making me about 100x more upset than I was before. I still wasn't looking at her, I was now fidgeting, my eyes were welling up...and still the questions continued. I even hinted by saying, "I'm sad and I think I need some time alone." It was not until I looked at her calmly in the eye and said, "My grandmother died and I am grieving. You need to leave now" that she actually left. Be direct. It may not feel polite, but it is what works.
  11. Congratulations to Victor from Colgate who was selected as a Fulbright ETA in Indonesia for next year! You are in for one wild, amazing adventure.

1 comment:

  1. thanks so much for sharing your trip to Indonesia. I love it so much. I am Francis, I am from Indonesia (Yogyakarta), but now I am living in Washington DC for studying here. Thanks once more. Have a great summer.