Somehow, another week has come and gone. It is Sunday evening in PKP, which means that another glorious week of teaching, learning, and erratic scheduling awaits tomorrow morning. I’ll start my recap of the weekend with Friday afternoon, during which I accompanied my headmistress to see a doctor. Don’t be alarmed; this was not a health-related visit. Instead, this particular doctor is a friend of Ibu Kun (a.k.a. headmistress and landlady extraordinaire) and he had requested to meet me so that he might ask for a favor.
Seated in a third-floor meeting room with my first-ever aerial view of my new home, I shook hands with the doctor and two of his nurses. He asked me (in English) to introduce myself, so I gave the 30 second elevator spiel (also in English). I was invited to sample some cakes on the table and drink tea, to which I customarily obliged. Then came the request.
“We would like you to teach our nurses English.” Contemplative pause. As an English Teaching Assistant, everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — won’t think twice about asking me to teach them English. While I don’t mind speaking English with people if they want to practice their conversational skills, I am only one person and can’t teach everybody and their brother my mother tongue. I paused further, contemplating how to strike a delicate balance between appeasing the doctor (and thus my headmistress, who has been nothing but kind to me) and not committing myself to anything.
“I would be happy for your nurses to practice English with me,” I began slowly. “But I’m afraid that I can’t teach anyone anything.” Addressing a few furrowed brows now, I continued, “While I can provide the opportunity for your nurses to practice English, I can’t make them learn. Only they can do that, if it is something that they want to do for themselves. It has to come from within.” The doctor seemed to accept this line of reasoning. He then assured me that he didn’t want me to teach a formal class; he just wanted me to meet with the nurses and give them spirit (motivation) to learn English.
“For example, you would like me to have dinner with them [the nurses] and we will speak only English?” I asked to clarify. “Yes! Like that.” The doctor seemed relieved I was seeing things his way. One of the nurses looked at queasy at the thought of an English-only outing. After exchanging phone numbers, our meeting was adjourned and we went across the street for lunch.
It turns out that across the street from the clinic there is a Buddhist temple/school/restaurant. It is Mahayana Buddhism, which is a different flavor than the Theravada Buddhism found in Thailand. This is an important point to make since I have been telling people that my religion is the latter, which is a convenient sort-of-truth that makes life a lot simpler in a country where religion is of paramount importance.
But back to the food: not all Buddhists are vegetarian, but typically where there are Mahayana Buddhists of Chinese descent there will be vegetarian restaurants for those special days when the devout are forbidden from eating meat. Thus I have been able to eat well in Thailand and Vietnam, once I figured out what banners to look for outside different restaurants. And now, lo and behold, in one day I found not just one but TWO veggie-friendly restaurants. This was a game-changer in my time in Pangkal Pinang because before now I have been stuck with fried rice, fried noodles, and variations of gado-gado (a salad with peanut sauce, though I was told yesterday that almost all peanut sauces have shrimp paste. Still stumped about how to deal with that revelation). But now I was finally able to try all the Indonesian dishes that heretofore had been off-limits: sate (grilled meat on a stick), bakso (meatballs), chicken curry, sambal hati (made from chicken heart) potatoes, and more. It. Was. Amazing.
Feasting at Casa de Buddha was followed by my inaugural trip to Gramedia, the fabled bookstore that supposedly has all of the teaching/craft supplies I could ever need. It did not disappoint. I was there in search of a planner, of all things. While Indonesia isn’t exactly the most plan-oriented country, I have found that most people are capable of planning ahead and actually do show up on time to appointments. Thus, after forgetting a few appointments of my own, I decided that it would be wise to take a page from my American self and invest in a planner to keep myself from getting overbooked and to keep the hurt feelings to a minimum. I also got supplies for Caitlin and I to make a shared calendar so that we can keep up with each other’s schedules since a) we are both automatically invited to each other’s events and b) it is important to know where the other one is at for safety purposes.
Friday evening I was invited to the birthday party of the husband of a teacher from my school. Caitlin opted to sit this one out since she had been doing events with her school all day, which turned out to be just as well. In the States a birthday party would usually consist of eating, lots of mingling, and perhaps a few adult beverages. While there was definitely a lot of eating at this party, the mingling was gender-segregated. And since this was a Muslim birthday party, the adult beverages consisted of water and Es Cincau, a brown drink made of sweet syrup and mysterious jelly noodles. This party also had the addition of a solid thirty minutes of praying, during which I tried to sit still and not look at my phone despite the fact that plenty of other Indonesians around me were doing it.
Following the praying, the men were served first. The food was buffet-style, and the women sat on the front porch talking and munching on sweets and fried bits while waiting our turn. I enjoyed watching the little kids run around — one little girl grabbed no fewer than five pieces of chocolate cake. I bet her mom was not happy about that later in the evening.
The following morning, I made another inaugural trip to an institution in Pangkal Pinang, indeed everywhere in Indonesia: Pasar Pagi [lit. morning market]. Caitlin teaches class Saturday mornings, but once she is done she usually goes to Pasar Pagi with one of her fellow teachers to get groceries for both of us for the week. This week, however, I thought it was time I joined in. Pasar Pagi is open every day from around 4:30-10 a.m., and you can get all manner of fresh fruits and veggies there. Vegetables mostly consist of carrots, tomatoes, yellow onions, bok choy, cabbage, cucumbers, and sometimes pumpkin or cauliflower if you search for it.
You can also buy all kinds of meat. Naturally, this was not an appealing feature for me and I doubt that anyone actually enjoys the stench in that part of the market. Especially in the fish section, I had to hike my skirt up and step carefully through muddy bits with dark streaks (blood?) mixed into the soup underfoot. The smell was assaulting, though the stares and calls that were directed at me were at times even more so. I clung onto Caitlin and her Bu, thinking that next time I would wear a scarf over my hair and my fake wedding rings to hopefully ward off some of the excess attention.
Thusly baptized at Pasar Pagi, I spent the rest of the morning being ultra-productive at home. From sending backlogged emails to starting new online courses (Fulbright offers excellent media training classes, which I am just now starting to take advantage of) to doing never-ending housekeeping chores, I kept myself busy until 2 p.m. at which time Sutri, a counselor from my school, came to pick me up and take me to SMP1 for a Girl Scout meeting. SMP1 is one of several middle schools in PKP, meaning that the Scouts I was going to meet were ages 11-14.
It was wonderful. I have been a Scout since I was in first grade and I am now a lifetime member. It was special to see girls here wearing the uniform, which differs from what I wore in the U.S. but is still recognizable. I remember being in elementary school and participating in a “Girl Scouts around the world” event, where each troop represented a different country and visited other troops to learn more about different cultures. Events like this, plus the actual travels I did with my own Girl Scout troop, made a HUGE impact on who I am today. So it was really great to meet these Girl and Boy Scouts and play games and sing songs with them. I was grinning madly the whole time.
Even better was that at the end of the meeting there was a surprise birthday party for the head Ibu. The surprise followed a solemn closing ceremony, after which the Ibu was ambushed with a satchel of flour and two eggs cracked on top of her head. Local tradition, I guess? She was a good sport about it, especially once the cake came out and everyone burst into a rousing chorus of “happy birthday” first in English and then Indonesian. I got some great photos, albeit on my phone.
Saturday evening, I joined Caitlin and her crew for dinner. I am learning some slang and enjoy practicing it with Caitlin’s teachers because they bring out the silly in me. Even better is that my Bahasa (or maybe my acting skills?) is getting a level where I know enough to get in trouble, but I am not yet good enough for it to actually count. Thus, many laughs were had and even more selfies were taken before, during, and after dinner.
Which leads me to Sunday, a.k.a. this morning. I was able to sleep in for the first time in weeks, which means that I didn’t rise from bed until the late hour of 7:30. Usually I get up at 4:45, so the extra couple of hours this morning were a nice luxury. Caitlin invited me to go to a birthday party for one of her teachers, followed by an outing to the beach. It was tempting, but I chose to keep a low profile at home and continue yesterday’s streak of productivity. I am happy I did stay, because I managed to get work done for Indonesiaful (if you haven’t checked it out already then please do!), wrap up a few more emails, and do my homework for my Bahasa Indonesia class that I now have Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m.
This year, AMINEF has a new program that encourages ETAs to continue studying Bahasa Indonesia at their sites. In the U.S. I was instructed to buy “Beginning Indonesian Through Self-Instruction,” which I did. Prior to today, however, the books just sat on my desk waiting to be cracked. But now I have a tutor, Ibu Sri, who is a Bahasa Indonesia teacher at my school. She will help me with pronunciation and learning how to speak proper Indonesian. Tonight was our first meeting, and I think it went resoundingly well. She is both patient and encouraging and is exactly what I was looking for. She was appointed by Ibu Kun, my omnipotent headmistress, and she will be paid by AMINEF. There are 25 chapters in my books, so I may very well be seeing Ibu Sri until nearly the end of my grant.
Once Ibu Sri left at 7 (after promptly arriving at 5 and taking a 10 minute break at 6 to pray) I made a dinner of eggs, rice, and stir-fried veggies. I then suggested to Caitlin that we walk over to Lucy’s house for a visit since a) it has been well over a week since we last stopped to see our friends/adopted family at Es Kristal and b) according to Instagram, Lucy’s cat had kittens!
We bundled up in scarves for modesty and made the three minute walk down the street to Es Krystal (the name of Lucy’s business of selling sweet flavored drinks with gummies). When we rounded the final bend, the lights were out at Lucy’s home. Caitlin checked her watch. It wasn’t even 8 p.m. — no way were they sleeping already! We pressed onward and saw that her neighbors’ lights were out too. Ah, lampu mati. Blackout! Next door, her neighbor who sells grilled chicken was serving a customer by the light of a candle.
Inside Lucy’s house, we saw the sterile glow of a cell phone flash through the front window. So they weren’t sleeping after all! Dea, Lucy’s deaf younger sister, opened the front door to greet us. At that very moment, the lights came back on. It turned out that Lucy and Mika (her mom) were out and about, but Dea and her dad were happy to see us and show us the kittens. Mueeza, a beautiful white cat and first-time mother, was wary of us as we approached her and her four-day-old brood of four. I’ve already been bitten by one cat in Indonesia (he was already vaccinated, thank goodness) so I restrained my snuggle instinct and kept my distance from Mueeza and her squirming puffball babies.
And… That was my weekend! If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for things I should write about, let me know in the comments below.