Two Months In: Q&A

It may sound surprising, but I held a child for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE in Nicaragua this past May. It was a big deal. Since I have been in Indonesia, I have held FOUR babies/children. Now if only my stocks would increase at such an exponential rate...
It may sound surprising, but I held a child for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE in Nicaragua this past May. It was a big deal. Since I have been in Indonesia, I have held FOUR babies/children. Now if only my stocks would increase at such an exponential rate…

Exactly two months ago I was somewhere in the sky over the northernmost reaches of the Pacific Ocean. On one hand, it is hard to believe that it has been ONLY two months. On the other, I can’t believe that it has been two WHOLE months. But the calendar is indisputable: it has been EXACTLY two months. I have decided to use this anniversary to create a Q&A to answer the questions that family and friends have asked me about my new life as a Fulbright ETA in Indonesia. Table of contents:

Have you gotten sick?
How is the food?
What clothes are you allowed to wear?
Who are you hanging out with?
Do you miss the U.S.?
How do you like teaching?
How do you spend your free time?
What has been your favorite moment thus far?
What has been the biggest challenge?
Are you happy?

~~~

Have you gotten sick?

Thankfully I have not been majorly ill while at my site (knock on wood!). I did get a flu/cough while I was at orientation in Bandung, but that was the worst of it thus far. Since then I have had one pretty bad sore throat, which was likely caused by the smog here. I have also had moments where my stomach feels less than ideal, but this is never long-lasting and is something that happens in the States too. Overall my health has been excellent, which is something I am thankful for each day.

This is what I wish my fridge looked like sometimes.
This is what I wish my fridge looked like sometimes.

On a related note, at orientation we were given a scare talk about all of the health hazards in Indonesia. From parasites to dengue to HIV: Indonesia has it all. Thus, ETAs are urged to be extremely cautious. (We are also urged to “be your own doctor while at your site”… Gee, thanks for the useful info.) The tap water is not drinkable; not even Indonesians drink it. Instead people drink water from 5 gallon water coolers. Still, water-borne diseases are common among ETAs. Lots of people got typhoid last year. Food-borne illnesses are rampant too. I am careful to wash my hands before eating EVERY TIME and only eat at places that Indonesians take me to. My chances of getting a parasite is severely reduced because I am vegetarian, which is a plus.

Mosquito-borne diseases are yet another threat. Malaria, dengue, Japanese Encephalitis, and who knows what else are buzzing through the air. Since I confirmed with my counterparts that there is definitely malaria here, I have been taking malaria medication. I take Doxycycline, which I got in the States and can find at any pharmacy here. I also take a multivitamin and a calcium pill, which I usually do anyway but am especially diligent about while in Indonesia. There is also a magical thing called Yakult, which is like liquid yogurt and is filled with probiotics. Yummm… Bacteria….

How is the food?

One person, one dish, two drinks. Livin' large in Indonesia.
One person, one dish, two drinks. Livin’ large in Indonesia.

Speaking of food, the food is delicious! Since Indonesia is an archipelago, it is not surprising that fish and/or fish sauce is prominently featured in most dishes. Chicken is also common and beef is on offer sometimes. No pork, though. As a vegetarian, my options are usually pretty limited to nasi goreng [fried rice] or kwetiau goreng [fried thick noodles], which is oh so yummy. There is also a whole family of dishes that are essentially salads with peanut sauce, which I am crazy for. Gado-gado is the most well-known, but there are endless mutations from the basic recipe of veggies, pressed rice, and peanut sauce.

My thoughts on living the veg life in Indonesia deserves its own post, but for now I’ll say that it can definitely be a challenge. I have had some incidents of accidental meat consumption, which always turns into a chance for cultural exchange where I explain that if there is even just a little bit of chicken/shrimp/fish in the dish, I can’t eat it. I liken this situation to how Muslims can’t eat food that has even just a little bit of pork or dog, which helps with creating understanding.

Usually I eat fruit (they don’t call me Fraulein Fruitenberg for nothing!). Apples, pears, mangoes, pineapple, guava, bananas, oranges are widely available. I also eat more bread than I usually do in the States. A place called BB Bakery sells buns filled with pandan cream, which is my breakfast almost every day. They also sell peanut butter and jelly, so I make sandwiches when I am too lazy to actually cook something. And of course, I eat lots of rice. Caitlin and I have a rice cooker and I eat stir-fried veggies with rice and tofu, tempeh, and/or eggs almost every night.

My usual breakfast of a pandan custard bun and fruit, plus the hot tea and packet of snacks (one sweet and one savory) that always mysteriously appears on my desk.
My usual breakfast of a pandan custard bun and fruit, plus the hot tea and packet of snacks (one sweet and one savory) that always mysteriously appears on my desk.

In the teacher’s office, there are always little snacks and lots of extremely sweet hot tea. Ibu Isnaini always puts a glass of tea on my desk in my morning and other teachers take turns putting packs of snacks on my desk too. I usually quietly slip the snacks back in the communal bag… Indonesian desserts aren’t worth the calories, in my opinion, and the savory snack is not to be trusted from a vegetarian standpoint.

I drink coffee every morning, though it is instant coffee mixed up in a teapot. Coffee makers in the American sense aren’t really a thing here, though Kopitiam-Kopitiam [coffee houses] are popular hangouts in the evening. Remember that most people don’t drink alcohol, so drinking coffee is the substitute activity for people to gather and talk and watch sports and do whatever it is that people do when they hang out.

What clothes are you allowed to wear?

Prior to arriving in Indonesia, I was told by the previous ETA who taught at my school that I should cover up from ankle to collarbone to wrist. This sent me into a bit of a tizzy before leaving for Indonesia as most of my clothes don’t exactly conform to this description. I did some last-minute scrounging for clothes and have been generally satisfied with the wardrobe options that I packed. The nice, no-wrinkle, long-sleeve patterned shirts and requisite matching-everything-black skirts that I brought have been great.

This is at Bangka Botanical Garden this past Friday. I am wearing one of my teaching outfits: a long sleeve batik shirt with a long skirt. I wear something like this Wednesday through Friday.
This is at Bangka Botanical Garden this past Friday. I am wearing one of my teaching outfits: a long sleeve batik shirt with a long skirt. I wear something like this Wednesday through Friday.

Generally I do cover up when I am out and about in public. I have uniforms for school that consist of long pants/skirts, long sleeve jackets on Monday and Tuesday, long-sleeve batik shirts the other days. I can wear t-shirts without a problem anywhere and have worn khaki shorts that go to my knees in my neighborhood. However, generally I prefer to opt for more modest clothing. I get more wiggle room in the modesty department because I am a foreigner, but I still want to dress conservatively to gain the respect of Indonesians and shield myself from drawing unnecessary attention. Still, I have seen some outfits that other ladies are wearing that have shocked me. I have taken to announcing “Woah, so sexy!” if my Indonesian friends don’t do so first when someone — man or woman — is showing any leg above the knee or any chest below the collarbone.

Most women here wear a jilbab [headscarf]. When I am visiting friends/neighbors in their homes they let their hair down, but if male company comes calling too they will excuse themselves to cover up. It is just a part of life here and I am constantly impressed by the variety of styles you can use to wrap the scarves and the dazzling amount of pins some Ibus at my school use to accessorize. It is in my contract that I am not required to wear a scarf, and there are some teachers at my school who opt out of wearing the jilbab too even though they are Muslim. Thus far I have found that the Indonesians I have met are welcoming and accepting of differences.

Since I have been here, I have gotten clothes for teaching and added a couple more shirts and pants to my wardrobe. Clothes shopping can be hard because the Indonesian body type is different from the bule body type… I have different curves in different places than most people here, which means that the outfits that look great on my Indonesian peers are not nearly as flattering on me.

Do you have everything you need?

While I was packing for this year, I remember reading in the Indonesia ETA Guidebook that “This is not a yearlong camping trip.” Whoever wrote that was spot-on as there are (almost) all the comforts of my American life here. Razors, contact solution, make-up, sunscreen, peanut butter, milk, coffee, teaching supplies… All these things are available albeit in a slightly different form than what I might find in the States. And if I can’t find it here? Chances are it is not a necessity since millions of people live without it every day.

Somehow I ended up dancing on a stage at a wedding this past Sunday, much to the delight of hundreds of guests, including most of my fellow teachers at SMA3. The piece of adorableness next to me is Keke, the daughter of one of the Vice Principals at our school. She is sweet and was brave enough to dance with me.
Somehow I ended up dancing on a stage at a wedding this past Sunday, much to the delight of hundreds of guests, including most of my fellow teachers at SMA3. The piece of adorableness next to me is Keke, the daughter of one of the Vice Principals at our school. She is sweet and was brave enough to dance with me.

What I am happy that I brought is lots of oleh-oleh [gifts] and teaching materials from the U.S.. Authentic materials (restaurant menus, English language magazines, etc.) are harder to come by here, so I am happy that I have resources to work with. I am also happy that I brought my ESL/EFL Handbook to American English Grammar. (Thanks for this, Dr. Putnam. An email is coming your way soon.) The oleh-oleh continues to sit in a box in my bedroom though… I am using the pencils/stickers as motivators in my neighborhood English club and I have given a few dollar bills away to friends who ask for them. Otherwise, I plan on giving oleh-oleh out to everyone and their mother (literally) at the end of the year before I leave.

Who are you hanging out with?

I spend my time with lots of different people. While I am here, I have noticed that I interact with a more diverse demographic than I do in the States. From going to events with teachers from my school who are all older than me to playing with/teaching the neighborhood children to sitting with my laundress and her extended family to going swimming/karaoke-ing with some of my teenage students to teaching English at a local medical clinic, I spend time with people of all ages and professions.

While I am happy to meet with pretty much anyone who is interested in practicing English, I am very conscious of who brings me up and who drains my energy. Learning a language is hard work, but it is much more enjoyable if you practice with people who are patient, encouraging, and easy-going. Thus, the people I will continue to get closer to as the months go on are the people who buoy my spirits. Making connections with these people is at the heart of the personal reasons for why I am here and what the Fulbright program is all about.

These people include (in no particular order):

– Mango (and Lea and Erika), who are guidance counselors at Caitlin’s school. Mango is like our older sister and her whole family has welcomed us fully.
– Lucy and family, who Caitlin and I met our first week here and are yet another Indonesian family that have welcomed us.
– Nicko and family, who have also welcomed Caitlin and I and taken us to visit family in a nearby city. Nicko works in Yogyakarta (pronounced Johg-ja-car-ta) but will be back to visit again next month. His dad is a teacher at Caitlin’s school.
– Pak Elvan and Ibu Asro (my amazing counterparts!) who have taken me on trips with their respective families.
– Fitri and Rinta and their other friends, students in class 12 (a.k.a. seniors) who have taken me swimming and to sing karaoke.
– Ibu Evi and Novi (accountants at my school) and Soetry (guidance counselor at my school) who take me around Pangkal Pinang and indulge my love of spontaneous singing and dancing.

I do an unbelievable amount of singing and dancing here, anytime and anywhere. Pak Elvan is in the middle and Pak Feri, an art teacher, is on the right. They were singing at the farewell party for our interns that we had in the teacher's office earlier this week. After this photo was taken, Pak Elvan and I did a duet of
I do an unbelievable amount of singing and dancing here, anytime and anywhere. Pak Elvan is in the middle and Pak Feri, an art teacher, is on the right. They were singing at the farewell party for our interns that we had in the teacher’s office earlier this week. After this photo was taken, Pak Elvan and I did a duet of “My Heart Will Go On.”
Making a public spectacle on a Tuesday night. Soetry is in orange, Novi and her daughter are behind me, and Ibu Evi is taking the photo.
Making a public spectacle on a Tuesday night. Soetry is in orange, Novi and her daughter are behind me, and Ibu Evi is taking the photo.

Do you miss the U.S.?

Pangs of wishing I was with certain people or at certain events do come and go, but I don’t really miss the U.S. that much. I had a great summer of traveling and visiting people before I came here, which was a wonderful way to transition from college to this next chapter. Sometimes I guess I do miss the familiarity that comes from staying in one place, from seeing it in every season, from knowing where you’ll find friendly faces, from the memories you create while living your life…

While I write this I am thinking of Tampa, the city I came to love and know during the last four years. But while I love Tampa and believe that the University of Tampa was absolutely the best choice for me, I knew that I didn’t want to stay in Tampa after I graduated. So these pangs of “Oh, I wish I was brunching with the Uncle Daves at Columbia” are not specifically because I am in Indonesia; I would feel this way no matter where in the world my next steps might have taken me had I not been chosen for a Fulbright grant.

It is hard to say good bye to a good thing — and Tampa is a very good thing — but like I said in a previous post: “If you are brave enough to say good-bye, life will reward you with a new hello.” And saying hello to Pangkal Pinang has been a wonderful new experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

This is Rinta, one of my good-vibe-people. I met her and the rest of her class while walking to the canteen last week. She is in grade 12, so this is her senior year.
This is Rinta, one of my good-vibe-people and a student at my school. I met her and the rest of her class while walking to the canteen last week. She is in grade 12, so this is her senior year.

How do you like teaching?

While at UT I got a certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), which I have found has helped me immensely in these first few weeks. Everything I did for the certificate — English grammar class, foundations of EFL/ESL (English as a Foreign Language/English as a Second Language), and a supervised teaching practicum — has come into play here.

However, what has surprised me is how much I actually enjoy teaching. I love going in the classroom and working with my students. It makes me genuinely happy to see and hear the products of their efforts. I try to make our activities fun, for example making videos on their cell phones or playing competitive hangman or a physical game of “would you rather”. I laugh, they laugh, and we have a good time. I may not be following teaching theory to a T, but the students are using the language and enjoying their time in English class. And that is what is important to me.

Would I want to be a teacher for my future career? Probably not, though being a university professor somewhere down the road doesn’t sound like a bad proposition.

How do you spend your free time?

One question that I thought of adding to this Q&A was “What is your daily routine?” but I have no regular routine to speak of yet. Each week there seems to be another holiday or changed schedule or unexpected trip to this or that office. While this makes things exciting, it can be tiring to never know what to expect. But that’s just how things are here. Indonesia: love it or leave it.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a small notebook that I turned into a planner. In the States I live and breathe by my planner; if it’s not written in the planner it’s not gonna happen. I thought that using a pocket calendar in Indonesia might be a futile effort but it has actually been very useful thus far. While Indonesians are generally notorious for being late and vague when talking about time, there are many people who do make appointments and keep them in a timely fashion. Thus, keeping a planner has helped prevent ME from being the one who fails to show up to appointments. It also helps me keep my days (weeks?) straight as time is going by way too fast.

So, to answer the question: how do I spend my free time? What with all the holidays and such I certainly have had some down time, but I’m never bored. I keep busy mostly by accepting every invitation that comes my way, making work for myself (lesson plans, emails, Indonesiaful, various online certifications, etc), and cherishing quiet time at home. Each day is different.

These are the kids of our immediate neighbors. Last week they wanted to hang out with us outside of our Thursday night English club, so we invited them in to play games in our yard. They played jump rope and a game like rock-paper-scissors, and we introduced them to the Limbo. They are our friends and, in a way, our protectors because they are always watching our house and accompanying us around the neighborhood. Their smiling faces and exuberant reception have made me feel welcome here. 
These are the kids of our immediate neighbors. Last week they wanted to hang out with us outside of our Thursday night English club, so we invited them in to play games in our yard. They played jump rope and a game like rock-paper-scissors, and we introduced them to the Limbo. They are our friends and, in a way, our protectors because they are always watching our house and accompanying us around the neighborhood. Their smiling faces and exuberant reception have made me feel welcome here.

What has been your favorite moment thus far?

Oh, how to choose! There have been many wonderful moments in the short amount of time I have been here. I laugh every day, often to the point of tears and stomach pain. Honestly people here probably think I’m a little crazy because it doesn’t take much to send me into hysterics. Sometimes Indonesia is just too absurd for words and all I can do is laugh.

But my faaaavorite moment? If I had to pick one I think I would have to say it was during the first week when Caitlin and I were getting settled in our new home. That week we opened our front gate and invited the neighborhood children in to play and practice English, which has become a regular thing each Thursday evening. That day we played games with the kids and managed to communicate despite the language barrier.

During a pause in the proceedings, one of the older ones asked us how long we would be in Pangkal Pinang. Caitlin and I pieced together a sentence that approximately meant “We will be here for nine more months.” Correct grammar or not, the message was received. And the cheer that went up from the kiddies was astounding. I turned to Caitlin, grinning from the energy of the kids, and said “THIS is why we are here.” It is a moment that I hold near and dear to my heart, and I think it pretty well captures the good vibes I have felt in Indonesia thus far.

What has been the biggest challenge?

I am fortunate that this question gives me pause not because I am overwhelmed with selection but because these first two months have had far more successes than challenges.

The language barrier can definitely be a challenge, but I am working on breaking down this barrier day by day. Step by step, word by word, mistake by mistake. Usually my language mistakes are funny, like when I called Mango kakek [grandfather] instead of kakak [elder sister] or when I was barking orders at my school’s morning meeting and accidentally told everyone to respectfully bubur [chicken porridge] instead of bubar [disband]. Many laughs are had at my expense while I am learning, but no one laughs more than I do at these errors.

Happy times in Indonesia.
Happy times in Indonesia.

Miscommunication about schedules and expectations can also be challenge, but I have the support of fellow teachers, two fabulous counterparts, a regional coordinator in Jakarta, AMINEF, and Fulbright folks back in D.C. In other words, I am not alone in navigating the challenges of eking out my role here. That’s not to say that I don’t get frustrated sometimes, but this all part of the cultural exchange.

Lastly, it can be challenging to feel like I always have to be “on.” Since Pangkal Pinang has extremely few tourists, it is often the case that I am the first American, perhaps even the first bule [white-skinned foreigner], that people here have ever met. As such, I feel pressure to always make a good impression, to always be an upstanding representative of my country. But sometimes I just don’t feel like being a good ambassador. Sometimes I don’t feel like smiling at everyone. Sometimes I don’t want to take another selfieselfieselfie with people who grab me and jerk my arm without ever asking if I mind. Sometimes I don’t want to be followed by packs of giddy children who repeatedly shout “What. Is. Your NAME?” before retreating into the group and shrieking with laughter. (Note: my sweet neighborhood children don’t do this. This only happens in other public places like the beach.) There’s not much I can do about this challenge except continue to cultivate diplomatic poise, get lots of rest, and surround myself with good people.

Are you happy?

Yes, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Two Months In: Q&A

  1. Hi Kelly,
    Thank you for your outstanding post that is most informative. Your writing is excellent as our your pictures you include. I very much enjoy reading your story and are so happy that you are happy. Love, Mom XXXO

    Like

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