How to Tune a Didgeridoo (and other things I’ve been up to)

It was a cacophony. An accordion bellowing, djembes beating, the dambus strumming, a KORG keyboard wavering on a note played by a determined big toe. Even the resident Sanggar cat yowled to her own beat. Was it music or noise or….? I sat on the corner of a cigarette-stained rug, swaying in the sound and laughing at this preposterous situation.

Last night I found myself at a jam session at Sanggar Tiga Serangkai. A Sanggar is a small performing arts community, usually located in a house that has space for dancing, a rug and a plastic stool or two for the musicians, threadbare thrones for visitors, and posters of cultural triumphs of years past. I went with Dian, my friend who played music at this Sanggar when he was in high school. The musicians consisted of two (three, counting Dian) alumni from my school, a current student from SMAN3, a musician on holiday from Jakarta, and another guy of uncertain background but with really long hair.

I still haven't gotten used to the fact that a lot of people I meet out and about already know my name and where I work. At least this time these guys had a legitimate connection to me--one (in the center) is still a student!
I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that a lot of people I meet out and about already know my name and where I work. At least this time these guys had a legitimate connection to me–one (in the center) is still a student!

And boy did they jam. Instruments kept appearing, pulled out of cases and plastic sleeves. I flashed back to my time studying ethnomusicology at Oxford and thought of what a perfect opportunity this was to learn more about music in Bangka. Before coming to Indonesia I thought I would find a way to play in a gamelan (which has happened, once) but it turns out that Sanggars, which have a mix of musical styles, are much more prevalent than gamelans in this part of the country.

Even though there were just a few people playing music, there were many musical instruments floating around. A dambus, the traditional stringed instrument of Bangka that has a stag head at the end of the neck, was there. A violin, which was played beautifully by the musician on holiday from Jakarta, was there. The violin also (jokingly?) doubled as a ukelele. A long wooden flute (of the variety that makes you think of “Sounds of the Ancients”-esque CDs) was there. An accordion, surprisingly prevalent in Bangkanese music despite not a single mention of it on the accordion’s Wikipedia page, was there. Two large djembes were there along with a giant drum (not sure what that one’s called) and a handheld drum that was missing all but one of its cymbals on the side were there. Aforementioned KORG keyboard was there, holding the production together. And then out of nowhere a didgeridoo appeared, rounding out the musical party.

The eclectic assortment of instruments was impressive... almost as impressive as the facility of this guy's big toe.
The eclectic assortment of instruments was impressive… almost as impressive as the facility of this guy’s big toe.

The long-haired guy was seated at the keyboard, and he seemed to be directing the practice. He would play the same intro several times, his hand a seperate entity from his mind as he turned to talk to the other musicians while his fingers continued to hit all the right notes. He guided the accordion, “Hold it longer!” and the drums “Faster!” He used the keyboard to find the pitch of the didgeridoo, then held the magical note with his foot while he played the flute and the violinist played this unmistakeably Australian instrument. When they practiced in earnest, they really were excellent musicians.

During the jam session, I kept quiet for the most part except when obliging to a few selfie requests. The alumni from my school already knew who I was: “Miss Kelly, ya? We’re already friends on Facebook.” As I prepared to take my leave, the musician from Jakarta invited me to come to Jakarta to sing in Javanese in a style that (to me) sounds like yodeling. I politely declined, citing my not-so-good voice. “Oh really? But we’ve been looking for a bule [foreigner] to sing this part.” We laughed, I declined, they threatened to kidnap me anyway, we laughed again.

After the Sanggar, Dian and I drove around Pangkal Pinang. We stopped for ice cream (a.k.a. dinner for me) and then pulled over on the side of the road where some of his friends were playing kaple [dominoes]. This is traditionally a male-only activity, but some of the bapaks (lit. father but is a polite term of address for all older men; Bapak or just Pak can be put before a man’s name to be used like Mr. too) at my school taught me how to play when class was cancelled one day last semester. Their game had just ended when we pulled up and the group looked a little confused to see a foreigner step out of their friend’s car. Without a word, I plopped myself at the table and started mixing the dominoes with both hands like I’d seen the bapaks do. “Die pacak!” She can do it, they said in the local language. “Pacak lah!” Of course I can! I responded. The game was on. My skills were a little rusty from the months in between my last game, but that didn’t stop me from winning this round. In short, lots of new friends were made last night.

And that’s just one evening in PKP.

What else have I been up to in the silence between my increasingly sporadic blog posts? Or, as my Indonesian friends will say when they haven’t seen me for a few weeks (even months): “Dari mana?!” Where have you been?!

The past few weeks/months have been busy in all the best ways. I have had lots of social outings and plenty of tasks at school and for AMINEF-related things. Some other things I have been up to fit into two categories: Work Hard and Play Hard. To start with the former:

WORK HARD

Four big things come to mind when I think of working hard in recent weeks here.

1. Class prep.
Ever since our mid-year conference in Jakarta this time last month, I have felt revitalized and filled with new ideas for English class. One of my main goals for class this semester was to have some sense of continuity between classes. Last semester the classes had little if anything to do with each other from week to week, which was due to a few factors over which I have little control. But this semester I have been determined to try doing some running projects, which has been successful thus far. One topic that the students had to learn about was “Recount Text,” which means talking about things that happened in the past using simple past tense.

I have never seen students more animated in class than during this game of flash memory to translate a mix of regular and irregular verbs into simple past tense. They went bananas.
I have never seen students more animated in class than during this game of flash memory to translate a mix of regular and irregular verbs into simple past tense. They went bananas.
Miss Kelly trying to figure out which group raised their board first. In the case of a tie, everyone got points. (Otherwise there might have been a mutiny.)
Miss Kelly trying to figure out which group raised their board first. In the case of a tie, everyone got points. (Otherwise there might have been a mutiny.)

To make this topic more interesting and meaningful, I am having students learn about different events in U.S. history and make posters about those events. Due to cancelled classes because of the flood and testing, only one class has finished their posters and they have blown me away with their creations. The other classes will hopefully finish and share their posters after testing is over in mid-March. I made packets and worksheets to guide students’ work and bought all the materials (paper, scissors,glue, etc) that they need to complete their project. Dwinda, the best English speaker in class X IPS2 (my homeroom) told me during a casual moment outside of class earlier this week that “We have never had a teacher like you, Miss.” Moments like this make all of the prep time out of class worth it.

Students putting the final touches on their poster about the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Students putting the final touches on their poster about the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Ta Da! The finished product.
The finished product. I love my siswa.

In my additional classes (3 additional hours of English with Classes X MIPA1 and 2) the topic is Narrative Text, which we have had fun with by analyzing the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” and then making our own short stories. In groups of 4 my students have created their own stories, start to finish, complete with drawings. They have had time to practice acting out the stories too (probably one of the funniest and funnest classes we have had so far) and I can’t wait for the testing to be over so we can share the stories and skits with the class.

My example storybook using the song "Cat's in the Cradle" along with one group's story about Lanun, a famous pirate in Bangka.
My example storybook using the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” along with one group’s story about Lanun, a famous pirate in Bangka.

2. Teacher Training Workshop
This past Saturday, Caitlin and I had the pleasure of hosting Alicia Brill, an English Language Fellow from Washington State who currently teaches at a university in Padang. This teacher training workshop is a mandatory event from AMINEF, but we had a lot of fun (albeit with a bit of stress) while pulling this together. Despite the fact that we have been planning this workshop since October, everything didn’t come together until the last possible second. But no matter, because it was a great workshop and we had over 40 teachers from all high schools and middle schools in the city in attendance. The topic was about improving students’ (teachers’?) conversation skills, which we addressed in three sessions.

We rocked our workshop!
We rocked our workshop!

Our workshop consisted of lots of games, some singing, drawing, group work, endless examples of classroom materials, time allotted for selfies, and just a little bit of lecturing. We had a good time, so I hope our participants had a nice time too. We made a Facebook group to keep in touch with everyone, but it sure felt good to realize that the bulk of the work was over at the end of the workshop.

The creative juices were flowing during a drawing exercise Alicia ran during her mini-session.
The creative juices were flowing during a drawing exercise Alicia ran during her mini-session.

3. WORDS Competition
Last weekend was the workshop and this weekend is the other major event during this grant year: SMAN3’s WORDS Competition! The WORDS Competition was started a few years ago by an ETA and has become a part of the Fulbright ETA program. Each year, ETAs host a competition for students at their schools. Winners of these local competitions get whatever prizes the ETA decides to give (I am giving certificates to everyone; taking participants out to lunch afterward; presenting them all with an oleh-oleh bundle with candy, a penny, and a flashdrive from my alma mater; and I might get the top 3 nice dictionaries). The winner will then come with me to Jakarta to participate in the national competition with all of the other ETAs and their students. It will be a good time this Saturday and afterward, guaranteed. I have spent last week and this week visiting classes, getting students pumped, and having interested students over to my house in the afternoon to talk about their ideas and practice their speeches. It has been a bit of work for me and for the students, but I’m pumped for Saturday.
4. Planning for the future
A recurring theme in my life is the question: what next? I have been adding to the list I posted about this topic a few months back, and who knows which of those opportunities are in the cards for me in the future. I’m not sure what will happen next, but the wheels are turning. I’ll keep you posted.

PLAY HARD

I have been writing this post in the administration office of my school on a rainy Thursday morning. The students are testing, which means I don’t have class today. I guess it is not really necessary that I came today, but I like my school and I can be surprisingly productive if the other teachers are busy too. It is raining outside and teachers that are not proctoring exams have been enlisted to help make over 2,000 souvenir packages for the headmistress’s son’s wedding next month. In other words, I have been able to get a lot done with only the occasional interlude.

In the meantime, I am sitting at my counterpart’s desk and pondering all of the things I have done that would fit under the category “play hard.” I’ve been busy doing a lot of hanging out with different groups, which I suppose fits under this heading. Highlights from recent weeks:

1. Becoming a canteen kid.
Last Tuesday, Pak Bambang invited me to help teach gym class for the zillionth time. He likes to joke about it, but I finally decided to take him up on his offer since I am done with class around 10 on Tuesday mornings. I followed him to the field in the back of the school, where I sat with students in Class XI MIPA2 while some of them ran relay races. They asked me questions about America and about Words Competition, and they invited me to join them in the canteen when it started to drizzle. I went with them and ended up staying in the canteen until the end of the day.
I have spent a bit of time in the canteen before, talking to the Ibus who run the place and practicing my bahasa Indonesia with them. It is in the canteen that I get to interact with students from classes 11 and 12 (I only teach class 10) and it is there that I also hear about the current events affecting Bangka, like illegal mining, heavy metals in the water affecting public health, and the potential nuclear reactor that the government wants to build here. The canteen Bus are definitely the ones who are most open in talking about their concerns for their island with me.

After Class XI MIPA2 returned to their classroom, I stayed in the canteen and ended up in one of the kitchens in the back. The Bu of that kitchen was there, surrounded by 5-8 different boys from classes 11 and 12. The boys sat and watched her, one helped her roll bananas in batter to make pisang goreng. A couple of them held on to the chain-link fencing that served as the wall from the waist-up. There was non-stop talking from the Bu as in turns she slapped the boys who were reluctant to speak with me and mussed then their hair affectionately. I had a feeling that these boys were skipping class–and in hanging out with them I was complicit in their truancy– but I still decided to join them in sitting on a low bench in the back of the tiny kitchen, trying to talk with them in English and bahasa Indonesia.

The Bu, who is one of the most Ibu-like (lit mother-like) Ibus I have met here, kept goading them to talk to me and laughing at their jokes in response. I had Google Translate at the ready to help me keep up. Good thing too, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known that one of the students from Class XI IPS3 was saying that he wanted to culik [kidnap] me and take me to Kantor Agama [Religious Affairs Office] so we could tie the knot. Once I figured this out I took a cue from the Bu gave him a smack with my notebook for his cheek. The students asked me about everything from if I was able to sing heavy metal songs (I tried, much to their delight) and were mind-boggled that I have lived in Bangka for six months and have yet to try empek (a fishy doughball).

Later in the week, I had a free hour with some students in MIPA2 because half of the class took a test during the week of the flood, which meant that the other half had to catch up. Instead of forcing the students who were finished with the test to sit quietly for that hour, I asked my co-teacher if I could take the students who were finished out of class for a little fieldtrip. I took them to the canteen, largely because there was nowhere else with enough seating for everyone, and we played Banagrams and listened to music. Good times were had by all.

Spending a "free" hour in the canteen playing Bananagrams with one of my best-behaved classes.
Spending a “free” hour in the canteen playing Bananagrams with one of my best-behaved classes.

2. Chillin’ with the neighbors.
I have continued to spend a lot of time with the neighbors with the laundry business that I mentioned in a post awhile back. Whenever I stop over, they usually try to feed me or at least give me coffee. I have napped and showered at their house and have had the joy of watching Gibran, who was only a week or so old when I first came, get bigger and start to do more baby things. I have watched as houses are remodeled and I will be joining the family on a trip to a relative’s house in central Bangka in a couple of weeks to watch the total eclipse of the sun. (Let’s just hope the clouds don’t cover it up….) I spend a lot of time there.

Gibran! I don't know if I've ever met a baby who gets more attention than this little buddy. He was born in mid-September and he's already able to turn over and hold his own head up, baby milestones that I didn't know about before.
Gibran! I don’t know if I’ve ever met a baby who gets more attention than this little buddy. He was born in mid-September and he’s already able to turn over and hold his own head up, baby milestones that I didn’t know about before.
A small branch of the giant family tree. I originally met this family because I brought my laundry to one of their laundry businesses but I have since spent a lot of time with them, going to family reunions in other towns and attending nearby weddings and generally hanging out.
A small branch of the giant family tree. I originally met this family because I brought my laundry to one of their laundry businesses but I have since spent a lot of time with them, going to family reunions in other towns and attending nearby weddings and generally hanging out. In this photo we are about to hop in the cars to go to a family party followed by a trip to the beach.

3. Kingkong Kopitiam
One of Caitlin and my favorite hangout spots is Kingkong Kopitiam, a coffeehouse that is the daily hangout spot of a group of bapaks that we befriended several months back. It is also the best place to get kwetiau goreng [fried thick noodles]. Hours pass easily between jokes, bahasa Indonesia lessons, and cups of coffee. On Monday this week, Caitlin and I went to hang out at Kingkong. One thing led to another, and that evening we found ourselves singing karaoke in a big room with a couple of our kopitiam friends. It. Was. Epic. For three hours we sang our voices raw and danced and even threw back a Bintang or two.*

Some of the bapaks we have befriended at Kingkong. Macho, the serious-looking one in the middle, is probably one of the funniest and quickest to laugh despite his somber face. In this photo Caitlin and I brought over some cupcakes from my birthday bash and celebrated my birthday on the actual day.
Some of the bapaks we have befriended at Kingkong. Macho, the serious-looking one in the middle, is probably one of the funniest and quickest to laugh despite his somber face. In this photo Caitlin and I brought over some cupcakes from my birthday bash and celebrated my birthday on the actual day.
The staff of Kingkong know Caitlin and I well. They also know exactly what I want to order for food--the only question they have is whether I want my noodles to-go or not.
The staff of Kingkong know Caitlin and I well. They also know exactly what I want to order for food–the only question they have is whether I want my noodles to-go or not.

4. Alicia!

Last but not least for this post, a major highlight from the last few weeks was definitely having Alicia in town. She came to help us with our workshop (see above, section 2) but we also tried to make her visit in PKP worthwhile. Pak Elvan came with us to pick her up at the airport and he took us to the restaurant that he took us to when Caitlin and I first arrived. Friday evening we were up until the wee hours of the morning, talking and eating martabak and putting together the final pieces of our presentations for the following day. Saturday’s workshop was fun, and afterward I took her to meet some professors from UBB (Universitas Bangka-Belitung) to discuss English classes and curriculums at a local coffeehouse. Later that evening, we had dinner with Manggo at D’Barleys (the only place we know of to get passable Western food) and went to D’Grande to listen to live music and get dessert.

We were exhausted by the end of Saturday, but Sunday we still managed to get up early and watch the sunrise over the water at Pasir Padi, the beach closest to town. We went with another neighbor and did some yoga and running at the beach. Afterward, Alicia and Caitlin cooked brunch. I helped shop for ingredients and clean up afterward. Our final activity was a nice, long massage at a local spa Ibu Evi introduced us to awhile back. Caitlin and I have been their frequently ever since. Following that, Caitlin’s counterpart Pak Dida took us to the airport to say good-bye and I started napping on the car ride home.

Dream team.
Dream team.
While Alicia was selfie-ing, I was literally rolling on the ground laughing in the background. I still don't remember what was so funny.
While Alicia was selfie-ing, I was literally rolling on the ground laughing in the background. I still don’t remember what was so funny. The guy wearing the matching blue is our neighbor, Vebri, and he helped us out by taking Caitlin on his motorbike while Alicia rode with me.

IN CONCLUSION…
This list could go on, but you get the idea. Life is good and I am looking forward to three more fun-filled, jam-packed months here!

* In retrospect, I realize that in this post I talk a lot about spending time with my guy friends. I just want to point out that a) I have lady friends too and b) these easy-going relationships with the opposite gender have been a pleasant surprise on Bangka and they are not necessarily so easy in other parts of Indonesia.

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3 thoughts on “How to Tune a Didgeridoo (and other things I’ve been up to)

  1. What a busy lady you are Kelly. I admire your living life to the fullest with such joy and an open heart. Love and miss you!
    Aunt Betsy
    XOXXOOX

    Like

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