Inspired by the Welcome to Indonesia: Highs and Lows Indonesiaful post, I’ll take my 2 month-iversary of Round 2 in Indonesia as a chance to share the top three things that can 100% make my day and the top three things that totally bum me out.
Starting with the GOOD STUFF:
1. Getting Mail!
Back in mid-September, my parents made the ballsy decision to send a full-on package to my new address. This bold move turned out to be a good one and I am the happy recipient of a ton of Halloween swag, well in time for the holiday. Thanks mom and dad!! If you would like to send me mail, I promise a response in return! My address is:
SMA WACHID HASYIM 2
JL. RAYA NGELOM NO. 86
KABUPATEN SIDOARJO, JAWA TIMUR 61257
2. Making Connections!
Both at school and in the wider community, I’ve been making serious efforts to establish connections with different groups. Over the weekend I focused specifically on students, whose invitations to hang out at a cafe and meet their families I accepted earlier in the week. But I have also met the amazing AFS team for East Java, the cool kids who run Universitas Airlangga’s American Corner, a friendly and down-to-earth Peace Corps volunteer, a group of cool Indonesians who teach me cuss words and let me sing in their band on Friday nights, and I even had a rendezvous with my globe-trotting cousin Jake and his go-getter girlfriend Hyewon. This week I am hoping to meet up with the U.S. Consulate folks and spread the word about a potluck lunch I’m having at my house on October 22nd. In short, being alone is a choice. I’ve planted seeds for a lot of relationships, now all I need to do is spend time and energy to make them grow.
3. Teaching successes!
Being in the classroom has its ups and downs, but for the most part I feel like I am doing MUCH BETTER than I was this time last year. My co-teaching relationships will always be a work in progress and teaching classes pushing 50 students per class can definitely be tough, but I feel that the lessons these first few weeks have gone quite well. We’ve been bringing in the games, games, games and the students have been very responsive. I’m PUMPED to continue to develop as a teacher and shake up the classroom. It is too early to give more details… stay tuned for the full scoop in a later post.
And now for the BUMMER STUFF:
1. Being a (white) foreigner.
I am blessed to have the lovely Miss Krupa Patel as my sitemate, and with her I am thinking more critically about skin color and our roles as foreigners than I ever have before. Ever since I was an AFS student in Thailand in 2010-2011, I’ve known it can be difficult to look different in an otherwise homogenous country. I dealt with this again as an ETA in Pangkal Pinang last year, and despite being in a more metropolitan area this year it continues to be a challenge.
I don’t like it when random people on the street shout “Bule! Hey Mister!” at me when I walk by.
I don’t like it when neighborhood kids take photos with me and when they look at the result, exclaim “Kopi dan susu!” [Coffee and milk!] and point laughing fingers at whoever is in the photo with me.
I don’t like it when my students make gestures with their fingers against their noses and laugh when I am in the middle of a lesson.
I don’t like it when a neighbor grabs my chin, turning my face in her hands while exclaiming at how “cantik” [beautiful] my white skin is and admonishing me for drinking so much coffee because it will darken my complexion.
I don’t like it when I go to the movies and a recent film features someone in blackface who is the butt of a string of horribly racist jokes.
I don’t like it when these things happen, but sometimes it is hard to know what to do or say when these situations inevitably occur.
2. Fielding other’s expectations.
I am the fourth ETA at my school and the fourth ETA to live in the same house. My school is quite good, and Miss Ony has been everything I could ask for in a counterpart. She is well-versed in intercultural communication and is teaching me a lot in the process while giving unprecedented support for me to be my own person. I have a lot of autonomy both in lesson-planning as well as in how I spend my free time outside of school, and for that I am ever-grateful.
But outside of school, I have a harder time fielding people’s expectations about how I should act, especially since I am falling in the shadow of another ETA who is long-gone but has achieved god-like status in the memories of everyone I have met who knew him. The kids ask: Why don’t you play with us like Mr. So-and-So? The neighbors ask: Why don’t you open a Les [private tutoring] like Mr. So-and-So did? The security guards ask: Why aren’t you good at Javanese like Mr. So-and-So? The man who sells bakso [meatball soup] outside the neighborhood asks: Why don’t you like bakso like Mr. So-and-So? I commend the previous ETA for the astoundingly positive impact he had on his community, and I hope people say nice things about me after I leave. But for now, I am working hard to find my own community (see “GOOD STUFF” #2) that doesn’t always harken back to those who came before.
3. Trying to stay healthy.
I’ve mentioned coffee a few times in this post and for good reason: it seriously is one of the main food groups in my diet here. Despite having a full kitchen, I have pretty much no food in my house. This is because a) I hate the harassment I get at the traditional market (see “BUMMER STUFF” #1) and b) I am sick of stir-fried vegetables with rice, which is pretty much the only thing I can cook for myself here. So I eat out for literally every meal… or sometimes I don’t eat at all. I would choose the latter every time when the only vegetarian options are gorengan [deep-fried things] or kue [Indonesian desserts which I am not fond of].
I also don’t exercise because I was told that the exercise classes in my neighborhood are for Muslims only… and I don’t walk anywhere besides school because of “BUMMER STUFF” reasons #1 and #2. Besides a poor diet and no exercise, I am also at the tail end of a sore throat that made cough drops a secondary food group for awhile there. In short, my health is not the greatest.
Now, having shared the good, the bad, and some of the ugly, let me reiterate: the good FAR outweighs the bad here in Indonesia. Yeah, sometimes I admittedly question my sanity at choosing to come back for another year. But mostly I feel incredibly lucky to be here, to keep working on my bahasa skills, and develop as both a teacher and an intercultural ambassador. Thanks Fulbright, and thanks Indonesia.