Friday, April 29, 2011

Call to Prayer - Feels Like Home

I remember hearing my first call to prayer as it was projected across Amman, Jordan. It was eerie and a little bit scary to me for some reason. Initially hearing it gave me a feeling similar to when you hear guys on New York City streets yelling things about God through a megaphone. Now, I take comfort in the calls to prayer, and I liken hearing them to being reminded of my life growing up in Wappingers Falls.

Approximately 4:15am (Solat Subuh)
One of my most endearing features is my total inability to be on time. I am regularly anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes late for any meeting. As we like to do, I blame my parents for this as I was awoken by my mother almost every day for school until the day I left for college. I would get the first call through the bedroom door in a sweet, motherly whisper, "Er - time to get up." And then I would immediately turn over under the warm covers, hoping to squeak out another half hour of sleep. In ten minutes or so, I would get the more urgent-sounding call that my freshly popped Eggo waffle and Flintstones vitamin were awaiting me. My mother would then warn in an exponentially louder volume that if I didn't get in the shower right then, I would definitely be gunning it to the bus.

I think fondly of these things on the mornings I am awoken by the Solat Subuh. As my host family is devotedly praying, I am in my bed bargaining with myself on just how long I can delay rising to pop my Peace Corps issued pre-natal vitamin and start the day. It's only been three weeks, though, and, in true fashion, I can pretty much sleep right through the morning call to prayer now.

Approximately 11:30am (Solat Dzuhur)
In the St. Mary's cafeteria, the surly lunch ladies would have us say grace in the only location on the eastern seaboard guaranteed to survive a nuclear bomb attack. I always thought it curious that such a secure location was a basement decorated with Charlie Brown cartoon characters. As I hear the Solat Duhur and prepare to eat my 2nd helping of rice (nasi) for the day along with whatever delectably fried treats my host mom packed in my lunchbox for me, I think back fondly to circle sandwiches and Ssips.

Approximately 3pm-ish (Solat Ashar)
Upon departing for the day at St. Mary's, Sr. Gregory would come over the loud speaker to have us all follow saying the "Act of Contrition". This would be followed by the line-up of buses and a reminder if there were to be any functions in the "school hall" that evening. This is not to be confused with the morning announcements where Sr. Gregory would announce which altar boys served Mass that morning. The St. Mary's kids would have their names touted proudly through each classroom of the school while the outsiders were not worthy of a direct mention. "The 6:30am Mass was served by Matthew Simonetty...and a public school boy."

Walking through my village from school, I wave to the kids who have fresh powder on their faces from their afternoon mandi (bath). As their parents ask in Indonesian where I am going, I think of stepping onto those big, bluebird buses to go home at the end of the school day in Wappingers Falls, and I am happy to be able to respond, "Pulang". "I'm returning home."

Approximately 5pm-ish (Solat Maghrib)
While growing up, we always said grace before eating dinner. We said the standard mealtime grace followed by special intentions (a prayer for Grandma, our dog, Rosie, etc), and topped off with a "Hail Mary" for good measure. We had a period of holding hands during grace which spurred some controversy. Turns out my brothers hate the idea of holding hands almost as much as my dad is angered by people who think covering their cars in bumper stickers is a good idea. Nowadays, when all 9 of our nieces and nephews are gathered around the table, for grace, we opt for a song routine borrowed from the rambunctious Biasotti clan from around the block.

During the Solat Maghrib, I am either pouring cold water over me for my afternoon mandi or enjoying the day's third helping of rice with my host family as we watch TV. As I listen to the banter, it reminds me of the tuna fish and spaghetti dinners I grew up believing were standard across all American households - only to later discover that they are, indeed, the oddest combo for a meal ever devised. Now, when I am eating my chicken feet and fried beef and coconut patties, it doesn't seem particularly odd at all. 

Approximately 7pm-ish (Solat Isyak)
When I was a kid, after watching a good 4-5 hours of TV, it would be time to settle in for bed. My mom would tell us, "Don't forget to say good-night to God."

Nowadays, I get ready for bed at 8:00pm, long after the Solat Isyak has been called. I sit under my mosquito net scribbling illegible drivel in my journal by the light of my head lamp, and I am struck by how little my life has really changed from when I was 12.

In the evenings, my Bunda (host mom) has taken to telling me that she loves me and that my whole Indonesian family is praying for me. Coincidentally, this new routine started the day I also received the following picture from my aunt Sr. Teresa detailing that I had officially been added to her prayer table.

So, looks like I have an entire Muslim household in addition to a Catholic nun in my corner. My new mission is to find a Jew, a Buddhist, and a Hindu to pray for me, so I can really corner the market. Indonesia does not yet recognize atheists or agnostics, but just to play it safe, any readers of those persuasions are also welcome to throw your good vibes and happy thoughts into the ring as well.

Terima Kasih!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pagis and Poultry

Each morning, a fun game I play is counting the number of times I say, "Selamat pagi (Good Morning)!", and the number of roosters and chickens that cross my path.

Current tally: Pagis - 47 and Poultry - 21.

Here are some pics:

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Baju baju baju. Baju me-eans shirt."

These are the lyrics to a song that my sister, Colleen, composed while waiting in line for Dottie's True Blue Cafe in San Fran. I expressed, "How the heck am I ever going to remember that 'baju' means shirt in Indonesian?" Now, for my time in Indonesia, when someone says "baju," I will remember my sister singing as pizza crusts are tossed at us from a window overhead. 

Bahasa Indonesia is a very logical language so far, which is helpful for my remedial learning needs. The sentence structure is similar to English, but it has Spanish tendencies. Adjectives follow nouns like in Spanish ("green wall" is translated to "wall green") and "r's" are rolled. If you want to make it count, say it twice. "Pisang" means banana, and more than one banana is "pisang-pisang". Merah = red, and to get pink, you say "merah muda", or "young red". Dark red = merah tua, or old red.

I have to constantly stretch associations of words to remember vocab. "Kiri" means left (direction) and "kanan" is right (direction). To remember I think that my friend, Betsy, has a niece named Kira, and her family are Democrats. "Kanan" sort of sounds like Kieran, and our family friend, Kieran, is a Republican. Kiri and kanan! I was also having a tough time differentiating between "kita" and "kami". "Kita" means us, including the person with whom you are speaking, and "kami" means us, but excludes the person with whom you are speaking. This was particularly confusing to me because "kami" sounds like "Commie", and one would think that a Commie's socialist ideals would imply that all are included. So I force myself to think of the practical application of Communism and how the reality seems to create an exclusive group, no matter what the intent. Kami!

We have completed three mornings of language classes so far, and we have made some significant progress. I am now able to ask my host aya (dad) how many rulers he has (which I had to do for homework last evening), and I can now answer the common Indonesian question, "Mau ke mana."

So, pelan-pelan. Slowly, slowly.

To kick off your own bahasa Indonesian language studies, perhaps you should view this:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Spin Off

Today, I was coloring in the living room with a 5-year-old in a fancy, white dress, surrounded by family chatting back and forth as Sponge Bob Square Pants was on TV. It sounds like I might have been at my niece's First Communion party. Only the mom, dad, sister, and brother are in no way related to me, the 5-year-old was only dressed up in case the fellow Peace Corps volunteer she has a crush on decided to drop by, and Sponge Bob was dubbed in Indonesian.

You know when you first started to get glimpses of Mrs. Garrett's "other life" on "Diff'rent Strokes", and then you started getting introduced to characters who would be in "The Facts of Life"? Or remember that episode of "Who's the Boss" where Leah Remini plays Alyssa Milano's street-wise cousin who, in a twist of events, gets discovered as a model? Then she spins off into a short-lived sitcom about teen models living in a house together. 

The spin-off. 

It feels out-of place, but not altogether unenjoyable - and it holds the promise of an exciting new storyline. This is mine.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saya calon relawan Peace Corps Indonesia.

It was a sweaty reception at the Surabaya airport last night. Sweat and bags and bags and sweat. I'd be curious to know the volume of perspiration I will produce in the upcoming years here. I sat on the bus from the airport contemplating how this could be calculated. Unfortunately, I think it would require a suit similar to the one in Dune that captured all body moisture. However, instead of reusing the moisture, my suit would need to tabulate how many swimming pools my sweat could fill.

I was reading one of the other volunteer's Lonely Planet Indonesia on the plane from Hong Kong to Surabaya.  In regard to the city housing the Peace Corps Indonesia office, the authors said something like, "Surabaya is a hard place to love." Not exactly a rousing review. I can't give it a fair shake until we actually get to spend some time outside of the hotel. That probably won't happen until after training is done since there is so much scheduled. For example, here is today's itinerary:
  • Approx 4:15am - get awoken by call to prayer, go back to sleep
  • 6:30am - Wake up, ponder for a full minute how to turn on the bathroom light w/o turning on all of the room lights, thus waking up my lovely roommate, Allyson
  • 6:31am - Opt to turn on all the lights, waking up said roommate and then shower
  • 7:00am - Check on our new hotel room pet, Cicak, seen below
  • 7:30am - Breakfast of fried chicken, rice, fruit and other delicious things that I forget
  • 8:00am - Welcome from Country Director
  • 9:00am - Fill out bank account paperwork and receive walk around allowance for use through May of 1,250,000 rupiah. We are millionaires! Only, it equals about $144 dollars, or $4 a day.

  • 10:00am - Find out training village assignments. We leave Sunday for Malang to meet our host families, and we will have language and technical training with our village cluster. In my village are DJ and Andria - a married couple from Michigan, John - a West Virginia native and long-distance runner, and Jay - a masters student studying volcanology. 
  • 11:00am - Health Presentation with special attention to the squatty potty. This was followed by breakout groups for men and women to address gender-specific bathroom issues. It gave me an idea. Someone should produce little biodegradable baggies made from recycled materials in which women could dispose of their feminine supplies. Currently, they buy black plastic baggies and throw each out individually. If you can give me some more insight or breakdown on how to produce and sell for cheaper than 15 cents for about 20 bags, have your people call my people. 
  • 11:45am - Lunch. Man, I forget, but most likely rice, tofu, chicken, soup - all wonderful.
  • 12:45pm - Safety and Security Presentation and team project to share safety concerns. Luckily, we don't have many concerns and feel pretty confident that the most we have to worry about is petty theft. Oh, and I guess the earth's seismic forces. 
  • 1:45pm - Introduction to Head of Police
  • 2:00pm - Immunizations and interview with doctor where we also got our goody bags complete with water filter and mosquito nets. Fridays are also malaria pill day. TGIF!
  • 2:15pm - Bahasa Indonesia session where we learned how to say,"I am a candidate to be a volunteer for Peace Corps Indonesia."
  • 4:15pm - All staff introduction and "Stand if" icebreaker where I learned a fellow volunteer spent some free time in Brazil volunteering at an orphanage. Yeah, this is what this crowd does for fun. Pretty awesome. 
  • 4:45pm - Indonesian dance lesson where I failed miserably in following the Electric Slide-esque moves. It also awakened the dance party junkie in me, and now I long for my next Miley Cyrus or Cee Lo fix. 
  • 5:00pm - Down time in the room checking email. 
  • 6:00pm - Dinner. Again, I forget what we had, but it was tasty. It was topped off with a juicy fruit cup which tasted like paradise when it touched my lips. 
  • 7:00pm - Walk to Surabaya Zoo and hang with staff and other volunteers inhaling some fresh motorcycle fumes. Our Security Director told us that the Surabaya Zoo used to be the largest in Southeast Asia, but it has declined since. Last year, he said, "they lost 3 komodo dragons." Hmm. Lost? I'll keep my eye on Cicak over the next couple of days. 
  • 9:00pm - Skype with Ma and Pa
  • 9:25pm - Bed
Today is another full schedule, and tonight we meet the current PCVs. Our Training Director, Betsy, wrote in our welcome letter that training "is a bit like trying to drink from a gushing fire hydrant when you’re very thirsty."  

No kidding.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jogging in a sweater vest

The two months preceding this venture were, hands down, the most bizarre of my life. I tried to pack interactions with countless people into a ridiculously concentrated period of time. I ran around wrapping up work and checking off tasks needed to move my life around the world. Through all of this, I was concerned about getting carried away in the hubbub and forgetting what I was actually going to be doing. I was afraid of getting too caught up in the wedding and losing focus on the marriage. In the end, I was able to savor the time and concluded that having so many wonderful people to see and checking off items like "file for tax refund" or "purchase the favorite backpack of your life" are pretty wonderful problems to have.

Last night, we arrived in Hong Kong. A group of us ventured out to see the skyline in the short amount of time we had, and the view was pretty spectacular. This morning, I went for a run through the parks and along the water. I passed many congenial HKers exercising in the parks, including the aforementioned man jogging in the sweater vest and khakis. HK feels like an in-between world. Most people speak English, there are lots of white people walking around like they own the place, and I can get my hands on a nice chocolate milk. However, I can still completely misunderstand the sign on how to get to the Skyview, a large group of PCVs can prompt a city native to immediately steer toward a different car far from us on the Metro, and there are squat toilets in the public restrooms. It has been a nice segue.  

So far, there are 30 volunteers from all over the continental US whose travels span 5 continents (as far as I have learned so far). Today, we fly to Surabaya and stay for 3 nights. We will finally be in Indonesia.

Let the marriage begin.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Be sure to put a bit of wool in the peephole."

This was the advice my dad's cousin gave me in her Irish brogue when my brother, sister, and I visited her in San Francisco this past weekend. I dutifully catalogued this along with the many other pieces of advice provided to me. I figure I will need it all as I have no idea what will come my way, so -  bit of wool...check!

This figurative filing cabinet lies directly beside another one filled with common questions people asked me prior to departure. I will try to construct a FAQ page in the upcoming weeks as these questions are very valid, and inquiring minds do want to know. I will answer a couple of my favorites here, though:

  • "Do you carry a gun?" No. While I did enjoy my time at the Chelsea firing range and turned out to be quite a shot, I am quite happy that Peace Corps is sincerely committed to promoting peace and understanding between cultures sans any arms. This is the whole point. Besides, I have way too much respect for our armed forces to attempt to get into that game. I think it is best for us all if I stick with the teaching.
  • "Does this mean you will become some sort of hippie?" Hmm. If it means I get to take in live, outdoor concerts and eat at Ben & Jerry's regularly upon my return, then my answer to this is a resounding, "Yes".
31 volunteers completed staging today in San Fran. We fly to Hong Kong tomorrow for a quick 14-hour flight and then onto Surabaya, Indonesia on Thursday. I sure am glad I packed that travel Connect 4. "Pretty sneaky, Sis."