Sunday, May 22, 2011

Adventures of a Friendly Moron

Jay-Z details in his autobiography that when he was on the streets, he would repeat a rhyme over and over to himself until he could later write it down and incorporate it into a new rap. I forget exactly why he couldn’t just carry a pen and a piece of paper, but I can certainly relate. I find myself going about my day trying to mentally record details to share with folks back home. Unfortunately, I did not develop a photographic memory like Jay-Z, so many of these things escape me now. I will share with you a couple of tidbits that I do remember.  
1) In my second week in the village, I went to greet a crowd in the street behind my house. As I was approaching the kids, I neglected to notice the ditch between us that I would inevitably fall into. In a polite culture, the neighbors did what they could to cover their mouths as they burst into laughter as I fell, but there is only so much one can do. Needless to say, I was destined to provide endless entertainment to my village in weeks to come.
2) This past week, I ran into another neighbor on the street, and she was excitedly coming toward me with her hand outstretched. I would like to preface that I was a little tired from the day’s activities, so I was not thinking clearly. As an additional aside, for those Wappingers Falls readers - you know how Minh would kind of sniff each side of our face as a way to say good-bye? Well, that is how my host mom also says good-bye to me. Thinking this is what my neighbor also had planned, I started to go in for the sniff – only I don’t believe this is what she intended at all because as I started to move in, I could see her eyes enlarge, but it was already too late. She had adjusted her face in a way so that when I went in, I ended up oddly smooching her on the nose. I am not sure if I can paint exactly how awkward this was. We both just walked away. I couldn’t be sure what cultural damage was caused by this event. For all I know, my near French kiss of a village woman could have initiated a sequence of events leading to strained US/Indonesian relations. Luckily, when I went out for my run the next day, she flagged me down, grabbed my hand, and placed a handful of corn in it. I am not exactly sure what this action means, but I think we are all good now.

3) When I go running around town, I enjoy taking my time and greeting people as I pass. I even do this on the main roads which my host sister says is kind of “aneh”, or strange. I decided to whole-heartedly embrace the strange at this point because, really, is it any less strange to see a bule, red-in-the-face, running around for no reason at all when she doesn’t say “hello”? So, when I reach one of our neighborhood theme parks, I have taken to running up the zoo steps and jumping around with my arms up once I reach the top as if I am Rocky. There are usually only a few spectators early in the morning, and I have no idea if they know the reference - but they seem to enjoy it. If I am going to be "aneh" no matter what I do, I figure I might as well provide some enjoyment as I go.

The friendly moron. It is a philosophical approach to life I have adopted that I believe will serve me well in my new home. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

5 Weeks In!

It’s 9:30pm. Way past my bed time. Considering I took a nap during bahasa Indonesia class today, I should be taking advantage of free time to hit the hay. Alas, there is a loud, live concert outside my window for the second night in a row. Last night was dangdut; tonight is gamelan. So tonight when I called my grandma in Long Island for her birthday, I think it was legit when she said she couldn’t hear me. Other times, I think she is just making it up so she won’t have to talk to me.

This morning, as I was trapped inside the size S batik shirt the high school students from my practicum gave me, it struck me that I have been here for 5 weeks already. 5 weeks sounded like a long time to me, and as I was struggling for air, I started thinking about how far I’ve come.
  • 5 weeks is long enough so that I can now sometimes have full conversations in Indonesian if we stick to the 6 topics I know.
  • It is long enough for some of the village kids to call my name when I walk by.
  • It is long enough for my PC village cohorts (aka Beji Bros) to be well-attuned to my inability to hold onto material objects. Some items left behind so far include: money, lunch box (lost twice, and recovered twice), water bottle (recovered) camera (recovered), ATM card (recovered), not to mention the 3 trips to the warung (store) it took before I actually had all the components needed to put pulsa on my modem.
  • It is also long enough to feel like I already rely on the other PCVs a considerable amount. I rely on them to confirm directions when I haven’t paid attention or to take the bullet and answer a question when I just can’t understand what my language teacher is saying. I rely on them to cover the angkot (small van) ride when I don’t have small bills, and I rely on them to provide me with a peanut and butter and jelly sandwich when I need it most.
But in those 20 minutes struggling inside my batik shirt, I also had to put in perspective that, let’s face it folks, 5 weeks is ridiculously short.
  • It is short enough to still have no idea how to successfully negotiate eliminating the pound of sugar in my drinks.
  • It is short enough that I still rank "reducing the amount of time I spend in the mandi (bathroom)" as a high priority. 
Aside: Mandis are done Kramer-style, maximizing space and time by accomplishing many things at once – washing hair, brushing teeth, washing underwear, etc. I have not tried washing lettuce, but who knows how far we can take this thing. Anyway, I take forever.

  • It is also short enough where I wonder if I will ever be able to feel a part of this culture. Will my host dad ever completely understand me when I tell him what time I will be home? Will I ever be able to interpret exactly when an event will happen? Will I ever be able to get a true gauge for how people really feel about things when they don't say it explicitly? Will I ever think Opera Van Java is funny?
Only time will tell. In any case, I am making every attempt to savor the next half of Pre-Service Training...and I have made special note to avoid purchasing any size S clothing while in Indonesia.

An American Came to My House/School, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Before coming to Indonesia, I envisioned I would be pressed with hard-hitting questions about American culture. While other volunteers have had different experiences - so far, most high school students I meet just want to know my favorite Indonesian food (for the record, it is tempe goreng). 

Before this week, the most challenging topic in my house was trying to answer when my host mom and sister inquired into the deeper meaning behind the title of “Full House”(I had to break it that there wasn’t one). Or another challenging topic was explaining how bridal registries work in the US. I never really thought about it either way, but seeing my host mom and sister’s perplexed faces, I had to agree that it is a bit of an odd concept – “Give me THESE gifts”. 

Anyway - I suppose you are happy to know I am here on your hard-earned taxpayer dime, and all I have to offer to the people of Indonesia so far is my knowledge of Bob Saget and Crate & Barrel.