Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Please view this video made by one of the training villages in Pre-Service Training for their community project. I mean, I guess making a video chronicling a day in the life in an Indonesian village is a pretty good idea.  It's no world map mural or anything, but whatever.

Special shout out to the Giris - Tim, Cody, Allison, Dan, and Jenn! Thanks to Mas Tim Curtin for sharing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just don't think about it, and everything will be ok.

Walking with the Beji Bros, savoring the 70-degree weather and clear views of the surrounding volcanoes, we had just returned from a spectactularly scenic hike in a neighboring village.  We were carrying a juicy watermelon (please note “Dirty Dancing” parallel) to a gathering where pie made with real butter would be served. As we walked, we passed a car as “Islands in the Stream” was playing on the radio. Perfection. 

With the close of training and my move to my permanent site before me, I stand on the precipice of yet another change filled with many more unknowns: Will my host family like me? What will my school be like? How I will I spend my days? How the heck will I teach English when some days it seems I can barely speak or write it? Can I survive as the only bule in my village? Will there be rats? It makes glorious days like these particularly potent and worth noting. The bule-bonding, watermelon-carrying, pie-eating, Dolly Parton- listening days could very well be over, but I really have no idea. Perhaps my village holds Kenny Rogers’ number one fan? Maybe pie will be as much a constant in my new village as is nasi (rice). OK, maybe not. 

I came to training braced for pretty much anything and with few expectations. That proved quite successful. I anticipated not liking many people in our training group and prepared myself for a life of total isolation, which actually sounded a bit enticing. Alas, much to my chagrin, I ended up enjoying each and every person in our group. True, I do get annoyed at times when my references to the popular 80s television show, “Small Wonder”, are lost on my village mates. And I get mildly perturbed that they don’t seem to care one tiny bit about the fact that the popular teen singing group, New Edition, was the launching-pad for so many important careers.  But overall, life without them or the other PCVs close-by seems a bit hard to swallow right now. Also, maybe I have grown a bit too attached to my host family and their funny picture-posing ways. Alas, here it comes. Fast. Tomorrow even.

Every December, some of my NYC gang would discuss what the theme of the upcoming year should be. Past mottos include: “Why not?”, “Ask yourself, ‘Is this awesome?’”, and “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”.  I realize it is only June, but my official swearing-in as a PCV seems to align somewhat closely with the insurance council year. So as an ode to my career in life insurance, it seems appropriate to introduce the new mantra now. 

“Just don’t think about it, and everything will be ok.” 

  • How did the kindle charger that lay two feet away from me as I slept get stripped of its plastic covering?
Just don’t think about it. 

  • How is it that the fish I am eating could still possibly be good to eat after sitting on the counter all day without being refrigerated?
Just don’t think about it. 

  • How will I memorize in Indonesian how to thank an audience full of people including the US ambassador?
Just don’t think about it. 

  • What will I talk about for 6 hours in a car with my principal who speaks no English as we ride to our new village?
Again, just don’t think about it, and all will be ok. 

And somehow, it truly does end up ok. Worrying and thinking too much really isn’t worth the time as it will probably end up differently than I imagined anyway. 

Just in case the philosophy falls short, and for those times that I am choked with the reality of my new life, perhaps the Bene Gesserit litany against fear sent to me by my pal, Bill, may come in handy. I am only slightly embarrassed that this will be my second Dune reference in two months, but here it is: 

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.


What does your American eat?

When we first came to training, the volunteers in our village speculated our host families were all calling each other in the evenings to compare, “What did your American do today?” 

With a very small bit of language under my belt, I can now understand that most of the conversations my host mother has about me with neighbors or passers-by who are befuddled by my presence, are mostly about my meals. “What does she eat?” I get a real kick out of this because it’s as if I am some exotic pet. “You have a pet pterodactyl? What on earth do you feed it?”  I get a bigger kick out of my mom responding proudly, “She eats everything! She even likes pedas (hot food)!” Depending on how much she wants to get into it, my host mom may also add, “Mbak Erin doesn’t smoke, and she doesn’t have any tattoos either!” This is a particularly great triumph for shattering the bule (white) stereotypes presented in the American movies popular here. Thank me later, America. 

Anyway, I find it funny and enjoyable now to hear these exchanges because I know my host mom loves me and is proud of me, and I find myself imagining what my own mom in America would do if she had an Indonesian living with her. I would guess it would be more of the same because, in general, Indonesians simply do not know much about Americans, and, generally, most  Americans do not know much about Indonesians.  

Sometimes the pet phenomenon also brings on some new restrictions that I am not used to. At times, food is placed in my bowl at an amount that is not of my choosing. At times, people come to my house to gaze at me and maybe feed me a couple of English phrases. At times, I am latched onto and paraded around leaving me feeling a bit like the family cocker spaniel.  I have even been forced to take naps. At first it felt a bit odd, but if presented with the option of living in a world with forced naps and a world with no naps at all, I think we all know what I would choose. 

I embrace all of these things because I have already had a taste of the possibility that the novelty may one day peter out (at least for those who see me every day). My limited vocabulary can only get me so far, so I have exhausted the extent of my small talk with the neighbors. I can already tell the greetings from the motorcycle drivers at the end of the street have lost a little bit of their luster from a month ago when they used to exuberantly yell out as I passed. The steps of the village kids also don’t have quite as much spring in them when they start running upon sight of me - either toward me or away from me, depending on the day.  Some days I am even fishing for a “Hey, Mister” or “Bule” just to know I haven’t lost my touch. 

And now I have to break in a whole new village and begin again. I figure I have a good three month-shelf life in my new digs before the novelty begins to wane and I have to deliver something more substantial. I sometimes wonder if it is even possible to reach a day when I feel I have passed through from novelty to actual human being.  But I realize attempting to make that happen is all on me. I’m just going to have to step it up and expand my bag of tricks and language skills to attempt to get beyond the pet phenomenon. I fear there is only a small window to do it before village folks lose interest altogether. Luckily, I think my family knows me a little bit now, and I am sure they will hand me to my next family with detailed instructions for my care: Feed excessive amounts of food at least 3 times daily. Must bathe at least twice a day, if not more. Beware of odd behavior and excessive laughter.