Sunday, July 17, 2011

Suka dan Duka

We were handed some words of wisdom during PST from the current PCVs, and a fellow newbie was immediately drawn to the phrase, “Peace Corps sucks sometimes”.  

Disclaimer: obviously, this statement refers to the challenge of Peace Corps service and in no way reflects on the organization. 

I know I am relatively new to this whole thing, but I already know these words to be true. In fact, at times, it can suck so hard that all I want to do is cloister myself in the comfort of my princess bed with a sleeve of Oreos and a marathon of 30 Rock. 

  • Sometimes, this feeling comes after a 5-hour meeting in Indonesian that I am about 87% sure was not entirely necessary (but on the flip side did include a performance of the chicken dance).
  • Sometimes, it comes after being told I am going to a wedding after I had already been to a sunat (see glossary) and another function earlier the same morning.
  • Or, at times, it can creep up more slowly after days of feeling a little pimped out, perplexed, or persistently being on display.
Yes, one can certainly hit the point of saturation quickly. This is the duka, or the downs, as translated from Indonesian. Obviously, I choose not to focus on the duka for the likes of this blog and for your sake. It’s not my style. And, anyway, it doesn't take long for something magically awesome to happen, causing me to hit the suka, or ups. Something like the following, for instance: 

The first day of school brought with it the first flag ceremony which occurs across Indonesian schools every Monday. It is militaristic in nature with marching, singing and recitation of the Panca Sila (fascinating blog post forthcoming on the topic of Panca Sila). The highlight was they had a group of students run into the center of the school yard toward a tower that had been constructed, and one student was carrying a torch. Already, I was intrigued. He then lit a long rope which, I am guessing, had been dipped with lighter fluid. As I watched the flames rise in orange and red like the decals on an ‘80s hotrod, a few questions excitedly bounced about in my head. 

Torch coming in from left

1.    How long will it take for the balloons decorating the side of the torch to be overpowered with the heat of the nearby flames and start popping?
2.    What are the odds that the tower wrapped in a highly flammable gold wrapping would not also ignite?
3.   Was anyone concerned for the safety of the students and teachers already baking in the sun and now feeling the added heat of an open, uncontrolled flame? 

The beauty of Indonesia is none of these questions would be asked beforehand. Someone had a dream of a torch, and, by golly, there would be a torch.  

Also, I wondered if this was entirely for my benefit. If it was, it was probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me – risking the lives of an entire high school so that I could be temporarily entertained.

Anyway, I didn't have to wait long for my initial questions to be answered. The balloons started popping about 4.3 seconds after I wondered when they would. The paper surrounding the torch caught fire and the entire structure burst into flames. This occurred about the same time I realized the top of the torch was also full of firecrackers that haphazardly exploded and darted in many directions into the crowd. 

It was a thing of beauty. 

And like latent Orville Redenbacher popcorn kernals, more firecrackers continued to explode long after initial detonation, so that whilst the principal was giving a speech, the entire tower was aflame, shooting out explosives. 

Note that bottom right corner of tower has caught fire
The fire caught too fast and furious to photograph, but you can see the latent firecrackers and that the tower scaffolding is now bare. 
The suka. It can be your host dad bringing you home a hamburger on the 4th of July or a PC pal sending you an internet link to watch the recently released Harry Potter movie. It could be aerobicizing with fellow teachers as seen below:

Or it could be a splendidly dangerous pyrotechnic display that will forever be etched in your brain because, even though you’ve seen the Macy’s fireworks up close, this display had spirit. This one had heart.This one brought suka.


  1. Just got out of this morning's flag ceremony. Yours was definitely better than mine. This made me smile and laugh :)

  2. Right on Tim. When are you posting your swearing in valedictory speech? It's gold.

  3. erin i love your blog.. makes me smile.. and i think the firecrakers were for your benefit.. haha