Sunday, September 25, 2011

One-Trick Pony

When I applied to PC, I recall writing in my journal something to the effect of: “But how will I ever relate to anyone who hasn’t been reared on the important moral lessons brought forth from countless youthful hours spent in front of the television.” I worried - would I be able to find a deeper connection with someone in a remote African village who doesn’t get references to Tootie, isn’t familiar with the Disney afternoon, and can’t sing the theme song to the Garry Shandling Show? It was a valid concern then, and here I am, living in my Indonesian world, forced to figure out ways to build bridges with not so much as a familiar catch phrase or common commercial jingle between us. 

Let’s be honest, folks. I don’t bring much to the table here. Now that my initial 3 months at site are up, my figurative sauce has lost a bit of its sizzle. After initial introductions, small talk, and discussions about food, my go-to of identifying pop culture commonalities just isn’t there anymore. I tried immersing myself in Indonesian Cinetron until I realized most of my students live in a pesantren where there is no TV. After going to class all day, they return to a boarding house where they study the Koran until bedtime. Not much material to work with there. 

Yes, yet again, the Peace Corps experience has held its magic mirror up to this pale, sweaty, grinning mug. It has exposed that roughly 61% of my moral compass, life lessons, and topics of daily conversation come from television, movies, and music produced prior to 1999. It is a thorny truth that has been difficult to admit. Yet, there it is. It will remain a personal challenge that I, alone, will have to confront day in and day out. I have to live with the sad fact that not once, not twice - but three separate times this week, I caught myself wishing I had brought the popular film “Swing Kids” with me. While riding my bike or mandiing I alternate whistling “I Got You” by the Split Endz, Radiohead’s “No Surprises”, and the theme song to Diff’rent Strokes. Yeah, it may be time to update and reinvent a little. 

Now that the honeymoon is over, it’s go time. Like a young Marcia Brady eagerly signing up for all of her school’s extracurricular activities, I found myself trying everything these past couple of weeks. I hit the badminton court in the early AM with the guys, I went to the student scouts meeting and failed miserably at all of the games they played, I kicked off the school’s first chapter of an English Club, and I have been building up mileage to route my runs to all of the teacher’s houses to get more face time with them.

And then. A breakthrough. 

I was asked to compete with our school’s Dharma Wanita group. All of the female teachers, staff, and wives of male teachers meet once a month and wear these keen peach uniforms. 

Bu Juadah forgot her shoes, so she paired her Dharma Wanita uniform with some killer sneaks. I think it really makes the outfit.
They discuss issues, hold elections (I am a member of the social and culture committee), sing, pray, have a lottery for door prizes, and contribute to a savings program. Our group was competing against all other Dharma Wanita groups in the desa. Competitions included grabbing coins out of a watermelon slathered in whipped cream using only your mouth and putting on make-up without a mirror. Since I never learned to put on make-up with a mirror and had internal political opinions on the event, I was slated for the coin grab.

Melon, coins, and cream ready for the event

Bu Yanti competing

But then I heard about sepak bola joget. I never played soccer, but I have always wanted to learn. Two additional things grabbed me here. 

1. All of the women playing had to wear sarungs. I have a deep jealousy of all the PC boys who get to lounge around in villages each day in these long, Javanese skirts made in a variety of colors and patterns. A chance for a girl to acceptably wear one was enticing.
Here is my host dad from training and Beji bro, Jay, in sarungs
2. Periodically during the game, music was played, and all players had to stop the game and dance. Again, a pretty sexist spin, but, glory be - dancing! Out in the open! How can I pass up a rare opportunity to move my dance stylings from the confines of a locked bedroom to the world at large? Here is a video of other teams playing: 

So, a quick text to my Beji bro to give me a quick review of the off-sides rule, and I officially switched events.  

In short, I found my special purpose. I am pretty sure we only kept advancing in the bracket because the crowd enjoyed seeing the giant bule do over-the-top dances, which included the Roger Rabbit, the Cabbage Patch, and a couple of “Hey Mickey” cheer moves. I found myself wishing I had had the foresight to learn the worm before coming to Indonesia. They should really put that in the prep information section of the Welcome Packet. Whether our team advanced on merit or pure celebrity factor - either way, really, everybody wins.

Here is our team and our 2nd place trophy. 

After one of our wins

If you can zoom, I believe you will find me doing "the swim" on the left.
We're number 2!
Thus, forthwith springs the joy of finding new room to grow. I now stalk the neighborhood kids playing in front of the masjids and police station to teach me soccer, which adds a new avenue of bonding (and occasional ridicule) to my repertoire.

After further reflection, though, maybe this personal challenge of pigeon-holing myself in a world of 1980's TV for so long could also be my greatest legacy. Maybe the 11th grade in my school will never successfully conjugate or properly use the verb “to be” in a sentence, but there is a good probability some of them will know the Thriller dance before I leave. And, my host niece has already learned the chorus to “Tomorrow” from Annie which makes for some killer duets when I come home from school. Yes, sirree, if I play my cards right, I may have found a course to my secondary project. 

Peace Corps – bridging worlds one outdated pop culture tidbit at a time.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Erin,
    I am Sandi. I am a teacher in Islamic High School Banyuwangi. It is located on the eastern tip of East Java. I would like to share my ideas on developing English as one of important subjects in Indonesia. Please, if you don't mind, send a comment or revision of my writing in my blog. thank you very much. have a wonderful visit to Indonesia
    best wishes