Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Expressions of Annoyance and Anger

I am thankful I took up swearing before I came to Indonesia. It was never really my thing, and I was incapable of pulling it off effectively. My friend Goob* can attest to this, as he loves to cite the only time he ever heard me say the “F” word in my youth. It was in response to his unfair guarding of the jail during a manhunt game. To this day, I feel the expletive was fully warranted, even if it was poorly executed. Concealing himself behind a bush and acting as if it wasn't cheating was intolerable. 

The swearing started brewing over the years as I began running more. It served as a valuable outlet when I was annoyed by other runners: the stomper, the guy who wore bells on his shoes, the intermittent sprinter/walker. I find it's a welcome and healthy release of aggression - an indispensable tool in maintaining my cool (if I ever had it). 

I haven't hit Jersey Shore or sailor status as of yet, but one needs these little stress relievers for daily life. It is especially nice here since no one knows what I am saying. For fun, sometimes I swear away on my bike as I’m waving to the folks along the road, and by the time I'm home, I feel oddly refreshed. 

Pet Peeves
Recently, I made a list of things here that unleash these fun-loving swear binges:
  • Going to the mandi and knowing someone just peed in it (no bowl – just straight on the floor. You know, the one I stand on barefoot.)
  • Two TVs blaring the same show 5 feet from each other and no one else is home watching either of them
  • Cats falling on my bed in the middle of the night
  • Cats, in general (sorry, Henry)
  • Someone riding along side me or directly behind me on his/her motorcycle as I ride my bike
  • Person in the above scenario trying to have a conversation with me
  • Dodging opening car doors as well as motorcycles, becaks, or horse-drawn carts that pull out in front of my bike without looking
  • A person who sits next to me on the bus when there are so many other seats empty
  • The one printer at school is out of ink, not working, or simply has disappeared.
  • The fact that none of my students, boys or girls, can leave class to go to the bathroom by themselves
  • Someone I barely know texting me in excess of three times in a row within a 3-minute period before I ever had a chance to respond (The record is 32 unrequited texts in a 10-minute period all from the same person.)
  • 5am phone calls from 8-year olds
  • 5am phone calls from anyone
  • People saying insyaAllah as if that is all they need. Last time I checked with the Almighty, studying is still required to pass a test (NOTE: After jotting this one down some months ago, they may have something here as studying really doesn't seem to help pass the test. Check for upcoming post entitled "Tests and Time". Still, I'm sure the Big Guy appreciates a little effort.)
  • A women in a toko 1) talking below an audible whisper to me 2) in Javanese 3) as a TV is blaring at an excessive volume directly next to me (the trifecta of communication annoyances here). Then, this same woman getting visibly bothered that I couldn’t properly respond.  
  • All the teachers wearing the new sports uniform we received the day before, while I am wearing the old, tired ohlaraga. One after another, about eight teachers in succession asking why I am not wearing the new uniform. How - the Clark Griswold - am I supposed to know we were supposed to wear it if no one took a second to tell me? 
Fact is, any one of the above things could happen to me on a good day, and I’d either barely notice it or easily shrug it off, simply because I am coming at it from my happy place of respect and understanding. Once I enter that dark place, however, these things could send me spiraling down that diaper-wearing, BB-gun-toting, balcony-baby-dangling, hamburger-eating-on-the-bathroom-floor road to crazy.

The saturation point. 

I can usually tell when I am reaching it by the frequency with which I am getting aggravated by things – sort of how you can count the seconds between thunder and lightning to measure how close a storm is. The more rapid these occurrences of exasperation come to me, the sooner I need to be removed from the streets and confined, so as to protect the safety of others.

Bottom line: The problem is usually me. And as a volunteer, I try to manage and buffer my occasional irritability so as not to cause an unintentional international incident.

For some perspective, it helps to keep in mind that I am most likely probably annoying the heck out of others from time to time. While researching a lesson for my 11th graders called “Expressions of Annoyance and Anger,” I discovered that I possess a multitude of characteristics that many in this world find particularly infuriating: random whistling, laughing too loud, talking or kicking in my sleep (apologies to all the other female PCVs I have already pushed off the bed in my short tenure here), excessive cheeriness, constantly misplacing things, referencing outdated TV/movies, arriving late to functions, my inability to ever consume a beverage silently...a real treat, aren’t I?

Not fully aware of what pet peeves exist in my new culture, I started wondering what it is that annoys my students - who I believe to be some of the world's most mild-mannered teens. I had them write down what irritates them or makes them upset, and here, in their own words, are some things they came up with:

  • "When waiting long time for bus to go home."
  • "When someone promise, but she can’t keep her promise."
  • "When I singing before class." (I made this student sing in English when he came 30 minutes late to class the day before. Good to know I can be a source of annoyance in all cultures.)
  • "I annoyed moment stand in line bathe in the cottage." (Most students live in a pesantren and have to get in line at ungodly hours of the morning to wait to use the few bathrooms there.)
  • "When friend wound heart me."
  • "My friends always mean to me." 
  • "My friend is made a mean joke."
  • "When I don’t have money."
  • "If nothing food for eat."
Not exactly the inner rage I was hoping for, but certainly a bit of a different perspective (and an eye-opener that maybe we need some healthy sessions on how to be a good friend). Reading my students' writing always helps me refocus and remember that those little things that can bug me don't really amount to a hill of kacang in this world. 

What Makes It All OK  
Sitting at graduation a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think of one short year from now when graduation will be one of my last events here. For all the daily annoyances and frustrations, I can already see that leaving here will be a complete shit show. Complete.**

I’m not a particularly good TEFL teacher. I have not initiated any large-scale projects in my desa, nor am I sure if I ever will. I can’t even get teens here to understand that “punk” is something completely different from what they think it is (Linkin Park? Come on, guys!). But I have a lot of love to give. I am good at that.

For the most part (though some readers may disagree).

I fall hard and fast. It’s how I roll. I get easily attached...

...to those squishable babies and kiddies on my street
...to my ibu and niece as they mock my every move 
...to the “naughty” teens in my classes who I can plainly see are special and smart and talented - in addition to having outrageously awesome hair (watch for upcoming piece on Desa Do’s)
...and to my fellow teachers with whom I karaoke, aerobicise, and share the wonders of sarcasm.

Leaving here won’t be pretty. 

Neither is this footage of me singing karaoke at graduation. Enjoy. 

And here is one of the first weddings I actually took pleasure in attending because it was for my two friends, Mbak Ira and Mr. Novi. I was able to work the crowd and hang out with all my peeps, drinking some refreshing es in the shade.

Baby Aira, at 3 months old, is already way cooler than me as she rocks it on the back of her mom's motorcycle.
*Don’t we all have a Goob in our lives? If not, you certainly should. 
**No, not literally, Aaron. 


  1. I.am.dying.

    I don't know what I love more about that video: how desperately you're trying to make it work or the fact that I get to see bu olief's choreography. Both well worth the price of admission.

    Awesome post, ps.

  2. It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.