Thursday, November 29, 2012

Season 2: The New Class*, or Ode to ID6

Required Vocabulary:
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

ID4 = Peace Corps Indonesia Group 4, consisting of 18 volunteers serving from 2010-2012. They were the first Peace Corps group to enter Indonesia since the 1960s when groups ID1, ID2, and ID3 served.
They also met the President of the United States. I'm only slightly bitter.

ID5 = Peace Corps Indonesia Group 5, currently consisting of 20 volunteers serving from 2011-2013. This is my group. We are super cool, as can be seen to the right.
Perhaps, there's a reason we were not deemed to be presidential photo material.

ID6 = Peace Corps Indonesia Group 6, currently consisting of 43 volunteers serving from 2012-2014.
The following blog is for them. 

The ID6ers are coming! The ID6ers are coming!

About this time last year, the third group of Peace Corps volunteers started receiving their invitations to serve in Indonesia. While our group was just settling in, we were already getting questions on how new volunteers could prepare to come here. I recall emailing one new recruit, “Yeah, truthfully, I still don’t really know what the heck I’m doing.”

I’m sure this was exactly the sound advice this ID6er was looking for. I’m a real mentoring whiz. 

The Simulator
Anyway, I began to wonder what would have prepared me as I was reading ID4 blogs until 3am in my NYC apartment, scraping for any semblance of what my life in Indonesia would be like. Surely, some sort of Space Camp-like** simulator could be constructed for new PCVs to get a glimpse of what PC Indonesia life would bring.

Yes, we could cram all the new volunteers on a hot, crowded bus, packed with ibus, babies and live poultry as karaoke dangdut music is blasted into their ears. We’d then send in a stream of ukele musicians singing off-key at competing volumes. 4D technology would be used to simulate the rough roads and speeding, swerving maneuvers employed by local bus drivers. New volunteers would then repeatedly field the same personal questions from low-talking individuals as cigarette smoke is blown directly into their faces. This simulation would have to last at least 5-8 hours for them to get a real, good feel for what it’s like to have sweat pour into every crevice and then have to sit like that for a few hours more.

It's the marathon of public travel.

“Coloring the Experience”
But I realized I wouldn’t have wanted all that. It would have scared me off. It was better to come into this and find out myself. And to find out how quickly the above scenario became "biasa" for me. Now, it’s no big deal. No one can really explain exactly how that happens. We all just have to go through it.

In fact, even with all of that travel craziness, it turns out that riding the bus is one of my favorite things here – if only because I can get my head together. I can get out of my desa, see things, chat with people, reflect. What might have scared me, if described outside of this context, has become one of my saving graces.

Current PCVs are always worried about "coloring the experience" of new PCVs. Like most anywhere else, experiences can differ so greatly from one village to the next, one school to the next, and one house to the next. Even if I gave my mediocre advice to new PCVs, there was a good chance their life would be completely different from mine. In some ways, it was almost best for them to have no idea and be ready to roll with it. 

Why We Are Weird
It's safe to say relations between ID5 (my group) and ID4 (the group prior) were pretty awkward at the get-go. I was starving for information, and I felt like I had to wrestle it from them. Why would they not just tell me what my life would be like? Why were they not showering me with their wisdom and advice? And sometimes, they were just plain weird (sorry guys, it’s true. But you know I still love you). 

Now, I completely understand. 

In addition to the fear of “coloring the experience” of new PCVs, I found there are a few other reasons why some second year PCVs (namely, myself) sort of become weirdos when it comes to interacting with the newer group: 
  • I can't speak English. And I'm not cool. I don’t make a lot of small talk in English anymore. For a year and a half, I have been fielding personal questions in other languages that would be considered rude in America (How old are you? Are you married? Do you have your period?). Any sort of social skills I might have had in an American context, have seriously atrophied.
I’ve become weird to talk to. Example: my go-to ice breaker topics lately usually involve top breakfast cereals or to what extent people think Jay-Z is a spokesman for our generation.    
  • My focus has shifted. For me, year two is less about the pains of integrating or venting about the daily ills or supporting each other as PCVs. It's more about figuring out what the heck I can actually do for my desa, with so little time left. There are still pains, and there are still slumps - but they are my life now. For the most part, I've accepted them. I don't need to dwell on them as much or escape them as much as maybe I once did. Sure, I still seek plenty of support from fellow PCVs, though maybe it's in different ways now. I'm more caught up these days in figuring out how to get my students to want to talk to me - in any language really.
  • It's not all about the PCVs. As our wise PC Staff cautioned, it can be pretty easy to make Peace Corps service all about the other PCVs, whether in serving on committees that offer leadership or support, or just in spending time in communicating with one another. 
PCVs sure are swell people. It is fun to spend time together and get to know each other. Sometimes, their support is still the only thing that can really get you through a bad day. 

For me, I was worried about maintaining a balance and getting too caught up in this one aspect of our experience. I love being a part of shaping a new Peace Corps program, traveling to represent volunteers or offering feedback. I love spending my day making agendas, planning with PCVs and staff, organizing parties and making welcome signs. 

I really, really love it. If given the opportunity, I'd probably spend all my time cozying up with ID6, indulging myself in learning all about their pasts and dreams. Which is why I felt it might be good for me to pull out a little bit. I wanted to check myself and make sure I was keeping focus on supporting my Indonesian relationships and community during my last run here.

  • Also, ID6, you’re just too awesome. Anytime I have a conversation or read an ID6 blog, I think,”Dah! You’re awesome, too!? How annoying.” 
I have six months left here. I have already completely fallen in love with my PCV group (ID5) and ID4s, and logistically, it’s tough to allow space for myself to fall in love with 43 other people right now.
It’s not you. It’s me.
  •  Here’s the biggie. ID6, you don't need me.
ID6 is smart. Well-read. Funny. They are leaders. They know who they are. They already seem to know how to navigate life here so much better than we did. These observations are from getting to know a few of these beautiful ID6ers first-hand and observing others from afar. From when I first shouted at them and threw hand-made signs in their faces at the airport, it was clear these people didn't need me.
They'd figure it out. We all do. It's one of the wonders of the human spirit. We learn. We adjust. We adapt. 

And ID6 would do it, whether or not I was imparting my wisdom on the best way to pop a straw through an Aqua water cup (for the record, always carry a pen to jab a hole in case the point gets bent in the first attempt).

And they'd probably do it better than I ever could. 
Mbak Nicole mengantar-ing ID6ers fresh from the airport

You're doing it!
So, congrats, ID6! You're doing it! Of course, I am here should you need anything, but it seems like you're doing a bang-up job already. Should you require advice on where to find good cake or how to manage getting whiteboard marker all over your face and uniform - certainly, I'm your gal.

I want you to know, though, that I am proud to be that weird uncle in your extended Peace Corps family. That one who only occasionally comes out of his room into the world-at-large for periodic bathing and when good desserts are served. We'll always be family, nonetheless. 

Happy 8 months in Indonesia, ID6! PC Love.

Site Visits
Here are some pics from June site visits. I had the privilege of hosting the lovely Sierra and Halah from ID6. 


Outings along with ID6ers

Note: I have many more pictures from consolidation and IST that are currently being edited. Check back later.

 Bojo-Lamong-Tuban (BLT) Cluster Meetup and English Camp

ID6ers Martine, Mary, and Alex along with MEBs (ID6), Bu Olif, and some of my students at Mary's English Camp. BLT Love!

*The greater question here is: have I become a Mr. Belding, or a Screech in this New Class scenario? Jury's still out. And, hey, did anyone know Saved By the Bell: The New Class ran for 7 seasons!? That just seems like a few too many, doesn't it?

**For those not yet privy to the wonder that is Space Camp, the quality 80s movie starring Lea Thompson and a young Joaquin Phoenix, please enjoy this retro, low-quality clip of their simulation. The inspiration for this post.