Friday, May 31, 2013

Perpisahan, or Parting

The following is my closing speech delivered in Indonesian at graduation a couple of weeks ago. Here is the English version:
I first came to MAN Padangan 2 years ago. I remember driving here with Mr. Bleg, Pak Yas, Pak Syaiful and Ms. Olif. I remember I learned the word “bergelombang”,* and I remember I had my first yellow watermelon. We don’t have any in America. And I remember looking out the window at the passing rice paddies, warungs, schools, and markets and wondering if the time would come when I would travel this road and it would feel like my home. 
Before I left, I was used to my life in New York. It was comfortable and predictable and easy. Maybe like class 3 in MAN. You now have teachers and friends who know you, with whom you are comfortable, you understand how things work here. Thinking of leaving can seem really hard.
When I was in NY, I felt the same way. Comfortable. Why would I ever leave? For me, I had a dream that I wanted to join the Peace Corps and experience living in another country. Doing this would force me to move from my life that was comfortable, predictable and easy to one that was initially uncomfortable and full of change and difficulties.
When I left for Indonesia, I was scared. I came to MAN Padangan - a person with different skin, different religion, and from a different culture - I was far from my friends and family. I often felt confused. It was difficult. Life now had many new challenges. Often I thought about how it may be easier to just go home. 

That may be true. 

But if I never left NY or if I chose to go back when things were difficult, I never would have learned Indonesian. Or how to say “siip"("cool" in Javanese) or “wis bar”("finished" or "already" in Javanese). I never would have learned to long jump. I never would have tasted jus alpokat (which has changed my life). Most importantly, I never would have met and learned from all of you. 

We want life to be comfortable and easy, of course. But it is important to remember that without challenges - without difficult times or adversity - we can’t grow. 

So, class 3:
– if you are scared about what will happen after today 
– if you are confused about what you will do 
- about missing or losing friends 
– about living in a new place 
– about being alone 
– about studies or work being too difficult 
...remember that these are opportunities. They are opportunities to GROW. 

To try new positive things: 
– to make new friends and deepen current friendships 
– to discover how to survive in a place other than your home
– to learn to be confident in yourself and to be independent and to know you are stronger than you think 
– to learn that hard work and discipline can help you stretch your mind beyond what you thought you were capable of.
Difficulties and discomfort and change, if you approach them bravely, with diligence and with faith, they can help you grow. 

Today, you are no longer a student of MAN Padangan, and in 2 weeks, I will no longer be a teacher of MAN Padangan. But together we must remember that "the start of something new can bring the hope of something great". We will forever be connected to MAN Padangan and the experience we had here. 

It is my hope that one day – maybe 2 years, 5 years, or 10 years from now, I will be able to travel that road from Kota Bojonegoro to Padangan – the same road I traveled that first time over 2 years ago with Pak Yas, Pak Syaiful, Mr. Bleg, and Ms. Olif – and I know that when I see the rice paddies, warungs, schools, and markets that were once so new to me - I know I will feel – that I’m home. 

It has been a privilege, an honor, and a pleasure to be a part of your family for these past 2 years. Thank you and good luck to Class 3!

*This means "bumpy" as it might be one of the worst stretches of road in East Java.

Indonesian Version: 
Pertama kali saya datang ke MAN Padangan 2 tahun yang lalu. Saya ingat ketika Mr. Bleg, Pak Yas, Pak Syaiful dan Ms. Olif menjemput saya dengan mobil dari Malang. Saat itu, saya ingat saya belajar kata “bergelombang", dan makan semangka kuning untuk pertama kalianya. Tidak ada di Amerika. Dan saya ingat ketika melihat keluar jendela, saya melihat sawah, warung2, sekolah, dan pasar dan saya ingin tahu apakah waktu itu akan datang ketika saya akan melewati jalan ini dan itu akan terasa seperti rumah saya. 

Sebelum saya tinggal di sini,  saya terbiasa dengan kehidupan saya di New York. Itu nyaman dan dapat diprediksi dan mudah. Mungkin seperti kelas 3 di MAN. Kalian semua sekarang memiliki guru dan teman-teman yang mengenal kalian, dengan siapa kalian merasa nyaman, kalian mengerti bagaimana semua berjalan di sini. Dan berpikir meninggalkannya akan terlihat sangat berat.

Ketika saya masih di NY, saya merasakan hal yang sama. Nyaman. Kenapa saya meninggalkan NY?  Bagi saya, saya punya mimpi bahwa saya ingin bergabung dengan Peace Corps dan mengalami hidup di negara lain. Melakukan hal ini akan memaksa saya untuk pindah dari kehidupan saya yang nyaman, dapat diprediksi dan mudah ke tempat yang awalnya tidak nyaman dan penuh perubahan dan kesulitan. 

Ketika saya pergi ke Indonesia, saya takut. Saya datang ke MAN Padangan - orang dengan kulit yang berbeda, agama yang berbeda, dan budaya yang berbeda - saya jauh dari teman-teman dan keluarga. Saya sering merasa bingung. Itu sulit. Hidup memiliki banyak tantangan baru. Sering kali saya berpikir tentang bagaimana hal itu mungkin lebih mudah jika pulang saja.

Itu mungkin benar.

Tapi kalau saya tidak pernah meninggalkan NY atau jika saya memilih untuk pulang ketika segalanya terasa sulit, saya tidak akan pernah belajar bahasa Indonesia. Atau bagaimana mengatakan "Siip" atau "wis bar". Saya tidak akan pernah belajar lompat jauh. Saya tidak akan pernah merasakan jus alpokat (yang telah mengubah hidup saya). Yang paling penting, saya tidak akan pernah bertemu dan belajar dari kalian semua.

Kita ingin hidup yang nyaman dan mudah, tentu. Tetapi penting untuk diingat bahwa tanpa tantangan - tanpa masa-masa sulit atau kesulitan - kita tidak bisa tumbuh.

Jadi, kelas 3
- jika kalian semua takut apa yang akan terjadi setelah hari ini 
- jika kalian bingung tentang apa yang akan kalian lakukan  
- tentang hilang atau kehilangan teman 
- tentang hidup di tempat baru 
- tentang menjadi kesepian
- tentang belajar atau bekerja terlalu sulit….
……ingat bahwa ini adalah peluang. Tantangan-tantangan itu adalah kesempatan untuk TUMBUH. 

Untuk mencoba hal-hal baru yang positif
- untuk mendapatkan teman baru dan mempererat persahabatan saat ini 
- untuk menemukan cara untuk bertahan hidup di tempat lain selain rumah kalian 
- untuk belajar menjadi percaya diri dalam diri sendiri dan menjadi mandiri dan mengenal bahwa kalian lebih kuat dari yang kalian pikirkan 
- untuk belajar bahwa kerja keras dan disiplin dapat membantu kalian memperluas pikiran kalian melampaui apa yang kalian pikir kalian mampu. 

Kesulitan, ketidaknyamanan, dan perubahan - jika kalian berani mendekati mereka, dengan ketekunan dan dengan keyakinan, mereka dapat membantu kalian tumbuh.

Hari ini, tidak lagi siswa MAN Padangan, dan dalam 2 minggu, saya tidak akan lagi menjadi seorang guru MAN Padangan. Tetapi bersama-sama kita harus ingat bahwa "awal dari sesuatu yang baru dapat membawa harapan untuk sesuatu yang besar". Kita akan selalu terhubung dengan MAN Padangan dan pengalaman yang kalian punya di sini.

Ini adalah harapan saya bahwa suatu hari - mungkin 2 tahun, 5 tahun atau 10 tahun dari sekarang, saya akan dapat melakukan perjalanan dari Kota Bojonegoro ke Padangan - jalan sama yang saya lalui pertama kali dengan Pak Yas, Pak Syaiful, Mr. Bleg, dan Ms. Olif - dan saya tahu bahwa ketika saya melihat sawah, warung, sekolah, dan pasar yang dulunya begitu baru bagi saya - saya tahu saya akan merasa – bahwa saya telah berada di rumah.

Ini adalah sesuatu yang istimewa, sebuah kehormatan, dan sebuah kebahagiaan untuk menjadi bagian dari keluarga MAN Padangan untuk dua tahun terakhir. Terima kasih banyak dari hati yang terdalam dan semoga sukses untuk Kelas 3!!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Search is Over…

One of the things that would lift my spirits on down days was to check the search keywords that people used to reach my blog. As this blog will come to a close soon, here is a list of some of my favorites over the past two years for you to enjoy: 

  • leah remini facts of life  (of the interesting search hits, this was the most popular) 
  • horn implants in head
  • dolly parton nude
  • weird people
  • old American girl
  • f bomb bikes
  • african american girl with bubble wrap
  • vietnamese gang
  • girls machete blood
  • peeing in the shower
  • ralph machauo sack of suds (preserved original spelling from search)
  • granny fanny
  • alyssa milano facts of life
  • deep please 1
  • terrible rash pregnancy
  • nun's habit/muslim
  • mum motorcycle
  • badminton headband men
I can only hope I brought a little bit of unexpected joy to the person searching for information on an "old American girl". If so, my work here is done. 

Here is a picture of our baby, Nia (my host sister's baby, actually) just because she is super cute, and no pictures fit this theme.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thanks to My Family

Email sent to my U.S. family on January 17, 2013: 
Ila, my host niece, just left my room after trying to email Annie and my friend Mary Ellen in another village. We're trying to build her email chops before I go home. I was flipping through my Bon Voyage picture book* from you as she was waiting forever for the email to load (we used up all the pulsa skyping with the Stamford Fitz's the other day). Anyway, it's nice to have that photo book.
Earlier, I went home with a couple of my students. Every day, they walk about a mile from school to the river here, and then they take a little boat across. I went to their houses, which were much simpler than mine with dirt floors and fewer rooms. I sort of wished this was the life I had been living all this time - more similar to my students'.  
The other day I was running along the train tracks and met another one of my students walking out to the rice paddies. He was going out to help his family in the fields after being in school all day. I've been chatting with some ladies who work the paddies in the afternoon, so they said they'd let me join them and give me a few pointers one day. 
It's weird that I've been here so long, and sometimes I feel like I am just getting in on how things really go. If I wasn’t such a horrible teacher or have any of you at home, I might have actually considered a 3rd year just to continue figuring out life here. Luckily, those two things do exist, so there has been no doubt in my mind on coming home. 
Other family is also constantly coming through on their way from other places, easily settling in as if this was their own house, and just plopping down to sleep wherever, whenever they like. Last night, I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and my ibu, bapak, aunt, uncle, cousin, and a 2-yr old were all crammed onto a mattress on the floor. There are other bedrooms and places to sleep, but they prefer being close to one another. While I'm glad I don't have to endure Annie's nightly kicking (Ila comes in at a close second, btw), there really is something safe and comforting about just being around each other. Being so far away from all of you and seeing these values of family and community so prominently and simply displayed, day in and day out, make me long to be on one of your couches. Or learning the latest Dance Revolution routine. Or keeping your kids up late as we pick out our favorite Jonas brother.
I know while I've been away, a lot has gone on that I've missed and haven't been around for. I am really sorry for that. I am forever thankful for all the support you've given me and the understanding you've had about all this. And for all the cookies and candy you've sent. This week, during the nightly maghrib prayer when everyone closes up their windows and settles into their house to pray, I have been sitting in front of my fan, plowing through cookies and chocolate. My only answer to stopping these binges is just to finish it all in a few sittings. I probably only have a couple of days left. 
Anyway, thanks again for all you do. Miss you all, and I can't wait to be near and jobless in a few short months. Get those couches ready!
Love, Erie

*My family sent me off to Indonesia with a Shutterfly book of pictures of them. It was perused frequently and closely studied by my host niece Ila. You can see it on my desk below beside my princess bed. Yeah, not exactly where you thought a Peace Corps volunteer would sleep, did ya? And you thought I had it rough. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Real Life Resume

Was updating the ol’ resume, reflecting on what two years has given me in the way of skills, and I found the traditional format didn’t adequately reflect how I really shined during my stint in the Peace Corps. 

Here is my real life resume, which will most certainly be taken down once I am seriously looking for employment. Enjoy it while it lasts. 


United States Peace Corps, East Java, Indonesia, April 2011- June 2013 
  • Successfully abstained from food or drink while in my village during the daylight hours of Ramadhan
  • Successfully retrieved underwear from the bottom of a freshly-used squatty potty
  • Negotiated free transport on several occasions when being stranded was an imminent possibility
  • Completed over 300 hours on buses that would be deemed unfit to pass a US safety inspection 
  • Planned and delivered dozens of motivational speeches in a language only barely known to me 
  • Imbibed 600+ lbs of rice, fried foods, and ants
  • Effectively won over scores of children who were initially terrified at the sight of me. By the end, those same children were calling out my name or chasing me down as I rode my bike past.
  • Taught approximately 100 hours of high school English with my face covered in whiteboard marker 
  • Improved personal ability to maneuver a bike through heavy traffic and decreased incidents of falling by 93%
  • Stood in fire
  • Hiked two volcanoes
  • Increased threshold for pain by approximately 11% through experiences with dengue fever and other medical afflictions
  • Researched and located quality baked goods in various cities across Java
  • Overcame the personal shame and clean-up logistics of having had an accident in my pants as an adult
  • Achieved top standings in local village UNO competitions


Monday, May 27, 2013

"Leaving never hurt as much as being left behind."*

There’s a scene in the final High School Musical film that keeps coming back to me these days. Vanessa Ann Hudgens is singing her plight in “Just Walk Away” as objects periodically disappear from her bedroom walls, signifying her packing up and moving off to college. Two reasons this image keeps coming to me: 
  1. I’ve given singing this song in my room a whirl to see if she had something there with the magic packing. No dice.
  2. It's a nice little capture of the process of transition…when you’re lucky enough to be the person leaving.**
I think of this as I clean out my closet, prepare kenang-kenangan (gifts) for people, go through the motions of entering classes. There’s a lot on my mind. There is a short time left with Indonesians I love who I may never see again in a place I might never get to come back to. There are demands for my time, and I seem to always want to be alone. Or want to just sit and watch what’s going on rather than be a part of it. A kind of paralysis. And my soul is tired. 

One PCV from our original group didn’t tell any of his friends that he was joining Peace Corps before he left the U.S. “Yeah, my friend called me when we were going to the airport in San Francisco, and I just didn’t pick up.” To me, this was amazing. I wanted to do this. Just go. No pomp. Just fade out. Drop the mike and be gone.

But, now, I realize this is what we call “selfish”. Something I’m quite familiar with. I get to do the leaving. Again. It might seem hard, and, sure, there are parts of it that are. For instance, thinking of adjusting to life back in America sometimes scares me way more than leaving for Peace Corps ever did.

My thoughts, though, turn to my friends, family, and neighbors in my village here who must be suffering whiplash from having just gotten used to me as a consistent part of the community, but now are probably bewildered by what my leaving means for our relationships. These relationships that are built on front porch or teacher room chats or passing “mangga”s (hello/goodbye) as I coast by on my bike are ones that are harder to figure out how to continue or close. Surely, it’s not that I’m that great; it’s just got to be super confusing.
  • I think about the little kids in my desa who call me ‘Tante Erin’, or ‘Aunt Erin’, who one day had a color-changing bule (they enjoy how I turn red when I run) who gave them high fives, and, all of a sudden, one day - this girl disappears. 

  • I think of my host niece who waited for me to come home basically every school day for two years who will now have to figure out how emails will replace in-person sing-alongs and bike rides. She’ll eventually have to work out for herself what box to put me in as she grows older and moves further away from the time we had here together.

  • I think of my friend, who I caught crying into her jilbab on one of our last bus rides home together, who must be totally befuddled at what happens now - who must be feeling like she’s about to be abandoned.   

Yeah, the leaving gig is definitely easier. I’ll take that option.

So, I’m trying to make it through the gifts and good-byes, even if they aren’t what I might choose for myself. We’ll see if I can break paralysis. We’ll see if I can suck it up enough and muster some way to thank a community for supporting me and loving me these past two years.

We’ll see. 

About a year ago, Ms Olif and I were walking from the Peace Corps office where we had just left a bunch of other PCVs. Heading to catch a bus back home to our village, she asked me, "Are you sad when you say good-bye to your friends?"

We had just spent a week in training with all the PCVs in my group as well as their counterparts. I thought about it a bit and said, "These past couple years, it seems I am always leaving somebody. You sort of just have to get used to it or deal with it somehow."

So, here we go again…. 

*Special thanks to Bill for telling me of this song – which I downloaded before I got on the plane in San Francisco 2 years ago.
**Hats off to Kenny Ortega for once again artistically nailing complex emotions in a musical number. You outdo yourself, sir.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Please Don’t Stop the Music

I haven’t done a whole lotta music listening during my time here. I mean, for sure, I get an overdose of deafening dangdut, bus musicians, the singing of Islamic prayers, and the cycling of the five American pop songs people like to listen to here, but choosing to sit and listen to music I like is something I didn’t realize I hadn't done in awhile. 

Songs remind.  They bring up emotions. They connect. It’s easy to get caught up listening to tunes and find yourself at a 1am bedtime when the call to prayer/rooster wake-up call is 4:30am. It’s possible I unconsciously avoided listening to music I like so as to sidestep the reminiscing to focus on new experiences.

However, a couple of weekends ago, I was letting Ms. Olif listen to my ipod as we were travelling. She got a dose of Clash, Radiohead, Thermals, Wilco, and Rilo Kiley. The ear bud conveniently slipped from beneath her jilbab by the fifth song. Hmm. Anyway, as she dozed off, I found a playlist called “Friends and Family” on my ipod. I forgot I made this more than 2 years ago, and I finally allowed myself to indulge in a listen. It was soothing to travel by bus along these Indonesian scenes that have grown so familiar and ordinary to me - and have the songs and thoughts of my family and friends from home with me as my new life passed by. Bringing it all together. A nice preparation for my transition.

1 week left in my village. This is incomprehensible to me.

Folks from home:  So, below is the list if you want to take a gander to find the song(s) that remind me of you. This is by no means a complete list and certainly won’t win any music compilation awards. It’s about the memories, people.  

 “Thriller” – MJ
“Let’s Hang On” – Barry Manilow
“Adventure” – Be Your Own Pet
"Just Can’t Get Enough" – Depeche Mode
"Encrypted" – The Dirtbombs
"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" – Elton John
"She Don’t Use Jelly" – The Flaming Lips
"One Time" – Justin Bieber
"Peaches" – Kristen Hall
"Gloria" – Laura Branigan
"Float On" – Modest Mouse
"It Takes Two" – Rob Base and DJ Easy Rock
"Lights Out" – Santigold
"I Got You" – Split Endz
"Pearl Harbor Sucks" – TEAM America
"Psycho Killer" – Talking Heads
"Big Pimpin" – Jay Z
"Everything in Its Right Place" – Radiohead
"Leave It All to Me" – Miranda Cosgrove
"Australia" – Shins
"America" – Neil Diamond
"Come Go With Me" – The Dell Vikings

"I Gotta Feeling" – Black Eyed Peas
"Country House" – Blur
"Lua" – Bright Eyes
"Mockingbird" – James Taylor, Carly Simon
"I Need All the Friends I Can Get" – Camera Obscura
"No Quiero" – Davila 666
"Hounds of Love" – The Futureheads
"Constructive Summer" – The Hold Steady
"You Can Do It" – Ice Cube
"Head to Toe" – Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
"Party in the USA" – Miley Cyrus
"Question" – Old 97s
"Freight Elevator" – The Roger Sisters
"Girlfriend in a Coma" – The Smiths
"Gimme No Crack" – Shinehead
"Outtasite (Outta Mind)" – Wilco
"Here’s Your Future" – Thermals
"El Scorcho" – Weezer
"Slideshow" – Travis
"All These Things That I’ve Done" – Killers
"Born to Run" – Bruce Springsteen
 "Train in Vain" – Clash
"Bring It (Snakes on a Plane)" – Cobra Starship
"The Boys Are Back" - Zac Effron
"We Used to Be Friends" – The Dandy Warhols
"Free Love Freeway" – David Brent
The Night Court Theme Song
"NYC" – Interpol
"Sante Fe" – Christian Bale (as Jack Kelly)
"SOS" – Jonas Brothers
"Rebellion (Lies)" – The Arcade Fire
"This Dirty Old Town" – The Pogues
"Since You Been Gone" – Kelly Clarkson
"Man in the Mirror" – MJ
"Start a War" – The National
"Cool It Now" – New Edition
"Oh What a World" – Rufus Wainright
"KRS One" – Sublime
"Modern Girl" – Sleater Kinney
"Hey" - Pixies
"I Feel Home" – OAR
"Good to Be on the Road Back Home" – Cornershop

Also, below are photos of how we didn't stop the music at graduation this past week. 

The opening choir. 

The girls jumped up in excitement when the boys started performing hadroh (Islamic singing with drums) as it might be the closest they get to a boy band. 

 Until our other boy band took the stage. 

Mufid and I sang "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz because it was the only song Abadi knew how to play that I knew ten words to. Should video ever surface of this performance, you will see those ten words are pretty much all I remembered. Poor guys. 

Much to my surprise and enjoyment, a dance party broke out during the karaoke portion. 

 My girl, Nisa, belting one out. 

Other photo fun: 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Holding Out For a Hero

I pondered moms when I was in nursery school. I remember feeling sorry for Ann McCleskey as we compared lunchboxes (mine was Garfield, hers was Mork and Mindy) because her mom wasn’t as pretty as my mom. I felt myself lucky in the mom draw. That was the only standard of measurement by which I gauged mothers when I was five. Now, my standards have broadened a bit, and I still consider myself very lucky in the mom draw. Thanks, Marge.*

Here, when I ask students who their heroes are, almost all, no matter what age, will answer "my mother and father". At first, this was mildly annoying as I hoped to garner some useful cultural knowledge from their responses. I thought I'd be able to identify the respected leaders, musicians, athletes, actors, reality show stars, etc. But, nope. Mom and Pops. Every time. 

It is pretty great if you think about it. Moms and Dads should be the heroes. Regarding Moms, I found myself lucky, not just the once, but multiple times in the mom pick. In the course of my time in Indonesia, I have gained two additional ibus, or mother figures, who have taken care of me as if I was their own daughter. These strong women have looked out for me, taught me, packed my lunches, shared their stories with me, cried to me, cried with me, and I can't imagine how I would have gotten through life here without their guidance and support. I want to give them some blog love in honor of Mother's Day week in U.S. They are only two of the many, many amazing Indonesian women who have inspired me in my time here.

Like Bonnie Tyler, if I was holding out for a hero, I need look no further....

Bunda (Sri Mulyanah) 
My bunda (mother) from Peace Corps training is a principal of an elementary school. Along with my ayah (father), she has raised three kids and put them through university. She values education, kick starts sing-alongs with the rest of the family in the living room, likes to discuss culture and ideas, coaches my Indonesian, and enjoys a nice Korean telenovela. In addition, she wakes up early every morning to pray, shop, cook, and get herself ready to go to school. 

She is the leader of the family and a force. 

Here, she is pictured with her best friend, who I call "Mama" who happens to be Christian. They really get a kick out of the fact that they are best friends from two different religions, and they usually meet up to celebrate each other's holidays. 

Bunda also enjoys grabbing onto me, as shown in photo. 

Bu Yun
My ibu from my permanent site is extremely patient, supportive, discerning, and funny. She tells a good story and does a mean impression of my brother, Mike, who came to visit me once. My friend, Trish, relayed this in an email home to my family:   
"Basically, we were sitting around the living room one day, Erin and the family were all speaking to each other in Indonesian so I wasn't really following much of the conversation.  Then suddenly some combination of Erin's Ibu's hand gestures, the change in her level of animation, and the fact that Erin looked like she was about to wet herself signaled to me that her Ibu was in the middle of an epic tale. Apparently the story involves running into Mike in the middle of the night on his way to the bathroom.  The high point in the retelling comes when 70-year-old, 5' Ibu breaks Indonesian for just a second to make a face that supposed to be Mike's and says in what I think is the only English I heard her speak the entire trip, "Uhhhhhhh, morning?"  It was amazing."

My ibu sells clothes at a market, so she wakes up at about 4am to shop, clean, pray, cook, and then she takes a bus to the pasar only to come back in the afternoon to cook and clean again. She never really seems to sleep except for the occasional cat nap (we actually do have a few cats who, at times, can be seen napping alongside her). My ibu, along with my bapak (father), raised her niece from when she was two years-old after losing their only son.**

Bu Yun enjoys Indonesian soap operas, battling mosquitos, caring for her new granddaughter,  and sweeping. She likes to play it straight in photos and in first meetings, but she's a good time. I could spend hours on the porch just hanging out and chatting with her.  
My current ibu is not much of a grabber. I am planning a hug attempt when I leave, but I am preparing myself for the very real possibility that this could go terribly wrong. 

Team Padangan - Bu Olif and Bu Yurike
From left: Bu Yurike, Bu Olif, and me
Bu Olif is a staple in this blog. As my bodyguard, my first friend here, and my general adviser on all things cultural, I can easily say that I never would have made it without her. She is quiet, strong, smart, extremely caring, independent, and a great teacher. 

As the first in her family to go to college, she guided her younger brother in his school choices for junior high and high school to make sure he could get into a good university. He is now a successful computer programmer living in Jakarta. To me, Ms Olif represents just how quickly Indonesia is moving. She got herself and her brother into college with no prior precedent within her family, and I am still amazed at how she did this.

Bu Yurike moved here from Bali this semester. Having a new counterpart so late in the game could have been disastrous, but thank the glories she has been a lynchpin in the Padangan English teaching team. She is confident, capable, strict. She drives a car (rare here), gets to the point, and gets things done. She is a leader. Watching her teach, she brings a fresh perspective of outside places and broad thinking to our students.

There couldn't be two personalities more different, but these two special ladies, each in their own way, show me every day what it means to be a strong woman and teacher. I am proud to have them as my friends.

Ila and Ayuk
Ila and Ayuk
My best friends in the village are 8 and 11, respectively. Most every day, for two years, I have looked to my quiet, respectful, fun-loving, helpful nieces to guide me through life, language, and culture here. They give it to me straight when I mispronounce an Indonesian or Javanese word and have my back when I need to cross the street or make a snack box. 

Ila, in particular, is my sidekick, and is the first to remind me of my American niece or nephew's birthdays or call me when I'm traveling just to check up on what I'm doing. She can bear a seven-hour journey crammed in a car with little-to-no breathing room with no complaints, and she has been my marketing director for recruiting kids to study English at my house.

Ila, Ayuk, and I hang out, do homework, sing One Direction songs, make crafts. It's the best of life.

I often tell my six-year-old neighbor Lia that she is one of my heroes. I'm not sure she believes me, but it is very true. 

She rides bikes five times her size, cartwheels across the jalan with ease, leads our Gang Dua (our street) kids in games, fruit-picking, and varying schemes. She's championed through hospital visits with typhus, and she has yet to learn of society-imposed gender roles (curse the day if she ever does). 

She generally embodies the spirit and fun of life. The girl's got spunk. I can't wait to see what she gets up to in her later years as it can only be good things. 

I hope I am like her when I grow up.  

From left to right - 
FRONT: Bu Olif, Bu Prapti, Bu Yurike; 
MIDDLE:Pak Cipto, me, Bu Ci'ut, PCV Mary, Bu Candra, 
Bu Indah, Bu Fitri, Bu Atik; 
BACK: PCV Liz, Bu Nisya, PCV Martine; Not pictured: PCV Alex Gems
The Women (and Men) of IGLOW
Facebook and these PC blogs have been saturated with references to IGLOW (Indonesian Girls Leading Our World). Sorry to add my trickle to the flood, but here, in Bojonegoro, a wonderful team of Indonesian counterparts and PCVs somehow successfully pulled off a 3-day camp for high school females. 

Thanks to their hard work, organization, presentations, and willingness to risk sleeping in a room rumored to have ghosts, our students experienced a rich weekend of making new friends and learning. Students attended sessions on women's health, goal-setting, team-building, leadership, and learned about influential women from around the world. 

The team pictured above and the 65 amazing high school girls of camp IGLOW Bojonegoro 2013 are all my heroes. 

The IGLOW Bojo girls are the future.
And they are on FI-RE!

Special Hero Shout Out:  to both gals and guys of PC Indonesia group ID7. Starting out on a new journey and carrying the torch of the Peace Corps Indonesia program - way to be! Thanks also for re-energizing me in my last days. You are my newest heroes. 

Welcome to the family, and let me know if there is anything I can ever do to help. I'll see you on the other side in T-minus 746 days (OK, yeah, probably not a good idea to count. Just focus on today, and you'll do fine).

I can't wait to see all you get up to here. PC Indo Love!
ID7 photo taken by Dwi Tjahjoko

*Most especially -  for planning my epic birthday parties and letting me eat the frosting right out of the tub.
**Several women I know have either lost children and taken on relatives children or have given their own children to other family members to raise if they have trouble conceiving.