Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My mother is not a Pooh.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three weeks since I arrived in Palembang. I spent six weeks in Cuernavaca, Mexico in 2007. If this were then, I’d already be home.

So, no, my mother is not a Pooh. :) I’ve introduced myself to at least 12 different classes of 10th and 11th grade students. I write out important words on the board, like my name, Ohio, Ball State University, Callie, etc. And I always write out my family’s names. Winnie comes first, of course. “POOH!” the students inevitably scream. “No,” I say. “My mother is not a Pooh.”

Christine (an ETA stationed in Depok) came to visit this week! It’s been terrific having another American here. She had the week off from school since her students are doing mid-year testing and we’re not allowed to help with that.

This was supposed to be my first week of actually teaching. It’s not going as well as I’d anticipated. I’m hoping to get a firmer grasp on it soon. I did finally get a slightly more clear schedule from one of the teachers. And next week, I’m going to put my filthy little foot down and start asking for topics and classes ahead of time. Right now, I sort of feel like the school thinks I’m a sweet American girl loaned to them by AMINEF for whatever they might need. I’m substituting in classes where the teacher is absent, etc. I really want to have my own classes like I’m supposed to. That way, I can start to really get to know my students, have ongoing lessons, and plan ahead for activities and games.

They warned us that when you’re in another country for an extended period of time, you usually experience culture shock in a wave that resembles the letter “W.” At first, everything is crazy and different and awesome! Then you go through a rough patch. Then everything gets great and wonderful again. Then it’s rough again. Then, just as you’re leaving, you hit another high peak. I think I’m probably in my first low.

Take today, for example. I continued in my never-ending quest for the internet. I have already spent more than 18 days and $150 trying to get a connection in my house. Yes, I know, I COULD do without. But I’d be happier knowing I could contact people. I’d be a better teacher if I could look up lesson plans and research ideas. And I’d be a better future journalist if I could keep track of what’s going on in the world.

So today someone was supposed to come at 1:00pm to hook up my internet. I left school early to meet him. He didn’t show up, but that didn’t really matter because the electricity was out. And then the water decided to go out, too. So I just sat there in my house: no water, no power, no internet. At least I had Christine! (I’m such a terrific host, right?)

Last week I tried to meet Raj at the Novotel Hotel in town. We were planning to get dinner and use the wireless. Yana volunteered to drop me off there on her way home. Unfortunately, we got trapped in an insanely messy rain storm and wound up sitting under an awning on the side of the road for 2 ½ hours. Her dad finally came and picked us up, and then her brother took me home on his motorcycle. I left at 5:00pm. By the time I finally got home, drenched, hungry, and without that satisfying internet fix, it was 10:00pm. I walked in the door just in time to see the power go out. That night, it wasn’t too much of a problem—I just went to bed.

The heat continues to be a problem. The school begins every week with a flag ceremony every Monday morning where we stand outside for at least an hour. This is always a little uncomfortable for me, since I don’t pledge my loyalty to their flag or pray with them. So I stand, put my head down occasionally, and suffer through the direct sunlight. Last week, I turned to tell Yana I just couldn’t stand to be outside anymore, but luckily, everyone else started to come inside then. I started to climb the stairs, my head heavy and dizzy, and I promptly fell over. I came to when I realized my foot had collided with a veiled woman’s head… the assistant headmistress. Thankfully, she was very sweet and other nice teachers helped the rest of the way up the three flights of stairs.

Oh, no. Have I complained enough yet? Let me think of some happy things.

I figured out where all the dirt under my fingernails is coming from! You don’t think that’s a happy thing? It is! I’m not digging in the dirt or anything here. (Although maybe I’d have a better shot at finding water then.) Imagine my delight when I discovered that the all the dirt… was coming OFF OF MY OWN BODY. I’ve been scratching at all my bug bites and pulling off all the day’s grime from motorcycle rides and dust everywhere. Eww. I am officially gross.

I made a couple friends. That’s right, look at me, a regular social butterfly. I inherited Yanti. She was really close with Andrea (the old ETA) last year, so now I get to be her friend, too. She took me downtown and shouted awesomely nasty things in Indonesian at the men who harassed me. I found the post office and tried anotherrrrr kind of pempek. And she’s really terrific at speaking English and teaching me Indonesian.

Speaking of, I am getting slightly and slowly better at the language. Sometimes things just click and I want to jump up and down. I had a terrible cold last week and walked around telling everyone “Saya sakit” [I am sick]. So when I saw a big building with the words “RUMAH SAKIT” in front, it jarred my memory. Rumah is house… sakit is sick… sick house… sick house… IT’S A HOSPITAL IT’S A HOSPITAL IT’S A HOSPITAL!

One of my friends loaned me a Learning Indonesian book. Thanks to the complete lack of copyright laws, I copied that whole 208-page sucker for less than $3.

On a flight to Jakarta, I met a guy named Vincent who has honestly been my savior here lately. Vincent is from the UK, but he’s been living in Palembang for the last 10 years, and now he owns an palm oil plantation. I’d gauge his age at about… late 30s somewhere. He’s married to a woman from Palembang and they have 2 little kids. He owns four cars, and he sends his driver to pick me up for dinner! I feel like royalty.

He made what is probably a very good point. He said I can certainly enjoy Indonesia and learn from the country now. But he said I don’t stand a chance at really being happy here until I can speak the language.

The one really encouraging, rewarding part of my school day is English Club. It’s Monday and Tuesday for an hour after school. I’m really able to help the students—they’re all high-level enough that having a native speaker makes a significant difference. We get to play games and just work on English, instead of having to center the discussion around specific lessons like in class. Each afternoon before English Club starts, we have “Indonesian Club” where I tell them the new words I’ve learned and they teach me a few more. They LOVE feeling like they’re teaching me, and they cheer when I get words right.


  1. Katie--sounds like you are handling all that is being thrown at you with your normal, whatever it is, you figure it out! Do they know about baseball and those Colorado Rockies? Dad

  2. The "W" analogy is completely true. It actually does help to realize that it's ok to be depressed sometimes. It's just a part of the process of adjusting. And as hard and lonely and terrible as things are sometimes, remember that you'll have equally amazing "highs" also. And when you get back to America, you'll look back on the highs fondly and look back on the lows proudly--hey, I got through that and I'm stronger for it! Look at the goods and bads both as learning experiences.
    And just try to have fun! The progress in learning Indonesian is awesome, and making friends is really wonderful! Keep up your spirits, it'll get better! :-)

  3. I wish I could sing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python for you. Look on the bright side: with no Internet, you're not reading that the Ball State football team is 0-6 to start the season. With no CNN you didn't realize that virtually EVERY American journalism outlet spent a couple of hours in live coverage of a hot air balloon that was adrift, supposedly with a little boy aboard (he was safely at home). Instead you can spend your time in the "warm" weather while we struggle with the cold.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. :)

  4. I echo the sentiments with the second post. Even in my short 4 months abroad - there were some really bad lows... I don't remember them at all anymore, but I know they were there.

    You have to let me know how the whole fainting spell went down. Was it just the heat, lack of food (if you skipped breakfast) or what?

    And having students teach you - GREAT! I was told while recently in Canada that the best way to learn any language is to read children's books - they use simple sentences and usually have proper grammar and sentence structure.

    Enjoy it all you can, and though I'm sure you'll be glad at the end of 8 months to be back home, you're going to know the language and miss it terribly!

    I love you!