Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bumpy buses and violent volcanoes

As Christine put it, and I'm paraphrasing a little, "This is an endless summer filled with endless bus rides." So true.

One thing I am truly failing at here is spending time at the beach. Sure, I got placed in a city with no beach around, but that's no excuse. I've been on this archipelago comprised of thousands of islands for more than six months now, and I've only been on one trip to the beach? What's wrong with me? We had to fix that.

Rie made this. It's a reference to the fact that our "four-hour" trip took seven. We arrived hungry, tired, and thankful we at least made it in time for the sunset.

So Christine and I planned a trip to Carita, as close as you can get to where the terrible Krakatau Volcano erupted more than a century ago.

"Few volcanoes have as explosive a place in history as Krakatau, the island that blew itself apart in 1883. Turning day into night and hurling devastating tsunamis against the shores of Java and Sumatra, Krakatau quickly became vulcanology's A-list celebrity." The volcano sent ash 80 km into the sky and the explosion was heard more than 4600 km away. "Coastal Java and Sumatra were devastated: 165 villages were destroyed and more than 36,000 people were killed." -LP

It doesn't look so scary now, does it?

Sadly, the waves were too high on the day we planned our boat trip to the actual volcano, and our guide said it wasn't safe to go. We were disappointed, but when Indonesians are even telling you something isn't safe, I think it's usually a good idea to trust them.

So instead, we spent our time on the beach. The beach was a lot dirtier than other beaches I've been to, but the prices were a lot lower there too, so I suppose you have to take the good with the bad.

We watched movies on television, tried to sunbathe through the clouds (and got burnt), and Christine and I destroyed 4 kilos of rambutan in a single day.

Christine invited two of her friends from Depok to come with us. Traveling with Rie (of 'Parental Advisory on your Knees' fame) and Anas was a very different experience from traveling with a group of Americans. In general, Indonesians don't travel except to visit family.

The most notable difference was the constant (well-meaning) warnings about our clothes. "Please, please, please," Rie would say. "Do not wear a bikini. It is inappropriate. You will get many lust stares." Lust stares? He didn't even want us to wear shorts or tank tops, though most of the Indonesians at the beach were dressed casually.

The boys speak fluent English, and sometimes it's easy to forget we're we're from different countries... that is, until the cultural differences suddenly appear. One night at dinner, we asked Rie and Anas if they had girlfriends. Rie shook his head no, but said that he'd probably get married this year. "Get married? Haha... how? You don't have a girlfriend!" we said. Arranged marriage, he said. He shrugged. He's been fixed up three times already, but he decided he wasn't old enough then. He feels old enough now.

Rie insists that the greatest pleasure in life is listening to Radiohead while sitting on a beach, pretending that the crashing waves and people walking by are part of some everlasting music video. He might be right. We did a lot of that:

And of course, Anas and Rie (like almost all other Indonesians) smoke. They tell us, "Smoking makes us healthier. That's why we live so long."

"But, Indonesians don't..." Umm, ok.

It's incredible how much the atmosphere clears up when you leave the big cities. The air in Carita smelled fresh and clean, not like in Palembang or Jakarta.

But it’s impossible to understand how good the sand feels between your toes until you can understand what it takes to get there. The bus rides in Indonesia are… well, impossible to put into words. If I had to try, I’d use smelly, loud, and dangerous. But I don’t have to, because I took a video. This honking and speeding continued for a solid four hours. My favorite part is the guy who attempts to wave the other vehicles away from the front window. At one point, our bus took off the mirror of another oncoming bus, but unfortunately, I wasn’t recording then.

Note: I've been trying to blog more often during the first half of this month, because I have next week off while the seniors at my school take their national exams. So I'm heading to Padang to volunteer for a week with a group of Americans. We'll be helping to rebuild after the earthquake. I'm not bringing my computer, but I'll be back in a little over a week.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No white man of mine!

Yesterday when I came into school, there was a picture sitting face-down on my desk. It was picture of a overweight shirtless man posing strangely with some sort of electronic device.

I asked one of the teachers what it was and why it was on my desk. "Well," she said. "There is a white man in the picture, so we thought it belonged to you. Maybe it is your father? Or your boyfriend?" They seemed embarrassed. "This is not my picture, I promise! This is not my picture!" I said. They just pursed their lips and turned away.

This is not my picture:

Also, please notice the (unusually arranged, to me) map behind my desk.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Photo Phriends

Remember the group I celebrated the Chinese New Year with? With the exception of Yanti, Raj, and me, they’re all professional photographers.

(This is a good time to point out the unbelievable value placed on family portraits here in Indonesia. Every single home has dozens of gigantic professional photographs hanging all over. They might sleep three to a bed in a house without so much as a sink, but they will have 4’ by 3’ portraits looking down at you from the walls.)

Rully, a very sweet man with a very beautiful and equally sweet wife, is the ringleader. He built an impressive photo studio above his home, and every time I’ve visited, there have been at least a handful of aspiring photographers lounging around just watching him work.

Rully and Anna and “the gang,” as they call their followers, speak hardly any English. But they love to laugh and force-feed me Indonesian cookies.

They all love that I was born in the Chinese year of the tiger. While it’s just something fun to think about in America, it holds a lot more significance here. They call me, “Katie macan manis dan cantik” or “Katie sweet and pretty tiger.” Ok, yeah, I like that a lot.

The first time we were all in public together, they were appalled at how strangers shouted at me, so they taught me the Indonesian phrase that means “My God, that is absurd,” and I say it as often as possible when I’m around them. It’s a lot easier to be funny here.

Now when Anna and Rully forget I can’t understand them when they talk quickly using slang, I just shake my head and say gravely, “My God, that is absurd.” And it’s also a really terrific line for all those men who shout dirty words at me in the mall.

When Rully asked if he could have a photo shoot with me as the subject, I balked at the idea. “I am not a model!” I exclaimed. He said, “Sweet tiger, you are my little model.” And if there’s a woman who can resist that, she’s a stronger woman than I.

So I agreed to hang out with a big group of them and let them take pictures. His wife dressed me up like a Barbie doll and did my hair and make-up. See was horrified that my curls went limp and stringy after ten minutes in the humidity. Welcome to my world.

But we had a lot of fun. If it seems awfully conceited of me to post pictures of myself on here, I'm sorry. I feel weird doing it, but I want to share my happy memories, too.

Below is the photograph that prompted Rully to say, “Katie-Tiger, you laugh ugly.” Actually, I kind of look like a tiger:

At least I laugh hard.

Rully has asked me about five times if I'd consider being his second wife, which is totally legal here. I'm 80% sure he's kidding. His wife always smacks him.

He and his students took hundreds of pictures. Then they let me take some pictures of them, but they wouldn’t give those to me.

Say cheese.

Maybe they just didn’t want me to see how much better they are at photography. We took photos until it got too dark to take them anymore.

Then I stopped being KatieTigerModel and went back to JustKatie:

Yup, this one was candid. That's me, all right.

They posted some of the photos on their Web page, and the response was insane. In fact, some people were offering to buy the photos and pay me to model for them, but I said I thought one day of squinting without my glasses was probably enough for a while. My God, that is absurd. But so fun.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


That title is as close as I can come to a pronunciation of “holidays” with an Australian accent.

Sometimes when I’m really bored, and I mean really bored, I like to try and write out phonetic spellings. But you have to be careful with that sort of thing, because nothing screams nerd more than someone finding out you’ve been doodling “beau-SIGH-russ” in your notebook. (Woot hometown!)

But that’s not the point. This is: most of the “bule” foreigners who come to Palembang, or Indonesia for that matter, are Australian. That’s a little exciting in itself, but sadly, they don’t come equipped with kangaroos and Fosters. Is that racist? Or country-ist? Probably.

Anyway, what happens is that quite a few of those Australians accept jobs at organizations like English First, and they teach English to Indonesians. Which means those Indonesians learn to speak broken English with an Australian accent. Like koalas, it’s actually adorable.

But I work with my teachers a lot on pronunciation, and this poses a unique problem. When they ask me why I say “holiday” differently than they do, do I correct them? I try to explain that just like natives in Palembang and Jakarta speak Indonesian a little differently, English speakers have different styles in America, in Australia, and throughout Europe.

Usually, they just want to know “If I ever go to America, how would I say this?” so I correct them. As though it’s not hard enough for them to learn English, they have to wade through all the different accents all their teachers are telling them to use.

This blog title is two-fold, actually. It occurred to me that I’ve completely skipped over telling you about two of the most fun experiences I’ve had in the classroom. Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

Merry Christmas from SMA LTI IGM Grade 11 Level 1!

The headmistress at my school said I was free to teach about Christmas as long as I didn’t “get into the religion stuff too much.” Well, ok. I’m not one of those Christians who says you have to be religious to celebrate Christmas. Just love cheerfulness and carolers and Santa and tiny men dressed in green? Hey, deck the halls!

Still, I didn’t think I would be doing Christmas justice if I didn’t at least mention that Christians celebrate Christmas because they believe it’s Jesus’s birthday, just like Muslims celebrate Muhammad’s birthday in February. That was it—just one sentence. My students were visibly uncomfortable with me talking about it, though, which was frustrating. I wasn’t preaching, I was just explaining WHY. Oh, well. In every class, I mentioned it, and then we moved on.

I brought back a bunch of Christmas-y things from my trip home in December, and the kids loved it. In each class, we decorated a paper tree. I gave everyone a paper cutout of Santa Claus and a candy cane. We danced and sang to the 12 Days of Christmas, and we played Christmas pictionary with the news words they’d learned. And what Christmas is complete without writing a letter to Santa?

It was one of the most fun lessons I’ve taught, and the students had a lot of fun. They were truly appalled, however, with the concept of mistletoe.


“Well, you don’t have to,” I explained. “It’s just for fun.”

They raised their eyebrows at me.

Valentine’s Day was almost as fun. I was a little worried about the reception I’d get, especially after the Islamic Council in Palembang condemned the holiday as a “pagan, dangerous” tradition. The students, however, knew about it, and they loved it. We talked a little history, and we played a bunch of games.

The most pervasive misconception I’ve seen here is that Valentine’s Day is only for couples. “Miss Katie, how will you celebrate the holiday alone?!” I explain that Valentine’s Day isn’t just about romantic love, it’s also about celebrating love between friends and family. And for some of us, it’s just a good excuse to cover everything in pink hearts.

I gave all the teachers big foam hearts I’d cut out with “Happy Valentine’s Day! Love, Miss Katie” written on them and a few heart candies attached. I was especially nervous about that, but every one of them—even the religion teachers—was genuinely excited. Strangely, they thought the hearts were mousepads, and now they’re all using them next to their computers.

My students are overwhelmingly, heartbreakingly dramatic, but it leads to some of the cutest moments. Like the girl who asked, “Miss Ketty, am I allowed to ask Santa to bring me true love?” The simple answer: of course. You can ask Santa for anything.

At Thanksgiving, I gave them pictures of a turkey that had big, empty spaces for feathers and had them write six things they were thankful for. One girl wrote, “I am thankful for my ex-boyfriend, even though he broke my heart into one million pieces and now I am broken and alone forever.” Jeez.

I said, “Maybe you could say, ‘I’m thankful that now I’m single and I can meet an even greater boy?” She politely said, “No, thank you.” But I just felt bad. “You know, we say ‘boys suck.’“

She perked up. “Boys suck? Do boys suck in America, too?”

“Boys suck all over the world,” I said. “But I think that maybe boys suck the most in high school. They get a little better after this.”

She smiled. She turned to her friend and said what might be my favorite words from this whole fellowship: “Ketty says boys suck, no matter what color they are.” See? Don’t tell me I’m not making a difference.

Valentine’s Day happened to be the same day as Imlek, the Chinese New Year. Chinese people in Indonesia have only been legally been allowed to celebrate the holiday for a decade or so.

Before heading out to watch the celebration in Palembang with our ultra-hip photographer friends, Raj, Yanti, and I had a Valentine’s dinner at my house. There we were: a Muslim, a Hindu, and me, having a candlelit dinner before going to celebrate the Chinese New Year on Valentine’s Day. That has to come pretty close to what this is all supposed to be about.

The Chinese New Year was absolutely incredible. The cloud of incense is nearly enough to make you choke, but seeing the colors and fires and masses of people makes it worth it.

Sadly, I don’t really know what most of them were doing when they waved the incense back and forth and walked really fast around the temples. I was with Indonesians, most of whom don’t celebrate Imlek, and I would have felt rude interrupting someone to ask. But I know this: the Chinese New Year involves paying a small amount of money for a whole lot of golden papers and sticks of incense, which you promptly set aflame.

My flash decided to take a nap.
People weren't really moving quite this fast.

And I know that it’s very, very good luck if it rains on the eve of the holiday. (Of course, it’s rained nearly every single day here for the past five months.) Luckily, that night was no different. But this time, when a light rain began to fall, people cheered and danced out into the drops like they were being coated in good luck and prosperity.

At one point, some men lit a huuuuge number of gigantic candles. They gave off so much heat you couldn’t even stand within ten feet of them. This was the point at which Yanti turned to me and said, “Man, I’m glad my religion doesn’t do anything pointless like this.”

Cough, cough.

These are the gigantic candles just before they started melting my face.

Hanging out with the photographers was terrific, too. By virtue of their profession, they tend to look at everything in a way that is the most. The most beautiful scene, the most natural moment. It’s an infectious way of thinking. I may not know much about f-stops and shutter speed, but I found myself saying to Raj, “God, just look at this.”

I can't help but love this bridge.

Good-luck rain was falling, lights were on everywhere, we were dodging cheap fireworks left and right, and one of the most perfect parts of the whole night is that I was sharing it with Indonesians, for the first time standing with them as outsiders. My life lately has consisted of teaching Indonesian people about American customs or listening while they teach me about Indonesian customs. But for once, we were both learning.

The photographers let me draw names for the door prizes.

2010 marks the Year of the Tiger. And you know who was born in the Year of the Tiger? Me. Rawr. I’m back in my element.

Monday, March 8, 2010

South Sumatra Shines

One morning, I woke up to a text message that said, “URGENT! EMERGENCY! HELP!” It was from Professor Chuzai, the Ball State alumni/sweet adoptive Indonesian mother of mine. It didn’t occur to me until after I had already texted back, “What happened?! How can I help you?!” that this probably wasn’t an actual emergency. I’m about the last person someone like Professor Chuzai would contact in the event of a legitimate crisis. I have no transportation, and if, for example, someone’s leg was mangled in a violent car crash, the best I could do would be to tell the doctor, “Help. My friend’s foot is sick.”

It didn’t take long to figure out that this wasn’t just any old catastrophe. It was one I am uniquely equipped to handle: it was an English Emergency.

I often help Professor Chuzai edit scholarly articles for a journal she publishes. In fact, you will probably be quite impressed to learn that I am officially an esteemed (free) “editor” of LINGUA: Jurnal Bahasa dan Sastra, or Lingua: The Journal of Language and Literature. A few times, the Governor of the South Sumatran province (the equivalent of a US governor) has asked Chuzai to write speeches for him, and I’ve rewritten the English and punched up the phrasing a little.

This time, however, the Governor’s people had contacted Chuzai just that morning and told her she needed to have a speech written for him by the afternoon. It was a pretty standard theme, just outlining the Governor’s major programs for the three remaining years of his term. The catch, however, was that he was going to be giving this speech in front of many ambassadors to Indonesia, including the United States Ambassador.

I was still in my pajamas when she arrived at my house and pulled out her laptop. (I did at least throw on a sweatshirt so as not to alarm anyone with my naked shoulders.) First, we went over her PowerPoint slides one by one. Then she showed me what she’d written of the speech. Which was less than half.

“I was sort of hoping you could just write the rest,” she said.

I’m no speechwriter, but I’ve watched an awful lot of The West Wing lately, so I felt at least somewhat qualified. Some of the translations were really awkward. For example, the theme for the South Sumatran province for 2013 was written as “South Sumatra Bright;” it’s the final year of the Governor’s term. I suggested something more along the lines of “South Sumatra Shines.”

Chuzai took it to the Governor. He loved it. Ok, it was one word, and I didn’t even come up with the idea, but it’s getting printed on banners, and that is awfully cool.

I wrote the rest of the speech using the PowerPoint as a guideline. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but I have to admit, I was pretty proud of it considering I’d only had a few hours to work with. Chuzai left immediately and said she’d let me know when the speech was.

It turns out it was at 7 o’clock the next night, and Chuzai texted that the Governor “really liked the speech.” I invited Raj to come with me. He beat me to the Griya Agung Palace, and I knew I was in for an experience when I got his text as I was pulling in: “Dude, I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be here.”

Dude, he wasn’t kidding. The place was crawling with important people. (Although we were definitely allowed to be there. It was certainly invitation-only, though.) We sat with the former Columbian Ambassador to Indonesia, at a table next to the Mexican and South African Ambassadors. Sadly, the US only sent the Deputy Ambassador, but I’ll take what I can get.

We were wined and dined before the presentations began. (Ok, not exactly wined… this is still a Muslim country, after all.) They served real lasagna! I had to remind myself that that’s not actually an American food. Then the speeches began, and I could hardly believe what was happening.

That PowerPoint, which seemed so small on an 11” laptop in my empty living room, was suddenly being projected onto two huge screens to a room of important people who listened and watched and nodded and clapped and took it very seriously.

When the Governor began his speech, I swear I almost fell off my chair. Perhaps my life is a little lacking in the pleasure department right now, but I think it might have been the highlight of my fellowship. I knew what he was saying! Because I had written it! Those were my words he was reading! I wrote them!

Afterwards, I got to meet the Ambassadors and the members of the Indonesian Parliament, and they were all very nice and welcoming. Chuzai introduced me to Governor Alex Noerdin as the person who had helped write his speech, and he said, “Well, Katie, we’re very lucky to have had you here.”

“I am so happy that I am here,” I said. And that was absolutely the honest-to-God truth.

Ted Osius, me, Raj

Go Team America.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Smile When You're Lying

Sometimes I like to imagine myself as a sort of travel writer, although admittedly one who only writes about one country and whose pieces lean toward self-centered. Fine, so they're all about me.

I read a lot here. I read so much I don’t want to tell you how many books I’ve finished for fear you’ll think I’m shutting myself inside my house. I’ve been knocking back a novel a day lately, so you do the math.

I just finished Chuck Thompson’s Smile While You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer. While I get the feeling that Thompson tries really hard to be a hard-ass Anthony Bourdain sans foodtalk, I still really enjoyed his book. He claims that in all the professional travel writing he’s done, his bosses have forced him to leave the most fascinating parts of his stories on the editing room floor. So after creating and nearly killing’s magazine (Have you heard of it? Nope? Exactly.) and working for years at Maxim and other assorted rags, he decided to write a book, talking about the truth behind his decades of travel.

Sometimes, in writing as in life, I have to bow to the powers that be and admit that there are people who can do what I do much better than I can do it.

One issue I’ve really been wrestling with is the question of whether or not I have to love every place I visit. If I just don’t like a place, is that because I’m not trying hard enough? Am I not adventurous/spontaneous/brave enough? Thompson says no.

“Like being a sports fan, one of the best things about being a traveler is complaining about the parts you don’t like—hating the Dallas Cowboys not only doesn’t make me any less a football fan, it probably makes me a more avid one. This is a concept the travel industry has never embraced.”

Yeah! I can love the places I love and hate the places I hate and my feelings are only more credible because beyond all of that is the fact that I really, truly love the game—traveling, learning, exploring—so much, right? I think it’s unfair, of course only a challenge I’ve given myself, to want to fall in love with every city I see. But it’s a comforting thought to me that maybe knowing what I don’t like and being able to recognize it and defend it only reinforces what I do know and love.

If you read a travel article, and usually most travel books, each one tends to end with a Perfect Moment. It’s that instant when the narrarator is standing with his toes in the sand, watching the sun set with his new native friends, when he suddenly realizes blah blah blah.

In fact, if you love books about traveling as much as I do, I think there’s a lot of pressure put on Perfect Moments.

“The trouble with Perfect Moments is that they never come at the end of a trip. They come somewhere in the middle. Or the beginning. As a travel writer, you get to cheat. Rearrange chronology. Take your Day Two dinner with the college kids and turn it into the last paragraph, your final hurrah. It’s fake, of course, but so is a lot of travel writing, so what’s the difference?”

I am truly so happy that I made the decision to come to Indonesia this year. I don’t mean to negate that at all, but I’m not sure how to eloquently explain that all of the unbelievable joys are sewn together with the day-to-day frustrations and challenges.

Thompson taught ESL in Japan for a year right after he graduated from college.

“If a school were ever set up to teach travel writing, a year of menial work overseas would be the first required course. If nothing else, living among foreigners shows you that every society produces dreck. Nothing beats the dilettante out of a soul quite like the discovery that you can still be miserable living in an exotic and beautiful place.”

I am not miserable by any means. In fact, until the robbery last week, I would even venture to say that I was very happy. But I love that last sentence.

Thompson only briefly mentions Indonesia, calling Jakarta “one of the great sprawling shitholes of Asia, a reeking mess of poverty, traffic, smog, crime, corruption, and filth. Bursting with people who somehow maintain a bulletproof optimism in the face of decay, disorder, and daily tragedy, [this is a] frenetic, slum-city, where anything, from blow jobs to military coups, can happen at any time. [A city] that you love just slightly more than you loathe.”

This is one of the points where I disagree with Thompson, though only slightly. Within Indonesia, and especially among foreigners living here, it’s very popular to dislike Jakarta. People complain about the size, the traffic, the pollution, etc. But I love Jakarta. Honestly, it rivals the beach areas as my favorite part of Indonesia. I am frustrated by people who say they only want to see the “real” Indonesia. Big, ugly cities are much a part of the real Indonesia as ancient villages and traditional woodwork. I think I may always be drawn more to tall buildings than to sprawling pieces of land, but it was Jakarta, in the beginning, in my first trip out of Palembang, that calmed my nerves and reminded me that I was indeed still in this world.

“In terms of teaching English to foreigners, Thompson says, “Like most institutionalized instruction, teaching English in a foreign country is ‘easy’ because by and large the requirements and expectations are so low, but it’s also ‘hard’ because it’s nearly impossible to remain interested in the task. It’s like trying to stay intellectually engaged for an entire afternoon with someone else’s six-year-old. Then going home to a dingy apartment and wondering what the hell you’re doing wasting your life in a country where no one will ever really know you.”

So he’s a little bitter. But he’s definitely more right than wrong. And he’s allowed to say bad things about his year teaching in Japan because he’s had so many unbelievably successful, enjoyable trips since then. Perhaps someday I’ll look back and say, “Oh, man. Do you remember Indonesia? Wasn’t that about the hardest year of my life?’ But for now, since this is all I have (along with one short summer in Mexico), I’m clinging to the good parts and rejoicing in the Perfect Moments I do have.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I need to preface this blog by saying that my power is out for the third straight night in a row, and I am melting. Literally, I think my face is falling off.

I am not a sweaty person. I’ll be honest—some days I forget to wear deodorant in the US and I don’t even notice. Not here. I literally can’t even keep my glasses on my face; they keep sliding down with the sweat, and I have to wipe off the top of my nose and push them back up again.

It’s been a little over a week since My Awful Incident, and things are going relatively well. I thought I’d give a little update.

The most frustrating part of the whole thing is that so many Indonesians want to blame me. “Surely you were not holding your bag correctly.” “A good woman is never out that late at night.” (It was 8:30pm.) “You shouldn’t ride on a motorcycle downtown anyway.”

Actually, I think what I interpret as insulting is another example of a cultural difference. (Don’t you hate that that keeps happening?!) Indonesians, as most of my more understanding friends explained, need to have something to blame in instances like this. Most Americans I told about the robbery had a similar reaction to me: Oh, god. That really sucks. I hope you can get your stuff back or get new stuff as soon as possible.

This is a yet-unresolved theory about Indonesians, though. I hope it doesn't sound rude. But my friends even explained that you can see the same idea in many of the natural disasters or deaths that happen here. A lot of Indonesians say things like, “Why did God do this to us?” all the time.

Some good things have happened because of the robbery, though. The sweet Ball State alumni couple (who are currently professors at the University of Swirijaya) has taken me out to eat three times in the last week alone. And not only that, but… hold your breath… they loaned me one of their tvs! I am thrilled. I only have about 7 channels, and they’re all in Indonesian, but I heard they broadcast an English news program at 9am every weekday. Unfortunately, I haven’t been home at 9am on a weekday yet, but I’m looking forward to when I will be.

Chuzai and Diem (the BSU couple) are unbelievably sweet and understanding. The whole incident has really highlighted how little my school has given me compared to other ETAs, though. They say considering how much money IGM has, it’s ridiculous how little I’ve been given. I’m trying not to complain, but… well, I’m using my blog as my one free pass.

For example, my new television just sits on the ground, because I literally have no place to put it. I asked my school for a spare desk or a stool or something, and they said they’ll check next week. The Diems called me and said they were bringing dinner over one night, and I said that would be great, but I don’t have a table. “You don’t have a table? Where do you eat?” Well, honestly, either sitting at my desk or in bed. No problem, they said, we’d eat on the floor. I didn’t know they were bringing two of their grandchildren along, either. They asked for plates, and I had to hem and haw and say, “I actually only have three plates. I’ve never needed more than two at once.” No problem, again, they said. We’ll just eat on newspaper and assorted cartons.

The phone Yanti loaned me must have some degenerative teledisease or something, because it was constantly just shutting off. I needed to buy a new one.

My school said they put in a request to “The Foundation” to help me buy a new phone, and they said I should hear whether or not they would be willing to help within a month, probably. I politely said that I would just buy my phone myself and they could let me know later if they were willing to help.

But then one of the teachers at my school said she knew a guy who had a phone I could use. She said it quietly, and it all sounded very mafia-like and dangerous.

And as it turned out, it really might have something to do with the mafia. Or maybe just theft? I honestly have no clue about the phone.

It was raining really hard, and Ida (the teacher) and I took a bus all the way into downtown Palembang, where we met her friend in an empty covered bus stop.

(Note: I had my bookbag with me, so I wore it on my front the whole way and wobbled around like an oompa loompa. I was constantly giving slitty-eyed stares to everyone who eyed it. My plan was to slash them with my keys and run like the wind if anyone tried to touch me.)

So we met Ida’s friend in the bus stop, where he presented me with a brand new phone like the one I’d had stolen, even sealed in the original box! I was impressed and grateful. I offered to pay him, but he refused and just asked that I return it to him before I leave in May. Then he lowered his voice and said not to mention where I’d gotten the phone to anyone.

No problem. I’ll just post the story on the internet. Oops.

Anyway, I said, “It’s not, like… stolen… is it?” They laughed.

After that, the man invited us to his home, which was just steps away from the bus stop, behind his family’s cell phone shop. Ahh, so I see. I think he took it from his family’s business, but I guess he’s allowed to, since he owns it.

I figured the least I could do was buy some minutes from them. His mom asked what kind of phone I used. “Uhhhh… Nokia. This one.” I held it up. She smiled and nodded. This one that is exactly like the one you sell in your store! I wanted to yell.

But I don’t get a lot of easy breaks here, so I was willing to take just this one. After all, I’m trying to survive two weeks on less than $100. It’s really not too hard except that I need to pay my utilities, so I’m just avoiding the bills until I hopefully get my new ATM card next week in the mail.

My GOD it is so hot in this house. I had my legs crossed but the one on top just kept getting too sweaty and sliding off. Writing by the light of my laptop… that has some sort of romantic-meets-modern feel to it, right?

Like I said, the power has been going out like crazy lately. I’m not sure why—it rains every day, but not any more than normal. It hasn’t been a lot hotter than normal lately, either.

Yesterday I got home from school and the power was out, so I opened the door and sat inside the house, reading a book and leaning against the side of the frame. I was startled, however, when a homeless woman just walked right into my house and started grabbing at the most recent box my mom sent me.

You know what was in that box? Diet Mountain Dew. And I think we’ve already covered how I feel about that.

I tried shooing the woman out, but she was persistant. Perhaps you’re like me before I came to Indonesia: when I thought of “homeless,” I thought of words like weak, desperate, and sad. Some of those are close, but homeless people in Palembang are pushy. She started grabbing my food and trying to fill her arms with as much as she could.

I thought about feeding her, but she’d come to my door once before, and my neighbor came over and steered her away, telling me never to feed her or talk to her. Great, now she was in my house.

So I just explained that my mom would be very sad if I gave away all the food she sent me, and I miss my mom very much so that box was very important to me. She was undeterred and tried just shoving her way in. Luckily, I was stronger, so I just sort of pushed her out the door and shut and locked it. Yikes. Never have guilt, fear, and frustration sat so close in my heart. She even left dirt marks where she touched my skin.

I had a second visitor that day, too. I was sitting at my desk when someone knocked at the door. It was pretty late, too, so I was surprised. I opened it to find a tiny, yet admittedly beautiful, Asian woman dressed in a bright yellow outfit. I literally had to look down to find her she was so small.

She smiled up at me. “I come for you.” Uhm, excuse me?

“Yes, I come for you.” Her nametag—I wouldn’t make this up—literally said HAPPY on it. No company, just Happy.

“I’m pretty sure you have the wrong house,” I said.

As it turned out, she was from the internet company, coming to check on a connection problem I’d called about weeks ago. Then I felt really guilty for thinking she was a hooker. Apparently all my internet equipment got struck by lightning, and they had to replace it. It gave me a good reason to avoid paying the bill until next week, though.

So one week after what might go down as one of the worst days of my life, I’m doing ok. I have a new phone. I’ve recovered most of my numbers. I have a new tv. My cards are on their way. I made spare house keys of my own and put a whole bunch of new locks on my door.

Maybe another week and I’ll be ready to stop sleeping with a knife next to my bed. Although if this heat continues and I can’t turn on a fan soon, I’m just going to be sleeping under my cold shower, knife or not.