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.


  1. holy friggin' cow.

  2. You go, girl!! Do you prefer to be called Sam or Toby or just simply Katie?

  3. That's really cool, Katie! Way to go!

  4. Look at YOU!!! Really...that's amazing! Thank goodness for being so articulate and for watching The West Wing! The governor might not let you go - he might hire you on to write speeches for him all the time! I love it!!! My favorite entry so far!!! MUAH!!!

  5. i met alex noerdin once...and his weird to be around tons of political people in indonesia. congrats on the awesome political save. proud of ya, kiddo!