Friday, April 30, 2010

Oops, my apologies.

Like most really, really smart people around the world, one of my teachers sort of lacks a certain amount of people skills. He’s fine around the other teachers and me, but he really struggles in the classroom. All right, fine, it’s Rudi. The students make fun of him constantly, calling him a “ladyboy” (and to be honest, he is pretty effeminate). Rudi doesn’t handle this very well and responds by grabbing whatever blunt object is nearest him and hitting the student on the back of the head as hard as possible. (Which, as we covered before, isn’t all that hard for him.) It doesn’t matter what it is—whiteboard erasers, water bottles, books. Once he found a bottle of baby powder in the back of a classroom and poured it over a student’s head in a fit of anger. Sadly, just like bullies in the US, this sort of behavior only fuels them to tease more until Rudi’s tiny 4’10” body is shaking with fury. Finally, I have to ask him to sit down at the back of the classroom.


Rudi’s behavior isn’t uncommon at all, though. All of my teachers smack students when they talk out of turn or play with their Rubik’s Cubes instead of listening. After a particularly frustrating class, I came back to the teachers’ lounge and said I was having some serious trouble getting kids to pay attention. “You have to pinch them,” Sry says.


“Oh,” I responded. “I don’t really feel comfortable doing that. In America teachers never touch the students.”


“I am not talking about touching them,” Sry said. “Just a little twist on their arm until it hurts them.”


The thing is, it doesn’t work. The students don’t pay attention any better after someone “twists” them. Part if it, I’m sure, is just bad behavior. For some reason, my school is known for spoiled students who can’t behave; one of the teachers is even writing her thesis on it. They think it’s probably because the students are so wealthy.


After eight months here, I’m surprised at how many cultural differences still shock me. I wonder how long I’d have to live somewhere to totally adapt. It probably takes longer certain places than others, too, I’d imagine.


For me, one of the most frustrating differences is the idea of “jam karet,” or “rubber time,” meaning that time can be stretched around to your needs. A 12 o’clock lunch can start at 2 o’clock here, and that’s completely acceptable to everyone. Likewise, someone might say they’ll stop by at 10 o’clock in the morning, and they show up at 9 o’clock because they were in the neighborhood early.


One day, when I was returning from a trip, a friend of mine said he would pick me up from the airport. I texted him (they say SMSed here) when I landed, and he said he’d be there soon. I waited. A half hour later, I called. He said he was actually just leaving his office then, and he’d be there in another half hour. It was fine; I had a book. (If you want to talk about how I’ve changed, just look at that: I was willing to wait an extra hour to save the equivalent of $2 for a ride home.) Still, 45 minutes went by, and still no friend. I called him again. He said actually he was just then leaving the office, and he’d be there in a half hour.


So I said thanks, but he could just meet me at my house and we’d go to dinner like we’d planned. I caught an ojek home and took a $2 loss. My friend (the boyfriend of a teacher at my school) finally showed up an hour and a half later. I got in his car and we immediately drove to the mosque, because he hadn’t prayed yet. So I sat for another half hour, this time in the car and without my book. I asked why he didn’t just come 3 hours late and pray before picking me up, and he said he wanted to show me how important his religion is to him. Hmm, ok… point taken. Then we listened to the Koran in Arabic all the way to and from dinner.


While I was waiting in the car, I passed the time by talking to Christine on the phone. It was now completely dark outside and there were a lot of people filing around. And I’ve been jumpy since the purse incident.


Suddenly, someone touched my shoulder. I screamed like a large rodent had just been dropped into my lap. Apparently, my friend had silently creeped over to the car window—which was rolled down about two inches—and stuck his nose in through the opening to greet me with “Hellooooo, how are youuuuuuuu.” He said it in that slightly terrifying monotone of people who have memorized words but don’t really know what they mean. So I screamed. (I was, in hindsight, perhaps already not the best version of myself that night.)


The friend was immediately apologetic. This is another trademark of Indonesian people who mean well: unending apologies for some things they did but most things that are completely beyond their control. (Although, in this case, it was his fault.)


This is common: “Miss, I am so sorry for the condition of the roads!”


“It’s fine,” I say.


“Miss, please forgive me for this road. I am so sorry.”


Apologies, in fact, are an integral part of Indonesian life. When saying a formal goodbye, for example, a person here should begin by issuing a grand blanket apology for anything they might have done to offend anyone. Similarly, they expect apologies to fix anything, too.


Teachers are paid to run English Club at my school. I nearly always do it alone though, because it’s just easier that way. But at least they’re sports and they stick around.


Once, though, during EC, I ran back to my desk in the teachers’ lounge to get something I’d forgotten and found Rudi and Sry rooting through my desk. Without shame, mind you. That week, I’d had the students write personal letters, and they were opening the sealed envelopes sitting on my desk and reading the private notes. They were also using my coveted antibacterial wipes I thought I was keeping hidden in the depths of my desk.


I was pretty upset. Not only were they going through my desk while getting paid for the job I was doing, they were using my things and reading letters my students trusted me to keep between us. Both Rudi and Sry dropped my things when they saw me and returned to their own desks.


I asked, “Why were you going through my things?”


Sry’s face immediately crumbled, and she nearly started to cry. “Please do not be angry with us!” she said.


Rudi continued, “Yes, we did not find anything bad, anyway.”


This sort of feeling extends to many sectors of Indonesia. Once, a computer tech woman started crying because she thought I’d be mad at her for not being able to fix my internet. (This was back at the beginning of my grant, when my dreams for worldwide connectivity were young and full of hope.) I’m not sure if people here really have a crippling fear of someone being angry with them or if it’s considered polite to assume an apologetic response.


Still, I really am getting the hang of it more. I know know my part. If you go into any situation in Palembang and begin by apologizing, you’re getting somewhere.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Selamat Hari Kartini!

Quick Bahasa Indonesia lesson: “Hari” means “day.” So obviously, “Hari Kartini” means “Kartini Day.”


“Hari ini” literally means “this day” and means “today.” This all reminds me of the sign that was hanging up in the police station where I sat for three hours after my purse was stolen in March. In an uncommon display of ornamentation, someone had painted the words, “Hari ini lebih baik dari kemarin” on the wall, which means “Today is better than yesterday.” Having just had all of my possessions ripped from my grasp, I was unable to embrace the spirit behind the sentiment. And I have to wonder how many people who walk through the doors of that police station really think that day is in fact an improvement over the day before, when they were not entering the lair of Indonesia’s Finest.


Anyway, Kartini Day celebrates an Indonesian woman who spent her short life pushing for education for women. Born in 1879, she was allowed to go to school until she was 12. After that, she was kept in her home to prepare for marriage, but she continued to teach herself. She had many Dutch pen pals and eventually begged to be allowed to teach in Jakarta. She argued against traditional religious practices (many still in place today). For example, she didn’t believe people should have to memorize the Koran without having to understand its meaning. After a few years, she was finally allowed to go to Jakarta, but she then turned the offer down because she had decided to get married and continuing living in her hometown. She hoped she and her husband would together be able to organize schools for young women, but she died at 25.


I know women’s rights in Indonesia is something completely different than women’s rights in America, but there’s a sort of strange sort of oxymoronic feminism that exists in many women I’ve met here. As one of my teachers said last week, “I will complete my master’s degree and become a professor before having my arranged marriage and raising as many children as possible. I hope I have many sons.”


For some reason, one of my unattached Indonesian friends had a near life crisis and spent a week surveying women and asking, “Would you rather be divorced or an old maid?” I saw one woman shudder and say, “Both of those would be terrible.” My friend nodded solemnly.


Then there’s the jilbab. During orientation, an Indonesian Fulbright scholar spoke to our group and identified herself as a Muslim feminist. Ok, I can understand that. She supports equal rights for men and women. But I still can’t wrap my head around the idea that a person can believe men and women are equal, and still believe that women should cover their heads and men should not.


I know that sentiment puts me gravely in danger of sounding ignorant. I understand that wearing a jilbab is completely a choice. I understand that you can be smart and capable and independent and want to wear one. I understand that you can believe in the fair treatment of men and women and wear one. But when a person believes that women should cover their heads and men should not, that is not equal.


I know some people say the point isn’t really to be equal or the same, and I say, good, because it’s not.


Out of the 50 or so female teachers at my school, there is only one who doesn’t cover her head. She’s Muslim, married, and, interestingly enough, teaches World Culture. I asked her why she doesn’t wear a jilbab, and she said because she doesn’t want to and her mother never did.


I have another friend who refuses to wear the jilbab. She says God doesn’t care whether she covers her head or not. She says most women wear jilbabs less because of their personal relationship with God and moreso because of the way they’re treated in their community. I think that’s probably very true. Jilbabbed (verb?) women are at least initially almost always treated with more respect.


One male friend told me he would respect me more if I wore a head covering. I asked if that was true even though he knew I’m not Muslim and it would be an empty gesture, and he said yes.


Were I a better (or maybe just a more bitter) woman, I might have raised my eyebrows a bit at my school’s celebration. To honor women’s rights, IGM sponsored a fashion show, a cooking contest, and a singing competition. “Things women love!” they said.


Usually, my school has an unbelievable amount of food set out for holidays. I always end up eating the equivalent of about four full meals before 10:00am. So I tried to beat them at their own game and skipped breakfast. Hari Kartini is the one day when the men have to do all the cooking. But when I got to school, there were no sweet little cake rolls. No layered coconut snacks. No strangely-jiggly florescent gelatins.


“But I thought the men were cooking today!” I exclaimed as my belly rumbled. They laughed.


“Ahh, Ketty! That is a joke we tell! Men are supposed to cook, but they do not know how! So we do not have snacks on this day!”


In case you’re keeping track, the score is now Miss Ketty 3; Indonesia 1,289.


Everyone dresses up in traditional formal clothes for Kartini Day. For men, that’s dress pants and a batik-patterned shirt. For women, it’s usually a batik skirt with a kabaya for a top. Kabayas are bright and beautiful, usually incorporating a lot of lace and sequins. They can be really expensive (up to around $250 each), but the women can wear them many times. One of the teachers loaned me her mother’s kabaya. The teachers looove it when we all dress up, and it really was a lot of fun. We took somewhere around two million pictures.



The fashion show was delightfully fun. Each class chose two students to represent them, and they strutted their stuff on a makeshift catwalk. The singing contest was great, too. The middle school even let student bands accompany the contestants. And the cooking contest—oh my.


The students had the contest, but all of the male teachers were supposed to prepare fried rice for all the female teachers. In an effort to throw them off, however, the female teachers purchased all the ingredients, along with about six or seven items they were not supposed to put in. The women laughed and laughed as the men stood struggling over the baskets trying to decide what to use. I laughed heartily, though I was secretly glad no one put me to the test—how should I know what to use?!



Since we cancelled classes (shocking, no?), the day just centered around having fun and enjoying the contests. About women’s rights, little Sry writes, we are kartini in new generation,,,,keep struggling womans' emancipation...”


Also, Sry asked me yesterday if it was appropriate to say “untfloeeeeezveezeeteeng” when your period starts. (I swear my teachers are obsessed with menstruation.) So I said that phrase I’ve said so many times since arriving in Palembang, “I’m not sure I understand. Can you write that down?” Apparently her book taught her that most American women have a secret idiom code used for proclaiming the start of one’s period. “Aunt Flo is visiting.” I discouraged her from using the phrase.


I guess I feel the day was less a celebration of women’s rights and more a day to appreciate women and say, “Gosh, what would we all do in a world without ladies?” But there’s quite a bit of value in that, too.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Feminine hygiene

On any given day, I walk into school at 6:30am not having any idea what the day holds. Will students boycott and leave school because a power outage made their classroom too hot? Is it a national holiday I’ve never heard of? Will four of the five English teachers be out sick with pinkeye? That’s all happened in the last few months.


Will some company shut down the school to hock their products for an afternoon? Awesome. I think we’re all pleasantly surprised to march our way up three flights of stairs only to see a vendor stand waiting at the top.


It doesn’t matter if there’s a test scheduled for the day or not. The students cheer and the teachers glare at them until they get inside the teachers’ lounge, and then they cheer, too.


We’ve cancelled classes for shampoo, face wash, and, once, a tax rally. Normally, I’m more than happy to accept t-shirts and free products. They usually send English-speaking salespeople, too. I smile widely for pictures the company says they take for future advertisements. I won’t be the least bit surprised if someone traveling in Indonesia in another decade sends me an email saying something like, “Did you know you’re the poster child for dandruff-eliminating shampoo and conditioner in Sumatra?”


Once we cancelled classes while vendors passed around a weird-looking drink only to women who claimed to be menstruating. Not understanding this was a sort of trick demonstration, I wasn’t paying attention until he came to me.


“Yes, miss? Do you want this drink? Is it special time for you?”


“Yes, it’s…. uh… definitely a special time for me. Thank you for the drink.”


And all the teachers exploded into giggles. “You are menstruating!”


“Oh, eww! I didn’t know that’s what he meant!” I said.


I think my response is a pretty accurate representation of my maturity.


If there’s one thing that’s completely a private issue in America that is definitely not here (and there are many), it’s that. Women here proclaim the arrival of their periods like visiting friends.


“I cannot pray this week! I am menstruating!” It does raise a few issues of honesty and mathematics, since I know at least a handful of women who apparently menstruate half their lives. They don’t have to pray or fast when they’re on their periods, though they’re supposed to make up the fasting days they miss.


All of my experiences with tomato-based (not kidding), cramps-relieving energy drinks pale in comparison to the morning the feminine hygiene team waltzed into my life.


Immediately, classes were cancelled. Then we decided to have classes for the boys, since the presentations were aimed only at the girls. Then the teachers decided they didn’t want to teach the boys, so we cancelled all classes again and forced the boys to sit through hours of discussing exactly the right way to clean female genitalia and why their product was the best to use. I can only imagine what that must be like for a hundred 16-year-old boys.


I say I can only imagine because I opted out of the presentation. All of the teachers did, in fact, until they found out the company had brought in the 2008 winner of Indonesian Idol to perform. Somehow, this was not a great motivating factor for me.


I would like to point out that all of the presenters were male. Just a note. Anyway, I was happily typing emails until two of the teachers—young, a little weird—came to get me.


“Miss Ketty, I think… I think you should listen to the presentation. They say it is very important for everyone to know how to clean their vagina. This is a lesson we are not taught anywhere else.”


Dear GOD. I can’t even write the word without flinching, and she said this with a very straight face. She was genuinely concerned.


I said that I was fine, thank you. Since many of the other teachers were also not there and the presentation was in Indonesian, I thought it was all right that I miss out. They left.


Only to come back in five minutes.


“Miss Ketty, I really think that you should listen. They said everyone must know about it.”


I tried another tactic. “Actually, my stomach kind of hurts.”


“Oh!” she said. “Are you menstruating?”


“Ack! No!”


“Are you pregnant with a baby?!” She started laughing. Then she said, “No, I am only telling a joke. I know you would not be the kind of girl to do that.”


Ooh, not even going to touch that one.


So I surrendered and walked over to the presentation. All of my students were sitting inside the room, alternating between giggling and blushing. Of course, they made me sit in the front, but not before handing me a small card with a mirror on it.


“This is for looking while you clean.”


Oh, God! I do not do well in embarrassing situations. And the potential for an Extremely Embarrassing Moment was quickly mounting.


Someone must have been punishing me for lying about the stomachache.


Of course, because the color of my skin makes me a b-list celebrity, the announcer had to call me to the stand at the front of the room. “Did I seeeeee a buuuuuleeee?!” he shouted.


I couldn’t help but thinking that this man’s English fluency was being wasted selling a feminine cleansing product when he could be working for the embassy or something.


My students love me. I like to pretend it’s because I’m just so darn fun and motivating, but more likely, it’s because I play a lot of games and they know they won’t have a test when I’m in their classroom. So as I was forced to take the microphone in front of the whole school, they started to cheer.


He asked my name. Katie, I said.


“Kehhhh-teeee! If you can answer a couple questions correctly, I’ll give you a free t-shirt.”


Oh, joy. I could hardly wait.


“Ketty, we’re here talking about vaginas.”


This was not off to a good start. I immediately turned the color of a tomato in front of more than 200 students. I also know that 80% of my students definitely couldn’t understand what this guy was saying, but I guess I can understand the word “vagina” is pretty funny on its own.


“Ketty… what is this product for?” He holds up this little bottle that I don’t feel completely comfortable having in my line of vision. “Do you think it’s for cleaning… your vagina… or your knees?”


Your knees?!


He says it “fah-HEE-nuh.”


I say, “The first one.”


He says, “Say it.”


I say, “Say what?”


He says, “Say what it cleans.”


I’m at a crossroads. Tell the guy he’s being inappropriate and make it a big deal in front of everyone in my school or just get through it?


I swallow and say “vagina” very clearly into the microphone.


The students absolutely erupt with laughter.


I die inside and try to walk away.


The guy pulls me back.


“Ok, one more question. Do you think… that when you wash your fah-HEE-nuh… it gets bigger… or it stays the same size?”


This one caught me off guard. Then again, I figure it might actually be a concern for young Indonesian girls. Grin and bear it, right?


“I think it stays the same size.”


“What does?”


Oh, we’re done here. “The vagina does.”


They laughed and laughed and clapped and clapped. Then we stopped the presentation and took about a billion photographs of me holding my new free t-shirt that I will never, ever wear. Then the Indonesian Idol sang a song for me. It sounded really pretty, but I have no idea what it was about, as I was still trying to get my breathing under control.


And I sincerely hope that’s the last time I ever type the word fah-hee-nuh.


Indonesian Idol, some of the teachers,
and me without my new t-shirt

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gending Sriwijaya

Uploading videos takes forever here, so please accept this 30-second clip of Septia's performance to "Gending Sriwiwaya." Thanks to Chris for shooting it for me. If you look closely, you can see my head in the left hand corner snapping pictures like she's my own child.

WORDS Competition

Every year, AMINEF holds an English competition for one student from each of the ETAs’ high schools. Ideally, they hold their own competition within their schools, and then the winner gets an all-expenses paid trip to the country’s capital with their American teacher.


At our schools, we were supposed to narrow our entries down to three finalists, which was quite easy for me since I only had three entries at all. At first, I really tried recruiting students who I knew were better English speakers, but most of them dismissed me with an “If-God-wills-it-I-will-enter.” Unfortunately for me, I guess God didn’t will any of them to enter.


After a while I stopped pushing them, because I felt bad forcing them to write poems and essays knowing I would only choose one in the end. It worked out wonderfully anyway.


My winner was Septia Sastika Angelina. She sang and danced to Palembang’s traditional song “Gending Sriwijaya.” You’re allowed to sing and dance to an Indonesian song at an English competition? Well, yes. She just had to include a one-minute introduction explaining how her performance was related to the theme “The Changing World outside my Window.”



Septia’s introduction was beautiful, though I think it might have been overlooked a bit in the midst of all her singing and dancing. She explained how understanding a traditional dance is reflective of her changing world, because while her country and culture are always evolving, she knows how important it is to value the past.


My school—bless their hearts—which doesn’t have a scanner or functioning printer, does have an official school traditional costume and a bag of official school make-up. Septia was obviously distressed that no one would be around to put on her make-up. I offered to do it, and my teachers seemed shocked that I knew how.


I was slightly offended at first. Sure, I might not always wear make-up to school, but I understand the concept of applying blush. Oh, no. Not in Indonesia, I don’t. They spread out the hundreds of pieces of make-up in front of me the day before we left, and it was about the equivalent of telling me to reassemble some giant military weapon. No way could I handle eyelash glue, facial whitener, etc.


Septia and her devoted family
who arrived at 5am to get her ready in time

Luckily for me, Septia lives with her aunt’s family in Palembang, and her immediate family lives in Jakarta. They wanted to come see her dressed up anyway and volunteered to do the make-up. Whew!


These were my favorite part of the costume.
They did, however, result in her fingers often sticking together.
Miss Katie to the rescue!

Septia was so intimidated at first by all the English speakers. She’s in Level 2 at my school (out of 5), so she’s not the highest level at IGM and was worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up. I think she was even nervous at the idea of being alone with me. But as soon as our adventure began, she completely transformed and became this social creature I’d never seen at school. For many of the students, it was the first time they'd been on an airplane or visited Jakarta.


All of the students

We traveled with Rajiv and his student, Brigitta. The girls were so excited and had spent the weeks before talking over facebook and texting.


Septia did a wonderful job. I was like a proud parent, snapping pictures and taking video. Sadly, she didn’t win (none of the performance pieces did cough cough), but Brigitta won Best Use of English for her poem “Smile.”


Brigitta wins!

I felt like the weekend was a sort of fast-forwarded commercial on child-rearing. On Friday morning, I was asking her if she was hungry or thirsty every fifteen minutes. By Saturday night, when I asked what she wanted to do with our free time, she looked at me shyly and said, “Miss, would it be ok if maybe instead I went to a movie with my new friends?”


The next morning AMINEF scheduled a visit for all of us to Monas, the national monument. Septia and Brigitta were happy, but exhausted. I asked how late they’d stayed up the night before. “Miss, please do not be angry, but I did not sleep until midnight,” Septia said. I assured her that I wasn’t in the least angry.


Monas in the background.
Palembangers in front.

Our return was smooth, but little Septia decided to skip school the Monday after we were back. On Tuesday, I asked her if she was actually ill or just really tired, and she said, “Sick and tired, Miss Ketty. Sick and tired. You teach me that.”


It broke my heart as one-by-one, the teachers at school asked her if she won and she had to tell each of them no. But once we got through that, Septia was happy again. Now, though, she says, “Miss Ketty, I miss my new friends so much, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.” The good news is, because we’re in Indonesia, she texts all of her favorites about a billion times a day to reminisce.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sumatra Conferences: Medan

My island is Sumatra, which is physically one of Indonesia’s larger islands (and the world’s sixth largest), but definitely not the most populated. We have four ETAs: Raj and me in Palembang and John and Vidhi in Medan.


ELFs are English Language Fellows; they have master’s degrees, teach at universities, and are older than most of us, the English Teaching Assistants. Both the ELF and ETA programs are run by AMINEF, the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation. Most ETAs (and ELFs) are concentrated on the island of Java, which has Jakarta, Yogyakarta, etc. Our region’s ELF is Adam, who lives at the southern tip of the island in Bandar Lampung.


Adam told us about his idea to do two collaborative workshops, one in Medan and one in Palembang, at the mid-year conference. Unfortunately, Raj had school during the first week of April, but I was off for the week because my students were taking their mid-terms. The workshop also happened to be over Easter weekend, which was nice, because it’s always more fun to be around other people who are at least familiar with the same holidays, even if they don’t celebrate it.


Here’s what I learned about conferences in Indonesia: it’s nearly impossible to disappoint Indonesian teachers. At first, I was reluctant to present myself as some sort of education expert, but, honestly, we Americans bring some new ideas to the table (the desk?).



In Indonesian schools, English is separated into four different subjects: writing, speaking, listening, and reading. It’s incredibly confusing. Whereas Americans tend to view languages as a whole, Indonesians try to segregate individual skills. In “listening” and “writing” classes, students never speak. The teacher usually writes some vocabulary words on the board and explains them. Then he or she writes some sentences the students have to complete on paper, or teachers play a tape where students have to listen and write down what they hear. But wait, you say, isn’t that writing and listening at the same time? Yeahhhh. And don’t you technically have to listen to be able to speak? Again, yeahhhh. It’s kind of a hot topic here, actually. For the most part, younger teachers want to teach all skills at once under the larger umbrella of English in general, whereas older teachers want to keep it the same.


I remember my Spanish language classes in high school. We were constantly singing, playing games, working in partners, cooking Spanish and Mexican foods, watching movies in Spanish, and even making piñatas. (Mine was a flamingo.) It's not like that at all here.


I know the education system in the United States is far from perfect, but there are a few problems here that seem particularly aggravating. The requirement to segregate skills is one; another is that the classes are huge. I’m lucky—my school is very wealthy, and my classes usually have between 25-30 students. Some schools here, though, put up to 60 or 70 students in one class.


I understand the attractiveness of standardized testing, I really do. And to a certain point, I’m in favor of them. But here, teachers really just teach the test. My seniors, for example, took the ujian nacional (national test) back in April, and now they’re done going to school while the rest of the high school continues. Because the national test is completely writing, reading, and listening, students are never evaluated on their speaking skills, which the government says is the most important. As a result, many schools produce students extremely capable of writing and reading in English who can hardly speak an actual word.


So the goal of our workshop was to show high school teachers some new methods for motivating students and teaching the required lessons in a way that doesn’t make the students want to stab themselves in the eye. You can teach English and still have fun.


Vidhi, John, me, and Adam
with a group of teachers from Vidhi's school

English has always been my favorite subject. I know it’s different when you’re learning it as a secondary language. After all, foreign languages are not my cup of tea. Or my taza de té. Or my mangkok the. Hah! Don’t tell me I don’t retain. Anyway, my favorite part was that English wasn’t like math—there’s not always a right and wrong. English is about communicating, and that’s why they teach it here. But somehow, English has become like mathematics in Indonesia. Students are truly paralyzed with the fear of making a mistake. They emotionally or intellectually check out, do the minimum to get the answers right on a test, and most are never really able to develop a passion for the language.


In the conference, Adam presented on “Large Classroom Management Techniques” and some cultural issues. Vidhi tackled “Practical Classroom Management Strategies.” John and I combined “Using English Inside and Outside of the Classroom” and “Making English Fun.”

I’m not sure how much the teachers retained, but I suppose it’s a positive thing any time they at least sit and think about other ways teaching. I hesitate to say better… but ok, better ways. This is my blog, right?


We actually held two separate workshops; the first was at Vidhi’s school for about 40 teachers. The second, however, somehow spiraled out of control, and we wound up with 250 college students studying to become English teachers. It was incredibly hard to involve and engage 250 teachers, especially when most of them were just there to meet four Americans. Instead of having everyone play the games we taught, we had to use a group of students to be an example. I think they would have had trouble staying focused through 3.5 hours of any presentation, let alone one that wasn’t in their native language.


Bostodoff... close enough.

We were expecting a break, but we didn’t get one, and we wound up with about an hour’s worth of extra time. Luckily, Adam saved the day by teaching them to sing “Row, Row, Row your Boat” in rounds and explaining the lyrics to the Cops theme song “Bad Boys.”


Afterwards, they gave each of us an ulos, which was really sweet and generous. Then we took about a million pictures each. I’m not exaggerating. Each of us stood and smiled for pictures for 45 minutes after the presentation.


With our new ulos-ulos

While I was in Medan, I also got to visit Indonesia’s second largest alligator farm. Yikes. You could pay $3 to feed a live duck to one of the gators. While I secretly hoped someone else would want to do it, I decided to draw the line between watching someone else commit a violent act toward a duck and actually stepping up to do it myself. Especially since it was Easter, and I couldn’t help but think of those cute furry little yellow chicks.


I hope someone fed him a duck earlier.


The sign saying you can buy a duck for about $3
and watch while an alligator eats it.


I also visited John’s school, which is a Catholic private school. While my students have a huge range of abilities (and we separate by 1-5 for ability), almost all of his students come from villages and struggle a lot more with the language. But my God, those kids loved to sing. In one class alone, I think I was serenaded by 7 different groups. They begged for us to sing, and I have such a hard time saying no to a group of shouting, eager students, even if I know my voice hardly resembles that of the Americans they see on television. John and I wowed them with what I’m sure was an inspiring duet rendition of “Hotel California.” One of his students even kissed me on the cheek, which is pretty shocking in Indonesia. The class screamed for about 10 minutes before calming down. The boy said he’ll never wash his lips again, and I felt guilty about not showering that morning.


One other note: at John’s Catholic school, the student uniforms consist of pants for the boys, knee-length skirts for the girls, and button-up t-shirts for everyone. My poor students have to cover every inch of skin from their ankles to their wrists, and they have to wear a wool vest and a tie on top of that.


The Sumatra Conferences, Palembang version is May 7. My teachers are excited already, mostly to meet new “bules.” As dear little Sry says, “I am girl for who be flirty is a must!”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Extra! Extra!

I’ve been MIA from my blog for a while! Fortunately, I’ve been busy traveling, which means I’ll have lots to write about in the next few days. But first, I wanted to share these articles.


First, from a conference in Medan last week (more coming on that later). This was published in the April 4 edition of Waspada:



The newspaper in Depok printed an article about Christine a few weeks ago which included quotations and facts that were completely fabricated. It’s not anything she was upset about; it’s just funny. The story basically explained how Depok had been such a struggle at first, and then she’d fallen in love with the city and its people. Hmm.


When I returned from the conference in Medan, the teachers said there had been an article about me in the April 6 edition of Sumatera Ekspres. My school took the pictures weeks ago, but I thought they were just for memory’s sake. The article even includes direct quotes from me in Bahasa Indonesian! (There’s no way I said those things. But I think given the opportunity, I might have said what they printed anyway, so all’s fair.)



Sadly, while IGM has official school make-up and traditional costumes, we do not have a scanner. So you’ll have to settle for a picture. I’m feeling awfully special, given all this hot-off-the-press attention.