Friday, June 11, 2010

The Final Score

I’m home now. It’s wonderful and a little sad at the same time.

My friend Jeff Laub sent me Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, about hiking the Appalachian Trail, and being home reminds me a little of Bryson’s experience when he and his friend finally decided to go home:

“‘Do you want to get a Coke?’ I said to Katz. There was a machine by the gas station door.

He considered for a moment. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Maybe later.’

It was unlike Katz not to fall upon soft drinks and junk food with exuberant lust when the opportunity presented itself, but I believe I understood. There is always a measure of shock when you leave the trail and find yourself parachuted into a world of comfort and choice, but it was different this time. This time it was permanent. We were hanging up our hiking boots. From now on, there would always be Coke, and soft beds and showers and whatever else we wanted. There was no urgency now. It was a strangely subduing notion.”


Before I ever for Indonesia, I made a list of 20 goals for myself—nothing too lofty, just things I hoped I’d accomplish over the next nine months. Of course, I made my list before I ever set foot in Indonesia. Had I known what I know now, I probably would have shaped my goals differently. But here’s the final score:

1. Take lots of pictures.

2. Learn to speak Indonesian.
Well, I’m not fluent. But by the end, I understood enough to communicate nearly everything I needed to say, and I could translate most of my students’ uber-dramatic facebook statuses.

3. Eat lots of native foods, especially fruit.
I’m proud of this one. I fell in love with manggis and rambutan, and I tried a whole bunch of other things. Even dog. Woof.

4. Keep up with this blog at least twice a week.
I came pretty close to that.

5. Read all the books I brought.
Check. I switched them all out when I came home at Christmas, too. Nine months ago, I was totally not prepared for the amount of time I ended up spending by myself in Indonesia.

6. Use my new video camera.
I got one of those nifty Flip cameras for Christmas, and I used that a lot. Still, it’s hard to find a balance between experiencing the adventures of Indonesia and distracting yourself by constantly wanting to document everything.

7. Find an English newspaper in Palembang.
Well, there just ISN’T an English newspaper in Palembang. But Raj and I did host that weekly radio program at SmartFM, so that’s something.

8. Get my nails done.
Check. And tons of cream baths. And massages. Cream baths, contrary to the way they may sound, do not involve nakedness or bathtubs. It’s more like a deep hair conditioning with a neck and shoulder massage.

This was in Yogya.
Delightful, but it's usually a little cleaner than this.

9. Prepare some authentic Indonesian food.
Well, I TRIED to make nasi uduk on my own, but that didn’t turn out to be so delicious. It might not even have been edible. But I helped my friend Yanti make pindang tulang in my house. And since this is my blog, I say that counts.

My attempt at nasi uduk.
More like nasi gross.

10. Track down the Rafflesia flower.
tried, ok?! Christine, Raj, and I trekked over to Bukittinggi, with our number one objective being to see the Rafflesia. It, of course, happened to not be blooming that weekend. Then I went to the Bogor Botanical Gardens, which apparently no longer has a Rafflesia. Rest assured, I will see that huge stinky flower someday or I will not rest.

The Rafflesia bud.
So close...

11. See an orangutan in its natural habitat.
See previous blog post. Raj and I tried to go to Borneo. Sure, I probably shouldn’t have saved that trip for the end, but they shouldn’t have cancelled all their flights, either. I did get to hold one little guy at Taman Safari.

Our hair kinda matches.

12. Ride an elephant.
Check! Actually, I did it twice. The first time wasn’t so great—in Palembang, and I shared the big guy’s back with five other people. But the second time was way more fun, and Raj and I got to feed him bananas the whole time.


13. Keep in touch with people at home.
I can’t imagine having done this fellowship ten years ago. While my internet access was limited, I was still able to send emails on a semi-regular basis. And I think I sent my mom about a dozen postcards throughout the year. Still, there’s nothing like
being with the people I love again.

14. Stay up to date on US news.
While my internet was reliable enough to send emails, keeping up to date on news was harder. I did a decent job, but now I’m trying to catch up on all of it. So the news… is kinda already history… hmm.

15. Meet at least one Ball State alum living in Indonesia.
Check. I’m so excited about the people I met. I got to know Chuzai Diem and her husband, two BSU alumni, really well. I already miss them. And I met Gary Swisher, a man currently living in Jakarta who grew up in Bucyrus. And of course, Karen: my penpal who I met up with during her vacation in Bali.

Yay BSU!

16. Travel to tons of places around Indonesia.
Check. Let’s see: Jakarta (so many times), Bandung, Bukittinggi and Padang, Bali (twice), Yogyakarta, Depok (many times), Makassar, Medan and Lake Toba, Padang again for HODR Disaster Response, Medan again for conferences. We eliminated Komodo because the cost was just too high ($800ish just for transportation!), and I wish I’d gotten to Lombok and Borneo. But maybe I’ll just have to visit again someday.

Beautiful Bali

17. Bring back special souvenirs.
Check. My school gave me so many presents that I will cherish forever: my songket (the traditional Sumatran cloth woven with gold thread), batik, my kebaya, and other fabrics. I have a special tea cup set called “Pelangi Palembang” [Palembang Rainbow] and some pearls and amethysts found in Indonesia.

18. Learn more about Islam.
Check. Definitely check.

19. Get in the Columbus Dispatch Travel section.
Ooh… rejection. They didn’t print my picture at Borobudur with the newspaper! I tried.

GRR... print this!
Ok, just kidding.

20. Grow as a person.
Check. See another post coming soon.

My mid-year additions:

21. See Komodo Dragons.
Oh, I just
had to add this one, didn’t I? Like I said earlier, Christine and I were planning a trip, but we decided to put our time into the Padang volunteering instead. And I’ve seen Komodos a few times at zoos so maybe all combined, that counts as one time in their natural habitat.

22. Find somewhere to volunteer.
Check. I spent that week with HODR in Padang counts. I spent every Friday in Palembang at the English Library, and I hosted the radio show with Raj every Saturday.

English Library,
in case you couldn't tell from all the books.

23. Travel somewhere on my own.
Well, I guess I never took a whole trip on my own. I traveled TO many places by myself, but I always at least met up with someone. Although, in a WAY, I was pretty on my own when I started this whole trip. Hmm… maybe this one isn’t finished yet.


Before leaving Indonesia, Raj and I really wanted to visit Borneo to see the orangutans and proboscis monkeys. We planned a trip for one of the last weekends, and (thought) we'd bought tickets. As it turned out, the airline that was supposed to fly us from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun wasn't actually flying any planes that month. Sure, they'd told us their prices and offered to book the tickets for us, but they were shut down for a month of maintenance. Since we'd already bought our tickets to Jakarta, we spent the weekend there and stayed with our favorite ELF Maura. When you can't actually visit the animals in their natural habitats... head to the zoo!

There's a Komodo dragon in the middle there.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

English Library

The single most rewarding experience of my time in Palembang (note: Palembang specifically) was the English Library.

When I first got to Palembang, I knew no one. My school didn’t really invite anywhere on the weekends at first, so I usually spent Friday – Sunday trying to entertain myself. There are only so many times you can pay someone to drive you to the market/mall/museum for the day by yourself before you cry out for companionship.

Through my first counterpart Yana, I met Didi. He told me how he spent Friday nights at a place called the “English Library,” and he said there were other Americans there. I was skeptical, but eager for anyone—American or not—who I might be able to have a conversation with. I ended up spending every Friday night I was in Palembang at EL for “Chit Chat Time.”

And that’s how I met Mike and Debbie, two of the kindest people I’ve ever known. They’ve been traveling to Indonesia their whole lives and signed up for three years here with the library when they retired. I don’t know what I would have done without them. They’re from South Carolina, and they said I reminded them of their daughter. I will never forget how immensely grateful I was to them for driving me home every night. It added an extra hour and a half onto their evening, and when I thanked them, they just said, “Well, of course! You don’t need to thank us for this; we love you!” And sometimes the simplest thing can make such a huge difference. I think the library saved my sanity at the beginning.

Mike and Debbie were perfect to vent to. They love Indonesia, but they said being in Palembang was worse than anywhere else. When you’re struggling, it’s nice to hear other people are struggling, too. Debbie says she regularly checks travel web sites and bookmarks tickets home, just because it makes her feel better.

The students who come there really want to learn English. A lot of college students came to work on their thesis in English, and we work with a lot of new students, too. Unlike many of my students at IGM, the EL kids were really interested in what we taught them. And we didn’t have to worry about teaching to the government test, either, so we were free to play games, tell stories, and watch movies.

Then afterwards, I’d go to dinner with Mike and Debbie. By the end of my grant, I was considered staff at the library, and I’ll miss it so much. Plus, it was shocking to me how small the community of English speakers really is in Palembang. People who are good at English know all the other people who are good at English, whether it’s through classes or friends.