Indonesia Update #2

Selamat Pagi!

We have had a wonderful few days on Java.  After our first blessedly settled night we found a place to eat right close to our hotel called Setia Kawan.  It is located on an alley in an area that caters to backpacker-ish types, so white skin and English-speaking restaurateurs are common.  The Setia Kawan had a wonderful array of food, both Indonesian and American.  After our meal we headed back to the hotel to check out.  It would have been easy to get lost in the maze of streets and walkway/alleys, but we somehow managed not to.

Then it was off to the train station a few blocks distant. With large backpacks and day packs we make quite a picture threading our way through traffic and across streets.  Fortunately, the drivers here are very orderly and polite, with little to no honking and vying for position.  Lots of people are on bicycles and tuk tuks or bajajs (autorickshaws) so walking on the side of the street is no problem.

The train station had lots of cool art including full wall paintings, metal sculptures and strange clownlike statues with weird heads like a fox sticking its tongue out.  While waiting for the train some students bought water and some looked around; all avoided moving too much to limit sweat output in the heat.  Around 2pm, the deluge once again began.  Pounding rain: just immense amounts of water.  We boarded the train for Solo muggy and smelling like a Florida locker room.  The rain continued, which unfortunately precluded opening the windows.

Arriving in Solo we once again faced the task of arranging transport for all of us and our gear.  With botched Bahasa Indonesian and fragmented English our taxis were about to roll, but things got muddled in settling on cost.  Finally, Lisa whipped out paper and pencil and advanced the process using pictographs and pointing. This the cabbies thought funny, but it got the job done.

At the orphanage we discovered that the nice lady trying to help us on the train had called and alerted our host, Steve, to a bunch of clueless white people at the station trying to figure out what to do.  So Steve set off in his car to the train station to help — but no one there would admit to having seen us!

Finally Steve returned and we introduced the orphans to our students in English and our students to the kids in Bahasa Indonesia.  The kids are quite cute, and pretend to be shy — but they can’t manage to keep up the act.  We were introduced to Mas Mulyono, (mas means big brother) the resident manager.  He’s extremely helpful, kind and curious about our school and our lives.  The kids here love him and he is winning the hearts of our students as well.

Steve is tremendously helpful and kind.  He’s started an amazing venture here and it seems good for the kids — provides employment too.  He himself works as an accountant, not even drawing any salary.

The kids head off to school in the morning at different times due to whether they’re attending elementary or secondary.  We do our stuff during the day, and when we regroup the games begin.  Pat played chess with a handful of kids, Sidney and Merissa taught a bunch the card game Uno, Theo had a herd of them teaching him Bahasa, while Aidan and Claire were busy having a water fight with several others as the afternoon deluge set in.  Though the kids are pretty irresistable, Drew, Suzy and Lisa stay busy learning kid’s names and doing paperwork.

Our days are full. We meet for class, orienting the students to what classes in the field are like, laying out expectations, and discussing reading assignments.  Our handouts packet is about 300 pages; the many articles within will help put this amazing experience in context. We are, after all, at school… though we have to remind ourselves of that sometimes!

One neat experience, or really bundle of experiences, was a bike tour around town.  If thirteen of us walking make a spectacle, add bicycles and three guides and we become a complete circus. But we mostly stayed to paths and alleys with little traffic, and had a great time:  We visited a shadow puppet maker, a gamelan tuner, a tofu shop, a distillery, rice paddies, water buffalo hide craftsman, a bakery, a batik factory and a gamelan smith.  Whew!  The final place was spectacular as we saw a gong one meter wide being made.  In bare feet, dim light and of course sweltering heat, a series of guys pounded on the hot metal in rythym and perfect synchrony to get it into the right shape. They chatted with us as we poked about and saw the tuning and polishing.  WOW!

We’re eating well. The cook here, Ibu Sartini (ibu means mother) is a warm lively gal who can bust out some surprising dance moves.  She often provides us with melon and ice tea in the heat of the day.  We’ve had excellent curries, noodles, gado gado, nesi goreng, vegetables, soup, tempeh, corn bread, tofu, and even fried chicken!  Students are being adventurous sampling foods and generally liking it.  Rice is a staple and we’ve found that the little red chilis are HOT.

Few were taken with the fruit called durian though.  This spiky thing can reach 30 cm long and weigh up to 3 kilos!  The taste is weird and the texture is rough, gooey/slimy on the inside with a flavor that somehow also oozes into your nose.  Not tasty but not terrible… maybe unpleasant is a good word.  The rind is thick with huge spikes protruting.  Someone remarked that one falling from its tree could be deadly.  We learned that while still unripe, they’re actually tied to the tree so that when they fall they don’t reach the ground and break — much less kill someone.

We are becoming more accustomed to the bathrooms… we have been graciously provided with toilet paper.  At night the cockroaches come out and you should just see the kids go at them with a shoe.  Scary.  The best approach seems to be ignoring them. Geckos scurry the walls for added fun.  Some of our folks are sunburned despite the use of sunscreen, and we’re all trying to stay hydrated in the heat.  Our team hasn’t seen much conflict yet, but we had an appreciation circle to make sure that the inevitable frictions are taken in context.

Early again this morning, most of us awakened to the 4:30 am chanting that drifts through the town.  It is kind of neat actually, offering a little sense of predawn mysticism. (We’re don’t actually get up until 6:30.)  The sense of beauty and peace here is pretty profound, with an abundance of eye-opening and lovely scenes filling our days.  It is undoubtedly a huge privelege to be able to be here, and we again are indebted to those who have supported our travels.

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