While most volunteers made their way down from Batu after swearing in, I went up up up. “UP” will be a recurring word in my blog I think. So many times I’ve used the word already…oh and “cold”…yes I think you will all be hearing a good deal of the words “up” and “cold”; usually something you wouldn’t correlate with Indonesia. Moreover, unlike most, or perhaps all volunteers we have in East Java, I live with a Hindu family. The community seems be about half Hindu, half Muslim, with a little Christian mixed in there too.
I live in a small village near Mt. Bromo – a volcano really. Peace Corps advices us not to reveal the name of our villages in our blogs, but if you find yourself making a trip to Mt. Bromo, I’m the guy with long hair from California who teaches English at the high school. There is another Californian living here so it could be confusing. Anyways, after making my way UP to my village, I soon noticed it was quite COLD. It’s not too bad in the afternoon, actually it’s great for jogging around that time, most unlike the rest of this country where 5am tends to be the standard hour for exercise. However, nights are just outright cold…and the mandi…don’t even get me started on the mandi. I joked about calling it an ice mandi before I got here…it is…I don’t even know how the water is liquid and not solid as I watch the steam rise from my skin as the cold water bites. Naturally, the weather has its effects on the culture. While in Batu we spent most family time in the living room surrounding the TV, here we spend it in the kitchen surrounding the fire. Obviously another effect of the weather is clothing, not just any clothing though, CAPES. Yeah that’s right, my village wears capes…beat that Peace Corps Anywhere. It’s like everyone here is Super Mario after you hit the box with the feather power-up in it. Man it’s just so cool…I want to get one…but I feel I need to assimilate more before I’m cape-capable.
Moving on, a little about my school…man it’s so bad ass too…I don’t know why more people don’t do this whole Peace Corps thing. Currently my school is under construction, expected to finish in July…although who knows what that means in “jam karet” (rubber time). The school is perched on a steep hill across the valley from my house, so the walk around ends up being about thirty minutes – a few kilometers I think.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in a fairly small school, potentially about 129 students. We actually have been spending this week visiting some of the SMPs (middle schools) in other nearby villages to promote our new SMA. It’s been quite a little adventure cruising in the back of pick-up trucks or jeeps geared for Bromo in order to travel over the mountains to the neighboring villages. About twenty or thirty of the SMA students usually come with us and speak to the prospective students about what they do at the school, one of the major extracurriculars being “paksibraka”, similar to ROTC in the States, but with more singing, dancing, and overall happiness.
Right now the SMA students use classrooms at the local SMP…which is about a 2 minute walk from my house with spectacular views like everywhere else I’ve visited so far here. It’s been a nice way to get to know the community as I’m meeting not only SMA faculty, but those of the SMP as well.
Getting acclimated with the community has been going pretty well so far. It’s a lot of new faces, but I go out to events, school related or otherwise, most every day. I think my second day here I went to a wedding. I’d attended one or two in Batu, but I was always a late comer – never got to experience the opening procession until now. With so much going on in this village (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Javanese in general), it’s often hard to decipher where everything spurs from when observing the culture here in the Tengger.
Keeping busy, I attended a graduation ceremony a few days later. I think it was a combined ceremony for graduating SMP and SMA students from the school up the road from my house. I discovered that a graduation is a graduation no matter where you are. Sitting and listening to a litany of classic farewell speeches while some students cry and others look like they just want to get the hell out of there. I especially enjoyed the dance and music pieces performed by the classes.
The fact that my village lies on the road to Bromo, one of Java’s biggest attraction, makes it a lot easier to be a buleh (foreigner) as well. In fact, just yesterday I took part in an English fun day hosted by a fellow Californian who lives here. He’s been living in Indonesia with his family for about 5 years now, researching linguistics and teaching English. Aside from teaching English formally, they host fun afternoon English sessions – playing games and reading poems with the local SD (elementary school) kids. He’s asked me to take over for him in the following month as he and his family will be moving into the city. I’ll already have a classroom to use and a schedule setup which is just terrific.
Running has always been a great way not only for me to get my bearings and familiarize myself with a new community but to be seen and make my face familiar with them as well. I had the day free Tuesday, as school doesn’t start up again for a few more weeks and there weren’t any extracurriculars planned for the day, so after a few hours of hangin’ out with the new fam, I decided to go on a little jog. Leaving my house, I didn’t really know where to head as I hit the fork in the road. Left = Uphill and Right = Down (but really Right ends up going UP again soon after). I chose left and went up and up and up AND UP. The road was steep, narrow, and rugged as it wrapped itself around the sides of hills and cliffs, always winding UPwards. As I ran, and climbed, and breathed the fresh cold thin air, I took in the views around me, wondering if I’d ever get tired of them in the next two years. After about 30 minutes, I made my way into one of the villages where we had hosted our presentation promoting the new SMA days prior, but after that there was nothing. I pushed myself up the hill, telling myself I’d just go a little farther because the run back would be so easy, all downhill. Every turn I made, thinking I would see the top; all I really wanted to do was see the top, see what was on the other side of this hill that seemed to never end. But with every turn, I was met with another peak, hoping it would be the last. Finally, after about an hour and half I could see the silhouette of gazebos perched on the horizon. “That’s it”, I thought. “I’m running to there and turning around whatever is there is what I get to see today.” Turning the final bend brought me through a string of warungs leading up to not just a gazebo but a view that made the run well worth it. Plus the run back was a breeze, taking about half the time.
But back to my school, the SMA will only have 5 classrooms and 5 teachers, only one of which I haven’t met. Also, it turns out I actually only have one counterpart; the other English teacher teaches 12th grade, but I’ll only be working formally with 10th and 11th. My counterpart, Ibu Lilik, is in her mid-late twenties and has been teaching for about 5 years now. Not only is she my counterpart, but my host family as well. I live with her, her soon to be husband Dedik (they marry on the 29th), and her parents. However many of Lilik’s brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, nephews, nieces, etc. live just down the road; so most days the house usually has about 10-20 other family members around. It’s been especially busy with the wedding coming up; and I’ve been informed that hundreds of people will be coming in and out the next few days. Dedik has been laboring away painting the house and just the other day some of the guys constructed a HUGE kitchen outside behind the house using bamboo, tarps, and old sheet metal. It cuts off the view from my room, but it’s still pretty cool.
The family is great. I’ve been trying to use my Indonesian, but living with Ibu Lilik and her husband Dedik has made it so easy to speak English. Dedik taught music in California for a few months a couple years ago so his English is quite good as well. I spend most my time with him hanging out, playing the guitar, and mlaku-mlaku (walking) around the village. Aside from his time in California, he seems to have been on quite a few adventures– touring all over Asia with his band.
The house itself is a a duplex of sorts, with Lilik and Dedik living in the right unit while Lilik’s parents (Pak Edi and Ibu Titit) and I live in the left. My area is down a steep, narrow stairway (watch your head); and is built into the side of the hill, which makes moisture drip down the walls from time to time when it gets cold at night. I have nice little sitting area with a table, my own mandi, and a small bedroom.
It’s nice, cozy, and for the most part mosquitoless…although I did trade that in for an increase in spiders. But spiders or not, I really can’t see myself growing tiresome of here. Oh and did I mention my backyard…