Welcome to a documented experience of my year as an English Teacher and Community Worker in Java, Indonesia! For the next eleven months, I will be serving with Mennonite Central Committee's Serving and Learning Together program, learning the language, eating the foods, and fully immersing myself in the Indonesian culture.

Looking forward to sharing my experiences with you! Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Last Post...

Selamat Pagi/Siang/Sore/Malam, Teman2 dan Keluarga! ("Good Morning/late-morning-early-afternoon/late-afternoon-early-evening/evening, Friends and Family!"),

Rare is the opportunity for me to use Bahasa Indonesia these days, so I'm seizing the chances where I can!  Nearly two months have elapsed since my arrival back in Canada, and as I am just at the beginning of a new school year, I thought that this might be a good time to write that one final blog that I promised I'd post. My year in Indonesia provided me with one half credit for school (talk about pay-off, eh? I suppose the hands-on experience is the greater reward), and my blog will supply me with the bulk of the content for the final assignment that will be handed in in order to receive my credit. The final assignment requires a minimum of 12 journal or blog entries that encompass a diverse range of my experiences abroad, in addition to a summary, a conclusion, some creative components, and if possible, some linking of PACS theories and lessons to my experiences and emotions during my time in Indonesia. The best part of this assignment is that it provides me with the opportunity to re-read what I wrote throughout the year, and re-live at least a few of my experiences (a little less intensely than the first time around...)

I last posted when I was in Akron. I was two days away from being picked up, and I spoke of the sadness I felt over leaving my SALT family, mixed with a heavy dose of happiness and excitement at the prospect of going home. It was a bit ironic then, that my parents arrived to pick me up at the exact moment that I was saying good-bye to my dear friend Laura. When I think about it, that moment of losing the person most integral to my year in Indonesia at the same time as I gained some of the most important people to my life back here, was very symbolic. It was as though the door of my year in Indonesia closed right as the door to my new life back at home opened up. (Not to say that everything to do with the year tied up nice and neatly and stopped dead when I pulled off the parking lot; only just that the physical SALT journey had reached its end.) It was so hard to say good-bye to the people who know my experience better than anyone, but the excitement and relief that I felt to be heading home overpowered my feelings of sadness.

The eight hour car ride back from Akron felt like one or two at most, with a constant stream of chatter and the excitement of taking in the roadside landscape that a year earlier had been a bit tainted by the impending good-byes that awaited at the end of the journey. I had feared that I had built up the experience of going home and seeing everyone too much in my mind, but everything- from being picked up by my parents, to arriving at home (where my extended family and one of my best friends were awaiting my arrival, complete with two 12-foot hand painted welcome banners, dozens of balloons, flowers, and an abundance of FOOD), to seeing my room for the first time, to petting  my cat, to seeing my boyfriend, to attending church for the first time, to bike rides and- most importantly- reacquainting myself with my favourite foods- met, if not exceeded, my expectations. My first days back felt like an incredible dream that I was not waking up from, and the beauty and ease of life at home felt so freeing and wonderful! I had made a list of the things I wanted to do when I got back home while I was in Indonesia, and I blazed through a whole pile of those. The simple little things brought me so much joy, and that's something that I'm trying to hold on to (though it's crazy how quickly "incredible" can move to "normal"). Bike rides, fresh foods, spending time with family and friends, and many more little things, were such a treat at the beginning of summer, and continue to be things that I really enjoy and am thankful for each day.

As planned, I spent my 5 weeks of summer just catching up with friends and family, going for lots of bike rides, baking and cooking like crazy (that's my newest passion), spending time in Waterloo and at the cottage, and putting some things back in order. I was welcomed back with two parties- one from my family the night of my arrival, and the other from friends who had managed to keep the whole thing a surprise until I arrived at the door. I have never felt as loved as I have since my return from Indonesia. I celebrated my 22nd birthday on August 10th, and while it would have been fun to celebrate a birthday in Indonesia, it was also kind of cool to not have missed one while I was away. I got together with several people for coffee, and their concern for my well-being post-SALT experience has eased the reverse culture shock/emotional dip that we were being prepared for during re-orientation. Many times I heard that the transition to life back at home can be more difficult than the transition to our host communities was. I had braced myself entirely for it, and while something could still hit, I think that one of the big reasons people struggle is because they come from community-oriented cultures back to individualistic society, which I've heard can be difficult to transition from. I, on the other hand, have had more of a community-oriented lifestyle here in Canada than most people have, with a really close family, a supportive church, understanding friends, and a close-knit second family at Conrad Grebel. Within that community are many MANY people who have experienced life overseas and who can offer helpful support should I need it. I am also overwhelmingly blessed by people who genuinely do want to hear about my time abroad, and who are patient enough to listen through my stories. I have not yet found myself wishing for more people to listen to things that I need to say, or finding that the people who are listening are not actually concentrating on what I'm saying. We were told at orientation that the question, "How was Indonesia?" would get frustrating since it is such a broad question, but I have only found that I've felt grateful that people have remembered that I've been away and care enough to ask. My response is almost always the same: "It was a good experience! I'm glad I did it, and I'm also glad it's over!" This is completely true. It was such a hard year, but it was so worth it, and I'm so glad that it happened and that I can now simply reflect upon it from my home community.

The biggest adjustment that I'm finding, now that the parties are over, the novelty of my arriving home has worn off, and the grind of a full course load has begun, is to feeling like I have a home here. This is something that they talked about at orientation too, saying that no place feels like home when you get back. I'm really feeling that right now- my apartment is brand new here, and it's the first time I'm living off campus, which is a lot more isolating than I expected it to be. The faces at Grebel are nearly all new to me, and the place where I used to be a "somebody" (leading Peace Society, being an ambassador, and simply being able to go into anyone's room and know them) now refers to me as "Austin's sister", which I am definitely not used to! Niagara-on-the-Lake feels like home in some ways, but I've been living away from there for too long now for it to feel like the grounding place that it did back when I was little. I'm really feeling like I'm growing up and getting older, making bigger life decisions and having more responsibility on my shoulders. It's exciting to be at the point too, but there are days where it is overwhelming. On those days, I'm really really grateful for the people in my life who are in similar places or are a bit further on down that road, and can offer support and sympathy and words of wisdom. Another little "reverse culture shock" experience that I'm having is the inability to concentrate on conversations going on around me, and sometimes even directly to me. I read that this has been the case for others too, and I think it stems from a year of getting into the habit of tuning out a lot that goes on around me since I couldn't understand it. I think this will improve slowly but surely in the next year, but if you find me zoned out during a conversation, I apologize! It isn't because you're boring!!

The team of SALTers for 2012/2013 began their own SALT journeys on August 9th, and as I know few of those people (one of whom took over Laura's position in Java), I have been taking advantage of technology's amazing ability to keep us connected despite geographical divides. The facebook updates and blog posts that I've read from them evoke the strongest emotions that I've felt since being home. Their words remind me of my words at the beginning of my experience last year, and since I can relate so well to what they are have experienced/are experiencing/will experience, I find myself filled with excitement, sharing their enthusiasm, and also hurting for them as I can understand the homesickness, the frustrations, and the exhaustion. More than anything, I am so proud of those who have chosen to embark on their own journeys. I underestimated the guts that it takes to spend time overseas (and a good thing I did, otherwise I never would have gone, and would have missed out on an incredibly worthwhile experience), and my respect for those who spend time abroad has skyrocketed now that I can relate.

Before I left last year, I had so much enthusiasm and excitement. I had my rose coloured glasses on, and was looking at the upcoming year with an unrealistic dose of idealism. I admit that partway through the year, I began to feel very deceived and mislead by those who have gone on missions stints before myself. I felt like people had been dishonest or misleading about the challenges of serving overseas. It was only in coming home and communicating with the new SALTers that I began to understand why I felt that way. As upcoming SALTers began to ask me questions, I found it really hard to answer them. I wanted to be honest, but I also didn't want to squash their excitement. I didn't want to feed or create any pre-conceived notions. I didn't want to taint their perspective. I also knew that my experience could be entirely different than theirs, and that my challenges may not be their challenges at all. Keeping all of that in mind, I sat with a blinking cursor, trying to formulate a response to the question, "what did you find challenging?" or similar questions. It was hard, and my answer ended up being honest, but vague, and in no way did it convey the full weight of the emotions behind the words. My mom said that it's a bit like having a baby: It's the worst pain in the world, but it's so worth it, so while you feel awful for the people experiencing it, you would never want to dissuade them from the experience that will ultimately change your life for the better, so you don't want to focus too heavily on the difficult part! (I've never had a baby, so I cannot confirm this analogy, but this makes sense to me!)

I'm not sure exactly how this past year in Indonesia will affect my life down the road. I'm not sure what opportunities it has opened, nor do I have a grasp on how it has changed my outlook on life. In talking to a friend who lived overseas for three years back about 30 years ago, she mentioned that even now, things still come up that connect back to her years in Africa. I'm sure that that will be the case for me too, and it's really exciting to think that 11 short months could have such an impact on the whole future of my life. For now, I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm back in Waterloo, living in a beautiful apartment with four good friends from Grebel. I'm taking a full course load which includes Mennonite History, a research seminar course, the paper for this past year, a course on Pacifism and Just War, and a course on World Music. I'm considering writing about the influence of the Gamelan on the music/theatre culture of Java for my world music final paper, and am expecting to write my research paper on- wait for it, wait for it- the impact of FOOD as a cross-cultural tool for peace and reconciliation! It looks like my time in Indonesia is going to shape my studies quite strongly this term. I have a few volunteer-type things that I'm excited to get involved in, and am in the process of connecting with and getting involved with a church in Kitchener. There's nothing like a solid church family to keep you grounded! I will be graduating from school in April, and I'm holding Laura to her promise to come visit me after graduation for a few weeks. After that, the whole world opens right up to me! I'm exploring the potential of getting a Masters Degree in Social Work, or in Peace and Conflict Studies. I'm also toying with the idea of taking time off and earning money to go and visit some of the people I miss so much (like Nicole in Paraguay, or Sushant and Priti, who are just in the midst of returning to India after their term in Indonesia). I may stick around Waterloo and volunteer. The options are truly endless, and it's both frightening and exciting to think of what is open to me once April comes and goes.

It has been an absolute pleasure to have had a purpose for keeping a blog this year, and I thank you for providing me with an audience and support group who, perhaps unintentionally, kept me motivated this year. You gave me reason to search for the positives during the low times; the humourous moments when things didn't seem so funny; and the little "aha" experiences that helped me to expand my understanding of a new culture, of being a foreigner overseas, of the global church, and of serving cross-culturally, throughout the course of this year.

Now that I'm back on this side, I look forward to seeing many of you often in-person. To my YALT and Indonesian friends and family, I miss you all very much, and I'm thinking about you often! Thank-you for EVERYTHING this past year. There aren't enough words to describe how grateful I am to you!

Tuhan Selalu Memberkati!
Sampai Bertemu Lagi!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Week of Goodbyes and Hellos!

Hello hello!!

I am writing this to you from my comfy cozy bed in my beautiful bedroom... in AKRON!!! One of my first blog posts last year was titled something similar to the title I used for this post, and I re-used it here because I find it very fitting. This week is indeed a time of Goodbyes and Hellos, though the complete reverse of last year's experience. It already has been a time of saying good-bye to my Indonesian home and all that that includes, and it will also be a time of saying good bye to the SALT participants of 2011 and 2012, some of whom I've grown very close with, and all of whom I respect and admire and have learned from over the past year. This week will also provide me with the opportunity to say hello to my family, my friends, my boyfriend, and so many others who I CANNOT WAIT to see!! It's pretty exciting to be on this side of things!

We arrived here in Akron on Thursday evening, after 41 (that is not a typo) hours of travel. We had a busy and slightly stressful morning in Salatiga on Wednesday, trying to get everything sorted and packed and brought back to the MCC office, but amidst the craziness, I also got a chance to take a few more bites of fresh and delicious mango, say my goodbyes to Ibu Christin and the boys (six-year old Peter took my departure a bit harder than I anticipated, and I wound up calling him from the airport to assure him that we would see each other again), and enjoy some delicious french toast made especially for us by Pak Chris and Ibu Henny, Dan and Jeanne's house helpers. We also ran into a small crisis when Pak Chris accidentally sprayed his daughter Grace with pepper spray (the container looked like a flashlight, and he had no way of knowing otherwise). The poor girl was in a lot of pain, but nothing that a bit of ice cream couldn't fix!

Most of the MCC staff came over to Dan and Jeanne's place to say good-bye to us, and after final rounds of hugs and well-wishes and promises to keep in touch, we were on the road just shortly after 2PM (Java time), headed to the airport. We were met there by a small group of people that included some of Jason's close friends and family, and my host parents, as well as Pak Herry and Ibu Linda. In their typical insanely generous spirit, my host parents brought us two pizzas from Pizza Hut to enjoy in the airport while we waited for our plane. We took some final pictures, said our final goodbyes, and headed through the gate to embark on our journey back home...

The flight from Semarang to Jakarta is just an hour long, but we wound up with an over seven hour layover in Jakarta as our flight was delayed. We were stuck with our luggage during that time, but we were ok to just hang out on a bench for most of that time. Luck was on our side during check-in, and we were able to bypass the regular line and head straight to the group check-in desk, which was empty. We finally boarded our flight with Qatar airlines (awesome airline, I'd totally recommend it!) at shortly past 2AM, and settled in for the nine hour flight to Doha. We landed at about 6:30AM Doha time, and it was already 35 degrees outside!! SO HOT! It was really cool to land in a country in the Middle East, as I've never seen anything in the Middle East before. It was a lot like what I had pictured it to be- really really dry and very white/beige. The nice thing about our delayed flight in Jakarta was that it consumed the time that we would have spent in layover in Doha. We had just enough time to go through security (TIGHT security in Doha, my goodness!! I was not used to that, coming from the lenient land of the Indo), and meet up with three other SALTers who had flown in from Vietnam and Nepal. It was really cool to meet up with them again!

Our flight from Doha to Washington DC took about 14 hours, and we were pretty drained by the time we arrived in Washington, where we met up with even more SALTers, bringing our total group to 12. We were extreeemely lucky to have a practically flawless travel experience, with no problems at immigration and everyone's luggage arriving (including all three pieces of my checked luggage... I'm not a light packer.). Someone met us in DC, and drove us back to Akron, stopping at a convenience store along the way. It was my first time in a North American convenience store in almost a year, and I cannot express how exciting (and even a bit overwhelming) something that small can be! I went for a bag of Smartfood and a water bottle, and enjoyed those in the car.

We arrived at MCC Akron around 8:30 PM on Thursday, and were a bit surprised to find the kitchen closed. This ended up not being a bad thing at all though, because it gave us an excuse to go out for dinner. My first dinner back in North America? Sonic! Nothing like a top quality chili cheese/frito topped hot dog, and cheesey tater tots to welcome one back to North America, right?? And it was DE.LIC.IOUS!!! It could also be justified by the 40 minute walk that it took to get there ;) It started raining while we were eating, and having no other option, we began our walk back in the rain. Just as we were starting out, a car pulled over and a lady rolled down her window and told us to get in. Under normal circumstances I would never hitch hike, but I felt pretty safe being in a group of 7 people. It turned out that the lady taught with a parent of one of the people in our group, which was a cool little connection to make. It was such an awesome welcome back into North America, with such kindness being displayed on our first night back. I went to bed around 11 and had a completely normal night sleep.

Friday morning at 7:30 presented me with the greatest treat I could possibly think of... BACON. Ohhhh, bacon, crispy salty bacon. What a breakfast!! Friday was free of any formal activities, providing us all with a chance to rest and start the road to recovery from jet lag, as well as start reconnecting with SALTers from other countries. It has been really interesting to realize that, while all of us had dramatically different SALT experiences, everyone shares common understandings and sympathies. It is really relieving to have this time to begin to readjust in such a relaxed setting, before going home and experiencing the excitement and challenges that come with returning from time abroad. We have been told that it is almost always more difficult to come home than it was to leave for a new country because one anticipates the new country to be different, but one cannot help but expect to be returning to the same life that they left behind when they began their time of service, and yet a year (or three years or five years or however many years spent abroad) has also passed at home, and with that come inevitable changes. I'm trying really hard to be aware of that reality, since it sounds like the reverse culture shock is an unavoidable part of the re-entry experience. I think it will be something that we're going to just have to take as it comes though, and for now I am not dwelling on the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead, but am rather reveling in the absolute joy and relief that I feel right now in being back on home turf, and in all of the little things that never were exciting before, but are extremely exciting right now. (Like bacon, for example :p. And clean air. And quiet streets.)

Yesterday, Saturday, was the beginning of formal sessions, but they ended nice and early, providing lots of time for relaxation and chances to catch up on sleep. We went to the park, and I went for a few nice long walks, and took that time to just breathe in the clean air. The smell of the air was the first thing that hit me when I walked out of the DC airport. It just smells so CLEAN! We also walked to Turkey Hill, a convenience store, and I had an ice cream sandwich, which tasted absolutely heavenly. I have never been able to buy so much happiness for 70 cents before! Lunch yesterday was BLTs (more bacon!!) and dinner was enchiladas. Everything just tastes SO GOOD!!

Today we had pancakes and SAUSAGE for breakfast (I didn't realize how much I missed cheap and fatty breakfast meats!), and then began sessions for the day. Sessions today included a lot of "unpacking"- sharing how we were feeling about different things, what our frustrations and challenges and joys were during assignment, how we're feeling about being back, what we're nervous and excited for regarding heading back home, etc. In all honesty, I'm a bit sick of reflecting on my feelings and emotions (I had a lot of time to do that this year already), but we've been told that these sessions that may not seem helpful in the present are in fact quite helpful as we return back to our home communities, and since MCC has been doing orientations for quite a few years, I'm trusting that they're right about that. It's also really nice to hear the stories of others. There is a lot that I cannot relate to and a lot that I can relate to, and everything spoken is an opportunity to learn about others' experiences.

Mike and I have had a craving for Subway since February (when we went to Singapore), and we set out in search of Subway for dinner tonight rather than having dinner here. We got a bit sidetracked by an Italian restaurant, and wound up eating there instead. I had pizza, and I cannot tell you how delicious it was! Just incredible! I was struck by the portion sizes here... they are just HUGE! Portions in the Indo were like a third of the size of the portions I saw at that Italian restaurant.

Tomorrow is the last full day of orientation, and there are a bunch of sessions that I hope will be more lecture-style, and less interactive. One of them is supposed to be about how to share our stories when we get back home. We have been told that it can be really difficult to figure out how to respond to the questions we'll get at home, and I'm really eager to learn as much as possible from people here about how to effectively answer questions. I'm excited to get questions from people at home, and definitely hope that people will take an interest in my experience this year, and I really want to know how best to speak about this year in a way that answers questions concisely, while also doing justice to the experiences I've had and the stories that I am passionate about and eager to share. This experience of Serving and Learning Together certainly doesn't come to an end with the conclusion of orientation. That's both a daunting and awesome thought!

I'm over-the-top excited to get picked up by my parents on Tuesday morning, and head back to my beautiful little home town! The moments of seeing them for the first time, of driving down familiar streets, of pulling into my driveway, of stepping through my front door, of being greeted by my little sister (and maybe even more family??), of petting my cat, of eating my first home-cooked meal, are all moments that I have played and replayed in my mind for the last 11 months. There were times this year when I thought that this time would never come, and now it's here, and it's just as exciting as I was anticipating it to be! This week also brings with it some sadness, as I say good-bye to the remainder of my Indo Fam, the group of SALTers that have carried me through my toughest times this year, and who understand this experience and all that comes with it, more thoroughly than anyone else ever could. I'm really going to miss them, and it hurts to say good-bye. Despite that, I am so looking forward to the upcoming days of being reunited with family, with friends, with my boyfriend, and with my church community. I cannot wait to explore the places that are so important to me at home, to see my little Southern Ontario world with new eyes and new appreciation. It is a time of so much change and a cause for so much celebration and gratitude, and I am ready to embrace all of that in these upcoming days.

I am so grateful to each and every one of you for your thoughts and your prayers over this past year, and I am hoping that they continue during these weeks and months of readjustment and learning. Thank-you for reading my blog this year, and following me through my highs and lows. Thank-you for being willing to learn alongside me and for allowing my experiences to make their way into your own hearts and minds, and perhaps impact you in some way or another. The experience of SALT goes so far beyond myself. The purpose of SALT is to bridge communities, to learn from each other, and to gain a deeper understanding and thus appreciation and respect for our global family (a concept I still struggle with, and hope to keep grappling with). Blogging is one small way to help fulfill the purpose of SALT, and just by your willingness to read, you have engaged in that experience, and have in turn made this year even more worthwhile. Thank-you!!

As I mentioned before, I plan to post at least once more, maybe more, in the upcoming weeks and months. The experiences of this year are at their freshest right now, and are perhaps a bit too fresh to be able to process and understand. As I am able to start sorting through this year, I hope to blog a bit about the whole returning home process. Keep checking for new posts every once in awhile, because one will be coming! Until then, thank-you SO MUCH once more for your love and your support over this past year. You helped to carry me through, and I am forever grateful to you for that!

Looking forward to seeing many of you SO SOON!!!
With love and gratitude,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Last Night in Indonesia

My Dear Family and Friends,

After over 11 months outside of Canada, and almost exactly 11 months in Indonesia, I am spending my last night in the place that, just one year ago, I knew almost nothing about. One year ago, I had no idea who I would be meeting in Indonesia, what I would be doing, where I would be living... I didn't know the language or the culture. I didn't know the challenges I would face, nor did I know what incredible experiences I would encounter. And now here I sit on my last night in this formerly strange and unknown land, with my suitcases packed up once again, and my emotions just as mixed up as they were in the days leading up to my departure for Indonesia. I went back to the blog post that I wrote on my last night at orientation last August (August 17th, in fact, exactly 11 months ago today), and was struck by the words I found:
I'm anticipating tomorrow with a mix of excitement, apprehension, and pure dread! I've heard- and told myself- over and over that "it will be great, you'll have so much fun, you're living your dream..." All of that will be true at times, but what has resonated most with me is the words of my mother (it's always the words of a mother, right?): "This is a choice you're making. The alternative is to not go, and you'll regret that for the rest of your life." Now THAT is always true, and I've had to think of that several times over the past week in my moments of panic about the year ahead (but don't worry mom, I AM excited!). I've been told over and over this week that we're going to hit all-time lows (the part I am most nervous for), that it's going to be really hard, and that it's going to be completely worth it. I know that that's true too.

It may sound strange and maybe even a bit unbelievable to hear that I am anticipating tomorrow (and the days that follow) with almost exactly the same emotions. There's a lot of excitement, no doubt, and the list of things that I am excited about is practically endless- seeing my family and friends and boyfriend, eating my favourite foods, being back in my own bed in my own room, starting school and living in Waterloo again, conversing easily with people again, hot showers, going on bike rides... it is all SO exciting! That excitement is mixed with apprehension; a year is a long time, and things have changed at home. Some of those changes are ones I'm aware of, and I've no doubt that there are others I will discover when I get there. Friends have gotten engaged, have gotten married, have graduated, have moved on to full-time jobs or higher education at different schools. My sister moved from high school to university, and completed her whole first year at Waterloo in the time I've been away. For me, life at home froze almost completely, but for everyone else, it carried on as it always does. I think that the weird time warp feeling is often a challenge faced by those who spend time overseas, and I now have even more respect for long term service workers who dedicate much more than just 11 months of their lives to service, and must feel even more out-of-the-loop than I will when they return to wherever their home base is. My ongoing prayer is that I will be able to recognize changes at home as something positive and that I can rest in the assurance that everything works out just as it is intended to. I'm also praying for... wait for it... patience! Patience with myself and with others as the experiences and discoveries of this year are integrated into my life at home and as I come to terms with the fact that my life at home will be different than it was when I left, because I truly believe the words that I wrote last year- that this year abroad was completely worth it. It was hard, and oh man, did I ever hit all-time lows, but I am so SO glad that I did this year in Indonesia, and I believe that it has been, and will continue to be, completely worth the lows that I hit while I was here, and the challenges that we've all been told we'll face in our first weeks and months back home. I am glad to be on this side of the apprehension though, and to be going home to a community full of people who have done overseas work and even SALT specifically, and who are willing to be sources of support. I also have the incredible advantage of having had my parents and sister, and Andrew come to visit, so they have an idea of what I'm talking about. I think that will be really helpful! Overall, right now I am feeling SO incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity for this experience, and I'm really grateful for all the lessons that it has taught me already (painful as some of them were), and for what it will continue to teach me!

I had my exit interview with MCC yesterday, which consists primarily of the Exchange Program Coordinators reading through a review that they wrote of me as a service worker this year, and provides an opportunity to offer feedback on all things assignment-related, as well as a chance to tie up any loose ends that need tying up. While it is a united body in its beliefs and values, I've learned that MCC looks quite different in every country that it serves, for a variety of reasons. Not all countries have a position specifically for Exchange Program Coordinators, for example, and that factor alone would shape the experience of SALTers and YAMENers very differently than our year here in Indonesia. We also had the advantage of serving beneath in-country representatives who have been in the country for over a decade, and who have an incredible wealth of knowledge about situations and circumstances in Indonesia. Before coming here, I took it for granted that MCC was just one big collective body, and didn't consider that the context in which MCC is serving would impact how MCC functions within different parts of the world. I'm really excited to get back to Akron and hear about MCC in other contexts of the world!

In addition to my exit interview yesterday, I seized the opportunity to have one last cream bath (those incredibly indulgent head/shoulder massages that do not exist in North America), and we followed that up with a final lunch at Cosmo, one of our tried and true little places. We had just a few hours between lunch and dinner, when Jason, Mike, Laura, and I met up with my host sister Valen and her friend for dinner. We tried pork fried noodles and rice, which was quite delicious. For "dessert", we headed to a warung that sells ronde (pronounced "ron-day"), a hot ginger beverage with roasted peanuts, jellies, and sesame balls. I cannot say I particularly liked it (I did finish the cup, so I gave it a fair shot), but it's a traditional drink in Salatiga, so I'm glad that I tried it.

Today was a free day, and since the power was out from about 9:30 onwards, I used the morning to get all of my suitcases organized, packed, weighed, re-organized, re-packed, and re-weighed. For lunch, a bunch of us met up and went to "Depot Trio", a row of warungs with a variety of culinary options. I went for gado-gado today, as it is one of those foods that I certainly won't get to eat at home unless I make it myself. Gado-gado is a mix of a variety of vegetables- in this case, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, and lettuce-, as well as lontong (rice steamed in a banana leaf), hard boiled egg (yes Austin, I ate that!), and tofu. It is all covered in a slightly spicy peanut sauce and then topped with crispy cracker-ish type things (called kerupuk), and it is SO delicious! I also got a fresh strawberry juice. The fresh fruit juices found on Java are absolutely incredible. SO fresh and delicious!! The afternoon was more packing and playing with Dan and Jeanne's dogs, and then we had dinner with Karen and Major and Sushant and Priti at a fried chicken restaurant. On the way home, we learned about a little craft show/fair type thing going on, so we went to that and wandered around. It was really cool! There was a stage set up for a Wayang performance (traditional Javanese puppet shows), so we saw all of the puppets, which was awesome! I got some singkong keju (cheese-y cassava), which was strangely tasty, and we looked at the art and the batik stalls that were set up there. It was a really awesome way to spend our last evening here!

The plan for tomorrow is to bring all the stuff to MCC that we are not bringing home with us, and then I want to visit Pak Lilik and Ibu Christin and the boys one last time before I leave. We're planning on having one last Indonesian meal for lunch (soto, a type of soup), and then we head out around 2:00PM from Salatiga. Our flight departs from Semarang at 5:30PM tomorrow night, and we fly out of Jakarta late at night. We are supposed to be arriving in Washington, DC on Thursday the 19th around 3:20PM, and then we head back to Akron for a few days of re-orientation. This means that if all goes according to plan, my next post will be back in North America! It feels entirely surreal right now!!

Thinking of all of the YAMENers, SALTers, and IVEPers, who are traveling in these next few days, and praying for safe and happy travels!

See you on the other side!!
Lots and lots of love,

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Back in Salatiga...

Hello Hello!

I am writing this post from my absolute favourite spot in Indonesia- the massive day bed in Dan and Jeanne's screened-in back porch. Over this past year, I have seen some jaw-droppingly beautiful places and experienced many incredible things, but nothing can compare with that feeling of complete contentment that comes from being surrounded by good company, good food, and a comfy cozy environment. It feels good to be back!

I got back to Salatiga around noon on Thursday. My last day in Semarang included a Dim Sum breakfast (Chinese food, which is a favourite of my host parents, who are ethnic Chinese themselves), an incredible Italian lunch, a farewell presentation from the kiddies at PPA, and dinner at a warung, where I tried pigeon for the first time- and LOVED it! Why don't we eat pigeon at home? It would solve that issue of excessive pigeons in big cities, and they really are delicious little birds! A bit oily, but super crispy skin! Absolutely delicious. My host parents made me a beautiful photo album as a going-away gift (among a few other things, because they consistently take generosity to a whole new level), and in addition to their gifts, people dropped by all evening and even the morning of my departure, with last-minute kenang-kenangan that they wanted me to take home. I think I received as many gifts in the last few weeks as I have in all my 21 birthdays combined. Or at least close to it ;)

My host parents and pastor's wife brought me to Salatiga, and we picked Nicole up on the way. Nancy, Mike, and Laura were already here, and my host family treated us all to lunch at "Bizztro" (double Z) before dropping us all off at the MCC office and saying our final (or semi-final, because I think they are coming to the airport on Wednesday) good-byes. They made sure to stress that we- all of us YALTers, as well as my family and friends- always have a home in Indonesia if our travels should ever lead us back here. I know that that is an absolutely sincere offer, and I really hope to get a chance to take them up on it in the future.

While it was sad to say good-bye to the host family, it was AWESOME to be reunited with the team, particularly Mike, who we haven't seen in over two months. Our YALT team gets along incredibly well, and they truly feel like a little family for me here. We spent most of our afternoon on Thursday just catching up and going through our luggage and re-packing (well at least I did). In the evening, all of us went to the Pancisila for dinner. The Pancisila is like the city centre, with a huge inner green surrounded by a wide band of sidewalk. A lot of food vendors gather there in the evenings. The food is really cheap and really delicious, and it's a lot of fun to sit on the mats that are set up, and listen to street performers and watch kids race around on ATVs. It's a bit of an experience every time! Later in the evening, the last of the team- Lweendo, Jason, and Riki- arrived back safe and sound after a loooong day on the road. We all chatted for awhile, then watched Mama Mia before heading to bed.

Friday was a busy busy day, with a baby shower planned for the early afternoon, and the YALT send-off dinner in the evening. Karen and Major's baby was due a few days ago, and we had the shower planned for Friday the 13th, with our fingers crossed that little baby Edward would hold off on making his appearance until after the shower was over. It turns out that Friday the 13th isn't nearly as unlucky as people think it is, for Edward cooperated and the shower went off beautifully! Nicole and Nancy were in charge of decorations for the Shaun the Sheep themed shower (a British claymation kids show that is similar to Wallace and Grommit, and is extremely popular here), and they went ALL OUT. The back porch was completely transformed! Laura and I were in charge of food and games, but so many people helped out to make it all come together. We had a water balloon toss (re-named "Don't Break Your Water"... that was actually the only game) and enjoyed some delicious foods, including our "Shaun the Sheep Shaped Cupcake Cake", which turned out beautifully! It was a lot of fun, and a lot of the MCC staff were able to make it.

Our YALT dinner took place that evening, as Nicole had to depart earlier than the rest of us (Saturday morning) because she was here on a different visa than the rest of us. The original plan was to go out for dinner, but plans were changed, and instead the MCC staff cooked us an INCREDIBLE meal of homemade satay with peanut sauce, vegetable curry, puri (?), a type of Indian bread, mint chutney, rice, and for dessert, a chocolate birthday cake (for both Riki and I), and cookies. The meal was SO much better than a restaurant ever could have been, and it was quite a treat to be able to just sit back and enjoy while the rest of the MCC staff did the work. (Thank-you!!). A slideshow was also put together, and I was struck by just how much our little Indo fam has gone through together this year, ranging from really awesome to really challenging, and everything in between. I feel SO blessed to have had these people in my life this year, and I cannot express how much I'm going to miss them when we have to say all of our good-byes. (And going back to the food part of this event, I'll also add that that satay grill that I mentioned in my last post wound up being put to good use on Friday night, and I feel a bit less like a fool for purchasing such a seemingly useless item!)

I woke up at 3AM on Saturday morning, along with Mike, Laura, and Riki, to accompany Nicole to the Semarang airport. The Indonesian YAMEN team (consisting of Nancy, Lweendo, and Nicole) have their re-orientation in Cambodia rather than the US, where it is hard to get visas, so Nicole was headed there to wait for Nancy and Lweendo so that they could begin their re-orientation activities. Nicole was really sad to leave early, and we were really sad to send her off, but she's made it safely to Cambodia (arrived at the wrong airport and had to bus 8 hours to Phnom Penh, but she handled the little mix-up with the stoicism that Nicole is known for), and hopefully she'll be able to at least get some time to relax and enjoy these few days. We arrived back from the airport and I slept until almost noon, and then Laura, Mike, and I walked to Bu Wati for grilled chicken and rice. From there, we headed to a fun little souvenir shop, and then walked to Laura's old host family's home (she stayed with a host family during language training back in September/October) to say thank-you and good-bye. Her old host family runs an orphanage out of their home, and they currently have 19 children between the ages of 5 months and senior high school. Laura isn't exactly a big fan of children (to put it lightly), but I was thrilled for the chance to hold a few babies, which I haven't actually had that many opportunities to do this year! We had a nice little visit and then headed back to the Jantzi's for a bit of a break before dinner. Dinner was nasi goreng at Karen and Major's, followed by a time of answering random questions in order to prepare us for the questions that people at home may ask us upon our return. I'm curious about how many of those questions we'll get when we get back! All year we've been answering questions that people here have had about life in Canada. It will be interesting to see what the flipside looks like! We played some Dutch Blitz in the evening and then came back and watched a movie before bed.

We were at Karen and Major's again this morning, for pancakes and a time of worship. We did that in place of attending an actual church service, and us YALTers who have spent quite a bit of time introducing ourselves and re-answering questions and sitting through really really long sermons in Bahasa Indonesia, were quite grateful that this alternative was provided. We sang a bit, and Sushant gave a message about how God turns our failures into successes, and how even though we may feel like we failed either in specific situations or in our overall year of service (or both), this year was not about what we were able to accomplish, but what God was wanting to accomplish through us. I felt like it was a much-needed reminder that it is not my place to judge whether this year was a success or a failure; I wasn't placed in Indonesia to accomplish my own goals. I was placed here for reasons beyond my understanding, that I cannot possibly have a clear vision of. It's a relief to know that, because if the success of this year was measured by my own accomplishments, I would be coming home a very guilt-ridden, defeated, frustrated, and dissatisfied young woman.

After breakfast, five of us took the bus to Semarang, with the intention of grabbing lunch and seeing a movie. We wound up just grabbing lunch, as the theatre was absolutely packed. There was a really cool craft show going on too, and we wandered through that a bit before heading back up to Salatiga. Tonight, the plan is to have dinner at the Pancisila and then play some games at Karen and Major's. I cannot think of a more enjoyable way to spend an evening here in Salatiga!

I have my exit interview with MCC tomorrow afternoon, and in the evening, Mike, Laura, and I are having dinner with my host sister Valen, and her friend. We're trying a new place that gets so busy that she asked us what we'd like to eat from there today so that she could order in advance. (The options were fried rice, fried noodles, or fried rice/noodles... they do two things, but they must do 'em well!!)

I'm hoping to post once more while I'm here- I'm not ready to end the in-Indonesia portion of my blog yet!

I hope you're all well and happy! Thanks for reading!
Have a great day!

Lots of love,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Grand Finale!

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening!!

We were told at orientation (and several times throughout the year) that the end of the year will end up getting really busy as everyone will want to spend a bit of time with us before we head out. We were also advised to hold out on buying souvenirs here because we would likely receive many MANY gifts (I've mentioned before that gift giving is a very big part of the culture) and we would run out of room to bring everything home. Given my somewhat impatient nature and my "but this may be the only opportunity!" mentality, I held out on buying anything to bring home until about mid-February, and have been picking things up here and there ever since. Of course, the orientation leaders hit the nail on the head, and I have received kenang-kenangan (souvenir, or memory) after kenang-kenangan, not only for myself, but for my parents and my church as well. The generosity is positively overwhelming, and my jam-packed, well overweight suitcases are a testament to that generosity (and perhaps a wee bit to my own souvenir purchasing problem- the traditional satay grill, for example, was one of those impulse buys that just isn't going to make it back with me. I've a feeling a good ol' barbecue will be both faster and less likely to create excessive smoke, should I ever feel the urge to barbecue my own satay...). Anyways, all that to say that I have been absolutely flooded with love and kindness and generosity these last few days in particular, taking the shape of souvenirs to bring home, lunches, dinners, parties, prayers, church services, speeches, and I'm sure much more.

The beginning of the intense celebration period began on  Thursday night, when I was taken out by Ibu Linda and Pak Herry (from Gloria Patri) and their daughter Vania, for a good-bye dinner. The intention was for it to be a thank-you dinner for them from me, but Ibu Linda brought along a birthday cake and made it my birthday party in Indonesia (because I'm not here to celebrate the actual day), and then both she and their pastor's wife (the pastor from their church and his wife joined us too) handed over gifts. The table beside us wound up being people from their church, and they footed the bill for all of us, which was extremely generous especially considering that I don't even know them. (I also don't know the pastor who gave me an absolutely beautiful scarf as a birthday/going away present. I just cannot keep up with the generosity!!)

My birthday party/going away party from Bu Linda and her family and pastor.

On Friday morning, my host mom and I, along with some other ladies from church, headed up to Salatiga to pick up my host sister, and the continued on to Kopeng to pop in for a few minutes on a church retreat going on at a hotel there. Since we were driving right by Laura's campus, we picked her up, and she joined us for the morning in Kopeng. It was a nice relaxed atmosphere (mainly because the 50 or so children were in a seminar for the duration of our visit), and were it not for the loudspeakers of a nearby mosque bellowing out the Friday morning service (all of which echoed off of the surrounding mountains), it would have been a downright quiet visit. We sat outside and just enjoyed the cool air and the beautiful view (which we realized must be of National Geographic quality, but we've become so used to it now that it's hard to see it that way), and consumed the treats that Andrew sent me in a package that I found waiting for me at MCC that morning. We had lunch at a warung with an incredible view, and then headed back to Semarang, dropping Laura off on campus again.

Saturday morning and afternoon were free of all plans and activities, and I used it to devour a book that I've been dying to read. In the evening, I headed to the usual Saturday night youth service, which I discovered was titled "Last Night With Ellery." (Officially! It was on the slides and everything!) It was an awesome night, with most of the youth in attendance, and a short little sermon given by Pak Anto (the youth pastor), as well as a short message from me. They prayed over me, and then we concluded the service early because, unbeknownst to me, there were plans to go out for dinner together! We headed over to Cabe (pronouned "cha-bay"), for a wonderful dinner with a really fun group of over 20 people.

Sunday morning was my last church service, and I wore a gorgeous new batik dress that the TK had given me as a going away gift. I was prepared to say a few words and then sing a song, but I was not prepared for the mini sermon that they would give for me, nor for the beautiful gifts that they had me open in front of the church, nor for the church-wide prayer sung for me, nor for the prayers and gifts and greetings for Niagara UM Church (my church at home), nor for the prayers and gifts and greetings for my parents, nor for the tears that I couldn't stop from flowing down my cheeks. It took me until now to realize how loved I have been this year, how much energy and time the church has invested in me, how accommodating they've been, how willing to engage in a cross-cultural learning endeavour that was completely beyond anything their church has ever done before. My position changed just a few days before I got to Indonesia last August, as the church that was originally going to host me realized that they couldn't take me on. For me, the implications of this were nothing more than an email explaining that I would be in a different church than MCC originally expected, and that they couldn't tell me who my host family was until the day before I got here (which, at the time, was something I was really angry about.) Sola Gratia agreed to take me on with almost no time at all to prepare. My host family stepped up to volunteer to host me without knowing a thing about me (which is HUGE commitment), and despite their concerns about not knowing enough English to communicate with me, and fearing that I could get sick (note that their concerns were about ME, and not about them- their selflessness just blows my mind). I had a going-away lunch party yesterday, thrown by my host parents, and they invited everyone they could think of within the church (and a few outside of the church, like Pak Lilik and his family) who has helped me in some way this year. There were 67 people in attendance. This excludes people from Ichthus FM, kids from TK, kids and parents from PPA, kids from Gloria Patri, and a few other people I've gotten to know through random little connections. It was incredible to see all at once, how many people have made an effort to connect with me in some way this year- taking me to the movies, inviting me out for a meal, giving me rides, inviting me to join their group at church, and so on. My pastor spoke at the lunch, as did my host dad, and Pak Lilik. People gave me gifts, and asked for pictures with me. I in no way deserved such a send-off, but it was given anyways, given joyfully, and by my host parents, who have endured me at my worst this year with constant patience and love and a sincere desire to understand. Sunday was just an overwhelming day for me. (I give credit to Pak Lilik for all the photos you see below)
My Pastor (Pastor Soegiharto), his wife, and two of their three boys. Those of you from NUMC should know that these incredible people have sent a gift home with me for you, and have expressed a deep desire to build our Global Church through connecting as church communities. Looking forward to hearing your ideas on how we can make that happen after I get back :) 

My youth group! What a fun group of people!! (The man on the far right is Pak Anto, my youth pastor
Celebrity shot! The ladies thought I was being treated like a celebrity, so we documented it.

My host family. The most generous and selfless people you will ever lay eyes on, I'm absolutely sure of it.

All of these people came out just for me... I was absolutely overwhelmed.

On Monday morning I got up and headed downstairs for breakfast. Usually there is a container of bread on the table, and a pot of tea beside my plate. That morning the tea was there, but there was no bread. My host mom came out of the kitchen and asked me if I would like bread or if I would like Zuppa Soup. Zuppa Soup just happens to be one of my new most favourite foods in the world (sort of like chicken pot pie in soup form, complete with the puffed pastry on top!), and so I opted for the delicious soup, which came fresh out of the oven. I enjoyed that in the company of my principal and a friend of Valen's (a friend of hers invited me to her graduation ceremony next week in Salatiga, and I feel quite honoured!). Valen and her friend headed back to Salatiga, and my host mom, principal, and I headed off to "Kampung Batik" (a small batik store in a little neighbourhood) to get some things that Nicole had asked me to pick up for her. I spent the rest of the morning cleaning/organizing/attempting to pack, and doing some laundry. Around 1:00, some people from church picked me up for yet another going away party, this time thrown by the church staff, the TK staff, and the PPA staff. There were well over 20 people, and we had lunch in a big pavillion overlooking a pond. A representative from each group of people (church, TK, PPA Sendang Guwo, and PPA Sola Gratia) each spoke for a few minutes, and then I had my chance to try to thank them for everything they've done for me this year. Lunch was ikan bakar (grilled fish, one of my favourite foods here), satay, rice, vegetables, and a few other things, including molen (bananas wrapped in a flaky pastry, another favourite of mine). My TK staff gave me a beautiful gift, and we got some pictures and played some games as well. In the evening, my host parents took me out for dinner to "New Planet", the first place we ever ate at when I newly arrived in Indonesia. I hadn't been there since that first night, and it was a funny contrast- that first night, I was so nervous and homesick that I couldn't choke down more than 2 pieces of garlic bread and a couple of fries. Last night, I had no problem consuming... well, substantially more than that.

I spent the majority of today packing and organizing, with a nice lunch date thrown in there (one of the upsides of this leaving business is all the delicious food!). Tonight we're meeting my pastor and his wife for dinner. I really enjoy their company, they're a really fun couple! Tomorrow is my last day here in Semarang, and I'll be spending it packing and cleaning and attending one last "ibadah" (church service). I'm not sure what else the day will hold.

It looks like this is my last post from Semarang- we meet in Salatiga again on Thursday, for a week of "disorientation" activities that include some meetings with MCC, a good-bye dinner, and most importantly, a chance to be together with our MCC Indo Fam one last time. It's bittersweet for me, as I'm now feeling pretty sad about leaving my life in Semarang (always goes that way, right?), and because I know that after this week is over, I will no longer be able to spend time with my dear YALT family and the MCC staff. At the same time, I know it's going to be an AWESOME week, and the prospect of getting back to my loved ones at home remains as exciting as ever, despite the pain of leaving so many wonderful people here.

I will definitely post at least once more before I leave Indonesia (we fly out of Semarang next Wednesday, July 18th, and are supposed to be back in Akron in the evening of Thursday, July 19th, where we'll be involved in re-orientation activities until Tuesday, July 24th, when my parents will be picking me up and taking me back to my beautiful homeland- TWO WEEKS from today!), and I will also post in Akron. I'm also wanting to do a reflection post or two once I get back to Canada and have had some time to adjust and look back on this year, so if you've been following my blog regularly, don't stop as soon as I return to Canada! I'll let you know when I'll post my final blog entry.

I hope you're all doing absolutely wonderfully, and I am SO looking forward to talking to a lot of you IN PERSON in just a few short weeks!! SALTers, IVEPers, and YAMENers, wishing you an awesome last week in your host countries, and safe travels as you return home!

Have a great day!
Lots of love,

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Weekend in the Village

Good Morning!

As I was walking home today (just now, in fact), a man with a distracted look on his face pulled over on his motorbike. His eyes were on the sky, and I was confused, until he produced a pigeon (a live pigeon) from his pocket, and clutched it in his hand, eyes still searching above. It seemed that what he was looking for wasn't to be found, so he continued on his way, the pigeon perched on the left handlebar, held in place by the hand of the driver. My only guess is that there was some sort of pigeon racing going on (that's a sport here), and they were seeking out the mate. Further along, I spotted a man busily picking up pieces of garbage from the road (Cleaning! How nice! I thought), and then chucking them over the side of the bridge, into the stream below. I suppose it was one of those "out of sight, out of mind" scenarios.

For us YALTers here in Indonesia (and I'm guessing in pretty much every part of the world), these last few weeks are jam packed with plans and activities that those in our host communities have planned for us, with the realization that there's not a lot of time left. For me, one of those plans included a two night trip to Blora, a regency in northeast Central Java, which is comprised of one main town and many villages. My principal from the TK (Bu Yanti) is from one of those villages, and she was eager to show me where she lived. I have been wanting to see a village since I arrived here, and since a visit to Riki in her placement (a village) never happened, I was glad to still get a chance to go.

Bu Yanti and her family picked me up on Friday evening (after my second PPA party, where I was presented with even more gifts and grilled fish, and where I had the chance to try to express my gratitude to them for all they have done for me this year through some gifts and a photo collage that I made of this past year), and we set off on the three and a half hour drive to Blora. We stopped off for dinner along the way, and I discovered a type of washroom that I haven't yet stumbled upon. It's the kind where there is no toilet of any sort, just a slightly sloped floor and a drain. (I opted to seek out a squatty potty.) The roads to Blora were bumpy, to say the least (my head grazed the top of the van on more than one occasion), and judging by the speed we were going, Bu Yanti's husband was eager to get to Blora (the speedometer read 80 km/hr, which led me to wonder whether the speedometer was broken or whether I've grown so used to never exceeding 50 km/hr that 80 seemed downright wreckless), but we finally made it to the home that Bu Yanti grew up in, where her mother still lives.

Wow, was that house ever different than my place here in Semarang. Bu Yanti's mom's place is big and open concept, with basic ceramic flooring, and a straight view up to the roof. The walls that divide the rooms come up about as high as normal walls, but since there is no ceiling, the rooms are all open to each other from about 8 feet and higher (and the ledge that is created provides a perfect runway for lots of rats). The exception to the high ceilings is the bathroom, which is maybe 5 feet high at the highest point. There is a big well in the backyard to haul up water needed to do dishes and other daily tasks. There is electricity, but it cannot support too much going on at once- the TV, fridge, and laptop was more than enough! Chickens scurry around the backyard, and there are lots of different types of fruit trees growing wild along the border of the property. There is a makeshift badminton court set up next to the house, which gets put to good (late night) use. I learned that people plant bamboo around the border of a village to protect it from the winds that sweep across the fields of corn or other crops, so you can tell where there are villages by observing the lines of bamboo planted in fields.

Inside the village house. Bu Yanti's mom hosts lots of get-togethers, hence the three separate sitting areas

I was treated like royalty while I was there: given the biggest bed (outfitted with a matching batik sheet set), taken on an incredible bike ride through the village (where I got a chance to cut rice from the fields and put it into the machine that shakes all the rice grains from the stalks), and ate way too much satay for my own good. I also got to see the inside of a few different village homes, ranging from quite well off right down to the most basic. Often, you can see rice or krupuk drying on large tarps in front of houses during the day. It goes inside at night, and I discovered that in one home, the massive pile of rice in the living room has taken the place of furniture. Forget the couch! Just prop up a pillow against the rice mountain! Another home was a simple two room dwelling, and when i poked my head into the second room, I discovered 10 goats settling in for the night.There were a few visits to other family members while I was there, and I learned that almost all of the extended family is Muslim. This seems to be the case with many of the Christians that I meet here. I just took for granted that the families of most people would be Christian because that's how it is at home. Here, I've met so many Indonesians my age whose parents are Christian, but whose grandparents and extended family are Muslim. I've yet to inquire about the struggles, challenges, and opportunities that arise within families of such diverse religious backgrounds. I'm curious as to how that affects family dynamics and relationships. The weekend provided a lot of opportunity to just rest and relax, and it was really nice to hang out in a completely new place.

Just cutting some rice!
And de-rice-ing the stalks (I'm quite sure that's the official term :p)

We as YALTers often talk about the differences between ways of living here in Java compared to at home. I have a tendency to try to spin as many scenarios as possible and look at it through my Canadian lens, in order to try to better understand it in Indonesian context. For example, while I think that skin whitening powder looks utterly ridiculous on people here, I cannot help but think of the lengths that white North Americans go to to make our skin look darker (and I, being blessed with an extra pasty and untannable complexion, am not excluding myself from this). This is an example of an easily flipped scenario that enables me to understand some parts of Indonesian/Javanese culture a little bit better. I guess it only makes sense that we use our only frame of reference as a foundation for understanding others, but the problem in employing the "This is like in Canada, except..." mentality is that there are countless scenarios that just cannot be mirrored in a Canadian context (ie: goats and rice piles in living rooms), and then I'm stuck with not knowing how to process and understand that new scenario. The result is that I find myself less open minded than I think I would if I were to just accept the culture as it is, without always trying to fit it into my box of understanding. One of the things that I've really struggled with (I feel as though I've used that line more than once this year) is the understanding and appreciation of traditional culture and identity, which includes, but is not limited to, foods, clothing, and interactions with people of varying age and status, and can be applied, in different contexts, to the country as a whole (ie: batik fabrics in their various patterns), to specific islands (ie: the special rice cone that is served at any major celebration or festival), to specific groups of people (ie: ethnic Chinese and ethnic Javanese) and to specific regions (Semarang vs. Salatiga vs. Blora, etc. etc.). For example, this past weekend, my principal was showing me the special "pohon jati", a type of tree grown in her hometown and used for building houses, among other things. She talked so much about that tree that I came to realize that it was of substantial significance to her and others in her community. However, I just could not find it in me to get excited about that tree. I wanted to, I really did, and I felt guilty by the end, that I not only didn't take interest in the tree, but I was actually starting to become a bit frustrated with the tree references. It's a tree! It's just a tree!! But it's not, not to her, and not to those in her community. I have the same reaction (or lack of) when I hear about special foods from different regions. There's the special soto (a type of soup) from Solo, from Semarang, from Jakarta... They all taste the same to me, I absolutely cannot tell them apart. Or a special fruit, grown in this specific regency, similar to another kind of fruit, but not quite the same, like the kelinkin (sp?), similar to a lychee, but different, and different yet again from the longan fruit. They taste the same! Before I left for Blora, my host mom told me all about the satay that Blora is well known for. It's special because they serve it with a kind of soup ("similar to soto, but not soto"...) and the peanut sauce uses more peanuts than sweet soya sauce, as is common in many other places, and unlike other places, you can order a specific quantity in Blora, rather than only in batches of 5, 10, or 20. The satay in Blora was delicious, but I don't know how to appreciate the variation in ingredients and cooking methods like native Indonesians do. People ask me what the traditional foods and clothings and music from Canada are. When I respond with, "There aren't any", people look at me with puzzled expressions. No special foods? No special music? No traditional clothing? How could that be? I then go on to explain that because Canada is so multicultural, traditions are specific to families and small groups of people, rather than to regions or provinces or the country as a whole. Of course there are things like Mennonite traditional foods (which actually don't exist among the Mennonite communities here), or seafood being popular along the East Coast, but it just doesn't compare in the same ways. I did a bit of wikipedia-ing to see what could be said for Canada's cultural and traditional backgrounds, and found a quote about Canadian identity that I thought was kind of interesting:

"The Canadian Identity, as it has come to be known, is as elusive as the Sasquatch and the Ogopogo. It has animated—and frustrated—generations of statesmen, historians, writers, artists, philosophers, and the National Film Board...Canada resists easy definition.
—Andrew Cohen, The Unfinished Canadian: The People We Are

I guess it makes sense why a country so steeped in tradition and culturally specific ways of living, is hard for me as a Canadian to identify with. That said, I think I've also been blind to any tradition and culture in my home country, as so often tends to happen when it's just the norm for us. Stepping outside of Canada for a year (and stepping into this traditions-based country) has made me curious about what I don't know about Canadian culture and tradition. I want to look into that a bit when I get home again.

Along that same vein, I've also realized this year, just how easy it is at home, to idealize the whole idea of acceptance and appreciation of other cultures. The idea seems so awesome when I'm flipping through an MCC Global Family calendar or sitting in a PACS class at Grebel or attending a two week World Conference, but living it for over 10 months has made me realize that I've come to a more realistic- more human, I've been told- view of things. I think it's because when I thought about learning about new cultures, I envisioned sitting on someone's front porch, sipping a cup of tea, conversing about our differences and stumbling upon many similarities that would draw us closer together. It seemed so perfect. I failed to consider all of the time that goes on between those front porch discussions. Or the fact that I'd be here alone, and struggling to navigate more than just a few little cultural hurdles (like trying to maintain my own mental health, a task that was much more difficult than I expected this year). Or the fact that I cannot fully communicate or understand everything being communicated. Or the fact that our different backgrounds and mentalities make it a bit more difficult to understand the other perspectives and lifestyles than I originally anticipated. It's made me sad to lose my idealistic views, but I'm betting that that was all part of the big lessons God is trying to teach me this year, and if that's true, then I believe that what I feel is a negative shift in mentality, is actually a lesson that I've been needing to learn, and will in some way be used for good.

I got back from the village on Sunday night, after a long and bumpy ride home (which included a drive past the salt harvesting fields, something I've never seen before), and I took a much needed shower before heading straight to bed! I went to Salatiga on Monday and discovered that Sushant and Priti (MCCers from India who have been serving in Solo) had made the move to Salatiga. Sushant and Priti are an AWESOME young couple with a 1 and a half year old son, and their term was supposed to end in April, but they agreed to stay on for an extra 6 months. With Karen and Major's baby due any day now, and Dan and Jeanne on home leave, it's really helpful to have Sushant and Priti around to help with our "disorientation" activities as well as with the next group of YALTers coming in August. We had lunch together, and checked out their new place, which is right across from Karen and Major's. It was another great Monday in Salatiga. I used Tuesday to pack, and then in the evening, I joined a group of people from the church on a search for a romantic location for the church's annual couple's dinner that will take place on July 26th. It was a really fun group of people, and we had a great time driving around and checking out a few places!

Yesterday was probably the longest on-the-go day of the year so far. It was the day trip with the teachers from TK, and we had planned to go to Jogjakarta for the day. The drive there is 3 hours if the traffic is moderate, which it wasn't, so it ended up taking around 4 hours to get there. We left just after 6AM and arrived at Prambanan (the Hindu temples) around 10:30. It's interesting to observe the dramatic differences between a day trip with my family at home in Canada, and a day trip with people here. Almost invariably, day trips here involve more driving than sightseeing, many stops at many places, and tons and tons and tons of photos. In fact, I think that the photos are the most important part of the endeavour. I'm all for documenting a place, but I find that one or two or five are enough for me. In one day, we ended up squeezing in the trip to Prambanan, a tour of the Kraton, a palace in Jogjakarta (a guided tour, with a guide who was delighted to have a foreginer in his group, and purposefully called me over to speak directly to me throughout the whole tour, which was a real treat for people like me who like to see things at their own pace and not listen to someone else rambling on about the things they're most passionate about, which in this case, was the topic of circumcision), a trip to Parangtritis Beach (where we rode in horse carts along the beach, and ate rujak, a fruit salad with a sweet spicy sauce), and time to shop on Malioboro, the big shopping strip in Jogja. We made it home just shortly after midnight, and I pretty much fell right into bed. My teachers paid for absolutely everything, which was SO generous of them, and while it was a long day, it was a lot of fun to spend time with the teaching staff one last time. They're a really great group!

The Indo equivalent of a gas station and corner store! (They have the Western versions too, but this one is so much more interesting)

At the beach! Notice the lack of swim suits and beach towels. With the exception of popular tourist spots, trips to the beaches here are quite different than trips to the beaches at home.

Before I close this mega post, I'll just give you a quick update on the prayer requests I posted last week:
- My foot is feeling waaaay better! Thanks for the prayers! I'm very grateful :)
-My host mom is also feeling much much better. I don't think we know what the problem is exactly, but she's been taking a medication that seems to be helping a lot
-The young guy from my community has not been heard from again since last week. I was talking to Sushant and Priti about it, and they were really nonchalant about it. They figure that since he's 18, he'll do just fine on his own. That still seems so young to me, but I guess it's another culturally and contextually specific scenario.  Prayer for his safety and success, as well as healing from the hurt of that decision and the way it was executed, is still greatly appreciated!

Thanks for reading!
Have a great day!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Salatiga, PPA Party, and a Few Prayer Requests

Selamat Malam, Semua Orang!

I was driving back from PPA today (well, sitting on the back of a motorbike that was driven by Pak Hardy), and I was looking around at the scenery as we sped along. It dawned on me that everything we passed- the chickens hanging off the back of motorbikes, the stalls being set up on the sidewalks for dinner, the crazy traffic, the kids playing in the streets, the smells of garbage burning and food cooking and gasoline and other city smells, the occasional rat scurrying for cover, the "restaurants" on motorbikes, the motorbikes that have been converted into trains, the bicycles that have been converted into mini carnivals (think mall rides for kiddies, attached to a platform with wheels, attached to a bicycle), the men and women who dance at the street corners in traditional Javanese style, the old ladies with massive baskets carried on their backs, the men who set up key-making stalls or license plate stalls or shoe repair stalls at the side of the road, the gasoline sold in water bottles, etc, etc.- has become so commonplace that I no longer think twice about them. There are so many times when I'm on the back of a motorbike or in a vehicle when I think to myself, "oh, I should blog about this!", but then I forget about it within a few seconds. (Such a shame too, because my blog posts are really lacking in length and content... ;) ) It's a bizarre sensation to become so familiar and in a way comfortable, within a context that is SO different from my whole world at home. It's also pretty cool to think that 10 months ago, I didn't know a thing about any part of Indonesia (save for the beaches in Bali), and now I could tell you exactly how to get around most of Semarang, and from Semarang to a whole variety of locations in Central Java, I could tell you how much it would cost you for a variety of different modes of transportation, foods, and services, I could barter for your rides in a becak and your purchases at the market (though not as effectively as others), and I could effectively translate the gist of what people would be saying to you, as well as what you'd like to say to people. Laura and I were talking about how great it feels to now not have to think twice about going out without a native Indonesian. We have become comfortable enough with the culture and the language to navigate it without constant assistance. I never dreamed that that could happen when I first arrived here back in August, and I consider that to be a really substantial accomplishment! It's a really good feeling!

This is the kind of thing I can't find in Canada. This guy will carry this contraption on his shoulders. Sometimes I am amazed by how delicious foods from these kinds of vendors are!
 Last weekend was a really nice relaxing one. We watched a movie at youth on Saturday, and on Sunday, we went out for seafood at lunch, and then to a beautiful little cafe in a quieter neighbourhood for dinner. We could sit outside, and the stars were clear, and the temperature was similar to a summer evening at home. It was a really beautiful evening! I left for Salatiga on Monday morning, with the plan to stay until Wednesday. I had plans to bake enough cookies for the 130 kids at PPA (for two parties, one of which was today, and the other is tomorrow), and after taking over my host family's kitchen every day for a week straight, I just couldn't ask to use it to bake again. (My host mom also assisted me every day, and I think she was more than happy to send me off to Salatiga to embark on this last massive baking endeavour.) The time in Salatiga was AWESOME. It started out with the discovery of not just one, not even two, but three packages awaiting me at the MCC office. One was filled with beanie babies for kids here, and the other two were filled with treats and love directly from home. Going away this year has given me the chance to realize how incredibly blessed I am to have my family and friends at home. It just astounds me.

Laura joined me mid-morning, and we had lunch together, and then began the baking endeavour. We also decided to cook dinner on Monday night, and invited Karen and Major and a woman named Christy (who was formerly living in Winnipeg) to join us. I don't think I've ever felt more successful in the kitchen as I did on Monday afternoon (except for maybe Tuesday night, when I just whipped up a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies while waiting for 70 of the 500 sugar cookies to bake). Together, Laura and I made pepper chicken penne with a basil and oregano cream sauce, homemade garlic bread (using homemade bread that I made), and sugar cookies with fresh whipped cream and strawberries for dessert. It was SO MUCH FUN to prepare the meal in the Jantzi kitchen (the most well-stocked and conveniently organized kitchen in the world), and it was even more fun to have the chance to feel like hosts. We concluded the evening with some episodes of Friends and some popcorn, and went to bed.

I woke up on Tuesday morning to fresh bagels (only at the Jantzi house) with cream cheese. I added to that some of the homemade strawberry jam that Grandma sent me in a package, and it was absolutely amazing. Laura and I had a lazy morning, and then headed up to her school in Kopeng for the afternoon, to play Dutch Blitz with some of the students. It was a lot of fun! We came back down to Salatiga in the evening to conclude our baking endeavour, and enjoyed dinner at the Pancisila (the city centre)- nasi goreng (fried rice), jagung bakar (grilled corn- INCREDIBLE stuff), and es jeruk (freshly squeezed iced orange drink) for rp.13,000 total (about $1.50). Nancy and Riki came back that evening from a three day trip to Jogjakarta, so we enjoyed hearing about their travels, and then watched Mama Mia together before heading to bed.

I found a little(?) friend hiding out under the cooling rack as I was putting away cookies. Laura kindly disposed of him for me.
 I left Salatiga around 9:30 yesterday morning, in order to get home in time to get to PPA Sendangguwo to prepare for today's party. We hung the paper chain, stuffed the candy into the pinata, and went on a long adventure to the store and to a juice stand for fresh mango and guava juice. From PPA Sendangguwo, I headed to PPA Sola Gratia, and found out that it was my last PPA! The kids have a holiday from now until July 11, and I head to Salatiga on July 12. I was glad to be there to see a few of the kids from TK one last time (and of course all the others too). I had a quiet evening at home after PPA ended.

Getting ready for the PPA party, with pinatas and paper chains!

This morning I got some stuff together for the party that was to happen this afternoon. I made icing for the cookies (the kids got to decorate the cookies themselves this time- no more flags for me!), and then straightened my hair as per the request from the staff at PPA. At 1:30, I headed over to do some final prep. When I caught a glimpse of the classroom, I instantly realized how much of a mutual impact the PPA community and I have had on each other this year. The staff had made a big sign at the front of the classroom, saying "Thank-You Ellery, We love you", and balloons were up and the pinata was painted and hung. The whole party was just one thing after another- a song that two girls had practiced to sing especially for me, a homemade hair clip made by two of the girls (who made matching ones for themselves), homemade cookies that the staff made and decorated together especially for me, phone accessories and a handwritten note (written in English by a non-English speaker) from one of the staff, a pencil case from another girl, a prayer especially for me, and a meal of grilled fish and rice, made specifically for me because they know I love grilled fish. It was just incredible. We decorated cookies together, did a gift exchange, and broke open the pinata, using a rolling pin as a stick (the most resilient pinata ever created- I thought we may have to get out a saw, it was so strong), as well as shared that wonderful meal together. PPA was not in my original assignment description when I accepted the position in Indonesia, but am I ever thankful that it got added into my weekly activities. It wound up being one of my favourite things about my life here (besides my TK kiddies), and I learned an incredible amount from the staff and parents and kids there, and just had tons of fun with that group of people. We still have one more party tomorrow, for the other group of kids, and then that chapter of my Indonesia experience will come to an end as well. All that remains of my original weekly schedule is Ichthus FM! Not to worry though, these next three weeks are absolutely crammed full of plans and outings.

The pinata that wouldn't break! We still had lots of fun, and at least everyone got a turn this way!

The staff at PPA Sendangguwo. I have been SO LUCKY to get to spend time with this awesome group of people each week. Left to Right: Bu Lisa, Milka, Ary, (me), Mega, Pak Hardy.
Before I close this post, I wanted to mention a few things that need prayer. First and foremost is a situation within my community regarding a young boy (18 years old) who decided to leave home without warning, and attempt to figure life out on his own, without the help and support of those who have been trying to assist him up until now. I will keep the details vague in a place as public as a blog post, but ultimately, my host family, my church community, and the boy himself could really benefit from your thoughts and prayers surrounding his decision, and the questions and hurt feelings of those who are affected by this. If this is something you'd like more details about, I can send you an email with more information.

Secondly, I just wanted to tack on a prayer request for my foot! A three-year old injury that never properly healed flares up every once in awhile, but this flare-up has been quite persistent and has spread to other parts of my foot. It makes walking kind of painful, and after a visit to the doctor, it seems that not a lot can be done for it right now. It's not too terrible or anything, but there are a lot of activities coming up, and I really want to be able to participate in them wholeheartedly, before the year draws to a close. I'll add to this a prayer request for my host mom as well. She's been feeling under the weather for the last month, and is unsure what the cause is. Prayer for quick healing for her would be greatly appreciated.

And with that, I shall leave you to enjoy the rest of this day!
Thanks for reading!

Lots of love,