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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Everyday Life

It’s been almost a month since the last time I wrote anything here. I guess I got wrapped up in day-to-day activities and didn’t really give them importance, so I skipped writing about them. However, it is time to catch up and try to remember what has happened this past month. These are just highlights, since my memory is already blurry.

Abby and I spend the afternoon in Senggigi.
Having people around you who share similar experiences definitely helps create bonds. In the past month I have developed a closer relationship with Abby and Hiram, the two Americans that work at nearby schools. I’m usually not very talkative, but we get together at least once a week and talk about our frustrations and joys. Most of the time I just listen, but I know that they are there for me whenever I feel like talking. We also sort of westernized our time here a little bit by doing things like going to the movies, eating out at restaurants in Senggigi once in a while, and getting together to have some beer or wine after a long week. Those things you take from granted in the United States definitely feel like a privilege here. Sometimes I even feel guilty and must remind myself that this is not something I do all the time.

I have also spent more quality time with my neighbors. A couple of weeks ago, Galih, Agus, and Yuga, my three musician friends, put together a performance at their school. I invited Abby, Hiram, and Indah, my Bahasa Indonesia teacher, to go with me. It was an interesting night of music, dance, theater, and art. During one of the performances a guy in the crowd began screaming and everyone ran away thinking he was possessed. I just sat there and watched him with curiosity. The audience relaxed after realizing that it was actually part of the performance, and then the guy got up and did a strange ritual that ended with him breaking a ceramic pot on his head. Oh, artists!

Galih and Agus perform at LaluArt.
A few days later, Galih and Agust came to play music at a Halloween party that my conversation club students and I put together. Hiram and Abby came with some of their students to the party, and even though there were a couple of issues with water scarcity (even ghosts need water!) and lack of volunteers for some activities, students had fun wearing costumes, taking pictures, and listening to live music. Galih and Agus rocked the house! For most of the students, this was their very first Halloween party. I tried to adapt the festivities to the culture of Indonesia, and got some traditional rice treats handmade by a local woman in the shape of eyeballs, pumpkins, skulls, etc. We also had a watermelon carving table, where students made tropical jack-o’-lanterns. Another first for most.

Conversation Club students get ready for Halloween
Watermelon jack-o'-lanterns carved by students. We also had watermelon juice.
To thank the guys for playing at the party I invited them to have dinner with me. That afternoon the power went out, as it often happens here, but I lit some candles and got busy in the kitchen. When I was cooking, two other neighbors, Sri and Ratna, came over and helped me chop vegetables and stir the pot, so I invited them to stay too. The six of us had a feast at my place, and Yuga brought his guitar and played some music at candlelight. It was a wonderful night! I really appreciate my neighbors, and they all have been incredibly kind and generous to me. I was sad to hear that the guys are moving to a bigger and cheaper place soon. I’m going to miss them!

Traditional rice treats change shape during Halloween.
But not everything has been easy this past month. I actually had some of the roughest weeks since I got to Indonesia, and there were times when I felt like I have no reason to be here at all. Mira, my counterpart, was often busy or gone, and my immigration documents were almost not done on time—now they are being processed and will hopefully be ready soon. RELO Jenn and her assistant, Dian, came from Jakarta to try to strengthen things at the university. It is a mystery to us how things get done here and why it is that I don’t have a real schedule when I specifically came here to teach. There is a lack of communication and an organizational void that seems to be ignored by Indonesians, and if you ask questions they think that you are being too American and tell you that you just need to relax. Mira resigned her position as my counterpart, so I got a new person, Pak Jaswadi, to help me with my job. It is a fresh start, and hopefully things will run smoothly from here on, but we will see what happens. I’m trying to do what I can to stay calm and help my students as much as possible. I just planned a series of workshops that will start in a couple of weeks, and this time I got more support from people in the university probably due to the visit of my boss. I need to try to stay motivated, but sometimes it gets difficult.

To wrap things up, one of the craters around Mount Rinjani began erupting about a week ago. Last week Mataram was dusty and there were ashes floating in the air. A couple of people told me that I need to wear glasses and a face mask to go outside, since the particles in the air could cause respiratory problems and irritate the eyes. I could feel the ashes on my skin and my teeth, even though we are not really that close to Rinjani. Then, the rain came and settled the dust a little. The sky is overcast and many flights have been cancelled, but life goes on. Things just seem to get more and more interesting each day.

Volcanic eruption look.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rubber time

Public speaking class starts a 7ish am on a Monday. You would think students would be sleepy and not willing to talk that early in the morning, but the class went pretty well and I got to meet the second group of students (I had met the first group the previous Thursday). Pak Bahar told them that we were going to split the class into two groups and, starting the following week, half of the students would meet with me and the other half would have him as a teacher. After public speaking, I had my Bahasa Indonesia lesson and then went to have lunch at my teacher’s house. We had some delicious lunch, I met her family, and we chatted for a while before she took me back to my house to get ready for my evening class. Mira had just gotten back from the conference that afternoon, and she called me to ask how I was doing and if she could stop by to visit and give me some oleh-oleh. I told her about a weird rash on my arm and she said she had what I needed. Then she came by my house, gave me some skin cream, candy, we talked for a while, and then she took me to campus for my night class. When I got to the classroom, none of the students was around. I called Pak Kamal, my co-teacher, and he said that he wasn’t going because he was feeling sick and then added that the class was cancelled for the week because the students were out of town. Good thing I got notified ahead of time! Sometimes I really don’t get how things work here in Indonesia…

The crew and I at a resort in Senggigi.
The next day turned out to be really interesting. I went early to my office at FKIP (did I mentioned I have three offices?) and talked to Pak Bahar, who helped me figure out a system to have Internet at home. We ordered a modem online, but I could use his’ in the meantime. Then I talked to the vice-rector, got permission to use a room for side projects, and was referred to a professor in the Biology department to discuss an idea I had about starting and environmental club/recycling program on campus. I went to Prof. Sufri’s office and introduced myself and the project I had in mind, and he seemed pretty interested in working together in environmental education issues. On my way out of his office, my day really got weird. I got a message from Pak Bahar saying that a group of guys from a tourism office in Jakarta were looking for foreigners to film a promotional video about Halal tourism in Lombok, and at the same time, the same group of guys called out my name from the parking lot and told me about what they were doing. They asked if I wanted to put on a hijab and go with them to Senggigi at that precise moment. After quickly glancing at my schedule and seeing that most of my classes had not started yet or were cancelled, I agreed. I got in their car, they took me home to drop off my backpack and get a scarf, and off we were to shoot some video at a resort in Senggigi. I was supposed to be in a commercial for honeymooning in Lombok, so they asked if I knew anyone who could play the husband. No one I knew was available, so they found me a French husband for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, my “husband” was flying back to France that same day… The story of my relationships!

After shooting all afternoon, we ended the day at a beach eating grilled fish while they did a time lapse of the sunset in Senggigi. They asked if I wanted to join them again the next day for an even more intense day around the island, and since it was a holiday and school was closed, I said yes. They would pick me up at 6 am to go to about a dozen places and get some more footage for the commercial. I was tired but excited about traveling around Lombok and seeing some of the most beautiful places in the island the next day. I didn’t sleep much thinking about which scarf I should take with me... at least I didn’t have to fix my hair!

Gili Kondo.
Boat that took us to Gili Kondo.

Traditional mosque in North Lombok.
The crew picked me up at 6:30 and we started the trip going northwest. We stopped at every scenic place where they could get their cameras out and shoot something interesting. We went to a pearl store, had brunch in a restaurant at the town where hikers start their trek to Mount Rinjani, visited Sindang Gila waterfalls and a couple of historic mosques, drove through a forest of gorgeous trees, sang along Indonesian love songs (or they did, and I laughed), and then ended up the day at Gili Kondo, a private, desolated, and absolutely gorgeous little island on the East side of Lombok. The guy who took us there went to run some errands on his boat, and for about an hour I thought we were spending the night on the beach, but he finally came back and we got on the road towards Mataram. A three-hour drive, food stop, and we made it back by 11pm. What a long, exhausting, and incredibly exciting day! Sometimes I think that whoever is in change of writing the script to my life must have a pretty wild imagination. Also, it is funny how a couple of days ago I was telling someone how I was tired of being the pink elephant in the room, but being a ‘bule’ in Indonesia also offers some advantages!

Gorgeous trees in East Lombok.

The rest of the week couldn’t compare to the previous two days, but my classes went extremely well (I finally got a syllabus and some materials, so I know what I’m teaching!), and Pak Bahar took me to buy a bicycle!!! Okay, that’s pretty exciting too. Today I went for a long bike ride and remembered how much I love feeling the wind as I explore the streets on two wheels powered by pedals. I had a productive weekend putting some ideas together, writing lesson plans, and I also had dinner with the Fulbright ETA’s to discuss some projects on which we want to work together. There have been ups and downs this first month here in Lombok, but I’m finally starting to see patterns in the way things unfold and to feel like the ideas in my head can definitely turn into something real. Time here may stretch like rubber, but everything gets done when it gets done. Or after I constantly annoy people asking for help.

Sunset in Senggigi.



Back to Lombok

All the sight seeing in Singapore really got me exhausted. I was almost brain dead at the airport, and when the immigration lady asked me the date when I had arrived, my mind went blank. She was pretty nice about it even though I couldn’t even find my entry card. When I got to Jakarta, my passport flew out of my hands onto the desk of the immigration officer, who laughed at me while I sheepishly apologized. I spent the wait time at the airport in a stupor, and when I got to Lombok, I tried to get in the taxi on the driver’s side (I’m still not used to the wheel on the opposite side of what I’ve always known). I made it home and passed out, and although the next day I could have slept the entire day, I got up early to go to my Bahasa Indonesia lesson and try to begin working.

My first class at UNRAM. 
One of the classes I’m supposed to teach doesn’t start until the end of October, so I had a pretty short day. I met the conversation club students, we created a Facebook group and started adding members, and then I went home and napped for a couple of hours. Later that evening, I met one of the Fullbright English Teaching Assistants and we went to grab a bite and talk about our experiences in Indonesia so far. It was great to finally meet another American who was going through the same adaptation process I’m experiencing. As we walked down the street, the bule parade kept attracting the local’s attention. At least I wasn’t the only one being stared at this time.

On Thursday, I finally had my first “class,” which I co-taught with Pak Bahar, the head of the language department. However, he had to leave early and I didn’t really have any idea of what the class was about, so we just did introductions and a little bit of Q&A’s about students background knowledge and expectations. There are about 80 students in the class, thus the introductions lasted a considerable amount of time. The students seemed really excited to be there, and I observed that they were not shy at all, and really wanted to practice their speaking skills. We had a good time. Later, I was supposed to meet Mira to finalize some details on the schedule, but she had to cancel because she had been working on a long report and was very tired. I just stayed in my office in the language center working on some personal stuff, and then went to the Pusat Bahasa’s main office to hang out with the other teachers for a little bit.

Students practicing their table technique.
Friday was a downer, but at least it was Friday. I went to my office in the rektorat to meet Mira and go with her to the vice-rector’s office to talk about getting a bicycle and using a classroom for extracurricular activities, but he was in class when we got there. Mira had to go teach too, so we agreed on meeting after her class. When I tried talking to the vice-rector again, he was already gone (Fridays are prayer days and everyone leaves around 11am). Then, Mira sent me a text message canceling our meeting for the third time. She was going to a conference for the weekend and had some things to do before leaving. I was about to cry out of frustration, so I decided to go home and call it a day. That night, my neighbor, Galih, invited me to go to see his students practice percussion at his school. We walked there and I listened to a group beat on plastic containers with sticks, and then some guys played table. I had no idea a table could be a musical instrument, but I was amazed at how synchronized they were and how technical a table could be. It was a good way to decompress and enjoy a simple night listening to music.

Car Free Day in Mataram.
This was my first weekend in Mataram after almost a month of being in Indonesia. All I wanted to do was to stay home, clean, go grocery shopping, cook. You know… all those little ordinary and familiar things that give you a sense of home. On Saturday night, there was a concert a one of the big parks in the city and Galih and two of his friends invited me to go with them. I wasn’t feeling very social, but I was hungry and decided to go along to get some food and people-watch. The music wasn’t great, but at least I had some very delicious soup and then went home. Sunday morning was Car Free Day, and my neighbor and one of the students came to my house at 6:30 in the morning to pick me up to go running. I enjoyed jogging among a crowd and looking at people roller-skating, biking, walking, or just hanging out. Udayana street, the place were everybody congregated, was packed and full of life. I was glad to get to see how people spend their Sunday mornings in Mataram, and I’m sure I will be back on a regular basis. On our way back, we stopped at a small traditional market (I learned it is pretty close to my place!) and bought some vegetables for lunch, which we cooked in the patio of the boys’ school. It was a simple, yet delicious meal consisting of rice, steamed vegetables, peanut sauce, and rice crackers. I went back home to take a short break before meeting up with the boys again to go to a nearby beach.

Lunch by Galih and friends. Pacin
Three and a half hours passed. I was about to give up on the idea of going to the beach when the boys showed up. I was upset, but trying to keep in mind that we are in Indonesian time. Also, they had made rice to accompany some beans I had made (which they told me were meant to be used for sweet drinks. Whatever. I cook what I want.) We went to the beach and it was, once again, packed. I got into the introverted mode and pretty much didn’t speak the entire evening. Sometimes I should just stay in and be alone…
Beach near Mataram.

And then, it was Monday again.

Singapore: A Tale of a Globalized World


Singapore skyline.
When I arrived in Singapore, I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. I knew its geographical location on a map, but I had not done any research on its language, culture, people, etc. Ignorantly, I assumed I was going to a country similar to Indonesia; a developing and populated country in Asia with crowded streets and a national identity not yet known to me. I was instead shown something far from my stereotypical visualizations.

My first surprise was at the airport. Singapore has one of the nicest, most modern looking airports I have visited. There are massage chairs where you can get a free massage while waiting for your flight, international chain stores where you can get all sorts of high end products, impeccable bathrooms you can electronically rate, and all the signs are multi-lingual since the country has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Farsi. To get to the place where Alicia and I were staying I had a couple of options: I could take a taxi or the MTR (metro). There were clear signs for both, and since I only had a small backpack as luggage, I went for the MRT –which was only about $2. The station was connected to the airport and there were ticket machines to the left and a friendly station manager in front of the turnstiles. I got a ticket and the station manager gave me a map and explained to me how to get to my destination. Two transfers with exact waiting times displayed on screens, spotless stations that looked more like science fiction labs, and I had made it to my destination. Almost.

Chinatown. This is when I realized I was lost.
I exited the station and according to the directions from the Airbnb host, which Alicia had previously emailed me, I had a short ten-minute walk along the river before arriving to the apartment. However, my poor sense of direction decided to send me the opposite direction. I walked for about 6 or 7 blocks without any signs of the river and ended up in Chinatown. I looked at a map and realized that I was walking away from my destination, so I turned around feeling a little annoyed with myself. On my walk back towards the train station, a lady started a conversation and told me that she was going the same way, so I stuck to her and we chatted while walking towards the river. She worked at a Japanese restaurant, had migrated to Singapore from China 24 years ago, was extremely talkative and lively, and told me about the terrible smoke that engulfed the city (which I had already noticed), and how, according to her, it was Indonesia’s fault. She added that Indonesia should stop the burning of forests and instead just use machines to cut the trees. I was speechless and confused by her reasoning, but decided not to argue. You have to pick your battles. I listened silently, thanked her for her help, and continued walking on the direction she pointed. I spent several minutes trying to find the entrance to the apartment building in which I was going to stay, and then I ran into Alicia, who was just wandering in the mall across the street. Lucky coincidence! I was getting tired of walking in circles.

One of the many images of Buddha.
After dropping off my backpack, Alicia and I went in search of a Buddhist temple she wanted to see. We walked through a park, zigzagged across the city, and finally saw a large, beautiful building that housed the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. We were given shawls to cover our shoulders and then we looked at hundreds of Buddha statues in different postures, observed a Buddhist ceremony, and, as good tourists, took tons of pictures. Next, we went to the food area in Chinatown to get some dinner. I ordered some noodles and Alicia had a veggie soup. We were both unsatisfied with our orders, but after combining them, we both had a delicious spicy veggie-noodle concoction. We headed to the apartment to take showers and dress up to go check out the nightlife scene. Since I hadn’t done any research on where to go, Alicia suggested a club on the top floor of a tall building, but before going there, we walked into a bar near the river to have a drink and listen to some blues played by a band with members from Singapore, Australia, and the USA. We then walked to the bar Alicia suggested. The place didn’t really look like my kind of joint, and after being there for a few minutes, a guy trying to initiate a conversation with me called me a bitch for not being too enthusiastic about talking to him. This made me quite unhappy, and I told Alicia I was ready to go home. The night was short and we got lost on our way back, but we finally made it to the apartment and went to sleep after a very long day of touring around the city.

Buddhist ceremony at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Performance of traditional Indian dance.
The next day we walked over to Little India to get swallowed by a sea of colors, smells, and sounds. Someone told us that since it was Sunday, lots of Indian immigrants were going to be hanging out in the streets spending their day off. Little India was packed and bursting with energy, and as we walked among aisles of colorful trinkets and incense smoke, I thought that it was refreshing to see some real people doing ordinary things. We went to a Hindu temple, got a snack at a small restaurant, and then took the MRT to the bay area. There was a festival going on at the Gardens by the Bay and there were free cultural performances, tons of food vendors, and a display of lights that made me think of Christmas. We listened to a group of Chinese ladies singing traditional songs, watched some Indian women dressed up in beautiful costumes performing expressive dances, and ate some Thai food on the lawn while looking at the colorful lights around us. On the way back to the apartment, we decided to sneak into an interesting-looking building and somehow got to the top floor to have a couple of cocktails while contemplating the amazing skyline of Singapore.

Market in Little India.
Korean coffee shop
On Monday, we got up early and walked to the building where our visas were to be handled. We just had to drop off our passports and the fees, and then go back in the afternoon to pick up our extended stay permits. On the way back to the apartment we stopped at a couple of museums, had some Korean snacks at a coffee shop, and Alicia and I separated for a little bit so I could go to another museum while she shopped for some oleh-oleh to take back with her to Indonesia. We spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool of the apartment complex, and then walked back to get our passports. To celebrate finally getting our visas, we had some sushi at the Japanese restaurant where the lady I had met on my first day in the city worked. She wasn’t there though. The plan for the rest of the day was to go back to the apartment to relax before returning to Indonesia the next morning, but we ended up walking to a busy street full of shops where Alicia got some clothes (I ended up just getting one pair of pants), and then went to a grocery store to buy cheese, good bread, and a few other delicacies that are not available in Lombok (or at least I haven’t found them yet). We were exhausted and ready to drop.

When I first got to Singapore, my impression had been that it was a city so perfect, clean, and extremely well planned that it seemed unreal. I still don’t know what to think about the place… I read somewhere that Singapore is like a mini version of our global society, and I can definitely agree with that. The streets look like they were traced with a ruler, there is no trash to be seen anywhere, the noise is kept to minimal levels, and Western influences are everywhere. You can find French wine and Swiss cheese in any supermarket (unlike in Lombok), and racial, religious, and cultural diversity abound. I have mixed feelings about this place, and even though I admire the careful city planning and the huge variety you find here, I still feel like this city is like something out of a dystopian fantasy. Maybe I just got to see one side of it and I am making incorrect assumptions once again. Now I’m back in the “real reality” of Indonesia. This place is so real!

Display of lights at Gardens by the Bay.
PS. I found cheese in Mataram after getting back from Singapore! I visited the new mall and there is a supermarket with lots of imported products. I guess my cheese addiction will be satisfied after all! 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Learning patience

I know I’m lucky to be in the beautiful island of Lombok, and I definitely got to see an unbelievably astonishing side of it this past weekend. But one thing is visiting such a place, and another one is working there. The pace in paradise is slow, and people are not in a hurry to give you a schedule or to deal with mundane issues like helping you set up your Internet connection or figuring out why your phone doesn’t work. Life is to be enjoyed in such a place.

Going back to work was more frustrating than before because after a perfect weekend I expected a perfect week, and that’s not really how it goes. On Monday morning I went to the Language Center to take a placement test for my Bahasa Indonesia lessons and I bombed it. Level one it is! And I thought I already knew the numbers… Ha. I think starting from the very beginning will be beneficial anyway.

After the test I was supposed to meet Ibu Mira to talk about my class schedule, so I walked over to the English Education department—I don’t get lost anymore—and I sat to wait for her. While I was waiting, a message sent by her about an hour earlier popped up in my phone. As I mentioned it before, my Internet connection pretty much doesn’t work and I get delayed messages all the time. Mira had to cancel the meeting because something had come up. A little disappointed, I walked over to the Rektorat to see if I could talk to someone else about getting help with my phone and a few other little issues. When I got there, Mira was walking out with a Japanese woman that was visiting the university to award scholarships to low-income, promising students. They invited me to join them for a late lunch, and since I wanted to talk to Mira anyway, I tagged along. I already had eaten, so I just ordered a Durian dessert (not the best choice) and chatted with Mira and Mari about cultural issues in Indonesia. Next, we went to visit a traditional pottery village Mari wanted to see before going back to Tokyo the next day. We walked among aisles of beautiful clay pots, bought a few items, and then they dropped me off at home. No work got done and no schedule was discussed. It was a nice afternoon though.

The next day I was starting to get exasperated by not being able to accomplish anything, and instead of sitting around and waiting, I walked over to the Rektorat to try to find out what was happening. One of the student workers who I met on my first day was in the office, and I politely forced him to take me the vice-rector's office where we were granted use of one of the university vehicles to run some errands. We went to look at bicycles, attempted to receive some money my sister had sent me, and tried to fix whatever was wrong with my cell phone and Internet plan. After a couple of hours failing at getting anything done and torturing the driver and the student worker–I was in a bad mood and it was past lunch time, which made them look pretty unhappy—I was taken back home with nothing done. I tried to chill and started studying some Bahasa Indonesia for my first lesson the next day. Then I got a call from boss Jenn, and she told me that she was going to make sure things got worked out and reassured me that the RELO office had my back. One thing that also had me worried was my visa situation, which she explained was being dealt with as a priority, and then she lightened things a little by laughing about the different pace of things in Indonesia and the fact that we really need to breath and keep calm. The conversation was heartwarming and I remembered how thankful I am to have such amazing support group and how awesome my new boss is.

Eva and Erny take me shopping
On Wednesday there was a shift on the way things were going. I went to my first Bahasa Indonesia class and then met Mira in her office. She finally gave me a schedule and explained the reason why I hadn’t gotten it yet: she was trying to change some weekend and late evening classes that had been assigned to me to more convenient times and days. She was just trying to protect me but hadn’t communicated anything to me, which she apologized for. When I went back home, my neighbor took me to a bank and I was able to receive the money transfer I was waiting for, and to celebrate, I invited Mira and 3 of my neighbors to have dinner at a neighborhood restaurant. After we got back to our building, we all sat in the gazebo to listen to music, eat cookies, and be neighborly. To top it all off, Jenn messaged me to tell me that my visa documents were ready and that I could book my ticket to Singapore to go get my extended stay visa! Thursday and Friday were good days too, with no classes yet but getting to practice my Bahasa Indonesia, hanging out with my neighbors, my new coworkers, my language teachers, Eva and her friends, and some students interested in starting an English club. I also started to get ready for my upcoming visa trip.

We are starting an English club
I got up very early on Saturday, called a taxi, and flew to Singapore to meet Alicia, another fellow who was also getting her visa at the same time. This is my first time in this country, and I have found it strange, interesting, and somehow mind-blowing. I’ll write next about my impressions of Singapore. For now, I’m ready to discover what this place is about and to get my documents in order so I can go back to Indonesia and really settle into my new life.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dreams of Senggigi


After a week of unsuccessful attempts to organize my class schedule and run some basic errands—even the easiest tasks are difficult when you don’t speak the language, I decided to take a deep breath and go to Senggigi.

La Casa guesthouse
Senggigi is a small beach town about fifteen minutes away from Mataram, and I had heard that its beaches were beautiful. Since I had no obligations ahead, a trip there seemed like the most sensible thing to do. A friend from France who is currently traveling around Indonesia agreed to meet up with me to go explore North Lombok. Perfect!

I woke up early Saturday morning, made breakfast using my newly purchased gas stove, packed a couple of t-shirts and a toothbrush, and walked over to the main street to catch a blue bird to paradise. The fare was about three dollars, and when I got to the guesthouse where my friend was staying, I saw him waiting for me on a scooter he had rented that morning. We left my stuff in his room, got a map of Lombok, and headed north, trying to find a monkey forest suggested by the guesthouse owner. About 40 minutes later, riding on a small interior road, we started seeing monkeys hanging out all over. We had found the monkey forest! We parked the scooter and went to look at the monkeys until one of them started showing its teeth, and another one tried to chew on the scooter. Enough of monkeys. Beach time!

Riding the scooter up and down hills with amazing ocean views all around made me feel like I was dreaming. We picked a desolated cove with white sand and aquamarine waters to spend the next few hours jumping in the water, picking shells, sunbathing, and talking about life. After a lazy afternoon we went to get some food, and then parked the scooter on the side of the road to watch the sunset and drink some coconut water. It was pretty much a perfect day.

Magic scooter
The next morning we got up early, had breakfast, and took off to visit a waterfall even further north. When we finally got to the place where the waterfall should have been, one of the locals said that there was ‘no water fall’ due to lack of rain and directed us to a different spot about two kilometers away. We jumped back on the scooter and kept going, but got lost and had to stop at a store to buy something to drink. The sun was bright and burning, and we talked about just going back to the beach and calling it a day. Apparently we got lost again and ended up at waterfall number two. Surprise! There were many locals swimming in the natural pools, and a guide took us to see the three main swimming holes. There were cliffs from where people jumped into the water, and since everyone was doing it, I was expected to jump too. Have I ever mentioned how scared I am of jumping off cliffs? Well… It took about 15 minutes and tons of encouraging words to make me jump, but I finally did it. I think I was shaking for the next ten minutes, so I had to float on the water surface while doing breathing exercises to normalize my heartbeat. A friend back in Illinois gave me a card that reads: “Do one thing that scares you every day.” Well, today I for sure did!

Kids jumping off the cliffs at one of the waterfalls in Gangga
Back on the scooter towards the beach… Another scenic ride, another lazy afternoon laying on the sand, and then a stop at a beach stall where I ate the best grilled fish I have had on my entire life. We picked a large, pink looking fish from a cooler full of fresh catches, and a woman seasoned it to perfection using some sort of spicy sauce (sambal) and then grilled it over a wood fire. I had to have a coconut to accompany that fish while sitting cross-legged on a little hut overlooking the ocean. On the way back to the guesthouse, my friend gave me a quick lesson on how to operate a scooter and I got to practice on a narrow and empty road, first by myself, and then with him on the back. Two scary things in one afternoon. Another perfect day!

View from the road

The next morning my friend continued his trip going on a four-day boat expedition to the Komodo island, and I awoke from the dream ready to get to work and eager to start with my classes. Now another week begins, and I look forward to becoming immersed in my new life in Lombok after getting to know much more about what this place has to offer. I still can’t believe how amazing this island is, and still have lots to discover.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How to get oriented in Indonesia

For some of us, getting from point A to point B can be a challenging task. I must admit that directions are not one of my strengths, but there are times when someone points the way in such a clear and unmistakable manner that it is impossible to get lost. Last week, I had a group of very competent guides instructing me on the path I have ahead of me.

Let’s go back to where I left… I got to Lombok on a Thursday, unpacked, got sort of settled, and on Saturday I was already packing again to go to Bali for our in-country orientation. It was exciting to see all the other fellows once again, and to finally meet Dian and Ayunda, RELO Jenn’s wonderful assistant who had been part of the whole process of getting me to Indonesia.

In the morning of Sunday I called a Blue Bird taxi a couple of hours before my flight (Ibu Mira gave me the number and recommended me to use that company). The taxi was almost immediately at my door and I had to quickly swallow my breakfast and throw some stuff in my backpack before heading to the airport. The driver barely spoke English, so it was a quiet ride without any detours. The flight to Bali was pretty short, and I had a free day to explore my surroundings.

In Bali, you can position yourself in Pantai Sanur to have a clear view of the East and be able to appreciate a breathtaking sunrise; or if you prefer the sunset, then move to the West side, along Pantai Kuta, and be prepared to be swallowed by a sea of foreign tourists and international chain stores and restaurants. I was lucky to get to see both places in a week.

Sunrise at Sanur beach
We first stayed at the Sanur Paradise hotel for the international TEFLIN conference where I presented along other fellows on how to use games in the English classroom. This was my first presentation at an international conference; it went smoothly and we had good audience participation and response. I also had time to walk along Sanur beach, see a couple of sunrises, and eat lots of delicious food –maybe a little too much.

 Fellows and Counterparts at In-Country Orientation in Bali

Kecac dance in Bali
After the conference was over we moved to Kuta beach for our in-country orientation, which was an intense 3-day information session with workshop creation time and more food. The week was exhausting, but we definitely got some work done, bonded as a group, interacted with our counterparts, and there was even some time to go dancing, do some shopping, and visit a Hindu temple to observe a traditional Kecak ceremony –a group of men chanting ‘cak’ and moving their hands and feet, and then a scene from the Ramayana acted out by a group of performers.

Going back to Lombok seemed familiar already, and I was anxious to be back home and get some rest. I had started to feel a little sick the last two days in Bali, so the idea of being home was comforting. Lombok is now my home.

I’ve been back for about a week now, and I’m still waiting for my teaching schedule while getting familiar with my neighborhood, the city, the language, etc. Sometimes it’s frustrating to feel like a baby who has to learn everything from zero, but that is also part of the charm of being here. I have to remind myself that there is a different pace in this place, that I need to be patient, and that I just got here. My counterpart, Mira, has been extremely busy since we came back from Bali, so I have been trying to figure things out without her.

Eva Yulia on her scooter. She is Lombok hardcore!
A few days ago I walked over to the English Teaching department and got lost about a hundred times. When I finally got there, I couldn’t find the person I was looking for. One of the students, a girl named Eva Yulia, told me that she would help me finding this person, gave me a ride on her scooter to the rector’s office, and then took me back to my house. We exchanged numbers and ever since then she has been my caretaker, helping me with everything from buying appliances for my house to getting hot tea and flu medicine for me. She even invited me to join her and her family on the traditional celebrations or Eid. On the holiday, we rode on her scooter to a nearby village and spent a day visiting her relatives and eating tons of delicious traditional dishes. I can’t believe how generous and kind she has been to me since the minute I met her, and I already have an enormous appreciation for her and her family!


Today is Friday, and as I freak out about my schedule, lack of knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia, poor sense of direction etc., I also realize that I must breath deeply and wait. Things will fall into place. As for now, I’m going to relax and visit a nearby beach for the weekend. Maybe when I come back I’ll have a more defined plan of action and will be ready to start a new week. Inhale, exhale, calm down.

Eid celebrations with Eva and her family