Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Final Reflection

I've been home for several days now. My kids are accustomed to my presence again. Cade has finally stopped following me in to the bathroom and hanging on to my leg as I walk through the house. Ethan has stopped asking questions (about Indonesia). My husband is back to work. Aside from my ailing stomach, life is back to normal... or is it?

I told my dear friend the other day that I find myself being more patient and understanding with people. I look at my home, my school, and my town differently. I always tell my students how lucky they are to live in the United States, but I feel like this is the first time I REALLY get it. I can breathe the air, I can drink the water, I can afford to buy whatever I need, even on a teacher's salary. I am not judged or limited because of my gender. I have health care, waste management, and no worries of regularly scheduled black-outs due to shortage of electricity. I have air-conditioning, toilets, and an actual shower. Money does not dictate whether or not my children can attend public school and university is not a dream for only a select few. Yes, there is MUCH to be grateful for.

I've been communicating with several of my Indonesian colleagues/friends. I remember their kindness and smiles. I appreciate their desire to continue to collaborate and learn. I think of the "girl in pink", the "chocolate milk boy", the junior high "groupies", the thumb game boy, the alumni, and the student council and I pray for them. I pray for all of the students we met. I hope they will continue to see the value of education. I hope they will make a difference in their country which so desperately needs young people to pave the way.

I've tried to accurately portray my experiences, but it's so difficult to capture the true beauty of Indonesian culture. I've concluded that the traditional dance, music, art, and even the religion which so often defines them, do not define Indonesian culture for me. It's the people - the warm, intelligent, beautiful people who welcomed me and treated me with kindness, affection, and love. And for that, I will forever be grateful for this remarkable experience.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Are We There Yet?

After squeezing in three hours of sleep (I was just too excited), we loaded our ten tons of luggage and left the Park Hotel by 4:30 a.m. Amazingly, and for the first time, we did not sit in any traffic in Jakarta. I guess the trick is to travel at unreasonable hours. At the airport, it was time to split. Laura was staying and traveling on to India. Heather, Nancy, Jeanne, Arlis, and Cora were headed to Bali. Some quick hugs and I, with my crew (Jen, David, Jodi, Daniel, and Susanna) headed in to the airport.

We did some last minute splurge shopping, got a delicious Starbucks, and made our way to our gate. I was able to FaceTime with my family and I nearly burst. I wanted to jump through the screen and hug them I was so excited. Only 22 hours on 3 planes, 8 hours of layover, and a 1 1/2 hour drive separated us. 31 1/2 hours... but who is counting?

The flights were as expected: full, cramped, exhausting. I had high hopes to get home a little earlier. There were two earlier flights from LAX to Sac, but it would be close. I prepared Jen and we committed to running if necessary. All hope quickly died when we sat on our plane in Hong Kong for over an hour as a passenger who had "medical problems" had to leave. I understood the medical issue, but I could not understand as we had to watch all of the cargo from the plane be removed to search for the passenger's piece of luggage. Bye bye early connection.

I had little to no sleep on any of the flights. Maybe it was because I was uncomfortable, excited, or overly-exhausted, but I was delirious by the time we reached LA. I just wanted to be home! It was sad to say goodbye to the crew. Jodi had to sprint for her connecting flight to Utah, Daniel was home, David left for Oklahoma and Susanna had a long day of travel back to DC. And then there were two. After three short (but frustrating) delays, Jen and I finally headed on our last leg to Sacramento. I probably slept more on that short flight than I had on any of the others.
I wanted to sprint off the airplane. As I walked through the airport in a blur, I could see my husband waiting and I could no longer hold back the tears.

Our drive was quick. I actually stayed awake and we chatted the entire way home. All I could think about was looking at my babies. I rushed in to the house, which felt strangely foreign, and went to their rooms. I stared at Ethan and kissed him. He woke, confused, and then an enormous smile overtook his face. I could have wept with happiness. I examined my baby Cade and he looked so long and lean now. I kissed him and he pushed me away (so appropriate for this child).

I don't think I have ever been this happy to be home in my life. Brushing my teeth with tap water for the first time in over three weeks was glorious. Climbing in to my own bed provided the most restful sleep I've had in nearly a month. It's good to be home.

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Final Meet and Eat

Our final full day in Indonesia... I could feel the excitement building. I surveyed all my bags and met Jen and some of the others for a late breakfast. (Last time to see fried fish, rice, and noodles in the breakfast spread.) I savored my last bites of fresh papaya and prepared for a long day of debrief meeting.

There was much to discuss: what we observed, what we learned, what we still questioned. I was surprised at the variety of our experiences and felt fortunate that Jen and I had advocated for ourselves to allow time for teaching and observation at five different schools, each offering something unique. It seems we had the most to compare, although I wish we had an opportunity to see a vocational school which sounded pretty amazing.

Another large component of our meeting was reviewing and preparing for the remaining pieces of our capstone project which is due in September. I found that I completely refocused my project after my experiences and observations. I'm excited about the potential but know I have quite a bit to complete before the due date. I came to the point that I could no longer work; my brain finally said, "Enough". We ended by writing letters to ourselves. I found myself getting emotional recounting my lessons and epiphanies. It was a powerful way to end a powerful journey.

Although drained, many of us wanted to do as much as possible before leaving. A group of us headed out to shop. After a disappointing adventure back to the mini-Indonesia store (because it was closed), we ventured to a mall (after nearly dying crossing streets). With purchases in hand, we returned to the hotel in search of a fun, unique, and nearby restaurant to celebrate our final Indonesian meal together.

We hit the jackpot finding Lara Djong Grang, a spectacular Indonesian restaurant. From the moment we arrived, we appreciated the decor. Gorgeous lanterns and Balinese statues welcomed us. The menu seemed to have endless choices and when our food arrived, it appeared none of us made a poor choice. Perfect food, drink, and company. Laughing and smiling... it was a perfect way to end our time.


Back in my hotel room, I hung my clothes for tomorrow. I repacked my bags for the last time and smiled. With excitement building, I knew sleeping would be difficult, but somehow I drifted away thinking of my husband and boys' faces.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Spicy Treat

Not feeling completely recovered from yesterday, I finished up my packing. Thank goodness Jen had the foresight to bring a huge extra duffle bag that we shared for our dirty clothes. I never would have had enough room to get everything I purchased and was gifted home (even with the extra bag I bought!). We crammed in our last clothes and headed down for our last hotel breakfast in Tangerang. As we ate, we really appreciated how fortunate we were. We had amazing accommodations. Judging from our communication on Facebook, some of our colleagues had not been even a fraction as fortunate, so we savored our beautiful breakfast spread. With one last run to our Starbucks, we were ready. (I will miss the call for "Miss Amy" at coffee!)

The driver, Yuna, and her husband picked us up and we all noted how our luggage had almost doubled. Let's just say that we helped the Indonesian economy a bit. Jen and I had asked Yuna to take us to the Port of Jakarta, a significant place in history. The port served as the major trade center over the centuries. The Portuguese first arrived in 1513, followed by the British, and of the course, the Dutch; these were only some of the foreigners who traveled to the "Spice Islands" for their precious resources.

We began at the Spice Trade Museum. We climbed eight leaning floors of the ancient (and rather precarious) stairs. At the top, we had a wonderful view of some of the ships and the surrounding area, which now included lots of vendors and polluted water. I was even brave enough to take the stairs to the very top of the building (literally, on the roof). I was not brave enough to actually stand on the ancient tiny platform - my family would have scolded me for going up there to begin with!

We walked over to massive Dutch buildings which now house a maritime museum which tells the history of the Port of Jakarta and shows model boats and actual boats which once floated in these waters. The large stone buildings and enormous wooden doors were made in the late 1600's/early 1700's which were marked above doorways. It was incredibly interesting to learn about the endless visitors who selfishly came to rob this country of spices, slaves, and many goods. This felt like the most historically significant place we had been to during our time in Indonesia.

Although our bags were overflowing in the car, we could not resist stopping by a few of the nearby shops. Yuna and her husband explained many of the unusual cooking utensils being sold. Jen and I were both amazed by the musical instruments in some of the shops and couldn't resist purchasing a little something.

We then drove over to the actual Port of Jakarta. What seemed like thousands of boats crammed practically on top of each other lined the dock. It was incredible. The massive ships towered over us and could not hide their age. It seemed every ship had a story. The workers who rested on board wore the look of tired, ancient men. It was almost like stepping in to a piece of history. Some bugis pinisi boats throughout the port, which were used by the first Islamic traders, were essentially identical to the ones originally used. Even today, this port is Indonesia's largest and is used as it has been for centuries with an annual capacity for 45 million tons of cargo.
Fortunately, Yuna's husband made nice with the crew of a ship who allowed us to board, which is easier said than done. You must carefully cross a long wooden board across the water which is quite dangerous. I was the first to volunteer. (I don't know what I was thinking! I think I was caught up in the historical romanticism of the moment.) With the help of Yuna's husband and a crew member, who I am certain hadn't showered in a year, I made it across and aboard the incredible vessel. Jen followed and after some major coaxing, we were able to get Yuna to come too.

The boat was out of a time machine. Carefully crossing single boards, we could see the cargo down below. The filthy crew examined us as though we were aliens as we made our way up to the top of the ship. The captain looked like a giant Samoan and wore only a Batik sarong around his waist. He looked as though he could kill a man with a single squeeze. We decided to get out of his bubble very quickly. I'm sure the crew wondered what these silly foreigners were doing, but it was an absolutely amazing opportunity which I am certain we would not have been able to experience without Yuna's husband.

It was time to make the trip back to the Park Hotel in Jakarta. Our adventure with Yuna was time to come to a close. We unloaded all of our bags and said our thanks and goodbyes to Yuna, her husband, and our driver. While leaving that part of the journey was somewhat sad, I was happy to be back to our starting point and excited to be reunited with our colleagues.

After some miscommunication, which tends to be a common problem in Indonesia, Jen and I did not get to see the group until much later. So, we treated ourselves to a foot/leg massage (60 minutes for $10). It was a slice of heaven and just what we needed. Once done, the group arrived and it felt a little like seeing family. We happily greeted each other and shared our experiences.

We made a quick run to a bead mart where many bought stones, rings, and other jewelry. We came back to dinner and then had a long meeting to start our debrief process. It was clear that we all had unique experiences, so it was interesting to learn even more about the Indonesian education system and culture.

Some of us wanted to unwind and really share the good, the bad, and the ugly so we grabbed some cocktails and met in my room. Jen and I brought our beloved Cotton Buns for the group to enjoy, so we ate, drank, talked and laughed sharing our stories. It felt so good to be honest and find comfort with others. What a great group of people. One day left and we're on our way home so I can see my favorite group of people!

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Unspeakable Yummy and Unspeakable Discomfort

This morning started off lovely. We slept in for once (although I don't think neither Jen nor I actually sleep much on any given night). We had our ritual hotel breakfast and crossed the mall to our Starbucks where we could take our time and talk over coffee. It felt like a hanging out at home with a girlfriend.

We were picked up by our driver and rushed to school even though it was Saturday. (Cendekia conducts some classes, like drawing and music, on Saturdays.) We were to meet with a group of students who served on the equivalent to a student government. I was very excited to meet with them although I had no clue what the agenda was. At this point, I've learned to roll with the punches.

Jen and I were greeted at the school by about a dozen students, including Tsamara, Nurul, Arafah, Dini, Shabrina, Mohamad, Lathifah, Farris, Rizki, and Miszzuddin. We were pleased to see that the students were not in uniform today, which gave a relaxed air of ease and freedom. The student body president began by giving a brief powerpoint and presentation highlighting how difficult it is to get admitted to the school (4,000 apply, 120 acccepted). He also discussed their many accolades, course offerings (band, theater, marching, choir - many of which we never saw), dances, and activities. It was all very interesting information, but I wondered why we hadn't started our experience with this presentation rather than end with it.
I shared the video about my school made by the House of Blue. The students were very intrigued and had a lot of questions. Our question and answer session was the best we had - probably because this was the first time we were with a large group of students and NO faculty. I feel like the students spoke more freely and we both benefited from the conversation. I was surprised to learn that all of the students had parents who were college grads which means that this school serves a population where education is valued and expected. I questioned whether if it further divides the haves and have nots. I was impressed with the problems the students recognize in their country and their good intentions to create change.
After the meeting, we happened to run in to a small group of alumni students. They were just as giddy and excited to meet with us as the high school students. They were all at university and told us how much Cendekia had prepared them for college. The alumni also clearly wanted to come to the U.S. and showered us with questions. They even pulled us from our car to take pictures. Celeb status continues.

Back at our mall, we had a wonderful, huge lunch. We couldn't help but giggle at the "frogs" section in the menu. The captions were especially humorous. "Unspeakable yummy" will forever describe Kermit. Jen settled for her "pillows of yum" (AKA tofu) and we left very full, happy, and ready for an adventure to Giant to bargain for more goods.

Our driver picked us up earlier than normal to make the drive to Yuna's home for breakfast. We knew it would take quite some time, but we had no idea. We sat (in park) in solid traffic for at least 25 minutes before we could continue on. Over two hours later, we arrived at Yuna's. Yuna, her husband, and their darling nephew welcomed us. I think we were just thrilled to be out of the car.

We entered and sat on the floor as we had done at all the breakfasts. I could see that Yuna's husband had made the extra effort to get us a variety of their delicious mangos and even a durian, which I've been dying to try! After one bite of fruit, I could have been happy eating nothing but fruit. Unspeakable yummy! We quickly dined on a huge spread of food. Yet again, our host went way overboard; it was a very nice gesture.

Yuna was kind enough to give us a tour of her beautiful home. She was very proud of her stone walkway (which she made), bead room, floor to ceiling bookshelf, special recliner, and washing machine. It sounds strange, but I felt guilty looking at her prized possessions and home which I concluded could fit in a quarter of my house. I have more "stuff" in one room than she does in her entire home. Difficult to swallow.

It was time for us to go to the Golden Mosque. Yuna's nephew was to accompany us; he reminded me so much of my son - same age, same talkative nature. It made my heart ache. When we arrived at the Golden Mosque, we could not believe our eyes. It was an enormous structure with granite and literal gold! We walked through and even observed some Muslims praying. (Men and women pray separately.) We learned that the Golden Mosque, massive meeting building, and equally massive home took seven years to build and were funded by one woman who occasionally visits. Looking at the buildings and grounds, I can only imagine what the final bill was.

After the mosque, we dropped Yuna and her family back home and spent two and a half hours in the most insane traffic I could ever imagine. I will never be accustomed to watching four people on a motorbike with no helmets and attempting to weave through any hole in traffic they can or the babies who are held on the back of the bike or the waves of visible exhaust that fill the air all around. It's simply mind boggling.

It had been a long, exhausting day. Jen and I were eager to retire, but we had to start packing. We had an early morning of activities and then we were heading back to Jakarta to meet with our group. I'm filled with excitement to see the crew and swap stories. And then there's the fact that we only have a few more days and I get to go home to my beautiful family. Unspeakable yummy indeed.

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