(I am posting this from a beautiful hotel near the sea, where I am having a workshop with all of the teachers in my school and with the principle. Not what I had pictured when I joined the Peace Corps…and it’s not helping the “Beverly Hills” image I will describe…but it’s pretty awesome.)
After ten weeks of grueling Peace Corps training near Malang, I am currently in site I will be living in permanently. Bondowoso, or BboOooN DdoOo WwoOzz SsoO as Fer would say, has a population of 73,000 people, is located in the most eastern part of East Java (read, “close to Bali” not because of I have any dire urge to go there, but because it is the most well-known reference) and according to Lonely Planet Indonesia, “Bondowoso is one of the cleanest towns in Java.” Aside from that statement the book has little information and I have yet to discover much of it for myself—though I do confirm that it does look relatively clean, calm and with the familiar landscape of developing countries—mountains and rice fields as the backdrops of stadiums, colorful houses and small stores.
The only things I can really speak on are my new school, counterparts and new host family. The madrasah or public Islamic high school I will be teaching at has struck me the most. It is very large, with more than 1000 students, which are segregated into female and male areas. Teachers can teach in either areas, but men and women do not fraternize. On my first visit to the school, I sat in on small, entertaining skits performed by (same sex) students and even in the theater, the men sat on one side and women on the other, with tall wooden separators in between them.
Though this seems extremely conservative, the environment actually feels liberal and progressive. Though it would seem that men and women aren’t viewed equally in this type of environment—which was my primary worry as a volunteer in this school—all the men I’ve spoken with so far seem to have nothing but the highest respect for me and the other female teachers. I hope it’s not just a first impression.
Aside from a beautiful school grounds, the school is very well equipped with a computer lab, mosque, library, music room, English club, drama club, internet, and the kepala sekolah—or headmaster—even has cameras monitoring the classrooms, which is impressively high-tech for a principal that well into his 60s.
The English teachers also have the greatest resource: motivation. This I am thankful for, though I’ve yet to discover what expectations they have of me. Their current priority seems to be just to make me happy so I am not terribly worried yet, but I don’t want to disappoint them. Success is always greater when your baseline is zero—but this school seems to be doing pretty well on its own.
Another volunteer, Sarah, and I were exchanging texts on our impressions of our school and site and she mentioned feeling like she was in the “Beverly Hills” of Indonesia since her school—though it is not Islamic—is comparable to mine. I can relate to that and it is worrisome for both of us since we don’t want to spend two years where we aren’t needed. I shared this thought with a volunteer, who has already been here a year, and he shed some wisdom through SMS:
“No doubt your school could survive without you, as mine could, but just because they’ve got resources doesn’t mean they know how to use them. The needs will become apparent pretty quickly I think.”
Tim is probably right. The school is currently on break so I’ve yet to experience it fully, but it will start again in the beginning of July, right before Ramadan—the Muslim fasting month—which is notoriously slow and unproductive. (Stay tuned for all that drama.) In the meantime, I will be meeting with my principle and counterparts and other teachers to understand how the school functions and hopefully, clarify expectations and set goals on both ends.
On to my new host family…
In another life—if I would’ve been born in Indonesia—I imagine my family would be very similar to my new host family. There are four family members: my host mother, Ibu Suprehatim, a physical education teacher, and my host father, Pak Edi who’s in the military, and two children. Miki is my 19-year old host sister who goes to college in Jember—a town one hour away on motorcycle—who blasts music while dancing around in the kitchen and Yogi, my 13-year old host brother who is identical to my real brother, Raphael, of the same age. Those kids are our Indonesian doppelgangers.
Yogi reminds me so much of my own brother not only in appearance, but also in character, that watching him this morning filled me with such unexpected nostalgia that I struggled to discreetly leave the kitchen with tears in my eyes. I still feel like a traitor for choosing to live with this family, rather than with my own. When I leave Bondowoso, Yogi will be 15, which are two years I will not enjoy with my own brother. I’m still dealing with this indescribable emotion…
On the other hand, because my new family is so “familiar” to me, I’ve had no problem fitting in. I am already referred to as kak or older sister or rather, the Javanese term for the same, which I barely understand and could not spell if my life depended on it. Unfortunately, their manner of speaking is fast and particularly difficult to understand and no longer have the same energy to communicate like I had at the beginning of PST. (I wonder if this energy is the reason why many trainees bond with their training host family best.)
Speaking of training host families, saying goodbye to them was a little bit sad, with a few tears involved on their part, but I must say I feel much more comfortable here. I have more space, it is beautiful, the weather is nice, there’s a washing machine—which I’ve learned to appreciate as a great technological resource that conserves very valuable time after hand washing everything for nearly three months. I can finally unpack my life and settle in for two years.