Thursday, November 8, 2012

Monthly Update 2: Exchanging Holidays

 So it hasn't been a whole two months yet (just 6 weeks) but I have to write my highlights by the 9th of each month so I've already sent in my second:

This past month has been an exciting one, with two big holidays, one Indonesian and one American. I guess that's the beauty of living with two cultures, you can have one huge holiday on Friday and another on Wednesday!  Friday the 27th was Idul Adha (Indonesian spelling of Eid al-Adha) the second biggest Muslim holiday, and Wednesday the 31st was Halloween. Both holidays brought new experiences for me, even though one I have already been celebrating my whole life.

First, I'll start with Idul Adha.  This holiday is the festival of sacrifice and is celebrated every year by Muslims on the 10th day of Dhuj Hijja (one of the months in the Islamic calendar). This year the holiday fell on the 25th of October, but the day and month changes each year on the regular (Gregorian) calendar.  The holiday goes along with a story in the Qur'an and commemorates the sacrifice that Abraham was willing to make to God by sacrificing his own son. God honored Abraham's faith and loyalty by giving him a sheep to sacrifice in place of his son. The holiday is celebrated by people sacrificing a sheep or cow (if they can afford it) and then sharing the meat with the poor and needy in their community.

My experience with Eid actually began on Thursday when I decided to fast with my host family! My host mom explained that fasting helps you to understand the hunger or struggle of impoverished people (who after the Kurban on Eid you give the meat to). Also fasting is a sort of cleanse, and you can even break the fast by being mean, rude, or just thinking hateful thoughts. I never knew that fasting was a mental practice as well as physical! In order to fast I woke up at 3:45 am to eat suhur (early breakfast before dawn), during which I tried to drink as much water as possible and fill up on rice, so that I would last through the day.  After I had sleepily stuffed my stomach, I went back to bed for another hour until I had to wake up to get ready for school. Luckily, my school decided to let us out early that day (at 10 am!) and the rest of the day I spent hanging out with my friends and going to practice for an extracurricular I'm in (I'll talk about it in a post later). I was occupied enough to not think about being hungry! I was so glad I didn't have to sit in class the whole day, because it gets really hot in my classroom in the afternoon since there is no AC. 

All my friends at school were really surprised and impressed that I was fasting, and one even asked if I was Muslim- sucessfull cultural immersion!!! Though most people weren't fasting (its an optional fast), some of my friends from school were and they invited me to break fast at a delicious sushi restaurant. my favorite :)

The next day I woke up to the sound of all my aunts, uncles, and cousins upstairs talking and laughing. To my surprise they had all (about 10 ppl) somehow managed to spend the night at our house.  A few of them slept on the couch, and my family hadn't even ask me to share my room with someone!They are too polite! I hung out with my extended host family in the morning, and then watched my family's Kurban (animal sacrifice) in my front yard.  These two men came over, led the goat through my house from the back yard to the front yard, and then tied up its legs so that it could be killed.  (Also the night before I heard the goat making whatever noises goats make all night long! I think it even woke me up once if I remember correctly!) 

About to perform the Kurban, first a prayer is said, and then the animal's throat is slit- there is a very specific way you must kill the animal down to the sharpness of the knife.    
After I watched the Kurban, I walked around the streets near my house with my host sisters and cousins. We went by a mosque where there was a big tent filled with animals, and all the kids playing nearby waved and tried to talk to me as I went past.
When I got back to my house, the goat had already been skinned and cut up, and it just looked like normal meat from the store (plus intestines-which you eat here), not like something that been living 30 minutes ago!
 A little later, I helped chop the meat and some vegetables with my host uncle and our maid, in order to prepare sate kambing- Indonesian spicy goat meat kebabs. The rest of the day was spent eating, chilling with the family, and eating some more!

A few days later was Halloween, and even though I planned really last minute It was a lot of fun and I was happy to share some American traditions with my host family!  After school on Wednesday, I invited Hamza (the other YES student in Bandung) over to figure out something to do for Halloween. We went to a supermarket down the street and we're so happy to find pumpkins (my host mom warned us there may not be any!) even though they were a bit small. We bought two, along with some birthday candles, the only knife we could find with the saw tooth/rough edge, and some Oreos which Hamza can't go more than a day without. My younger sister, Amanda, helped us gut and carve the pumpkins, a task that was much more time consuming than I remember it being in the U.S. (we ran into several problems along the way). Both Amanda and Hamza seemed grossed out that I used my hands instead of a spoon to scoop out all of the goop from the pumpkins, but that's the most fun part!

After carving I wanted to cook the seeds. Hamza also thought this was weird, so maybe it's a Southern thing. Usually the seeds are baked in the oven with salt or sugar, cinnamon, and butter, but since there is no oven at my house here I had to settle for fried seeds. Let's just say the results were interesting. 

One of our pumpkins was a regular jack-o-lantern while the other was supposed to be a Pochong (Indonesian Ghost) but it didn't exactly work out. Maybe you can still see the resemblance?

I almost didn't do anything for Halloween here, because I was busy and it came before I knew it, but I'm really glad I made an effort to make something happen! Celebrating these two holidays was what being an exchange student is all about!

Links on the origin and traditions of Eid al-Adha:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monthly Update 1: Taman Harapan

Each month I write an update to send to AFS. Here's my first one!

Local Volunteering With YES Alumni in Bandung

Before I came to Indonesia knew I wanted to help out with a community service project, but I didn't know If I would find one that I would be able to continuously volunteer with.  After just two weeks in Bandung, I already found the perfect organization, Taman Harapan! Two of the YES alumni who live in Bandung, Lidya and Aya, invited me to come with them one Sunday morning to help teach some kids English. I was really excited with opportunity because in the U.S. I used to volunteer tutor elementary school kids, and they were always so cute and fun to work with. I was surprised when Aya and I hopped off the angkot (public transportation van) and walked across the street to arrive at our destination, a large sidewalk at the corner of the road. I was expecting to go inside a building somewhere, but we just headed over to a group of young kids on the side of the road and sat down right there! The kids were all excited to see me; some ran up to meet me, while others hid behind their friends and smiled shyly from behind.  Before we arrived, most of the kids were selling cobek (a traditional Indonesian mortal and pestle that is made of heavy stone) to the cars that passed at the corner.  The children's families are very poor so they have to help make money by joining the large numbers of street sellers and beggars you see everywhere in Bandung. I think all of the kids go to school, but selling cobek and other items on the street is their part-time job and they are only about 5-10 years old!

Despite the fact that all the kids had just spent the past few hours carrying around  heavy stone in the hot sun, they were some of the happiest kids I have seen when we started to sing songs and practice counting in English. After I introduced myself and met all the kids, we sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and, Toes" and "5 Little Indians", and later we painted some recycled bottles and metal pans to make instruments. I was amazed how content they were spending their Sunday learning on the sidewalk, when a lot of kids back home would complain about having to do anything educational on the weekend.  They enjoyed the simplest things and really, truely appreaciated that me and the other volunteers had come to spend time with them.  I went back to Taman Harapan  this past weekend for the second time, and had even more fun.  This week we taught the kids about the Geography of Indonesia and played some Indonesian games. Using the atlas, I had the kids guess where I am from in America. Also, I learned how to play an Indonesian version of rock, paper, scisors, and hand clapping game from South Kalimantan called "Ampar Ampar Pisang" which got pretty competitive! From volunteering at Taman Harapan, I feel like I have seen the true Indonesia.  I have learned a lot of cultural tidbits and more words in Bahasa Indonesia than the kids have learned in English.  I'm looking forward to going back every Sunday so I can get to know each of the kids and share with them some American games and culture in return!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Indonesian Music

This is my favorite Indonesian song that I've heard so far (Orang Ke-3 (ketiga)). It's more mellow than most Indonesian songs I think. I wish I understood the meaning because lyrics  are usually a big part of the reason I like a song, but i do know this song title means 'the third person' but it doesn't translate exactly. And my host sister told me the song is about a guy who is in love with a girl who is in love with someone else so he is heartbroken. anyways hope you like it..
Another note on music here: popular American songs are also big here and some are more mainstream here than they are now in the U.S. (I hear Maroon 5, Call Me Maybe, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Whistle by Flo Rida, and Pitbull's International Love almost daily) Most radio stations play more English music than Indonesian music and for the most part if I mention an American singer to my friends here, they know who he/she is. K-Pop is also huge, but the only artists I know are PSY (Gangnam style!!) and SNSD (girls generation). Karaoke is also really popular here-I've already been 4 times! But its not like in the U.S. where you perform in front of people at a bar or something.  Basically you go with friends and you get a private room with sofas and a flat screen and a few mics and somehow you can't hear people singing in the hall which is amazing because in my experience theres just has much yelling that goes on as singing-not to mention dancing on the couches. haha

Oh also, speaking of radio, during prayer times the radio stations will stop whatever they are broadcasting and play the Azaan (call to prayer). This surprised me the first time I heard it, because I thought Azaan only came from the loud speakers outside mosques. I'm not sure if all the stations do this or not though, because I haven't heard it too much, but maybe I'm just not listening at prayer times- I'll try to pay more attention and see.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Obersvations:The Good, The Weird, and the Dangerous

- people are really friendly here and are usually interested to meet me or possibly just take a picture with me to post on their instagram probably (Indonesians love social networking)
- lots of people know English- this is both a positive and a negative- its helpful but it makes it harder to learn and practice bahasa
-  respect for parents and elders is very important. When you meet someone older, or say goodbye you have to 'Salam' which is basically showing respect and/or asking permission to leave. You take their hand (with your right hand-NOT left) and bow a little and bring their hand to touch your forehead/nose or maybe your cheek if you know them very well. With people you own age you just shake hands or for girls with your friends you can do the European kiss-kiss on each cheek (you just touch cheeks though, don't really kiss their cheek)
- maids are very common for middle class families which means very few chores!
- food is always on the table. Meals seem to work on a rolling basis (at least in my home) so you can eat whenever you like! Their is always nasi (rice) and then maybe 1 main dish and 2 sides which a lot of times are their for 2 meals in a row until they are gone or put away.  If the food isn't hot, you just heat it up in the microwave. Also the food is usually in the middle of the table with a woven basket type covering over it to keep flies and ants away.
- everything is extremely cheap here compared to American prices. You can get a meal and drink here for 20,000-40,000 rupiah ($2-4)! Only at the mall or really nice restaurant its more expensive. Also my uniforms cost only about $25 USD total!! For pulsa (cell phone credit) it costs about 25,000 rp. for one week- maybe it will be more later if i text more, but i've already been using my phone a lot so its cheap.  Some things are expensive here (well US equivalent or a little more) like baskin-robins ice cream, burgers, and backpacks among other stuff
- there are food vendors literally everywhere. They line all the streets and are at every corner, so there is always food just a few feet away. I ate street food after 1 week in Indonesia, and it didn't really make me sick. My stomach got upset for like 2 days (not enough to make me puke or anything tho) and now i'm completely fine. I only had cooked things though, not anything that would have been washed in the water here which can make you sick.
- American music and TV shows are common here, so there is something familiar from home.
- Indonesians love to sing. Its perfectly normal to sing in the car, or sing loudly in the shower when you have guests over!

-If you are a bule (foreigner) everyone will stare at you, especially when you are at places where tourists usually don't go (aka school, the supermarket, etc.) 
-If you are a bule random people may ask you for a picture or for an interview- i think for English class at school (yes both of these have happened to me) although this doesn't happen all the time or anything. 
-If you are a bule Indonesians will assume that you have met lots of famous people and Hollywood actors, and will ask you have you met/seen... the Glee cast, Maroon 5, Adele, etc? 
-For money college kids will do what i call 'car caroling'. They come around in groups of 5-10 and sing and dance around your car in hopes that you will be entertained enough to give them money. 
-Teenagers also a lot of times play guitar or ukelele through the streets and come up to car windows for money. They also play on the angkots (public transportation vans) and sit in the doorway (which is open) when the angkot is moving slow or in traffic, playing and singing. 
-Lots of bathrooms don't have toilet paper, but instead have a little hose (like the spray thing in the kitchen sink you can use to clean dishes) that you use to clean yourself and in Indonesia 'wet is clean'
-Even weirder, some public bathrooms or even house bathrooms are squat toilets (which may or may not flush). If they don't flush themselves you have to pour water into the toilet with a scoop to manually flush it. If its like this it also won't have a spray hose, and you have to use the scoop instead to clean yourself which is really awkward. 
-Two more weird things about bathrooms- there usually aren't towels or blow dryers to dry your hands and showers a lot of times are the traditional mandi- a tub/basin filled with water that you scoop water out of and pour over yourself to shower. They are actually really easy to use but are kinda cold.
- Girls typically don't shave their legs here, which I'm not sure how i feel about.  I mean obviously its natural, but it still seems a bit gross to me b/c I've been taught by society that its disgusting. Girls do shave their armpits though-luckily!
-At my school (and most others) not only do you wear a uniform but you also can't wear nail polish, noticeable make-up,  or jewelery other than watches and small earings (i think a lot of students break these rules though)
-black and white Converse are the uniform shoes!!
- every single food here is fried. goreng, goreng, goreng! And they say America is unhealthy!
- you have to pay to park everywhere
- all houses and most restaurants, shops, schools, etc (besides the little shack stores and houses) are gated. 
- I haven't seen any houses with a yard bigger than a large bedroom (but i haven't been out of the city)
-maids and drivers are common and maids usually live in the home 
-some parking garages have separate women only parking areas. I asked and AFS volunteer why and she said 'b/c women are worse drivers than men'!! And im pretty sure she was being serious.
-when you go to any sort of restaurant, or cafe (even fast food) you don't have to pick up the trash from your table- the workers do it for you
- school has about 16 subjects. 4/5 per day and most of them you have just once or twice per week. 
- in school you stay with the same class all day and the teachers rotate around to different classes to teach their subject
-school starts at 6:30 and ends at 1:30 so if you aren't staying after school, you can just eat at home!
- citizens of Indonesia are required by law to be one of the five recognized religions (Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, or Hindu) and this information is on their ID card
-almost all lotions here are whitening lotion, because Indonesians think that having lighter skin is more attractive
- the government censors TV and movies (not very strictly though). The internet isn't censored though.

- People only where seat belts in the front seats of cars, if even. It's illegal not to wear a seat belt, but no one really gets pulled over for it
- Roads the width of one vehicle are two-way streets
- Up to four people ride on one motocycle, and women often carry newborn babies on them.
- Im almost positive there are no such things as car seats.
- Lots of people don't wear helmets (illegal) or just don't buckle them...
- Cars drive into oncoming traffic if there is room in the lane
- on some roads lanes are completely ignored all together
-i think i have seen a total of 4 stoplights while I've been here
- Most adult men and lots of women too smoke cigarettes 
- little kids come up to car windows and beg even in the rain. AFS told us that a lot of times the kids are being used and are 'trained' to beg so that if you give them money it doesn't actually go to them or help them a lot of times. so sad :( 
- the back of supply trucks are used as a common form of transportation. Tons of people sit or stand on top of the stuff in the back or even sit on a makeshift 'deck' for a car- like a little wooden platform coming off of the back bumper, or like one of those things that you attach to the back of a car to put suitcases and trunks on


Monday, October 1, 2012

Rumah Baru Saya

My new home in Bandung <3

 my street. It looks pretty calm, but there are actually a lot of cars that cut through and about every hour maybe more like every 20-30 mins actually, you hear a food vendor come by. They ring a bell usually or yell out, kinda like when an ice cream truck comes in the U.S. also different vendors make different sounds, like the high pitched bell is ice cream and the lower pitched gong noise is nasi goreng or some type of food with meat i think.

the ally-way next to my house. I went outside for the first time alone today and started walking up it, but it went up to some houses and I kinda felt like i was snooping around plus a few ppl walked past and kept staring at me so i ran back down. I only made it about 300 ft from my house haha.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Life as I know it... about to end in just one day. Tomorrow morning I leave my family, friends, and hometown, something that I should be completely overwhelmed by, but that somehow I feel strangely calm about.  Don't get me wrong, I'm psyched to go and sad to say goodbye, but I don't have butterflies thinking about leaving and I don't feel like I'm going to cry when I leave tomorrow. Honestly, it all seems surreal and at the same time I am really comfortable with the idea of leaving. I guess that's the result of me contemplating the journey that is about to begin for the past 6 months, while not knowing what to expect or prepare for. I have no precedent to draw from, and only a small amount of information about what my year may entail. The possibilities with YES are endless.

When you decide to do YES, you don't really know what your signing up for. All you know is that you are going abroad for high school to one of 9 countries for a year, and that could mean so many different things. You could end up teaching English to elementary school students at an Islamic school, volunteering with special needs kids with your host mom, visiting your host family's durian farm, or squirted with water by an elephant at a holy temple (a few things other YES scholars have done this year). Your host family could have 5 kids or none, your school could be in English or the local language, you could have school on Saturdays or classes at different intervals during the day like in college, you could live in a big city or a little town, basically you can expect nothing, and have to be up for anything. That's why even though I've researched Indonesia and talked to my host family and YES alumni about school,culture, and life in general, It's hard for me to even imagine what this year will hold.  I'm excited to experience things one day at a time, until routine sets in and life in Indonesia seems normal.

For now I'm enjoying my last day with my sister who ditched college for the day to spend it with me :) and later tonight with my parents and my best friend. I've been helping my sister make gifts for her 'little (Sorority sister),  and later we're going to the North Georgia State Fair for a ride on the Ferris wheel and some funnel cake (and lots of other junk food). Then out to dinner with the family one last time and then finishing packing and probably unpacking to get my suitcase under the weight limit.

Before I start my posts from Indonesia here a few pictures from my extended summer and last few weeks here at home!
School Trip to Costa Rica! Helping make a basketball court for a school in Dominical.
My high school's Leadership Club in Costa Rica.
Me my sister Catherine and my friend Haffa at a waterfall near my house.
Me and the other YES Abroad students going to Indonesia this year at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington D.C.
Me and my friend Alyssa in Florida visiting her family and enjoying a week of surfing, boogie boarding, fishing, and failed attempts at skin boarding.
Meeting AFS exchange students who are living around Atlanta this year.
Stopping by my high school the first day to see my friends, dress up, and walk to school in the Senior Walk- I had to do one senior tradition before I left!
One last family camping trip to North Carolina. We stopped by this lake so my sister could practice rolling before we went kayaking the next day. You can't see, but there gorgeous blue mountains all around the lake.
Well, I don't wanna make this post too long so I think that's enough pictures.  I just wanted to show a little bit of my life now for the non-American ppl reading the blog, since a huge part of the program is sharing American culture. :) Talk to you when I get to Indonesia! Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thoughts on 9/11/12

Right now as I finish up dinner and see the news headlines on the TV I realize how important the vision and purpose of YES Abroad is.  The purpose is not only to bridge the gap between America and the Muslim world, but to spread the mentality that  different people and cultures can connect with and respect each other, and simply share in their mutual humanity. Somehow this simple idea, which seems to me and many others to be common sense, has been lost, or maybe just never gained, thanks to close minded, angry, and judgmental people who tend to get all of the attention. The past two days all the news stations have been discussing the new wave of protests in the Middle East and the attacks on the American embassies on Sept. 11th in Cairo and Benghazi. It's disappointing to me to see how much hate there is out there, on both sides. It's difficult for me to understand how people can despise an entire religion or nation of people, based on the actions a a small few, whose opinions and actions don't even match that of the majority.  One problem is that people feel the need to assign blame, and when there is no obvious person at which to point the finger the entire group receives the blame. It's hard for me to know who to blame for all the attacks, because I'm no expert, and the names of terrorist groups, resistance groups, and all the other people involved don't make much sense to me. I do know though, that blaming everyone is not the answer and that more hateful actions only spread hate. Its so sad that people hate enough to ransack an embassy and kill an ambassador, to burn a flag and attack sacred beliefs in the most rude and vulgar way. Although these acts aren't comparable, I think all are horrible.  As the news reports additional anti-American protests in other Muslim countries such as Yemen, Iran, and even YES Abroad countries Morocco and Oman, my parents and a few friends worry about my upcoming year in Indonesia, which is now just a short week away.  Call me reckless or maybe naive, but I'm not worried at all about my year (well actually I am a bit nervous, but not in terms of safety). The news may show all these violent and scary events, and they definitely need to be shown, but what the news hasn't show is the wonderful, welcoming, and warm-hearted Muslim people who have accepted my fellow YES Abroaders this year and in years past. From what I've seen in pictures, read on blogs, and heard in person, every YES student has had an amazing experience. In countries where YES students are, there is some anti-American sentiment, but it is mostly the kind that can be erased by a conversation or friendship with one of us, the kind that roots from fear of the strange and unknown and distorted stereotypes. It is rarely the extreme kind that incites people to violence. The fact that even with all of these problems in the Muslim world, there are so many great people out there, reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." (Anne Frank) This fact may not fix things, but I think it proves that there is always hope. As I step out of the sheltered bubble which is my life, I hope that what I find only validates my optimistic view of the world.  As I prepare to leave for Indonesia, the current events going on only energize me more to make the best of my time abroad.  I feel that what I'm doing is important and relevant. I'm so happy to have the chance to change the way people view the world, even if I am only the tiniest drop of water in the ocean of that change. I have no idea how my new friends and host family will feel about what's going on in the Middle East, but I can't wait to see it from another perspective and maybe question my own opinions. My preparation for this year has already sparked a lot of thought and learning for me, so I can only imagine the impact this year will have on my life. 

On another note, I finally was able to send in my visa application yesterday, after receiving my letters of invitation. Hopefully there are no more complications and I can start my journey as scheduled (well, as re-scheduled) next Friday! Can't wait!