Cicak on the Wall: WORDS Competition 2017

Each year, one of the best parts of my ETA grant was the WORDS Competition, and it was definitely something I was looking forward to as part of my current position.  While working towards WORDS from behind the scenes was certainly different, and I very much missed working one-on-one with my students while they prepared for the competition, I was still very excited for the national competition in Jakarta, especially as this year marked the tenth anniversary of the WORDS Competition.

A quick review for those who might not have been following my blog for two years, and therefore did not experience my joy in Malang and Gorontalo, as well as at the national competitions in Jakarta in 2015 and 2016:  WORDS is a speech and talent competition, developed by ETAs in the 2006-07 cohort, with performances centered on a given theme.  This year’s theme was “Cicak[1] on the Wall,” and students were asked to respond to the question, “If you could be a cicak on the wall of any room in the past, present, or future, where would you choose to be, and why?”


One of the participants performing traditional dance.

Each of the students was amazing.  Students chose to be cicaks in castles and museums, Kartini’s room of confinement and Nikola Tesla’s lab.  Some speeches were comedic, others inspiring, and still others made the audience cry.   For their talents, students danced, sang, performed traditional martial arts, and more.   The audience was captivated, and the judges—who included two past WORDS winners—certainly had a tough job in selecting the winning participants from such talent.

The night after the competition, there was a group activity planned for the students.  I had not initially planned to join, as the activity is usually exclusively for ETAs and their students, but a few ETAs were sick, and an additional chaperone was needed.  The original plan to go to laser tag fell through because of traffic, but we all took the students to see movies, and it was a grand time anyway.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the WORDS Competition, an additional event was added to the experience: English Fun Day.  I won’t deny that I was not exactly thrilled at finding the planning I had to do for WORDS doubled in comparison to previous years, but we managed it, and the end of the day the envent went fairly well.  English Fun Day was held at @America and in addition to the WORDS Participants and their ETAs, also included participants from two Jakarta-based organizations that serve disadvantaged children: Ticket to Life and Sahabat Anak.  Several groups of ETAs developed storytelling, song, and game activities in which everyone could participate, for an afternoon of fun and English language learning.  All of the students, the WORDS participants and our guests, were enthusiastic and adorable, and though managing such events means that you rarely are able to stay in one place for too long, I loved what I was able to see.


Everyone at the DCM’s house.

During their time in Jakarta, WORDS Participants were also able to explore the capital city with a visit to MONAS, while the ETAs had a meeting about their last weeks at site.   And following the English Fun Day, all students and their ETAs were also kindly invited to a farewell dinner at the residence of Deputy Chief of Mission Brian McFeeters. Though I know shamefully little of the DCM’s work and policies, I will say that he has a wonderful way with young people, and the WORDS students adored him.

The few days dedicated to WORDS were, of course, hectic and stressful.  This job always is.  But unlike most other things in my current position, WORDS involved the young people I love so dearly, and feel most passionate about working with.  WORDS, for me, was a breath of fresh air, and way for me to group myself in the reminder that when this grant is over, I will return to work more directly in education, where I truly belong.  I loved every minute, and I still cannot quite believe that I was able to enjoy a third WORDS Competition, something very few people have the opportunity to do.  Whatever insanity led up to the competition, I feel so blessed to have been there, and I wish all of the participants the best of luck for the future.


All of the WORDS participants, their ETAs, and the judges.

[1] A cicak is a small lizard.  ETAs changed originally chose the theme “Fly on the Wall,” and then changed the Fly to Cicak in order to make the theme more Indonesia-centered.

Snapshot: Bandar Lampung, South Sumatra


Beautiful Bandar Lampung, from the top floor of the hotel where I stayed.

I have been bouncing around Indonesia quite a bit recently, as anyone who follows my Instagram might have noticed.  Most of these visits have been for research, but a couple have also been to assist with the WORDS Competitions at certain schools.  One of the sites I visited for WORDS Competitions was Bandar Lampung, at the very southern tip of Sumatra.


Ancient writing from Museum Bandar Lampung

Bandar Lampung is a medium-sized, extraordinarily diverse city, and I wish I had had more than a few days there.  The driver who took me around was a fountain of information about the history and politics of the area (elections for a new governor had just occurred before I arrived, so the latter was a very hot topic at the time), and he would pipe up every time we entered a new part of the, letting me know if the population there was majority transmigrasi[1], Chinese-Indonesian, orang Palemband (the people of Palembang, a region north of Bandar Lampung), or one of the ethnic groups native to the region.  I learned later, while visiting Museum Bandar Lampung, that while the city encompasses the whole area now, there is apparently still to this day a significant difference in the traditions of those ethnic groups who live close to the sea, compared to those who are from the hills.


The Butterfly Garden.

Bandar Lampung is very much situated in a beautiful space.  With the mountains on one side, and the ocean on the other, it really has the best of both worlds for anyone interested in escaping city life.  My driver told me that a large number of tourists from Jakarta frequent Bandar Lampung on the weekend, and that most of them go to Bandar Lampung for the snorkeling and diving near the many small islands right off the coast.  However, as I was there for tugas (an assignment, or work), that was not something I planned for.  But the teachers at the schools I went to happily took me to more in-land tempat wisata (tourism spots), such as the butterfly garden and the deer sanctuary, and, especially after having spent this grant period in Jakarta, I was so thankful that they took the time to accompany me to such beautiful green spaces.


Some of the SMP dancers, and the wonderful ETA

I was also lucky enough to be in Bandar Lampung during a festival budaya (cultural festival), and was invited to go by the ETA placed there. where I got to see beautiful examples of tapis (a fabric native to this region), taste local kopi (coffee), and watch part of a SMP (middle school) traditional dance competition.  This was my favorite part of the whole trip.  I have always loved dance competitions in Indonesia, but have not attended one since I stopped being an ETA.  Being able to see dances from all over the region (some students were from as far as Palembang), and performed by such talented students, was such a privilege.

The hospitality of the teachers and the ETA of Bandar Lampung meant I got to see much more of the city than I ever thought I might on a mere work trip.  I am ever so thankful, and hope that someday I will be able to return.


Some of my favorite little dancers.  These lovely ladies are actually in SD (elementary school), and had performed earlier that morning.

[1] Java is the most populated island in the world, and over population was such a problem that as one point the Dutch Colonial Government (and the Indonesian Government later continued this program) moved the people from entire villages on Java to other places around Indonesia.  Or at least, that’s the official narrative.  Many people say that the real goal of the program was to spread Javanese culture, as it was seen as superior to the culture of the people who already lived in those areas: these villagers were to integrate into the surrounding community, and instill Javanese language and values, replacing that of the people native to the region.  If this was, in fact, the goal, it wasn’t particularly successful.  Many transmigrasi sites have become very insular communities, which maintain their own language and culture, without necessarily integrating fully.  Opinions abound regarding these communities, both from those who live near them, and those who live (or lived) in them, and it has been a fascinating topic to explore since coming here.

The Art of Pulkam

Pulkam is short for pulang kampung, a phrase which roughly translates to “go home to your hometown.”  My recent travel for research happened to bring me back to both of the sites where I used to teach and live as an ETA (Fulbright English Teaching Assistant): Malang in East Java, and Gorontalo in Northern Sulawesi.  I made sure to sneak in time to visit my own people while in both of these places, though of course most of my focus was on research.  These were whirlwind trips, and while I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, I did get to spend at least a little time with most of the people who are the reason I was so thrilled to be headed back to these places.

Last year, while I was an ETA in Gorontalo, I also had the opportunity to pulkam to Malang.  I have been so blessed to have been able to re-visit the various places that I have called home here several times, something not many ETA alumni have the chance to do.  Over time, I’ve noticed a few consistencies in the act of pulang kampung, regardless of when and where I have returned.  And so I offer my observations as a sort of “Grace’s Guide to Pulkam,” with the caveat that I am not an expert in anything at all (except maybe drinking jus alpokat), and these are based only on my own unique experiences.

Expect to eat a lot.  It sometimes seems as though Indonesians express their love through food (this is one of those things that I have found true across the archipelago).  Ibu-Ibu have always insisted that they simply cannot send me back to my mother thinner than I was when I arrived (regardless of how I might be feeling about my own bodyweight), because that would mean they had not properly cared for me.  Every time I pulkam, it feels almost as though people are trying to feed me as much during the few days I am there as they did during my nine months as an ETA.  Not that I necessarily mind.  Each region of Indonesia has its own special foods, and heaven knows I miss the foods from the places I lived in.   I have been craving the ikan bakar (grilled fish), binte biluhuta (a fish and corn soup)[1], and tinutuan (a sort of pumpkin “porridge” with lots of greens)[2] of northern Sulawesi ever since I left (I have found a place that makes almost passable tinituan in Jakarta, but let’s face it: it’s better in Sulawesi).  And unless you have been to Malang, you will not understand why I think bakso (meatballs, usually served in broth) is the best thing since sliced bread (which really isn’t all that great, in comparison), or why I worship tempe as the goddess of all proteins, or why I feel I can make the best apple crisp in Indonesia–even with just a toaster oven–because those apel Malang are just magical.   Just like I generally miss American dishes when I am here, and generally miss Indonesian food when I go back to the States, I also miss these daerah (area)-specific dishes when I move from one Indonesian city to another, and I am not all that bothered by the excess of lunch and dinner invites I receive (so long as I get to pay for one or two) or the few pounds I put on every time I pulkam. 


A few photos from my pulkam to Gotontalo.

Bring gifts, but more importantly, bring stories.  I haven’t been able to pin down whether or not this applies to anyone who goes on pulkam, but at least for ETAs, there is definitely the expectation that you will bring gifts or oleh-oleh (souvenirs) back for people, and I have always tried to oblige as best as my budget and suitcase-space will allow.  This gift-giving is a way to show people that you have remembered them, and I am 100% for that.  But because I’ve always struggled with what I perceive as the materialism so prevalent in Indonesia (why do physical gifts need to be brought everywhere? and why does the size and cost matter so much?), I try not to simply bring gifts, but gifts that come with a story.  Last year I brought kerawang, the traditional fabric of Gorontalo, to my friends in Malang, because it gave me an excuse to talk about the ways in which Gorontalo culture differs from Javanese culture, something which was so influential my second year.  And this year, in addition to some little trinkets from Jakarta (the capital city is notorious for not having good oleh-oleh), I also brought small souvenirs from Korea, which allowed me to talk to about my time there visiting the South Korean Fulbright Commission, and just generally how much I have learned about the ETA Program this year, since I am seeing it from a different perspective.  In the end these stories still matter more.  Even if you bring oleh-oleh that doesn’t necessarily come with a story, you will find it quickly set aside as everyone asks you a million questions about what you have been up to, and fills you in on the latest gossip on their end.  There is a cultural expectation that you bring something material, yes, but do not confuse this with a prioritizing of objects over a person.  People are still more excited about you than anything you bring.

Anticipate a lot of selfies.  Selfies are a bit like food.  They are a way for people to show you that they missed you, that they are excited to see you again.  While teachers and other adult friends will definitely request these, you will probably get these requests most often from your students.  Don’t say no.  Be prepared to smile for so many selfies that your face hurts.  And then make sure that someone sends those photos to you.  One of my housemates, a Fulbright Research Alumna and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (in Indonesia both times), often says that no matter how many photographs she has of beautiful vistas, it is the foto-foto of people that she values the most.  And it’s true.  At home I have many beautiful fabrics from the various places I have visited in Indonesia, and USBs full of photos I have had the privilege to visit.  But it is the class photos I took at the end of each year, and the group shots I have with fellow teachers and friends, that I treasure most from my two years as an ETA.  Having the opportunity to add to that collection of photographs of the people I love brings far more joy than seeing Komodo Dragons or hiking a mountain.  And though you might have the opportunity to pulkam once, the fact is that you may not have the opportunity to do so again.  Those sweaty selfies will be priceless later.  Make sure you get copies.


A few photos from my pulkam to Malang.

Prepare yourself for the less-pleasant parts.  It won’t all be joyous.  There may be people you never wanted to see again.  I know I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I narrowly escaped meeting a particular teacher during my first pulkam to Malang, and had a moment of panic when I did run into this guru during my most recent pulkam.  My pulkam to Gorontalo also had its share of awkward interactions with men from my neighborhood.  And, let’s be honest, I do not think that either of the cities I lived in as an ETA are perfect.  There are parts of them that drove me insane when I lived there, and those exasperating characteristics have not disappeared just because I moved away.  The bentor (becak motor, a rickshaw with a motorbike instead of a bicycle) drivers in Gorontalo are still amongst the most persistent harassers I have come across in Indonesia, and it only took one bentor ride on my way to rent a motorbike for my visit in the city for me to remember why I had chosen to ride a motorbike as an ETA, avoiding bentor drivers as best as I could. I spent my nine months in Malang navigating the politics of my school’s two campuses, including the poor treatment of my Papuan students, and was yet again smacked in the face with the Javanese idea of their own superiority when during my pulkam an entire teacher’s room—mostly full of new teachers who did not work at the school when I was an ETA there and did not know about my fiery responses to racism—immediately began making derogatory jokes about orang Sulawesi (the people of Sulawesi), after hearing where I had been placed my second year as an ETA.  But in the end, all of these irritations were like mosquito bites from an incredible hike: I noticed them, and was highly displeased, but it did not cause me to regret my decision to go.

Assume there will be changes.  Whether you were gone for a few months or a few years, you will not be going back to the same place you lived in as an ETA.  In Gorontalo, one of the few placements last year at which ETAs could boast that they had the ability to live without an Indomaret or Alfamart, because there simply weren’t any, there is now one or the other on every corner, and this change has happened in the mere nine months I have been gone.  It also has an increase in stoplights, some of which even have the recorded reminders to wear helmets that I am accustomed to hearing only in larger Indonesian cities.  “Gorontalo so mo jadi kota besar!” (“Gorontalo is already becoming a big city!”) came out of my mouth more times than I care to count.  In Malang, at the end of this academic year the two campuses of my school are actually going to split into two schools, one of which will be a military academy, and so if I do have the opportunity to visit Malang again, SMAN 10, as I knew it, will not even exist.  In both places, some of the teachers I loved no longer teach at my schools, and a few friendly faces have even sadly passed away.  And of course, my students are older, some of them even graduated.  And I have changed.  I’m no longer the fresh-faced ETA that came to Malang her first year in Indonesia: I’m a little more haggard, a little wiser, though somehow still just as stubbornly optimistic about the futures of my kiddos in spite of what other teachers may say (some things never change).  And I’m certainly not completely the small-town girl of Gorontalo anymore: though I’ll never call myself a city girl, I have changed in certain ways in order to survive Jakarta, and it shows in everything from my confidence to my accent, as noted by my friends in both my old sites.  These changes—in your school, in your community, in yourself—are often positive, though not always, and they are almost always jarring.  Take them all in: you’ll have time to digest them when you are finished with your pulkam.

Know that it will not be enough time.  You might not get to see everyone.  Even if you do, you will probably feel you did not fully get to catch up with them.  You will not be able to visit all of your favorite haunts.  You will not get to eat all of your favorite dishes.  The fact is, there is a reason this is pulkam: you no longer live in this place.  And you cannot fit nine months of an ETA experience into a few days.

Pulkam is bittersweet.  If you are the crying type (and I am) you might cry harder when you leave from your pulkam visit than you did when you left your site at the end of your grant.  Highs are high and lows are lows when you are an ETA, and that doesn’t end when you find yourself an alumnus.

Breathe deep.  Take it all in.  The smiles, the tears, the laughter, the grimaces.  It is an emotional rollercoaster, but it a privilege to be able to go along for the ride.  In the end, my only real advice is this: feel what feelings come, and then feel lucky to have felt any of it at all.  That is the art of the ETA pulang kampung.  Perhaps it is the art of being an ETA at all.

[1] Binte biluhuta is Bahasa Gorontalo; in Bahasa Indonesia, this dish is known as milu siram.

[2] Tinituan is Bahasa Manado; in Bahasa Indonesia, this dish is known as Bubur (porridge) Manado.

Snapshots: PangkalPinang, Bangka Island


One of the many beaches in PkP.

Throughout my grant as the Researcher/Coordinator, I had the opportunity to visit PangkalPinang twice, once for a site visit (folks from AMINEF tend to visit a selection of schools during the first half of the ETA grant) and once for a research observation and interview.

PangkalPinang is, to me, the quintessential small Indonesian city.  Warungs line the streets, and mosques, churches, and temples crop up every few hundred meters, depending on the part of town you are in (PangkalPinang is actually a fairly diverse city).  School children cycle past in their uniforms, while women and men settle into front porches, street corners, and kitchens to gossip and perform their “daily activities” (as the Indonesian English Curriculum would tall these tasks).  I have a special fondness this type of Indonesian city: not overwhelming like some of the crowded larger cities, but not as potentially claustrophobic of the smaller villages.  There is something about this kind of city that just makes me feel… comfortable, and I was happy I was able to go to the PkP (as it has been nicknamed by ETAs) their twice during this year.


Some of the tin mines, as seen from the plane into PkP.

PangkalPinang is located on Pulau Bangka, a fairly large island which neighbors Pulau Belitung, the island probably most famous for its picturesque beaches and for being the setting of the well-known Indonesian novel Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), a book I would recommend to anyone.  Bangka itself has its own lovely beaches as a claim to fame, alongside its white pepper and… tin.

Flying into PangkalPinang, the land outside of the city seems to be covered in lakes, but in reality, these are tin mines.  Mining has been a key part of the economy of this islands since Dutch Colonialism, and to a certain extent even before that.  There is an entire museum in the town dedicated to the tin industry.  And while some of the old mines have since become bright blue lakes that glow almost alien-like in midday sun, the tin industry in general seems to be completely contrary to the growing natural tourism many are pushing to develop on the island.


One of the lakes which used to be a mine.

But the tourism is relatively new, and the tin industry is familiar, so it may take some time for the tourism industry to take over.  But there seem to be some people who believe it is possible and are willing to work to make it so.

On the outskirts of town there is the Bangka Botanical Gardens, a wonderful place full of trails, gardens, and even some dairy cows.  According to some employees I spoke to on my second visit to PangkalPinang, this entire complex used to be part of a tin mine, and was somehow reclaimed in order to become botanical gardens.  If this is true, this only gives me more confidence in the future of Bangka, that the people there will protect the beautiful scenery that surrounds their towns.

Only time will tell.  Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to go back someday, to see for myself.


Some of the trails in BBG (Bangka Botanical Gardens).

Sharing Stories of Home: Andrea Comes to Indonesia!


Borobudor was still just as magical the second time around.

It’s been three years now since I first learned that I had been privileged with the chance to teach English abroad as a Fulbright ETA.  Through a surprising series of doors of opportunity that somehow opened for me, I am still here.  I still wonder at how lucky I am, to have been able to live in Southeast Asia for so long.

Living abroad does have its challenges, and one which has only become harder to deal with the longer I am gone is trying to share my experiences with folks at home.  I did blog fairly regularly when I was an ETA, and as someone who loves snapping photos of everything I tend to share visuals of my adventures across all sorts of social media platforms.  But my stumbling sentences and blurry selfies can’t really capture all that life in Indonesia has been for me, but it is hard to really share it in all of its intricacies unless someone can actually come and visit me.  And when you live on the other side of the world from family and friends, it’s not an easy task for people to plan that kind of a trip.


Andrea tries her hand at Batik.

So I was bouncing-off-the-wall excited when I learned that one my roommates from college and closest friends needed to spend a few months in South Korea, and was able to swing a week to come down and visit me.  I had a blast figuring out where it would be best to take Andrea (I wasn’t about to have her spend that week in Jakarta), eventually deciding, based on her time frame and the time of year, that Yogyakarta was our best option.  (Though I would have loved to have taken her to Malang or to Gorontalo, one of the places I had actually lived as an ETA, both were a little too far given the short time she would be here.)


From a visit to a monastery, a new stop for me.

I had visited Yogya once before, as a first-year ETA, but very, very fleetingly.  Still, as I had visited while one of my close friends from my first ETA cohort was teaching there, there was something familiar about Yogya, and it held so many significant and lovely memories that I still felt as though I was showing her a little piece of home.  We stopped by my favorite places again, and saw a few my ETA friend had loved but I had not had time to see.  We met up with a Fulbright researcher who had just started her grant, and well as the two ETAs currently teaching in Magelang (a town next-door to Yogya), giving Andrea some idea about the folks I have been working alongside in my program over the past few years.  We were also able to meet up for supper with my Guru Bahasa Indonesia from my first orientation and her family, giving Andrea a taste of the incomparable Indonesian hospitality I have been blessed to experience over the past two.


Getting whiplash in a jeep has never been so much fun.

We took selfies with Indonesian tourists. We rode motorcycles taxies through the crowded streets of Jakarta.  We ate at warungs. We rode the train from Jakarta to Yogya through towering mountains, rolling hills, and rice paddies that seemed to have no end.  We bartered at markets.  We stood in awe of temples and mosques and rice paddies.  We got a little bit ill when we ate too much spicy food, but kept trying different dishes anyway.  We went to bed exhausted by the heat, but woke up ready for more incredible adventures.


When the “tourism police” give you a heart attack by stopping you outside a candi, but then just want a foto. 

I might not have been able to take Andrea to either of my previous homes in Indonesia, and we might have only spent one day in the city where I now live, but I was able to take her to a place that was familiar nonetheless.  I might not have been able to bring her to one of my classrooms, but I was able to bring her to the sorts of markets and food stalls that I might have frequented at either site when I wasn’t on my school’s campus working with my kiddos.  I was able to give her a taste of what Indonesia feels like: the constant barrage of different noises and smells that once overwhelmed me, but now provides the comfort of home.


The Water Palace, which I had passed before but never entered.

I was so happy to have the opportunity to act as Andrea’s tour guide while she was in Indonesia, and so grateful that she took the time to come to see me.  She was the perfect travel companion every step of the way.

So, if anyone else from home is headed my way and needs a tour guide, hit me up.  This experience is far richer if shared.

The Third Annual Thanksgiving Post

During both my first and second years as an ETA, I dedicated a post to what I am thankful for: 10 items my first year, and 20 my second.  I have enjoyed this tradition, and may continue it in some fashion even after I am completely done with Fulbright.  For now, here are 30 things I am thankful for right now.


Family.  This will be my third year in a row in which I will spend most of my time living on the other side of the world from everyone who makes up my family.  Even though I’m sure my decision to keep returning to Indonesia doesn’t always make sense to them, they continue to support me in whatever ways they can from afar, and keep me connected to the ins and outs of folks at home, and I am forever grateful for that.

Toaster Ovens. Baking for people is one of my greatest joys, but ovens are not usually included in an Indonesian kitchen.  This year, the apartment I live in came with a toaster oven, and I have loved diving back into the world of baked goods: I only hope that my coworkers feel the same about the many plates of cookies I bring to the office.

Friends in America.  I have missed a lot in the lives of my friends back home since coming abroad: new jobs, weddings, moves across the country.  And yet, whenever I have the chance to skype with a friend, they make it feel as though it was just yesterday that we were chatting in the same time zone, and I love them for it.

Potted Plants.  I have always loved having greenery about the house—my poor mother is currently caring for almost a dozen plants right now while I live abroad—and recently my housemates decided to get a few plants for our small balcony.  I love these little sprigs of life, and hope that my norther green thumb can adapt to this equatorial climate and keep them healthy.

Cheap Indonesian Food.  There is something almost sinfully good about fried food bought from the side of the road, and there is so much of it in my area this year.  I probably indulge more often than I should, but what may not be good for the waistline is often good for the soul, yes?

Friends in Indonesia.  I have made so many amazing friends here, in so many different places.  It baffles me sometimes to think that there are several cities Indonesia that I could go to, and have a friend there to greet me.   It is the friends I have made here that make Indonesia not a place I have traveled to, but a home, and I am so thankful for this family that I have made here.

Ojek Applications.  During both of my ETA grants, my main source of transportation was always a motorbike that I rented.  I dare not brave the streets of Jakarta on my own, but I make up for it by how often I use ojek (motorcycle taxies, in which you essentially sit on the back of someone’s motorbike), partly because apps like Gojek have Grab have made it so easy to do.  Seeing the city from the back of a motorbike, especially at night when the tall buildings are lit up in every color of the rainbow, is one of my greatest joys in Jakarta.

AMINEF Team.  The AMINEF team has been instrumental in my time in Indonesia, and I was incredibly thankful for the hard work that they put in to the Fulbright Programs when I was an ETA.  Now, I work alongside these incredible people, and I get to see first-hand the energy they put in to making these programs run as smoothly as they can (no small feat, let me tell you), and am, if it is possible, even more thankful for the work they do.

Sidewalks.  In many of the places where I lived previously in Indonesia, sidewalks were not particularly common.  Here in Jakarta, I walk to work every day, and most of my walk is on even, manicured sidewalks, rather than just in a swath of dust on the side of the road, and it really is like living in the lap of luxury.

Modern Technology.  Beyond the everyday ways that technology makes my life easier at every turn, I am especially thankful this year for the ways it helps me stay connected to friends and family spread throughout the world, and for how much information is at my fingertips at any time.

Roommates.  Two of my friends from Malang (one American, one Javanese), made the move to Jakarta at the same time I did, and they are the brightest part of my day, each and every day.  There are days when being R/C, when just living in Jakarta, seems more than I am capable of, and being able to come home to two people who know me and love me makes everything seem possible.  They are both smart, open-hearted women, and I have learned so much by living with them.

  1. Jakarta is hot. After my walk to or from work, as much as I enjoy it, I am always a tad bit sweatier than I would like to be, and being able to walk into an air-conditioned office building or apartment is blessed reprieve.  After two years of working in classrooms around Indonesia often without even a fan, I am even more thankful for this.

My Education.  None of the opportunities I have had during the past few years would have been possible without the education that I have been blessed to have.  But beyond that, I am thankful for the critical thinking and the desire to be a life-long learner that my education has instilled in me, which I truly believe will help me to continue to strive to be my best self.

Good Wi-Fi.  Though I just joined the world of smart-phones during my second grant, I was still living in a place without a great connection and without particularly good access to Wi-Fi, which made work somewhat challenging and comforts like skype calls home impossible.  Living in the city, Wi-Fi now follows me wherever I go, and I feel like a princess.

Past ETA Cohorts.  I have met so many amazing people throughout the two years I was an ETA, and I still keep in touch with many of them.  They are all doing incredible things following their ETA grant, both at home and abroad, and I feel so proud to know them, and to be so blessed as to call them my friends.

International Food Options.  Jakarta is full of cheap Indonesian food, but there are also restaurants with food from all of over the world, and I have loved having the chance to try new cuisines using flavors I’ve never had before.

Travel.  Throughout my time in Indonesia, and throughout my life generally, I have been lucky enough to see so many fascinating and beautiful places, and meet so many wonderful people, all over the world.  I know I am a better person because of this, and I wish that more people could have the opportunities that I have had to travel.

Cute Surgical Masks.  Jakarta, while nowhere near being the most polluted city in the world, doesn’t exactly provide much in the way of fresh air.  I have never been a fan of wearing masks, even when I should (ask my mother, who was always trying to get me to wear dust masks in the barn), but I have taken to exclusively wearing masks with bright colors and fun patterns, and this makes this necessity much more bearable.

Teachers.  Whether it is my own teachers, or teachers I have had the opportunity to work with in classrooms in the U.S. or in Indonesia, some of the most incredible people I have ever had the opportunity to meet are, or have been, educators.  I am grateful for this profession and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

Trans Jakarta.  Jakarta has a fairly well-set-up bus system called the Trans Jakarta, and I love it.  Clean, air-conditioned, and often with special sections for women, I have not encountered such comfortable public transport since coming to Indonesia.

Current ETA Cohort.  While my relationship with this current ETA cohort is very different than the one I had with past ETA cohorts, I am still incredibly thankful to be working with this group.  Some incredible work is coming out of this cohort, and they are currently only four months into their nine-month grant.  I cannot wait to see what else they accomplish throughout this year, and am so grateful to be able to do so.

My Journal.  I have journaled somewhat consistently since I was nine, and while there are times when I do not write as often as I should (this grant has been especially busy, and is definitely one of those times), being able to actively reflect has always helped me to gain perspective, and I am glad this is a practice that I have developed.

Rain.  Rain in Jakarta is not nearly as satisfying as rain in Gorontalo or Malang (one of my favorite smells in the whole world is rice paddies after rain, and I haven’t quite yet found those in central Jakarta), but the rain does manage to clear the dust and exhaust fumes for at least a short time, and I love nothing more than to stand on the balcony of our apartment while the rain comes pouring down.  For a moment, the city is cool, and clean, and fresh.

Listening Ears.  Some days are hard.  But I am surrounded by amazing people who are always willing to listen to me and help me through what is challenging, and I am forever grateful for all of them.  They are people who get me through, and I love them for it.

Museums.  I inherited my love of museums from both of my parents, who would take my brother and I to museums of all sorts whenever we had the opportunity to go into a city.   Jakarta is the first city I have lived in in Indonesia that has a selection of museums to choose from, and I am thrilled to be able to explore their various corners.

The Capacity to Learn Another Language.  By this point, I have finally achieved some semblance of fluency in Bahasa Indonesia, though I still have a long way to go before I am fully fluent.  Still, at this point the language barrier does not impede my ability to get around, and rarely interferes with my ability to make friends either.  It took me a long time to get here, but now that I am here, I am so thankful for it.

Yoga.  One of my roommates persuaded me to take on a daily yoga challenge with her, using online instruction, and at this point doing yoga in the evening has become a fairly ingrained habit.  As someone who struggles to workout indoors (and I don’t really have another option in Jakarta), finding a way to exercise during this grant was incredibly important for both my physical and mental health, and I am so grateful that yoga is able to provide this for me.

My Health.  I definitely have not reacted well to living in a place without as much fresh air as my farm-girl lungs are used to, but I am learning how to take care of myself in the big city, and as my health improves, so does my overall semangat for life, and I am thankful that I am able to preserve it.

Past Students.  I have had the joy of working with over one thousand students in Indonesia alone, and they continue to inspire me each and every day.  I have had the fortune to meet up with several of my past students, now attending universities in different cities, and I am so grateful to be able to continue to have a relationship with so many inspiring young people.

Opportunities.  Whether it is meeting wonderful people, exploring beautiful places, or encountering challenges that help me to grow, I have been blessed to have had endless opportunities in my life, and somehow continue to.  I cannot fully express how thankful I am for these opportunities, and can only hope that I meet these opportunities as fully and as openly as I can.

America, I Love You, So Listen Up

I am an American currently living in Indonesia, on the opposite side of the globe from my home country.  I sent my absentee ballot in weeks ago, and on November 9th I woke up as people in the United States were still going to the polls, and I spent my morning and afternoon watching the numbers come in until eventually the new president-elect of the United States was announced.

I am a farm girl from rural Central New York, who studied English Education at a liberal arts college, and who has lived in Indonesia since graduating with my undergraduate degree, teaching English and engaging in what most people call “soft diplomacy.”

I am a mixed bag of backgrounds and experiences and I have used all of them in whatever ways I thought I was qualified to do.  I wrote blog posts and slam poems about how I hope my experience here in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation would shape how people considered this election.  I tried to reason with family members and friends from home over Facebook and in person while I was in the U.S. this summer (though New York State may have gone to Hillary, my county voted 57% Trump), because I know from growing up in these areas that it is those personal connections that help people to listen to new ideas, and I thought that maybe because I from there, people might listen to me.  I posted long-form think pieces to my Facebook wall and sent critical videos to friends from college who were seeing a one-sided view of the people who raised me and in many ways created the social-justice oriented person I am today (my college education shaped it as well, but it cannot claim it in full as it would like to), because someone once told me the people with college degrees are more likely to read and listen to long texts.

And through it all, I listened.  Though I have a slightly more complex background, I knew I could not rely merely on that to take the pulse of the nation.  And so I read all the articles Facebook friends posted no matter how biased those articles were (on both sides), so that I could see where the far right and far left seemed to be standing.  I read political theories and commentaries from all sorts of sources.  I fact-checked.  I talked to people.  I read.  I listened.

I shared and discussed what I had learned.  I thought that by listening, asking questions, and trying to use the voice of reason on both sides, I was doing the right thing.

I cast my vote, and then waited for the rest of my country (or at least those who would turn out on election day), to do the same.  And then I was told that in January, Donald Trump would become the new president of my country.

I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed, sad, and angry: throughout the election I clung to my stubborn optimism and insisted that Americans would make the right choice, the kind choice.  That is what I told my friends here, who were horrified at this new side of the U.S. they didn’t really know existed before now.  And then America allowed Donald Trump to become the president-elect.

There are a lot of reasons people have given for why Donald Trump was able to win.  Here is mine: we didn’t listen.

If you voted for Trump, because you actually believe in the racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic vitriol that defined his campaign, I don’t really know what to say to you.  Did you listen to anyone at all, ever?

If you voted for Trump because you are tired of a broken system which seems to fail almost all ordinary Americans, okay, I hear you.  But did you not listen to the voices of the folks who are black, Latino/a, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQA*, etc. who were scared to leave their homes even before he was actually elected, and who are even more scared now that he is the president-elect?  Don’t tell me that he didn’t commit all these atrocities as an individual (though he has committed enough of his own): the language of his campaign has had a powerful effect on the language and attitudes of even schoolchildren.  He has given so many (dare I say all) of the poisonous -isms that are still in the waters of America a platform to stand on.  If you knew all of this, then when you voted for Donald Trump, you said with your ballot that that was okay.  If you didn’t know this, it is because you didn’t listen.

If you did not vote for Trump and you are now blaming “racist, rural, poor whites” for the reason he won, you are not listening to the exit polls, who tell us that those whose income is less than 50,000 a year were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton or a third party.  If you did not vote for Trump and refuse to recognize the broken system that may have led some in desperation to do so, and instead insist on referring to them as “the deplorables,” you are not listening to a group that feels ignored and disenfranchised, no matter who they voted for.  Is there racism and xenophobia imbedded into this particular brand of disenfranchisement?  Are the people they are voting for probably not interested in their well-being?  Yes and yes.  But this is part of a greater classist system that has existed for far longer than this election, and calling people names is not the way to fix this system.  If you continue to respond to this highly problematic population by painting them in one color and refusing to see them complexly, you are not listening.

If you voted third party, I understand that you want to be part of a system that allows more than two options, but this was not the time or the way to try to make that system a reality.  I know you didn’t want to be “responsible” for letting someone you could not agree with become president.  But in the end that’s not how this system allows your vote to work.  You were told this, and you too did not listen to the real fears of minority groups and therefore allowed this man into office.

If you critique the third-party voters without also recognizing that the two-party system is messed up and people should have been able to vote that way without sacrificing the respectability of our country, you are also not listening.

If you did not vote because you were protesting an election wherein no one seemed to care about you, or because you felt that you had not truly viable options available to you, I am so sorry that you feel as hurt as you do.  But the stakes were too high, and people were saying this, and you did not listen.

If you are treating those who did not vote as though they are the end of all democracy, if you are in any way criticizing the effect of their non-vote without also acknowledging their pain and realizing that, if you did vote, you most definitely voted for one of the reasons they feel this level of pain, then you are not listening.

If you voted for Clinton, like myself, we don’t get a free pass.  If you were “with her” and you feel fully confident that she was absolutely the best person to be the next president of the United States, you also were not listening.  There is no denying that Hilary had a resume of experience that made her much more qualified than any of the candidates.  There is also no denying that, in the Trump vs. Clinton dichotomy, she appeared to a huge number of people to be the “lesser of two evils.”  If you voted for her and did not note the ways in which she also, though to a much lesser degree, dehumanized parts of the American population, then you did not listen.  If you do not recognize that she stood to leave several minority groups behind if she was elected, then you did not listen.  If you do not see Hilary Clinton, as all of the candidates this election, as some level of problematic, then you did not listen.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.  I did not do so because she was all I sought for in a candidate: to be honest, I am still sad that Bernie Sanders was not an option on my ballot, as I felt he might be able to bring about real changes to a broken system.  I did not vote for her solely because I recognized that she was the least dangerous (even if she wasn’t completely harmless), to the minority groups I might not belong to but value and support, though I could not claim to have listened at all in this campaign if this did not factor in to how I cast my vote.

I voted for Hilary because along the way I began to notice that in many ways, Hilary Clinton listened too.  She was criticized for having gone back and forth on issues, but it seemed as though this was her responding to the pulse of America, in the same way I tried to respond, though on a much smaller scale.  I did not agree with Hilary on a lot of issues, and I disapproved of many of the ways she ran her campaign.  But I came to believe that she might be a leader who listened, and I put my hope, and my vote, in that.

There are some who say that Donald Trump’s acceptance speech shows that he too can listen.  I see far less evidence of that, but I pray that I am wrong.

The tale is not entirely bleak, and there are results of this election that give me hope for the future, and remind me why I still do love the place where I am from.  There are now four women of color in the senate.  Our nation’s first Somali-American legislator, Ilhan Omar, will represent Minnesota Hose District 60B.  Tulsi Gabbard became the first person to use the Bhagavad Gita to swear into her role as a congresswoman.  These small morsels lead me believe that not all is lost.

I won’t be one of those people who says that everything is going to be okay.  I will be one of those people who says that we shouldn’t give up.  I will be one of those people who says that now, more than ever, is a time for movement.  It is a time to create change which will create a more understanding United States, one that is less divided not because we have agreed to follow one extreme or the other because it is easy, but because we have changed ourselves to be more empathetic.  And to become more empathetic, we need to listen.

Of course, listening is where we need to start, but not not where we can stay forever, if we want to create real, productive change.  In many ways, I feel that I listened too much and spoke too little during this election season: recognizing that I am a small individual with little influence, there are still things I would have done differently.

There are many ideas out there for what individuals can do, especially if you were hoping for a Hillary win. I do not know yet what the right move is, nor what my own personal next move will be.  I need to re-take the pulse of America, now that it’s diet and exercise regimen has changed so drastically.  I must also consider my unique position in living abroad, and how that affects what I can do. (For now, it means I do not have the privilege to sit back and reflect to the same degree that many other white young people at home can do.  As a representative of America in a foreign country, I have to explain what happened to our friends who live across the world.  It also means I cannot physically offer protection on public transport to those who feel most threatened in this post-Trump America.)  I must consider what my own capacities are, and what I am actually capable of doing, and doing well, both right now, and in less than a year, when I will most likely return to the United States.

I will do my part.  I will take action, and raise my voice, in the way that is most appropriate to who I am and my situation.

But first, I have some listening to do.

Note: I have tried to link, when possible, to pieces I have read or videos I have watched which I think better illustrate some of these points.  Please click on these links.  Listen.