I love roller coasters. I love their fast pace, the thrill of not knowing which way my body will be thrown next, and even the way I am entirely unsure as to which way is up at the end of the ride.
But I also like to take a break after a few rides.
Though I know Indonesia is probably one of the most unpredictable places on the planet, every time I visit again I convince myself that this time I’ll have everything in hand and be able to handle whatever it throws at me this round.
I’m always wrong.
Classes started two weeks ago, and they have been a healthy challenge. Because I am in the second highest level, I am expected to speak formal Indonesian throughout class, and this has proven difficult, as I am still trying to remember the informal Indonesian I once knew. Though I have made opportunities for myself to practice Indonesian while I was in grad school this past year, but most of those conversations have been about food and, well, mostly food. I do have the ability to talk about more serious topics using informal Indonesian, but I need to wait for those words to return to me. I remember more and more setiap hari (each day), but it has taken some time for it to come back. Objectively I know that I just need to be patient with myself, but with more and more formal Indonesian being expected of me each day, the pressure is real, as are my stress levels.
I also managed to get sick the first week of classes, and it wasn’t until today that I actually started feeling better (about a week and a half after I first fell ill, for context) which hasn’t made anything easier. Everyone in my host family was sakit flu (sick with some kind of flu-like illness), and so it was only a matter of time. If I wasn’t already tired from the long days of classes and other activities (CLS really knows how to create a packed schedule), not sleeping due to an inability to breathe certainly didn’t help the situation. I took my first weekly test feverish and almost totally out of it and had to leave my second test halfway through because I was feeling too dizzy to concentrate (we have weekly exams every Friday), which did not make the experience all that pleasant, but I dawned my masker (mask) like a true Indonesian and pushed through as best I could.
After the first week of classes there was a weekend trip to the Kebun Teh Wonosari Wonosari Tea Plantations, where we practiced our Indonesian through interviewing pemetik teh (tea pickers) and visiting the pabrik teh (tea factory). I love tea, and I have loved learning about different kinds of food processing since I spent a year learning about the process of making different dairy products as part of the Junior Dairy Leader Program in high school, so I really enjoyed the trip. I was still feeling pretty darn weak, so I wasn’t able to join all of the permainan Bahasa (language games) that we played in the afternoon, but I was at least able to watch from the sidelines. This cohort has a wonderfully fun personality, and it was so much fun to see that in action, even if only from the sidelines.
During our second week of classes our Monday kelas elektif (elective classes) started. My Monday elective class is tarian (dance), and we are learning a traditional dance from Banyuwangi, a city on the far end of Java, just across the water from Bali. I was briefly enrolled in ballet when I was in kindergarten but have not really had anything to do with dance since then, so I was a bit nervous about the class. But our teacher is sangat sabar (very patient), and so much of my nerves have been waved away. I definitely struggled through the class just because I was feeling quite
Wednesday our other kelas elektif should have started (I will be taking batik, which I am very excited about, so stay tuned), but as it was the American Independence Day there was a celebration in its place. We played permainan Bahasa before the celebration began, and this time I was able to participate a little, because I was beginning to get my lungs back. That evening there were performances by the mahasiswa (students) of CLS as well as their guru-guru (teachers) and tutors. We each sang one another’s national anthems, several folks sang, danced, or even played the cello, and even I was roped into teaching everyone the Cupid Shuffle. The night ended with fireworks and a dance party, and it was by far the most memorable July 4th I have ever had.
Just two days after this amazing celebration, however, the entire CLS cohort learned that Pak Widodo, one of the leaders of the program, had passed away. He was a sweet man, and though I had only had a few conversations with him, I was sad to think of not seeing him at lunch every day, helping students to practice their Indonesian. Someone close to me also passed away the week before in America, and so another death was difficult news to process. The entire CLS family went to his home together to visit the family, as is tradition in Java, and this solidarity was somehow quite heartwarming, even though it was still sad.
This Saturday Kelas Manggis (Class Mangosteen, my class), had a fieldtrip alongside Kelas Durian (the class above us) to various religious sites in and near Malang. Our first stop was Masjid Tiben (Tiben Mosque), a beautiful mosque not far outside of Malang. It is rumored that this mosque was built in one night because its initial construction happened so fast, but in truth all of its construction is done by the santri pesantren (a pesantren is a type of private Islamic school, and santri is the special name for students who attend such a school). The mosque is still currently being built, and so the students work on it every morning, and study in the afternoon and evening. The building is stunning, and I wish we had had more time to explore.
We also visited Kelenteng Eng Ang Kiong (Eng Ang Kiong Temple), a temple within the city limits. This temple does triple the work of your average temple in Indonesia, as it serves the Confucianist, Tao, and Buddhists populations nearby. This temple was actually along my route into the city of Malang from where I lived as a first-year ETA, and so I passed by several times and even stopped to look inside once. But this was the first time I had entered with a guide, and so it was exciting to learn more about this place that was in some ways so familiar.
The highs are high and the lows are low when you’re on the other side of the world. In the past two weeks, I have found myself hiding in a toilet jongkok (squat toilet) cubicle taking a moment to just cry about how impossible formal affixes are when you can barely focus on sitting at your desk, and I have also smiled my most genuine smiles in the best of moments, both big and small (and in truth, those small moments might just be more powerful than the big; as I was finishing up this blog on the balcony just now, one of the other people who live in my boarding house came home, and I got to sit and chat with her a bit, and it was one of the nicest moments I have had in Malang thus far).
Roller coasters are never a smooth ride. That’s just not how they work. But even if I might experience a little bit of whiplash, and sometimes feel a bit queasy after a few rides, this doesn’t deter me from getting back on. Despite any discomfort I might feel along the way, the ride is worth it.
Food of the Week: Teh Hitam. Menurutku (in my opinion) the teh (tea) in Indonesia is paling enak (the most delicious). I both drank and ate a fair amount while CLS visited the Kebun Teh Wonosari this past weekend, and it both soothed my sore throat and fed my soul.
Word of the Week: Bercinta. This is not a word I will likely need any time soon, but it comes with a funny story. We were learning about the prefix Ber- at one point in class, and one of the uses of this prefix is to express the idea of feeling an emotion (so bersedih means to feel sad). Cinta is the Indonesian word for love, and so I asked if bercinta was an option. All the teachers immediately tertawa (laughed), and so I knew right away that I had said something a little off. Ternyata (turns out), bercinta does not mean to feel love, but rather to make love. It’s a good thing I made this mistake in class and not out on the streets of Malang!
Person(s) of the Week: There have been a couple of mahasiswa CLS who have also fallen victim to various illnesses in first two weeks of class, but folks are doing the best they can to fight off their colds, stomach issues, and other illnesses and have been still coming to class and CLS activities when I think many other people would have given in and stayed in bed. I know may of them probably don’t feel this way (it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re feeling ill anywhere, but I think that it’s especially hard in a place so different from the States, like Indonesia), but they are all rock stars, and we are all routing for a quick recovery.