CLS Week 4: Finding the Fun in Language Learning

The first two weeks of classes were a little bit on the sulit (difficult) side for me, but this past week as been so much more enjoyable.  Classes are still a lot of work, and the schedule is a bit harrowing, but since I began feeling better and felt more able to settle into this new routine, I have felt my spirits lift, and this week has floated by with the same happy buoyancy.

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Yes, this actually happened.  

Classes have continued to be both challenging and interesting.  We spent a fair amount of time this week on various tata bahasa (grammar) that by this point I sort of know how to use instinctively, because they are necessary in both formal and informal, but never fully understood.  It was fun to have a fuller list of them than just what I knew from my own limited vocabulary, and one of my lovely teachers is going to help me develop an even fuller list of one which piqued my interest because I have a working theory that something quite phonologically interesting is going on with that daftar kata-kata (list of words).  (I can’t tell you how thankful I am that they are so tolerant of my endless questions that are very clearly not motivated by pure language learning, but rather my fascination with all the fun linguistic things that happen in Bahasa Indonesia.)

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Trying my hand at batik.

This week not only did I continue with my menari (dance) elective class, but my batik elective class finally began as well!  I have a mild obsession with the many wonderful kain (fabrics) of Indonesia, as anyone who has seen my wardrobe knows, and batik is definitely one of my favorites.  I have wanted to learn how to make it for years now, and finally, through CLS, I get my chance to try my hand at it!  We spent the first class tracing over a pre-drawn traditional motif with malam (“wax” or “paraffin,” but also the word for night, which I really like), using a canting, a traditional too used for applying the wax to the fabric.  It was certainly challenging; there is actually a tradition of saying that women who make batik make the best istri (wives), because they have to be so sabar (patient).  I had a lot of fun joking about this throughout class, and I was also pleased to see that I was beginning to get the knack of batik by the end of our first session.  We will add color to our fabric next week, and I cannot wait!

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Dog cafe!  

Because I was no longer rushing home every day to rest away my illness, I was able to have some fun with my tutor time as well.  We went to several cafes together, including a dog café, which was possibly the most enjoyable place I have ever mengerjakan P.R. (done my H.W.—P.R. is short for pekerjaan rumah, or literally home work).

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Considering I haven’t painted since early high school… I’ll take it!   

We took another class trip this week, this time to Batu, a small neighboring city that is famous for it’s agritourism.  We got to explore kebun jambu (guava orchards), memetik jeruk (pick oranges), and eat raw sayur-sayuran (vegetables), a rare treat in a country where most vegetables are stir fried or boiled.  Following our morning at the orchards and adjacent farm, we visited a local artist whose paintings act as criticism of the interaction between the “modern” era and traditional practices, influence from foreign powers, among other topics.  The paintings were compelling, and I wish more people had a chance to see them.  After touring his studio, the artist, Pak Slamat, provided us with some painting supplies and canvases, and we spent the afternoon working on our own lukisan-lukisan (paintings).  I won’t say that mine was genius, but it was still a really enjoyable afternoon.  After lunch all of the classes visted Coban Rondo, a beautiful waterfall I have actually had the privilege of visiting once before.  One of our assignments over the weekend was to make a vlog about our time in Batu, and you can watch it here.  (It’s all in Bahasa Indonesia, and I did not subtitle it, but I feel like it’s still fun to watch.  Plus you get to meet Mbak Lo, one of the people in my class, and she’s awesome!)

In many ways CLS feels like a language-learning summer camp, complete with games and weekend trips.  It sometimes feels a bit strange to be in Indonesia and not working at an actual job, as that is what I have always done before, but I have decided that maybe my best approach to these next few weeks is to embrace all of this.  Of course, this is not to say that I am not working hard as well (those many hours of P.R. each night are not to be laughed at), but I am overjoyed that learning Indonesian, something that I always had to work into an already packed schedule, is my only real task here, and the various outings and cultural classes are simply wonderful.  I’m channeling my inner Mary Poppins, finding the fun, and loving my time with CLS thus far.

 

Food of the Week: Rujak.  Rujak is a type of food served with a sauce that is both spicy and sweet (a combination I wish America did more of).  There are many different versions, but my favorite is the fruit version, which we were served while we were in Batu this weekend.  The fresh fruit, the spicy and sweet sauce… it was all perfect.

 

Word of the Week: Bekas Pacar.  I would promise that not all of my words of the week will be related to dating, but as these seem to always be the most amusing words, I’m going to aim towards not making a pembohong (liar) of myself.  But earlier this week we learned the word bekas, which means “leftovers.”  (If you are wondering why I never learned this in the three years I lived in Indonesia, it is clearly because you have never been fed by an Indonesian mother.)  Our guru-guru (teachers) did not hesitate to inform us that another, less-polite way of referring to your mantan (ex) is bekas pacar, or “boyfriend/girlfriend leftovers.”  We’ve been having fun with this phrase ever since.

 

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Murid-muridku!  

Person(s) of the Week:  Murid-muridku.  (My students.)  As I was headed to buy batik with some of my fellow mahasiswa CLS the other day, I heard someone call out “Miss Grace!”  Much to my surprise, I had run into a group of my past students from Gorontalo!  While I anticipate being able to see some of my students from Malang when I have time a bit later, I never imagined I would be able to meet up with my students from Gorontalo, as it is so far away.  But it turns out several of them are kulia (going to university) in Malang.  We have plans to see one another in the next few weeks, and I could not be more excited.

 

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CLS Week 2 and 3: Welcome to CLS’s Newest Attraction: The Roller Coaster  

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.

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Guess which one is me?  

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

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Killing ond of the pemainan behasa.  Photo credit to a fellow CLS member, Mas Eden.  

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.

 

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A whole delicious wheelbarrow of unprocessed tea leaves.

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.

 

CLS Week 1: (Re)Orienting Myself, (Re)Discovering Balance

The past week has been an absolute blur of activity.  I arrived in D.C. for pre-departure orientation just a week ago, where I met the cohort of wonderful American university students I will be sharing this CLS experience with.  Some have been to Indonesia before, while others have never stepped foot in the country before this program.  All are brilliant, positive people who I am excited to get to know better.

After a very long perjalanan (trip) to the other side of the world, we finally arrived in Malang, where we will stay for the next two months.  After resting in a hotel for a night, we were loaded onto a bus and taken to Universities Negri Malang (UM), where there was a beautiful opening ceremony (welcoming dances will never get old, and I had forgotten how much I loved MCs in Indonesia).  That day we took our placement tests (we will learn which classes we will be in on Monday), met our language partners (each CLS participant is assigned two native speakers with whom they can practice outside of class), and were then sent off to our host families.  I was quite pusing (dizzy) by the end of it all, but my senyum (smile) never left my face.

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Some of my cohort members overlooking the city of Malang.

As all of this happened on Friday, we were then free for the weekend.  My time was divided amongst CLS participants, my two lovely tutors, my new host family, and some friends whom I met while I was an ETA in Malang.  And thus, this new adventure began.  Through it all, it is the idea of balance that has stuck with me most of all.

 

Living in Indonesia has always been a balancing act for me.  Trying to balance the needs of hundreds of students while also my own need to engage with my community outside of school was always difficult for me as an ETA.  Trying to balance time spent in the moment with new people, while also reserving time for friends and family in the U.S. and other places was always tricky as I moved to different areas of the archipelago over the course of the past few years.  Harder still was adjusting to continually shifting newness with the flexibility and adaptability encouraged of those who go abroad, while also staying steadfast in whoever it was that I believed I was as a person.

Coming back to my first home in Indonesia, where so much began for me, has led me to reflect yet again on the balancing I have attempted in the past, and also made me think carefully about what is to come.  This summer will require a new kind of balance, but one which is not dissimilar from the balancing act I have already become accustomed to.

I will, firstly, need to balance all of my various tugas (tasks) set by my program and myself.  I will be studying Indonesian intensively, taking two extracurricular culture classes (we will decide on our topics during this first week of classes), trying to maintain this blog, and somehow also reading two books and a few articles to prepare for my upcoming semester at Stony Brook.  But that’s the easy part.

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Meeting up with friends and taking bad selfies… yup, I am back in Malang.  

I will also need to find a way to balance the various lives I have had and will create here in Malang.  There is a whole cohort to get to know, as well as all of the tutors, and my host keluarga (family) of course.  But I also have many teman (friends) from my time as an ETA whom I would like to reconnect with while I am here. Trying to balance time with everyone, while still leaving enough time for sufficient studying… is a challenge I am not sure I will immediately conquer, but one I feel so blessed to have been handed.

 

I head forth tomorrow with a backpack full of language-learning tools, a smile on my face, and my hands stretched out to each side, hands and heart open to whatever comes my way.  One foot, then the other.  Let the balancing begin.

 

Food of the Week: Bubur Ayam.  This is a rice pudding covered in chicken and broth, which you can flavor to your own taste using kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and sambal (basically crushed chillis, which you put on basically everything here), and served with krupuk (a sort of cracker).  Bubur and I had a bit of a rough start.  I was first introduced to it when I was sick with typhoid my first year as an ETA, and so I hated it for the longest of time.  But eventually I stopped associating it with illness, and learned that it is enak sekali (very delicious).  While at Car Free Day (also known by it’s initialism CFD, during which one of the main roads in Malang is shut down so that people can jalan-jalan or exercise), I had some with my tutors, and it was wonderful.

 

Word of the Week: As classes have not started yet, I will return again to a word I already know: semangat.  This is absolutely my favorite word in Indonesian, and it means something along the lines of “Keep spirit!” or “Fighting!” as you might hear from Korean speakers.  As I go into this first week of classes, and am very unsure as to how I will balance everything, semangat will be the mantra I hold near and dear.

 

 

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Two Fulbright alumni… taking on CLS.   

Person(s) of the Week:  Shout out to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) alumni who were unexpectedly a part of this past week.  I was able to meet up with an ETA friend from my very first year in Indonesia (which, if anyone can believe it, began almost four years ago) who now lives in D.C., and it was wonderful to catch up, and also to reminisce about our own first time heading to Indonesia, after my spending all day with many people about to do the same.  I also learned, just a week before the program started, that one of the ETAs from my second year would actually be in the program with me, which was really exciting to find out: it’s been lovely to catch up with her, and I can’t wait to share this new experience together.

 

 

CLS Week 0: Re-Defining Home

Okay, I need to finish the slide I have about your getting the CLS scholarship, Grace.  Where is home for you?” 

“Jen, that is a loaded question.” 

This conversation was had with the Stony Brook external fellowships advisor (a.k.a. the lady who knows everything about scholarships and is also a hilarious human… seriously, she rocks), but it is one I have had more frequently than I care to actually keep track of.  It’s one of the first questions you ask someone when you meet for the first time: “Where are you from?”  Which has always seemed to mean, “Where is home?” For many of the folks that I’ve met, it’s a defining feature of who they are.

I have lived in fourteen different cities/towns/whatevers (municipalities? maybe?) throughout my life, and in three different countries.  I have lived in apartments in major metropolitan cities, and on farms where you could holler to your hearts content and the neighbors would probably never hear you.  I speak a version of English that is some kind of weird mix of Central New York and various parts of Rural Pennsylvania, and sometimes even that jumble of words fails and I can only express ideas in my second language.  I can drive a tractor, and a motorbike, but undergrounds are still probably my favorite form of transportation.

So where is home?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you.  They say home is where the heart is, but my heart remains in so many little places around this great world I’ve been lucky enough to travel in: in the hot, sticky classrooms where I taught in Indonesia; on the top of the hill that overlooks my family’s farm in Central New York; in room 15 of the National Gallery in London; on the balcony of the apartment where I lived for both my junior and senior years at Ithaca, in the shade of the walnut tree on the farm my family rented in Southeast Pennsylvania; among the trees on the probably-not-an-actual-trail that I found behind my apartment in Stony Brook.  They’ve all shaped who I am, and they all feel a whole lot like what I expect home is supposed to mean.

There is a fabulous TedTalk by Taiye Selasi (who, by the way, is an amazing novelist whom I 100% recommend) called “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Ask Where I’m a Local,” and what she has to say resonates with me on many levels, especially towards the end of her speech, when she says:

The myth of national identity and the vocabulary of coming from confuses us into placing ourselves into mutually exclusive categories. In fact, all of us are multi — multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgement of this complexity brings us closer together, I think, not further apart.

Though I may not be “originally” from, well, pretty much anywhere, I have managed to become some kind of local in a whole lot of places.  And I’ve decided to take that one step further, and just go ahead and call all those places home.

In the past few weeks, this has meant that I have had a fair number of consecutive homecomings.  I returned from a wedding in Virginia, walked into the crowded apartment I share with five other girls in Stony Brook, put down my bags, and gave a sigh of relief.  Home.

Less then a week later I boarded a train out of New York City to head back into Central New York.  As the scenery changed and the fields started to look awfully familiar, I set down my crocheting and just smiled out the window.  Home. 

I just finished packing my bags for a third time in just as many weeks, this time in preparation for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) in Indonesia, a two-month program I will be participating in this summer.  And with this packing comes another homecoming, as CLS Indonesia is located in Malang, the same city I taught in during my first year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.  Home.

Yes, I will be going for a different purpose (I will be studying Indonesian instead of teaching English), and with a different group of people (it was just my site mates and I when I first when to Malang—this time, I’ll have a whole cohort with me), and I won’t be in exactly the same place (I lived on one of my school’s campus’s before, which was actually just outside of Malang, and this time I’ll be living basically in the heart of the city).  And yet, there is something about this trip that feels like going home.

And so here I go… until I eventually return to my other homes again.

 

Food of the Week:  If there is one thing everyone I know who returns to Indonesia gets really excited about, it’s getting to eat Indonesian food again.  I don’t feel I did a good enough job highlighting the amazing foods of Indonesia when I was with Fulbright, and so I’m going to do so here each week while I’m in CLS.

For now, though, I’m going to give a shout-out to farm-fresh milk.  And farm-fresh eggs.  And farm-fresh, well, pretty much farm-fresh anything.  I was food spoiled growing up, y’all.

 

Word of the Week:  Since I am going to be in Indonesia on a language-learning program, I thought it would be neat to share at least one favorite word each week.  Since the program hasn’t started yet, we’ll go back to one of my favorite words that I learned during my first year as an ETA: betah, which means to feel at home.

 

Person(s) of the Week: As cool as food and words are (especially words), I’ve always found it’s the people that make any experience what it is, so be prepared for some heart-eye-emoji goodness in this section here.  This week, my people of the week are all the folks I got to catch up with during my ever so brief visit home.  I love y’all.  And for those I didn’t get to see this time around: I’ll catch ya later.  The homecomings never stop.

A Love Letter to Trans Jakarta

Dear Trans Jakarta,

You are probably my favorite part of living in Jakarta.  There I days when I truly wonder if I would have survived living in this city, if not for you.

IMG_2587I love your cool, air conditioned cars.  After walking along the streets of Jakarta for mere minutes, sweat drips down my back and my face, soaking my shirt and putting streaks in whatever makeup I was foolish enough to try to wear.  (What can I say?   I am a northerner trying to live in a tropical climate: my body still isn’t sure what to do with this equatorial sun.)  Stepping into a trans car is a blessed reprieve from the heat, and as soon as I naik (board), I feel my head clear and my skin give a soft sigh of relief.

I love how much of the city you have already reached.  I know that I am lucky to have recently moved to Jakarta, because not long ago the bus corridors did not reach as many places, and the lack of connecting corridors made the travel time for many too long for them to feasibly use the Trans system.  But as you continue to expand and more people are able to ride the system, it will make sustainable public transportation options truly feasible for more of Jakarta.

I love how cheap you are.  For IDR 3.500, I can go from one end of the city to the other.  Transportation in Jakarta does tend to be quite inexpensive, at least when compared to other capital cities around the world, but I the only options I have found that might be cheaper than the Trans are the rickety Kopaja buses overflowing with passengers that still pour back smoke into the air, and my feet.  As someone who is paid by American standards, but whose friends are mostly Indonesians being paid Indonesian wages, this is especially important: while I arguably could take a taxi wherever I wanted to go, my friends cannot; but with the Trans system, we can all travel in comfort, together.

IMG_2590I love that you have spaces that are khusus wanita (special for women).  Whether it is the front of regular buses, or the bright pink female-only buses with the massive lettering on their sides proclaiming “These Girls are Smart!,” I am so thankful that this spaces exist.  I plan so many of my days around trying to avoid street harassment, and knowing that I can travel from one part of the city to another in the relative comfort and safety of female company is one of the reasons I feel able to explore all this city has to offer.

Jakarta is not my favorite city that I have ever lived in, but there are interesting elements of the city very much worth exploring.  But the pollution, heat, and harassment of this city often make it hard for me to convince myself to leave the clean, cool, safe confines of my apartment.  I have long conversations with myself, trying to persuade myself to leave.  There have been days when the TransJakarta system is the piece of the puzzle that gets me out of the house, and I would have missed out on so much, if it did not exist.

Thank you, TransJakarta.  There is little in this city that I will miss when I leave.  But I will miss you.

Love,

Grace

 

“F#$% you, Mister, I love you!”: My Experience with Street Harassment in Indonesia

Eyes sparkling, smiles stretching from ear to ear, bare feet kicking up dust, the three boys chased after me as I passed on my sepeda (bicycle).  “F#$% you!  F#$% you!”  They shouted.

As an English Teaching Assistant in Gorontalo, this was an almost daily occurrence, as I always passed the same areas during my bike rides.  I often stopped, and tried to teach the boys other phrases in English, and to explain to them that what they were saying was tidak sopan (not polite).  I began to hear “Hello!” and “How are you!?” much more frequently as my grant continued, but I was never quite able to eliminate their cheerful calls of “F#$% you!  F#$% you!”

There were days I was able to remain amused by this, and recognize that this phrase was probably one of the few phrases these young boys, probably no more than eight years old, knew in Bahasa Inggris (English), and that their intention was simply to be friendly.  Those were the days I would stop, engage, and try to educate.  But there were also plenty of days when I simply could not stand hearing them, when their favorite phrase would grate on my soul.  Those were the days I would grit my teeth as I forced a smile, and passed by with simply a nod in their direction.

My different responses to these three boys depended almost entirely on how much I had been harassed that day.  Now, to be clear, harassment was not the only factor that might cause me to be frustrated: feelings of homesickness, frustration with co-teachers, embarrassment at cultural misunderstandings, or perceived failure in my capacity as a teacher might all make it much harder for me to be my usual happy self.  However, I must confess I was immensely more adept at reflecting on these feelings, learning from them, and letting them go.  But the feelings of lack of safety and being so intruded upon that stemmed from being harassed were much more difficult for me to let go, and this was in part due to the frequency of the harassment I experienced.  While I might have whole days where I felt I was beginning to understand the culture I was in, or I might finish the school day feeling that the day’s lesson was successful, there was not a single day when I did not experience some form of harassment.  This daily struggle throughout my three years in Indonesia weighed down on me, and without reprieve, there were days when I invariably broke.

While I don’t want to imply that certain forms of harassment are harder or easier than others, there is no denying that the harassment I experienced was not always the same.  I have spent hours reflecting in my journal, and through conversations with fellow ETAs, trying to piece out what forms the harassment I received might take, and the motivations behind them.  This is not easy task, as harassment, especially in Indonesia, especially of foreigners, is immensely complex, and my constant inability to draw any conclusions is part of the reason it has taken me so long to write this post.  However, I eventually concluded that there were three forms of harassment I was most likely to receive: sexual, gendered, and race-based harassment.

The sexual harassment I’ve experienced in Indonesia was, frankly, the same sh@# I regularly contend with at home in the U.S., even if the way it presented itself was somewhat different.  Cat calls do have a different sound in Indonesia, more closely resembling a sharp hiss than the whistles that are more popular in the U.S., but the intent, and the way men look me up and down, undressing me with their eyes, is the same as that which I have been experiencing in the U.S. since middle school.  More than once I have had men on the street, whom I have never met before, ask me to have sex with them, sometimes in English, and sometimes in Indonesian.  The first time I experienced the dreaded “palm scratch” (this is when a man scratches the palm of a woman’s hand when they are shaking hands in greeting; it is an offer for sex), I’ll admit that I did not let another man shake hands with me for weeks.  For a few months during my second grant, there was a man who would follow me to and from school every day, throw rocks at my door—shut and locked because of him, even though I would have preferred to maintain the open-door policy so common in Indonesia—in the evening, shouting for all to hear that he planned to marry me, and stand, smoking and leering, outside the windows of my classrooms while I was teaching.  Though I was able to enlist the help of neighbors and teachers to keep him away from my house and the school grounds, I was unable to eliminated his presence in my life fully until he moved to another city, and even then, I never truly felt safe in and around my neighborhood.

The packaging may be somewhat different, but inside this sexual harassment is the same.  In Indonesia, I was just as likely to be harassed if I was wearing conservative clothing bought at a Muslim boutique as I was if I was wearing a t-shirt and cropped pants (which is as much skin as I dared show in my conservative ETA sites), just as in the U.S. I was just as likely to be harassed in my unflattering convenience store uniform as I was in a sundress; and in both places, if I complain about harassment, one of the first questions I am asked is “What were you wearing?”  Also like much of the U.S., there is the assumption that this treatment is permissible, and that women have the responsibility of dealing with it, of thinking of it as a compliment.  It seems we women cannot escape the “culture of men,” as one Ibu in Malang put it, shaking her head as she explained to me[1], “Actually, they should not be this way.  Malang is in Java.  Javanese culture teaches men to respect women.  But they do not.  Malang is majority Muslim.  Muslim culture teaches men to respect women.  But they do not.   It is because of the culture of men, which somehow is stronger than the other cultures these men belong to.”

This “culture of men,” or what would be called male culture in the Western world, not only was most likely one of the root causes of the sexual harassment I experienced, but also played in to what I have decided to call gendered harassment.  I want to differentiate it from gender harassment, although I probably experienced that as well, as I wasn’t necessarily being harassed for my gender, but rather was experiencing a certain level of harassment because of my gender.  The difference is slim, but I do think is there.  Often, this harassment mirrored the harassment I would experience as a foreigner, which I will get to in a moment, but it was more persistent than what I believe men might experience.  Someone might follow me on my walk to work, pestering me with questions, asking for photos, even after I had repeatedly said that I wanted to be left alone and was trying to walk as fast as I could, practically leaping over the holes in the Jakarta sidewalk, in an attempt to be rid of the person.  I am very much convinced that people would not be so adamant in harassing me if I was a man.  I am not saying that a man will never experience this kind of harassment, but there is something in the power a man inherently holds in society—especially in a place like Indonesia, where gender roles are much more divided than they are in the U.S.—that means he is usually listened to when he says no.  As a woman, I do not command the same respect, and so it is harder for me to stop the harassment aimed my way.

Perhaps the most common form of harassment I receive is race-based harassment[2]Bule is a term used for Caucasian foreigners in Indonesia, and it is a word that I have heard shouted at me every. single. day. since I arrived in Indonesia.  Because I am a bule, people call out “Mister!” at me wherever I go[3].  Teachers and students pinch my nose, squealing “Mancung!” (this literally means “long nose”), telling me how much they wish their nose was like mine.  I have more than once had babies pushed into my lap when trying to lesson plan in cafes, and I cannot count the number of times I have been in the middle of a conversation with friends when someone has come up behind me a dragged me into a photo with them, without asking permission and without introducing themselves.  Kenalkan dulu,” (“Introduce yourself first”) has become my mantra when it comes to photos.  I am not going to let someone take a photo with me, so that they can post all over social media and gain social points with their peers, if they aren’t going to at least tell me their name first, and listen to mine.  If the people are asking are clearing in high school, I make them ask me for a photo and introduce themselves in English, as I know that all high school students in Indonesia are required to study English.  Sometimes I have to help them, and that is fine, but I feel they might as well get something more valuable than just a photo from meeting me (though they may not see the value of these two things the same way I do).  And if people don’t ask, and try to force me into a photo, they don’t get a photo, but get a lecture on politeness instead.

I was once at a lampu merah (red light) on my motorbike when a man pulled up beside me and shouted, “Mister!” at me; I nodded in his direction, but kept my focus on the traffic light.  After shouting at me a few more times, and being clearly unsatisfied with my response, he reached across the space between us and pushed me.  Mostly due to my shock at this treatment, I and my motorbike fell just as the light turned green, and were pushed forward by the car in front of us.  Somehow, I managed to escape with only scrapes on my hands and what I am pretty sure was a broken toe, all of which I was fortunately able to treat on my own with supplies from the local alpotek (apothecary, or medicine shop).  While not all forms of race-based harassment are so physical or so extreme, the fact is they can me just as dangerous as other forms of harassment.

The bule treatment, as I have come to call this race-based harassment, is not only the most common form of harassment I receive, it is also by far the most complicated.  I am targeted and harassed because of the color of my skin, but part of the reason why I am harassed is because of years of colonialism and Western media causing Indonesians to internalize the idea that I am more beautiful because I have lighter skin.  The harassment I receive is different from that received by foreigners of color, again largely due to history and media, and even the harassment different people of color receive is never quite the same.  Someone who is African-American, for example, would be subjected to harassment that looks different from that experienced by someone is or presents as East Asian.  The issue of colorism[4] is one all ETAs must contend with in different ways throughout our time here, and the way it plays into harassment is just one of them.

The lines between these kinds of harassment are not always clear cut.  For example, I am more likely to be sexually harassed in Indonesia than an Indonesian woman because I am foreign: Western media portrays women as highly sexualized and sexual, and while I recognize that is some ways this can be empowering, the way it has been interpreted in Indonesia is that Western women always want sex, and this adds to the idea that men have permission to harass women.  The intersection of these different harassments and is why I eventually realized that I would always experience the most harassment if I was alone, a little less if I was with a foreign female friend, yet again a bit less if I was with an Indonesian female friend or with a male foreign friend, and almost none if I was with a male Indonesian friend (though being alone with a man after dark could, in turn, create endless gossip if I was in a smaller community).

If there is one thing that is simple and clear about harassment is this: it sucks, and I, and no woman, no person, should ever have to deal with it.

I have learned to stop feeling guilty when the harassment makes me angry, and I “lose face[5]” by yelling at someone on the street.  I have tried to educate when I can, and where it is appropriate for me to do so[6].  But truthfully, these are not skills I should have needed to learn.

I see amazing work being done by scores of women, both in the U.S. and in Indonesia, to rid the world of harassment.  I live in stubborn hope that someday girls, and every human, might not need fear walking out on the street alone, wherever they live, and whatever they wear.

For now, I keep my head down on the street, necessary self-protection, but keep my fury alive, fueling my motivation to play my role in creating the world I want to live in.

Go ahead.  Hiss in my direction.  Call me “Mister,” one more time.  See what happens when you do.


I mentioned in a footnote a few Indonesiaful pieces by ETAs of color, speaking to the treatment they receive while in Indonesia, which is very different from what I receive.  I want to put the links to those pieces again here, in order of publication:

“Black Sweet: Grappling with Skin Color in Indonesia” by Nina Bhattacharya

“Where Are You Really From?” by Julius Tsai

“Experiencing Colorism in Indonesia” by Kayla Stewart


[1] I am translating here from Indonesian.  I also want to note that this Ibu was quite special, in the way she thought about these things.  Rarely did I come across women, especially older women, who would place the responsibility of harassment on men, rather than on women.

[2] It took me a long time to decide what to call this form of harassment.  It’s root cause is absolutely in my race: the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, etc.  However, I did not necessarily want to refer to it as racial harassment, due to the connotations racial harassment has, especially in the Western context, and the fact that I do not share the same experience.  However, I was also hesitant to call it “white harassment,” or something along those lines, as that seem to add to the idea of white exceptionalism (why do I get a special name because I am white?), and because it seemed to echo the idea of reverse-racism, an idea I was obviously not trying to convey.  After speaking with several American friends who have also lived in Indonesia, one of them suggested race-based, and feeling that this language offered something of the complexity I was looking for, I decided to use that terminology.

[3] I don’t exactly know why Indonesians only seem to know the male form of address in English.  I always try to correct people, explaining that it is better to say “Miss” or “Missus” to women.  Some days I can find being called “Mister” a bit amusing; other days I want to throw up my hands and shout, “I am a g@# d@#& woman, and proud of it.  So, call me ‘Mister,’ one more time, and see what I do.”

[4] There have also been several good pieces written for the ETA online magazine Indonesiaful by ETAs of color regarding their experiences, such as “Black Sweet,” “Where Are You Really From?” and “Experiencing Colorism in Indonesia,” and I would encourage people to read them.  I also reflected more in-depth about my own whiteness during my first grant, in a blog titled, “Warning, Visibility May Vary, or, Being White in Indonesia.”

[5] In many Asian cultures, including many of those in Indonesia, becoming noticeably angry is a huge cultural faux pas, and one should always exude an exterior that is calm and content.  When excessive emotion, especially of the more negative sort, is shown, a person is said to have “lost face.”

[6] I am a foreigner, and Indonesia is not my permanent home.  I have recognize that such social justice education is better led by an Indonesian, and whenever possible, I take the back seat.

Snapshot: Kota Manado

20170302_165341I have never had the chance to stay in Kota Manado (the city of Manado) for very long.  The first time I made it to Sulawesi Utara (North Sulawesi), I ended up staying in Pulisan, which is a beautiful coastal area, so I am not complaining one bit.  My second visit to Manado was to help judge a couple of WORDS Competitions earlier this year, and my final visit was just recently, to visit friends who have moved to Manado on my way to Gorontalo.

Manado is probably most famous amongst foreigners for its incredible diving.  In order to reach Pulau Bunaken (Bunaken Island), possibly Indonesia’s most well-known diving spot, one must pass through Manado.  Even parts of the city butt up against the ocean, and there are several points that apparently offer great snorkeling without needing to leave the city.  After falling in love with the ocean while living in Gorontalo, I always loved ending up by the ocean whenever I had a chance to visit Manado.

20170305_112320Kota Manado is, without a doubt, a city.  Amongst those who live on Sulawesi It is perhaps most famous for its abundance of malls.  And there truly are a number of them.  Traffic in Manado sometimes echoes that of Jakarta, although my friends tell me the traffic in Manado is largely caused by the excess mikrolet or angkot (a form of public transportation), rather than merely due to overpopulation.

Manado is one of the few majority-Christian areas in Sulawesi, which does make it somewhat different from the places I have lived, all of which have been majority Muslim.  There are churches, rather than mosques, around every corner, and Christmas, I have been told, is a months-long affair in Manado.

Religion may also play a role in the diet of many Manadonese as well.  Pork, of course, becomes an option in a non-Muslim area.  But the Manadonese are famous for eating “anything that walks on land, swims in the sea, or flies in the air,” and there are markets in Manado famous for selling such delicacies as bat, scorpion, rat, and snake.  RW, or dog, is also a common dish in Manado.  Many of these are also not permitted to be consumed if one is Muslim, as they are considered kotor (dirty), but these particular dishes probably have less to do with religion than the cultures of the area that existed long before Christianity or Islam was introduced to Indonesia.

Manado is an interesting place, very different from the rest of Sulawesi, but at the same time it also still feels very much like many of the other areas in Sulawesi.  It is a fascinating place, one I wish I had been able to explore further.