Arrival in Washington, DC
All 47 ID 6 (6th group of Indonesian PC Volunteers since PC first entered country...we're also known as the 3rd batch because the first three "batches" were in the mid 60's and we're the third one since 2010. Peace Corps was not in Indonesia during the interim) arrived at our hotel in Washington, DC, and spent the afternoon and evening getting acquainted with each other and the pre-training staff who are based in DC. We were given some necessary information and then went out to dinner in small groups informally....our last night in the US. We all had a roommate and began to learn a little about at least one of our fellow trainees. Most everyone is a 20 something. There are maybe 4 or 5 30 somethings, and 1 or 2 40 somethings, and then 1 66-year-old (that's me) and 1 73-year-old. Everyone has amazing credentials and appears to be bright and energetic.
The next morning we head for the airport.
It was long, uneventful, and delayed. By the time we arrived in Surabaya about 2 days later, none of us was bright or energetic. On the plane I think I watched 7 full-length movies....my favorite was Casablanca...it's been a couple of years since I last watched it and it is still one of the all-time GREAT movies. We flew from DC to Tokyo to Bangkok to Jakarta to Surabaya. We were supposed to be able to have about 8 hours rest in a hotel in Bangkok but we were delayed with weather in Tokyo and so we only had 2 hours. I don't think anyone slept....we showered and ate and headed back to the airport. I know know a lot more about my seatmates. We were put into small groups of 5 or 6 and "held hands" with each other in the airport terminals while transferring planes so no one got lost. It was the first realization that we're going on a real adventure. No one from Peace Corps accompanied us on the flight....naively many of us assumed that there would be a "leader" who knew what we were doing....nope. So we learned through experience that we could do just fine on our own. Peace Corps did have Volunteers or staff in Bangkok and Jakarta to make sure we found the shuttle bus and made our transfers.
We stayed in Surabaya in a very nice hotel a few blocks from the Peace Corps office and began our training. The focus was on understanding mostly general information about Peace Corps service, an introduction to each other, the Peace Corps Indonesia staff, and learning what was going to be happening during the next 10 weeks during PST. We were assigned a different roommate so got to know another trainee better. The highlight for me was the Ice Cream Social held at the Peace Corps office in Surabaya where we got to sample some amazing ice cream made with wonderful tropical fruits whose tastes were delicious and unfamiliar. We also got to see our very first squat toilet and have a brief demonstration by one of the seasoned ID 4 volunteers on how to use it....we also saw a video. As I type this, using this kind of toilet is already second nature to me....I've gotten to prefer the Indonesian way to the American way. No toilet paper, just soap and lots of water poured over one's backside...you're always nice and clean. All bathrooms have hooks so you can remove whatever clothing might get in the way. A clean bathroom in Indonesia means a wet bathroom. Of course you use your left hand to help clean.....so it's very bad form to eat or pass anything to anyone else with that left hand......you use your right one. For example, a couple of times in the beginning I would hand money to a clerk with my left hand.....a look of horror would appear on her face and I would apologize as quickly as possible and shift the money to my right hand. After four days in Surabaya, most of us were well on the way to recovering from jet lag and ready to take the bus ride to our new home for the next 10 weeks.
Malang, Batu, and our village
Peace Corps has a partner in Indonesia: the University Muhammadiya Malang (UMM). We met once a week on the university campus, they helped find our Cultural Facilitators, helped locate our host families, and also the schools where we did our practice teaching. There are two big Islamic organizations who provide many educational and health facilities to the people of Indonesia: Muhammadiya and NU. Most Muslims in Indonesia are aligned with one or the other....they often worship together in the same mosques, live together in the same neighborhoods, etc. However, some of their practices are different. NU people tend to also practice traditional Javanese worship activities, like making an offering in the field after you harvest or meeting once a week with the men (or women) in your village for special prayers, conversation, and shared food, and other "mystik" practices. Over the centuries that Islam has been in Indonesia, many Javanese practices that predate Islam have been integrated into NU. Muhammadiya people prefer to practice a more uniform and modern form of Islam. This is what I understand so far about the differences. I will probably learn much more in the coming two years. Both organizations have very many institutions throughout Indonesia which include elementary, secondary, and university educational programs, hospitals and clinics, and other social services.
Each trainee was assigned to live with a different family. My family was wonderful. The dad is my age, the mom in her 50's, a widowed daughter in her 30's and her 12-year -old son. They have two married sons and another grandchild...a little girl toddler whom we saw often. They gave me such warm support and encouragement and made me feel so very welcome. We took several family trips. I'm including 3 pictures: one of a hike we took to a nearby small hill; one of our trip to the beach, and one of our visit to the tomb of Soekarno, the first President of Indonesia. Every day we had bahasa Indonesian language class all day long and then our cultural facilitator would discuss the culture with us. In the evening we would spend time chatting with our family and practicing our language. We had six weeks of language training and during that time also held an English camp one morning in our village at a local school. There were 6 or 7 trainees in each village and we met together for our language lessons. On Mondays we met with a nearby village group to work on Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) skills and on Fridays we all met at UMM to cover medical, cultural, procedural, etc. information. The other three days were all immersion language study. Then we had two weeks where we practice taught in a local high school in the morning and had language training in the afternoon. Then we had one week of language...most of us learned a little of the local language spoken at our permanent site...either Javanese or Maduran....and the rest of us had another week of remedial bahasa Indonesian instead. I had remedial.....and I was so happy! It's so hard at my age to remember the vocabulary words unless I use the word many times. The kids hear a word once and they own it.....not so for me!
We then did some practice teaching at UMM with university students. The last few days were a whirlwind and now we are official Volunteers and all in our permanent sites throughout East Java. Three Volunteers who have decided to serve for a third year are opening up West Java for Peace Corps. My next post will be about my site.