I’m currently on the flight from Taipei to LA on my way home from Indonesia. It seems like a fitting time to write a last blog entry which I’ll post when I get home. I apologize for not writing for so long. I don’t really have a good excuse: there was a lot going on, and seemed to me at the time that living it was more than enough without writing it.
There is also the added factor of trying to temper my strong emotions and reactions to current situations to make it unbiased enough to put on the internet. Even now I’m a little dubious about whether or not I should post this, because it simply isn’t possible to put a positive spin on everything, but the reason I started this blog was to let people know about my experience in the Peace Corps, so I hope that it will be understood that everything I say is simply my personal opinion and reflects my experience not necessarily universal truths about Indonesian education or Peace Corps.
Also this blog post is going to be REALLY (exceptionally, excessively, extremely) long since rather a lot has happened since the last one. Sorry.
This year started out difficult. My sisters came to visit for Christmas which was spectacular. We had several days in Surabaya, spent a week or so in Bali with my friends, and generally enjoyed each others’ company. As I’m sure those of you who know any of us can imagine, we talked almost non-stop, swapped the majority of our clothing with each other, and were just generally thrilled to be together. But when it came time to go back to my real life (aka, working in my tiny village, isolated from my American friends and family) it turned out to be a lot harder than it had been previously.
I spent most of February and March feeling frustrated. I’ve heard from other Peace Corps volunteers and staff that often, as our service draws to a close, PCVs feel a sense of frustration because they haven’t necessarily accomplished the high goals they set for themselves. I had this going on in spades. My frustration with my class sizes, the curriculum, my apparent inability to find local partners who really wanted to be stakeholders in English education in my school: it had me all but banging my head against my desk in the teacher room.
Of course, things weren’t all down, there were bright spots, but I think there were a lot of things that I had to work through in those months. It’s easy to think that once you’ve been in the country awhile you’ve somehow got it: it’ll all be good from there on out. But that is not the case: the process goes on.
One of the tougher weeks when we had a holiday I was able to go in visit Noel in Bogonegoro: that turned out to be an excellent decision. In addition to just being able to spend time with one of my best friends, I also got to observe her classes with her counterparts and visit the Bojo MGMP where we also met up with Luke.
Peace Corps emphasizes that every volunteer’s experience is different, and that visit really brought it home to me. I’m quite happy to look back and realize that rather than compare myself to two exceptional teachers, I took notes (literally, I wrote down everything they did in class) and tried to take those practices back to my school. (Well, I may just have felt better because we ate about two pints of chocolate ice-cream wrapped in crepes)
I arrived back at school ready to implement extraordinary change aaaand that really didn’t happen. Back into fustrationland for Erika. Cultural mistakes I’d made (or perhaps just general social awkwardness- much of it on my part I’m sure…) meant that I was having a hard time with a crucial person that I work with, and I felt like I was effectively working alone for most of February and March, because no one was ready to get in the middle of the situation by helping me.
Somewhere in this period my friend Tim (from the group after mine) was kind enough to come out and observe two of my classes. The day he came I ended up in my two largest (most…rambunctious shall we say?) classes teaching alone. Tim watched me try to balance teaching one of my… less favorite… parts of the curriculum (I’m so grateful that I will never have to look at a “spoof text” again, God willing) with the police act that is necessary to try to keep 52 (FIFTY-TWO) energetic teenagers on (in their defense, a singularly boring) task. I think he was rather horrified, which on some sick level made me feel better. Time, being an excellent teacher, was able to give me several helpful suggestions. A fresh pair of eyes is a marvelous thing!
Not too long after this we had a Sustainability/COS conference. The first half of this was a conference that Peace Corps, working in tandem with the Department of Education and the Ministry of Religion planned for volunteers, students, and counterparts to discuss sustainability within the program. After some dramatic negotiations between teachers and with my principal, my school ended up sending two teacher and a students with me to the conference.
The conference itself I think went well- the teachers and student who came from my school are some of the most motivated people I have encountered there, and I think it was really valuable and inspiring for them to hear about all of the different projects going on at other schools.
We also discussed continuing English club after I was (am?) gone: something I sincerely hope happens, because I feel strongly that my English club students are spectacular, remarkably diligent, and deserve to have a place to practice and learn (and perform plays and make brownies and use glitter!) outside of their massive classes.
After the sustainablilty conference, the school partners headed home, and the volunteers went to a resort where we spent three days receiving information about transitioning back to life in the US. The best part about that conference for me was just getting to spend time with the other volunteers after and between sessions. Our little group contains some of my absolute favorite people; I feel comfortable and supported among them, and I thoroughly enjoy the crazy times we have together! (So much so that I will even go on extremely awkward grocery runs for you ;/)
That said, the one really difficult part of the conference was that when we exchanged success stories of course I inevitably started comparing accomplishments in my head, much to my dismay. I have to stop doing that.
Post conference we ran straight into Camp iGLOW.
Camp iGLOW was a camp for girls Lauren, Maggie, Elle, Natasha and I planned; Sam, Noel, and Elle’s friend Hannah came out to support us! The goals of the camp were primarily to encourage girls to become leaders and work together (we had a much more eloquent way of saying that that took us the better part of a night to come up with, but I cannot think of it right now).
Overall we had around 67 girls and 17(?) counterparts (16 and 4 from my school) attend the one day, two night camp. We played games, sang songs, made crafts, practiced martial arts, had a performance night (and one impromptu massive dance party) and generally thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (In spite of the fact that those of us who were involved in planning were sleep-deprived, coughing like consumptives, and very nearly been running on empty by the end. (Among the other lessons, I learned that Lauren is a superhero and also that movie editing and subtitling can in fact cause you to lose your sanity.)
Having this opportunity to spend time with a small group of my students in an exciting environment outside of school where I could really get to know them and interact with them was really one of the highlights of my service.
While we were at Lauren’s school (where most of the camp was held) I took the students to see the world map that Lauren, her counterparts, and her students had painted on their wall. One of the geography teachers at my school and I had already been discussing attempting that project for several months and the students were really excited after seeing the example. A few weeks (?) after the camp Bu E finished the (insanely complicated- kudos to her) proposal, and our principal gave us the go-ahead, and a one-week time limit: we had to finish before the national exam.
That week Bu E, Bu R and I along with a constantly shifting group of ten to twenty students stayed after school as long as there was daylight, just painting and listening to Linkin Park (I did not choose that, but since they found it on my computer I couldn’t really object). We completed our map the Sunday before exams and it was marvelous if I do say so myself. The students labeled EVERY country, which was quite a challenge where Eastern Europe was concerned: I had to personally repaint Luxembourg three times- geography lessons for everyone!
Immediately after we completed the map 12th grade had national exams, so I took the opportunity to visit Gio, go “camping” and raft down a river in Probolinggo with several friends. I put camping in quotation marks because the place we ended up camping was approximately 100 feet from the office, indoor bathrooms, and showers.
The morning after we got there we spent several hours on the river. At one point we saw giant monitor lizards in the water. Before the volunteers could even grasp what they were, the guides all jumped out of the raft and unceremoniously started chasing the lizards, attempting to whack them with paddles. Someone said they wanted t o eat it: I really think it was just their live-action version of whack-a-mole, but whatever it was, it was entertaining to watch! (the lizard escaped).
On the same trip, after a break to drink fresh coconut, we were convinced to jump off a “cliff” (don’t worry Peace Corps, we wore helmets and the ever-present life vests). I’m not sure how high up it was, but I would estimate about four stories. The best moment was when Oma Colleen jumped (!!!!!), because she let out a scream that sounded like a teenager, and held it all the way down into the water.
I’d say after all of those events things started winding down a bit. I helped four of my students prepare for an English competition (two of them placed, and they all did a wonderful job!) Attended classes as usual, taught the smaller SD and SMP kids who came to my house after school, etc.
A few weeks before I was preparing to go people started being sad. At first I was bewildered by this, but shortly realized that I was in denial and that I also was sad. Of course I am excited to be going home (really really truly YAY!) but there was a point when I realized that going home this time meant that I would leave the people who I have lived and worked with for two years with no definite plan to see them again! L
The hardest experience at our school in this time period by far though was that one of our students passed away after suffering a head injury in a motorcycle accident. He was a twelfth grader, had just finished his exams, and was engaged to be married to another of our twelfth graders. The morning after he died, the eleventh and twelfth grade students prayed for him at the morning assembly, while the teachers stood to the side and tried not to cry: most of us failed to a greater or lesser extent.
It is not the culture in the area where I lived to grieve excessively, I think I mentioned before the often when people cry, other people laugh at them. In this situation though, my school really came together and impressed me. Rather than point and laugh (which I have seen people do in the past) the teachers were crying in empathy. The entire school community really pulled together to get through something that was beyond any of our abilities to explain.
A week after this I was seriously preparing to leave. I had given a goodbye speech at graduation (entirely in Indonesian!), and we had several events at school to say farewell .I was moderately taken aback to hear from the teachers how they had been initially horrified by my “black sweetness” (that is my least favorite phrase EVER), but they explained that they had gotten over it, which I guess makes it ok?
The hardest part of leaving the village was saying goodbye to my students. Over the past few months I’d gotten a lot closer to the students from English club, the students who I worked with for the English competition, some of my eleventh graders, and even some of the tenth graders since I’d started moonlighting in some of their classes. The day before I left, they all came to say goodbye. I was determined not to cry, and I was doing fine, right up until one of my best students came up to me with her eyes full of tears and just flung herself into my arms. At that point I started crying, which of course made more of the students cry, and it just ran from there.
That evening around thirty students came to my house over the course of two hours. They brought gifts, they brought their camera phones, they brought food; it was spectacular (except that my face hurt from smiling for the camera). The mantra of the night was “Don’t forget me Miss”. I assured them that such a thing would be impossible.
Later in the evening, after I thought that all of the the students had all left for the night, several of them returned to bring me dinner and take more pictures. I went to sleep that night feeling so incredibly loved and appreciated. Thanks guys!
The last day at site was kind of anticlimactic. I had already prepared everything (suuuper sleep deprived) so I said goodbye to the twelfth graders as they got their final reports (they all graduated!!!!) and then my host family. Some of the little girls from the next village over came to my house and just sat on my couch until it was time to leave, staring at me with their huge sad eyes. I’m going to miss them so much!
Speaking of missing people, we headed out to Surabaya where I spent the next three days finishing up medical clearance and paperwork to leave (aaaand talking about bodily functions. Peace Corps volunteers talk a lot about bodily functions because apparently our bodies malfunction rather a lot).
Saying goodbye to the volunteers in my group was tough. The 17 of us still in Indonesia from my original group have become incredibly close. There is not one of those people that I do not trust and feel close to, not a single one whose presence I don’t enjoy. Some of the ID5s came out for some things too so we got a chance to say goodbye to them as well- some of them also have become great friends, and I’m going to MISS them!
This mixture of happiness, relief, wistfulness, and abject misery (rather more of the latter than I expected) made for a confusing last few days. Fortunately my friends were handy with the hugs and the tissues. Those of the ID4s who are staying in Indonesia for a third year to make the program even better (somewhat to my dismay- I want them where I am) were great enough to come out and spend time with us (Noel, you are a rockstar, and the best therapist ever!), and then, at 4 o-clock this (yesterday? Tomorrow?) morning I left Indonesia. For good, but I hope not forever! I’m writing this in LAX as I wait for the last plane (I’ve already been on THREE) to take me to DFW.
I cannot wait to see my family and my friends. I’m rather terrified about all of the changes that will have taken place in their lives that I am not a part of yet, but with all of Peace Corps’ training about community integration, it ought to work out J. Here goes!
To all of my friends in Indonesia, Saya mohon maaf lahir batin atas segala masalah-masalah saya, yang sengaja dan juga tidak sengaja. Saya harap panjang umur dan tambah maju untuk semuanya. Terimah Kasih atas segalah-galahnya, dan saya harap samuanya akan salamat sampai kita berjumpa lagi.