Saturday, August 1, 2009

i am tardy. always.

Wellllll now that we've all been home for a month or more, i finally feel like I have reflected on my experience in Indonesia enough to write something worthwhile on here. (also, i'm just a terrible blogger)

even though i've now been home for a little longer than i was in indonesia, the experience already feels worlds away. thanks to hundreds of photos, videos, and actual memories, i don't think that i will forget the fun time we had anytime soon! after the trip was finished, i realized how important the home stays were in shaping my perspective on daily life in yogya and ubud. i think that these were pivotal opportunities, because we had the ability to see how similar we (as Americans) were to our Indonesian host families (in one of the most routine activities, these families woke up, ate breakfast, sent kids off to school, and then went to work themselves, or began their own daily chores)... but we also would be hard pressed to forget the many differences. For instance, the fact that very few indonesian homes are built in the "traditional" sense that American homes are (i.e. completely enclosed structures where a bug or other animal being inside is a horror), or the fact that amidst the morning routine, our balinese host family would prepare offerings to numerous deities, possibly feed the rooster and chickens, and still save time to sit and chat with the rest of the extended family (who were of course all located within the same compound).

Sitting here on my deck, looking out into my backyard, i realized that my entire home and yard is probably equivalent to one family compounds in Bali. My house holds anywhere from 2 to 4 people, i would guess that a single Balinese compound could hold as many as 10 at once... as much as i love my middle class home in my middle class neighborhood, i feel like a huge jerk for using up all this space! I'm even a little embarrassed by our culture, that I can only think of describing as one of extreme wastefulness.

One of the main points i learned from this trip regarding culture is the overwhelming feeling that the united states is a country without a defining culture. this is not necessarily a new idea to me, but it became much more pronounced after learning of the many hundreds of different languages and cultural traditions that live on in the daily lives of so many indonesians. i think that for many, the ability to define one's own unique culture here in the states is a major plus. but for me, after seeing what it would be like to feel the unification that sharing cultural traditions with your entire town, or even an entire island (or state...), i can't help but wish for that in my own life. it seems that the differences we noticed in indonesian people, their overwhelming kindness, sense of trust, and faith and joy in the most monotonous of activities (planting rice? forever?!) might be tied in to their sense of unity of purpose. so many of them hold the same values and traditions, that it is natural for them to feel connected to one another, and comes as second nature to approach strangers (and foreigners) with a smile and a "selamat ___!"

one final observation i have had since being home is the general sense of despair felt here in the US as a result of the recession. although many still have work, and are able to get by, there is a feeling of fear and panic for the future. there is very little optimism, especially when you live in michigan, the lucky winner of the highest statewide unemployment rate in the country. but, there is hope. it is particularly easy to see that after having seen another country's perspective on poverty. throughout our trip, i found it hard to differentiate some of the extreme poverty we were exposed to in yogya and bali from that i have seen in our own country - detroit, ann arbor, everywhere there is homelessness and poverty. in fact, it seemed that in indonesia, it might possibly be easier for a family to rise up from this by starting their own business for a small price, whereas here in the US, it would be an unthinkable cost that would likely result in such a business' failure after a year or less. not to say that i'm an expert on these matters, or that my observations are even true, but, my experiences in indonesia really opened my eyes to how similar the human condition is around the world. there is suffering everywhere, there are healthcare, wealth, and educational disparities in almost every nation. the difference is the way in which a culture and a population adapt to and think about these discrepancies. it seems that in indonesia, there are fewer disparities, and more overall poverty. but in the united states, these disparities are of phenomenal proportions - so much so that overcoming them seems an impossible task.

these are the matters that really influence my career goals the most. education and healthcare are the most pivotal rights an individual should have, and i hope that in the future i can contribute to the attainment of these by all americans. i will always keep my experiences with GIEU indonesia in the back of my mind as a source of positivity and faith for the future of my own country.

oh, and i do not miss the lawless driving habits in indonesia! although anytime i see a motorbike i will wonder where the rest of the family is, and why on earth there is only one large, fat man in a helmet and other protective gear riding it. where are his flip flops, and why isn't he so close to me i can touch him??

i will also work on my cooking skills - fried bananas and fried rice will be my new specialties :)


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

saya suka ini

Rules of the Road: Indonesia
Beep if someone cuts you off
Beep if the car in front of you is too slow
Beep if you're on a winding road
Beep if you're going to pass
Slowly cut off as many vehicles as possible
Tailgate always

If Ubud were a color it'd be burnt orange.
If Yogyakarta were a color it'd be mint green.

Things that don't exist in Indonesia:
ranch dressing
thick chocolate milkshakes
thinking room (this one's for you, Yogya)

Some things are just better in Indonesia:
say hello, everyone is your friend
sky-scraping temples...booya Sears Tower!
vision of America = Obama = awesome

Going to Indonesia as a part of GIEU has completely changed everything. With one year left at U of M, it has completely turned upside-down what I see as my options for post-graduation life. GIEU not only got me thinking about my future, but also more excited about right now: what I'm doing this summer and my final year. It has breathed life into me again.

It's hard to name favorites about Indonesia. I love that you can walk down the street, say hi to anyone, and watch the smile unfold on their face. Do that in Ann Arbor and someone will think you're crazy. One of the things I will miss most is the people I met along the way. Whether I saw them everyday, they popped in and out of our program, or only met them once. They impacted my experience more than they know.

"It has to come to an end because otherwise it would just be life and then it could not be an exciting adventure. It would just be everyday shit."

barely bearable heat and singing my sentences,

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I have been home for two days now and have had time to get some sleep after 34 hours of travel time, eat some american food, and share stories with my family and friends. When it came time to leave bali on wednesday evening, I was feeling a mix of emotions. I was happy to be returning home to my family, anxious about my upcoming long journey home, and nostalgic about my time there (wishing it didn't have to end). On my trip home, I was given a plethora of time to reflect on my experiences there and how much I have gained from this trip. I thought about the Balinese and Javanese cultures, how the were so different yet shared unity. The food also came to mind often, especially after finishing up the trip with lunch at Sari Organik. My homestay families and the several other local people I met throughout the trip came to mind, and I realized how thankful I was to have met them. In between recurring thoughts of this paradise, I also remebered the various situations/challenges I encountered and how they made the trip even more enriching as it required adaptation and flexibility on a multitude of levels. I never expected to experience a culture so different than my own, let alone many cultures as the islands of Indonesia are so diverse. I am so grateful for all that I have gained from spending time in such a beautiful, dynamic country.

Terima Kasih, Indonesia!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Selamat Tinggal, Indonesia

My month in Indonesia has definitely been one of the most incredible months of my life. The lows of the trip: 1) the bus ride from Java to Bali; 2) getting bitten by a cockroach. The highs of the trip: everything else. And I got some good stories out of my two lows, so I can't really be too upset about them. To highlight some of the highs of the trip: 1) learning to surf; 2) riding a motorbike; 3) making wind chimes out of bamboo and a coconut shell; 4) Bali Buddha; 5) waking up every morning to an incredible view in the most beautiful place in the world.

This trip has allowed me not only to participate in Balinese and Javanese cultures, but it has also allowed me to compare them with my own. Talking with my home stay families, seeing colorful offerings everywhere I turn, and adjusting to "Indonesian" time made me see differences between the way I live in the United States and the culture in which I have been living for the past month. And while doing things like making offerings and planting rice and other plants, I have been able to participate in this culture and now appreciate it infinitely more than if I had never come to Indonesia.

My favorite part of Indonesia is the color. In Java, all of the Batik paintings and clothes drew my attention; here in Bali, I can look almost anywhere and see white clouds, the blue sky, the green rice plants (my favorite), and red roofs. The ever-present offerings all contain a variety of blue, red, pink, yellow, and purple flowers. In short, I would love to wander around Indonesia for the rest of the summer... but I leave in two days. So I will cherish my photos, Gamelan music, and memories until the next time I can come to Indonesia.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Just a whole lot of sentimental nonsense.

I could talk about the neat temple we saw today, which was carved into this massive wall. I could talk about the expressive and amazing barong dance we watched before. There's eating lunch next to an active volcano and massive lake, not to mention a cacao and spice plantation. Yeah, those are all interesting things that I'd love to talk about, but I guess I want my last scheduled post on this blog to be a little more meaningful.

Today is the 6th; I go to the airport on the night of the 10th. That's less than four days away, four days before I leave this incredible island -- Bali. I've learned so much about this island's cultures and traditions, yet I feel like I've only seen the tip of the iceberg. For every one thing I learn, a million more questions seem to arise. Being on Bali not only makes me want to immerse myself in the Balinese culture, but also learn what I don't know about my Indian heritage. (There are so many similarities and differences... ahhh!) Learning about a culture so thoroughly steeped in art and music makes me want to go back my Indian dance lessons and learn more about it. I don't know.

Indonesia isn't a perfect country: there is poverty and customs that seem backwards in the United States (particularly with women's issues). Still, the country has made a place in my heart and I know I will come back, one day. The GIEU trip has exposed us to only a fraction of the hard-working, innovative NGOs that exist in Indonesia -- NGOs that have figured out how to work around or work with the government. Ideally, with a little more language under my belt, I'd like to come back and work with an NGO here or really learn Balinese dance or .... Oh, I can go on forever.

Our month here is nearly over -- this explains why this post is me bein' sentimental. At the same time, I can't wait to take what I've learned here and share it with those back at home, to educated them. I can't wait to see how I've changed -- changes that I may not see until six months down the line. All I can really say is that this trip has solidified my interest in working abroad!

Terima kasih (Indonesian), matur suksama (Balinese), and thank you, Indonesia!

cringing at my mushiness,

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's not unusual to have fun with anyone...

The lack of blog updating for the past few days is a telling sign of how much fun we've been having down here in our cozy southern hemisphere. Our trip is currently in the second round of homestays which has brought about a plethora of exciting stories. The morning van/car rides have become even more enjoyable than usual. It is a time when everyone shares the latest oddity or 'culturing experience' that they had the previous night or for breakfast in the morning. I feel as though I lucked out by being placed at Bot Donu's guest house (Bot Donu is one of our drivers and an all around awesome guy).

Aside from getting comfortable in our new homes we have been experiencing true Balinese culture. Our scheduled programs have been great including a visit to the Mother Temple, a compilation of 22 temples that acts as the centralization point for the surrounding villages, and an interview with Bendesa Besakih, a man elected by the people to serve as the leader of the temple. Perhaps even more exciting though is the unplanned events that we've been able to take advantage of.

Last night those of us not too tired from the day's events took part in Balinese dance lessons. If you're lucky you might see a performance by the star-studded group at some point (when I say star-studded I'm really only referring to a select few of us, but we're humble about our talents). This afternoon provided another chance to see Bali at her finest. I decided to skip out on posting this blog entry earlier and instead went to take in a football (soccer) match between to local clubs. The players ranged in age from 19 to 25 and played well. The influence of soccer is prevalent all around Indonesia as it's rare to not see a least a few kids running around in soccer jerseys (even the famed medicine man Ketut Liyer was sporting a jersey the first time I met him... gotta respect the man for his style). As I sat watching my love for soccer mesh with my love for Indonesia I felt very culturally immersed.

As we are closing in on the conclusion of our trip I feel as though this will probably be my final entry. As such it is necessary for me to express my true feelings about each and every group member on the trip: I have nothing but love for all of 'em. We have formed, normed, stormed and performed as a team. My 14 peers as well as our fearless leader and her husband have made this trip a sick-nasty experience, for lack of better terminology.

Time to go check for cockroaches before bed...


Monday, June 1, 2009