Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Dear readers,
I am writing to clarify for any of you who may be wondering just where those promised pictures of Indonesia are. It seems that some of you have been having trouble finding the photos we have been posting. This is understandable as they are not actually on this website but on another site we have because we are in the “.Mac” club as it were. Though it should be noted that the last two readers who have voiced to me their inability to find our pictures both share the last name “Roe.” Whether I am emphasizing their apparent inability to navigate simple web-pages or rather, their more admirable quality of having the courage to ask for directions when ‘lost,’ I’ll let you be the judge. Nevertheless, all you silent voices out there shall benefit from their courage.

Simple Directions for Viewing the Super-cool pictures From Indonesia:
1. Open (hint: you already did this)
2. Click the first Link you see on the Right of the page:
Photos at our .Mac Home Page (I suggest you open it in a new window so you can keep reading: right-click then select “open in new window”) the url is
3. When that page loads you should see a goofy picture of us, and Even, who happened to be behind us when we took the first ever photo with our digital camera. At the top of the page there are about six or so other links to different Albums of photos. The bottom three or so are from Indonesia, the others are from our exploits before we left the U.S. of A. Enjoy, please feel free to leave comments, and rest assured that more are on the way…

As for those of you who have recently reached out to us from so far away through Comments on this page, we thank you. Comments like yours brighten our days and remind us that we are not forgotten on days when it seems hard to convince ourselves otherwise. I plan on responding to some of your comments beneath them so check back later. We miss our friends and people who think like we do but then again, I always did want to learn how think again. Thanks for caring and thanks for reading.


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Three little boys stopped by this morning, wanting the birds’ nests from our trees. After realizing what they wanted, Matt obliged. We watched as a small ten-year-old boy climbed the small evergreen tree and retrieved two nests, one with five tiny eggs. To be nice, Matt offered the three boys the three bananas left from dinner last night. The boy looked at him, at the bananas, and at him again, and said that the bananas had gone bad. Matt was a bit indignant that the boys said his bananas were bad, as they still looked perfectly fine to us. The boy seemed a bit indignant that Matt had offered him bad bananas.

The students in my class (3 year-olds through 5th grade) generally begin to arrive 20-30 minutes before class starts. Today at 1:30, I followed Jordi up the stairs, peeved that my last 30 minutes of preparation had just been taken. Soon Yoshua’s round smiling face found it’s way into the room and the two were content to look at books, which is the activity that I strongly encourage early-comers to engage in.

As the students enter the classroom, their clothes always find a way to amuse me. My favorite today was four-year-old Bella’s costume—a black leather skirt and a red halter-top. Albert was wearing a Tom and Jerry shirt until his mom striped him down to his underwear in the middle of my classroom and changed his clothes. Many days the t-shirts will have “English” phrases, like “I like to football.”

For some reason, people here don’t consider the heat a factor. The building where these classes are held has windows on all of the outside walls of the second floor, thus giving it a green house effect that our small ac units struggle, unsuccessfully, to fight. Sometimes I step outside to cool off. Luckily, the heat has only induced vomiting in one child.

We were told in an e-mail that we received today that we are in stage two of culture shock. I had said the same thing to Matt a few days ago. In the first stage of culture shock, everything is new and wonderful. In the second stage, all is dreadful. You walk around wondering how people could live like this and how you are going to deal with living like this. You start to salivate over a glorified shadow of the culture you left behind and wonder why you left. Soon we should level out to stage three: acceptance.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Sketch 1

Hundreds of things happen every week that I want to pin down into a collection and present to everyone who makes the mistake of asking. I’m trying to learn to just breath in the humid air and live here; to absorb it as life and not as a thousand photos to be taken printed and displayed on a wall or weblog. But for now I still feel compelled to preserve bits and pieces in this virtual shoebox and show them to you, with all the anticipation of a child whose glassy eyes beg you to agree that these moments really are special.
Last night I’m on my way back from the VCD rental store after dark and a minibus (mikrolet) stops.

“Maumbi bisa?” (Can you take me to Maumbi [name of our ‘village’]?)

I’m the only passenger so I climb into the front seat. After the standard exchange about how long I’ve been here and how I can only speak a little Indonesian he spots my headphones.

“Apa handphone nomor?” (What’s your cell-phone number?) he asks.
“Tidak punya. Saya tidak perlu.” (Don’t have. I don’t need).
“Apa ini?” (What’s this then?)
Then it dawns on him.
“Ya. Walkman.”

A look of absolute excitement washes over him and he starts digging his shirt for two hidden ear-buds with the wires run beneath his clothes. I’m watching the road as he veers out of our ‘lane’ though such concepts only exist in my mind. With one final triumphant jerk he untucks his shirt and reveals his cassette walkman cleverly hidden from any curious passengers.

“Apa anda dengar?” (What you listen?) I ask.
He proudly states the name of a local singer. Then says:
“Kamu dengar!” (You listen!)

His ear buds thrust towards me, I accept them as the gift they are and put one in my ear trying not to stop and think about what are clearly inappropriately western notions of personal space, hygiene and cleanliness, inappropriate at least for this minibus. The tape drags distorting what was once a clear and earnest feminine voice into something vaguely inhuman and ill. I feign enjoyment of his music and ask:

“Anda tahu dia?” (You know her?)
“Ya, tahu.”
“Teman, anda?” (Your friend?)
“Tidak, tidak….[then some words I don’t know that I smile and nod approvingly toward]”

By then he notices I only have one headphone in. This music was clearly intended for full stereo, binaural enjoyment as he insists: “Tidak, dua, dua!” (No, both, both!) How silly of me. Of course. I listen for a few more seconds then thank him for sharing his music, a gesture and impulse I really do appreciate, understand and enjoy. Now it’s my turn. I cue up “Clocks” for him on my MP3 CD featuring Coldplay, hit play and put my headphones (also designed to fit ‘in-the-ear’) on him, making sure I have both ears.

“Lagi anda dengar.” (Now you listen.) I say with a smile.

If he’s feigning enjoyment he’s doing a better job than I did. He sways with chords, he drums with the steady staccato of the song, he sings syllables of words he doesn’t know. He listens for a full kilometer or more before politely taking off my headphones and thanking me.

When he drops me in front of my housing complex, I double his fare (which is normally about ten cents) and said “untuk anda.” (for you). He thanks me again and I tell him to have a good night and I walk through the cool damp evening towards the house and throw my headphones on to catch the rest of “A Rush of Blood to the Head” having forgotten that I had intended to wipe them off with my shirt first.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


I’m sitting in the cool night air of the front porch, one foot on a regal column balancing me against the window upon which my shoulders rest as I lean back in my chair like so many teachers told have told me not to do. Mrs. Goodnoh, this is for you. I’m the teacher now! But I have rules too: “If I see a cell phone in your hand it’s mine for the rest of the day.” And “We all make mistakes. Life is better if you can laugh at yourself.”

At night the heat and some of the moisture go away and it’s quite pleasant outside. I hear a dog in the distance barking. It’s that sort of barking that’s more like echo-location than anything else: just sending out a signal to see if it bounces off of any other dogs. I think it’s a mixed blessing to be a dog in Manado. On one hand, I've read that the Minahassan ethnic group of North Sulawesi find dog, particularly black dog, very tasty. So it’s not uncommon for dogs to disappear from gated and locked front yards. It’s also not uncommon for owners to treat dogs very poorly. I’m not sure if this is because they plan on eating them (I can’t say that the turkeys on my parents farm live a luxurious life), or because some see them simply as a status symbol. Our neighbor directly across the street has a German shepherd who must think, and sounds as though he thinks, life has played a cruel joke on him. I think it ought to be one of Dante’s circles of hell to live here with a perpetual coat of thick fur and no sweat glands. To make matters worse, he seems to spend his days locked in a small cage except for the singular occasion of his daily walk down the street which his owner seems begrudgingly committed to.

The mixture in this blessing comes from the shear amount of traffic that even remote residential areas like ours receive. The noodle man with his spoon rapped bottle, the mobile, motorcycle produce section with his bicycle horn, and especially the Walls Ice cream motorbike with it’s melody that never quite resolves on any satisfying note seem to provide the often fenced or caged dogs with an endless supply of stimuli to bark at and ward off.

The dogs I’ve seen on the loose perpetually and inexplicably have the look of having just won the lottery, or perhaps having just stolen the lottery check. You’ve seen it. It’s something like the Tramp from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp” only less earnest. I don’t trust these dogs but I can’t deny that they seem to be having a good time. They eat garbage and serve no man.

Jane, a British teacher at our school, has a dog that came from the village. Yesterday she explained that as a result of his upbringing he only understands Indonesian. So, as she visited with us in our living room she would periodically shout words we don’t know at this dog as he trotted around our neatly swept tile floors. It wasn’t until he hiked his leg toward one of our indoor, regal pillars when she finally shouted “Jangan!” (Don’t!) that I started to believe her. Though I suspect that I could have shouted “Chimichanga!” in the same tone and it would have done the trick, and I was very nearly on the verge of trying.

“Bagi Yesus Semuanya.” A Personally Amplified voice piles its song into the night air. We sang the same words the second day we were here at church. I still don’t know exactly what it means but I have a vague idea that I could, were I to walk over and pick up the Indonesian- English Dictionary. Which brings me to my final point about dogs; if Jane is right about their linguistic limitations, then Manado really isn’t a bad place to be. Indonesian may be one of the most intuitive languages to learn (from my point of view), and as I was reminded tonight while we sat through the Mandarin Chinese News spot in order to get to the English one, there are much much harder languages for dogs, and people to learn.

So, hats off to dogs and friends and friends of dogs who have spent time and energy learning Chinese language and culture wherever you may be. Lately I’ve been quite happy here, learning how to communicate with and how to teach English (one of the more counter-intuitive languages) to Indonesians. It can be fun being the teacher.

Post Script
Those of you who are wondering right now whether I mean the British “quite” or the American “quite” have too much time on your hands and a special place in my heart.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

I write as a nice Indonesian man in bright blue pants is installing our water heater. I am very excited about warm showers. Now if only our water consistently worked.

I think yesterday was our best day here so far. School went well. I kept the 15 students busy and interested enough that six-year-olds Jason and Albert (who happens to be quite fat) didn’t have time to hit, kick, or throw their chairs, as is their custom. In fact, I kept them so busy that while we were singing a song that involves a lot of moving, a cute little boy lost his snack.

The children want to please and want me to be able to speak their language. I have two assistants who are able to speak Indonesian. Once when both of them were out of the classroom a little girl kept saying something seemingly urgent to me. I couldn’t decipher what she wanted, so I looked outside to see if there was anyone who could help. The director of the school was walking by. I called her over and she translated for me. I had somehow skipped the little girl when I was passing out erasers and she wanted one. I was embarrassed, but such is par for the course.

We were invited to a lunch at the school yesterday via a memo. The memo said the lunch started at 12:15 and would be by the swimming pool. Matt and I arrived around 12:20, thinking that would be late enough. After the honored guests showed up at 1:15 and there were a few speeches, we ate. They had a meal of various grilled fish, rice and soups. Matt and I went first since we had to teach a class at 2:00. I had trouble getting any meat off of the any of the fish (fishes?). It seems that every time I stuck my fork in to get the flesh, it would find a hollow spot. I ate mostly rice.

We were sitting with a very enjoyable couple, Joie (Joy) and Brian. She is Filipino and he is from Manado. She just started teaching at the school this week and is helping me in my class. He predicted when we sat down at 12:20 or so that we would eat in an hour. He animatedly told of the worldview of the Indonesians as being an “enjoy life” mindset.

After school we came home to still warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (more chocolate chunk). Sonya, being the wonderful person she is, made a cookie jar full of cookies. We sat down and had cookies and milk. They tasted different than what we are used to, but so very good.

Both of the kids were here and were playing the run and giggle game. Matt had brought home a literature book to look through. It had lots of colorful pictures in it and Joshua and Stacia sat with me for a long time looking at the pictures. Joshua was amazed by a close-up picture of the moon. He is very quiet and attentive.

Sonya and the kids left and we got dressed to go to a wedding party. The pastor’s son from the church we had gone to on Sunday was to pick us up. We dressed in our nicest clothes and waited. He came and actually apologized for being late. I hadn’t been watching the time because by this time I have realized that a set time is actually a 2-hour window.

We arrived at the wedding party, with our white envelope with money in it. There were Christmas lights up everywhere and the immense building was decorated elaborately. We walked up to the door, where neon Styrofoam signs congratulated the bride and groom (we learned her name is Vicky).

As we entered, I saw a woman in an ivory colored strapless dress with a big puffy skirt. I assumed she was the bride until I saw four other girls dressed just like her. They were the bridesmaids. Behind them in the center of the entrance was a giant colored ice sculpture that had an M and a V connected by a heart.

We were escorted to our table, which happened to be at the very front of the room next to the bride and groom’s table. There were hundreds of people there, many of the women wearing dresses that included something that sparkled. As we sat down, we noticed that the Cassels were seated at the table next to us. I guess they have to keep the bule close to the front.

When I was telling Sonya about the wedding and musing over our place of honor, I told her that we must have been seated there because we were with Henry, who is a doctor and a friend of the groom, and also with his wife’s parents, the father being involved in the government somehow. Sonya laughed and said, “No, it’s because your skin is white.” I laughed with her and realized again what a crazy land we moved to.

The wedding was a mix of elegance and cheesiness. As the bride and groom descended the grand staircase at the back of the room, colored tissue paper confetti fell on them. The bride’s dress was beautiful, very much like wedding gowns in the states, only hers had a ring of pastel flowers seeming airbrushed around the skirt. There were several men with cameras, videoing the reception. They had assistants they held very bright lights on poles. There was a screen set up so everyone could see what was going on and would video the audience and show them on the screen. I was on the screen for what seemed like a very long time before they moved on. Scenes from the wedding ceremony were also shown on the screen, along with engagement photos and other photos generally framed in bright colors with English captions such as “Romance” and “Forever Love.”

A very nice meal was served, complete with chill coke in wine glasses. Some kind of energy drink was also available. I joked with Henry and his wife that it was to help people get through the mayor’s long speech. Henry said that the mayor’s (he called him the “major,” I think because y’s are pronounced like j’s sometimes) speech walked around a lot without getting anywhere.

I watched very carefully when filling my plate and when eating to make sure I was doing it right. The spoon goes in the right hand and the fork in the left. When you are finished you place your fork and spoon up side down on your plate in an X formation. The brown and green “pudding” is eaten with a smaller spoon and before the fruit in sauce, which is eaten with a new small spoon.

After we ate a choir came out and sang “From the Moment” and a song in Indonesian. The choir was amazing with good harmony and no accompaniment. After the bride changed into her pink gown (why? I don’t know) the choir sang part of Handel’s Messiah. They did a great job with it, but hearing the Halleluiah chorus at a wedding sends a number of messages. I think they were saying “Halleluiah, the mayor stopped talking.”

As the party ended, we were shoved into a tightly packed mob pushing and shoving for their turn to shake the bride and groom’s hands. I was wearing heals, making me taller than most of the people there. As I examined the tops of the heads around me, I realized how utterly out of place we looked. In my mind it was as if we were on Sesame Street and Big Bird started singing, “one of these things is not like the others.” It was a very strange feeling.

We got home after eleven, exhausted, but in a good way.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Today I am writing to inform you of new pictures on the .Mac Homepage (the first link in our links column at the right). "Images of Indonesia" is a miscelaneous collection of pictures that illustrate some of general atmosphere of Manado. The abundance of churches (often covered in tile and ever expanding as money is donated for construction), and the seemingly spontaneous parades in support of political parties, and yes, Indonesian Idol are all part of our daily lives here. By popular (parental) request we have also included some photos of ourselves. The adorably cute children are Joshua and Stacie, son and daughter of Sonya, our household helper. She often brings one or both with her and we enjoy them greatly.

Yesterday when I got home I found my flip-flops hidden in a bush outside the front door and the two kids giggling uncontrollably. I said "Where are my feet?!?" (because I still haven't learned the word for "shoe") which aggravated the giggling. I then picked up Joshua by his feet and carried him over to the bush dangling him over my lost shoes. He retrieved them. They make us laugh and, like most people, we need all the laughter we can get.

The Cassels are American missionaries who have been here for about 7-8 years. They are very kind and helpful to us. We are to go play soccer with the students at their missionary training institute here in Manado tommorow afternoon. Today we are on holiday from school for Hari Raya Waisak, a Muslim holiday. Though there are few Muslims in Manado, in Indonesia, if one religion gets a holiday, everyone gets the day off. Quite nice.