The This That is.

avoiding impossibilities

Go GREEN Gorontalo! October 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — cocoyoni @ 10:32 am

There is no cell phone service and no internet at the mayor’s estate so you probably won’t find it on google maps. It is near to my school–just go over a small bridge, pass the stunning and well organized fruit orchards and you’ll see it there on the right, across the street from the jungle. You cant miss it, really.  The white pillars wash up on a wide North Carolinian lawn and the shiny SUV’s busy the gravel driveway like a dozen cell phones dropped from a sack onto a table.

Haris Nadjamudin was voted into office around the same time I moved to Gorontalo. He is as new to being a mayor as I am to teaching at an Islamic boarding school. He is the type of mayor to spend time and money planting fruit trees in his first few weeks as opposed to redecorating the kitchen or getting the internet up and running. His is a political philosophy based on the Independent platform. It is for all these reasons that I bow in reverence to Mayor Nadjamudin and have become very eager to work with him.

He is a very sincere and serious man, in response to which made me sweat. Or perhaps it was the long and heavy traditional Gorontalo garb I was wearing or the brown headscarf meant to conceal the blond and bouncy Californian girl. However, after my presentation (heavy with visual aids to appease language barriers) concerning the world’s environmental crisis and the incredible trash problem in Indonesia his nods relayed approval and his metalinguistic grunts wafted emotional acceptance over my proposals. Serious environmental change is due in this town and I have the guy in charge at the forefront. He proposed I meet the vice governor soon, that I go on a hike with him 12 hours into the jungle to see a local tribe, and that I write all my proposals he agreed to on paper. He is grateful for my passion and happy to walk with me through this reform.

I proposed the following:

1) Put garbage cans in and around all areas where people live or visit and implement a work force to take care of those cans and that garbage once a week.

2) Have official signs near these cans that demand people NOT leave their garbage on the ground. “Buang sampah pada tempatnya!”

3) Support environmental based curriculum at local schools. Some teachers at my school and I will facilitate the writing of this curriculum.

4) Hiring a workforce to do jungle, street, beach, and coral reef cleanups. I will do my part to get my students among other schools’ students involved.

5) Make city wide contests for schools. What school can gather the MOST litter? Who can come up with the best environmental science project? Most incredible art project made from recycled garbage? etc.

4) Hold a leadership camp that empowers the community in English speaking and environmental compassion at a local national recreational site (waterfalls/hotsprings).

All these things are goals that I hope will not only beautify this province, provide new jobs and help sustain a bit of tourism but will play a role in unearthing the underlying compassion that all earthlings inevitably hold in their hearts for their planet. It will help in making the future us and the future earth healthier.

I have attached some of the photos I used to do the convincing. Photos I plan to use on the vice-governor, the governor and whoever else. Perhaps you might want to use them too, to make your own changes, somehow, somewhere.

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Home, Finally. October 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — cocoyoni @ 6:21 am

Two weeks have flown by since I came home to Insan Cendekia in Gorontalo, Sulawesi. As I look back on my 14 day adventure I observe a perpetual praxis of an eager protagonist.  My story has hardly begun, however it is already filled with the depth and plot twists concerning a multitude of characters and developments. I feel as though I know where I am, what my purpose is, who will help, and how I will do it. Happy to acclimate, my head is often veiled, my mouth burns with local fishy victuals, and my words are easily Indonesian. Having yet to suffer tremendous home sickness I am not awake too late talking to friends or family at home and am up early enough to appreciate the sun’s shyness and the mountains’ morning cloud cover.

Teaching started this week. I teach English to 10th and 11th graders, boys and girls. I gave my students American aliases. For example, my favorite student is now named Juliette and is from Albany, New York. These names will serve a number of purposes and foundations for intercultural exchange throughout the year. I have my own desk in the Guru room with a fresh gorontalan snack every morning. I am really beginning to understand Islam and have a great relationship with all the kids in the neighborhood. I also started English club this week with every grade—12th, 11th and 10th. I try to fill my role as a crazy, outgoing, and loud American so to make them laugh on the floor and simply enjoy their young selves at such a serious time in their lives. They really need to relax in order to speak English freely. My biggest goal is to get the students to TRY and speak English. I am actually quite pleased with the result so far. I gave them all a big sermon about being brave, making their parents proud, earning Fulrbright scholarships (yep, Indonesians can get them too) to study for free in America, and not caring what their friends say when they make a mistake. At the end they are all usually yelling at the top of their lungs, “I PROMISE TO BE BRAVE MISS JOLIE!” which, as you can imagine, resonates gentle harmonies in my heart strings.

I had every grade debating hot button environmental issues this week as well. They are all trained in debate (thank god), which makes my job easy; I simply propose a motion. For example, “Indonesians should be fined 1 million rupiah (>100 USD) if caught littering” and they debate the pros and cons for a good hour. I then end with a speech I used to hear from my teachers when I was in high school. “It is your generation’s duty to clean the earth, make environmental change so we can live lightly on our planet.” To my gratification, they all nod their heads knowingly and utter phrases like, “I love my forest!” or “Indonesia is so beautiful without trash!” or “We promise to make this world a better place!” I have plans (though plans don’t really exist in this country) to meet the mayor (again) on Monday. I have a presentation planned to convince him to put local funds towards environmental reform. I will let you know how that goes.

So, my first two weeks are over. I have too many new friends to know all their names and a home with an open door 24 hours a day. This place is not just ecologically stunning but practically crime free. The city has a feel of an overgrown village with many little sections famous for the traditional markets they boast. Every day is a breath of fresh jungle/ocean air, new words, new teaching methods, and beautiful, grateful, eager students. This is my life for another 8 months.

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The New Bu in My Life September 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — cocoyoni @ 9:37 am

Preface: this entire post will be written on an airplane from Jakarta to Gorontalo. The entire time I will have a strange, 16 year old, Indonesian boy asleep on my left shoulder. He will wake up many times and sit up without opening his eyes; he will always fall again to sleep, to drool, to dream on my shoulder-shelf-bed.  He is a future student of mine. Six months from now when I am helping him study for an English exam (so that he might later earn an Indo-American Fulbright to study somewhere in Podunk, Iowa) he will not remember these moments, but I will. Also, at some point in the flight the plane will lose elevation and drop for 20 seconds through an air pocket in the sky. I will completely lose my stomach, my adrenaline will spike, I will stop writing, grab my friend’s arm to my right, and contemplate my death but the boy will never budge.

I was sick when she arrived at the Sheraton in Bandung. By sick I mean I thought I was going to die from dengue fever. Despite the common homesickness that often accompanies Asia sickness I refused to call my mommy because a) there was no need to worry her and b) my Indonesian mother was due to arrive any second. The day I met my Bu (‘Bu’ is short for the Indonesian word for mother or madam, ‘Ibu’) was the day the sun shown the entire day, no rain. I got the text that she arrived. I had been waiting  four weeks—and some might argue a year—to meet her but I could hardly roll myself onto the floor let alone up and into muslin appropriate clothes to saunter out into the garden for this thing people called food that I called the preface to toilet time. But hey, I had to. Once I put it in my mind that it was my only option it was easy. “She is my Bu” I said to myself “she won’t care if I look and feel like s#*t, she will love me no matter WHAT”. Still sweating from the fever, the delirium making the ground slowly sway back and forth, and my hair unified into one intricate rat nest, I made my way to meet Ibu Trisna and it was love at first sight. I am telling you people, I really met my Indonesian mom and I felt immediately less ill.

Allow me to describe why Ibu Trisna is so important. She is hereby the following things to me: my “mother” in Indonesia, my Bahasa Indonesia teacher, my co-teacher in the English classroom (she is never allowed to leave my classroom, literally), my liaison between American culture and Indonesian culture, my favorite Indonesian ever, my sister (how she sees it), my friend, my ride to the beach, my bank of Islamic knowledge, my cooking couch, my tour guide, my schedule maker, the person I get permission from to go anywhere, the only other person who knows where I hide my passport in case I need to be med-evacuated out of Indonesia in an unconscious state, the only person who speaks English, etc.

She is small…very small, petite, and adorable. I will never know what she looks like without a jilbab (head scarf) but that has to be okay with me. She is 37, has three kids, plays tennis with her husband, and calls herself a civil servant. She speaks great English and thinks the most important quality I can have as an ETA is a sense of humor and patience. Her nose wrinkles when she smiles and (not unlike ALL Indonesian females) has a vast collection of stylish shoes. She giggles a lot, told me I looked fat when I showed her some pictures of me living in Germany, is frustrated with Indonesia laws, and really hates the taste of lamb.

I am very much looking forward to landing in Gorontalo soon. I will move into my own house on what seems like a small university campus in a very rural part of the world. It feels really great to be released after this thorough month of training. After the pedagogy teacher from the embassy gave a speech on changing the world with love and teaching, she cried, which made me cry. We all hugged and it became clear (again) why I am here. It is so simple, sincere and serious. As Fulbright teachers we play a momentum role in Islam-American relations and the rise of education in the world. The work is set out before us. What we are now equipped with is some simple and effective methodology; but the necessary ingredient is passion and that came years ago.         


Unity in Diversity. September 11, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — cocoyoni @ 12:20 pm

Our language class was interrupted to receive a briefing from the U.S. embassy. It read:

Americans are advised that there may be anti American, possibly disruptive, demonstrations to mark an announced Koran burning on September 11th in Florida. We again remind Americans to exercise prudence and continue to take active personal responsibility for their security…

I thought I was finally in a country that LOVED my President. Nice try executive branch, but America’s dismal relationship with the world remains.

I spoke with a number of people from back home who had no idea about the Christian congregation that had plans to burn Korans as an international holiday. Lots of people had no idea that some self-righteous, Floridian, Christian named Terry Jones (NOT to be confused with the Welsh comedian from Monty Python) planned to celebrate his September 11th by burning stacks of Islamic holy books in a number of different churches around the United States. This reality is a poignant example of using “freedom of speech” as a movement towards something hateful and contentious. As a counter to this blatant display of unlearnedness, I feel it my duty to write a bit about the amazing expression of religious devotion and familial festivities I have experienced first-hand during the biggest Muslim holiday in the world (Ramadan), in the largest Muslim nation on the planet (Indonesia).

Today, I left home before the sun rose. We followed a mass of spiritually clad folk to a university for the final prayers and rituals that would mark the end of a month of serious sacrificial commitment and piety. They separated us by gender at the entrance. As we set up our newspapers on the morning-moist concrete and prepared our head garb for proper worship I found some time to practice my Bahasa Indonesia–I translated the main prayers we were planning to say whilst prostrating towards Mecca. We were shoulder to shoulder with at least 4 thousand others. The main prayer is tersely translated as, “Please forgive me for all the things I did wrong this last year”. The other prayers seemed rather pagan. They praised the sun, then the moon, then the morning, then the night, then they thanked the earth for stability and finally thanked god for reminding us how to be pure. The woman to my right admonished me for having painted toenails and asked if we were newly converted to Islam. To avoid lying and conflict (we were, after all, knee deep in a swollen sea of worshiping Muslims) my friend simply replied, “It is our first Idul Fitri”. They did not care whether we were Muslim or not, they were just happy to meet Americans who were not assuming or judgmental, Americans who would be open to witness real Islam. The neighbor to my right kept informing me that “Islam is good”. I think she thought she was reassuring and dismantling my assumptions. When the prayer ended and people stopped prostrating, I was reminded of being at church on Easter Sunday when I was 7. After a sermon on Easter morning the first people to escape the boring god-talk and run amok were the kids. It was exactly the same on this morning. The seemingly disciplined adults kept seated and listened to the sermon to follow, while the children slowly but surely, one by one, began to scatter to the grassy patches in and around the still seated adults. Eventually, there was some cue (unbeknown to us) and the sea of worshipers flooded the streets. We sat on the sidelines, and watched everyone leave. They were forgiven and beamed with pious joy as they returned home for their day long feasts. The only thing they left behind was the newspapers.

I spent the last day of a month long fasting holiday praying to Allah, asking to forget my mistakes, recognizing my wrongs, being grateful for the things I have, donating food and money to the poor, and feasting with family and friends. Sounds a bit like something Americans do every year, doesn’t it? I think we call it Thanksgiving, right?

Let’s go back in time. It’s 1999. I am a freshman in high school. A handful of Arab fundamentalists, who called themselves Muslim, just successfully executed an attack on the American people. Honestly, it feels like it was just yesterday (ok, grandma). It was really awful. I remember exactly where I was, how it felt. It is still very sad. Nowadays, as a result of this small group of jackasses, some 1.6 billion Islamic people in the world have been the undeserved recipients of a number of hate crimes and unfair social adjustments. Many people in America believe mosques should no longer be constructed, that Muslims ought to be social targets of abuse and racism. They should be ostracized and condemned; their holy books should be publicly burned not just in the land-of-the-free (by jesus-loving-floridians) but in every country across the globe. The burning should be considered an international holiday! Soon enough a cultural/religious genocide should ensue (if not already) and eventually, if we are lucky, the planet earth will restore godly balance. We might still have an increase of deforestation, starving children, governmental corruption, and thousands of gallons of oil in our oceans, but there will be no more Muslims.

Sarcasm aside, none of this is new. I mean, hello…the crusades! And remember how people burned Cat Stevens’ records after he came out as a Muslim? But that doesn’t mean it can’t change. We need to see religion as a language. We all have different ways to talk to god. A person’s contact with god is beyond the physical, socio-economical, political realm. It just doesn’t make much sense to talk about something if we can’t agree on the same language to begin the dialogue. Our only option is tolerance and appreciation. I don’t speak Mandarin but gosh it sure sounds pretty. I am also not a Muslim, but I can respect and greatly appreciate the fact that almost 2 billion people around the world just finished a month of fasting and are setting off fireworks right now (among a hundred other things) to celebrate. Perhaps the celebration keeps me up at night. Perhaps after a year of living in a Muslim country and teaching at a Muslim school the Salat prayers blasting over the town’s loud speaker will make me twitch, but it reserves me no right to invade their talk of god.  There is always going to be god people and there will always be non-god people. The god people will speak thousands of different languages just like the non-god people do. So, let the Indonesian motto “Unity in Diversity” sink heavy in our hearts and remind us that there is always something about humanity that keeps us humans together, allows for understanding and teaches us to love. Perhaps it is that very thing we don’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) really talk about. I think Terry Jones calls it god.

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It’s officially the wet season. September 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — cocoyoni @ 4:16 pm

There is a sweet and smoky smell to Bandung after it rains, and nowadays it rains a lot. In fact, it rains every time I forget it will rain. In the first minutes of the day it is softly warm, unobtrusively humid; the grass is carefully wet and the sky is quiet, her clouds reluctant. Around 6 am, right before our morning yoga session, the mosques finish their prayers and a fabulous hush suspends in the sensitive morning air. By lunch the sun takes a hold of Indonesia’s slippery time, dries the muddy grass and heats up the hotel’s cobble-like-concrete around the pool, which by this time of day has turned into the spoiled Chinese tourist children’s cacophonous sanctuary. The lifeless stone frogs in the fountain, the ones who spit perfectly chlorinated water (the broken one that drools) start to reflect something warm and bright in the sky. By then—after hours of being indoors, studying Bahasa Indonesia, writing lesson plans, and drinking cups of teh after cups of kopi after cups of teh—the sun worshipper within me is given a break.  I step outside. Instantly I relive my romance with blue skies, the ones that dangle over distant green mountains. I feel 75 degrees of an easy going breeze, and I strain to hear the happy sounds of “selemat siang” that buzz about the Sheraton grounds as I eat my boxed “vegan-no fish” lunch. It still hasn’t rained. But it will. After lunch we disappear again into a hotel ballroom, or a hotel conference room. We don’t say it but we dismiss the sun and drink our 1:00 o’clock coffee complimented by strange green, coconut, salty cake. By the time our teachers slip into repetition and my mind completely floats away (this always seems to happen around 4 pm EXACTLY) I am released from the caves of pedagogy and I step in puddles. I smell that sweet, smoky musk as the earth’s pores release a primordial stench. I am pleased because the rain becomes a vehicle for the prayers. They are played too loud on blown out speakers and it is too haunting. The rain carries everything to my sense organs, quickly without distraction. The rain carries the prayers and the conglomeration of things both foreign and familial promptly evokes my own ancient understanding. When it rains here I feel nostalgic and I have absolutely no idea why.


Saung Angklung Udjo September 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — cocoyoni @ 9:33 am

The angklung is an Indonesian traditional musical instrument made of bamboo. We visited the school where these instruments are made, played and distributed to the rest of the world. At Saung Angklung Undjo (name of the school) one can study wooden puppetry, traditional dances, and many bamboo instruments (calung, arumba, angklung, mini angklung, angklung padaeng, flutes, stand up bass, drums, etc). The greatest thing about an angklung is that each note is the size of one instrument, therefore one COMPLETE instrument can be played by a group of people. Imagine a HUGE piano made of bamboo is separated into all its pieces so that it takes a number of people (or one really talented musician that moves quickly) to play each note on the huge separated piano. It is a lesson in working together as a group and a reminder that when the atomized things in the world connect good things will resonate. You can watch one (of course I have more if you are REALLY interested) of the performances I recorded at: watch?v=95vCvP4Oa64

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Our first visit to Pesantren (Islamic Boarding School) September 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — cocoyoni @ 3:27 am