Figure 1 At San Francisco airport


I can’t believe I’m in Indonesia! I wake up to the sound of the adthan calling me to Fajr prayer and go to sleep after Isha prayer. In the States, I must admit, I didn’t pray much. It has been hard for me to keep it up with work and school but here everything works around those times. In the Indo 8 Facebook group someone asked what we would miss the least about the States and I responded “Being a religious minority.” Having to use my lunch breaks to attend Jummah prayer and using vacation time for Eid is disheartening. Anyways, it is nice to be in a Muslim country but it also comes with a lot more scrutiny and responsibility. I have been told that other volunteers have found it difficult in the past since Indonesians have a different cultural interpretation of Islam than other countries. That is true of every religion, it is practiced differently in every country because of culture, but the foundation is the same. I’m sure as my bahasa (language) Indonesian improves I will run into similar issues but, being from America I’ve had to deal with different interpretations of Islam my entire life. It makes me wonder if those other volunteers have only been to mosques in America where they were the predominate ethnicity so perhaps they haven’t encountered having to live with or be pressured to conform to a different interpretation of Islam before. As a Black Muslim I’ve had to deal with that my entire life and I hope I can find the best way to respectfully convey my interpretation of Islam if a situation arises.



Figure 2 Leaving Surabaya after a week in Indonesia


Anyways, last week we arrived in Indonesia on a Monday night and started learning bahasa Indonesian on Tuesday. The language is written with the English alphabet and pronounced phonetically. Sentence structure is a bit different, which has been my issue so far. After a week in Surabaya we departed Saturday morning for our training site, which is about 3 hours away. Nerves started to kick in as I prepared to meet my host family. The day before we received a picture of our host family and their names. I still wasn’t too nervous. In order to calm my nerves a bit I started to think of it as meeting roommates for the first time. 


Figure 3 Everyone rides motorbikes here


Figure 4 Lush greenery used as medians in the road


Figure 5 On our way to the training site with volcanoes as our scenery


Figure 6 This is the university we meet at once a week.

We stopped at the University Muhammadiyah Malang to meet one of the Education Ministers who happened to be in Malang at the time. The campus is absolutely beautiful. After this we went to our respective cities where we are to be hosted for 10 weeks. When we arrived I was introduced to my Cultural Liason (CL) who will help me with questions about the local culture, questions about training, any issues that may come up with my host family or just to communicate in general to them. I have an Ibu (mother) and two sisters, both 17, who share a room they are renting while attending school in the area (they aren’t related). All women, which means I can walk around without my hijab, in shorts, or a bath towel after washing. They are all really sweet and helpful. I gave my Ibu some Eos chap stick from home and my Adiks (little sisters) a couple of t-shirts from Texas A&M University. The shirts were way too big so I explained that people in Texas are large. It was pretty awkward but I managed to laugh at the situation since only one of my Adiks spoke a little English and the other spoke even less English and my Ibu knows a few words. My Indonesian is very limited so I was trying to learn as many words as possible. I ended up going to sleep pretty early since I was tired and had to get up early the next day. 


Figure 7 Beautiful campus


Figure 8 This is one of the views I have from my language class

We had to meet our CL at 6AM on Tuesday since we were visiting 2 schools in the area for the morning and after lunch we would go to language class. The first school we went to was a madrasah and the students did Qur’an recitation in the morning. I believe they only do that maybe once or twice a week. That lasted for an hour and the students were starring at us and laughing. We waited in the principals office and was introduced to one of the English teachers. He was very nice and we got to ask him a lot of questions. After the recitation we were brought in front of the entire school and were asked to introduce ourselves. The students then got to ask us questions and the girls were braver than the boys. The first question asked was to one of the male PC trainees who was asked if he had a girlfriend. Too funny! They were cute and gawked at us the entire time. We looked in on the English teacher’s class for about five minutes then went to a vocation high school for nursing, pharmacy, and medical office administration or something like that. They were testing that day so we weren’t able to talk to any of the students. The school was really great and is competitive to get into. We spoke with the principal for awhile then headed out. 


Figure 9 The soccer field connected to my language class school


Figure 10 A madrasah we visited to see the English class early in the morning. The students have Qur’an recitation on Monday mornings. We were luck enough to be there.

I thought I would be more nervous to be in front of a class but it wasn’t too bad. I’m hoping I will enjoy teaching and PC is training us on the realities of teaching in Indonesia and also technical training. Tuesdays-Thursday we attend “Link” classes with 3 other groups of trainees (another from my town and two from another town). We travel by angkot (public transportation: essentially a van with benches in the back) to our Link site for classes on Culture, Global PC policies, and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). The site of our Link classes is further up the mountain from where I stay (maybe 10 minutes by angkot) and has beautiful views. The area I stay is agricultural but people live in dense areas. 

I’ve actually really been enjoying my time here. Some of my counterparts have been finding it difficult here. The days are long: Monday was 6:30AM-5:30PM T-F 7:30AM-5:30PM. We have to speak in Indonesian when we go home so there’s really little break from language class and it’s difficult to communicate. It can get tiring day in and day out while also dealing with a new diet and what we call here the “little d” which stands for diarrhea. The “Big D” is Dengue Fever or breakbone fever. It’s exactly what it sounds like and there is no vaccination against it unlike Malaria. My mom told me that Former President Jimmy Carter is working on a vaccination for it. Please DONATE to his cause immediately! 


Figure 12 The Mandi (bathroom). Mandi means to shower or bathe 


Figure 13 This is where I squat to pee and poop




Figure 14 Water from the mountain used to wash. I use the scooper to pour water on myself to bathe. The water is pretty cold

Anyways, the other issue we trainees have been finding is fear of becoming isolated because of MMT. MMT is a serious thing here amongst volunteers. Two women in my language class made up with this acronym, which stands for Mandi (bathe), Makan (eat), Tidur (sleep). In our town, and possibly all over the island of Java, Indonesians and ourselves take two baths/showers a day because of the humidity causing you to sweat all day. So when we are done with class and return home from a long day the first thing we do is shower (Mandi), then we eat (Makan), and then we get tired and head to sleep (Tidur), hence MMT. MMT is a strong pull and hard to resist but I try to interact with my host family as much as possible. I went to a Qur’an recitation circle with my Ibu. About 15-20 women in the community get together and each person reads a verse from the Qur’an in Arabic. If she has trouble with a word the others correct the pronunciation. There are lots of snacks and jasmine tea during and people chat until it’s their turn to read. I read a couple of verses in English to contribute to the circle and after we were done they brought out even more food. I was stuffed and immediately went in my room for Tidur.

My Ibu is really great and accommodating. Lately I’ve had a sore throat, which has turned into a cold and she was so worried. I tried to explain that I get them all the time in the States but I could see she was worried. I’ve really been enjoying my time here and haven’t experienced too much of a culture shock. I’ve really benefitted from entering the PC at an older age. I’m not sure if I would have been able to handle all of the changes if I left right after undergraduate. I noticed I haven’t had as many complaints as the other trainees and I’ve been able to adapt pretty well. Some would chalk it up to me being a hijabi but I also think it has to do with me living in the States as a minority for so long. I’ve had to adapt to people’s expectations of me, work with people who are very different from me in belief, ideology, race, sex, etc. I’m rarely around other black hijabis who weren’t related to me and have had to make compromises on what I say is my identity, I’ve had to negotiate around religious interpretations that were different from my own, I’ve worked with misogynists, feminists, egalitarians, etc, which I believe has really prepared me for some of the challenges I will face later. Even as I write this I’m thinking in the back of my mind, “Wait until you get to your permanent site and then see how you feel.” I’m cautious by nature so I won’t speak definitively about my Indonesian experience only two weeks into my 27 months here. I do hope that my experiences will be mostly positive and that the negative ones will be of short duration. Right now I’m in a good place, learning a lot, and trying to enjoy my time each day. I think I’ll stop here 🙂


If you have any questions please leave a comment and now that I have a cellphone with internet I should be able to respond within the day.


— Fisah 


6 responses »

  1. jessedklein says:

    Great post! I knew you’d settle in nicely. Keep fighting the good fight and make some flashcards and learn that language!

  2. jessedklein says:

    Yay! Nice post. I’m glad you’re doing well, I knew you’d settle in nicely there! Keep fighting the good fight, you’ll find your groove soon. And make some flashcards to learn those words! Proud of you 🙂

  3. Umm says:

    This is really great Fis! Love the photos and commentary, excellent.

  4. Asiyah says:

    Hey Fisah. Enjoyed reading your blog. Just know that in your transition to Indonesian life we support you. A wealth of life experience you will gain and I hope for nothing but positivity and growth for you from this trip. This is certainly one of those times when I think the internet is useful. Take care of yourself and keep us updated.

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