I am now at my permanent site in Cibinong, West Java! It has been a long journey and will be even longer. Unfortunately, my Ibu had an appointment at the time I was leaving so she wasn’t able to see me off but I think it was for the best. I don’t like those kinds of goodbyes and I don’t like to see people cry. Earlier that day I already cried saying goodbye to those who were staying East. It was too much and I tried to be happy for everyone since we are all going off to do great things but it was just sad. You build these relationships over eleven weeks together thinking that that isn’t enough time to make a lasting connection, but when you are in a country that has a different culture then you’re used to and can barely speak the language, you build close relationships with those who are similar to you. It’s like when people immigrate to another country and settle in places where others from their home country have settled so they can have a sense of normality in their new country. We built a community in our small town and relied on each other. Now we are all going off to our sites alone where all our time will be spent with people different from us. That is what we signed up for and that is the reason we are here, but it doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. Especially for out families who literally taught us how to poop and shower and now a new family will reap the benefits of their hard work. Many of the families have had previous PCVs at their homes so they know the drill but it is still difficult to say goodbye to someone who has become like your child. As the bus pulled up the tears started to flow.
The bus took us to the train station where we took a 16 hour train ride to Bandung. There are 25 of us ID8s who headed out to the Wild Wild West and even though we were in Executive Class it was not comfortable. I hate to think what the other classes are like which, unfortunately, I feel like I will find out in the near future. It was rough but I got to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones where Prince Oberlin fought The Mountain. I won’t give away the results of the fight but needless to say it was tense on the train. It’s those little moments of normalcy that I treasure the most plus I got into a heated debate about it on the train so that was fun. I had been trying to prepare myself mentally for going out west so I watched J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek movies to get amped up about going to my site. It sounds ridiculous but it actually worked, I would recommend it to anyone heading to a place where few (wo)men have gone before (well…at least few PCVs). When we arrived in Bandung we took another bus ride to the hotel where I finally got to sleep in a comfortable bed and in air conditioning. It was an emotional time and I got a little sick because I had the AC blasting but I didn’t care.
That night before dinner, we had an informal meeting with our counterparts and principals. My principal wasn’t able to make it so I met one of my counterparts that day. She is a very nice older woman with a good fashion sense so I felt good about her. She was really happy to have a Muslim volunteer. I heard that my principal said whoever came to his school would have to wear a hijab and that was how I was placed at my school. High criteria there but I’ve heard that a lot of volunteers who teach at Madrasas have been told the same but she let them know that they weren’t going to wear one. There hasn’t been a problem with them refusing to wear it, I think it’s just a little surprising when they are asked initially.
Anyways, I talked with my counterpart a bit and asked her a lot of questions about the school, classes, the schedule, and the students. The next day was the principals and counterparts conference, which I don’t understand why we had to be there so I took a lot of 15 minute bathroom breaks. At one point I went to my room to get my cell phone charger, I should have stayed and taken a nap. It was rough. Most of it was in Indonesian so I didn’t know what they were saying. I did use a lot of that time to ask my counterpart even more questions, which was the main benefit of the conference for me. My last night in Bandung I went to dinner with Emani, an ID7 Volunteer, and Jennifer, my roommate while in Bandung who’s site is near mine (kind of). It was nice to have a good conversation and an opportunity to chill before heading out on our own where conversations will be very limited. Emani gave me some good advice and a lot of hope about learning Indonesian since she’s been here a year and has a good grasp of the language. She’s planning a slumber party for those of us near her site. A positive about PC is that you are not ashamed of doing things that were cool when you were a kid (and secretly wish was still cool as an adult). Once you have to learn how to squat and poop all other concerns go down the crapper.
The next day was another farewell day and thus pretty sad; people were leaving left and right. Jennifer had to leave at 5:45AM and another volunteer left while I was in the shower so I didn’t get to say goodbye (queue the Beauty and the Beast scene where Belle is crying about not saying goodbye to her father). I went down to breakfast and was saying farewell to all my friends and as 25 dwindled down to just 5 we snapped a photo to commemorate the moment while drinking something that tasted like Sunny D. I was sad but surprisingly really excited. I wasn’t nervous, which was good…well until I got to my school (more on that soon).
[Left to Right: Rita, Travis, Me, Mike, and Nate]
A minute after this pictures was snapped I left with my counterpart at 8AM. It turned out to be a quick drive since I am two hours from Bandung (four hours by public transportation). I arrived at my place and my Ibu is absolutely adorable. My Bapak* works in construction in Jakarta so I didn’t meet him until later that night, but he is really sweet. I bought two small bookshelves for my room and said I wanted to hang them on the wall, I also had my mosquito net that had to go up. He called two of his friends and my room turned into a construction zone that night. They are both really sweet and my Ibu is an amazing cook. She owns the canteen at my school (they don’t have a cafeteria at the schools here) and another little shop. That afternoon I went to my school and was greeted with a banner with my name on it and a marching band.
I was extremely nervous and they asked me to speak at the end of everything so I said two sentences in bahasa Indonesian, thank you in bahasa Sunda (local language), and three sentences in English, which equals the least amount you can say and still call it a speech.
It was pretty crazy so I will post the videos on another post (I am not good with a camera so please excuse the shaky cam).
There was also a Martial Arts display that I recorded and will be posted with the marching band.
They were very welcoming and kind. My first thought was, wow, this is colonialism at its best, which is a bad joke. I know Peace Corps gets a bad rep and a lot of people see it as colonialism and at that moment it felt like it a bit. BUT because we make an effort to integrate into societies, learn the language, learn the culture, only go to places where they want us, and only have programs the country wants, I think that needs to be taken into consideration when critiquing what the Peace Corps does. I will be at this school for two years and over the span of that time the enthusiasm of having a native speaker here will wear off and students’ motivations will wane. The bulk of my job will be “Motivasi” (motivation) since as I become normal to the students, once they stop giggling in the halls whenever I pass, it will be harder to keep them motivated to learn English. What makes my job even more difficult is the high expectations put on volunteers since we are the native speakers. The schools really believe that by having a native speaker at their school that students will be fluent in English in one year. It’s a lot. You also have to deal with the fact that your counterparts may think you are a spy who will report them to who knows whom or that they can go on vacation now for two years since someone else will be teaching their class. I made sure to tell all of them that Peace Corps said I cannot teach alone. The good thing is there are seven English teachers at my school and at least half of them are happy I am here and those are the ones I am going to work with. Volunteers have said that initially that is the case but the longer you are there, and as long as they see your work ethic they will come around. They will hear about some of the things you are doing in the classrooms, how you are helping around the school, and will slowly start to accept you into the fold. I hope that happens for me. I have been here for a week and can already see some of the difficulties that may be ahead. My job is not just to teach English, it is also to engage in a cultural exchange: they learn about American culture and I make sure to share Indonesian culture with those back home. InshaAllah, I will be successful.
*Anecdote about Bapak: I went on a bike ride with my Ibu and when we got home by Bapak was chillin’ on the floor listening to an R&B station playing “I Need A Girl” by Maze. I couldn’t stop laughing. Glad to know I’m not the only one who still listens to 90s R&B