Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm coming home!

Well, it's my last night in Manado. Tomorrow I fly to Jakarta, the next day to Singapore, and the following day to America.

Am I glad to come home? YES. Of course. Will I miss it here? Some things, yes. We'll see. But nine months is kind of a long time, and I'll be very glad to start something new. There are a lot of things I'm looking forward to, including but not limited to:

good bread!
friends who live in my city
a comfortable chair to read in
the wonderful St. Louis Public Library system!
driving a car, putting things in the trunk
having a little anonymity / people respecting my sense of self

Maybe I should clarify the last. The thing is, the other teachers at my school generally treat me like a puppy. They have loved having me around to take pictures with, or to dress up in Manado batik, but I could have been a horrible teacher and none of them would have minded. The last few days have made my position especially clear; I've been pulled around for one picture after another, people taking hold of my arms or shoulders or cheeks without asking for or expecting to need permission. "Miss Anna," they'd say. "What?" I'd respond. They'd stare at me for a moment before mouthing "FOTO" and waving me over to one place, then another (depending on the light). They even encouraged strangers to take pictures with me. "Anna, they want to take pictures with you." "I don't know who they are." "Yes, it's ok."

People in this country LOVE to take pictures of themselves and other people, and everyone sort of went crazy at their last chance to have a picture with this lovely specimen of whiteness. So right now, I'm thrilled to be going home. Please note, Mom: I don't bother taking pictures of myself because a million other people take pictures of me. After that, there's hardly energy to care what I look like.

Anyway. I'm coming home, leaving a horde of adorers and sweet people behind. My students love me, and I will miss them. I'll miss this city, too; it's been my city for eight months. But! I'm moving on to bigger and better, back to a job I love and then, in the fall, graduate school! (Which may not sound like a happy, exciting thing, but trust me, it is.)

P.S. Family, don't be upset that you're on the list after a chair. The list is in no meaningful order!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


One day at school, there was a disturbance. I don't mean like a disturbance in the force (as if a million voices cried out and were suddenly silenced), but rather a bunch of students were running to and fro and making a lot of noise.

"Is there... an animal in the classroom?" I asked Ibu Vera.
"No," she replied. "A student... has a ghost inside her. How do you say it?"
"Possessed," I told her. "A student is possessed?"
"Yes. Do you want to go see?"

Well, why not. Vera confessed that she'd never seen this in person before, only on tv, so she was very interested. We worked our way through the crowd, but when we got to what was presumably the epicenter, we learned that the girl had already been moved. So we headed over to the Osis Room (I have never understood why it has that name). Waiting outside with the other teachers, I saw an unconscious girl being carried by a couple of boys to the nurse's room. But it was hardly important that a girl had fainted; everyone was anxious to get into the room to see the possessed girl.

As for me? Well, I never believed she was actually possessed. My Indonesian students seem very... impressionable. Seriously, Indonesians scream when power goes out in the mall. THIS HAPPENS NEARLY EVERY DAY. As for this poor girl, she was lying on the floor, being held by a couple of teachers who talked to her as she cried and spoke, seeming very out of it, nervous, and distracted. There was absolutely nothing supernatural about it; the girl just looked like she was having a nervous fit. I couldn't understand what was being said, but Vera explained it.

"They are praying and counseling her on her problems," she said. "Because when you are weak or have problems, it is easy for the ghost to get in."

Well, it was time for class, so I left the Osis room and headed over to class 10-J. We weren't far into our discussion about telling time when two girls sitting in the front of the room screamed and jumped up from their desks. One ran to the back of the room and more or less collapsed; the other ran to the door (presumably she was only reacting to her friend's actions). Immediately the teacher hurried to the girl in the back, holding onto her and talking to her. I felt pretty useless, just watching and making sure the other students stayed back. The girl was moving her legs around, and another student came up to hold her legs together (because she was wearing the uniform skirt, of course).

"What's going on?" asked a class 11 student, appearing by my side.
"Well, I guess she's possessed by a ghost," I told him, and he nodded in understanding.

It was later explained to me that the earlier girl had been filming a horror movie in the woods with her friends, so it's obvious where the ghost came from. The second girl? Who knows. When she first screamed, I thought maybe she imagined seeing a ghost outside the classroom, and that combined with the anxiety of the day might have caused her to become hysterical. I don't know. In any case, I was thinking that we should really get her some medical attention. Another teacher appeared and lifted the girl's feet. Oh, good," I thought, "lifting the legs is good treatment for people in shock." But in fact, he just removed the girl's shoes and socks and pulled on her toes (which is something that happens in massages, so it's not out of nowhere, but still odd).

Shortly, the girl was being carried out of the classroom for her round of prayer and counseling. Several other students were crying, one or two looking sort of hysterical themselves. As a class, we took some time to pray, and I tried to put some semblance of a lesson back together, but everyone was wound very tight.

I tried to help. "She keeps crying," I told the other teacher, indicating a student who wouldn't even lift her head from her desk. "I'm afraid she's going to make herself sick." Another girl had her eyes closed, and I was afraid she had fainted. At the end of class, every student but her stood up (which is normal for every class), and I insisted that the other teacher make sure she was conscious. She lifted her head and blinked a bit, which was not entirely reassuring.

That was the end of it. I think the two girls' parents were called, and they were taken home (imagine that call at work: "Your daughter's been possessed; please come get her."). No doctors were involved, either for them or for anyone who fainted (at least two people, I would say). What really surprised me, though, was how everyone seemed to accept what was going on. No one had any problem accepting that ghosts were the cause of all this trouble, and they even knew what to do! How on earth were they prepared for possession? That's my question. How did they know what they were supposed to do about it?

This country can be weird, weird, weird.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ok, the NEXT blog will be about ghosts

Last weekend I went diving in Gorontalo with my friends. Gorontalo (as a province) calls itself a "hidden paradise", and the diving at least is really underappreciated. There's only one dive operator, and he's not there all the year, which is kind of a shame! It's not quite as easy to get to Gorontalo, and there's no convenient island like Bunaken to keep tourists nicely secluded in beach bungalows and stuff, but the coral is well worth the visit. It's very big, for one thing. There's a big expanse of coral, and plenty of variety in organisms.

My friends have seen whale sharks, but they were a no-show both times I dived there. We did, however, see two species of dolphins from the boat. For someone who as a pre-teen adored dolphins and who had never actually seen on in the ocean before, it was totally cool.

Julianne snapped some photos of the whale shark. Still haven't seen one myself!

All coral in Indonesia suffers from environmental damage. Trash is a problem, and bad fishing techniques can cause a lot of damage. During one of my dives in Gorontalo, we heard an underwater bomb go off somewhere in the distance. Although officially discouraged, dynamite fishing is still practiced and is, of course, a horrible environmental practice. When we surfaced, there weren't any boats within sight, which is a pretty impressive example of how well sound travels underwater. It must have happened pretty far away, but I knew right away what it was when I heard it. (It's funny how I can just know; it was the same way with the earthquakes. Things start moving and instantly my mind says "earthquake".) Since Bunaken was named as a national marine park, there has been a great effort to protect the coral, and dynamite fishing is nonexistent there now (there are enough people diving that everyone would know immediately!). It's a shame that Gorontalo's coral is not protected in this way; in a place where new species are still being discovered, destructive practices need to be stopped.

Anyway, to get off my high horse, ten or eleven hours south of Gorontalo by ferry lie the Togean Islands, which are also a cool place to dive. Four of us took the overnight ferry one Friday, crossing the Equator in our sleep (way cool!). There was some cool stuff, like an octopus!! It was kind of disappointing to look in the book afterwards and discover that it's a "common reef octopus". Well, I feel special anyway.

Pretty nice, isn't it?

Sunday night meant another overnight ferry back. This is actually a pretty decent way to travel. We just rented a (crew) cabin and slept pretty peacefully. It's certainly more pleasant than an overnight bus ride.

The Togeans were a nice place to stay, with beaches and palm trees and all that nice scenery. My one regret is that we didn't get to dive the sunken World War II bomber (!!), but for that reason I'm going to do my best to get back there next month! A sunken plane is really too good an opportunity to pass up.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Naturalist's Guide to My Home

Did you know that Indonesia is the number three country for terrestrial (land) biodiversity? Well, I'm certainly seeing that, because it seems like every week some new kind of organism moves into my home. So here's a little list of what's living with me.

1. Geckos. Of course there are geckos. There are geckos everywhere in this country, including my kitchen and above my air conditioner (though a small one fell from there and met its untimely demise). No problem. They eat...

2. Moths. Most of the moths I get are really tiny, but I dutifully got air-freshening moth-repellent for my closet. They're not really a problem. I wish the geckos would instead eat...

3. Mosquitoes. If I spot one in my bedroom, it's worth however long it takes to track it down and kill it, or else it'll be annoying me all night. Much like...

4. Bedbugs. First I discovered I had them because of all the bites I had, and then people from my school came and fumigated my bed. But, they came back. This time I've seen them. I'd do something about them myself, but really my mattress needs to be pulled outside into the sun on a day it doesn't rain. And my mattress is really very big. I certainly couldn't manage it myself. So I'm waiting for a Pak to be a little less busy and come help me out. It's a little gross but not a big problem. Bedbug bites fade quickly and don't itch nearly as much as jellyfish stings.

5. Spiders. They eat the mosquitoes, right? I sure hope so. Mainly there are some big ones in an upper corner of my bathroom and on the staircase, either too high to reach or their webs are complicated to destroy. There was a veritable apartment complex going on on the staircase, and I was afraid to go for any of the spiders, because the others would surely run away before I could kill them all.

7. Cockroaches. These can be pretty awful because they're gross, fast, and they sometimes make noises. I had one miserable night when one cockroach ran under my bed, and then called out to its friend, who also ran under my bed. I stayed on the bed (off the floor) until morning. However, the next day I put down some cockroach-killing chalk, and since then three dead ones have turned up. This chalk is pretty amazing. It also gets rid of...

8. Ants. Wow, seems like my list should be tapering off here, right? NOPE. As Sarah Mac says, there are loads of different species of ants, and we sure see a nice range. Mainly I get tiny ones in my room and on/in my computer, but in my kitchen I get some big ones, too.

9. Giant geckos. These things are actually kind of freaky. I've seen two of them in my kitchen, and I would have suspected they were rats but from the fact that they were on the ceiling. When I turned on the kitchen light, one fell from the ceiling, ran up the wall to hide behind the table, and then ran out in front of my to hide behind the fridge. These guys are fast.

10. Something with teeth? I'll admit I don't know what's been chewing small holes in my instant noodle packets. I can't imagine a giant gecko climbing my freestanding little shelf without toppling it, so I suspect it's a mouse? Don't know for sure.

11. The bugs that infiltrated my rice. Sorry that I'm getting kind of vague on the details, but I'm just going for a list of the minimum number of species. There may in fact be more than one kind of bug in my bag of rice. This is why, when I bought new rice, I also bought a tupperware container.

12. Birds. Now, this is a little unusual. The windows in my house are mostly covered with panes of glass, but at the top it's just wooden slats, with a sizeable gap (so if you're thinking shutters, you're wrong). Every once in a while, a bird slips through and can't find its way back out, which is pathetic and dumb. But recently the birds started a new project: building a nest in my window. I didn't realize this until I opened my curtain and a large heap of twigs and plant debris fell out. The birds weren't exactly happy when they came back and found out that everything had crashed. Well, sorry birds, but you can't live here.

(13. The cat. I no longer see the cat; in fact, it's been a good long time. But at one point, there was a cat that would come in and poop in the corner in my kitchen. It never ate any of my food or anything, just came in to poop, apparently. After we blocked the entrance to the kitchen, the cat pooped on my couch. But it's been gone for a while.)

Impressive, right? I know these were things you probably didn't really want to know about, but considering that a big part of my life is spent speculating on, cleaning up after, and assassinating these life forms, I thought you should know. I have some pictures, particularly of the bird's nest materials in my window, but the internet is being unreasonably slow and can't upload anything. When things pick up, I'll add some pictures. I'll even add a picture of my new haircut!

My next blog is going to be about something exciting: ghosts. Namely, the possession by ghosts of students at my school. I shall present my eyewitness account!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Update / Toba

If you're in my Yahoo address book, you may have gotten up to three (as far as I know) emails saying I'm in London, I'm in trouble, and I need money. Well, I appreciate gifts of money as much as the next person, but please rest assured that I am not in trouble and I do not need anything. Most of all, I have not left this country, as I would not legally be allowed to return without going through a heck of a lot of visa paperwork, and that's just not something I'm willing to do right now.

No, I am most assuredly still in Indonesia. To be specific, the past weekend I was in North Sumatra, staying on Lake Toba, the world's largest volcanic lake! Very exciting. I did some sightseeing while trying to solve my email problem, having a foot infection, and coming down with the flu. (It really seems unfair to get the flu this close to the equator. I've always associated it with cold weather, you know?) So, anyway, I'm going to make this short and just put in some pictures!

Traditional Batak weaving:

Traditional Batak dance:

It's a very, very big lake.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A digression about food!

I think about food a lot. I've got a whole list of things to enjoy when I come back to the states: sesame tofu, gelato, salsa, delicious sandwiches with things like sprouts, good cheese, etc etc. I dream about Thailand a lot; the food was fantastic.

Just look at that! Isn't it marvelous! Red curry with tofu, a coconut shake that almost makes you cry with joy. Seriously, the food in Thailand rocks. I was sad to go.

The thing is, food in Indonesia is not that good. It's sad, but true. Indonesians aren't much on spices or herbs, so there's nothing in the way of, well, subtle tastes.

There are a few basic rules with Indonesian cooking:
1. Deep fry everything, from tofu to bananas to whole fish.
2. Seasoning means garlic, salt, msg, or kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).
and most important of all...
3. No meal, breakfast included, is complete without rice.

Indonesians eat rice all the time. They believe you can't be healthy without eating rice. In January, the housekeeper here was on vacation, and a man was brought in to take care of the house. Whenever I cooked something, he would offer me rice. "No, thanks," I'd say. "I'm making spaghetti." But still he offered me rice. Surely I wanted rice with my spaghetti??

Indonesians are all conscious of the fact that rice is their staple grain. People ask me all the time what Americans eat. "Americans eat a lot of things," I tell them. "Well, Indonesians eat rice. What about Americans? Americans eat bread?" "Americans eat everything," I tell them patiently. "Bread, pasta, and, yes, rice." The weirdest thing is that people think that because I'm an American I don't eat rice. I've gotten some surprised reactions when I say that yes, of course I eat rice. Heck, I even like rice.

So, back on topic. Indonesia is a tropical country, full of fresh exotic fruits and stuff like that. Why shouldn't the food be good? Well, the food suffers from the same problem as many things in the country. It starts out ok, and then people do something weird and unnecessary to it, like putting mayo on top of a pizza. You're left thinking, why? Why on earth would you think that was worth doing?

Another example. Lots of people ride motorcycles here. Lots of people ride motorcycles past my house. Additionally, lots of people saw off their mufflers. As a result, motorcycles reach ungodly levels of noise. And it leaves outsiders like me wondering why anyone would ever want that. What are you hoping to attain, motorcycle drivers of Indonesia?

Back to food.

This is gado-gado, which I eat pretty often. It's an assortment of vegetables with peanut sauce, krupuk, and some kecap manis on top (don't worry--there's rice in there too). It's pretty good, generally. The glass you see there, full of murky green-brown stuff, is a drink called Es Cendol.

Es cendol is a sweet, cold drink that tastes exactly like a caramel apple. If you're very hot and thirsty, it's delicious. But they didn't stop at making a cold drink with a tasty flavor. No, the Indonesian iced beverage manufacturers decided to go one step further and add something unnecessary and unpleasant. In this case, green gummies kind of like worms, just the right size for sliding up your straw and slithering down your throat.

Who in their right mind would ruin a perfectly good drink like that? Where's the sense in that?

Well, that's the tragedy of living in Indonesia. You can't eat cha-chas all the time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's an Experience

Well, I haven't updated in a little while, so here's some recent news from my life:

1. There was an earthquake this morning, enough to feel but not enough to cause any damage. Just a little shake that woke me up.
2. I have bedbugs. I wasn't sure at first; I thought maybe it was just an odd concentration of mosquito bites. But I have a line of at least ten bites in a row, and all the bites center on my left elbow and knee. So apparently I sleep on my left side. My elbow looks kind of diseased, actually, with that many bites. And of course the mosquitoes are still in full force these days, so there's always something attacking me.
3. This weekend I'm taking my Advanced Open Water Diver certification, and I'll make use of the awesome underwater flashlight that I got for Christmas (thanks Mom and Jeff. I don't know if there will be an occasion to use the dive knife, but it's awesome, too). I should say, it's a great flashlight, and diving last weekend my friend Ashley praised my light highly.
4. The woman who lives downstairs told me yesterday that she's moving to the small room by the stairs, so she can rent out the two main rooms. There's a family moving in this weekend, and the mother is--get this--Canadian. This is so, so weird. There will be an English speaker in my house! Just downstairs!

The thing about living in Indonesia is that you think that you have the lay of the land, things more or less figured out, but then the weirdest stuff happens. Like a Canadian moving in. Or, in another example, your downstairs neighbor suddenly has huge sacks full of cloves, and she lays them out on tarps to dry in the sun. Why? I have absolutely no idea. What will she do with sacks and sacks of cloves? I have no idea.

Another example: there's a festival ever year around Minahasa, and a friend tipped Erica and I off about where we should go to see it. Actually, we were invited to a party and told the festival would be happening in the same village that day, but we never did find the party and so we just ended up at this event in Kawankoan.

What we were told about the event is that young men dress up as women, and young women dress up as men, and they parade around town, and if they come to your house you're supposed to give them money or something.

Well, this was sort of accurate. There were a lot of young people dressed up like the opposite sex.

But there were, in fact, people of all ages dressed like that.

The theme of the event was SHS, which stands for three things, apparently.
Semua Harus Sekolah (Everyone should go to school)
Semus Harus Sehat (Everyone should have health)
Semua Harus Sejahtera (Everyone should have safety)

To this end, there were people dressed as nurses, soldiers, and lots of people dressed up like students.

Sure enough, they paraded around. And I found a good place to watch them all go by. But, as I said, even when you think you understand what's going on, you really don't.

See that guy? Third back? Who is wearing a costume made of hair? His sign reads something like "Choose according to your shining heart." ??? I asked the people around me and they said, "Like King Kong! You know King Kong?" Yes. King Kong is a giant gorilla. That is a being made entirely out of hair. It has no face.

No idea.