West Coast is the Best Coast

This week marked a turning point in cultural integration for me, and many 12-year old boys in Indonesia. I attended not one, not two, but three circumcision parties. At first, I thought I was invited to a wedding, and was very excited to be included in such a special ceremony. I arrived at the party only to discover that there was no bride, and no groom. I made sense of what was happening based on some contextual cues, broken language exchanges, and eventually someone told me that we were at a “cut penis party.” My excitement quickly abated, and the actual Sunatan ceremony was rather boring and anti-climatic. The 12-year old boys sat uncomfortably on a sofa with a cone/box of shame over their lap, a cell phone in one hand, and the other hand open to receive money. Scantily clad Indonesian singers (scantily is a relative term in Islamic society) serenaded the guests while plying us with heaping helpings of cold, oily food and sugary, fried pastries. Perhaps MTV will consider this as a follow up to their wildly successful My Sweet 16 series. Although this was just the beginning of the week, there were a few other happenings around the island of Java that proved to be more exciting in the cultural integration department.

The second cultural happening was our first out-of-site travel. Three volunteers and I ventured out of our mountainous abode in Malang to the coastal plains of Eastern Java. Bondowoso lay just beyond the shadows of the picturesque Kawah Ijen volcano complex. Its well-organized and spacious streets called to mind the Haussmann Plan, however, I’m fairly certain this plan has yet to reach the crowded, and congested metropolitan areas of most Asian cities. The highlights of the trip included eating chocolate lava cakes, and large quantities of melted cheese at Pizza Hut(cheese is a bit of a luxury in Indo). We stayed with a current volunteer, and were able to gain a glimpse of what our life will be like for the next two years. Melanie teaches at an Islamic high school where each class is comprised of nearly 50 students of the same gender. I found it fascinating to observe the marked difference between her male and female classes. The girls were painfully shy, and would not answer any questions until they were certain of the correct answer after referring to their notes or their dictionary, whereas the boys had little trepidation at shouting out whatever answer first came to mind. The trip provided a nice respite from our weekly routine, and exposed us to the craziness of inter-country travel. We arrived home to Batu road-weary and tired, yet unable to sleep because the following day we were to find our permanent site placements.

The Peace Corps heightened the anticipation for our site unveiling by drawing a large map of East and West Java on the main square in front of our University. One by one they called our names, and asked us to stand in our respective regions. This year marked the first time in the history of the Peace Corps Indonesia program that they are sending Volunteers to West Java. After my name was called, I was thrilled to discover that I’ll be living in the Sukabumi District of West Java. I’ll be teaching English at a SMAN school that currently has just over 700 students. My home is 3 miles from the beach, and a Green Turtle Refuge. West-Java-map.mediumthumbIdeas for a possible secondary project are already swirling through my head. My placement in West Java also means that I will be learning a new language, and living in a different culture from the Javanese in Central and East Java. Next week I will resume language classes, but this time I will be learning to speak Sundanese. Apparently the main difference between the Javanese and Sundanese is that the Sundanese are more overtly Islamic, and have a less stratified social hierarchy. In just two weeks we’ll have our swearing in ceremony as official Peace Corps volunteers, and then will make the cross-country journey from East to West Java. Here’s a teaser for my new site: new home


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