Let there be…. Allah?

I was roused from my sweat-drenched dreams at 4:30 AM to the Azzan resonating throughout Surabaya, Indonesia.  Lights began to flicker on around the world’s most densely populated island, and by 5:00 AM the city was buzzing with life.  Colorful mosque domes and spires punctuate the undulating landscape of concrete houses. Surabaya is reminiscent of an older Thailand, modified by its Muslim identity. The rhythm of the day is dictated by the five calls to prayer, with the time in between spent conversing over sugar-laden teh and kopi. Time is an organic concept, and is sometimes referred to as jam karet, or rubber time. If things don’t get done today, there is always tomorrow or the next day. I enjoy observing the men leaving for the fields with their machetes in one hand, a cigarette in their mouth, and looking out on the endless horizon of cropland. This place that I will soon learn to call home has welcomed me with open arms, and the promise of gentle kindness.

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Following our first week in Surabaya, all 50 members of ID-7* left for Batu to spend 3 months with a host family. I received a grainy black and white printed photograph of my future family, and spent most of the bus ride trying to imagine the day-to-day routine of their lives. I arrived at their home and instantly felt at ease. Their home is nestled in the fertile mountains just outside Batu, a former retreat for the Dutch during colonial days. The hillsides are decked in guava, papaya, banana, apple, and orange trees, and its households are overflowing with adorable children. My Ibu, or mother is warm, gracious, and accommodating.  Like most Indonesian women, she believes that the amount of rice on a plate is proportionate to one’s happiness. I have eaten rice three times a day since arriving. In more exciting matters, I go to bathroom, do my laundry and shower in the same place. Oh, and they don’t use toilet paper over here or utensils.  You don’t need to be very creative to solve these fundamental problems.

My Pre-Service training has made me increasingly aware of the important function community will play over the next two years. I chose to join the Peace Corps for its language training, length of contract and the opportunities it provides for collaboration. Since touching down in Surabaya, we’ve hardly had a moment to stop and reflect on our in country experiences. The Peace Corps has done a thorough job of integrating us into our respective communities, and has done so by strengthening our involvement at a local, national, and international level. Everyone we’ve met has been very receptive and supportive. I’m exhausted simply by trying to process so much new information. We have 4 hours of language class 5-6 days a week, along with 3-4 hour sessions 4x a week on teaching, safety, health and culture. After that we trudge home for another round of language and lesson planning. There are 6 other volunteers in my local community, and two other clusters of 6 volunteers within 15-30 minutes waking distance. There are 2 other groups of 18 volunteers in nearby villages, and once a week we all meet at Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang. In the last month all 50 of us have rallied around one another despite differing backgrounds, and formed a cohesive group. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve gotten to know one another thanks to a handful of interesting experiences that come with living in a new country.

*ID-7:  The Peace Corps Indonesia program first opened in 1963, but closed down in 1965 due to political unrest. In the 60s, three groups of volunteers served: ID-1, ID-2, ID-3, so when the program was reopened in 2009 the groups were continued chronologically as ID-4 (2010 – 2012), ID-5 (2011 – 2013) ID-6 (2012 – 2014), and my group ID-7 (2013-2015).

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