Pre-Service Training (PST) is coming to a end. On December 10, we’ll put on our matching batik for swearing-in ceremony. West Java and NTT volunteers will ship off later that night and the following morning, while I’ll stick around for a conference in Kediri with the rest of the East Java volunteers.
Seeing everyone jet off before us feels like being the little sister who doesn’t get to tag along to summer camp—yet. But by the end of the week, we’ll all be at our permanent site, alone.
So far, doing things alone has been cause for commotion. Cycling alone; sipping coffee alone; jogging alone (who’s chasing you??), or even studying alone. While we were still in Indonesian language classes, my ibu and neighbors worked together to do my homework for me each night.
In Javanese culture, what’s more important than where you’re going or what you’re doing is who’s accompanying you. Indonesian society is largely collectivist, and that’s one of the biggest adjustments for U.S. volunteers, who are used to acting individually with an unexplained sense of autonomy. Another Peace Corps Trainee, Kayla, explored this contrast on her blog with a well-researched explanation. For me, adjusting to the collectivist mindset has been a lesson in keeping calm and reanalyzing my own actions at work and at home.
In the past few weeks, we finished up our Model School and School Practicum training, where we co-taught in Indonesian classrooms. It felt so great to be back in a classroom and actually interacting with students. At a local madrasa (Islamic private school), students attend school Monday to Saturday. Saturday’s class time is reserved for extra-curricular sessions like drawing, cooking, and photography.
In summary, kids are the same everywhere. They want to color and play games. Classroom competitions might lead to shouting, screaming, and a few students falling out of their chairs. High school students are sassy (spoiler alert: they’re sassy everywhere), and not too shy to mock their teachers during the lesson and then immediately ask for photos after class.
Some days I was still wondering which class I’d be teaching by the time I got to school. Schedule changes are not uncommon. Where was the classroom? We’re switching the lesson plan to… which plan?
I came into this ready for spontaneity, but man…. Going with the flow takes on a new meaning during PST. Especially when I’m planning to teach back-to-back classes at 7:30am, but have to run errands with Ibu at quarter to five in the morning. Following her and my host sister on a bicycle to lord-only-knows-where. And posing for photos with her friends in the next town over at 6:30am, unclear if I’ll get to mandi (bucket shower) before class. Sometimes we’ve just got to accept things that we can’t control. In other words, I’m late all the time. And that’s pretty much ok!
Beyond being in the classroom again, one of the highlights of the past several weeks was, 1) holding this newborn baby, and 2) helping prep food for a wedding.
First, more on this baby. Over here in Wonorejo (my desa, or town), nearly as soon as the baby and mama are home from the hospital, the family begins accepting visitors. If I understood correctly, this baby was a whole 10 hours old when we dropped by. I definitely shouldn’t have been holding her, but she seemed to be passed around freely. On the way out, the extended family hands out goodie bags for the tetangga-tetangga (neighbors) who swing by to congratulate the new ibu.
A few nights later, my ibu brought me along to a community-gathering place to assemble meals for a wedding celebration. Who was getting married? Still unclear. But we were at the lemper station, stuffing rice with turmeric-seasoned pulled chicken, shaping it into little logs, wrapping the logs in banana leaves, and steaming them over an open fire.
Other ladies stirred sambal, a spicy sauce made from chili, garlic, and tomato. Another mixed the tapioca-based sauce for fried chicken. And others prepped soto ayam, chicken soup, for all of the volunteer cooks to eat once all the prep work was done.
The next evening, I found myself back at the same space to assemble party boxes, the assortment of sweet treats for each wedding guest. In Javanese culture, a wedding often lasts for three days. Guests come and go, often sitting down for a meal and promptly returning home only twenty minutes later. I watched women flow in and out of the room to eat with the bride, while I slowly got a handle on the event.
When it comes to social events here, I often learn about the plan only after it’s happened. I think I’ve been to two weddings at this point, but I have yet to see the bride and groom together. The past ten weeks have been a massive game of connect-the-dots. Just as I’m beginning to see the bigger picture, it’s time to up and move to site. This time next week, I’ll be living with a new family in a new city. See you in Madiun!