Hi everyone! I am one of the mysterious interns who doesn’t write for this blog, as I’ve been writing my own personal blog, which can be found here: indodenmark.tumblr.com. My fellow interns were kind enough to let me share my thoughts with all of you. You’ve probably seen my name throughout this blog a couple of times but I’d thought I start off by introducing myself. My name is Amanda Beardall. I am originally from Portland, Oregon (my heart breaks a little every time I have to describe my hometown as “it’s above California” since Portland isn’t exactly well-known here in Indonesia) and a rising junior at Bryn Mawr College, majoring in psychology with a double minor in environmental studies and child and family studies.
This summer, I am working with Perkampungan Sosial Pingit or PSP for short, an NGO that provides informal schooling and community development for youth in areas of urban poverty in Jogjakarta. The school portion of our program isn’t actually running while we are here due to it being the Ramadan season so instead we are doing research for them on how children’s behavior is impacted by their environment. We are talking to families, students, volunteers, teachers, and friends as well as observing the children in their family, school, and PSP settings to see how their behavior changes in each environment. We are specifically looking at the issue of discipline and how it changes behavior so that we can give recommendations to the Pingit volunteers on how to improve the way they discipline and reward the kids.
Last week, we interviewed nine families to see what they thought of their children’s behavior and what they do to change it. We discovered something much deeper than just the answers to our interview questions however. One of the families we spoke with makes four-piece puzzles out of foam to sell. As Tiwi interviewed the parents in Indonesian, they invited me to try putting the pieces together to make a “T.” Although I just had seen their first grade son do this exact task, it still took me a good couple of minutes to complete it as they chuckled at my struggles. At the end of our interview, the family gave me one of the puzzles complete with a key of all the different shapes I could make with my pieces. I was taken aback by this ultimate act of kindness. This family lives in a one-room house with only the absolute basic necessities yet they gave me this puzzle that they could have sold instead. I can’t express my gratitude for the hospitality the families we talked to showed us: always offering us snacks and drinks when we came. Everything we received may have seemed insignificant by American standards yet these powerful moments of kindness are the experiences I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life.
Since our schedule is pretty flexible, my partner Tiwi and I took the day off to see JOG12: a display of contemporary art pieces of Western and Eastern artists examining perceptions of the East, organized by Jacob’s original NGO: IVAA. I was ecstatic to have the chance to see how Indonesian artists are interpreting current events through various mediums. Most of the art we have seen so far has been traditional art so it was refreshing to see pieces in a more modern gallery setting. The pieces ranged from video installation pieces to tattoos on pig skins to more traditional paintings. One of my favorite pieces was a large sculpture in front of the museum featuring an elephant on top of a large pile of coconuts, symbolizing the vast amount of resources Indonesia possesses yet the people are unable to access them due to exploitation by their government. It made me uneasy to see that one of the sponsors of the event was a cigarette company and added a twisted irony to the entire gallery.
The tobacco companies here have incredible amounts of power. Everyone here smokes and there are no regulations as to where you can and can’t smoke. It’s very common to see people smoking indoors and even when we were climbing the slopes of Mt. Lawu, we watched people puff their way up while carrying heavy loads on their back. Most people here smoke clove cigarettes, which are illegal in the U.S. Usually the smell of cigarettes bothers me but the cloves makes them almost pleasing to smell. Indonesia is the second largest exporter of tobacco in the world so Indonesians are encouraged at a young age to start smoking as a sort of nationalist way of supporting their country’s economy. Yesterday we saw three young boys, looking to be about ten, gleefully smoking cigarettes on the side of the road. Cigarettes are also insanely cheap here, each pack only costing about a dollar. If you need money for school, you don’t apply from the government, instead you must send in an application to the cigarette company foundation. It’s intensely disturbing to see how these corporations have so much influence over people here and people seem so unaware of the health risks that go along with smoking.
On Saturday, we visited the biggest tourist attraction in Jogja: the kraton or sultan’s palace. We had been told time and time again that we must go here before we leave or else we wouldn’t have really seen Jogja. We had agreed to meet at 11AM but this soon turned into 12PM as some of us struggled to find taxis from our host families or had to maneuver our ways through the crowds of Malioboro to walk there. After all of us finally arrived, we entered the kraton to great disappointment. I think we were all a little deceived by the name: palace in this case just refers to a really nice, big house museum. All of the descriptions were written in Indonesian, rightfully so, but it seemed as though they had just shoved every thing somehow related to the sultan into a singular place making the whole experience feel pretty meaningless without any sort of background information. We decided to grab lunch, which began our painstaking journey of walking in the unbearable heat and direct sunlight. After what seemed like forever, we figured out there was a café on the top of the batik store that we were planning to go to anyways. After going “ham on some batik” (as Jacob would put it), we made our way back to the art museum for our fellow interns who had yet to see it. Tiwi and I then walked back along Malioboro to return to our home. This whole experience gave me a whole newfound of respect for Muslims practicing Ramadan. I had eaten both breakfast and lunch but had worn long layers and had left my water bottle at home to avoid offending anyone. As we walked back to our house with the time for fast breaking near, I couldn’t help but stare at every stand beginning to prepare food and drinks for the azan to sound, signally the end of fasting. The intense thirst overwhelming my every thought led me to fantasize about chugging the gigantic jars of unidentified traditional Javanese drinks sitting atop the numerous food carts lining the street. I didn’t even fast and I couldn’t imagine going through that every single day for over a month.
I’m pretty lucky in that my host family is Catholic so we can eat at home during the day (though I always feel bad for eating in front of the Muslim housekeepers who work in the house), but stepping outside means no drinking or eating to avoid offending people. I truly admire the determination and self-control that Muslims have during Ramadan. It’s pretty incredible how Indonesia works around Ramadan though. Last Friday, we went to a café for drinks after going to our favorite restaurant Milas. We had only been there for about an hour when the waitress apologetically shooed us out since it was 11 o’clock. While trying to catch taxis home, we watched as store after store closed their doors for the police to avoid attacks by the FPI since Muslims need to wake up at 3 in the morning for Ramadan to eat before sunrise so they must sleep early. It was eerie to watch the normally bustling streets become completely empty in a matter of minutes. For us non-Muslims, it unfortunately means Jogja is lacking in any sort of nightlife, not that it was exactly bustling before. Ramadan has certainly encouraged us to become creative when planning activities so that we are able to fulfill our needs for food and water while respecting our Muslim friends.
After Tiwi and I spent most of Friday frantically trying to make plans for this weekend (planning things becomes extremely difficult when you have no internet access and must use texting instead), everything finally came together on Sunday. Our program coordinators Nissa and Triana helped us to rent a car which picked us all up bright and early to go cave tubing and to the beach. When we reached the tubing place, we slipped into lifejackets and water shoes to walk a short distance to plop into the water on our intertubes. We were led through a dark cave by a guide who pointed out different cave structures such as the phallic shaped “manly rock” said to bring strength to any man who touches it. Although it was a short trip, we had the opportunity to climb a few different rock structures to jump into water. After getting our fill of bats and stalagmites, we loaded back into the car to travel the windy roads to Indrayanti Beach. We were greeted by crystal blue water lapping at the shores of a white sand beach dotted with rainbow umbrellas. The rest of the day was spent exploring cliff sides to discover a spectacular view of the beach from above, graciously taking pictures with random beach-goers eager to forever document the time they saw a group of bules at the beach, and eating an overpriced but nevertheless delicious lunch of seafood.
This past week we have been visiting the formal schools to compare the behavior of our students from PSP to how they act while with their families. We have visited several elementary and junior high schools to interview our students’ teachers and to observe them in class. It’s been pretty incredible to see the differences in regulations as to how we got in the school. In the U.S, you are required to get clearances, a criminal background, and fingerprinted before you can even step foot into a school yet here we just showed up with our supervisor and a letter and we were allowed to interview our students’ teachers and observe them in their classrooms. Talking with the teachers provided a lot of insight. Many of our students are loud and aggressive at PSP yet at formal school they are reserved and rarely speak. It shows how the presence of an authority figure and conformity can influence behavior. Talking to students themselves was also really interesting because children who their parents describe as “naughty”, don’t consider themselves bad and feel like their parents don’t give them enough attention.
Observation in the classroom proved to be challenging. I feel like I wasn’t able to observe anything substantial while visiting the classrooms because my very presence is a complete distraction since most of the children have never seen a bule, especially not a place like their schools. Kids from other classes will run over to peek through the windows to call out the only English most of them know: “Hello mister, what is your name?” (because the pronoun Dia in Indonesian is gender neutral, people tend to use she and he interchangeably which can make conversations very confusing.) All of the students would steal glances. I think this exemplifies the greatest challenge of being a foreigner while doing social science research in another country: who you are as a researcher shapes how people respond to you and therefore the data you collect. If I were here for longer, I could build more rapport with my informants so that the felt more comfortable talking about such sensitive topics of how they raise and discipline their children but I am limited by working with a time frame of only a few weeks. The one classroom where the teacher actually led class was lots of fun to watch though. The first grade students were learning how to count to ten, which I was really excited about since numbers are one of the few things I have down in Indonesian. Whenever the students got distracted and started playing around, the teacher would come by and redirect them without stopping the whole class, which I thought was really effective. The students even included Tiwi and me when they had students stand in front of the class to help them learn to count.
We have also been holding three informal classes at PSP at night on Mondays and Thursdays. I spent all of last semester studying culture and child rearing practices so it has made me notice a lot about the way the youth we work with behave and their role within their families. I saw many similarities from when I was when in Ghana. I’ve seen many older kids walking around with their younger siblings slung around their backs. In many serious meetings that we have had, the children of the people we have talked with have been playing and running around without the parents batting an eye. At the informal classes we have held, the kids run around setting fireworks off while hitting and pushing each other but as Alex pointed out, this is how kids would act at recess in any country. It’s really valuable to let children play and just be kids. The students who tended to behave most similarly in all of their environments were the ones whose parents recognized that kids are kids and their “naughty” behavior is a result of their age. Once we were able to rally the kids together for an activity, they were great so I think with the right amount of structure you can really cut down on the amount of chaos.
The collaborative aspect of our partnership with our Indonesian counterparts has proved to be challenging these past few weeks. Nearly every interview we have conducted so far has been in Indonesian so I’ve been mainly zoning out as my Indonesian is limited to basic conversational skills. People are very confused by us. When we walk down the street together or catch a taxi, we don’t fit into people’s schema of bule and native Indonesian who would normally not be friends. My Indonesian skills have actually gone down since everyone just asks questions to Tiwi instead of attempting to talk with me since people assume she is my guide. No one seems to believe that an American and an Indonesian could have an equal collaboration. Even our supervisor assumed that Tiwi was just there to conduct the research in Indonesian while I did all of the “real work”, bringing to mind images of the corruption of early anthropologists. Tiwi and I do everything together. We both bring different skills and experiences into our research with equal value.
My host dad Mas Ignas took my partner Tiwi and me to the zoo on Friday after our conversation about how much we loved animals. I volunteered at the Oregon Zoo for three years so whenever I go to a new city, I like to go to their zoo to see the different designs and compare it to my zoo. Mas Ignas is a professional wildlife photographer, even taking a photo of a tiger that the Jogja zoo now uses in all of their promotional ads, so he knew many of the commands the trainers use with the animals so that I was able to take some really cool shots. We saw many native Indonesian species: everything from komodo dragons to albino peacocks. It was upsetting to see many of the animals in such small cages, especially the birds. Most zoos in the U.S have several inches of thick glass between you and the animal but the most protection we had was a moat and a chain link fence separating us from many of the animals. This allowed for some close encounters with many of the animals, like when I got to pet an elephant’s trunk and when we saw one of the monkey who had escaped his cage. The zoo had no evidence of supporting any kind conservation and education programs. The focus on making money was highlighted by the numerous types of boats you could pay to ride in a lake that the entire zoo is built around. It’s interesting how something as seemingly trivial as a zoo can reveal so much about geographic and cultural differences: the way the keepers would clean the animals’ exhibits while a crocodile may be sitting only a few feet next to them, the way that construction was happening everywhere around the zoo without any sort of notice so visitors are expected to just navigate around them, and of course the numerous warungs everywhere that surprisingly weren’t overpriced like food at zoos usually is.
On Saturday, Mas Ignas graciously took Tiwi, Laksmi, Alia, Colin, Alex, Elizabeth, and me to the foot of Merapi Mountain to visit a Javanese cultural museum. Before heading to the museum we stopped to take a brief walk up part of the mountain to take some photos and see the remains of the damage done by the eruption in 2010. The Javanese museum was beautiful architecturally with underground caves and buildings dispersed throughout a garden but similar to the kraton, it was somewhat of a disappointment to us bi-co students. A large part of it is our ignorance of Javanese history. We learned some modern Indonesian history but anything before Indonesia’s independence is a complete mystery so we didn’t understand the significance of most of what we saw in the museum. After the museum and a trip to our favorite souvenir shop Mirota Batik, we visited Mas Ignas’s futsal restaurant where we chowed down on nasi goreng and Colin showed off his soccer skills. On Sunday, Elizabeth and I showed Tiwi and fellow PSP intern Glorya the American cultural skill of baking cookies. The oven in our house didn’t actually work so we got creative and used the microwave and a tiny pan to fry the cookies. It made me miss actual cookie dough since we had to improvise from two different recipes and the ingredients tasted differently but the kids certainly appreciated having something sweet to eat.
This past Friday was the marker of two weeks left for us. As I write this, it becomes so easy to lose all sense of place and time as a computer screen creates a space that transcends international borders but then the call to prayer goes off, the motorbikes zoom by, and the becak drivers ding their bells, and suddenly I am back in Indonesia. While I am eagerly looking forward to hunks of cheddar cheese, Indian food, gyros, fresh vegetables, burritos, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, bacon cheeseburgers, and sandwiches (and I guess my friends and family too…), I am desperately clinging on to each moment here as if to make two weeks last a lifetime. As painful as it is, I’ve had to start thinking about getting thank you gifts, writing final letters, and how to say good-bye. I’ve come to love this country, this city, this place, and while it may never truly be home for me, it will always hold a special place in my heart.