Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July 8, 2008

Sarah and I got some words of wisdom from a former co-worker at EF Makassar. He sent a critique of this blog regarding entries from the past year or so. He took exception to some of them, claiming they were unfair. At first we bristled, of course. The words seemed harsh. But when we thought about his comments with a fresh state of mind, his words changed our outlook on the world forever.

He said Sarah and I were very judgmental people and our only friends were white people, and that we only hung out with rich people. He said we wasted our chance to see the world’s fourth largest country and experience it first-hand. We locked ourselves away in our apartment, hidden from true Indonesian culture. Sarah and I have talked about our co-worker’s direction over the past day or so. We have seen our faults and are asking forgiveness.

No. Not really.

This person, Dave, couldn’t keep my attention past the first few paragraphs of his six-page alcohol-fueled diatribe. Seriously. Maybe that’s why so many students dislike him. On top of incredible B.O. and calling students “idiots,” he’s a rambling bore. (You should’ve heard his painful play-by-play of each lesson in the teachers’ room. Every other word was “bloody” and then half the rest were only slurred, incomprehensible jibber-jabber.) It’s hard to think of him or Simon (our former “director”) as anything more than cartoon characters by this point.

Most of you know about Dave. Remember? The lovable old coot that orders whiskey by the case to support his almost bottle-a-day addiction. What Dave didn’t, and apparently still doesn’t, understand is that Sarah and I didn’t mind Indonesia for the most part – it was the white people that were so bad. (Don’t get me wrong. Makassar is a challenging place to live – there are even locals who wouldn’t disagree with this.) Seems Dave got confused again. He apparently thought this blog was a BBC report on the status of Indonesia and not just personal raw thoughts and frustrations for friends and family to read.

Anyway, enough of that. That’s not what I set out to write. (Once again Dave and Simon have derailed my concentration with their nonsense.) Here’s an entry we’ve been putting together for a while now. It’s about some of our favorite people and moments in Indonesia.

After Sarah was fired from EF Makassar, we went on a trip to Yogyakarta, Central Java. There we visited nearby Prambanan and Borobudur – two 9th century temples, the former Hindu and the latter Buddhist. At Prambanan, we were approached by a group of young English students who wanted to practice their conversation skills. Sarah and I obliged. They were such a delightful group we spent the whole day with them. They explained Hinduism (better than I’ve ever had it explained before, of course) and they drove us on their motorbikes to some out-of-the-way temples and graves. They expected nothing in return.

The crew at our favorite coffee shop, J.Co (an Indonesian chain that’s doing much better than Starbucks, it appears), was always a bright spot in our day… especially before having to go to EF. They were very hard working and always smiled and greeted us by name. They knew our orders and sometimes would bring our coffee out to us so we didn’t have to get out of our seats. This was one of the places Sarah and I, as well as our good friends Sandra and Ginger, kept each other sane and planned our lives beyond Makassar. J.Co made me a fresh press pot of Sumatra coffee everyday I showed up. It’s the best coffee I found on Sulawesi – with the exception of the coffee I had in Toraja.

Speaking of… Doud, our guide up in the remote area of Toraja, was one of our favorite people we met in Indonesia. Knowledgeable, humorous and humble, he filled our heads with so much new information we had to lie down after our daily tours. He helped us see rituals and death in a new way. He’s a truly remarkable man.

We had our favorite becak drivers along our walk to school too. (Becaks are those tricycle taxis.) They shook our hands and greeted us each day. “Hello, chickadee!” was their favorite salutation. They also taught us a bit of the local Makassar dialect and loved to hear us repeat it. They laughed and laughed. Sometimes we gave them J.Co doughnuts. They loved that too.

During a visit in Jakarta on our way to Poland, we had the pleasure of meeting John McGlynn who is one of the founders of Lontar Press. Lontar is a non-profit whose mission it is to translate Indonesian authors into English. Without Lontar I would not have been introduced to a genuine and complex perspective of Indonesia. We spent an afternoon with John and talked about various authors, translation, art and future plans. His home was decorated with beautiful art of mostly Javanese contemporary painters and sculptors. People like John make the world a better place. All he contributed to me – the day we spent together, his friend Karin he introduced us to in Makassar, our email exchanges, and his work – helped me begin to understand Indonesian culture.

There are many students we miss as well. One of them – who I never actually had as a student but was one of Sarah’s – is named Onsi. I met with Onsi a couple of times to help with an essay he wanted to enter into a contest. Here is a nice email he sent to us almost two months after we had left EF. We actually received it while in Poland.

“hallo Peter, do you still remember me? i am onsi, former of sarah's student at EF in Makassar. i just know that you and Sarah have got out from EF. i really dispointed because i think you are a good teacher. may i know what is problem ? do you have any plan to comeback to Indonesia. if you want to come here, don't forget to contact me, brother. you can send me information by email. thank you.”

And another we received while in Hong Kong…
“peter, thank you very much for your email. i really happy to received your information. ok, if you have any time, do not forget to travel to indonesia and tell me please. Give some greetings for sarah and there are some greetings from students of EF and also Mr, Rod. maybe one time i might go to usa. good luck for you.”

Mr. Rod. Although many of our colleagues were drunk and unprofessional, Rod was one of the good ones. He began his contract one month after we did and suffered from similar maltreatment by coworkers. We spent a memorable day in immigration hearing his stories of life in Africa. His positive perspective and boundless energy provided us with much needed support. After our fateful departure, Rod was the one who collected our left belongings and offered to provide reference information if needed. We feel fortunate to have met him while living in Makassar.

And, although this blog is already quite long, I can’t help but pause to mention the non-EF expats who were our lifelines -- Sandra and Ellen, Ginger and Ernest. These individuals helped us maintain some semblance of normalcy when everything else was crazy. We have wonderful memories of shared meals and stories.

Though we had our rough times adjusting to an infinitely different culture and had to deal with easily the lowest, most unethical employers and co-workers we’ve ever had, Sarah and I do not regret for one moment our time in Makassar. It was incredible. Sure, hindsight’s 20/20. There are things we’d do differently. There are some things I wished we had done, but did not. That’s always true. But for it being our first time living overseas, I think we did pretty well considering we had little direction and support from expats who had lived there longer. And no one can convince me that we did not experience Indonesia as much as we should have, or that we lived just like we did in America. That almost makes me laugh out loud it’s so ridiculous. We are different and better and stronger people for this past year.

Well, I must be off now. I think I’ll start on a new bottle of liquor, wake up addled and impaired, and then dole out condescending advice to people who shower more than I do and who I never took the time to get to know. Cheers!

See you all soon.