I wrote these posts throughout the week – so here’s the day-by-day account of my first week in Palangkaraya!
Departing from our hotel was a bittersweet affair. I was thrilled to be headed to Palangkaraya and to finally see this place that I’ve been thinking about for months. But I also was sad (and freaked out) to say goodbye to Rizqi and the other AMINEF staff. They are our lifeline. And now I’m on another island, in the middle of a rainforest, completely overwhelmed, and all by myself.
A few hours after leaving the hotel, we were off to Palangkaraya. Now in my mind, who the hell is going there? Most Indonesians don’t even go to Kalimantan, let alone smack in the middle of the massive island. Carlie and I were definitely the only bule (foreigners/Caucasians) on the flight. And this was the first time I felt like I was actually getting stared at. I was conscious of every move on the plane.
An hour and a half later, we began the descent into Palangkaraya. Descending through the clouds, I could see the rainforest below. Then as we got lower, it felt like we were going through clouds again… but this time it was smoke. And the lower we got the more I realized I am way the heck out here. Like holy shit I am OUT HERE. It was dark from the smoke and that was only accentuated when we got out of the plane. You could tell instantly. It was hot, smoky, and humid. Ugh. But we made our way off the plane, onto the empty tarmac, and into the tiny airport. Our teachers were there waiting for us and it was a joy to finally meet them!
We got our bags then I went outside and met the rest of the teachers. A group of nine had come to pick me up and they were so excited. A few speak pretty good English and they peppered me with questions, so random that I can’t even remember what they asked. “Do you like spicy food?” “You’ve been to Indonesia before, yeah?” “What’s your favorite sports?” “Are you Christian?”
My co-teachers and some of the administrative staff who came to pick me up at the airport!
We drove towards town and it became a little more of a city. It’s semi-populated and there are a few nice looking places. We stopped at a KFC for dinner. We ate fried chicken, rice, and some mashed potato ball-looking thing. Oh, and we ate with our hands… 😛
We took off again to the school and ten minutes or so later we arrived. We drove into the back and pulled up outside my house! It’s huge!!! I have a four bedroom, two bathroom house all to myself!
I have a Western toilet and a squat toilet. Currently I’ve used the squat toilet twice because the Western toilet is covered with ants. When we arrived, the teachers all began going around making sure all the lights worked, making my bed, making sure all was well… it was so sweet.
Then they all left and I begin to settle in. I unpacked a few things and then discovered thousands of ants everywhere. In certain corners, they are literally everywhere. I panicked but then realized for the most part they aren’t moving. So I began unpacking the essential things and I’ll unpack more once I get this ant situation under control.
Also, I have no toilet paper. I must remedy that tomorrow.
I needed to use the restroom again so since the Western toilet was still covered in ants I decided to use the squat toilet again. But coming back I discovered a massive cockroach crawling on my stuff. HOLY SHIT THAT’S SO NOT COOL. I ran into my room and shut the door. When I peeked out a little later it was gone. God help me. Why am I living alone? I put a pillow under the doorframe and hope that keeps him out. Ughhhhh.
Now it’s time for bed. Except I’m hungry. But my food is in the kitchen and I’d have to pass the cockroach. Not doing that.
I tossed and turned all night because the AC was so good that I was freezing. And I was terrified of Mr. Cocky the Cockroach. And here I was thinking I’m in the hot, humid jungle so have no warm clothes! Luckily I remembered at about 3am that I have a sweatshirt so I threw that on. Thankfully. I later realized that I can turn the temperature on the AC up, so it’s not nearly as cold at night. Cha-ching.
At five thirty I hear the chanting begin. It sounds like the students are right outside my house and so I crawl out of bed and carefully open my bedroom door, scanning for evil Cocky. No sign of him so I creep over to the window and sure enough, about a hundred students are lined up outside my house chanting and doing military exercises. Emily (the previous ETA here) wasn’t kidding…
Suddenly, I hear knocking on my front door. Shit. It’s 5:30 in the morning! No one is supposed to get me until 9am! I wait until I hear a second knock then run to the door. Then realize I locked it and the key is in my bedroom. I race back to my room, grab the key and open the door to two smiling, cheery girls.
“Hello!” I reply.
“Ibu Tisia told us to take you to breakfast!”
“Um… Okay! Can you give me 5 minutes to get ready?”
I run back inside and frantically try and find something appropriate to wear. Yesterday, at the security briefing, Rizqi told us all about our individual schools and said to me, “you should be very conservative. High neck, sleeves…” Everything is still deep in my suitcase but I see the shirt Suzy gave me. It’s kind of batik printed and has a high neck but short sleeves. Oh well, that has to do. I throw the shirt on with my dirty black skirt that I wore for 36 hours on the plane, throw my contacts in, use the squat toilet and go back to the door where the girls are waiting for me.
I walk out and they say, “Miss, you are so beautiful!” “Miss, you are so tall!”
“What is your name?”
“Miss Mackenzie. And yours?”
“You are so tall. The other native speaker was like, chubby and short” (I don’t know where they got this from. She seemed tall and lanky to me haha).
“Where are you from?”
“SEATTLE? I just went to Seattle!”
We chat about their recent trip to Seattle as we walk towards the cafeteria. Nine now 12th grade students got to go do an exchange program at North Seattle University (which, coincidently is about 15 minutes from my house) for two weeks this summer. It was so fun to hear about the things they did in Seattle – such a coincidence!
At the dining hall, there is a line of students chanting and marching inside. We cross through the grass and weave through students until we find a woman scooping meat onto bowls. Olive and Nadya find me a plate and get me food. Then we go into one of the dining rooms and they point me to my seat. They fill my plate with rice. Another student grabs me water. And we eat.
I ask their names. We talk a little but it is mostly quiet in the cafeteria. A few minutes later one of the older students goes to the front of the room and makes a speech. Students clap. Then everyone gets up to clear their plates. I follow suit and Olive and Nadya take my half eaten plate from me and go to wash it. A few boys introduce themselves to me. One is Simon, the boy who won the WORDS competition last year – more on that later.
Then they ask if I want to go to school with them or go back home. Going home to regroup sounds quite nice so they escort me there and here I sit, waiting for Ibu Tisia and whatever is next for today.
The area around my house suddenly comes alive with the sound of chanting, and shortly after, laughter. It’s lunchtime.
It’s been a quiet morning but now, the students are returning from their classes and its time for lunch. The school campus reminds me of how my college was designed. All the academic buildings are together surrounding a big field and off to the side, is the dormitory area. There are two large dorms for the boys and two for the girls. In the middle is a cafeteria with three large rooms. And to the side but between the dorms is my house, along with the houses of two other teachers and their families.
The asrama (dorm area) was alive with the sound of children at 5:30 this morning but after school began around 7am it’s been dead quiet. But suddenly, at 1:40pm, the children came marching back (literally) and once they got to the cafeteria, the chanting and marching turned to laughter and games. I was glad to see the students back. It can be lonely in my house and I’m not sure what the routine is yet. But seeing the students around me made me smile and know that pretty soon, I’ll feel comfortable joining them.
It’s the end of my second full day in Palangkaraya. I just came home from my first dinner with my students and gosh, I feel so full of joy, love, and excitement.
That’s not to say this isn’t easy. I’ve spent the majority of my last two days killing ants, sweating profusely, inhaling excessive amounts of smoke, getting bit my mosquitos, and wondering what I am supposed to do next. This morning I woke up at 5:20, wanting to be dressed and ready if the students knock on my door again. Blinking awake, I could hardly see across my room. The bright blue shower-curtain-like curtains looked extremely hazy and the light filtering in behind them was filled with particles.
I got up and opened my bedroom door to a mouthful of smog. This room is even worse than my bedroom. But my students might me coming so I fly around, eyes watering trying to get ready. My students don’t come until later, around 6am, but in the meantime I’d decided to try out the oatmeal I bought at the store last night. After I politely decline my students’ invitation, and tell them I will see them at school later, I stumble back into my room and fall on my bed in exhaustion and blinded. With the students gone, I realize I could go back to sleep… I close my eyes, but my eyes are still stinging and watering from the smog. Eventually, I get up and go to take my contacts out. That’s when I realize the purpose of the fan that’s been sitting in the corner… I quickly turn it on and blow the smog out of the room. My house is open to the air – between the top of the windows and the ceiling is open air with wood slats every few inches… so once I get the air moving, the smog slowly clears.
I crawl back in bed and sleep comes instantly.
But back to the good! My students are finding me on facebook and although I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing (I decided not to make a second facebook account for my students… I just didn’t want to deal with that – I later ended up making a second account :P), it’s an easy way to communicate with them. While living on campus is a bit odd, it makes socializing with my students very easy. Their dorm is literally about 50 yards away and they have offered multiple times to help me with anything. The other good thing about living on campus is that I have three free meals offered to me every day so I don’t have to worry about not having dinner plans with another teacher or not having any food to cook with.
I message one of the students and ask if I can join them for dinner and a few hours later, three girls are enthusiastically calling out, “Miss! Miss!” at my door. I grab my fork and spoon and run outside to meet them and they excitedly bring me to the front of their dorm where the other students are waiting to be called to dinner. Some are lined up in military rows, others are lazing about. We laugh and ask questions of each other and I can absolutely see my purpose here. I am the native speaker that they don’t have access to. They can learn grammar and vocabulary all they want but knowing how to pronounce words, and having the confidence to speak English only comes with speaking with a native speaker.
It’s my third time eating in the cafeteria, and by now I know what to expect. We go to the middle building to get our plate with a small piece of chicken on it, then we go to one of the dining halls where there are large pots of rice, which we add to our plate. We sit and wait for one of the older students to say something and then we eat. Only a few minutes later, the head student is back, commands something again and everyone is up and clearing their plates. Extra food is scooped into a bucket, plates and cups are stacked in a large container, and forks and spoons are washed briefly then carried back to the dorm.
One of the girls walks me the short distance back to my house and when we get there, I tell her “wait!” and run inside. I grab a tootsie roll from my stash in the fridge and bring it to her outside saying, “Oleh Oleh for you! Now go study hard!”
She smiles huge and gives me a big hug. Then she runs off to her dorm to study and I go inside, close my curtains, put my spoon and fork away, and crawl in my bed feeling quite happy and loved.