Dear loved ones,
I hope all of you are happy and well.† I am settling in nicely in Tuban.† Thereís not very much to do here, so when Iím not teaching or preparing lessons, I spend a lot of my time riding my bike through town, getting to know the neighbors and the kids who play in front of my house and just trying to stay cool.† I guess you could say that I am living the real indonesian life now, for I am no longer a traveler or tourist, but a member of the community, albeit a very special member.† Everyone knows me as Mbak Diana (pronounced Bak Deanna) and sometimes I wonder whether all this attention isnít blowing up my ego to astronomical proportions.
I celebrated my first slametan, the central ritual of Java.† Traditionally, the event celebrates one of the many occasions of life: birth, death, circumcision, marriage, pregnancy, new home, new job, etc and is accompanied by the burning of incense, a long Javanese speech and prayers in Arabic.† However, this slametan was simplified to welcome me to Tuban.† The main purpose of a slametan is to unite the community and celebrate a feeling of equanimity with your friends, family and neighbors.† Also, the incense and the aroma of the food are said to appease the spirits.† Javanese often talk about ďslametĒ which can be defined as emotional stability, in other words not getting caught up in emotions, but rather seeing the cycles of happiness and sadness as part of life.† Slametans promote this feeling and keep everyone safe from harm.† The most important part of the ritual is the food, of course.† There is a large cone or mountain of rice surrounded by banana leafs, each full of a different dish.† Often, each of the foods has a symbolic meaning, but not in this case.† Everyone eats a lot then the leftovers are wrapped in banana leafs and carried home by the guests.† The food was delicious and I truly felt honored and welcome.†††††††††
I have little other news to report as my life is becoming more routine and I have had no new adventures, except to finally start teaching.† Actually, that has been somewhat of an adventure in itself.
To give you an idea of what I am doing, I should first describe the school.† IKIP Tuban is a small teacher training college.† This is the first year the school will be accredited by the government of Indonesia.† The campus is small and simple, but there are an abundance of students.† Faculty and staff alike complain of the school admitting more students than its capacity.† So, all the classes are very crowded.† Most of the students who attend IKIP are unable to attend better schools usually because of financial reasons or because of low scholastic achievement.† But, since the economic crisis of 1998, the school is in need of more funds, so it admits a higher number of students each year.† Right now there are about 1000 students.†
I teach the third semester of English Speaking and Cross Cultural Understanding (CCU) for the English Department.† I have 4 classes per day, each with about 40 students.† I cannot even attempt to remember most of my studentsí names.† They all know me, though and when I am walking from class to class I hear students yelling my name, asking ďHow are you today?Ē laughing and making jokes.† The first day of introductions, the students had a zillion questions for me, asking me practically every detail of my personal life to my education and background to my opinions about Indonesia.† I had dreams of students drilling me all night.† It really forced me to clarify some of my intentions in my own mind.
The students in my classes have various levels of speaking and comprehension ability, none very fluent.† Also, each grade is divided into sections, A-F.† Section A includes the students who have the highest grades while F has the lowest.† So, usually Section A classes go very well and the students are very motivated and willing to participate in discussion.† But, even in an A class, there are a number of students who rely too much on the more advanced students.† Then, thereís the other side of the spectrum, Section F.† To me, they seem deaf and dumb.† Not to mention that Indonesian students are generally not taught to think independently.† They are accustomed to a more traditional classroom where the teacher lectures at them and they take notes and memorize the material.† So, what do I do?† Mostly make an ass of myself trying to get them to be the least bit involved in class.† I wonder what they will do with their lives.† Why are they getting an English teaching degree?† I doubt they will use the language in a job and they definitely will not be able to teach it, but who am I to make judgements?† I also noticed that 90% of them are women and that made me depressed.†††††††
In order to meet these challenges, I have spent a lot of time contemplating the usefulness of English in developing countries.† I have had to spend a great deal more time figuring out ways to make English useful for these students.† I have tried to express to them in the simplest terms how English affects their lives.† For example, a few English-speaking factories and plants have come or are coming to Tuban.† So, what does that mean to the students?† Mostly, it means possible jobs. I am trying to help them look at other possibilities.† Luckily, I have a lot of time to work with them and I hope to make some small contribution to their lives.†
CCU is offered to 7th semester students, again divided into A-F sections.† So, the same situation applies.† The object of this class is to break down cultural stereotypes and to set down our own cultural baggage in order to study another culture objectively.† This goes for the teacher as well and Iím discovering just how much cultural baggage I actually brought with me.† The great part of my job at IKIP is that I am free to create my own lessons about any topic.† So, this semester my students and I are exploring stereotypes, families, work and gender roles, education, civil and human rights, democracy, consensus and individualism and values and ethics.† What I like so much about this class is that the topics are very new to the students.† But, I have to work very hard to teach them.† Role playing seems to work well.
I teach from 7:30 to 10 am and again from 2 to 5 pm.† Everything from 10 to 2 slows to a snailís pace as everyone is suffering from heat exhaustion, or at least I am.† I usually come home, strip down and sit in front of the fan for the majority of my break.
Iím sure you are sick of hearing about my job by now.† But, that is what consumes most of my time and energy at present.† Despite the difficulties, I welcome this opportunity in my life.† I feel most alive when I am working at something I enjoy.† I just hope that my being here is good for the students and that I can keep a positive attitude even when they donít have a clue what Iím talking about.
Life brings about renewal of spirit.† That, more than anything, is what I am feeling now.† From the relaxed moments of the day to the sometimes maddening moments of trying to think of a creative lesson, I am living my life the best way I know how.† In the evenings when everything is still (except the geckos) and I think of home, I can honestly say that I am happy and everything is good just as it is.† It has taken me a long time to get here, as some of you know.† I love all of you and feel that you are with me wherever I go.
Peace and constant renewal,