Friday, February 25, 2011

Jamu Women of Indonesia

Before coming to Indonesia, I just happened to catch a tv show about the Jamu women of Indonesia. These women practice in traditional herbal medicines and can be easily spotted by the large wooden basket tied on their backs with a sarong. They travel the streets offering elixirs that can cure anything from the common cold, to menstrual cramps, to impotence  - all for the equivalent of about a quarter a cup. They take down their basket of bottles and mix just the right cure for your ailment right there on the street. Take a look at this video that I found on youtube for the exchange in action.

Notice the chicken feet sticking out of the bags

While in Jogja, a small group of us decided to go on a "Jamu tour" to find out more about this tradition that spans the archipelago. We started by crawling into the local transportation: a becek.
Jogja is a good sized city, without all the macet and smog of Jakarta. Instead of the bajai, most people get around by these pedal-powered carts.

So, there we were. Cruising down the streets of Jogja in our eco-friendly transportation...right next to cars and trucks of all shapes and sizes. Hey, these guys know what they're doing...right? We headed to the local market to find a woman who sells herbs and roots specifically for jamu mixtures. She's I guess what you would call a jamu wholesaler. She sat surrounded by every root and leaf imaginable while our guide explained and let us sample them all. Some were familiar (cinnamon, etc), and some were completely new.

I picked out an herbal face wash and body scrub for about a dollar total. Let's see if it gives St. Ives a run for its money.

Next, we climbed back into our beceks and headed to a massage house that is run entirely by the blind. Here I had the most wonderful massage of my entire life for about $2.50. All this without being able to sustain any sort of real communication with my masseuse. It was, as my friend Noreen would say, "Amaz-balls."

 Then our beceks took us to the home of a retired jamu woman. First, our adorable tour guide showed us how to make a face mask from sticky rice and cinnamon. I tried my hand at grinding the rice with the mortar and pestle. It's harder than it looks!

Next up, the jamu woman pounded, squished, rolled, and squeezed three different ingredients into submission.The main ingredient was turmeric, which gives the drink its yellowish-orange color. She also added a sour vegetable called, "asam" and some palm sugar to make the whole mixture a bit more palatable.

Once mixed together, strained, and poured into glasses, this elixir is meant to relieve menstrual cramps. Since not one of the five of us was experiencing this particular affliction at the time, we were unfortunately unable to test its effectiveness. I have to say, that despite our tour guide's stories of Indonesian parents threatening to make their children drink jamu when they're being bad, it wasn't half-bad. Bottoms up!

The tour ended with an unexpected street-corner talk with our tour guide about the "sexy" jamus. What? It is exactly what you think...or maybe not. There were some things in this little plastic box that have never crossed my ears or eyes before. They certainly unearthed a new aspect of Indonesian culture that would make me blush just blogging if you're that curious, you're just going to have to ask Mr. Google (or read from Michaela's blog...because she did all the work for you already.)

Picture courtesy of Julianne
Again, a great shot from Jules!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Almost the Seventh Wonder

Last week I was able to take a spontaneous weekend trip to go see friends and fellow fellows Julianne and Michaela in Jogjakarta, Central Java. Jogja (really spelled "Yogjakarta"), was evacuated during Mt. Merapi's eruption back in November - stranding Julianne in Jakarta for three weeks. Merapi has since settled down, and the local population is picking itself up and dusting itself off...literally. They are still cleaning up mounds of ash that devastated their villages (see below), but life seems to be getting back to normal, and the three of us set out to explore all that Jogja had to offer. It didn't disappoint.
Volcanic ash from Merapi
Notice the collapsed roofs and palms that were crushed under the weight of the ash
There are two World Heritage sites just outside of Jogja. The first is a Buddhist temple called "Borobudor." Most in Indonesia argue that this should be one of the Seven Wonders of the World and for good reason. This massive temple depicts Buddha's ascent to heaven with its ten levels - each telling stories of Buddha's life in their intricate stone carvings. The thing took 200 years to complete, and the workers actually had to stop working on it because the sheer weight of the volcanic-stones were making the entire structure collapse and sink into the ground. 

The top three layers contained these "bells." Each one contains a statue of Buddha in a different pose. The bells were filled with ash when Merapi erupted, so they must be taken apart stone-by-stone to clean them out. The temple has been rebuilt several times, in fact, because of the numerous earthquakes and eruptions that hit the area. Our tour guide explained that they are only allowed to reconstruct if they have at least 70% of the original stones.

All original carvings 
Next stop was an equally amazing World Heritage site; this time it was a Hindu temple called Prambanan. Each of these structures was devoted to either a god or their transportation system (bull, swan, and eagle). The biggest temple in the center was for Siva, the Destroy of the World. (Eeeee). Once inside, you could see the original stone statues of the gods or their animals in the cool shadows. Only priests (and camera-wielding tourists) can enter these temples to worship and collect holy water which they would pour on the statues of the gods and collect as it ran off. 

Photo courtesy of Jules. Michaela chillin' with the Destroyer of the World's personal bull.
One of the gods...of the non-destroying variety
Couldn't get enough of these stone carvings...
Just another amazing day in Indonesia. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On Kupang

In all the excitement about English camp, I didn't have a chance to talk about the city of Kupang. It is a small, sleepy city, but it is blog-worthy for a few reasons.

The first reason is pictured above: Pasar Malam, or night market. The ETAs stationed in the city suggested this as our Saturday night dining option. It is one long street lined on both sides with food vendors. On first arrival, I immediately felt like I was transported back to my hometown's yearly street fair. There were a few noticeable differences, though. A) There were no carnies or over-sized, purple teddy bears. B). The dining options were displayed in front of each vendor on ice. Kupang is settled on the beach, so it's big on seafood fare. Mia (ETA) and I went to one such vendor and picked out the best looking fish we could find (Umm...the red one? Good thing Mia was an old pro at this by now). The fish was delicious, though I lost my appetite (and ability to look at Mia's pearl earrings without retching) after Jonthon dug the eye out of Mia's fish and ate it.
Then there was the popular public transportation option called the bemo. Bemos are small buses with benches on both sides and no door, so passengers can hop on and off with ease. Mini-buses are actually found all over Indonesia, but bemos are...unique. They are so unique that they are mentioned in Lonely Planet as a bass-thumping, decal-covered, must-experience wonders. Indeed, they are pimped out with flashing lights, deafening bass systems, and so many stickers that you can't see in or out. So, naturally, we had to try one. For about ten cents each, Jonthon, Victor, and I squeezed into a bemo. The slightly embarrassing/hilarious part was that since we are all about two to one on a size ratio with your average Asian, four or five school kids gave up their seats and hung out the door so the bules could have a seat. And then...more piled in. What?!?! There were folks sitting on top of folks and touching in ways that would be a living hell for anyone with a 'personal space' issue.We just thought it was really, really funny.

The third and final stand-out point of Kupang is that it is one of the few pockets of Christianity found in Indonesia. The archipelago is the fourth largest Muslim nation in the world, but there are some very large sectors where missionaries came in and spread Christianity. We saw only one mosque and very few hijabs (head scarves), but we did see lot's of this:

Many of the bemos had similar Christian art, and you couldn't walk my too many shops without hearing praise music (in Indonesian, but it turns out Christian praise music sounds just about the same everywhere). The best part for me was on Sunday morning when Jonthon and I were taking ojeks into town to meet with Victor and Mia to prepare for camp. Families, dressed in their Sunday best with Bibles in hand, were strolling to church. There are churches in Jakarta; I've been to a few, but this was different. A feeling of joy and comfort flowed over me as I watched the familiar procession. I know it sounds hokey, but it really affected me. It was almost a sense of being home...I knew this. Just watching them, I felt like I fit in more than I had in the last five months.

So, between street fairs, vehicles breaking local sound ordinances, and Sunday morning church, Kupang is closer to home than any place I've been in Indonesia so far. Nice.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What a Wonderful World....

Put one more tack on the map (or torn up post-it in my case since I can't damage the walls in my fancy-pants apartment...but I digress). Last week, I traveled with fellow ELF, Jonthon, to the city of Kupang in West Timor. This trip was simultaneously the furthest East and the most rural part of Indonesia I had been to. We were there to conduct a three-day English camp and teacher training for some high schools in and around the city. 
What a better way to open up this trip than by actually visiting a high school. Lucky for us, there are two Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs Victor and Mia) teaching in high schools in the area. On the first day we decided to go check out Victor's school. After a very long and uncomfortable ojek ride - we got lost and had to stop to renegotiate the price several times (well, Jonthon did this as his bahasa is far superior to mine)- we finally arrived at the opening of a dirt road which would eventually lead us to Victor's school. We met Victor and walked down the dirt road to his school. 

Victor's school had about eight classrooms, two of which were located in this pole barn with a tin roof...It rains in Kupang... a lot.                         Victor, being the stuff that Fulbrights are made of, takes it all in stride. Despite that he can't hear himself think, let alone talk, in this tin shack, he makes it work.
Rain aside, Victor is up against teaching English to students who have no reason to believe that they will actually ever use English. These students have never left their island, and since Kupang is not the tourism capital of Indonesia (we were the only bules around for miles), learning English rates pretty low on their priority list. Still, with no motivation, photocopied books (if they're lucky), upwards of forty kids per class, and spotty electricity, we witnessed those kids having fun learning English. We even got in on the action by leading teams in a Scattegories competition. It may have been the novelty of having some bules in the class (it's a good bet that we were the first white people these kids had ever seen - seriously), but I'll take it.

After our visit, it was time to get to work. We arrive at our camp site and met the twenty-seven high school students who would be with us over the next three days. These kids came from slightly better schools and had slightly better English. The building didn't have a tin roof (it didn't have windows or doors either, but let's not be choosey beggars), so that looked promising. We spent our first three hours together getting to know the students and their English levels through some fun games. Jonthon learned very early that one of the students was a pretty fantastic beat boxer. And, since Victor was also a closet break dancer, this was bound to happen:

After this random display of awesomeness kicked off the day, the camp counselor in me came out, and we had the kids doing Hokey Pokey challenges, miming, human knots, Simon Says, and the like. There wasn't a lot of sitting. But, there was a lot of English. The most fulfilling part for both us and the kids was their final project. On the first day, we had the kids listen to and analyze Louis Armstrong's Wonderful World (special thanks to Megan and Jolie). We let the kids listen to the song a few times and write down what Louis saw (I see trees of roses, too). Despite the clear generational difference, the kids really got into Louis and were singing along by the third playing. On the second day, they had to write ten things that they saw in Indonesia, present or future, good or bad. On the last day, we asked them to write their own song (Wonderful Indonesia) using the ten items they'd written and a template of the song we created together by figuring out the stanzas and syllables in each line. In the first two stanzas, they wrote the bad things, and Jonthon changed the chorus to "And I think to can I help this world?" The last two stanzas were all the wonderful things they see. They nailed it.

Those kids held their lyrics like they were the best prize in the world. They wrote an entire song in English. Damn fine songs, too. When it was time to go, there were pictures and tears. It was an experience that none of us will ever forget. I even received this email from Gusti, one of the students, a few days after returning to Jakarta:

hi Jackie...!
I miss you guys...!!
I'm crying right know...this my unforgetable experience!

thank you,,for teaching us english...!

I hope you can give me your facebook name,,so ican add you to be my friend...!
that's will be great..!
bye. :)

And that is why I'm a teacher.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Native Speaker

The new sign for my office. I feel cheapened somehow. But, can't help but chuckle.
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