Monday, February 28, 2005

A Perfect Day

August 20, 2004- originally published in The Flagpole (

The Jakarta Post was waiting outside my door when I stumbled half awake at 6 a.m. to retrieve it. A fresh cup of Javan coffee with gritty bits to chew awakened my senses. Brewed ëcowboy styleí in the local tradition, no filtering, just add water, stir and drink up! Guaranteed to jumpstart your day!

One of the headlines ëGovt to Abolish Departure Taxí. Nice, I thought. Currently any foreigner or local business owner working in the country has to pay US$100 equivalent every time they board a plane to leave the country! Itís insane. Especially since a flight to Malaysia, Singapore and other nearby countries can be bought for about the same price as the exit tax! Seems to me to discourage local small business or foreign workers (such as myself) from setting up shop in Indonesia. In a country where US$10 buys my fruits and vegetables for a week, $100 is a small fortune! Good, I thought. Good for them. It certainly wonít hurt the local economy to encourage small business and a little Indonesian entrepreneurial spirit!

Next thing you know I was at work teaching my science classes. My school is an Old Dutch Colonial house converted into classrooms. My science lab is the old kitchen. I teach from someoneís old bedroom.

Over 90% of my students are Indo- Ω Indonesian and Ω foreign blood (usually Aussie, Dutch or American) as opposed to Indonesian ëfull blooded Indonesianí and many are considered ESL (English as a Second Language). It makes my job challenging. I have to try and teach science and math concepts to students that donít fully understand English to begin with. But hey, math and science are their own private languages anyway and letís face it, thereís a lot of Americans that donít really get the specialized lingo. So I do my best. We do a lot of projects, posters, tactile and hands on learning. My kind of fun.

At a school of 84 students and 6 teachers you pretty much have to do everything. My colleague Simon and I share the Middle School/High School duties. I teach math/science and he is the humanities and literature teacher. Twenty three of those 84 students are ours and range from grades 6-11. What that translates to are multi-age, multi-grade and multi-level classrooms and a lot of prep work. At the moment, weíre also a PE instructor short. So on top of our academic teaching responsibilities, we also give PE a shot in the afternoons. It certainly doesnít make me sad to run around and play Ultimate Frisbee with my enthusiastic acolytes, it just means I donítí get to prepare for lessons during that time, which is what I would normally do. And thus, my daily exhaustion explained.

Being a Friday, I made a B-line to the warung to buy a large Bintang beer to enjoy on my new back porch. Ten thousand rupiah (US$1) will get you a large, near-1 liter local brew which ainít half bad. As I walked home with my hard earned refreshment, I passed a guy sitting on the ground eating bakso from a pushcart vendor. He smiled, showed me his bowl and said ëBaksoí. I replied ëYes, enak (delicious). Saya suka (I like it)í. I had tried bakso before from a recommendation from a friend and after reading about it in the Lonely Planet. Itís a delicacy in these parts. Bakso is essentially a noodle soup with a sausage like meatball, no pork. Pretty good, but one of those foods like hot dogs or Spam that you just donít want to talk about the ingredients. I was struck by his kindness and willingness to speak and share his words. I wondered if I had been a Muslim guy walking down the street in small town Georgia if anyone sitting on the side of the road would have been so kind. Maybe, I donít know. I often wonder these things whenever I am the only bule (white foreigner) in a place and all the locals are being so kind to me. I wonder if the roles were reversed how the situation would play itself out.

Shortly after my exchange of pleasantries with the hungry local, I passed the neighborhood Mosque. Fish tail palms, banana trees, and bird nest ferns flapped in the pleasant afternoon breeze. The sweet ethereal sound of the adzan sung by the imam pervaded the air. His heavenly voiced pierced the atmosphere and sent my thoughts soaring. Caught in one of those moments of quiet reflection and imagination, not exactly all here fully rooted in this planet, my feet moved mechanically forward. My spirit had its own agenda. The sight of the Muslim men donning their white body length baju kokoh and the women with their krudung wrapped neatly around their heads brought me back to Earth. I was thankful to have been enraptured, if only briefly.

I donít consider myself to be particularly religious and certainly not Muslim but I cannot help but treasure moments of peaceful reflection and respite. Those times are what help keep me going when things go insane around me.

Again, I couldnít help but wonder why these people who are supposedly so evil and full of terror would allow me to walk by, the only bule in sight, and not molest or harass me. My Fox news and CNN induced fear have greatly subsided now that I have lived outside the reach of their ever pervasive propaganda driven tentacles for a few years. Again I wonder if I had been a Muslim man walking by a church in a small South Georgia town wearing my identifying costume if I would have passed by so uneventfully. I honestly donít know.

I finally made it to my back porch and popped open my liquid refreshment. I packed my pipe with Dutch tobacco and puffed contemplatively reviewing the dayís events in my mind. My wife and I chatted about decorating our house. A flying lizard glided form the top of my 3 meter fence to a place about 2 meters from the ground on an adjacent epiphyte clad tree. An olive backed flower pecker hung upside down probing for sweet nectar in the depths of a drooping, blaze red heliconia flower. Butterflies flitted about. My Bintang went down all too smoothly. AhhÖ. Isnít it great to be alive in this mad, mad world?

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