The False Imperative

The pebbles were round and smooth. Collected one on another as if they all agreed, there was no other place they’d rather be. The only thing they might ask of life is each other. That’s all they need.

Having internet connectivity is nice and I don’t care to devote the time it would take to fully explain how much easier having my iPhone has made my experience. When I sat outside to write this, I almost put in my earphones again. The pig squealing, motos crossing, and random horns have ruined several a guitar practice, reading, pivotal movie scene, and conversation. It’s obnoxious. But, when I put the earphones in to replace it with an artificial soundtrack, I trade in some of the gift also. I’ve done it several times and promise to do it again. It’s useful fiction. Float down a river long enough though and it feels less necessary. The trades that we make all the time seem so superfluous.

Those smoothe, round rocks got me wondering. How much do I really need? What do I really want from these transactions? As the current pulled at the anchored raft I heard, life. I saw the gigantic peeking palms say, life. I felt the pebbles beneath my feet say, life. I want life on the other end. The toughest part of the journey has not been the illness, natural disasters, or a lack of common creature comforts habituated from home. The toughest part was the communication difficulty. The challenge of sharing. Being denied free and undisputed access to the life on the other end.

Almost anything can be normalized and accepted. I’ve heard several definitions for civilization. Some of my students think their country is on it’s way to modern civilzation. They know what it looks like now. They’ve tasted it in their soup and civil products have reached their shelves. They can have what they can have now, almost. Moving down that river, witnessing the gifts it bestowed kept nudging me. I’d seen ducks before. I’d seen palms, and rivers, and buffalo, and sedimentary cliffsides, and yeah I get it; nature is gorgeous. We floated further down and had lunch. The pause pointed to how happy and fortunate I was to be able to experience this with friends. It kept poking.

After taking humanities in college, I came away with four personal postulates. One, Impressionism over Baroque. Above my bed is a large print of Impression Sunrise. I love it and it speaks to me. It says, “thoughtful yet not thought-full”. I do not understand everything I saw on that river. I don’t want responsibility for that many pages or that much ink. We came to a waterfall. I stood there a moment. Water was running, falling. Sheer trickling over green, brown and into light blue. I pulled out my iPhone and took a picture. I put it away.

Sometimes I miss home. I miss the people. I miss the places. I miss the comforts. Odds are when I go back home I’ll miss here too. I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss the places. I’ll miss the comforts. But, I’ll leave. And when I do I’ll take with a few new personal postulates with me. One, I do not need a vast majority of the stuff I have. Two, I do not need a vast majority of the stuff I want. Three, “civilization” will try to convince me otherwise. Politely rebel. Four, remember what I really want and what I really need is life on the other end. Everything else is negotiable.


Photos of late

Apologies for not posting very much in recent history. Life has settled a bit more and am far more focussed on the potential legacy of my time here. I have a few things I’m working on. One is a learn by teaching English Sunday School program just up the road from the school. It think it will provide a lasting and beneficial community service component as well as provide students the opportunity to approach English language instruction from
the other side. Along with that, I’m helping to develop a debate team. we have had two meetings thus far. I think we have a good group. It’s important to note that both these ventures could not be nearly as progressed were it not for the direct involvement of my team teacher. We have been partners in these works.
I’ve added some more recent pictures. The picture with students holding candles comes from an English worship service which happens 1-2 a month. Each class sponsors at least one over the course of a semester. I’m having an incredible time overall and look forward to the lessons ahead. Apologizes again for the slow update cycle.

No Word

In the last period, my co-operating team  teacher didn’t show. She was there earlier but left before the last class. As policy dictates, I cancelled the class but not before looking for a potential replacement and giving an assignment. I was perturbed by the fact that she gave me no word that she would be absent for class. Even with other responsibilities, I hoped for more. Failing to find a replacement, I decided the students need not suffer the brunt of her absence. I gave them a writing assignment due the following week. This would be the second week in a row such an adjustment would have to be made.  I decided to be more deliberate this time and so determined stricter grounds for completion of the assignment, which included escorting students to the desk where the precisely-folded paper should be placed. On the way back to the classroom with the final group, I said, “ok, let’s go pray.” It was a moment. The four words felt so odd yet so gratifying. Contextually it’s quite appropriate as it is customary at this Christian boarding  school to close the last class of the day with a prayer. It felt incredibly obvious and novel all at once. I must have smiled outside because I know there was a smile inside. The smartly appointed student body president rendered the vows as we all bowed in sacred submission.


From school to school, island to island, public to private, I have seen uniforms. They almost invariably consist of a white dress shirt with sleeve and chest patches dictating the local school, national public school, and community crests. There are also simple, unadorned slacks and a matching necktie. The students at each of the three schools release the top button of their shirts and relax their ties with an urban hipster’s touch. A student here, Ray Ray, just won the student body presidency two nights ago. Yesterday I taught his class and noticed something different. His top button was fastened revealing a sharply pointed collar. The tie was still to a hipster’s liking but the shirt, the shirt said something else. I’m not sure how I feel about the look but I know how I feel about the message. Bagus Ray Ray, Bagus

There’s nothing quite so universal for me as the joy of stepping into a classroom to teach. This last month has been a journey with ramifications to be surrendered with time and reflection. Immediately following the end of the orientation phase of this grant, I moved to Padang on the island of Sumatra. Padang is considered the food capital of Indonesia and with its keen location on the western coast of lush Sumatra, there is no shortage of culinary resources. The people are kind but have a certain edge that is hard to explain. I think it’s an adaption to the fact the people come and go, some for leisure and others for exploit, as they remain having lived through the truth or visage of it together. They are conservative, but no Saudi Arabia. The youth in Padang, much like the youth in other parts of Indonesia (re: world) have embraced Western and European pop cultural influences and infused it into their present. It reminds of Orangeburg in a way. I was happy to make my home there and had begun settling in earnest. Relationships with students, faculty, and environment were in the works. Then the earth shook and it was as if someone mistakenly pushed “STOP” instead of “Pause” on a DVD player. Everything changed. If you’ve never been in an earthquake it may be hard to appreciate how jarring it can be to witness the most consistently stable thing in your life become unbalanced. The earth move under my feet. It moved buildings, streets, and life itself. Two students from my school lost their lives. Two small children who happened to be at/near the school were killed and countless others have died or are yet to be discovered. Please keep them and their loved ones in your thoughts, prayers if you got ‘em. I was fortunate to survive with no physical injuries. The next night I caught a red eye to Jakarta on the island of Java and sustained 1st degree burns from a hotel shower. Really. I was relocated temporarily to a town outside of Bogor to assist another ETA (English Teaching Assistant) while another site was prepared for me. His situation was far different from mine. We were living in the dormitory of a wealthy Islamic boarding school. The campus was very nice. They had smart boards, air conditioned classrooms, an Olympic swimming pool, covered basketball court, and countless other amenities. It was “nice”. The downside, he had far less freedom then I did in Padang. At times I remember it feeling like a beautiful prison. The gossip machine and politics of the place was simply “off the chain and down the street already”. That whole Churchill thing about lies and pants comes to mind. It was a firm reminder of pros and cons. Though I was scheduled to be there for two weeks, the relocation call came at the end of the first week. I was touched and surprised at some of the people sad to see me go. As is my tradition I donated books to the school library, Song of Solomon and Kite Runner. I thanked them for their hospitality and was off to Makassar, Sulawesi early that morning. After spending some time with the ETAs stationed there, I bought some last minute materials, met my new Indonesian counterparts, and we struck out on the 13 hour journey (8 hour drive) into the mountains for Tana Toraja. The last four hours of winding road nearly made me throw up. Four hours of winding!
We arrived around 1 am at the hotel that is to be my home for the remaining 7 months of this grant period. I’m happy to have one. The English level of the land ladies demands that I learn Bahasa Indonesia. Our neighbors seem kind and genuinely curious about the foreigner next door. Plus, the kids have personality.
As I sit in the outdoor meeting room of this hotel writing, the reason for recording this comes to mind. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. This experience has challenged me to keep faith in God’s plan. Perhaps as a reward, God has granted insight into the fact that I am indeed supposed to be here. Evidence:

1. I have only seen my guiding constellation one other time faintly in the night sky over Bandung. It always helps me feel accepted and watched over. It reminds me that no matter where I stand, I am always under the same sky/God. I can see it clearly right outside of my room door.

2. Since the summer of 2000, when I first witnessed it, mute lightning storms have always made me feel safe. On the night that I arrived, there was a bright one in the skies above.

3. The school color is Orange

4. The most highly regarded symbol of the city/region is the buffalo. My zodiac sign is Taurus.

I merely noticed these things in succession and chuckled to myself. I think God understood the question I was asking myself. He answered in his own time and I appreciate Him so much for the experience and the opportunity I have. I wanted to share that. I pray you are aware of the ways that LIFE is answering your questions.

Scenes and Tana Toraja

I’ve been here for about two weeks, I think. It’s hard to tell sometimes. Classes have gone well, though I’m a bit more spread out than I’d like to be. I only see each class once a week because they have me teaching all grades. I’ve added a couple issues of TIME, the Economist, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated to the school library so the students can practice reading English. I’ll also set up times where students can watch American Tv shows with Indonesian subtitles. This way they can practice hearing it and seeing how we put ideas together. I’m on campus for much of any given day speaking with the students, playing chess, or playing basketball. I travel with the girls basketball team. I also try to hold conversations with some of the teachers. I’ve made one trip off the island to visit friends and see Boroboudor. I’ll upload my photos to web very soon. It’ll probably be via a Flickr account or something like that. Until then, here are some shots taken with my iPhone.

Tana Toraja (Bori Graves)

Tana Toraja (view outside my door)Makassar (Torajan Coffee)

Bandung (The Infamous Chess Match)

Tana Toraja (view from Bunto Barana)

(Based on Journal Entry 09/06/09 @ 9:38pm N Bandung)

I had a conversation with a friend several weeks ago that grew into a discourse on value. The following is a summary of discussed topics .

~Academics is not here to reign in creativity, innovation, and free thought. The news is not here to decide the viewer’s opinion. May neither lay claim to such rights. Hammers do not weild carpenters.~

After several discussions with numerous scholars, I’ve come to a conclusion. We can all know stuff. Information is out there. I can study and learn the priciples of economics or engineering or physics or pyschology. From there we could, any one of us, quote and paraphrase other published scholars at great length. It only takes a rocket scientist to be a rocket scientist. I think the greater value in education and the accumulation of knowledge eing able to bend, mold, and create new structures from it. A 5 year old can use a stencil. What more?

~Seek to be honest before you seek to be handsome.~

Saving face rarely saves much else. Rather than stretching what little knowldege you have on a given subject so as to appear well informed, most times it is best to just say, “I don’t know very much about that, but I can look into it if you’d like.”

~Water is heavy so that it may return to the earth. Hearts are heavy so that they may return to God.~

I had a conversation with a friend several weeks ago that grew into a discourse on value. We used light and dark as a reference point. I’d just recently been influenced by Mutabaruka’s take on life and death. He said life is like space and the human body is like a building. The space is there whether anything else is or not. Therefore, when people die, it’s like the buiding falls but the space remains. Life cannot die and death cannot live. I’ve been thinking on that matter since.