Sunday, November 25, 2012

Days in Ende

The last few weeks in Ende have been busy but quite enjoyable.

I have now been working at the university for 3 weeks.  The first two weeks were spent trying to find my way around, learning the structure of the incredibly bureaucratic university administration structure and struggling to speak with my co-workers using my broken Indonesian, or “bahasa Campur” which means “mixed language” where you use Indonesian words when you know them and English words when you don’t.  It only works part of the time and only works in one direction because I still struggle to understand other people.  Some days are better than others but progress is definitely being made!  As my vocabulary grows slowly, I am also getting better at expressing complex ideas using very simple childish terms, or figuring out ways to reword sentences if I forget a key word.

I was also overjoyed towards the end of my first week to be asked to DO something for the first time since I arrived.  My boss (the head of the department) was told over and over during preparation for my arrival to make sure that I wasn’t overloaded with work during my integration period and that they would have to be very very patient as I found my way and learned the language.  Although I would agree that this approach is really important initially, it also means that I am often left with nothing in particular to do at work so I have been thus far splitting many of my work days between reading through the scant few english tropical agriculture and soil science textbooks I have at my disposal and practising Indonesian.  Then, late last week I was asked to translate an abstract from Indonesian to English.  I must have been more bored than I though because I was overjoyed to have been given a dedicated task and I immediately set to work.

The faculty of agriculture (fakultas pertanian) at the university publishes a journal twice per year comprised of scientific research articles written by staff and students.  Some of the abstracts from the previous versions were translated by the volunteer I am replacing but not all of them.  My job is to translate the abstracts of the remaining articles, a task which I quickly found was going to be harder than it sounds.  My biggest issue is that in an effort to begin the translation process, the abstracts have been Google-translated to english verbatim, before being edited by a third party, I’m not sure who but perhaps one of the students.  As a result, I am translating from often unintelligible english, to English, a much more difficult job that I continue to struggle with.  One of the abstracts was still in Indonesian and turned out to be MUCH easier to translate, because as things stand I am often throwing out much of the broken english abstracts and then trying to get the gist of the articles and re-writing a new abstract.  It is a tedious time-consuming process but it’s keeping me busy and also helping me pick up some of the scientific vocabulary that will be so key once I begin teaching.

I have also been asked set up an online space for the journals so that back issues can be available to anyone online, another crucial step in increasing the profile of the department and of the university.  This was a struggle as well (see if you can spot the theme of the day) since the University’s website has been down for months now with no signs of resurrection in the near future.  I ended up making a blog and uploading the articles there, which people seemed very happy with.  I’m constantly being stretched, and I love it much of the time so far.

Another change in the past few weeks was that the volunteer I am replacing here in Ende came to official end of his placement and left.  He’s Kenyan and has been living in Indonesia for 3 years now, 2 in Ende.  Having him here my first two weeks made the transition to life in Ende infinitely easier.  He was working full time as a lecturer in the agricultural department as well and his Indonesian skills set the bar incredibly high for me as his replacement.  It is obvious that he poured himself into work here with his whole heart, which is one of the reasons I was so surprised to learn he also had a wife and two young children whom he hadn’t seen for 3 years waiting for him back in Kenya.  His house was incredibly modest (which was well matched to his personality), a windowless cement room with no bathroom or shower (the shared facilities were around the corner) which would heat up during the day to impossible temperatures.  I didn’t find any of this out for the first week at least because he didn’t complain or moan about it, and was floored when I saw where he had been living the past almost 2 years.  That just seemed to be the kind of guy he was, quiet and unassuming but overflowing with wisdom about how to navigate life as a volunteer.  In other words, exactly the sort of person you would want showing you the ropes in a place like this.  His last week was an emotional one at the office.  There were two parties for him, the first taking place on a gorgeous at the beach with all of the faculty staff and some extended family members in attendance where we gorged ourselves on fresh fish and yellow rice and everyone gave speeches in Indonesian thanking Richard for all his hard work.

The second took place at the faculty and as I found out when I arrived, was a joint fare-well/welcome party for both of us.   I felt strongly that I wanted to express my gratitude for all the things he’d helped me with in the past few weeks so I prepared a short speech the night before and asked to be included in the list of speakers.  I basically just introduced myself and said that I was happy and excited to have the opportunity to work at the university and that although I hadn’t known him very long, I was very sad to see him go and wished him all the best with everything and that I would strive to continue the good work he had and the other members of the faculty had begun.  It was short, but I thought it captured what I wanted to express.  Partway through, when I got to the part about being happy and excited to be here I noticed the faintest of smiles from a few of the audience members.  Nearly imperceptible, but definitely smiles.  I didn't understand why and continued with my speech.  Afterward I asked around and was told that I had said I was "...both happy and incredibly sexually aroused to be here".  Looks like I chose the wrong word for excitement.

I will have to continue this post later, but will upload what I've got now.  I am having serious difficulties with electricity and internet access of late so pictures will have to wait for sometime when I can find a stronger connection.

And now for a few complaints:
Upon returning to Ende I found that my water wasn't working, my motorcycle tire was flat and that there appeared to have been a 4 day rat party on my balcony while I was away.  For those of you who aren't familiar, proper etiquette at a rat party entails peeing and pooping as much as possible in my pots, on my floor and under my gas burner.

Spent the evening reducing the poop-to-balcony ratio, cooking dinner, trying unsuccessfully to take my laundry to the cleaner (it was closed since it was Sunday but nobody tells you these things or posts a sign...), filling my motorbike tire and cooking dinner (though not doing the dishes thanks to the lack of water).  Then it was time to find internet for a skype date.  I usually go to the credit union and sit on the roof to use their internet but it was down so I drove to the university, where the internet was also down.  My phone network was also down (and still is, a day later, I'm not sure why), so texting to say I was late wasn't an option.  I finally managed to use the internet by dropping in on a friend and sitting on the floor in a spare room at her kos to use the net, but it made for a frustrating evening indeed.  Indonesia, you're wearing on me.  The water was back this morning, which presented me with the choice of either showering or doing my dishes from the previous night before work.  Bodily cleanliness won out, and the cold shower was refreshing.  I then dropped my laundry off before heading to work.

At work today we discussed the prospects of my beginning teaching in February and I expressed serious worry at my ability to take on a class due to language issues.  Instead I suggested I pair up with one of the assistant lecturers and work together through the semester, lecturing a little bit as I am able but mostly making the lecture slides, exams, practicals, etc and trying my hand at marking.  They said we had to discuss it with the curriculum head and we'd talk about it later.

This afternoon I am going to go drop in on one of the women in my English class.  I said I would text her yesterday when I got back to town to schedule lessons for this week which I would have, if I had had phone service...currently it appears my options are to go to her place or send her a letter in the mail.

Why does everything here have to be so complicated?  The combination of no internet OR phone service is driving me bananas.  I'm also currently trying to book some christmas plane tickets via email but have a problem in that I don't have an Indonesian bank account.  I am still on a tourist visa because of administrative issues with my organization which are still being sorted out and cannot open a bank account until they are.  As a result, I get envelopes of cash every month which I deposit directly into my account at the Under-The-Mattress National Bank of Indonesia.  Interest rates are abysmal.  Try wiring someone an envelope of cash...without the internet.

Ok.  Ok. Breathe. On the other hand I am healthy, and living some place quiet and beautiful that most people will never get the opportunity to see.  The upside to all these challenges is that being stretched like this provides the me with chance to grow in ways you couldn't if you weren't, right? Right.

Send me your calm, patient, everything-will-work-itself-out vibes if you can spare some.

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