Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A day in Gorontalo

This post is inspired by my friend Ashleigh, who recently wrote a wonderful post entitled “A day in Banjarmasin”. Tuesday, October 6, 2009 7:00 am => Wake up early and head straight to the shower. Normally, I lounge in bed for a bit to check email and Facebook on my phone. But this morning I have two students coming over to the house at 8 to check for rats. I have been having a huge problem with rats in the attic. Yesterday I complained to the head of the English department and he immediately dispatched the nearest student to come to my house to put down some poison. He came right away, with a friend, and promised to come back in the morning to remove the dead bodies. 7:24 am => I am standing in front of my mirror post-shower putting on deodorant, face lotion, etc. when I hear someone calling out, “Good morning!” Could it possibly be my rat catchers? More than half an hour early? I have been getting used to the fact that Indonesians tend to come later than they say they will or cancel altogether, so this is downright shocking. Clad only in my towel, I go to the front door and ask who is there. After verifying that it is my students Amad and Abay (who are here early because they forgot they have a class at 8), I ask them to wait a minute and hurry back to my room to finish getting dressed. 7:30 am => While the boys are busy looking for rats, I grab my broom and start sweeping. I have taken to sweeping like there’s no tomorrow. Dead bugs, dust, gecko poo…it all piles up the second you turn your back. I sweep whenever I have a free moment: while waiting for someone to pick me up, while waiting for water to boil, while waiting for a website to load, before I leave in the morning, as soon as I come home in the afternoon and many other moments in between. 7:40 am => My neighbor’s kitchen help comes over with my daily cup of hot tea. 7:45 am => The boys announce that there are no dead rats upstairs. They also tell me that after rats eat poison they generally try to find light and (I gather) a nice place to die. So, as things have gotten much quieter on my ceiling since the boys put down the poison, I can only assume that my backyard is littered with the carcasses of dead rats. Good thing I don’t have direct access to it. 8:00 am => I sit down to eat my breakfast of hot tea and cornflakes. I am generally not a cereal eater in the morning but cornflakes are quick and easy. But since I don’t like soggy cereal I end up eating only half the bowl. 9:00 am => I’m waiting for another lecturer, Helena, to pick me up and take me to the office supply store. I open the front door and say, “Salamat pagi” to the workmen who have resumed work on my front gate. As I am lingering in the doorway, the head workman comes over and asks me in Indonesian if he can look at my small book. By this he means my Lonely Planet phrasebook. He really likes this thing. Whenever he sees me, he asks to look at it and likes to read random phrases aloud. But today he is on a mission. He flips through the book quietly for several minutes and then says with a big smile on his face, “Do you have a boyfriend?” 9:10 am => Helena texts me to say that she is running late and will be there in 15 minutes. 9:25 am => Helena calls me and says something I have great difficulty understanding. I ask her to text me instead. She then texts to ask if I can meet her in front of campus. This is very, very typical. Plans change last minute here and there is a lot of waiting around (and more sweeping) involved. 9:45 am => I finally meet Helena and we head to the office supply store. I had made a list of everything I wanted and had hoped I could just browse through the store and put things in basket. But here, most things are either behind a counter or high on a shelf so you are forced to ask people for help. Luckily, Helena is here, but we still run into some confusion. For instance, I ask for tape and she insists that they don’t sell tape in this store. I am very confused. Is that not a basic office necessity the world over? Turns out she thought I meant “video tape”. 10:30 am => New office supplies in hand, I finally arrive at my office. I am lucky to have an office all to myself. A lot of the other ELFs have to share their office space with several others and are often distracted by TVs blaring Indonesian soap operas and general chit-chat. Not only do I have my own office, but it’s also air conditioned and has a LAN internet connection so I can just plug in my laptop and get online. And I can close my door to get some privacy - pure luxury in this country. But even my closed door doesn’t dissuade beggars and peanut sellers from barging in. I wave them away with a “Tidak” or “Ma'af” but they always come back the next day. 1:00 pm => After checking email, planning some lessons and checking in on an online course in Critical Thinking from the University of Oregon that I am supposed to be “guest monitoring”, I take a break for lunch and head over to a campus eatery with Ima, another lecturer in the department. I order “mie kuah dan telur” (noodle soup and egg) since it’s one of the few dishes that I actually like. Most days I alternate between this and “mie goreng dan telur” (fried noodles and egg). Today I branch out and try a new juice to go along with my meal – Juice Wortel. Ima tells me this is carrot juice and I hope that ordering one will make up for the lack of fresh vegetables in my diet at the moment. When it arrives, I see that it has been drizzled with chocolate syrup. This shouldn’t be all that surprising since I know that avocado juice is served the same way. But the combination of carrot and chocolate is really bizarre and totally not what I had been expecting. (Although, this pales in comparison to the disappointment I felt a few days ago when I ordered a “burger” and got a sandwich of luncheon meat instead.) 2:10 pm => I teach my cross cultural understanding class. The second to last activity of the day is a chart about positive and negative impressions of Americans. I draw the chart on the board, give the students about 10 minutes to jot down some ideas and then I leave the room while they write their impressions on the board. Here are some of the things they came up with. Negative impressions: drinking alcohol, immoral behavior such as kissing in public and wearing sexy clothes, gang wars and drugs. Positive impressions: independent, hard-working, on time, and friendly. Next week we will talk more about stereotypes vs. generalizations vs. exceptions. 4:00 pm => I go back to my office after class and leave the door open to signal to my students that I now have “Office Hours” and am available to chat. No one comes, so I keep myself busy by checking Facebook. I look through wedding pictures of a friend from back home who got married this past weekend. These pictures come hot on the trail of another good friend from college who got married the weekend before. It makes me incredibly sad to miss my friends’ weddings. It also makes me sad to think about the fact that chances are slim that I will meet my future husband in Gorontalo and that I am essentially putting that part of my life on hold for 10 months. This thought leads me to wondering if I will ever get married or if I will just be an eternal wanderer. I decide it’s time to leave the office. 6:00 pm => I’m back home and let myself into the house through the side door. I go to lock the door behind me and realize that the key isn’t working. That’s odd. I check the other keys just in case. Nothing works. I briefly consider going to the neighbors to tell them my problem. But instead I step outside, lock the door from the outside, walk around to the front door and let myself in that way. Another day, another new problem. I’ll figure it out tomorrow. 6:30 pm => I eat leftover pasta and watch part of Mama Mia on HBO. 7:30 pm => Time for my second shower of the day. Along with my manic sweeping, I have taken to showering twice a day in an effort to feel clean. The dirt, the smell of burning garbage, the heat, and the occasional bouts of diarrhea all contribute to me feeling just generally gross most of the time. My favorite part of the day is when I can shower in the evening, sprinkle my Enchanteur Charming talcum powder all over myself, put on my PJs and crawl into bed with my Kindle or my laptop. 8:00 pm => Congratulate myself on surviving another day in Indo.


  1. "Another day, another new problem. I’ll figure it out tomorrow". Indo in a nutshell. Well done, Julianne!

  2. We missed you at the wedding Julianne - so glad you were able to see the pictures. On the other side of your concerns, I am a little sad that I will probably never have the opportunity again to live abroad. Live it up for me :)