Saturday, November 28, 2009

Q&A with Julianne

One of my most devoted blog followers recently sent me a snail-mail letter enclosed in a Thanksgiving card that included a list of random things that she wanted to know more about. I decided to answer her questions here on my blog because, as every teacher knows, if one student asks a question, others are probably wondering the same thing. I encourage you to keep asking me questions!

1. What do you know about dangerous and poisonous wildlife where you are, things such as moray eels, sharks, scorpions, snakes, etc.?

Fortunately, there is no dangerous or poisonous wildlife on land that I am aware of. In the water, there are scorpionfish, stonefish, sea snakes, and stingrays. When diving, it is easy to avoid these creatures because you’re not walking along the bottom, where stingrays lurk, and you shouldn’t be sticking your hands in crevices where scorpionfish and stonefish hang out anyway. Sea snakes can sometimes approach, but it’s best to just keep your distance and give them plenty of room. Sharks are out there too, of course, but are only a threat if they are attracted by blood or flashy jewelry that they might mistake for prey.

2. Tell us about your experience grocery shopping and what meals you prepare for yourself and if you eat out often and where you go.

About once a week I go to the Galael supermarket to stock up on pasta, tomato sauce, processed cheese, eggs, cereal, milk, yogurt, and instant coffee (a sad but true fact is that even though Indonesia produces and exports some of the world’s finest coffees, the supermarket shelves are just lined with instant powders). Options are limited here and although I find my supermarket selections less than thrilling, they still give me the freedom to eat some Western foods at home.

The restaurants in Gorontalo are mostly either Indonesian or Chinese, with the exception of KFC, where I ate my Thanksgiving dinner. Unlike KFC in America, the one here doesn’t serve any biscuits or sides of mac n’cheese or veggies. It’s strictly fried chicken and rice, which, when you think about it, doesn’t really make it much different from all the other Indonesian restaurants selling fried chicken and rice.

During the week, I always eat lunch at a cafĂ© at school – usually mie kuah dan telur (instant noodles with a hard-boiled egg) or tahu isi (fried tofu with a vegetable filling) with rice. In the evenings, I sometimes have a club sandwich or a “pizza” at the Quality Hotel or I’ll pop into Cafesera or Den Bagoes on the way home for some Indonesian fare like tempe (beancurd cake), tahu lontong (tofu with pressed rice in a peanut sauce), milu siram (Gorontalese corn soup) or gado-gado (vegetables with tofu in a peanut sauce).

I’m not crazy about any of these dishes and am always thrilled to get out of town to eat somewhere different. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I went to an Indian restaurant in Yogyakarta where the food tasted divine! Lack of culinary variety remains one of the hardest challenges for me here in Gorontalo, especially after two years in New York.

3. Is your generator up and running? How do you deal with power shortages? Ever have to get rid of food because it spoils?

Yes, my generator is up and running but I don’t actually use it that often even though my power normally goes off at least once a day. When the power goes out in the evenings, I generally use this time to make phone calls or listen to my iPod. Now that I have a new battery in my laptop (thanks to Maura’s boyfriend who bought me a new one in Jakarta), I can also draft a blog or watch a DVD during a power outage. I only power up the generator if I need to get school work done or if I have people over. The thing is horrifically loud! I don’t worry about food spoiling because I generally don’t buy food that spoils. Even my milk is UHT.

4. I think I recognized some of your new Indonesian tops, but are you wearing them with jeans? Did you get matching pants for any of the tops?

I just dropped off some material at the tailor’s the other day, so keep your eyes open for me wearing some new custom made tops! I pair all my tops with five pairs of long work pants that I had the tailor make for me as well – black, brown, tan, blue and gray stripped. I generally save my jeans for the weekends or evenings even though there’s no strict rule against wearing jeans at work.

5. Are you taking your malaria pills daily? Are there a lot of mosquitoes in the dry season? What will the rainy season be like?

I haven’t taken a single malaria pill. After arriving here, I learned that malaria is not a problem in Gorontalo. In fact, when people do show up at the hospitals with malaria, they are immediately questioned about what areas outside of Gorontalo they have recently visited. That said, it is possible to get Dengue fever here but there is no prophylactic for that. We’ve switched over to the rainy season now, but I haven’t noticed a change in the number of mosquitoes.

6. Is it too soon to tell if you will return to Indonesia next year, seek another ELF assignment, or seek a college teaching job?

At this point, I’m leaning more towards staying in Indonesia for another year. Despite all the challenges, this is an extraordinary experience.

7. Are you going to get a maid like one of the other ELFs did?

I have hired a cleaning lady and am very pleased with my decision. Having her come once a week to mop the floors, dust, scrub the toilets, and clean the windows saves me hours of time that I can put to better use grading papers or sightseeing. She asks for about $8 a week, which I gladly hand over. For me, this is an insignificant amount equivalent to maybe two grande lattes at Starbucks in New York. For her, it is a large sum of money that will enable her and her family to afford their basic necessities.

8. Why is the diving season only from November to April?

I asked myself the same question! It turns out that for the other six months of the year the seas are too rough for diving due to local weather conditions. My first scheduled dive on November 1st was canceled because the waves were still too high.

1 comment:

  1. You should never ask me to ask questions. Here come a few.
    1. How is your Indonesia? Whenever I ask anyone this about a language or whenever anyone asks me, I think a good way to answer is to mention the highest-level thing a person can do and the lowest-level thing a person can't do. For me for the language I'm working on now (Italian), the highest-level thing I can do is read novels or essays of average difficulty. The lowest-level thing I can't do is carry on a simple conversation (I can just do simple communication).

    2. What books of sociology, anthropology or cultural studies have you found useful in making sense of a very different culture? Are there many English-language books of this kind available? Are many of these written by Indonesians? India spoiled me since there's a massive English-language research and publication industry and many of the leading scholars are Indian.

    3. Have you had a chance to visit the homes of many Indonesians? If so, what are you observations about domestic space, sociality and sociability, etc? Are you able to move around across social lines fairly well or are you confined to women's spaces? In India, I was completely confined to male spaces with two brief exceptions: when my mom visited and once when I spent an afternoon chatting with an Israeli woman in a South Indian temple. In the latter case, two times monolingual Tamil women approached us, assuming we were married, and wanted us to play with their kids.

    4. Are Indonesians likely to invite strangers to their homes? Is hospitality overwhelming (too much food forced on you, etc)? In India, this happened all the time: "Please come to my house and eat!" In Korea almost never: people prefered to go to a bar. In Egypt a fair amount. In Cuba, never until people were sure "the poverty of this country" wouldn't bother me, then I got invited all the time.

    5. Do people use categories of hot and cold a great deal as a heuristic for health? Do you find this something that's easy for you to work with? In India, this was very common and, I found out much later, was part of a much broader pattern that included Europe (due to Aristotelian ideas about hot and cold) until just a couple of hundred years ago. In India this often put me in a bind, since I wanted to do the anthropologists' "when in Rome...", but I really don't buy into the humoral theory.

    6. Have you made friends with any kids? Sometimes in a foreign country that can be a lot of fun since they usually don't have too many world-aware questions (about Americans owning guns or about Bush's foreign policy or about free sex in the US, etc), and that can make a real relief from always getting asked the same things. If you're a ham (I am), kids can be great because they like it when an adult does silly things. If you're calm and sensitive (I'm not), they can like the tranquility such an adult radiates.