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Jakarta, December 2004

This is a short one since I am on the move and have limited access to internet connections, but I wanted to make sure that I wished you all a very happy Xmas and the very best for the year to come.

I have a new job starting January 1, in Hassi Messaoud, Algeria. Between now and then, I will be quite busy getting things in order for me to get there. I am now in Jakarta (having finished in Surabaya) and tomorrow will visit the Algerian embassy to collect my visa, which is hopefully ready. IALF, Jakarta has been extremely helpful submitting the application etc while I was in Surabaya and I will ever be grateful to them for their assistance.

Once I have the visa, I can book my flights. I already have a ticket to Bangkok (this, a part of my employment here) and from there I have a ticket to Dubai…it’s a matter of getting on flights in this busy holiday period. From Dubai I will head to Doha for Xmas with a friend.

Doha is a necessity as all my belongings are in storage there, including my clothes. So in the few days I will have there, I must get to the warehouse and remove the things I need. I cannot take them to Hassi with me and so they will remain in storage for another year. Booking a ticket to Hassi is not an easy thing to do and I will try to get that organized whilst here in Jakarta….hopefully getting flights for the 29th.

Hassi Messaoud is a desert town (I think) housing mostly oil and gas companies and personnel. My job is in a language school there which caters mostly to the Algerian personnel from those companies. I am one of two senior teachers there. The school works 365 days a year and so two of us are needed. It is a rotational job where I work 5 weeks on and then get 4 weeks off. While I am off, my back to back takes over. At the end of my 5 weeks I receive a ticket to London (or I may change it). My back to back moves into my room so there is no possibility of staying around, although going to Algiers and travelling around from there is of course a possibility. This is one of the reasons my belongings will stay in Doha.

To the best of my knowledge there are 10 Algerian teachers whom I will be supervising and training. Teaching will take up approximately 50% of my time. I should mention that whilst I am on, I will be working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. How full on that is, I have no idea, but I’m sure I can manage that. Those at home know I am no stranger to long hours. I don’t know that much more about it at this stage and should have a couple of days to familiarise myself with the programmes and expectations before I get stuck in.

So, a new adventure starts and hopefully some very interesting chronicles for you to read.

I am told that communications there are sketchy at best, but there is internet…when it is working.

So for now I wish you all a great holiday season. To Rick, Jennifer and Jax, who lost their home in a fire recently, I hope that the new year brings you only good things and that you are soon settled into your new home. To Tessie, who is still in bed with a back injury, a special cuddle and a hope that Xmas will still be an enjoyable time for you.

I will stop now as I have to get to the café and mail this. Keep your mails coming as I will catch up with them eventually.

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Once again the month has flown by and I wonder what I did with it. I write these chronicles as much for me as I do for you all…..a record of sorts, I suppose.

Well, this month the only trip I made…again with Carmel….was to Bandung and then Ciater, another hot springs mountain village. Carmel’s broken foot has not healed well and so hot springs were in order and we set off by train to Bandung where we stayed in a lovely old Dutch style hotel. I had taken my marking with me because regardless of my wishes, marking has to be done and in an extremely intensive 8 week course, you don’t have the luxury of putting it off. Marking aside, we spent a very pleasant evening and made arrangements to contact the same driver we had last time, to take us to Ciater the next day.

After a traditional breakfast of Nasi Goreng, Kroepoek (that’s fried rice and prawn crackers to you) and fruit we met Eddie and set off into the mountains. However, 5 minutes down the road, Carmel remembered her camera bag…she had left it in her room! Not just the camera, but a large sum of money tucked into it! Hmmm…Yes, you guessed it. It was not there. The hotel management searched and interviewed all their staff and of course no one knew anything about it. Suddenly, our morning had altered shape before our eyes and the local police station became our first port of call.

Now, I have to admit to more than a modicum of prejudice here…not colour or race, but I did not think we had a hope in hell of getting it back even if the police found it. Going on past experience (in other countries, mind), even had they found it, I would have expected them to quietly split the money and sell the camera. Carmel, in all her innocence, had not even thought of that. Shame on me!!!

We sat, and with Eddie’s help we gave a report on the lost goods while the policeman, who looked all of 18, wrote down the details laboriously. Other policemen came to see what the fuss was about and by the end of an hour, I’m sure that every policeman in the area knew there were two foreign women in there, and one of them had inadvertently left her camera case in her room. Then it was time to take down the real report and for this we moved into a new room…just next to the reception area, and without a door….so that the young policeman could two finger type the details on yet another piece of paper. Meanwhile, the 3 or 4 people who were waiting to be attended to in the reception area, sat and waited, no one taking the least bit of notice of them.

Detectives filtered in and listened to the story, which Carmel had related more times than I could count. Everyone knew the details and all Carmel wanted was a police report to hand to the insurance company once she got home. That done, we wandered through the market outside buying fruit to take with us into the hills.

Strike me down for having a glass half empty, but a policeman came running out to us in the market and told us to come back. The people in the reception area were still there waiting as we walked back in…this time to a back office, where the Chief Detective told us that they had found the bag. Oh yes, and the money was still there! I take back every bad thought I’ve ever had about underpaid policemen in third world countries. The bag had been hidden and they wanted to make sure that Carmel, on her crutches, hadn’t put it up in the false ceiling by mistake. We saw hotel staff brought in and taken out the back as we finished up formalities….Carmel paying a modest amount of money (unsolicited) to the detective who found the bag. Interesting experience….I haven’t been in a police station since Nicaragua, where the police were much more interested in getting laid, than getting paid.

Off to the mountains and we couldn’t wait to get to the resort….the only one in the village with access to the natural hot springs. Disappointment would be an understatement here. Having stayed at Garut, where the hotel was gorgeous, we paid more here for what was not much more a temporary shack, where the floor sagged when you walked on it. Still, the view was nice and the pool, being some 40 degrees, was fabulous….and we did relax, not to mention finish all the marking.

In Bandung again and we went to see a traditional Wayang puppet show. It was more of a demonstration really, with a Gamelan orchestra playing behind. Wayang shows go on for some 8 hours normally, so this was nothing but a taste. This was followed by traditional dancing by children and the one that really took our fancy was all the children performing around a little boy who was brought in on a litter. This was called the circumcision dance, the boy in the litter being the one to be cut, and the entertainment intended to take the little boys mind off what is to come.

Last on the agenda was an Angklung demonstration. Angklung is an instrument made from bamboo and when shaken, produces a note. Now some smart person decided to make them in sets of Do Re Me notes and all these children have been taught to play them. This is more a team thing, though once you are good at it, you can play several yourself. The children started out playing Indonesian songs but soon were playing popular western songs as well. Once they were done, the Maestro sent his wards up into the audience with an Angklung for each. They were all numbered and he proceeded to give us hand signals that we could follow so that we could all make music too. Oh, we were good….I kid you not, and it was a lot of fun.

My one other little jaunt this month was a trip down memory lane to the Cikini area. This is where I spent the first 5-6 years of my life and I wanted to see the hospital where I was born and the school that I first attended as a small child. A taxi was ordered and as luck would have it, he didn’t speak English. Still we managed to get him to understand what we wanted and off we went. The hospital is just gorgeous and as I walked around, Carmel managed to tell the taxi driver just why I was there. The original building is beautiful and well preserved. It’s unlike the Dutch architecture I have already seen here, but very obviously remains from colonial times. Further down the street, we stopped at the school, the original building also still standing. Not quite so ornate or well preserved, but still there. The house I lived in though, is now a bank.

By this time, the taxi driver was right into the jaunt and took us for a fabulous drive through the tiny narrow streets surrounding Cikini Road. Small houses crammed next to each other lined each side of the street and the area was really bustling with activity. People were sitting outside, selling food from street stalls, talking to others or just wandering along minding their own business. There were tiny workshops where men were welding behind their masks or just hammering at something I couldn’t recognize. I felt very at home here and could easily have spent hours wandering around just looking and drinking it all in. I was having a lot of fun as I haven’t done much exploring in Jakarta due to the fact that its so hard to get round, but I doubt that there is anywhere here that isn’t bustling with people. Eventually, the tiny streets opened up into a gorgeous leafy area where the road is split by canals. Each side of the road is lined with large houses behind protective walls and the road is completely shaded by wonderful trees. The canal runs down the centre. This is Menteng and very obviously for the well heeled.

Back to work and classes were on the home stretch. All the heavy work is done at the end of the course basically, with my students having to complete 1000 word essays…a job/solution paper and a critical review….all this without any plagiarism….a big ask. Work occupied us all as all courses were coming to the culmination….the IELTS test. Remember, that all these students are Australian Development Scholarship students, so getting their score up means getting a place or not. They have pretty much all been given first round offers…a few unconditionally….but for most of them, a good IELTS score is required before they can take these places up.

The day of the test finally came and I was to be picked up by my students and taken out for an end of course party being held at one of the girls’ homes. The atmosphere was decidedly relaxed and there was much laughter now the test was over. Soon everyone sat round in a circle on the floor and each was to say what they had got from the course. Without exception, they were all surprised at how much fun they had and at how they all got on together considering that they come from a variety of areas and academic disciplines. The majority of them have applied to Melbourne University and already they have a built in family in each other, which is wonderful. I must add at this time that the dynamics of this class was excellent. I’ve never had a class of adults where absolutely everyone got on famously, where they could take the mickey out of each other and no one got upset, where without fail, their sense of humour and adventure percolated throughout the entire course and made it a joy to teach. Nicknames have been initiated, some to prevent embarrassment when they go to Oz, and others just because they fit. One is called ‘Hard’, which I explained would be a source of amusement, so he became ‘Hardy,’ ‘Rendy; will no doubt become ‘Randy.’ We had a ‘Professor’ and a ‘Barbie’ and it was just so much fun. They presented me with a lovely set of Jogja silver jewellery which I will treasure.

Today, was the last day at work for me and goodbyes were said. Carmel left for a short period in Bali before heading home for 3 months. The others are mostly Jakarta based and they were a great bunch to work with. We short term teachers were given beautiful Batik shawls and then it was all over.  I have another 7 weeks work for them, but this time at their Surabaya branch and I fly there tomorrow. Surabaya is in East Java and the second largest city in Indonesia. So as one door closes, another opens and there will be more to explore.

I have quickly come to the conclusion that this is a huge country and there is so much to see. From Surabaya I have easier access to Lombok and Madura, Bali and many, many other islands.  Watch this space…..

Till then, stay safe and keep smiling

Love and thoughts

Di

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Well this month has flashed by so quickly it’s unbelievable. I started the month by flying to Jakarta to take up an 8 week teaching contract and lots has happened since then in one way or another.

My first weekend was spent in a nice little hotel and saw me walking in the local area around that. The day before I started work I moved to my boarding house where another temporary teacher was also staying. Carmel is also Australian and broke her foot in her first week here on the footpaths of Jakarta…..obviously I should have waited and added these to last month’s treatise. She is however, able to get around a bit and we made a trip to the old Dutch quarter to eat at the Batavia Café. This is the Raffles of Jakarta basically. The café has been there for 200 years and little renovation has been done to the actual café. The original stone floor is still glorious and the walls are covered in old black and white photographs of famous people who have been there. On the backs of the photo frames, are the menus….novel. We really let rip and indulged in smoked salmon and real Aussie champagne…..how decadent we felt and when the bill came, it was worth every penny. The square around the café houses some interesting museums, which we decided would have to wait till Carmel’s foot was a bit better, but the café certainly merits a re-visit at some stage.

My first week, though not personally injurious like Carmel’s, was nonetheless more exciting than one would hope for as the Australian Embassy was bombed just 3-4 buildings from our office. There I was just preparing for the following day’s classes when the bomb went off. Our building physically shook and the windows visibly bowed out and then settled back into place, almost in slow motion. The sound was horrendously loud and it was very obviously a bomb….and close. Pretty quickly, we were told to evacuate the building and people made their way down emergency stairs very calmly. Once on the street, crowds of people could be seen walking down the street towards the Embassy to see what was going on. Some of our teachers also walked down for a nosey and came back with tales of body parts and mangled motorcycles scattered wide and much damage to buildings surrounding the Embassy. All this time ambulances were racing past and various stories were being passed around like drinks at a bbq. Our building had not suffered any damage, I think because we are sheltered by a tall building either side, but opposite us we could see windows blown out. Around the Embassy, the damage was severe with whole frontages of buildings looking like they were war torn and my boarding house….100 metres behind the building opposite the Embassy, as the crow flies…..also suffered minor damage to its structure.

All day TV here was focused on the Kuningan area and footage of the bomb site was freely shown. As in many developing countries, there appears to be no censorship on the sensitivity of material shown and dead bodies, and body parts, were filmed and shown again and again. In the end you had to turn the thing off because it was just too much to look at over and over. Police moved in quickly and from there, I’m sure you all know the progression of events.

The Embassy was fenced off with large plywood sheets and by the next day, buildings were receiving new glass, or being cleaned out after the police had been through them. Traffic, normally a nightmare anyhow, became three times as bad as lanes were closed and everything bottle-necked and choked the tiny streets off Rasuna Said. The number of injured grew as statistics were released and topped out at a huge 170 odd. It was miraculous that only 10 people were killed, pretty much all of them being Indonesian. Ordinary Indonesians are angry about the carnage, about the innocent who died so needlessly, about the pointlessness of it all.  They are angry that the actions of a few harm their image and undermine the good that is done to strengthen foreign relationships. The Indonesian in the street is not behind the violence of extremism, he is trying to make a living like everyone else and he has no argument with Australians, quite the opposite in fact. At the college near my boarding house, banners were tied to the fences for hundreds of yards decrying terrorism and mourning the loss of a young student. Most of the writing was in Bahasa, but four letter words remain the same in any language. The anger was obvious.

Two days later, everyone was going about their business as normal. ‘It is over and life goes on,’ except for those families who were directly affected….their lives will never be the same again.

Back at work the next day, classes were full and there was no time to think about anything really. My students all have scholarships to go to Aussie universities….from Australian Development something or other…..and this is a compulsory pre-departure course on academic English. They are of course highly motivated and I find them a pleasure to teach, although the course curriculum is a really intensive one. For example, this week I am covering discourse analysis leading to critical review next week. I have them 4 hours a day, but it’s still a tight squeeze. I am enjoying it a lot though and the class is a really bubbly one.

During the weekends, it’s time to explore and a tiny place called Garut was first on the menu.  Carmel, crutches and I took the train to Bandung and from there travelled by car to the tiny town in the hills. Garut is known for its natural hot springs and that’s exactly what we were after. Not a lot of sightseeing as mobility was a problem, so the next best thing was the thought of massage and a weekend lazing in hot springs. We had pre-booked into a hotel because it was election weekend and as such promised to be busy. Nestled snugly in the crook of high hills, Garut is cooler than the city. Late in the afternoon, low cloud rolls in and shrouds the peaks, giving the hills an ethereal look. Early morning, the sun makes short work of them and they dissolve in the warmth revealing the lush green of the slopes. The hotel was ok and each room had a large tub filled with constant running hot natural mineral water. We had no sooner dropped our bags when a little old man came and offered his services for massage. He was registered by the hotel it seemed and so we thought ‘what the hell’……big mistake. His friend arrived at the designated time so that we could both have a massage and so we went off to our respective rooms.

Actually I have to say that the massage was pretty good for getting rid of knots and things…the foot massage was heaven…. but both of us had problems keeping their hands from places they shouldn’t be. I was told later that many Indonesian women enjoy this, but hey, I’m not Indonesian and the touchy feely thing was way out of line. They both got short shrift, though it didn’t seem to bother them overly as they were very busy with a number of new arrivals. The next morning we decided to move to a different hotel….this was the coward’s way of avoiding the masseurs basically.

We got a little bungalow and sat on our deck listening to a lovely waterfall nearby, read and just relaxed. There was a large swimming pool there, also full of natural mineral water….there is no cold water here, it is all hot. There were many families staying there and the women, pretty much all Muslim, were dressed in a variety of different bathing costumes. There were standard bathers, some worn over knee length bike pants, and others were reminiscent of Victorian times with arms and most of the leg covered, a flared skirt covering the butt. Head gear was also worn by some. Even the children wore a variety of different styles from the brief to the extremely modest.

We did manage to have another massage and that one was ‘normal’ by our standards. On the Monday we headed back to Bandung and our driver took us on a city tour. Much of the architecture is Dutch style and in very good condition. The rooflines intrigued me as they are so different to what we see in Oz.

The following weekend saw us headed to Central Java. Carmel and I had agreed to go on an all expenses paid weekend in exchange for a couple of hour’s conversation with vocational students in Ponorogo. We flew into Semarang and were picked up by the director of the school, Sus, who took us to Salatiga. There we booked into a small hotel where his uncle worked. Over dinner we were treated to his singing…all for this audience of two….and he had a glorious voice. It was then time for a bit of a sing song and we all had a go. Indonesians, like most Asians, love to sing, but it’s a good thing there was no audience when Carmel and I took to joining them. The next morning we took a look at the Salatiga University campus before heading for Ponorogo.

Ponorogo is not a tourist destination, but the drive from Salatiga took us through some of the most fabulous countryside I’ve ever seen. The most beautiful was as we wound our way up very steep mountainsides through numerous small kampongs. Terraced farms looked like lacework cut into the slopes and water races are everywhere keeping the crops irrigated. Lush is the only word I can think of to describe it. Towards the top of the mountain, low cloud fingered its way through the tall conifers.

We finally arrived at the school and pulled up to see our names on a large welcome banner. The school is new and this first class is made up of young men from farming families. Here they learn English and get vocational training in the hospitality industry. The school has contact with a Dutch-American cruise ship company and these boys all hope to get jobs as room boys, the better ones as waiters, on what they call a floating hotel. This first meeting was purely a social gathering and put them at ease. Many of them have never had an opportunity to talk to a foreigner and two foreign women was a real treat. They were not shy and talked to us about their hopes and dreams. There was of course singing as well. Carmel and I were talked into singing Waltzing Matilda after the boys had sung their national anthem and we finished the evening off by teaching them ‘Now is the Hour’ which is NZ rather than Aussie, but was very appropriate.

After staying the night in Madiun, we headed back early to do interviews with the boys. This was their first real practice for the test they will all have to sit to get the cruise ship jobs. It also served to give their teachers an outside opinion on the standard of the boys’ English.

The interviews brought more than their language skills to my attention. Without fail, each of these boys wants to go to America where they think they will earn a huge amount of money. Now this is probably true if you relate the money to Indonesian standards, but it bothered me that they all thought the US was the land of golden opportunity for them. They are under the impression that jobs are easy to come by. Their knowledge of the outside world is pretty slim at best. There was no thought about the fact that they are all Muslims, uneducated, from an area known to be the origin of many extremists, and will likely not get visas to work there. I wasn’t going to burst their bubble. It was encouraging though that each one had no thoughts of staying there (the grass is greener etc) and all of them want to come back home…with lots of money of course.  It all served to remind me that in developing countries, money is the most important thing….capitalism is alive and well in their minds.

Some of them have worked in Malaysia and also Korea and several of them have been ripped off previously by unscrupulous recruiting companies which in the end took their money and gave them no return. There is little choice for the young men in this community and this is a good opportunity for them to get ahead a bit. Only a couple had tertiary education but most of them stayed at school only as long as it was compulsory. The sad thing is that their vision for the future…and there were only a few exceptions to this….is that they will come back with money and that is enough. Most will build a house and get married. Some mentioned opening a mini market or small café, but one young lad did want to come back and go to University and learn to be a lecturer in Arabic. Simple dreams are fine, but many of them were very short term and certainly wouldn’t take them to a better level of life than they have now, though they would have a place to live and that is something. One young lad just wanted to buy a car. One wonders how long he could afford to run it.

Anyway, our wonderful weekend ended up with us driving to Jogjakarta and missing our flight home. After some swift negotiation, Sus, the organiser of the weekend, did manage to get us on a later one and so all was well. I didn’t fancy having to ring IALF to tell them we’d not make the first class the next morning.

Well, that’s it for this month. I hope to get up to Cikini…an area of Jakarta…this weekend where the hospital I was born in still stands, as does the school I went to. I’m hoping the house I lived in is also still there, but I’m not sure about that. I shall let you know next time.

 

 

 

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