“Belum”

Hey friends!

Orientation is officially over, and, as my sitemate and I realized, the grant has truly begun. My first week in Pontianak, while amazing and enlightening, felt very temporary with the knowledge that I would be in Bandung for two weeks in a comfortable environment (i.e. surrounded by Americans all around my age).

I truly loved orientation. The language training we received twice a day from a company called Wisma Bahasa was invaluable simply from a language perspective (and even that excludes the bond I developed with my small group’s [C-SQUAD] teacher, Moko). I got to hike in the jungle on Java, taking in waterfalls  while observing monkeys less than 10 feet away and rusa (kind of like deer) less than 10 inches away. I got to practice teaching English in an Indonesian high school (twice!). I got to deepen my friendships with members of my cohort that had begun in Washington, D.C. at the end of June, and it was genuinely bittersweet to see the group members disperse to their respective sites.

 

{This monkey was eating crackers like the cutest little sort-of-human ever.}

 
 

{This is a rusa. I spent a lot of time with them and acquired the nickname, “The Rusa Whisperer.”}

But, as I alluded to above, those first three weeks had a vacation-esque feel to them. Pontianak is about the size of Little Rock, lives under a perpetual smog ceiling thanks to slash-and-burn agricultural practices in Kalimantan, and has (I think) 6 foreigners living in the entire city. Simply returning from Bandung to Pontianak reminded me of what I expected this year to be: uncomfortable with a lot of hard work sprinkled in. And, at times (and particularly in retrospect), tremendously beautiful.
I wanted to focus this post on one of those things that I’ve found to be tremendously beautiful, despite how miniscule it may seem. Whenever I ask my Indonesian friends (in terribly broken Bahasa Indonesian) whether or not they’ve seen a certain movie, been to a particular place in the country, or eaten at a new restaurant in town, they sometimes respond, “Ya.” “Ya,” as I’m sure you could guess, means yes, they have done whatever I’m asking. However, if the answer is not, “Ya,” then the answer is, “Belum.” It would be natural to assume that, “Belum,” means, “No.” But it doesn’t (“no” is either “tidak” or “bukan” depending on the context). “Belum,” means, “Not yet.” And I love this.

I may be projecting more meaning onto this simple phrase than was initially intended or than should be today, but ride this train of thought with me. Instead of saying, “No,” when you haven’t done something, pretend you say, “Not yet.” Doesn’t this imply that you will at some point? Or that, at the least, you’re intentionally providing the opportunity to do so at some point?

In “Belum,” I see a microcosm of the optimistic and inclusive mindset that I’ve found is prevalent in Indonesia.These peoople have been so open, so accommodating, and so eager to know and help me, and I’ve found that general disposition incredibly hospitable and a little bit infectious.  

So, in light of that, I decded to come up with my own “Belum” list for Indonesia–the list of things that I will/may do that I have not done yet. Voila:

1. Learn to comfortably drive a motorbike (everyone uses motorbikes as their mode of transportation down here)

2. Trek down to South Kalimantan to see the orangutans at Tanjung Puting National Park

3. Go to Bali (because you have to go to Bali)

4. Visit sites that my other ETA friends are placed at

5. Become conversationallly proficient in Bahasa Indonesian

6. Undertake a “small grant project” (a type of small-dollar grant project that AMINEF will fund for us) that I’m interested in and that–more importantly–my students are interested in

7. Get better at handling the spiciness of Indonesian food

8. Attend a religious service for each of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism)

9. Become best friends with Keaton, my counterpart’s four-year-old son

  
{KEATON!}

10. Understand how Indonesians view Indonesia and its place in the world

I know some of those may be easy, some of those may be impossible, and the rest fall in the middle. But if you ask me about any of them, expect either a, “Ya,” or a, “Belum.”

Finally, I’ve had some good downtime while here that’s allowed time for introspection, and I always think that’s a good thing. As a result, I’ve been writing quite a bit, and here’s a poem I wrote during a session during orientation. It needs some additional work, but I wanted to go ahead and share what I had with you people.

The Folly of Change

Youth beckons to age

Reminds and restrains

Age calls, stentorian, “In time.”

But youth cannot wait

Escapes in a spate

Flees far from the summoning chime

/

Sets out age for youth

Down oft-trodden routes

Replete with since forgotten signs

No longer youth’s there

‘Twas pummeled somewhere

Stripped naked found rawly supine

/

Age finds frantic pace

Runs face-first through space

Hopes youth can from darkness unbind

Youth slowly awakes

Hip broken, arm sprained

Tongue swollen cannot voice supply

/

Happens age upon

Feeble as a pawn

Face haggard, youth unrecognized

Eyes peer out from peat

Pink-pocked gash on cheek

A bruised worldly wisdom refined

/

Head tilted askew

Age considers youth

Seeing through since-unblinded eyes 

Youth’s grown into age
Their faces the same

Each older and younger alike

/

/
Love you friends and family. (<– that was not a part of the poem)

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