Rain in Gorontalo

The air is a mixture, at once sweet and smoky. In some places, fresh and clean gusts conjur images of freshly cut grass, breezes coming in from the water, carrying with them crystal blue droplets. In others, recently extinguished fires linger in smoke, lazily drifting over the grass, hazy white over damp green.

Little tan feet smack along the asphalt, puddles splashing around bare legs, pants rolled up to the knee. School boys with their miniature red shorts splash and tromp through the puddles gathering beside the road on their way home from school. Their once neatly pressed white shirts are speckled with mud and murky water and the tails hang loose and playfully crumpled. Bicycles whiz by, giggles echo off the corrugated tin walls. A girl stands half-under a pink umbrella, her hair stuck to her face and neck in dripping sections of black.

All is quiet, save the rain. First it pounds, knocking incessantly on tin roofs, splattering windows, begging to be let in. Then it relents, softly drumming everything under the sky. Water slides off rippled roofs in tiny little water falls and creates a wall of water, the world beyond looking for all like a watercolor painting.

The rain is my favorite kind of weather in Gorontalo. Noise and chaos become tranquility as everything stops for awhile. People stay inside, bumping music suddenly quiets, crowded streets become empty. As soon as it starts to rain, I throw open my doors and windows, light the “Holiday Magic” candle my mom sent me for Christmas, and sit on my couch. Sometimes I read, but more often than not, I just sit, staring out into the pounding haze, listening to the quiet, reveling in the cool breeze drifting in past my face. Rain is different in Gorontalo, different than at home. At home, if it rains, people put up their hoods, grab an umbrella, stick close to store fronts under the protective awnings. Maybe they opt for a movie instead of beers on the patio, or stick to sweat pants instead of jeans. But for the most part, rain doesn’t really make much of a difference in their plans–“rain or shine” is a common expression, after all. If you said that in Gorontalo, you’d get blank, or more likely, shocked, expressions. Example: I once tried to have a little get-together at my house for students on a Friday night. I enticed them with free food and promised selfies. About 20 students were supposed to come, and they all told me at school that day they’d be there. The plan was for about 7 o’clock, after isa (the last prayer time). At about 6, it started to rain. Oh no, I thought. But I kept hope, usually the rain only lasts 30 minutes or so. When it was still going strong at 6:30, I threw in the towel and put on my pajamas. This might seem a little preemptive. I hadn’t even heard from any students saying they weren’t coming. But I knew. At about 7:15, 7:20, I got a couple texts all reading about the same: “Miss, I am sorry, it is rain!” Aka “It’s raining, there is NO WAY I am venturing out tonight.”

While it sometimes strikes me as odd or annoying how screeching of a halt life comes to in the rain, I’ve grown to really like it. It’s like nature telling us all to take a break. It’s Mother Nature reaching down a hand, squeezing our shoulder, and saying, “You’ve been so stressed and busy, why don’t you take a nap? Maybe a night in tonight? Here, sit down for a minute and drink some tea.” I love that in Gorontalo, practically nothing is so pressing that you have to get soaked and miserable to get there. (Keep in mind, most people ride motor bikes, and from personal experience I can attest to the less than desirable circumstances of traveling via motor in a monsoon.) In America, even a casual coffee date would mandate that you drag yourself through puddles and mud to make it. But here, everyone realizes that if you can’t have coffee today, there is always tomorrow, or next week. What’s the rush? So you have to change your plans, so what? What’s so bad about staying home with your family?

It’s a small thing, but to me, it conveys one of my favorite aspects of the culture here. The general relaxed way of life. Not relaxed as in “Pass the doobie, hang loose brother, live on your mother’s couch til you’re 30.” But relaxed as in people realize what is truly important, and what is not. It’s not worth getting in a tizzy because your party had to be cancelled, or you couldn’t make it to the printer or grocery store when you wanted. As long as the people you love are happy and healthy, everything else will get figured out sooner or later.

Rain or shine, it’ll always work out fine.


My First Bad Day

Let me start by saying that by “my first bad day,” I do not mean that in 7 months living in Indonesia, I have not had a bad day until now. I think Jesus Christ himself would have had at least one day when he broke down angry crying while lying half naked in blessed air conditioning, clinging to the last remaining bits of a box of Froot Loops and listening to “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter on repeat. So, in my very unholy state of being, I have had my share of bad days.

I call this one my first bad day because it was the first bad day of its kind–it was the first day I got mad at my students. Never in my time here have I had a day that was not immediately brightened by seeing my nuggets, joking around with them in the canteen, even just hearing a few “Hello Miss”‘s.  But on my First Bad Day, students were the cause, not the solution. I wasn’t necessarily angry. I was more an amalgam of all of the bad emotions: angry, sad, overwhelmed, confused, frustrated. Indonesian is a genius language for having a term for this feeling: galau. I was definitely galau.

It all started bright and early Tuesday morning. I was feeling chipper after 2 cups of coffee and a nice refreshing bucket shower. The following day, I would hold my WORDS English Competition at my school (WORDS is an English speaking competition that all ETAs hold at their schools. The winning student at each school goes to Jakarta with their ETA in April to compete with and meet students from all over Indonesia). Excitement for this competition was practically leaking out of my pores. I had half-assaulted several shier students the week before to coerce them into competing, feeding them spoonfuls of encouragement, and as they would say, “spirit.” This was the first big public thing I was holding at my school, and I felt like it was a representation of the work I have been doing with my English kiddos all year. Originally, 25 eager beavers had signed up. When it came down to it, only 10 students actually wrote speeches and prepared to compete. 10 was a good number. Solid. Even. Round. Anyway, back to Tuesday morning. I was prancing around school, finding all of my WORDS kids to get their full Indonesian names for their winning certificates. Happy as a clam, I bounded into one of my classes, where I found two of my competitors, two cute lil ladies, and asked them if they were ready for the competition. They first looked at each other, wide eyed, then looked at me, stuttering over their words.

“Miss, we cannot compete tomorrow.” My face immediately fell.

“What’s wrong?” I asked kindly, thinking that maybe they were getting cold feet, feeling nervous.

“We did not write speeches,” they replied. I asked them several more questions, trying to figure out what had happened. Basically, they said they did not write speeches because they had not had me in class. Despite the fact that they had had my phone number for over a week, had been given ample opportunities to visit me at my house, and had been given my complete and utter availability to help them. When I asked them why they did not text or call me if they needed help, they just looked down at their feet. I felt heat rising in my face, a burning in the back of my eyes. I was about to cry. Crying in public is a huge no-no in Gorontalo, so I quickly told them it was alright, and briskly walked out of the class before I made an idiot of myself.

I felt so angry and sad that I thought I might explode. I worked so hard on this competition, dropping things at a moment’s notice if students needed help or wanted to practice, opening my house for several hours each day, giving out my phone number like Blanche Deveroux. Despite all of this, these students had just not done anything. Two more students followed suit. Down from 25 students to 6. I was disappointed, embarrassed, and frustrated. I began to think it all over, trying to figure out why I was so mad. That’s when I realized the worst thing: the students didn’t write speeches because it didn’t really matter to them. My class, my competition, my whole reason for being at MAN Model, when it comes down to it, none of it matters a great deal to any of my students. My students are literally everything to me–I spend my days teaching them and thinking about teaching them. I’m always thinking about how I can make class fun or interesting, always making plus-delta lists to try and better my teaching methods, memorizing nicknames and attending their extra-curricular performances. I spent an entire week constructing a creative and aesthetic English Corner, and continue to spend hours updating and fixing it every week. They are my reason for being here. But for them, I am a small part in an extremely busy week. My students have an average of 12-15 classes. English is but a small, and likely annoying, part of their week. Most students will not pursue English after high school. Most students are not really that interested in learning English. Most students probably find my class to be a waste of time, maybe sometimes fun or cool because there is a bule teaching it, but overall not that important to their academic life.

I felt like I didn’t matter.

It was an absolutely crushing realization. To put everything you have into something only to realize it is not exactly reciprocated. It felt like having an unrequited love.

I had to try and collect myself, because I had a class to teach. I got into class, and my typically angelic students had picked that day to be naughty. My co-teacher had told me earlier that she would have to leave our one class together that day to go to the tailor, so I was alone in the class, and my students seemed to think that meant they could misbehave without consequence. It just added insult to injury. It felt like my students were saying with their actions that they didn’t really care about my class, and by extension, me. I know, I know, that’s a bit dramatic, and of course they weren’t really saying that, but at the time, that’s how it felt. I broke one of my rules for myself, and I raised my voice at my students. That is something I NEVER do, and the effect was palpable. My students immediately quieted and frankly looked terrified. I then felt immensely guilty, because they weren’t being all that awful, and it was more my mood that day than their actions that prompted me to lose my cool. Class got better after that, I pushed myself to smile and relax, and we ended up laughing together and having a fun and effective class. I walked out of class with a smile, feeling genuinely happy.

That’s how it is in Indonesia–you’re dealt a horrifying blow in one sweep, and in the next moment, you’re lifted right back up.

It took the rest of the day, and a particularly kind pep-talk from one of my site mates, to fully come to terms with my Bad Day. True, my class is but one of many, and my subject is not ultimately that important to a majority of the students I teach. But I can still make an impact. Among the many, there are a few who will pursue English. There are a few who in a few years, might look back and remember the fun they had in English class with Miss Emily, and they will be inspired to keep working. There are a few who will remember the times they spent at my house, the papaya they shared with me and a few other students, the evenings spent hanging out on my front porch. And they will remember those times fondly. It is those small victories that matter. And those small victories, those tiny little happy places and tiny little differences, are more than worth the effort of everything that I do in Gorontalo.

I may not mean the world to every student, but I mean a little to a few. Small change, laboriously earned. That, and the unconditional love I’ve grown to have for my kiddos, is enough for me.

The 66% Way Done Point

The realization that I am over half-way through my grant hit me like a coconut to the noggin today.

In about three months, I’ll be somewhat comfortably seated on some large-model United plane, mindlessly watching movie #5, my butt asleep and resuming the shape of a pancake. The grand ol’ US of A will be mere hours away, and this Indonesian chapter of my life will end as soon as the wheels hit the tarmac.

As much as I love it here–tears well whenever the topic of leaving comes up–I can’t help but get a little excited about the things that await my return. I had a dream the other night that consisted entirely of me deciding where to get lunch, completely overwhelmed by the variety of choices at my fingertips. I fantasize about tacos and chili, good cheese and fruity pinot noirs, chocolate cake with real buttercream frosting and a cup of real coffee. I have a continuing list of all the foods I miss, and I fully intend to consume them all with ‘Murican zeal upon my return. I think I might consider murder for a cheeseburger, and I would definitely commit a misdemeanor for an cold IPA.

With all of these things I look forward to, I fail to acknowledge that much will have changed by June 2015. Sure, Starbucks will still make a kick-ass chai tea latte, and I can count on Northstar serving up a salad that could make Chris Traeger hit the floor in a spell of euphoric syncope. But so much has changed. My soon-to-be four-year-old niece can now write her name. Both she and my nephew Connor will have sprouted into miniature people, no longer babes, but chattering, crazy little kiddos. There’s a whole new member of the family–Luke Robert. A nephew I have not even been able to meet yet. Our family will have grown by a whole person in my absence. Most of my friends will have graduated college, and many will have moved away from Columbus to start their new lives, just as I did last August. Though its comforting to think of life staying the same in Columbus, that I’ll return to everything just as I remember it, I need to accept that everything there will have changed just as much as I have in 9 months.

A Gorontalo Valentine’s Day

Living directly in front of the boys dormitory, I’ve grown to know and love many of the little rascals that reside mere feet from me. I hear them giggling and singing late into the night and I watch them rough house in the echoing cement hallways of the asrama. I see their school uniforms drying from windowsills on Sundays, and I sit in on never-ending sessions of chess. Despite 5 months of our close proximity, I didn’t realize how little I truly knew these boys until a couple nights ago, on Valentine’s Day.

I had just gotten back from a nightly jalan-jalan (adventuring around town), and was casually chatting with Ahmad, a smiley and shy 10th grade student who I happen to have in class. He was joking with me about the pacar (boyfriend) that all the dormitory-boys claim I must have, and asking about Valentine’s Day in America. I’ve grown accustomed to a certain level of blunt honesty with these kiddos, so I told him my true, less-than-enthusiastic feelings about the lovey-dovey mushy-gushy holiday. It was around that time that Abid, a thin and wiry 12th grader always ready with a joke, popped out of the dormitory doorway, shirtless and grinning. He had shown himself to be incredibly eager to practice English with me of late, and always seemed to appear out of nowhere when I was hanging around the dormitory.

I knew that Valentine’s Day was not celebrated by Muslims, and in fact had seen a pretty sizable street protest against it earlier that day, but I wanted to hear what my students had to say about it. At first, both boys seemed shy to comment on the topic. Between giggles and furtive glances at one another, they commented only that Muslims don’t celebrate it, but since I know these boys, I pushed them further. “Why?” Abid crept closer, and whispered something in rapid Indonesian to Ahmad. It was then that Ahmad looked up at my cautiously and asked, “Is it ok if we continue talking in your house?”

It was then that a simple, light conversation about Valentine’s Day took a turn into a two-hour, closed-door session on religion. Pretty quickly after both boys settled onto my couch, they asked if they could close the door, and began asking very probing questions about Catholicism, Christianity, and my thoughts on Islam in soft, cautious tones. It was clear that never before had they been given the opportunity to ask controversial questions openly about Christianity, let alone to an actual Christian. Abid asked for permission to be open numerous times, and confessed, miming with a fist pounding on his chest, that he was very nervous. But the longer we spoke, and the more I assured both boys that they could be completely honest, could ask me anything, that my house was a safe and confidential space, both boys revealed more and more. They questioned me about the Holy Trinity, about the different sects of Christianity, about negative views they have heard that Christians hold toward Muslims. I answered to the best of my ability, using every ounce of memory from Bible study and all the things my mother has taught me, plus offering them my own personal views. It was a moment of intimacy and candidness I have not yet shared with my students, and one that I now yearn to repeat, with a wider range of students, those who live in the dormitory and those who do not.

I now feel like I actually understand my role here–and it is so much more than as an English teacher in the classroom. My only regret is that I discovered it so late, after 5 months surrounded by inquisitive students, just waiting for an opportunity.

Then again, that seems to be a theme of my time in Gorontalo: always wishing I had more time.

White is beautiful?

I went on a run tonight. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. It’s also nothing out of the ordinary that I was greeted every five feet by a warm smile, an enthusiastic wave and a “Hello Miss!”, or an acknowledging nod. After four months in Indonesia, I am completely used to, if not always comfortable with, the fact that I am very white, very tall, and very unusual in my town. I don’t mind the shouts of “Bule! Bule!” everywhere I go. I’ve grown accustomed to the constant photo shoots, even grown a little fond of the selfies, if I’m being completely honest.

But tonight was something a little different.

I was jogging along a nice little street, one of my usual routes that goes out toward the vast fields and quiet countryside. All of a sudden, a group of about fifteen children came galloping toward me, arms waving in the air, smiles shining up from their sweet faces. I immediately took out my headphones, stopped jogging, and gave them a jolly apa kabar (how are you). The oldest girl, who I presumed to be the leader, grasped onto my sweaty forearm with both hands, practically buzzing and bursting as she tried to contain her excitement. Several other kiddos followed suit, until I was embraced on all sides by adorable little Indonesian nuggets, all chattering and yelling. They were all whooping and talking at the same time, so it was difficult to make out exactly what everyone was saying, but there was one phrase that was crystal clear.

“BULE! Ada orang bule di sini!”

For my American friends, the term bule directly translates into something like “white person.” It applies to any light colored foreigner, and is used more out of affection than anything else.

Back to the story. As they jumped and squeaked all around me, I tried to engage the kids in conversation. I asked all their names, found out where they lived, told them where I was from, where I was living. The whole shtick. The conversation was dotted with selfies (one of which was mine), and one little boy video taped the whole thing. They proceeded to walk with me the next five minutes. Well, walk really isn’t the best way to describe it. It was more like a parade. I was swept up in a wave of four-foot-tall, bubbly, chittering kids. They tugged at my arms, squeezed my plump American middle, and yelled at every single person we passed: “ORANG BULE!!” I managed to get a few other words out of one girl. She told me in lightening fast bahasa that there were never bules in her neighborhood, she was so so happy that there was a bule there. In return, I told her I was very happy to be in Gorontalo, that it was the best town in all of Indonesia. Eventually, I had to break free of the posse, telling them that I had to continue my run home. The looks on their faces broke my heart into a thousand pieces. But I promised that I would be back soon, maybe even tomorrow, and the cheers and yelps resumed. As I ran along again, I looked back, watching as the kiddos vigorously waved back and forth, yelling “Dada!” (goodbye in Gorontalo language) and “I love you!”

Of course, the entire event I just described was charming, sweet, and reminded me once again why I love Indonesia and Gorontalo so darn much. But it also made me really think about my skin color, about being a bule. What it really means, if it really is a good thing for me to be here. Yes, these kids went crazy for me, and they were ecstatic that I was there, and that’s great. When it comes down to it, though, the only reason they felt any sort of excitement toward me was my skin color. I am white. In fact, I am very white. I am tall (for an Indonesian), I have long hair of a color that is different than the typical Indonesian. I have blue eyes–practically a thing of myth in Gorontalo. Because of all those things, I am given a higher place in society. I know this sounds self-aggrandizing, maybe arrogant, but it is the absolute truth. People cheer when they see me, they take pictures with me, want me to hold their children, offer me the best seats at the front of the room. Sure, it can feel nice. It also feels wrong. There is nothing inherently better about me. There is no real reason for people to be that happy to see me. I mean, I’d like to think that I’m a pretty neat lady. I can be funny on occasion, kind, sometimes smart. But people know none of that when they celebrate my appearance. All they know is my white skin and my blue eyes.

The kids I met tonight were sweet, innocent, excited. All the things a kid should be. Yet they are already tainted by the world, at least in one way. They have been taught that white is better, that white is incredible and amazing. One girl I met tonight put her tiny tanned arm next to mine, pointed at her arm, and stated, “hitam”, or “black.” She then asked me which is better, black or white. I assured her that all skin colors are good, it does not matter. She merely shook her wide-eyed head, and insisted, “putih cantik, Miss”–White is beautiful.


Some Days Are Like That.

Do you remember that children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? It’s the one where some poor kid gets shit on for 10 pages. It’s a bunch of little things, things that individually wouldn’t be more than a minor annoyance in an otherwise normal and relatively pleasant day. Waking up with gum stuck in his hair, not getting a prize in his breakfast cereal, stepping in a mud puddle. Nothing catastrophic, but nonetheless, after “the end,” you just want to give the unlucky fellow a hard shot of whiskey and a warm brownie.

Well, call me Alexander. Because today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Strike One.

It started early on, at the peaceful hour of 3 AM. I got up for my usual middle-of-the-night bladder-emptying session, typically a nice 5 minutes when I can absorb the rare and beautiful quiet that settles on MAN Model’s campus only in the dark of night. I was minding my own business, hazily shuffling through my living room, when a shrill and mindbogglingly loud yowl shattered the previous silence. Out of nowhere, a black cat rushed past my legs, bolting for the door. Which was closed. I shrieked, first out of pure shock, and then again because HOW DID A CAT GET IN MY HOUSE. This continued on for the next 5-10 minutes, as the cat darted from corner to corner, howling and hissing, desperately seeking an exit. Armed with a broom, and peeking slowly around corners for fear of this creature flying out of nowhere at my face, I tip-toed after it. Finally, after thoroughly ruining my midnight-pee-tranquility, the furry gremlin managed to hurl itself out through the slit in one of my windows, turning on my water spigot and spraying water everywhere in the process. I peed hurriedly, no longer feeling safe from the various critters that lurked outside, and went back to sleep.

Strike Two.

I woke up at the luxurious hour of 9:30, made myself a couple eggs, a cup of piping hot instant coffee. I settled onto my couch, and readied myself for a long-awaited Skype session with my mom. Logged on, sent her a message telling her I was all set. Took a sip of coffee. Tried calling her. Call failed. Hm. Tried again. Call failed. I went through the usual motions of fixing my internet when it gets whopper-jawed. Nothing. Decided to check how many gigs of internet I had left. “Tidak memiliki account gratis.” AKA–“You’re internet’s gone. Loser.” Perfect. I sighed one of those frustrated sighs, but roused myself from my comfortable video-chat position, and got my butt on my bike to go get more internet. I’ll just ride down to the toko, get more gigs, and be back in a tight 20. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. I laugh now at my naivete.  Of course, when I arrived at the internet booth, dripping sweat despite the quick and easy ride, it was closed. I pedaled back home, shoulders slightly slumped in defeat. The much needed mom-time would have to wait.

Strike Three.

Once I had licked my frustrated wounds and roused myself to the energy level at which I could actually be a productive human being, I decided to take a quick shower and get moving. Em, you’re feeling a bit down, why not treat yourself to a warm bucket shower? I thought to myself. So, I began the tedious, yet surely rewarding process, of boiling one small pot of water at a time, and carrying it across my kitchen to my water bucket. The ball of stress-string wrapped up in my chest began to loosen up as the first bucket of luxurious warm water spilled down my back. Ahhhh. I had lathered up my hair, and was going for a scoop of water to wash out the soap, when I noticed something that made me stop short. Tiny black worms, wriggling around in my water bucket. Parasites. And I had already used some of it. Oh gawd. I dumped the entire bucket, beautiful warmed bliss spilling down an unappreciative drain. So, there I was, butt-ass-naked, hair foamy and matted to my scalp with shampoo, squatting over a giant tub, scrubbing it with bleach. Not exactly what I had imagined for my treat-yo-self style shower.

Strike Four.

I wrapped the morning up by noticing two new MRSA infections blooming on my lower leg. I suppose I’m just too hospitable of a host for that li’l bacteria to resist.


All in all, today has not been one of my best days here in Indonesia. Don’t get me wrong–I’m really happy here in Gorontalo. I love Indonesia, and not even a steaming bubble bath accompanied with a good glass of Pinot Noir and a big ol’ slice of rich chocolate cake could get me to give up my time here. The bad days here are what make the good days even better. I might have a couple “Alexander” moments when I think, “I think I’ll move to Australia,” but truth is, I’d rather have cat-yowling, internet-malfunctioning, water-parasite-infesting days in Gorontalo than anywhere else.

How to Make Pisang Goreng (You’re Welcome America)

Glistening with hot oil, fresh from the bubbling pan, a perfectly crispy golden brown. Crunchy on the outside, wonderfully soft and subtly sweet on the inside. A perfect combination of flavors, a perfect combination of that which is healthy and that which is not.

This describes my food soul mate. Allow me to introduce, pisang goreng.


Pisang goreng is simply fried bananas. This Indonesian specialty provides proof that there is indeed good in this world. Not only can it turn one of the worsts day into one of the best, accessing every positive emotion via your taste buds, but it is astonishingly easy to make. So, in pursuit of my recently formulated goal to bring Indonesian food to America, I decided to start a series of posts that contain instructions for how to make all of the scrumptious things I’ve been gorging on.

Naturally, my favorite thus far should inaugurate this series.

Pisang Goreng Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes          Cook time: 5-10 minutes          Yield: 10-12


2 bunches of unripened bananas (harder bananas taste better when fried)

7 tablespoons flour

A pinch of vanilla powder

A pinch of sugar

~1/2 – 1 cup cooking oil (canola tends to be the “healthiest,” tastiest variety)


In Indonesia, there are several different types of bananas that can be used for this treat. The best kind (as recommended by my Indonesian momma) are pisang cepatu. They are green, slightly boxy, and firm. Bananas are sold in bunches of about 20 here, so that’s usually how many you fry. However, it is completely up to you how many you want to make.


Pisang cepatu, fresh from the pasar (market)

  1. Begin by slicing the bananas in half length-wise. If they are particularly long, you may want to slice them in half width-wise as well. Set the sliced bananas aside.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, vanilla powder, and sugar. Tablespoon by tablespoon, add in water until the mixture resembles a runny pancake batter.** It should be thick enough to coat the bananas, but thin enough to run off the spoon when you stir it.
  3. Ready a medium-sized sauce pan. Put the oil into the pan on medium-high heat. There should be enough oil to completely coat the bottom of the pan, and be at a depth of about 1-2 cm.
  4. Place the banana slices into the bowl containing the batter several at a time. Use a spoon to make sure all sides of the slices are coated.                                                                                                                                                                     IMG_1550
  5. When the oil is slightly sizzling, place the battered bananas one by one into the pan. When the under-side is a nice golden brown (~1-2 minutes), flip.



Remove the bananas when the entire outside is golden brown. Place in a sieve or on paper towels to remove excess oil. Serve hot, and enjoy!

 IMG_1560**The ratio of flour to water for the batter is in no way a science. If it’s too watery, add in a little more flour, and vice versa. I experimented a couple times and ended up being able to determine a good batter by eye. Good luck!

Dharma Wanita

Friday, September 26, 2014

“Emily, we will eat at ten. Tinutuan. You will be here, yes?”

I just managed a nod and an enthusiastic “Tantu saja (of course)!” before Bu Tuti vanished through the door to the teacher’s room, her floral jilbab waving in the breeze left by her bustling wake. Good thing I didn’t eat breakfast, I thought as I inwardly congratulated myself on my accidental premonition. Food is so constantly abundant in Gorontalo that I’ve taken to avoiding solitary meals, with the knowledge that whether I’ve eaten or not, I will eat whenever teachers, neighbors, friends–anyone, really–come around.

Little did I know that today’s meal would be more than just another step towards an inevitably thickened mid-section.

As teachers hustled about, some piling into the school van, some chattering animatedly, huddled together, I could sense an imminent hoopla. Seeing as my Bahasa Indonesia is not quite yet up to par, I’m usually a little clueless as to what is happening outside of my classroom, and I’ve gotten used to just going with the flow. But today, my curiosity pushed me to lean over to Bu Fitri and ask, “Ada apa? What’s going on today?”

Her round face broke into its signature smile and she leaned in to say,”Dharma Wanita!”

“Oh, right. Dharma Wanita,” I nodded. She smiled again and proceeded to patiently answer all of my questions, to attempt to explain exactly what this foreign tradition was.

Loosely translated, Dharma Wanita means “women’s activity.” It is a group of women, whose membership is determined by workplace. That is to say, every workplace (school, office, etc.) has its own dharma wanita. It is the responsibility of the wife of the head/supervisor/boss of the specific workplace to chair that workplace’s dharma wanita. For example, my friend Sidrah’s father is in charge of an office for the Ministry of Religion here in Gorontalo; so, Sidrah’s mother leads his office’s dharma wanita. From what I could gather from fellow teachers and a couple other Indonesians I asked, the tradition is very much alive and consistent in Indonesia. The group gathers and hosts some sort of activity once a month, typically on a Friday. Women promote local entrepreneurs, educate fellow members about current issues in the community, play games, and of course, eat.

My first dharma wanita began when Bu Tuti and several other ibus shuffled back into the teacher’s room with a giant water-cooler sized container of tinituan, and several boxes filled with other Indonesian goodies. The food was plunked down onto the desk directly in front of me, the containers opened, and a mass of both men and women descended onto it. Of course, through the throngs of khaki uniforms and multi-colored jilbabs, Bu Tuti emerged with a giant bowl practically overflowing just for me: four heaping ladels-full of tinituan, three pieces of tahu goreng (fried tofu), and a brimming mug of es buah naga (a sort of desert drink made with chunks of dragon fruit). That cup most definitely runneth over. I took a deep breath, knowing I’d have to finish it all, and already feeling stuffed. I channeled my inner Bruce a la Matilda and dug in.


Our lunch spread. The giant green cooler is literally full of tinutuan.

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Everyone descends on the feast.

As the other women gradually began sitting down with their food, three ibus took the stage and started off what I can only think to call the “theme song” for dharma wanita. All the women chimed in, while I maintained my classic pose, awkwardly standing with a smile. A presentation of sorts followed, complete with videos–from what I could interpret, it was a new business called “Miracle Water,” who’s water promised to be cleaner and better for you than any other brand. I caught and recognized collectively about 10 words, so I wouldn’t completely trust my assessment.

The event was rounded out with arisan, which is a type of raffle. All of the women in the group put in a little money, then matchsticks stuck in a bowl of sand are drawn to determine the winner. The woman who gets the match that has already been burnt gets the prize. In my enthusiasm to participate in all things Indonesian, I assumed that everyone present at the event put in money, but when I pulled out my wallet, all of the ibus simply started laughing. Bu Fitri patted my shoulder, chuckling.

I left with an over-all positive impression of the tradition. To me, it seemed to be an opportunity for women to get together to discuss current events and ideas. Plus, who doesn’t like a good luncheon? However, as with a lot of things in Indonesia, there are conflicting interpretations. There are some that view dharma wanita as perpetuating the patriarchal nature of Indonesian society, and emphasizing that a woman’s primary role is to serve and support her husband. For more information on that argument, check out “Dharma Wanita: Official Sisterhood or Obligatory Solidarity?” from Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, edited by Laurie J. Sears.

By the time the meeting was concluding, I sat slightly slumped in my chair, an amazingly empty bowl in front of me. I let out a quiet sigh. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. Well, when in Indonesia.


Tinutuan is a traditional dish from Manado, consisting of rice, corn, pumpkin, and various vegetables. Es buah (upper right) is a traditional Indonesian iced cocktail dessert. This particular one is made with buah naga (dragon fruit).


One Week in Gorontalo, One Thousand Things Learned

It is 6 PM. The sun has begun to set, leaving behind a soft and warm breeze that drifts through the slatted windows. Sweat gathers in droplets on my forehead and nose, but my entire body is wrapped in its permanent cocoon of moisture. A fan sits motionless on the desk in front of me, not out of choice, but out of coercion–today’s blackout just took effect. A muezzin calls out the evening prayer from the masjid next door. Students talking, motorcylces humming, flip-flopped feet smacking on the dirt alley.

This is Gorontalo, Sulawesi, Indonesia.


Streets of Gorontalo.

I have only been living on the campus of Madrasah Aliyhah Negeri Model Gorontalo for one week, but the amount of learning that has accompanied each day makes it feel much longer. Indonesia is about 9,000 miles away from home in Columbus, Ohio–and let me tell you, the distance is real. That sounds negative, but my experiences in the first week have run the gamut, from sitting alone in a dark house waiting for electricity to come back on, to laughing at a birthday party with my students. It’s truly been a rollercoaster, much more than I would have expected in just seven days. The more time I spend here, the more I realize Indonesia is full of irony, surprises, and dichotomies.

For all you folks at home, I’ll boil my first week into 7  lessons. Warning: the following may contain crude bathroom humor, foul language, and/or a few TMI moments.

LESSON #1: You have to take more control than ever of your own bathroom experience.

My first full day at my new home, my “shower” consisted of me clumsily washing my hair over a bucket and doing the old rub-down with a Wet Wipe. Not exactly my finest moment in hygiene. The bathroom situation is much more basic than us pampered Americans are used to. My own little water closet is a small tiled room, furnished with a large plastic bucket on one side and a toilet bowl on the other. Every morning, I fill up the bucket with water, and use a smaller bucket to dump water on myself–no more luxurious warm showers with a high-pressure shower head, just me and the bucket. Even though my toilet doesn’t have a tank, I’m lucky to have the luxury of a Western-style seat. No easy, “push-the-handle” flushing–instead, I dump a couple buckets of water down. It’s essentially the stick-shift of the commode world. And hey, I’ve always wanted to learn how to drive stick shift.

LESSON #2: Trash day? Light it up.

Ask an Indonesian when the garbage man comes, and they’ll respond with a blank stare. Once again, you have complete agency in getting rid of your waste. Every night at twilight, I head out behind my house, dump my small amount of accumulated trash, and set it on fire. If you drive around on the streets at that time, you’ll see dozens of little fires just like mine.

LESSON #3: Inside, I have a deeply sadistic love of killing insects

Hobbies in Indonesia: murdering various creepy crawlers, suffocating ants with Raid, ending mosquitoes with my bare hands. There’s something to be said for defending the home front against a constant assault of bugs. Definitely helped me bond to my house.

LESSON #4: Yea, I’d probably try eating cat.

If you know me at all, you are most likely aware of my less-than-favorable opinion of cats. Any negative feelings I had towards felines in the U.S. has been multiplied daily, as grimy looking cats prowl the alleys around my house and constantly try to invade my clean space. It might sound insensitive, but those buggers are not the cute and cuddly type you see on calendars. I found out a couple days ago that in the big city of Manado (about 150 miles northeast of Gorontalo), cat is not uncommon to find a dinner menu. Don’t knock it til you try it, right?

LESSON #5: Check your individualism at the door: accept help.

Indonesia is an extremely collectivist society. What is good for the group ranks higher than what is good for the individual, and people rely on and care for each other deeply. If America is a sea of individual stitches, Indonesia is a giant quilt sewn together with a single thread. To live here, you not only need to accept that, but embrace it. I got a full lesson in how wonderful that aspect of this culture is when I got sick during my first week. A bad virus left me bed-ridden for several days. There was not one of those days in which I wasn’t called, texted, or visited at least several times. Every single teacher in my school was gravely concerned, and each one probably asked me 10 times if I needed to go to the doctor. The amount of care and consideration embodied by each Indonesian I’ve encountered can be summed up in one anecdote. On Friday, my third day of being sick, I had a knock on my door at around 10:30 am. Dressed sloppily in leggings and a sweatshirt, hair a mess in a bun, I tentatively opened the door. Standing on my porch were 6 ibus (teachers at my school), all with worried looks on their face. They flooded into my house, sat on my couches, and urged me to sit down next to them. “Emily, you sick? You need to go to doctor?” “Have you eat?” “I get you food.” “You want tea?” “You have fever? You need to go to doctor?” They fawned over me for a solid 20 minutes, meanwhile one of them brought me nasi goreng and hot tea. They continued to sit there while I ate, chattering hurriedly in Indonesian about what to do. The incident ended with all six ibus piling into a car with me to take me to a friend’s house, where I could get some decent rest. Every day since then, teachers ask “Anda sakit? Are you sick?” and when I reassure them, “Tidak, saya sehat, I’m healthy,” they smile and pat my arm.


A view of my school, MAN Model

LESSON #6: If you wait long enough, food will appear.

I’ve probably only procured my own food a handful of times in a little over a week. Everywhere you go, Indonesian men and women try to feed you. Parties, simple house-visits, trips to do laundry, sitting in the teacher’s room. Food must have magical properties here, since it appears out of nowhere and is encouraged into my stomach several times a day without me even trying. At this point, I just wait to eat, since I know eventually food will come from somewhere, and if I’ve already eaten, I’ll just have to eat again. “I’m full” or “I’m not hungry” seem to lack a certain amount of meaning here.

LESSON #7: This whole year is about these kids.

Everytime I start to feel homesick or isolated, the students that surround me bring me back to earth and make me realize that this year isn’t about me, it’s about them. They are so eager to learn and speak English. Everywhere I go on campus, I’m greeted by boys in crisp white pants and girls looking like angels in their white jilbabs, their little voices calling “Hi Miss!”, “How are you?” “You look beautiful!”. A few students invited me to one of their birthday parties on Saturday. When I accepted, they started cheering and thanking me. They have appreciation for every little thing–it is so wonderfully refreshing to meet kids that have their values in such an innocent and happy place.


A few of my students during their “English Games”


Whatever the rest of this year brings, I know it will be overwhelmingly defined and shaped by my students.