Archive for August, 2011

August 30, 2011

Indonesia 1, Tabitha 0

by Tabitha Kidwell

I have been on such a high the past month or so – to start out, my friends threw me an awesome going away party. Then, I was super excited to finally get to Indonesia and meet people in my program and go see my town! And then, I was really into learning Indonesian and was really feeling like I was picking it up well. I was getting around town on my own, feeling really happy and comfortable here, drinking cobra blood, figuring out the country…

… and then I fell into a hole. Literally. A hole in the sidewalk. We were walking from one part of a restaurant to another at night, and I was walking along the path when the ground suddenly was not where I thought it would be. Luckily, it wasn’t full of water (or anything worse), but it was deep enough that I skinned my knee on its top edge. It was really painful right away, but I was really hungry, so I ate dinner. When it was time to walk home, I was definitely having trouble walking, but I was tired and couldn’t fathom going to the hospital at that moment. So, I took an angkot home, put some ice on it at the hotel, and slept with it elevated on three of the plush hotel pillows, hoping it would feel better in the morning.

It did not. I went to Bahasa Indonesia class but then was having more and more pain with walking. I was worried that it might be broken. I’ve heard there’s not much you can do for a broken foot, but I just wanted to go and see what was going on so I could get it healed as quickly as possible. I need to be able to walk in this country, and a lingering foot injury is just not something I’m interested in. So I asked Astrid, one of the Indonesian people organizing the training, and Iris, a fellow ELF, to come to the hospital with me.

The hotel drove us there, and as soon as we walked in, they put me on a bed and had a triage nurse come examine my foot.

Then we waited.

Then they wheeled me over to radiology and took some x-rays.

And we waited.

And then a doctor came with the x-rays and gave the good news: no broken bones!

Though he did tell me I had fat bones – a little insensitive at a time like this. I felt a little silly that I had dragged everyone to the hospital and couldn’t even produce a broken bone for their trouble, but I was glad it was just soft tissue injuries. Some was lost in translation, but what I understood was that I sprained both my inner and outer ankle and bruised the 5th metatarsal bone (just above the base of my little toe). I think I must have landed on the outer side of my foot, twisted my ankle that way, then I must have fallen to the other side of the hole, skinned my knee, and twisted my foot the other way to sprain the inner ankle. Quite a showing on my part.

So now I am hobbling around, feeling embarrassed and silly. I have been shown in no uncertain terms that I am NOT the rock star I thought I was, and that I have a lot I still need to learn about life in this country. Like looking at the ground when walking at night. And asking for help when I needed it. It literally brought tears to my eyes to say the words “I need help” to my friends. I like to think of myself as an independent person who can take care of myself, but I would have had no hope of getting to the hospital and communicating anything about my condition. Ok, I could have said. Saya jatuh. Saya bodoh. (I fell. I’m dumb.) but that would have been it. Even though I would have known exactly what to do in the US, I am back at square one here. It’s been a humbling experience, but I guess if you are at the top, you have nowhere to grow.

August 28, 2011

Cobra Blood

by Tabitha Kidwell

Drinking cobra blood is the kind of experience you should probably do if given the chance. Apparently, it is a very powerful source of vitality in Chinese Medicine. So my new friend Megan and I went with a bunch of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) to a Chinese restaurant in Bandung to do just that. First, they got out some snakes just to show off:

a king cobra…

and a python, which they let us hold…

Then we started going into the back a couple at a time for them to take the snakes out of the bags they were stored in…

…and chop off their heads.

Then the Chinese people drained the blood, cut out the stomach bile ducts, drowned the ducts in vodka, and brought it out to us.

And we drank it.

And were revitalized!

I know this sounds and looks disgusting, but it really was not that bad. The blood had almost no taste, and the hardest part of knocking back the bile was the vodka it was floating in. I don’t know if I would do it all again, but it was definitely an adrenaline-producing experience. I was all nervous before then all giddy and shaking afterwards. Maybe next time I’ll just try skydiving or cliff jumping. There’s less gagging when you tell those stories.

August 27, 2011

Wild Bule Chase

by Tabitha Kidwell

I had my first Indonesian adventure the other day. For a session in our training, we visited the “American Corner” at the university. There is a very special phenomenon in Indonesia called “jam karet” – rubber time. Nothing quite starts on time. Except, apparently, for the trip to the American Corner. We were supposed to meet at 8, but I got to the hotel gates at maybe 8:06, and everyone was gone. One of the staff members put me in an angkot (mini-bus) and told the driver to let me off at the university. I assumed this meant that it would be easy to find the American Corner as soon as I got off.

In short, it was not. I got off the angkot and walked in the direction the driver had pointed, then stood around looking lost until a lady sitting on the side of the road waved frantically to me, pointed behind her, and said “teman anda ke sana!” (Your friends went that that way!) I must have been right behind the group of 50 or so Americans all headed to the American corner. Clearly, since I was a bule (foreigner), I would want to follow all the other bule. Not always a correct guess, but in this case, very useful. Every 50 meters of so, I would stop and look confused, and another friendly Indonesian would see me and point me in the right direction. I got there just moments after the program had started! This is only one of the ways that I have been continually amazed by the kindness of the Indonesian people. I can’t wait until the next adventure comes along and I am again able to rely on the kindness of strangers.

August 26, 2011


by Tabitha Kidwell

I came to Indonesia ready for anything: I had my headlamp, my macaroni n’ cheese, my leatherman, my hiking boots, my sour patch kids, my bike helmet, my clif bars and bug spray and suncreen. But none of this prepared me for three weeks of training! We just finished our first week, and it has been rough!

Look where we have to stay:

And what they serve us for breakfast:

And how I have to spend my evening and weekends:

Okay, I’m done with the sarcasm. Clearly, it is not rough whatsoever. Actually, I can’t think of more than two or three times that I have stayed at hotels any nicer than this. We’re here for two more weeks, and the luxury lifestyle is pretty nice. Us 14 English Language Fellows (ELFs) are here with the 40 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). The two programs are operated out of the same office, but this is the first time they have worked so closely together. We are all working on our Bahasa Indonesia, and since we ELFs have all have masters degrees and teaching experience (and the ETAs mostly don’t), we are helping with the teaching training side of the training.

Both the ELF and ETA programs have pretty high standards, and I’m pretty in awe of all the brilliant people at training with me. My piddly teaching and traveling abroad pales in comparison to the people who speak Arabic, Nepalese, Mandarin, and who knows what else, or the ones who researched theoretical linguistics, mathematical biology, or the sociology of genocide. Everyone is interesting and intelligent and full of crazy stories about their travels. Being around so many cool people is directly correlated to how long it has taken me to getting around to blogging! I can’t bring myself to sit up in my room with my computer when there’s fun being had by the pool!

So it is going to be a bit of an adjustment for us to get deployed all over Indonesia and have to cook and clean and go to real work. But let’s not think about that now… i’ll make the most of these next two weeks, and then at least I’ll have my sour patch kids and macaroni to keep me company!

August 25, 2011

Bahasa Indonesia

by Tabitha Kidwell

In a recent article in the New Yorker (which I love), David Sedaris (who I love even more) wrote:

“On a recent flight from Toyko to Beijing, at around the time that my lunch tray was taken away, I remembered that I needed to learn Mandarin. ‘Goddammit,’ I whispered. ‘I knew I forgot something.’”

That is how I felt on my flights from DC to Tokyo to Singapore to Jakarta to Semarang! I had received my placement in Indonesia in April, and I immediately googled “learning Indonesian.” This led me to the aptly named, which provides 48 audio lessons with accompanying study guides. I downloaded all 48 and thought to myself “OK, I’ll just do one ten-minute lesson a day, I’ll be finished by May, then I’ll get a book out of the library and really study some grammar, and I’ll find an Indonesian person in town to give me lessons, and I’ll try to watch the Indonesian newscast online and…”

Let’s just stop there because none of that ever happened. I did get through all 48 audio lessons, but I rushed through the last 8 or so on that looooong plane trip. The audio lessons are led by an American named Sean and an Indonesian named Cici. They have a comforting and reliable format:

Sean: Selamat Datang, everyone. I’m your host, Sean.
Cici: Halo samua, saya Cici. Apa Kabar?
Sean: In this lesson…..
(Sean and Cici present and have us practice pronouncing and using 5-10 new words)
Sean: That’s it for this lesson. In the next lesson, you’ll learn to… Thanks for listening! Terima Kasih!
Cici: See you soon everyone! Sampai Nanti!

Their faithful adherence to this script meant that I totally mastered “Selamat Datang” and “Sampai Nanti.” I also learned many other useful phrases like:

Ibu saya suka makan nasi goring. (My mother likes to eat fried rice.)
Laba-laba ini lebih besar daripada anjing itu! (This spider is bigger than that dog!)
Ya, orang America adalah gemuk karana makan banyak sapi. (Yes, American people are fat because they eat a lot of beef.)

In truth, I also learned many phrases that have actually been useful. I thought I wasn’t remembering very much from Sean and Cici, but since I’ve been here, I keep remembering things they told me. I think it gave me enough of a base that I actually have something to build upon when talking to people and overhearing conversations here!

With this base, I was excited to start Indonesian classes this past Wednesday. Indonesia is so important to US foreign policy that they have decided to provide three weeks of language training to all the fellows (we are the only ones to receive this world-wide!). My (not-so-) diligent studying got me placed in the intermediate class, but I am hanging on for dear life. Every two-hour session leaves my brain feeling like agar-agar (jelly). It’s 120 minutes full of straining to understand every one of my instructors words, looking some them up on google translate, writing them down, trying to remember words I wrote down two days ago, etc. The pace of my language learning has really sped up. It’s like I’ve gone from the pace of the kid pedaling his bicycle loaded with 100kg of rice to the pace of the angkot (a public transport mini-van with up to 20 people stuffed in) speeding by him! I’m exhausted at the end of the day, but it’s better than not being able to speak! Soon, instead of just commenting on the canine proportions of a spider, I’ll be able to say something along the lines of “get that spider the f*** out of my house!”

August 19, 2011

First Impressions & Peace Corps Flashbacks

by Tabitha Kidwell

I apologize for the delay, but I have obviously been in transit. It is so great to finally be here after months of waiting and getting ready and saying good-bye. I’ve been at the end of things for so long, that it is really refreshing to be at the beginning. I was in Washington for an orientation from August 8-12, then traveling until Monday, August 14, and then visiting my town until yesterday. Now I’m in Jakarta for an orientation and will head southeast to Bandung for three weeks of language training!

Maybe it is the fact of being at the beginning of something that makes me think so often of my two years in Madagascar. That was the last time I really took the plunge like this, in a totally unfamiliar place for such an extended amount of time. In preparing, I’ve been comforted by the fact that life here should be so much more comfortable than my life for two years in Madagascar, where I had no plumbing, intermittent electricity, and only one computer in town with internet (which moved at glacial speed). I imagined going in that the two experiences (both generously sponsored by the American government) would have a lot of similarities, and that is absolutely accurate! I’m being flooded with memories from my time in the Peace Corps: training in a freezing town in the highlands, moving into my house in a boiling town on the coast, beer- and sun-soaked volunteer reunions for the holidays, teaching classes of 80 students in their blue smocks… These memories seem more tangible now than they have for the past five years!

While it’s definitely simplistic to say that Indonesia is like Madagascar, they have their similarities! Both countries are, of course, tropical. Both abound with beaches, palm trees and tropical fruits. The people themselves look like Malagasy people, and for good reason: rather than hop right over from Africa, the original inhabitants of Madagascar paddled their canoes all the way across the Indian Ocean from – you guessed it – Indonesia! Malagasy shares much of its core vocabulary with Ma’anyan, a language spoken in southern Borneo. Wikipedia remarks: “it is not clear precisely when or why such colonization took place.” But it did, and they brought along their Malayo-Polynesian language and a general cultural mania for rice. Malagasy people eat more rice per capita than any other country on the earth, but the Indonesians are really giving them a run for their money. My counterpart already took me to the store specifically “to buy rice” and would not leave my house until he had (1) shown me how to use the rice cooker and (2) secured a promise that I would cook rice for lunch, if not breakfast, the next day. In both countries, when said rice is consumed, the utensil of choice is not a fork but a large spoon not unlike a shovel.

Of course, Madagascar and Indonesia have some remarkable differences! For one, the population of Indonesia is about 20 times as big as that of Madagascar, and they are light years more developed. I’m typing this in a posh hotel in downtown Jakarta, and outside the window I can see no less than 26 high rise buildings. I can think of precisely one in the entire country of Madagascar. To get back and forth from all those buildings, they have lots of well-maintained roads clogged with lots of cars and busses and taxis and more motorcycles than I ever could have imagined. Even outside of Jakarta, the traffic is incredible! I had to drive back and forth from Salatiga to the regional capital a few times last week to go to the immigration office. Even though it’s only 50 kilometers, the drive takes two hours because you hardly ever get above 30 mph. It’s just town after town and traffic jam after traffic jam! I knew that Java was the most densely populated island in the world, but I wasn’t prepared for what that would actually look like. In Madagascar, I would have killed for roads like this. Given how many motorcycles they seem to come with, I may have been better off with the pot-holes and the mud.

Similarities and differences aside, I’m still thinking about Madagascar a lot. Life will be significantly easier here (Hot water! Window panes! Wi-fi at home! American fast food!), but I’d forgotten the parts of life in Madagascar that made it fun despite the lack of modern conveniences: the relationships, cultural knowledge, and support I had there. I’m comparing the Indonesia of day three with the Madagascar of month 24, and it has no chance of stacking up. Yet. It took a long time to figure things out in Madagascar, but then I knew how to negotiate gracefully through society. I feel clumsy and clueless right now. But I guess that is what happens when you are at the beginning of things. So for now, I’m going to enjoy my beginning, and let the rest fall into place.

August 8, 2011


by Tabitha Kidwell

I only have one recurring dream: I am leaving on a trip and have to go to the airport in 20 minutes, and I realize I have forgotten to pack! So I run around the house trying to get together everything I need, while the person who is driving me to the airport keeps telling me it is time to go. I keep thinking of more things I need and more things to pack while time is ticking away.

I don’t know what this dream says about the state of my subconscious, or if it is just a reflection of how often I travel. In real life, this would never happen. I actually love to pack, and usually start packing for trips far too early. When I have a trip coming up, I will always be thinking about packing at the back of my head. While I’m on runs, I’ll think about what books to bring and what clothes to wear and how I will fit them in the suitcase. This comes as part of a greater love of organization – when other people put pictures of their children on facebook, I put picture of my newly-cleaned-out closets. I may be a little obsessed. Maybe it is my type A personality, maybe it is to stave off the threat that my recurring dream will come true. I don’t know. I just love to pack.

So, preparing for a trip to Indonesia was one of the most exciting things to happen all summer. The English Language Fellows who are returning for next year sent out a list of what to bring, and I went out and bought almost everything they recommended. I spent a significant amount of money buying everything I could think of that I might need for the next 10 months, which turns out to be a lot of stuff! I was intending to pack my bags as full as I could then just pay the baggage fees (Georgetown Univeristy, the sponsor of the program, had given us money to do so). But that was until I looked at the fees! Just to bring two bags of 50 pounds each was $60 – fine. But then overweight fees were $200 up to 70 pounds, and $400 up to 100 pounds! So I was determined to bring everything I needed with only my two 50 pound bags, a carry-on, and a laptop bag.

My first step was to divide everything into piles:

Athletic Gear. If things go well I’ll train for two marathons while I’m over there. I should probably have purchased another pair of shoes, but I’m taking 3 as it is!

Pharmaceuticals: I tell you, vitamins for 10 months are very heavy! I also bought every OTC medication I could imagine taking: Robitussin, Pepto Bisbol, Excedrin, Chloraseptic, Benadryl, Sudafed, Aleve, Immodium, Ibuprofen, Tylenol cold, Zyrtec, etc. I think the lady at the checkout thought I was crazy.

Clothes – this is the only thing I didn’t buy any more of, except for one rain jacket. I think back to my clothing in Madagascar when I was in the peace corps, and I really didn’t take that much. I was fine then, and I think I’ll be fine now. Plus, during training, it was fun to get to know the entire contents of each other’s suitcases. I’ll never forget Meghan’s purple skirt or Stacey’s green sweater!

Gifts/teaching stuff. This includes the best bargain I found – I was looking for something small I could use for gifts, and I came across boxes of 20 football & baseball silly bandz for only 49 cents! What is more American than football, baseball, and stupid fads!? I see those going over very well.

Shoes. I felt like this was a little excessive. I’m not a shoe freak. But all of these seemed necessary – I like to at least match!

Non-essential food. I don't really eat a lot of junk food, but there is something about not being able to find oreos or sour patch kids that will just make you crave them like nothing else. And when you are homesick, twizzlers and goldfish really help a lot. I once came home from the Peace Corps for a weekend (I escorted a friend on med-evac) and returned with two suitcases full of food. I just planned to fit as much of this as I could, and leave the rest for my mom to ship to me.

Essential food. Thanksgiving fixin’s. I guess Mexican thanksgiving. I just have a soft spot for Tequila.

Electronics. I do feel like this is a little excessive. My tech-addicted father and step-father have insisted on hooking me as well, and bought me, respectively, a new kindle and an iPad. What could I do, turn them down? But add to that a MacBook, iPod touch, iPod shuffle, 2 cameras (one of which my dad also gave me), and a bunch of adapters, and it just gets a little crazy. Look at all those cords!

Books. This is where I think I will get a lot of weight savings – I took probably 30 books with me to Madagascar, but I’ll read them on my kindle now. I also had people send me magazines monthly, and now I’ll read them on the iPad. I’m only taking very small or very essential books.

Kitchen stuff. American measuring cups are key, and I think the vegetable peeler, good knives, and spatulas will be put to good use! Sometimes it is hard to find good kitchen tools.

Fun stuff. If you think this is excessive, you should hear what I thought about bringing but had the will power to leave behind: a slip n’ slide, my full smurfette costume, a cheesehead, and my sequin tiara are just a few. Those elf shoes are going to be a hit this December!

Once things were in piles, I started with each pile and put the absolute most essential items in my bags, then weighed them. Still more room. So I put more stuff in. STILL MORE ROOM! So I ended up being able to fit just about everything I wanted/needed and still sneak in under the weight limit. In the end, I have bringing almost exactly my own body weight in luggage. That’s a lot of vitamins, sour patch kids, and power cords!

August 2, 2011


by Tabitha Kidwell

One of the most fun parts of moving to Indonesia is the fact that I get to have conversations like this one:

Random person from my running group: So, which race are you training for?
Me: Well. I’m moving, so I’m not really training for anything.
Random person: Oh? Where are you moving?
Me: Indonesia.
Random Person: ?!?!

It really throws them for a loop. Sometimes, though, it’s nice if we get distracted in the middle or if the person just doesn’t care and doesn’t ask where I’m moving, because it then inevitably leads to a barrage of questions. After almost 5 months of waiting to move to Indonesia, I’ve heard and answered most of these approximately one million times. Maybe if I answer them here, that will be it, now and forever. (Or maybe not)

Question: When do you leave?
My answer (for a long time): I don’t exactly know…

This is almost always the first question, and until the middle of June, the most aggravating one, because I was also nervously awaiting the answer. For most of the spring, I had to say “the end of August,” which put us all at ease because the end of August is an eternity away from the spring. In June, I finally received the answer: August 9th. I was informed by e-mail that I would be leaving directly from the pre-departure orientation, so about 3 weeks earlier than I expected. I read this e-mail in the middle of my 3rd period seventh grade Spanish class and I think I barely managed to conceal my panic attack over the loss of three weeks of summer. Since then, the date has been pushed up to August 8th, and I have adjusted to the earlier date. Now it’s even easier because I can answer “in a week” or “on Monday” and further freak out my interlocutor.

Question: Where will you live?
My answer (for a long time): I don’t exactly know…

This is almost always the second question, and I find that so interesting. Housing and security are so important to us! This was also aggravating because I myself didn’t know the answer for a long time, and people didn’t like the uncertainty. “You’re moving to Indonesia and you don’t even have a place to stay?!?!” But now I do – the university that I will work at is renting a house for me. It is fully furnished, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and carport or garage.

Question: How will you get all your stuff here?
My answer: I won’t.

Another interesting question: people are so connected to “stuff!” Especially people who have not had to move much. There is nothing I hate more than schlepping stuff around. I love traveling, but I hate traveling. So I’ve gotten rid of everything except what I am taking with me and the ten boxes stored in my parents’ crawl space. My sister and I had an epic garage sale in June, where we made almost $900. And then for the entire month of June, there was an unending parade of junk and crap leaving the house. It was incredible how much we had accumulated that we didn’t use or need or even want. We sold our couches, our washer/dryer, our beds, her cat (well, I tried, but he wouldn’t sit still in the garage sale, so he went to live with our brother), until there was nothing left. And now I have the task of fitting what I can in two suitcases.

Question: Are you going to buy a car?
My answer: No.

No, there will be nothing to put in the afore-mentioned garage or carport. Probably a bike, but no car. Public transportation should be available, and I’m only 1 and 2 kilometers away from the campuses where I’ll work.

Question: Indonesia… where is that?
My answer: Between southeast Asia and Australia.

I don’t want to sound pedantic here, because I also had to brush up on my geography from this area of the world. My middle school students were the worst at this – one kid asked “Miss Kidwell, why are you moving to Africa?”, another, “Miss Kidwell, will you coach cross country in Taiwan?” People forget where I’m going and ask when I leave for Thailand, India, Korea, Madagascar, etc. A lot of people mention how close I’ll be to New Zealand, which seems to be routinely switched with New Guinea in their mental maps. I really enjoy all the screw-ups. It keeps it interesting.

Question: Do you speak… uh…?
My answer: Bahasa Indonesia? Not yet. But I’m studying (kind of… there has been a lot of procrastination).

This one is funny, too, because people generally have no idea what language is spoken in Indonesia – I also didn’t know until I was placed there! People think it is French because they think of the former French Indochina, but that’s different. Some people think Dutch since it’s a former Dutch colony, but it turns out Dutch colonies were more mercantile than their British or French counterparts, and Dutch didn’t really disseminate into the culture. After I answer, people ask “So, is that a dialect of Chinese/Dutch/Sanskrit?” No. It’s a real language of it’s own.

Question: How long will you be gone?
My answer: For a year… (silence indicating that it will probably be more than a year.)

The fellowship is 10 months, and my visa requires me to get the heck out of Indonesia by June 13th. But there is only the tiniest of possibilities that I will come back to Columbus, Ohio permanently next June. My sister moved to Denver, my best friend got married and moved away, I finished my masters degree, I quit my job, the kids I volunteered with at church graduated and went off to college – everything just wrapped up and it is time to move on. I have great friends and family that I will miss, but I just don’t feel like I belong in Columbus Ohio right now. Maybe I’ll like Indonesia and I’ll extend for another year. Maybe I’ll find a job at an international school. Maybe I’ll work for Barack Obama’s campaign. Maybe I’ll go to grad school in San Francisco or New York or DC. But I’ll be gone for a little while. Sorry, Mom.

Question: Why are you moving to Indonesia?

This doesn’t have the easiest answer, and it took a long time for me to figure it out myself. I’m not sure that I exactly know yet. I’ve made a lot of my major life decisions based on intuition. I didn’t have a long and grueling college search – I just knew that I liked Miami University, got in, got a good scholarship, and was going there. I didn’t agonize about whether to join the Peace Corps or get a real job or go to grad school – I just applied and got placed and went to Madagascar. It was just the next step and I knew it was the right one. This is the same way. I’ve been thinking about moving abroad for a few years, and I had always known about this program, but it just came on gradually, and I applied, and was placed, and am going. I’m nervous about it sometimes, but I never think it’s the wrong decision. It couldn’t be wrong because it is what I will do. I don’t have any idea why I put Indonesia as my first choice, but I felt a really strong calling to go there. There is something there for me. I’ll let you know what it is when I find it.