Archive for November, 2011

November 22, 2011

So Fresh & So Clean

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Madagascar, I was fresh out of college. Like most college kids, I had more or less subsisted on Doritos, late night pizza, and easy-mac for four years, so that was comfort food for me. Of course, I could not find stuff like that in my itty bitty town in the middle of nowhere; a lot of the time, you couldn’t even get basics like apples, lettuce, milk, etc. You could always find rice, beans, and fried food, so I wasn’t hungry, but sometimes I just needed to eat food that tasted like home. Food security became a big part of my life. I would go to the market early every morning, even if I didn’t need anything, just to see if there would be something special there that day (often there was!). My friends and family sent me these awesome packages with candy, granola bars, oatmeal, drink mixes, etc. I devised these elaborate plans to try to cook the food I missed; the bagels were okay, the hummus was awesome, and the ranch dressing was a waste of two weeks.

So I came here with the same sort of mindset. In fact, I devoted like half of a suitcase to American food that I liked when I was in the Peace Corps: kraft cheese powder, cheez-its, oreos, candy. But then I got here, and there is no shortage of food anywhere. I can get almost anyting I want in Salatiga, including oreos and a good variety of American candy. On top of that, there is great Indonesian food all over the place. Everyday on my ride home, I’m tempted by ice cream, sugary fruit drinks, chocolate sandwiches, and fried everything, not to mention the several tasty restaurants in town. So I was eating all this Indonesian food, then coming home and eating all this American food, and the food was taking over my life. I would be sitting in my living room and the sour patch kids and twizzlers would be calling to me from the kitchen. Or, I would be getting a massage and would spend the whole hour thinking about what I would eat for dinner. I would eat when I was bored, when I wasn’t hungry and sometimes even when I was totally stuffed.

And I felt awful! I felt bloated and gross every night, and when I got to the fancy hotel at the TEFLIN conference during my recent travels, I got on a scale and saw that I had gained 15 pounds! 15 pounds doesn’t make me unhealthy or overweight, but it did feel like I had my high school backpack taped to my ass whenever I went running.

So then… I read a book. I’m sheepish about this whole thing, because I think people who get their diet or health advice from self-help books are a little silly, but that’s no more silly than having goldfish crackers control your life. I read Clean by Alejandro Junger, which talks about a 3-week cleanse. He makes it sound like the cure for every ailment, so I tried to take it with a grain of salt. I was totally sold nonetheless. He pushes it pretty hard, maybe because he is trying to get you to buy his shake mix packet online. I don’t think it’s a total scam, though, since there are also equivalent recipes you can make yourself,

Basically, you start by cutting out alcohol, caffeine, gluten, soy, dairy, peanuts, nightshade vegetables, shellfish, and other things that are common irritants or allergens for people. You’re left with chicken, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, brown rice, and other foods that are unequivocally healthy and relatively toxin free. The idea is, when your body doesn’t have to use it’s resources to eliminate the toxins you eat everyday, it can get rid of the systematic inflammation and toxicity and restore your cells to pristine condition. After 3-5 days of that, you keep eating that food for lunch everyday, but replace breakfast and dinner with a liquid meal from their smoothie, soup, and juice recipes, and continue for 21 days.

So, when I got back from vacation, I bought a blender, packed away all that delicious American food in my suitcase under my bed…

…filled my shelves with the healthy food I had stocked up on in Bali….

…and got started. Now, I’m on day 5 of the official 21 day cleanse. So far, it hasn’t been bad at all. The initial period was fine because I was still eating 3 meals a day, just couldn’t eat a lot of stuff I had before. I thought it would be hard once I started the liquid meals, but they are mostly delicious and have lots of fiber and nut milk and stuff in them so they’re really filling. I can snack on nuts, fruits, and vegetables if I’m hungry, but I haven’t been. It’s not bad at all. And I feel good. Usually I need to take a nap in the afternoon after lunch, and I haven’t needed to (it helps that it’s cooler here now that the rainy season has started). I have enough energy to run in the mornings. I feel healthy. I think I’ll be able to make it all 21 days. But a sentence like that is pretty good insurance that, in a week or so, there will be a post on here saying that I totally caved. So we’ll just see how it goes from here…

November 15, 2011

Ibu-Ibu meeting

by Tabitha Kidwell

You may remember that last month, I won the raffle at the neighborhood ibu-ibu (ladies) meeting, and it came along with the privilege of holding the next gathering. As with fashion decisions, I haven’t planned a party in recent memory without the help of my sister, so this was a daunting task. And what do you serve at an ibu-ibu meeting in Indonesia? Normally, I would do a cheese plate, some fresh fruit and vegetables, maybe some chips and guac…. But that would totally confuse these ibus, so I had to call in some reinforcements. I texted Ibu Fitri, the only lady in the neighborhood whose phone number I had, and asked her to go to the store with me. She’s a very nice woman, and used to teach mechanical engineering at one of the best universities in Indonesia. She moved to Salatiga because of her husbands job, and now she is a stay at home mom. As a very well educated stay at home mom, I thought she was probably (over-)qualified to make party food decisions.

The morning of the gathering, I picked her up at her house on my scoopy (a little silly since her house is about one block away) and she said “So, where did you order the boxes from?”

Uh, what? Apparently, the usual custom is to buy little snack boxes that have 3-4 little Javanese sweets in each. I should have known this, having received a box like this at every meeting I have attended, but I had just arrived back in Salatiga the night before and hadn’t thought about snacks until that morning. So it was too late to order the boxes. I suggested going to Wonder Bakery, which isn’t affiliated with Wonder Bread in America but is was actually quite reminiscent of the Wonder-Hostess Thrift Shop down the street from where I had grown up – a palace of baked goods!

“Well, if we can’t get boxes, I guess that works.” She said, visibly disappointed. They really love those boxes.

So we scoopied over to Wonder and I began to revel in the freshly-baked goodies smell. She suggested buying about 40 “snowballs.” You would think snowballs would be white, but I think cultural understanding of snow is fairly low here. These were actually little chocolate cakes that, for some reason, needed to be put into individual wrappers. I suggested just putting them out on plates, and she explained that, yes, they needed to be on plates, but individually wrapped. Whatever. I let Ibu Fitri do her thing. We also got some peanuts and puffed air cheese things (these didn’t need to be individually wrapped), and a box of individually packaged glasses of water.

So I set all this out and got ready for the meeting at 3:30…

… and waited. Nothing ever starts on time here, and even though I know this, I am usually ready at the announced time. At around 3:40, the head of the neighborhood came over, and we tried to make small talk, but mostly just looked at each other. She was probably secretly trying to spy out where I had put the snack boxes and wondering why I had so many individually wrapped cakes on plates. The other ibus trickled in, and around 4, we began our business. I did not win the raffle this time – it actually isn’t so much a raffle but a communal money saving scheme, so each person wins once. My time was over, so I couldn’t win anyways. The business winded down and I was getting nervous since none of the ibus had tried any of the food. No American ibu would just sit around conducting a meeting with those delicious plates of food on the table, but without snack boxes, I think these ibus didn’t know what to do. So at the end of the meeting, finally the neighborhood head said “time to eat,” and we passed around the plates.

And they ate everything. And asked me where I had bought it. And suggested that this week’s winner also go buy these snacks for next time.

Successful party. 🙂

November 13, 2011

Travel Highlights

by Tabitha Kidwell

Dedicated blog readers will notice that it’s been a long time since my last post, and it is with good reason: I’ve been out of town the last two weeks, first to Yogya (a town just south of me) then to Semarang (a town just north of me), and then to Ubud (in Bali!). This was my first trip longer than a weekend, and it was really exciting to get out of town and see some other parts of Indonesia! Here are some of the highlights:

Visiting the Yogya bird market – always an interesting time. They also sell pets, and this time I came across a bucket full of squirming, clawing hamsters. It was an awful way to store them, just piled on top of each other. I learned it was because their cage was being cleaned, but nevertheless, poor little things! They reminded me of my hamster Shithead (I didn’t name him) that I had in my college dorm. He used to do the monkey bars and run around in a yellow plastic ball. I never cleaned his cage, but then I never put him in a bucket with 20 buddies, either.

I also spotted this guy up past his bedtime.

From Yogya, we went down to the South Sea, where you could buy your freshly-caught fish at the market, then take it to the restaurant and have them cook it for you! Can’t get much fresher than that!

I also saw the beach for the first time since coming to Indonesia. For a country that consists of 13,000 islands, it’s pretty absurd that it took me 3 months to see the ocean!

I celebrated Halloween in Yogya, and mustered enough Ohioans to do a full OH-IO! The second O only qualified by going to Oberlin, but she was there the last 4 years. I think it counts.

I dressed up as a ‘bungkus,’ a take-out bag.

My friend Megan and I did a presentation on Plagiarism at the American Corner in Semarang. Even for this driest of topic, almost 200 students showed up!

During the cultural dinner at the TEFLIN conference, we got to see some incredible Javanese dances.

And got to ask other people to be in our photos for once.

The next day, we got to try out some traditional Javanese costumes ourselves (for more on this see my previous post!)

In Bali, my friend Meghan and I took an incredible bike tour through the countryside. It included breakfast overlooking a mountain lake, visiting a coffee plantation and trying coffee luwak (that’s the stuff the rodent eats and then… well… google it), seeing a traditional temple ceremony, visiting a Balinese family compound, and taking a walk through a rice field.

The next day, Meghan and I took a Balinese cooking class. She really liked it because she likes to cook, and I really liked it because I like to eat.

Meghan and I also woke up at 2 AM to climb Mt. Batur in time for the sunrise. Look how beautiful our sunrise was… not! It was still fun, though.

We did get to see some crazy cool monkeys close up on the way down, though – this photo didn’t even use zoom!

And lastly, Meghan and I took a batik class. I actually took one the week before in Yogya, too. I am no artist, but I think my batiks turned out okay. They look like something a child might make, but I’m okay with that.

And the best highlight of all: I was happy to come home to Salatiga! I guess that means I am really settled here and content with my life. It was a treat to get back to my students and to reading my kindle on the couch!

November 6, 2011

Becoming a Javanese Princess

by Tabitha Kidwell

A little known fact about me (ok not that little known, since I try to drop it into conversation whenever given the chance) is that I was elected homecoming queen in high school! Please don’t take that to mean I was ‘popular’ or ‘cool.’ I relied heavily on the band vote, the theater vote, the fact that my sister was a sophomore, and the fact that I had an interesting name. (In the cafeteria line that day, I stood behind a girl who explained to her friend that that was how she had chosen who to vote for. She clearly had no idea how close she was to royalty at that very moment.) But I won nonetheless, and I have the rhinestone tiara to prove it. I’ve put that crown to use since, too – friends have worn it for birthdays and bachelorette parties, I wore it to clean the house, write papers, or do other distasteful tasks, and I even pulled it out for my going-away party in August. I thought really hard about bringing it with me here, and sometimes wish I had. But, as I learned last week, suburban Ohio royalty just doesn’t compare to Javanese royalty.

All 15 English Language Fellows attended the TEFLIN (Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia) conference in Semarang from November 3-5. My friend Jonthon, who is an adventurous sort, cooked up a little surprise for us our last day there. A common thing for Indonesian people to do is to go to studios, get all done up, and have a photo shoot of themselves dressed up like Javanese princes and princesses. It’s maybe a little like getting your picture taken like an olde time sheriff. My counterpart, for example, got a picture like this taken in celebration of his and his wife’s 10th wedding anniversary. Jonthon happened to have a friend who lives in the area who had just taken a class on doing hair and makeup for these sessions, and he asked if she and her friends would come and turn us into sultans and sultanas(I looked that up).

It turns out, there is more to being Javanese royalty than meets the eye.

First, they put these goofy things on my eyelids that keep your eyes shut a little bit so that people can see the eye-shadow better. I guess they are important for Asian women, but it felt a little bit like getting your eyes taped shut to me.

Next, they put on A LOT of makeup, even including eyebrow tint. Javanese princesses do not have undefined eyebrows.

Then, there was a lot of hair teasing as they wrapped my own hair around a giant donut of fake hair.

Then, some silk flower netting was draped and pinned around the real hair/fake hair donut combo.

And then two of the ladies helped wrap me up in a few yards of cloth.

Lastly, they added some bling…

… and I took a moment to eat a Halloween peep. (We had forgotten lunch and it was clear by now this would be an all-day affair!)

And I was a Javanese princess!

Humility is, traditionally, one of the most valued characteristics in Javanese culture, hence the downward gaze. Unlike me, a Javanese princess would not try casually mention her election as homecoming queen. If Indonesian high schools had homecoming… and football… and school dances… okay, I think you get the point.

All told, my transformation took almost two hours, and there were four other people being worked on at the same time. When the first round was done, our stylists started on the second round, while we sat around uncomfortably, took pictures, and ate more Halloween peeps. When everyone was finished, we got together for a spectacular photo shot on the hotel balcony, down in the lobby, and even took a foray into the attached mall. Here we are in all our glory:

I really loved my costume and really felt quite regal. I would probably have kept the outfit on all night and headed out on the town if our stylists hadn’t had to, you know, go home, and take their costumes and props with them. We didn’t get to keep our bling.

But I still have my own.