Archive for February 23rd, 2012

February 23, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 5: Sulawesi Lecture Tour

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I originally thought about plans for my January-February break, I hoped to use my program activity allowance to travel around, stopping at each of my colleague’s schools to do a presentation. I even planned out how to hit all 50+ people over the 6 weeks (which was a little bit crazy, actually). But then my mom planned a visit and I wanted to learn to scuba dive and conferences got planned in the middle… and I only ended up with 10 days leftover. Luckily, that was just enough time to get around to most of the sites in South Sulawesi, and the 6 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) in the area were happy to invite me to their schools and also to act as tour guides.

Throughout my time in Indonesia, I have been surprised by the narrow image of “Americans” – that we are all white, tall, Christian. Being white, tall, and Christian, I was perhaps not the best candidate to give a presentation about multiculturalism in America, but that is what I attempted to do. In the 5 schools I visited, I presented in ETA’s English classes, clubs, or (at one site) the whole school assembled, perhaps against their will, on a Saturday morning. It was a fun presentation – we started by looking at pictures of people and guessing where they were from. Invariably, the students said that all the non-white people were from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, China, Mexico, etc. (all were actually American) and the white people were American (all were actually from other countries). The rest of the presentation attempted to convince them that, yes, there are African Americans (besides Barack Obama and Michael Jordan), Asian Americans, Latin Americans, even – gasp – Muslim Americans. It was, admittedly, a little basic (I didn’t talk about racism or the Koran-burning controversies or anything) but I think students got the basic idea. If not, they were at least entertained for a little while. I had fun giving the presentation, but I also really enjoyed visiting the schools – I realized I teach future teachers, but I hadn’t set foot in a high school until this trip. It was great to see what goes on in the many types of high schools I got to see (a Christian boarding school, a Muslim boarding school, a vocational high school, and two traditional high schools).

Besides going to schools, I had lots of time to explore Sulawesi. If you look at a map of Indonesia, Sulawesi is the crazy island that is basically made of four peninsulas stuck together. There is a lot of unrest in the center of the island, and besides that, it is a huge place, so I only visited the southern province. First, I traveled up to Polewali, where my ETAs Beth and Chris live. I had an amazing chocolate milkshake at a beachside cafe and watched the sunset…

…then Chris and I visited the brand-new Alfa Midi, the new convenience store in town. Having gone from zero convenience stores to one amazing convenience store, Chris was pretty excited about it… and the ladies that worked there were excited that another white person came into their store…

We also climbed to the top of a “mountain” to overlook Polewali. It was more of a small hill, and there was no one around at the top, so we took the liberty of climbing the cell phone tower for a better view – and got it!

Then I took a longer-than-it-should-have-been, un air-conditioned bus up to Tana Toraja, the major tourist attraction in South Sulawesi. ETAs Rachel and Eda live in the two big towns in the region, so I got to visit both of their schools as well as see some amazing things. Toraja is known for it’s many interesting customs related to death, like special graves cut into trees for babies who die before they have teeth…

… and displaying effigies of the deceased at their burial sites…

…and sometimes just leaving bones sitting around.

Their traditional wood-carved homes and rice barns are also really stunning…

I stayed in Toraja a little longer than the other locations, giving Rachel and I time to make lots of delicious food:

Then I moved on to little Sidrap, ETA Emilie’s site. It was a Muslim boarding school, and the kids didn’t get off campus much, so they were REALLY excited to have another foreigner on campus. I think every single kid asked me “Hello, what is your name?” and gave me a high 5. It was really fun for one day, but I think Emilie is really incredible for responding to that kind of energy with patience and grace every day. The kids were so sweet, but a little intense!

Then I moved on the Makassar and ETA Katy’s school. After presenting, Katy and I went down to the waterfront and ate a pisang ijo

…then saw the most amazing sunset I have seen in a long time!

It was the perfect ending for an amazing 42 days of travel all around the country. It was an amazing trip – especially because it made me appreciate coming home to Salatiga!