Archive for May, 2012

May 23, 2012

Triathlon Training

by Tabitha Kidwell

I came to Indonesia last August hoping to do two marathons, but then I got injured (and maybe also a little lazy) and I didn’t train for any. What I loved most about marathon training at home was running with all the fun people in my running group. It was much less appealing to train for a marathon alone here than it was with all my friends in America. I couldn’t fathom heading out for a 20 miler alone, particularly in a country where running even one mile gets curious glances. I still have hopes for the marathon next year, but in the meantime, I have discovered another sport obsession…

After next Saturday morning, I will be an official triathlete! Tomorrow, I will head to Bintan Island, near Singapore, to do my first sprint triathlon – swim 750m, bike 20km, then run a 5K. I’m going with my friend Jackie and a bunch of people from Tribuddies, her triathlete group in Jakarta, so it should be a lot of fun. I’m not too nervous about the distances or my time – I should be done around or just under 2 hours, and for this first one, I just want to finish successfully. I’m far more worried about the logistics of getting my bike there – I successfully boxed it up yesterday, but I have had to rent a private car to take me the 90 minute trip to the airport. I’m just hoping the airline will accept it as luggage, will check it the whole way through, and that I’ll successfully get it to the hotel and then to the start line without dropping a ton of cash. It’s a bit complicated, especially in this country, where everything is more complicated than it should be!

Bike transport aside, I’m really excited to get out and race! Bintan is supposed to be a beautiful island – it (like most islands in Indonesia, apparently) is billed as the “next Bali.” With just doing a sprint triathlon, I think I should do pretty well. Throughout training, I’ve easily swam much farther than this distance, I have a strong long-term running base, and I biked this distance almost weekly since getting my road bike in March. I trained pretty consistently, and I think I will be prepared. As with marathoning, the most fun part of it may prove to be the training. Doing so much and such varied exercise was a great way to fill my (ample) free time here. I got to swim, bike, and run in some beautiful places, both at home and while on the road:

Salatiga’s Ring Road, where I ran and biked while at home. Check out Mt. Merbabu!

The hotel pool where I swim laps.

The cove at Gapeng Beach, where I did open water swims in April. Doesn’t it look like a pool?

A pretty nice run on vacation on Pulau Weh!

Jackie and me after an open water swim at Pulau Seribu, near Jakarta.

After a second open water swim at Pulau Seribu!

And I got to meet some fun Indonesian people through Tribuddies when I tagged along for open-water swims on visits to Jakarta. I wish I lived in Jakarta so I could train with them full time, but what can you do? I’m looking forward to the fun weekend we’ll have on Bintan – especially after the triathlon is over and the real fun can start!

May 16, 2012

Irshad Manji

by Tabitha Kidwell

Barack Obama’s statement last week in support of same sex marriage was undoubtedly a huge step forward for gay rights in America. It was especially meaningful for me in juxtaposition to some dramatic events that occurred in Central Java on Wednesday night. Irshad Manji, a Canadian muslim activist, is visiting Indonesia to discuss her new book Allah, Liberty, and Love, and to start a dialogue about moral courage, thinking critically about your faith, and free speech. She also happens to be a lesbian. Her visit here has been extremely controversial, but not because of her outspoken criticism of Islam and call for reform. (Honestly, such an outcry would be somewhat justified – her books are a pretty strong affront to conventional Islam. They made me a little uncomfortable and I’m not even the target audience!) Instead, the major concern among protesters is her sexual orientation and the fact that she is trying to spread a “lesbian agenda.” This is pointedly inaccurate – Ms. Manji’s message does not even touch on gay rights. Many protesters admittedly were ignorant of her message, but were incensed that a lesbian could even think of calling herself a Muslim. One of the protesters who participated in the violent shut-down of a book signing in Jakarta said he he was there because: “This Irshad is a lesbian. Do you want this country to be a lesbian?” Um, what?

With all this controversy in the air, I was really excited to hear that STAIN Salatiga had agreed to have Ms. Manji come speak last Tuesday. I hadn’t heard of her before, but I downloaded and read her books and was really excited to meet such a courageous woman and fresh voice in Islam. I was a little nervous about the event, for one, because I know she would really challenge the conservative faculty members here, and also because of the potential for violence. I actually considered bringing my hammer in my backpack just in case some hoodlums showed up. The administration here was nervous, too – they cancelled the event, then rescheduled it in a smaller venue and only invited a select group of faculty members. Being a basically secret event, it wasn’t quite a resounding show of free speech, but it did go well (I didn’t need the hammer, at least.) The lecturers, even if they didn’t agree with her message, were welcoming, polite, and very willing to engage in dialogue and consider her viewpoints. I was especially impressed by her evidently thoughtful nature: as she was walking out, she spotted some secretaries huddled behind a desk looking on with admiration. She stopped her entourage (even though they were late for their next event) and made those ladies’ day by taking a picture with them. Then, my counterpart and I were standing by the door as she headed out, and I said “good luck, stay safe.” She turned around and said “Thanks, Tabitha, thanks Hanung!” We looked at each other in awe – we had met her for about 5 seconds and she remembered our names?!?! She was just so gracious and kind. I think many of my colleagues were prepared for a rude and confrontational woman, and were really shocked by the fact that she was truly kind and peaceful. I think they will rethink many of their assumptions about homosexuality, liberal Islam, and the idea of questioning one’s own faith.

Unfortunately, the attendees at Ms. Manji’s last event in Indonesia (in Yogya, a town about 3 hours south of Salatiga) didn’t have that same experience. Men in helmets and masks broke in, smashed plates, and assalted the innocent people in attendance. As in Jakarta, the main reason they were doing so was because of misplaced homophobia. That just shows how far Indonesia still has to come in terms of gay rights. But the fact that this protest occurred in Yogya means that the victims were not going to take it quietly. Yogya is known for its liberalism, and because of these events, there was a huge protest last weekend in support of free speech. Even if the thugs who shut down Irshad Manji’s event were up in arms because of homosexuality, what came out of it was a renewed commitment to free speech and increased interest in what Ms. Manji is actually saying. Hopefully this will help move Indonesia one stop closer to being a country where even controversial muslim activists can share their ideas, and where a future Indonesian president might one day be able to show the same moral courage Obama did last Wednesday!

Irshad Manji at STAIN Salatiga:

A very different scene the next evening in Yogya. It was truly cowardly to attack innocent, unarmed people with sticks and metal bars while wearing motorcycle helmets. (Photo Credit: Mark Woodward)

May 7, 2012

Working hard… or hardly working…

by Tabitha Kidwell

One of my pet peeves here is when people find out that I’m not scheduled to teach a certain day and say “Wah! Libur!” (Wow! You have the day off!) This probably relates to my own overachiever’s guilt, since I’m only actually scheduled 2.5 days a week. In practice, I do a little work almost every day, and most week days I am, indeed, working at home or at a coffee shop: planning lessons, grading papers, setting up or preparing presentations, working on my research project, studying Indonesian, etc. So I don’t want people to think I’m just here at home picking my nose. But if I try to explain to people that I work at home, I get a blank stare. Indonesian people don’t work at home. Many don’t have the computers or resources to be able to work at home, and besides, they all have families they want to spend their time with. When they are home, they are off. The American concept of working at home just doesn’t translate.

Besides that, I think Indonesian people want to work at the office precisely because they don’t have to work at the office. A lot of what happens at “work” is chatting, gossiping, going for a cup of coffee or a smoke, praying, and other things that are decidedly not work. Or are they? I go to campus with my American to-do list and mostly sit in my office and get stuff done from behind my computer. But what exactly is the purpose of all that work I’m getting done? Yes, my classes are better planned, my students get their papers back sooner, my e-mail in-box is cleaned out. But I’m missing out on the work everyone else is doing – building relationships. Most offices and businesses are set up with this goal in mind. In most shops, you have to ask someone for what you want instead of picking it up off the shelf. At any given restaurant, there always seem to be 4 times as many waiters as necessary, I think so that most of them can stand around chatting. Pak Lutfi, our office manager, doesn’t seem to have many duties besides opening the office in the morning and locking up in the afternoon, but he is always there, hanging out, “at work.” And if most people on campus had to choose between who works harder, Pak Lutfi, or me, they’d probably pick Pak Lutfi, just because they see him there more often. And, in truth, he is spending more time doing the work that matters to Indonesian people. Relationships are key in this communal culture, and by working at home or hiding behind my computer on campus, I’m missing out on the best part of working here. I’m glad I have another year here since Im only figuring this out now. I’m going to try to throw out that to-do list and spend more time doing the work that really matters. Or maybe I’ll just keep the to-do list but add “sit on the office couch.” And “see what they’re up to in the office next door.” And “do less work.”