Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

January 15, 2014

Access Camps 2014

by Tabitha Kidwell

Some of my happiest memories of childhood are from camp: milkshakes in the craft cabin; canoeing across the lake; watching the sunset while roasting marshmellows. For me, and for many American children, summers at camp were a time to be in nature, make new friends, and learn about ourselves. I went to camp every summer from 1991-2002, spending my final two summers there as a counselor. The time I spent making friendship bracelets, playing tag, and telling ghost stories had an influence on my life that can’t be measured.

Because of all that, I was thrilled to be invited back to Indonesia to help lead English camps this January. The campers were participants in the State Department’s Access Microscholarship program, which provides extra-curricular English classes to talented but underprivileged high school students. In America, bright high schoolers are overbooked with swim meets, music lessons, community service, student council, and other activities that build their confidence and shape them as future leaders; these Indonesian students have comparatively few opportunities. That made the camp experience even more meaningful for them!

Our first camp was the National camp just outside of Jakarta. It involved about 50 students from Jakarta, and 70 from 7 locations across Indonesia. For many of those students, this was the first time they had been to the capital, or even on an airplane! As they arrived at the airport, they were bussed into town to the @America cultural center at a mall in central Jakarta. They were split into teams named after national parks (Yosemite, Glacier, Everglades, etc.) and asked to create a “yell-yell” to perform for the Ambassador, who was in attendance to open the camp and judge their enthusiastic cheers. Then we climbed back on the bus to get a photo op at Monas, the National Monument, before heading out to a retreat center at Sentul, the closest we could get to wilderness in the outskirts of urban Jakarta. We spent the next three days out there singing campfire songs, playing games, and spending time with a remarkable group of young people. Indonesian people are unfailingly positive and happy, and these high schoolers were no exception. There wasn’t even a hint of the attitude and sarcasm you would expect from American teenagers; no slouching or rolling of eyes! In fact, they were easy to please and pretty much loved everything we did. To get feedback at the end of each day, we passed out post-its and asked students to write “old-fashioned tweets” about their opinion of camp activities. To be perfectly clear, this was basically just writing. On paper. With pens. But the kids loved it – they ran all over the room sticking “tweets” on the posters, the counselors, and each other. They begged for more post-its. Some of their comments:
“When I go home, I’ll tell my friends about how fun the national camp was.”
“I’ll never forget sleeping in a tent.”
“Today I learned how to make a teamwork.”
“Today I learned we must protect our planet… go green!”
“Because of Access Camp, I will be someone better than before.”
“Because of Access Camp, I will make my dreams come true.”
“Because of Access Camp, I will have a girlfriend.”

Even though we were all together for less than 72 hours, the intense nature of camp meant that relationships formed quickly. Muslim kids from Madura made inside jokes with Christian kids from Papua that were indecipherable to any of the adult leaders, Indonesian or American. Kids put up facebook pictures of them with their counselors and new friends. Tears were shed as the kids boarded the busses in the early hours of the final day. The campers left with the message that they are important, talented, powerful people, and we all left with happy memories.

Now, we’re taking the show on the road. Less than half of the students from the remote sites were able to come to Jakarta, so we are leading a series of regional camps. I, along with a rotating crew of counselors, will lead the first three camps – first in Manokwari, almost as far east as you can go in Indonesia, on the island of Papua New Guinea; then in Ambon, a little island in the Malukus that is still recovering from a period of Christian-Muslim violence; and then in Kendari, a city perched on one of the four arms of Sulawesi, the funniest shaped island in the world. After that, my tenure as an English Language Specialist will come to an end, and I’ll pass off camp leadership to the English Language Fellows for camps in Banda Aceh, the city at the top of Sumatra that was struck by the tsunami in 2004, Pekanbaru, a city in central Sumatra, and Kupang, which shares an island with newly independent East Timor in southeast Indonesia, far closer to Australia than Jakarta. The diversity of the camp sites is incredible, but the diversity of the individual campers is even greater. Each one is talented in their own way, and I hope that, by sharing a little bit of American culture through the camp program, we can help them to grow into leaders who will shape Indonesia’s future.

August 19, 2013

Off the Map

by Tabitha Kidwell

Last night, I had a dream that I had returned to Kilbourne Middle School to teach for the year. All my colleagues were super excited to see me for, like, five minutes, then the kids arrived and they turned their full attention to their students. Which is exactly what would happen in real life.

Well done, subconscious!

My facebook feed is full of teacher friends saying things like Back to school tomorrow; Going to miss summer with my babies; Starting my 7th year of teaching. It is KILLING ME! This would have been my 10th year as a teacher, and it is the first year since I was FOUR that I’m not going back to school. I’ve always felt a strong call to be a teacher, so it feels weird not to be in the classroom this year. I have a fear that I will never get back to public school teaching, and it makes me justalittlebit question my decision to leave for Indonesia two years ago. I had been so happy at Kilbourne – I loved the kids, and I had what I believe are the single greatest group of teaching colleagues on the face of the planet. Everything was great, but I had this little voice inside of me that said “you should move to Indonesia” “you should get your PhD” “you should go see the world” “you don’t need a normal job.”

Shut up, little voice!

So here I am, taking the road less travelled, and it’s hard. In fact, it kinda sucks right now. I’m really struggling with not knowing what the future will bring. I probably would have been really happy teaching middle school French and Spanish for the next 25 years, but it would have been less exciting. That is not to say that teaching middle school would have been boring or easy (in fact, the words boring, easy, and teaching middle school really have no place in the same sentence). And I don’t mean that my former colleagues don’t lead exciting enough lives (three sets of twins come to mind). But that life for me would have been less exciting than moving to Indonesia, going to grad school in a new city, and… doing whatever it is I’m going to do the rest of my life. Unfortunately, the process of living this more exciting life is also way harder.

So that’s what I was thinking about when I listened to Dan Ariely’s TED talk about motivation:

My takeaway was that when people have to work harder, they love their work more. When they are confronted with a challenge and overcome it, they are happier than if they had just continued doing the same thing. The path I have chosen may not be the easiest I could have taken, but it has brought me incredible experiences. I am absolutely in love with this life I am leading, challenges and blessings alike. My route may be all over (and off) the map, but it has taken me to Balinese beaches, European cathedrals, and African villages. It has brought wonderful friends into my life and has given me countless happy memories. It may be rocky at times, but it still totally rocks!

August 17, 2013

I’m Rich!

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I lived in Indonesia, I had the habit of exclaiming “I’m rich!” accompanied by an Oprah-esque sweep of the arm. This would happen in situations like being swindled by a taxi driver or offering to buy the next round of drinks. By American standards, I was by no means rich – I made even less than I had as a first year teacher! But Indonesia, where many of my colleagues were making a few hundred dollars a month, was a different story. I could basically afford to buy anything I wanted. (Within reason – the Cartier and Louis Vuitton stores were still out of reach). And I did end up spending a lot of money – I went on adventurous vacations, indulged in spa treatments, and ate out whenever I was in a big city. I don’t regret any of this, even though I didn’t save any money. The scuba diving, mountain climbing, massages, and long dinners with friends were part of what made my 2 years there so amazing. Even if I had tried to keep a tight budget and save, I wouldn’t have had all that much money to show for my efforts.

Of course, now that I am unemployed and living with my parents, it seems like it would have been a good idea to take a few fewer trips or skip a few mani-pedis. I’m definitely not rich now. And I am even less rich after my car got towed while I was visiting friends in DC last week. The towing fee was $245, plus a $250 parking ticket! Ouch!

But the truth is, even though I don’t have a paycheck at the moment, I am rich. I was able to go to the ATM and pull out enough cash to pay the towing company. If my efforts to contest the ticket don’t work out, I’ll be able to write a check for the fine. While I’m not thrilled to hand over almost $500 for nothing, I have the money. And in a year, I probably won’t even notice its absence from my bank account.

For a lot of people, especially many DC residents, a $500 parking violation would be ruinous. Someone on minimum wage making $8.25 an hour would have to work 60 hours to earn $495! That’s a week-and-a-half full time, and that doesn’t even factor in taxes! For a minimum-wage employee, a parking ticket like this would mean a month of eating peanut butter and jelly at best and eviction and homelessness at worst. It could mean losing their car, which could mean losing their job, which would mean being forced to rely on charity, even if they want a job and are willing to slave away for 8 measly bucks an hour. It would mean many things that someone like me, who grew up in the suburbs, can’t begin to understand. That sucks, America. We should be able to do better by the most vulnerable people in our society.

So, at least if I have to pay $495, I am getting something in return. I’m being reminded of how incredibly fortunate I am in so many ways. I do have savings I can fall back on. I have an education that qualifies me for a job that pays a living wage. I have family I could turn to in an emergency and that I am turning to at the moment. It just really would have been nice to learn all that from, say, a $50 parking ticket.

June 12, 2013

Future Plans

by Tabitha Kidwell

People keep asking me what I am doing next year. The answer… not much of anything. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’m hoping to start grad school for my Ph.D. in applied linguistics in 2014, so I’m going to spend most of August and September visiting schools and applying. I guess I’d better take the GRE, too. And then I might go to India. Or work at starbucks. And I’m definitely going to live in my grandmother’s basement and spend a lot of time watching Jeopardy with her. So I’ll be pretty busy, actually.

The truth is, I applied to a couple of jobs that I thought I was PERFECT for, and I was a little worried I would get both… but I in the end I got neither. That was a bit of a blow to my ego, but a necessary reality check. For the past two years, I’ve been doing a lot of work that, frankly, would be beyond my qualifications in the states. With just a master’s degree and an American passport, I was asked to teach undergraduate methods classes and give keynote speeches at international conferences. I got a lot of really good experience, but in the end, I still am not quite qualified to do that kind of work at home. Not getting these jobs is a good reminder that I am not (to borrow a phrase from the late 90s) all that. This is probably something I need to hear this week, when I have been the guest of honor at no less than 5 going away events featuring speeches about how awesome I am (Miss Tabitha has a very beautiful face; Miss Tabitha has shown us that it is possible to come to class on time; Miss Tabitha teach us English so well) and given me more presents than I can possible carry home. During the past two years, I have actually been given trophies for doing such a good job! Being rejected from a couple of jobs is a good reminder that that will probably not happen in the future. Except maybe as starbucks employee of the month November 2013!

This doesn't happen in America?

This doesn’t happen in America?

January 13, 2013

Welcome to KL!

by Tabitha Kidwell

Even though it’s right next door, I’d never really thought about coming to Malaysia. It’s like Canada – a widely-rumoured-to-be-better neighbor to the North. Why go there when you already live in the slightly-inferior-but-still-just-fine version? It would just foster resentment, right? In fact, when my sister (who is coming to visit in May) brought up the idea of going to Malaysia for a weekend, I was kinda like “Yeah, I guess, if you want to…”

And even after I got asked to come here to do the Fulbright ETA teacher training, I was still so focused on finishing up my semester in Salatiga that I didn’t think much about it. I literally didn’t even think about the possibility of needing a visa until I was waiting in the immigration line! I knew almost nothing about Kuala Kumpur – I basically pictured it just like Jakarta.

And I was right – KL is just like Jakatra… if Jakarta didn’t suck so much! Ok that’s harsh, I really like The
Big Durian
, but Kuala Lumpur is a much cleaner, nicer, and more cosmopolitan version. Granted, I’ve only seen like 3 blocks, and that was on a quiet Sunday afternoon, so I may be way off, but I love it here. It reminds me more of Australia than Southeast Asia.

I checked in to the hotel at about 3 PM. I keep thinking that the US government has housed me in the fanciest hotel they can, and then they keep upping the ante. The Royale Chulan pretty much blows the Sheraton Bandung and the Onmi Shoreham out of the water. See?


As always, I jumped on the bed, then completely unpacked. I hate living out of a suitcase, but I love packing and repacking. I’ve often surmised that is why I like to travel so much. Anyways, I pretty much skipped lunch, so then I was starving. The doorman directed me to the mall just down the street. I intended to grab lunch then walk around the city exploring, but I was sucked in by the artificial charms of the Pavillion Mall. At first, I pretty much just wandered around gawking at all the wonderful things at the mall. There was every ethnicity of cuisine I could ever want – Mediterranean, Turkish, Tapas, Mexican, Irish, Italian, TGIFridays, etc. I settled on Tapas after I saw that they had a cheese plate/bottle of wine special. They told me I could take the bottle home if I didn’t finish it, and I was sold. I also ordered a smoked salmon salad, prompting the waiter to gesture to his stomach, give an I’m pregnant type gesture, and say “You often eat the big food?”. I was a little insulted – is a salad and (individual!) cheese plate that much food? I’ll concede that the bottle of wine was excessive, but a salad and some cheese? Cone on, dude! Nevertheless, I pretty much just parked it there for the next two hours sipping wine, nibbling on cheese, and reading my new Kuala Lumpur travel app. I also ordered the tiramisu. Yum!

After that, a little bit tipsy from my half-bottle of wine, I pretty much just wandered around the mall. I found a magical section of the mall that had Nike, Aisics, AND Speedo stores, and almost peed my triathlete pants. I swung by Subway for the free smells. I stopped by the free candy store (okay, I think they expected you to buy some bulk candy, not just try one sample of each, but they didn’t seem to mind) and the free perfume store (same story, but I only tried one). I found a grocery store and bought some Cavendish bananas (ironic that the plain old only-kind-available-in-America bananas now seem exotic and foreign to me). And now I’m back at the hotel and intend to spend the evening taking a bubble bath and watching Mad Men. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the best day of 2013… so far!

And my time in KL has only just begun! Tomorrow I get to begin one of the best professional opportunities I’ve ever had – I’ll be training the 75 recent college grads who have been awarded Fulbright grants to go teach English in Malaysian primary and secondary schools. And, I get to do it with the two senior fellows in Indonesia, from whom I have so much to learn! And, I’m only 10 minutes away from the free candy store! This might even be the best week of 2013!

January 9, 2013

Keeping Closer Tabs

by Tabitha Kidwell

With the new year come new resolutions…

In 2013, I’m going to change up the format of Keeping-Tabs. Recently, blogging has begun to feel like a chore, and I keep procrastinating. I just dread writing and have to force myself to put something up every couple of weeks, or back-date it to make it look like I put something up every couple of weeks. Cheater.

My solution: write more! Sound counterintuitive? Maybe it is, but I’m going to try not to make each blog post into such a big production. Instead of an in-depth essay on Indonesian culture or an entire photo album from my vacation, I’m just going to write a paragraph here and there. What am I doing today? What do I think about (blank)? What did I eat for lunch? Simple, easy, no need to spend hours hammering it out. So instead of having 2-5 blog posts a month, I’ll do maybe 10-15. I think this is more in the spirit of the title “Keeping-Tabs.” Literally, where is Tabitha, and what is she doing?

So let me know what you think over the next couple of weeks! I predict more typos and grammatical mistakes (which I hate, but I’ll get over it) and more vague rambling about the mundane details of my life. TMI? Boring? Self-indulgent? Yes, on all accounts. But hey, no one is forcing you to read! Feel free to return to facebook stalking and cute cat videos at any time!

June 7, 2012

Travel List: Year 1 in Indonesia

by Tabitha Kidwell

Places I’ve traveled in Indonesia… so far!

Pulau Weh

If the Island of Sumartra were a sundae, Pulau Weh would be the cherry on top. It’s the most Northwestern point in Indonesia, and it seems a little bit like the end of the world. The two major tourist attractions, Gapang and Ibodeh, aren’t anything more than a sandy cove with a couple of shack restaurants and a dive center. I went to Gapang and did my Advanced Open Water Scuba certification at Lumba Lumba dive center. The dive center was very laid-back and cool, and I really loved Lesley, my instructor. The diving was pretty beautiful, too – I saw turtles, an Eagle Ray, and a lot of other stuff that I should probably learn more about now that I am an Advanced Open Water certified scuba diver. There was great snorkeling right off shore, too, and it was fun just to swim around the quiet cove. On land, Gapang is pretty quiet – there are about 5 restaurants all with the same menu, and one store that served ice cream (thank goodness!) I went on a couple of hilly runs on quiet, peaceful roads – no traffic to be found! A wonderful place for a quiet beach vacation or for underwater delights! Lumba Lumba has nice but pricey rooms. I stayed in a basic accommodation just past the ice cream shop – a mattress on the floor and shared bathroom, but it was clean and only $8 a night!


Banda Aceh, at the northwestern tip of Sumatra, was devastated by the tsunami in 2004. Everyone lost someone – family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues. Some lost their entire families. The town is mostly rebuilt, but memories of the tsunami are always just under the surface. Tsunami-related attractions dominate the tourist scene. There are two boats that were carried kilometers inland: one GIANT freighter and one mid-sized wooden fishing boat that is somehow more shocking because it is still sitting on the house it landed on. You can stand on it and look into someone’s former bathroom. You can also visit the tsunami museum, half of which was funded by foreign NGOs and is (apparently) very touching (it was closed when I was there), the other half of which was funded by Indonesian organizations, and resembles a middle school science fair. An impressinve science fair, but it doesn’t really do justice to the victims and their memories.
Aceh’s other big thing is coffee. They drink it strong and they drink it often. In this conservative Muslim area, you’d be hard pressed to find a bar, but coffee joints abound. They’re full all hours of the day and (especially the) night. Also worth a visit is the incredible mosque, which was built by the Dutch to compensate for the one they burnt down in one of the many colonial battles with the fierce Acehnese. At the opening ceremony, the Acehnese killed the Dutch representative. Like I said, fierce !


Jakarta is called the big Durian, and with good reason – like the pungent fruit, Jakarta is stinky and hard to like at first, but once you get used to it, you love it. I didn’t really get Jakarta on my first visit when I first arrived. Why are there so many malls? Who shops there? Why is there so much traffic? After a few more visits, though, I like Jakarta. It’s a pain to get around town with the traffic, but once you get where you want to go, there are some really nice spots. It’s a very cosmopolitan city. I especially like Jakarta because whenever I am there, I get to stay with my friend Jackie and participate in sporting events with her triathlon training group, which is always fun! WE often head out to Pulau Harapan (the 1,000 islands), about an hour away, for open water swims. My favorite restaurants (AKA the only ones I know) are: The Social House, at the Grand Indonesia mall, which is swanky, has delicious food, and makes me feel like a big city socialite; Ya Udah, a hole in the wall who mixed up my order in a big way (served pork instead of steak – Big no-no in a Muslim country), but I love it because it reminds me of the crappy patio bar & grilles from college; and Bluegrass, just across the street from Jackie’s apartment – everything is delicious there!


I was in Bandung for orientation last August, and I’m looking forward to going back now that I know my way around Indonesia. It’s supposed to be a really fun city, but I spent most of my 3 weeks there in the Sheraton pool or in language class. W were there during Ramadan, which meant that most of the hot spots were closed, but there was one memorable night (my birthday!) at a bar on a hill that I only remember as “Ron Bar” because my friend Ron recommended it. I’ll get back to you on the name. Otherwise, I ate quite a few times at Dago Tea House, a peaceful Indonesian restaurant up the road from the hotel. More to come after next years training!


I’m hoping to get back to Semarang more next year. I visited at the beginning of October to get the lay of the land and didn’t love the place, but I think I was in the wrong area. I stayed in the old Dutch area and it was (as one might expect by the word “old” it it’s title) run down. I stayed there later for the TEFLIN conference and got a better feeling for the place, but then never got back again. I’ve driven through the city en route to the airport quite a few time now, and I get a very different feeling – it reminds me of Cincinnati with it’s hills (but maybe I’ve been out of the states too much). I want to go back and see some of the tourist attractions – the “house of 1000 doors,” a Chinese temple complex, and a jamo (traditional medicine) museum.

I stopped by Solo on my way to Australia. It’s known for it’s conservative Muslim groups (which, incidentally, also why there is an international airport there – it is a starting point for the Hajj). I only stayed in the center of the city, and really loved the feeling there. There is still a sultan in Solo, though he doesn’t enjoy the special status that the Yogya sultan does. (Yogya’s was instrumental in the independence fight and got special privileges after liberation.) Hey, the dude is still a sultan! You can visit his palace and try to use your 3rd level Javanese (the register used only for royalty). Solo is also known for it’s batik fabrics, so I’d like to go back to shop a little. I’d also like to go back to visit O Solo Mio, the amazingly delicious Italian restaurant there. Pizza, Pasta, wine… worth the hour’s bus ride.

Dieng Plateau

It’s pretty far off the beaten path, but Dieng is definitely worth the trip. It’s basically a giant collapsed volcanic caldera. There is still some volcanic activity – sulfurous lakes and steaming volcanic vents. There are surreally beautiful temples sprinkled across the plateau. The background of rice fields and mountains ringing the area make for a really beautiful scene. One thing – it’s freezing there. I’ve never been so cold in Indonesia. If you want to get out of the sweltering coastal cities, that might be an attraction in and of itself. Accommodations are pretty basic homestays.


Yogya is my home away from home. I love the place. It’s home to bunches of universities, so it’s full of young people. It’s also a center for Indonesian art, so it’s ful of cool, open-minded people. The main tourist drag is Malioboro, wihich is worth visiting the first time you are there, but I only go there now to shop at Mirota batik, where the prices are fair and haggle free and the batik is good quality. At the north end of Malioboro is the Tugu train station and the Sosrowijaya area, a touristy spot with hotels and western bars and restaurants. I was only there once, but I had the best fish curry of my life at Bedhot restaurant, so I’d like to go back again. At the south of Malioboro is the Sultans palace and museum – definitely worth a stop if only to imagine what it would be like to be Javanese royalty. I mostly spend my time down in the Prawirotaman area, partly because my friend Katie lived down near there. Prawirotaman is also touristy, but I feel like I’m a regular so it’s okay. The best restaurants are Via Via on Prawirotaman 1, with international foods, and Milas on Prawirotaman 4, which is an amazing vegetarian restaurant. When I get up to the north, Nona Mias is good for pizza and R&B Grille is good for steak. When my friend Katie was out of town (and before she was “my friend Katie”) I stayed at the Prambanan guest house on Prowirotaman 1.
The real attractions of Yogya lie outside of the city. To the north, there is Prambanan, the Hindu temple just outside the city, and Borobudur, the amazing Buddhist temple about an hour north. Both are breathtaking. Go early in the morning so you don’t get mobbed by sweet but annoying students practicing their English. To the south, there are Paringtritis and Depok beaches. The south sea is too strong for swimming, but it’s a beautiful setting. Depok is especially nice because you can buy your own fish in the market, take it to the restaurant, and have them cook for you. Yum!


I went to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, last November to meet my friends to watch the OSU-Michigan football game. We stayed at the hotel Ibis only because it was the cheapest hotel with wi-fi (which then went out during the game, so we had to go watch it at McDonalds, but that’s another story). If I go back, I might stay somewhere with more character. It did have the benefit of being near the Sampoerna museum and restaurant. Sampoerna makes the clove cigarettes that are poisoning most Indonesian men, but the restaurant is amazingly delicious so we’ll call it even. Otherwise, I saw some beautiful malls. The bridge over to Madura island is one of the longest in Asia and it was impressive to drive across. I definitely liked the city, but I was only there a couple of days. I’ll be there in November for the TEFLIN conference, so hopefully I’ll have more to say then.


Pontianak, in west Kalimantan (Borneo), was my first trip off of Java/Bali, and it was a wake up call. Definitely less developed and crowded. It reminded me a lot of Madagascar. Indonesians populated Madagascar, so they two cultures have a lot in common. The similarities were more apparent in a less developed situation. Pontianak is a big city, but, unlike cities on Java, it has room to breathe and spread out. It has big boulevards lined with colossal government buildings that lend the place a colonial feeling. I was there visiting my friend Anglea, and we also drove 3 hours north to Singkawong for their Chinese New Year celebration, which was something to behold (see my blog entry from February 2012 for more info – if you have a strong stomach).

East Java

The very tip of east Java, extending all the way to Bali, is a bit off the beaten path. Jackie and I had to hire a car for what we had hoped would be an adventurous vacation, but ended up being more of a driving tour. The main attraction is Bromo, a volcano raising above a sea of sand (which is actually a giant collapsed caldera) It’s something to see… but not much of a hike. We headed east, hoping to climb Mt. Ijen… but it was closed due to poisonous gases. We did get to see some beautiful waterfalls, though. We also went to Alas Purwo national park, where we saw monkeys, wild buffalo, and deer, as well as the oldest Hindu temple in Java. East Java is beautiful… but maybe not ideal for mountain climbing.


Bali is…. not Indonesia. Just kidding, it is an important part of Indonesian culture, but the huge amount of tourism there makes it more like Cancun in some places. Kuta, the biggest party town, is minutes from the airport, and it blends right into Legian, which blends right into Seminyak, each of which is progressively less party-centric. I stayed a night in Seminyak and thought it felt like Florida in the summer. Beach-goers, but not college spring break. Of course, that was a Thursday in November. I think Kuta gets pretty overrun with drunk Australians at some points of the year.
There is a lot more to Bali, though. One alternative is Sanur, on the other side of the island. The beach isn’t as beautiful, but it’s a quieter and calmer destination. My mom and I stayed at a resort there and had an amazing time.
A lot of people skip the beach and just head straight for Ubud. Ubud is more and more touristy now thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, who lived there for 4 months, then wrote a little book called Eat, Pray, Love. It’s known as the cultural capital of Bali, which means it’s full of art and people who want to sell art to tourists. To be less cynical, there is a very good art museum there, and very good shopping. Also plenty of interesting dance and cultural performances. And, most importantly: lots of delicious food! Ubud is full of hippies, so there is delicious vegetarian/vegan food to be found! My favorite is Sari Organik, which is out in the rice fields. Beautiful view, and a beautiful walk – but hot if you head out there for lunch! Bali Buddha is also great, and for traditional palates (AKA meat), 3 Monkeys can’t be beat. My friend Megan would cry if I forgot to tell you to get the Lime Mint juice at 3 Monkeys – she makes special trips to Bali just for that! In Ubud, my recommended place to stay is Oka Wati. It’s affordable and had a really beautiful setting. Oka Wati herself walks around, glamorous as can be, in a traditional Kebaya. My favorite activity from Ubud is the Bike tour – they take you to the base of nearby Mt. Batur to start, meaning the rest is downhill. You stop by all kinds of interesting places, like a coffee plantation, rice field, family compound, and temples. It’s an easy ride, and delicious breakfast and lunch are included!

Gili Trawangan

I stayed on Trawangan to get my Open Water Scuba certification at Blue Marlin dive centre. It’s a great place to get certified because the diving is pretty easy, but still beautiful. Blue Marlin was buzzing with activity but not intimidating for a newbie. I loved being underwater for the first time – the coral reefs were stunning (otherwise, I had no idea what I was looking at!) Above ground, Gili T is really fun – lots of bars and delicious restaurants and – YUM – a gelato stand! I stayed at Pesona resort, which is attached to an amazing Indian resaurant. The owners were super friendly, and the rooms were nice and affordable. I had a blast on Gili T – it’s a great beach vacation, whether your idea of “beach vacation” is napping in the sand, scuba diving, or binge drinking in the sun!


Lombok is billed as the “next Bali” – and with its shiny new airport, it might just catch up soon. The airport is kinda in the middle of nowhere, which puts it closer to the deserted beach towns that are purported to be in development deals with shadowy foreign investors. For now, Kuta (same name as the party town in Bali, but couldn’t be more different) is a sleepy little strip of sand with a few restaurants and hotels. It reminded me of the beaches I went to for Christmases with friends in Madagascar. It’s not so developed that you forget you’re in Indonesia, but it’s beachy enough that you can forget about your work back on Java. I loved Kuta, Lombok for a little beach weekend away, especially given it’s proximity to that fancy new airport!


Makassar is the largest city on Suawesi, the funniest shaped island in the world. It is known for it’s radicalism, but I enjoyed it more for it’s fresh fish. I was only in town a day or two, but I got down to the beach to eat pisang ijo (fried banana in something like a caramel sauce) and eat freshly caught fish I also ate Coto Makassar, soup made from unidentifiable beef parts, which is exactly as appetizing as it sounds. Maybe that’s why the students are all up in arms – inferior soup.


It’s not easy to get to – you have to take an overnight bus from Makassar – but it is worth the trip. Toraja is amazing! It feels like a pocket of forgotten time. The people of this area are known for their elaborate funerals and unique burial practices. Families will save up for years for a funeral, and the funerals will go on for days. Death is very much a presence in their lives. Consequently, there are bunches of tombs, burial caves, and other variations on that theme. The names of all the places are a bit mixed up for me now, but that doesn’t make the sites any less memorable. There were baby graves, where the villagers put babies who die far too young into a hole in the side of a tree. There was a cliff-side burial site where coffins are unceremoniously piles in corners of caves. There was another rock face where effigies of the deceased are displayed in niches on the rock face, some of them over 100 years old. It is a beautiful region that again made me think of Madagascar – and maybe Madagascar’s famadianas (parties for the exhumed bodies of the deceased) have roots in this culture. The elaborate wooden rice barns are also beautiful. A must-visit. The towns of Rantepao and Makale are both well-equipped for tourists, with a range of hotel and eating options. And those overnight buses- not so bad. The one I rode on had wi-fi (on a bus!) and I could extend my seat to almost flat!

March 30, 2012

The Mada-Indo Connection

by Tabitha Kidwell

Check out this article:

This is just further proof of the bizarre but well-established link between Indonesia and Madagascar, all the way across the Indian ocean. This was one of the reasons I was interested to come to Indonesia – I knew that Malagasy culture had a lot of influences from its Indonesian heritage. I thought I might be like a cultural detective, searching out little similarities. Turns out, no searching is necessary – it’s so darn similar that sometimes I feel like I am still in Madagascar. Really, 1,200 years ago is not that long for the two cultures to have diverged. By that point in western history, contributions of Greek and Roman civilization were well in the past, most of France was already united, and vikings were already sailing around wearing funny hats. So it makes sense that Madagascar and Indonesia should be culturally similar. That entire last post about rice, for example, could have been about Madagascar as easily as Indonesia. Some other similarities:

If you go on a trip, you are sure to arrive back to neighbors and colleagues good-naturedly, or a little impishly, asking for their voandalana or oleh-oleh – gift or souvenir. I especially like the Malagasy, which translates literally as “silver of the road.”

You can’t walk down the street without running into an old lady selling fried goodies – but, no matter how many you eat, you cannot be full since you did not eat rice!

Indonesia may not have a drinking culture thanks to Muslim influences, but you can still find arak, potentially fatal or blinding home-brewed liquor, AKA toaka gasy.

Though Madagascar is predominately Christian and Indonesia is predominately Muslim, there are strong animist beliefs. The elaborate funerals and burial rituals in Toraja rival Madgascar’s famadianas, where the dead are exhumed and entertained at week-long parties in their honor. And ghosts and witches definitely still are roaming at night in both countries.

The languages have lots of similarities: merah is red, ribu/arivo is 1,000, and most or all verbs begins with m (but you can change it to a p sound to make it a person, i.e. menulis/manoratra to write and penulis/mpanoratra writer). There are no real verb tenses to speak of, beyond a general sense of past, present, and future that mostly comes from context, but there are labyrinthine uses of active, passive, and relative voice (bet you didn’t know that one existed, huh?). I’d probably know even more similarities if I could remember more Malagasy!

Lastly, both cultures never cease to give me reasons to wonder. Sometimes people seem to do things that don’t make sense to me as a foreigner living there, but it always seems to work out in the end. I think academics studying what the article calls “one of the strangest episodes in the human odyssey” feel the same way about the two cultures. Why and how did Indonesian people end up in Madagascar? Who knows, but it seems to have worked out pretty well.

January 6, 2012

RIP MacBook

by Tabitha Kidwell

One of my greatest pleasures in life is using things up. For example, I relish the moment when I get to cut up open a tube of toothpaste or sunscreen to scrape out the last little bit. You can seriously get like a week’s worth of toothpaste out of there – try it!

So it was that way of thinking that prompted me to try to make my 2006 MacBook last through the year in Indonesia. It’s amazing the lengths I went to to keep using it, actually. It was doing okay when I came here, maybe a little slow, but no big problems.

Then, the wireless stopped picking up wifi, so I bought an ehternet cord and started plugging it in.

Then, the battery wouldn’t last longer than an hour, so I always kept it plugged in.

Then, the DVD drive started making funny noises, but it stopped so I ignored it.

Then, the right arrow key and right shift key stopped working, to I learned to type using only the left shift key, and used the mouse whenever I wanted to key forward.

Then, all my music disappeared from iTunes one morning, even though the files were still on my computer. I just reinstalled iTunes.

Then it started sometimes freezing, so I would restart it.

Then, it started making a noise like a spaceship taking off. This is the moment (you would have thought it would have been earlier, wouldn’t you?) that I thought “maybe something is wrong with my computer.”

And then it started doing CRAZY things: starting in safe mode, not accepting my password, arbitrarily choosing CAPS lock or lowercase, turning itself off whenever it felt like it, highlighting entire documents, making those spaceship noises.

I was still a little hopeful that something could be done to save it, so I took it to Australia to the Apple Store. A really nice employee who was the equivalent of a triage nurse intercepted me before I even got to the genius bar. He sat me down and explained quietly that after 5 years, Mac laptops are considered ‘vintage’ and they don’t even stock or make parts anymore, and that 5 years is about the life expectancy for a hard drive. He suggested I make peace, back up my files, and say my good-byes. He actually said the words “There’s nothing more we can do.”

So I said good-bye to my first laptop. I got it right after the Peace Corps, and may have initially been more excited about the free iPod that came with it. I lugged to wi-fi cafes all over Clermont-Ferrand in France. I let middle schoolers use it to practice French and Spanish and to doodle on the smart board for four years. I wrote all my grad school papers on it and carried it in a backpack when I biked to campus. I dropped it at least 3 times. The edges were scotch taped together. Ants may have been living in there. It served me really well, and it’s actually amazing that it made it as long as it did. I think bringing it to Indonesia and hoping it would last another year is basically the equivalent of cutting it open and squeezing the last little bit out.

Luckily, STAIN Salatiga (my university) has a laptop I can borrow for awhile. Even more luckily, I have enough savings to buy a new computer. And even MORE luckily, my mom is coming to visit in a week, so she can bring me a new MacBook Air from America! (No Apple stores in Indonesia!) I can’t wait! I wonder where this laptop will go and what adventures we will have together in the next 5 years (or more…)!

January 1, 2012

Uberlist 2012

by Tabitha Kidwell

Here it is: Uberlist 2012! Wish me luck! (I think this year is way easier and more fun than last year!)

1. Change passwords to be more secure
2. Add addresses to e-mail contact list
3. Join Google +

4. Do a little work on Violet Blanket while home

5. Figure out retirement savings plan
6. Run credit report 3 times annually

7. Finish Course in Miracles
8. Begin ‘Bible in 3 years’ plan
9. Spend 2 weeks at Taize
10. Do weekend meditation course at Mendut Buddhist Temple

11. Improve signature
12. Respond to e-mails within 48 hours
13. Take Scoopy in for required maintenance
14. Adjust mirrors on Scoopy every time I ride
15. Stop doing that thing on my motorcycle where I don’t look both ways on purpose because I think if I don’t look, nothing will be there.

16. Teach Speaking 2 spring semester
17. Teach Media in Language Teaching sp. Semester
18. Do 1 lecture per month for students at STAIN
19. Do 1 lecture per month for teachers at STAIN
20. Do 1 program every 2 months at American corner IAIN Semarang
21. Do 1 program every 2 months at American corner UGM Yogya
22. Do 1 program every 2 months at American corner UMY Yogya
23. Read all issues of Forum
24. Finish article on Student-Centered teaching
25. Write article on common mistakes
26. Write article on interventions to common mistakes
27. Get an article published somewhere besides Register
28. Present at a conference besides TEFLIN
29. Renew in Indonesia
30. Figure out a job for fall 2013

31. Go to 2 concerts of bands I have never seen live before.
32. Learn one (easy) song on the guitar

33. Learn US Presidents in order
34. (Re)Learn World Capitals
35. Learn US state capitals
36. Learn names, main characters & plot summaries of Shakespere’s plays
37. Learn English monarchs
38. Learn periodic table of the elements
39. Take Jeopardy online test

40. Read 20 books
41. Read The Language Instinct
42. Read Madame Bovary in French
43. Re-read Le Petit Prince in French
44. Re-read l’étranger in French
45. Read La Casa de los Espiritus in Spanish
46. Re-read Cien años de Soledad in Spanish
47. Read Maria in Spanish
48. Finish Bahasa Indonesia level 3 at UKSW
49. Begin Bahasa Indonesia level 4 at UKSW
50. Finish Basic Indonesian book with Pak H.
51. Begin to study Arabic
52. Memorize 4 poems

53. Chew food longer
54. Avoid overeating to the point of discomfort
55. Visit Dr. Miely (dentist) once
56. Visit Dr. Ansel (dermatologist) once
57. Visit Dr. Benjamin (general) once
58. Visit Dr. Lawyer (chiropractor) once
59. Get massage from Jayne Wilson

60. Do 18 mile marathon training run
61. Do 19 mile marathon training run
62. Do 20 mile marathon training run
63. Run Marathon
64. Run 5K
65. Hike Mt. Merbabu
66. Hike Mt. Merapi

67. Chop off hair
69. Write two blog posts per month
70. Turn 30 without complaining out loud

71. Record Grandmother’s life story
72. Visit Katie
73. Go somewhere fun with college friends
74. Meet Baby Gohr
75. Meet Baby Zaranac
76. Meet Baby Kiefer
77. Meet Ella Walker
78. Meet KMS students for Bastille Day Reunion

79. Take a picture in Indonesia with the Columbus Dispatch & send it in
80. Get open water diving certification
81. Go to Gednung Songo
82. Go to Dieng Plateau
83. Go to Bromo
84. Go to Pacitan
85. Go to Jamu Jago tour in Semarang
86. Do Jamu tour in Yogya
87. Go to Affandi museum in Yogya
88. Go to Sulawesi
89. Go to Kalimantan
90. Go to Sumatra
91. Go to Lombok
92. Go to Singapore

93. Go to Red, White, and Boom
94. Go to a Clippers game
95. Go to Ohio State Fair
96. Go to UA 4th parade
97. Go to Doo Dah Parade
98. Go to Zoombeezi Bay
99. Go to Gallery Hop
100. Visit Camp Akita
101. Watch all the films nominated for best oscar
102. Go on road trip with no pre-determined destination
103. Eat brown rice at Chipotle
104. Eat at La Casita
105. Eat all 5 daily specials at Press Grill
106. Eat at North Star Café
107. Eat at Figlio
108. Eat at Dirty Frank’s
109. Eat at Taste of Bali
110. Eat beef jerkey & drink a Stella Artois at Char Bar
111. Finish a Thursday NYT crossword without looking at the answers.
112. Write Uberlist 2013