Monday, 13 December 2010

Finding my Feet in Flores

Wow, tropical storms, plagues of insects and my first dose of running to the toliet! Last night I was awoken by my first proper tropical storm on Flores. It rained heavily, thunder rolled and flashes of lightening lit my dark house up as though I just put every light on for less than a split second. It was intense. I lay there, musty with sweat thinking about the roads we were driving a couple of days prior and wondering how many boulders might have been dislodged from the mountain sides and rolled onto them? How many trees may have fallen like the one I saw laying dead straight across a road in town that took the electricity wire with it just before I went back to Bali?
Yip rain here is more than just an inconvenience that means you have to wear less nice shoes. Speaking of shoes, Im not a fan of the feet fashion here! Everything else seems comparable, but shoes – I don’t know where they get the designs! I can’t even begin to start explaining, they are gaudy!
Today I have arrived in the office with a tummy full of fried banana the neighbour kindly brought round for me for breakfast and I am reading about Indonesia’s cocoa industry. Tomorrow I will be visiting a trader for Mars so I am looking forward to that...don’t think there will be any tastings however as they are not producing here, it’s just beans at the moment... maybe I could ask them about the cloned trees they are engineering!  
The way they farm here is lots and lots and lots of farmers have little pieces of land and they have trees with lots of different things – coconuts, coffee, bananas, mangoes, cocoa they are all mixed in around each other. Its beautiful because it looks wild however most of those plants are not native (coconut and banana are), and I’m not sure its the most efficient way to farm, judging only from what I know a farm is from home – square fields with one product. Luckily, they didn’t hire me for my knowledge of farming! I have however, just been to another meeting about self-sustaining farming, or, farming for local consumption and they talked about focusing on indigenous plants and capturing traditional techniques which I think sounds good because native plants have more nutritional content than the rice they fill themselves up with three times a day here.
They have a big problem here in Flores of diabetes or high blood sugar, and it is mainly caused by a diet of rice, fried foods and a lot of sugar intake. People are not fat but I guess they are not free from health problems either...I was wondering how they could do it! I enjoyed the meeting but I did start to think, what exactly do they need me for here, the room was full of university graduates and experts. I was also wondering how after being here for 3 weeks did I manage to ask such key questions and why were they only asking them to themselves now?? I think I am going through a questioning phase!
There is still so much to learn, which includes language. I’m defiantly not a natural at language and it isn’t fun or something I enjoy, studying is a chore for sure, but I will make myself do it and keep at it because I am improving, albeit slowly.
I made a great effort with the cleaning on Sunday, its my only day off and i spent a full 7 hours properly scrubbing and washing and bleaching, and mopping everything except the bathroom so the kitchen which was in the worst state is now 90% livable, I just need a fridge and then I will be set!
I am suffereing from a slight bought of homesickness right now because its coming up to Christmas, I miss my nana and I’m wishing I could be home to enjoy all the Christmas parties with my friends! I am however only 9 days away from going to Perth for Christmas and New Year with my mum, dad, Scott and Linzi, so that will be brilliant as we can celebrate properly together.

Love to you all - I hope you are enjoying the Christmas season and I wish you all the best for the New Year!

PS Having problems uploading pics but will get them up when I can.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

First week in Flores

Well, wow! I just don’t know where to start! This is what the last few months have been about, I’m in a new country, tackling the language, making headway in a new job, manoeuvring a bike horribly, cleaning up a new house, figuring out where to buy things, talking with locals.... it’s all going on!
Ende is at the top of a peninsular, on the south coast of the island. The first thing I saw when I came out of the plane was a huge volcano, totally covered in green plants, and with a flat top. There is another one knitting the town in between the two volcanoes and the two seas nicely...well, as far as active volcanoes can be nice.
Everything is different, different to Bali and a world away from Scotland! Let’s start in the office. I am in a room with 7 others. We sit on wooden chairs, at wooden desks. There is one landline, which is attached to the fax machine. The printers are like ones you would have at home, but ones that are slow and don’t scan or do anything other than guzzle ink. Most people have laptops but there are a couple of computers. There is one internet connection per room. They sometimes use a typewriter! A little mouse ran past me the other day... I didn’t gasp or scream, I just lifted my feet pretty fast and was spotted much to the amusement of my colleagues. There is no electronic diary, if you want to see the regional head, you sit outside his office and wait in line, its work Jim, but not as we know it!
Somehow it works. I have been reading some huge documents, full of stats about the country, attended workshops, lasting 9 hours, watched a room full of 20 people whittle down, priorities and allocate responsibility of the budget request list, in a single day! No-one can accuse these people for not having drive! It’s been great and eye opening. Google translate is my new best friend...looking up every word in the dictionary is unproductive, though since I moved out of the hotel getting access to it is not easy. I’ve been able to feel productive making little graphs of data and jotting down ideas, questions and issues for later, whilst getting my bearings.
Using the language every day is tiring. But good tiring, because I know I am learning. Being immersed like this, with the basics to keep me afloat is definitely the way to make leaps of progress. My brain is working really hard translating questions and figuring out how to answer them with the little vocabulary I have at hand! I’m learning new words every day. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction. I have an agreement with the head of our office I talk in Indonesian and he talks in English so we can both practice, which has made me feel relaxed and welcomed in the office. It all helps!
I spent my first four nights in a hotel, while we found, contracted, painted and furnished the house. I was in there faster than Clark Kent becomes superman! On the day I saw and picked the house, a call was made to get the contract drawn up. The next day, that was done and the following it was painted. The very same day we picked the bed and wardrobe, it was delivered and constructed with no extra charge!  
Speaking about my house......ooooooh its so cute!!!! But the kitchen and bathroom are soooooo dirty, and Im already in there! Wait until the new year, you are going to be impressed! It’s a small house that feels spacious, with a corrugated zinc roof  and a little garden.  I bought all the cleaning products (which was a bit of adventure in itself) and am tackling it bit by bit. I really wish I brought a pair of trusty marigolds! I don’t think I will find them anywhere and the dirt in this place, eurgh, i will be glad once the job is done, put it that way.
During this first week I had my first pets, let’s start outside, I have some chickens who have decided to visit my garden regularly...and leave their mess just incase their clucking wasn’t enough, then there are a couple of cats that skulk around, and sometimes I hear fighting. Inside, a few cute little geckos, always welcome, 8 cockroaches (I may not have marigolds but sweet relief I had roach spray, the stuff is amazing!) and a spider as big as my hand. The neighbours kids (about 8 of them) were in to save me from that one, one girl went out and got a leaf (from my mango tree i might add) and just picked it off the wall, and threw it out the door! Brave!
The water is sporadic so I’m going to have to get used to that, and there is no rubbish day like at home but if you put it out, it gets taken away! Colleagues from the office have just been out of this world helpful. They have led me home, so I don’t get lost, helped me fix my bed, put up my mosquito net, lent me plates and furniture, brought spare desk from the office, helped get my electric fixed when it went out, they have really been super. Even when I tried to go my motorbike (I was appalling) they were there trying to support me, explaining the function and going along the road with me, I won’t ever be stuck here which is a really big deal.  
I went to the market which was quite something. There were loads of stalls with fish and vegetables, all really fresh so that is exciting. Although I did (Sarah Dee, look away now), get offered a dolphins head, which still makes me feel queasy at the mention of it. I don’t know what I will buy to cook here aside from fish, veg, rice and fruit....the shops just have packets of stock, instant noodles, biscuits and nuts. Im not sure what I am looking for, bread, milk, mince, cereal, cold meats, tinned tuna, mars bars!!! My cooking utensils are different here too. I have a gas stove, a wok and a couple of pots, a chopping board and a  kitchen knife. Oh and spoons and forks, because they don’t use knife and fork here. When we went shopping I was surprised to see pretty much the same thing in every shop, and all very much the same as in Bali. Lots of things are plastic or aluminium, I don’t see anyone with nice wooden furniture which was a surprise because they have a lot of wood here, but I guess it like everything else all gets exported. Its very odd to be living in the place where all our stuff comes from and see they have none of it themselves!
As well as visiting markets and shops, I visited the police station, which was a lot more fun than it sounds. I went from the Government office I work, where everyone wears uniforms that are similar to a security guard outfit in an American movie, to the station where they were sitting around in jeans, chain smoking and eating snacks and fizzy drinks! I was surprised and a bit intimidated by such a macho environment but when we started talking, (I talked to about 5 of them), they were all really nice, helpful and enthusiastic. Got my fingerprints taken again which is quite an amusing experience, and then sat watching them study the prints through a magnifying glass...can he see my future?! I guess its a good sign when the police aren’t overrun with criminals! One of them asked to have his picture take with me. Some school girls did the same the other day. Apparently a lady at my work told her daughter a Scottish girl was working with her and she wouldn’t believe her mother, so she brought her in to show her I was real! There are one or two tourists here, but its more of a base to see the Kelimutu  coloured lakes, where I am going tomorrow.
All in all I think I have had a successful first week. I feel like i have done a lot already, long may it continue like this!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Missoin Impossible complete!

I have a slight feeling of contentment as I sit here and type because I have just successfully repacked my – I’m embarrassed to say it - three bags that I brought with me to Indonesia.  During my 6 weeks here I have accumulated a decent amount of books, papers and one or two items of clothing and knick-knacks but it all went in...just call me Mary Poppins! It never fails to surprise me how much stuff can be squeezed into a little pocket or a discovered nook of an already full looking suitcase!

But I only feel slightly content as I can’t quite believe I am leaving Bali. I was just starting to settle in here, add things I want to do to my list, and woosh, its time to go! It has me wondering, what will Flores be like? The answer is; I have absolutely no idea. This realisation incites an anxious feeling in my stomach, and on further contemplation, Ive put it down to the fact I haven’t given myself enough time to think that I am leaving. I don’t yet leave for another 4 days, its not on my radar, there are things to do, people to see before I worry about all that!

Tomorrow I move into a hotel for a 2.5 day workshop with my and the other volunteers partner organisations. I will go to the office tomorrow for a final training session in which they will explain to us the agenda, but as yet I have no idea what the workshop will be about or what it could be. I think its a big ask of partner organisations to take time out to do this for a volunteer, so I’m curious to see what I will make of it. But for now I must remember, open mind, open mind, open mind, so I have no expectations and am doing my best to keep scepticism at bay, this is new to me so I am looking forward to learning.

On another level, I’m anxious about it. It will be conducted in two languages (the only question I have asked about it) and I will have my first chance to talk in Indonesia with colleagues. I feel as though I don’t have the right words to do this so I am a little worried about how I will come across. My admiration for my ex French colleagues has grown again...I always was and will continue to be impressed by anyone able to work in two languages.
So, to put things in perspective, I turn my attention to the volcano. 150 people have died, many of them being people who have tried to return into the danger zone from safe areas, in order to feed their cattle or get their dogs. I wonder about the government, I wonder about education and I wonder about how it seems to vary hugely even upon Bali, so what are other islands like? I mean, we watched the coverage of the Obama visit last night, and Asih told me the Indonesian president didn’t mention the volcano once! Incidentally, it was the first thing Obama did, although it was a flimsy, “America will do all they can to support” type line, but still, its this guys country!
 Java is the second biggest island but the most populated, with over 100 million residents. The volcano has mostly affected rural villages, but it has started to impact a big city, Jogjakarta. Lots of people here have family there and its a real worry. One friend has a friend who has ash on his roof, so that makes it feel very real. People here are doingn fund raising events, and one of our teachers is auctioning off a print of a photo he took at a refugee camp in 1982 in order to raise some funds for it. I’m still trying to learn how things are here, and I’m seeing positives and negatives just like home.
* * * *
I made a new friend in the last week, a man chest deep in water, down a 60cm x 40cm hole in the ground, which he dug with a spade, during a daily 9 hour shift. I was cycling down the road to school and saw some holes by the side of the road. After passing may be 4 of them, curiosity got the better of me so I stopped to chat with a guy who seemed to welcome the break and find my broken Bahasa Indonesia amusing.
He told me that they were putting in pipes for telecoms. I counted 30 of these holes, all along my street, and then next day, all but 2 were covered up and finished with. At home this would be done with diggers, and probably take a good week (? ), but here it was so quick, with minimal road interference. They all had little wooden hand painted signs saying “take care ....” propped up against them, but other than that, the traffic was flying by as normal.
 Yesterday,  I was cycling along another street, when I got a wave from a hole and there he was again! I stopped to say hi and shake his hand, and he even went to wipe his hand to shake mine. This is the thing, even though we couldn’t speak well to each other, and even though he was standing in a hole, and I was squatting on the sidewalk, he made the situation feel comfortable and fun, not awkward or self conscious. So, this is how I want my relations to be going forward, fun, respectful and honest. If a man in a hole can do it, so can a man at a desk, cant he?!
I guess all this culture talk and awareness raising makes me wonder, how do you get a balance between respecting different cultures, and the extremes of putting on a front or just not caring?  It is a delicate act and one that is important for being accepted but one that is easy to get wrong. I guess I just have to go back to reminding myself, one day at a time Gemma.
Another thing this man made me think about was the poverty here. There are people here with very little. I’ve seen old men, like hitting 70, pulling carts along the street or walking to work with a shovel in their hand. I’ve seen big open top trucks loaded up with young men ready for a hard day of labour. There are some people who try to sell papers, or toys on the road at traffic lights, along with disabled people who have just a bucket for coins. And Bali is wealthy compared to Flores!
I said I have a couple of new tops, well they are vintage new! The only place I felt I could afford clothes from. I don’t understand why clothes are so expensive here, don’t they make clothes here? Apparently in Ende its even more expensive. So, how do locals with even less of no money then I have get clothes?! I’m planning on getting things sent from home, because even then despite postage it is cheaper. It really doesn’t make sense, and is something I would like to try to understand better.
Flores. Yip, its just around the corner now! I am looking forward to settling into my new place, buying Tupperware, plates, linen and so on just so I can create a place I will call home to settle into. It is a bit like being in limbo at the moment, but I’ve been so well looked after, it will be quite an adjustment to go back to being independent!
I want to give a big thanks to Asih, my host mother. I will miss the fun and chaos of the kids, and the nice morning chats with Asih. Im sure we will keep in touch for years to come and I am already looking forward to being able to welcome them in Scotland one day in return.
I tried to take some pictures of Bali life, so I hope you enjoy them.
Local workers in a rice was really hot!

My friend in the hole, he is standing on a ledge which he jumped down from after I took the pick so his head was level with the ground.

Some kids in a warung (cafe).

A shop selling grass baskets which are used everywhere in Bali for so many different things.

This is a typical sweeping brush and pan. The handle is short, like not even waist height.

A Bakso man (soup with noodles and meatballs) ... the Bali equivalent of an ice-cream van, they walk up and down the streets looking for hungry punters. These guys are usually from Java.

Nope, its not a dodgy brewery, but instead a dodgy gas station! Loads of racks like these are dotted around for scooters to nip up, get the funnel and load up on gas. It is absolut vodka bottles on the top row...which Ive never seen in a bar!

Fish at the morning market, no ice and hot weather so you have to go early! They are really fresh and tasty if you do!

This is the Balinese flower - they smell gorgeous!

...and they dont look real. I hope we get them in Flores because they make me feel really happeeeee!

Sarah Dee, especially for you, I tried my best to get some pics of animals, because you are right, they are very much a part of Bali life too! The only thing is they are quite camera shy so it was tricky! And my only rule was no photos of sad animals in that ruled out the beautiful fruitbat and sad monkey I've seen at places my friends were staying.

A mother hen and some chicks, just strolling around the street. Ive seen ducks too.

A cute kitten, (but not the pic of the tinest kittens in the whole world...I will try to get the photo from Paul and show you)

A typical Balinese dog, pretty butch and scruffy but not rabid and viscious as I first feared.

Next post from Ende!!! xx

Monday, 1 November 2010

I’m a Celebrity get me out of here....

...the TV programme with its jungle creepies and haircurling shrieks were what came to mind as I reached my arm into the thicket of the mangrove undergrowth. What was lurking in there to make me scream and jump a mile??? Today, I joined my family to a community conservation effort to clean up a mangrove forest that is in out neighbourhood. The mangrove is on the estuary flood plane, and when the river runs high, it brings with it a torrent of rubbish -  straws, sweet wrappers, plastic food wrappers, plastic bags.. not very nice at all. Apparently people here think throwing rubbish in the river or sea is a good way to get rid of it. The sea was full of plastic bobbing about, the sides of the roads have piles of litter, its really a problem. However, a good 600 people must not agree with this because that is how many people turned up to pitch in with the clean up! I was expecting, maybe 20 – 40, but 600! I could never imagine that happening at home, and I was really impressed. And they didn’t just turn up, they really went to town! I have some before and after pictures, but within two hours, you were looking at a natural scene of beauty!

Its quite a change to how I spent my Sunday last week, when I was a guest at a Hindu ceremony. One of the girls from the office invited us to attend a ceremony of her family temple, it was a special day for their temple and family gathered to mark the occasion. By family that is extended family, including relations so far off they were too hard to explain the connection. It was very beautiful to watch, if a little confusing to understand what was going on. I was happy to get dressed up for the occasion, although I was sweaty because we cycled there and had to change before we cooled down, but still, everyone else was sweaty too! We had a seat near the spiritual leader, and I was watching him bless the water, which was then splashed individually on everyone there, and put on rice and flowers which were worn by the family to bring wellbeing. The thing that is hard to get past is all the food which is offered, lots of fruit, corn, rice, meat...once the ceremony is over, it is put in the temple and locked up. Its hard to understand when you leave the family grounds to see someone going through the garbage looking for plastic to hand in for a few rupiah.  

I was also treated to some five start luxury this week when we were invited to attend a tourism and catering college in the neighbouring town. We were asked to eat in their practice restaurant so they could have a real “bole” (foreigner, or white skin – the term they like to shout at us on the street, or joke with us over prices in the market) experience! It was a real treat however I am unsure just how much I helped their English by saying, “that was lovely” after every course! Meeting the heads of the college was interesting though, and again, I saw just how much work these teens put into school, with the dream of working on a cruise ship or on one of the presetiege hotels around the island. It made me think I take a lot for granted, because these are jobs I don’t even highly value and here are people spending four years at school to compete for!

We have been learning work words this week at school, so I can now tell you that I will be an Pernasihat Pembanguan Ekonomi! Sounds cool eh!? It feels good to be able to talk about work and makes me feel reassured I will have some ability to communicate with my partner organisation when they visit soon.
Life in Bali can be very hard or an absolute paradise. Differences in wealth are complex and unfair, just as everywhere else. There is a lot of goodwill around to create change however there is alot of pride in status and job segregation as well. No one here wants to be an electrician or plumber, you have to go to Java to obtain that qualification, however there are works being done everywhere. The people pouring your cocktails have more training than the one who wired your deluxe suite flat screen TV! Someone told me the ability to say “I talked to bole’s today” is something to be more proud of than, “I can fit a bathroom”. For some reason, I find this sad.
But, to finish on a positive note, Sarah and I cycled all the way to Legain, just north of Kuta, to spend the day under an umberella watching the surfers and playing in the sea. It was bliss!, its so beautiful. Bobbing up and down like corks on the huge waves that crashed over us never got boring and the velvet sands beneath our feet on the way to our loungers surmounts to a memory I will surely recall in my top ten moments ever!
And now for the best bit..

Offerings and blessings during the Hindu ceremony

Yuli and me at the ceremony in full tradional dress

Legain beach....soooooo beautiful and great fun :)

the floor of the Mangrove forest - YUK!

Faiz and the info about why we should be more environmentally aware

The big clean....this is the same spot as above just about an hour later, 600 people work fast!

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

Oh I do like to be beside the sea!

No fish and chips at the beach here, we have satay skewers amongst many synthetically colourful drinks and snacks

This is my school!

On the right, is our teacher, Pa Nyoman....always smiling. (and on the left is fellow volunteer Bob, getting tucked into some bakso soup)

Cheers for reading, it feels nice to share!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

This week all thoughts are with Petra, who had to go back home for a short time...looking forward to having you back soon Petra! X
It’s been another hard week at school. I am continuing to practice with local’s, who, as our vocabulary grows, take it upon themselves to develop our speaking skills - in other words, everyone is a teacher! I think this is really cool because it means they are proud of their language and they are happy for foreigners to become more a part of their community. I hope I pick up the same vibe on Flores, and my colleagues at work want to talk to me as much!
I have started a list of interesting things I have seen people on motorbikes carry. I wish i had pictures but I only see these people when I am travelling on my bike so never get to my camera quickly enough. You can get whole shops on bikes, we have even seen one with a frame attached to the back dangling little bags of water with fish in them going around! But to make the list, it requires one handed driving - one driver, and something in their hand. So, the last one I saw was a guy pulling a wheelie bin along beside him. Before that it was a guy with a steel pipe and my favourite, and the one that inspired the list was a guy, already in a wetsuit travelling up a street near where I stay carrying a harpoon! How do they change gear? Or accelerate?!?!?! Are they riding automatics to be able to do this? And in the traffic?? I never fail to be surprised here!
We attended a music event showcasing young alternative talent which was interesting. IT was organised by a friend of the manager at VSO, who set up a charity to help kids find opportunities in music. There was no lack of talent, some good voices and guitarists, however there was a shortage of originality...think Jack Johnston or his female equivalent. They all looked the part, with very cool haircuts, skinny jeans, lumberjack shirts!
Yesterday, Paul, Sarah and I took a boat trip to neighbouring Lombogan Island. Unfortunately, our rainy season has started (hope this helps those in Aberdeen surprised by snow earlier in the week feel a bit consoled!) so the sea was a little choppy and most people got pretty sea sick. Disaster! Glad to say I didn’t have the problem of puking my way across the Indian Ocean however, it made it a bit of a quiet affair. When we got there we did a bit of snorkelling, watched some surfing, played in a pool with the fastest slide ever and took a glass bottom boat. It was a really nice day and nice to see another place. Exploring my new home and its culture really is one of the reasons I came here so I’m squeezing in as much as I can..... (does looking at fish count as culture?)
And I’ve started my yoga, which is brilliant. I brought my Bikram yoga book and when I’ve had a bit of time on my hands I do that. No need for a heated room here as I sweat like crazy even when its evening here so it’s ideal to get the best out of that yoga! It takes an hour and a half and I’m planning to do it regularly in Flores.  
We are over the half way mark in Bali and my thoughts are turning to work. I am really excited about starting up, especially after a really positive meeting with VSO to get an update on my role. But for now, I will channel this motivation for language school!!!
A baby monkey at the Monkey Temple, Ubud

Me deep in the jungle....or rather in the Monkey Temple

Some girls getting dressed in traditional Balinese costume for their equivalent of Guiness World Records. They were part of the 1,500 who gathered to take the top spot for most Balinese Women in tradional dress at the same place. Makes me remember how much I wanted to be in that Glasgow can can!

Cute wee dancers on stage at the Nusa Dua festival

2 seconds before a baby was lying underneath the raised foot - too slow!

Nusa Dua beach, so gorgeous I didnt notice until we walked back the way there was another beach to my right!

The stairs to a Hindu monument...I ran all the way up!

The prize at the top, a pretty huge statue!

Our yaht for the day, ah bliss!

Can you make out the coral through the window of the glass bottomed boat? AMAaaaaazing!

You really need to click on this one to make it big, but its one of the beaches on Lombogan Island

All aboard! My shipmates for the trip to Lombongan
Til next posting, take care! xx

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer....this is what might come to mind if you were to see me today after cycling in the midday sun yesterday! But don't worry mam, I'm using my sunscreen! 
Ive nearly been in Bali for three weeks and they have gone in a flash! I have acclimatised enough to not drip with sweat after a 30 minute cycle to the office, my bites have calmed down and new ones seem less intense, I’m building up the level of heat I can cope with in my food nicely and I’m relaxed enough to blast my ipod when cycling on those busy streets. Infact, cycling to school at 7:30 am in the glow of the morning sun, listening to ‘The Blinding’ was just one of those moments where I was like, wow, this is pretty amazing! Even though my journey to school involves a stretch on the dual carriageway by-pass every morning, people don’t really drive that fast in Sanur, so it’s not too scary when they overtake.
The thing I like best about cycling is that you get to explore a lot, more than if you were wandering around on foot. I still have to try to curb my western enthusiasm for speeding and slip into Bali’s ‘rubber time’ so as to soak up more of what is going on!
We had our motorbike training, which was to help us adapt from driving on beautifully paved roads (actually the potholes in Aberdeen could rival some of the roads here!), to Bali traffic and conditions. I can’t say I truly enjoyed the motorbike training; it was hot, we had tons of clothes on, the bikes were heavy (165 litre engines) and well, the volume of other motorists is just a bit intense but I will be glad of it when I come to tackle the mountainous conditions of Flores! I had my shoulders up to my ears and elbows sticking out because I was so tense! I guess it just takes practice. I had no real trouble with bike control, just lacking a little confidence on the road.
It was the boss of our office’s birthday on the Saturday we started the bike training, so we chipped in and got him a cake and made a card, which he seemed really pleased about, so that was nice. He has introduced us to a few of his friends who work and live on Bali which I enjoy because it is nice to meet people outside VSO and they very often have interesting histories!
In other news, I am pleased to report that I have seen a reasonable variety of wildlife....starting with a LOT of bats! It’s not horror movie scary seeing a bat as I imagined, they have always been fairly small lone bats, not like a whole flock...or whatever it is bats fly in! Its quite cool to see a bat actually because they move silently and are erratic in direction! I’ve only seen one cockroach and I seriously hope it stays that way! I’ve seen TONS of gekos, but they are very cute, with their pink little toes. Just yesterday I saw men starting a cock fight, which was pretty grim. My friend Paul told me that they were just practising with them and in real, they put razor blades on their feet and give them steroids and stuff, so that was a bit horrible. There are a lot of dogs going around. They are flea ridden and have patchy fur, and one in my street has no hair at all, its quite sad to see, but we walk around them with caution for fear of a rabid bite! They don’t appear to want to bite all that often though and its more likely to see someone passing on a motorbike giving them a kick! A lot of the cats around don’t have tails, though Ive yet to discover why that is.
At school during one of our 30 minute lunch breaks (vive le France and 1 hour lunches!), Sarah and I went to check out some live music we could hear being played from another part of the school. The kids were delighted to see us and invited us up onto the patio to dance with them! They were playing traditional music. The instruments were wooden, tin or skin, generally percussion and it sounded pretty improvised. I enjoyed the kids’ enthusiasm more than I enjoyed the music; the rhythm was meditative, but at the same time angular so I can never quite get into it. Its jerky, like nothing I have heard before, although I’m acquiring an appreciation for it! They invited us to watch a show when they next perform in exchange for some English help...sounds like a good deal to me!

I’m coming on a little with the language a little - I even managed to have a few short conversations without Sarah! She is brilliant at chatting to locals, in Bahasa Indonesia. Everyone here seems to want to say hello so if you take the time they will let you share a few sentences, which is fun. It helps with confidence and vocabulary memorisation! My family help me with homework and we chat in the morning and evening if I am home in time so I definitely have lots of opportunity to practice.

There are some words that make me laugh. In Indonesian, letters rarely change their sound. The alphabet is a bit differently pronounced to English, but basically you say it as you see it. For example, (read these out loud)
Es crem

...more to follow when I remember my notes!

Our teacher told us that in 1972 the Minister of Education replaced some letters of the alphabet like ty and gy with t and j in order to simplify the language. This meant people had to change their names if these letters were a part of the spelling and therefore change education certificates, driving licences and all sorts...sounds like pandemonium! However, its done and now the old letters are all but forgotten, so it was a change successfully managed. And yet rules on the road are rarely adhered to. It makes me wonder about what changes I will assist with during placement will last.
One of our teachers invited us to an art exhibition he was a curator. We decided to go as a class, and hired a VW van for the day. It was gorgeous, with blue and white paint outside and read leather interior, it was just so happy! Our new friend Smor drove us to Ubud and we got there with enough time to visit the sacred monkey temple and the big art market. Wwhen we got to the gallery we couldn’t believe our eyes, it was a beautiful building with I think over 1000 paintings. We were shown around by our teacher, introduced to a lot of people who were managing it and some of the artists. We ate a traditional meal at round tables set as if for a wedding, and then went to watch the speeches. After that we went outside to a seating area to watch music and dance performance. It was incredible because it was so lavish, and unexpected! The artist who is the favourite of my home family was playing along with other favourite local faces and one guest from Brazil, which pleased me a lot since I like Brazilian music and he played songs I knew.
I’ve met a couple of the current volunteers who have been out on Flores. One of them, a lovely Dutch girl Anauk, shared some real practical knowledge of living there, integrating, things to do in order to make a success of the placement, things to avoid and things that have happened in the past. It was really informative and reminded me how Bali still feels a little like limbo. I wonder if I will remember how to work when I finally start again!
So, plenty going on, just the way I like it!

Pictures below are a bit jumbled up but I hope you like them!

Some pretty flowers

Nervous faces before motorcycle practice! Why torture us by making us wear thermal clothes in hot hot weather! :)

My Bali family! - Faiz, Ardi, Raya, Asih and me

Awwww, I like this photo!

My classmates and friend Smor (pronounce, Seymour) and the VW

My pink power ranger helmet doing its job...and me falling off the plank

Tiny bananas!!!!!

Sanur beach...on a rainy day

My street in Bali

Our motorcycle trainers, no really!!!

Monday, 4 October 2010


I got another chance to get to the wifi cafe, the internet was down at the school today so we cycled here, getting lost and taking 1 hour rather than 20 minutes, so Im still sweating! (sorry!).  So, my home family is quite a change from the homestay/hotel we were in before. It is a lovely building, its really big but there are some things that are unusual to me. The living room only has three walls, one is open to the outside which was quite something to get my head around. There are some pillars and wooden slats, but generally its exposed to mother nature. My room has open bits above the windows too, with wooden poles and slats stopping them being just rectangle holes, but they are holes to the outside none the less!

Its quite nice because you can hear the crickets – and a big geko, which Im assured lives in trees and wont climb into my room! It does mean the mosquitoes can get in, so I put my net up and will be sleeping under that for the next five weeks.

Another major change is the toilet. It is hard to know how to negotiate it because it is up on a step from the rest of the bathroom. It looks to me like it is side on but then that means that you have to stand over it with one foot on the step and the other off or I’m missing something! It’s a none flusher, so you have to take a scoop of water to pour down it, which is no big deal, however, there is no shower so I need to use the bucket and scoop to wash me. This is no big deal either, however, I don’t know how to do it without soaking the whole room, and the walls are wooden so Im worried about it!
Its funny to learn these things. There are no sofas in the house, and the floor is tiled so I was sitting cross legged, but then I remembered about the thing about the soles of your feet so I tried to sit and face them away from Ardi, my host father, but found myself shuffling around a lot because it was not really comfortable!
Assi, my host mother, was surprised to learn my dislike of cheese, apparently thats what most volunteers miss the most, but Im pretty happy with the food here in Bali, lots of noodles, veg, chicken, rice, prawn crackers....its tasty! Don’t think there is any fear of me losing weight here! When I get to Ende though, it will be another story! They eat dog and pig a lot, so I will be saying Harem, which means forbidden...I reckon it is illegal to eat dog in the UK?
Yeah, I do like rice, but I’ve never tried it for breakfast. Assi has suggested she will make her regular breakfasts, which varies from cake and bread to noodles and we will see how I go with it! She’s very kindly said she will put out fruit too so if I don’t like it I can take it as a snack to the language school! I’m sure the others will be jealous!!!
Which brings me to language school; Where we go to study Bahasa Indonesian, is in a vocational college for teens who want to enter hospitality or beauty. They were so excited to talk to us, practice their English and just laugh at how funny we looked...perhaps because we were oldies at school! They looked so young and innocent, however there was some graffiti in the car park and on some school chairs so I’m sure they are like kids everywhere else!
Our teacher, Bund, is a very nice man, very funny and very interesting. He is a curator for an art gallery who worked for some time for the UN travelling and is also a budding artist and photographer himself.
So my next five weeks will be spent at school and practising Bahasa, except on Wednesday’s when we have a day at the VSO office to do more induction sessions. We have no classes at the weekend either, but we will spend a lot of this time with our host families to practice Bahasa and learn about local customs (another thing I have to learn from the family nanny is how to do my washing by hand!) so we are prepared for entering our placements as these are very remote and not used to tourists so have very little, if nothing, in the way of western amenities.
I shared an initial apprehension with my co volunteers about staying with a family, but we are all settling into it in our own way, and I feel pretty happy and very lucky to be staying with such fun and nice people. I know Sarah is living with a family that have four dogs and a monkey! We have no pets, but there are two kids, one six, Faiz and the other, Raya, just under one. Im looking forward to being able to talk with the son, we already have a common enjoyment of Nemo, Toy Story and Madagascar so I think he can soon become my third and favourite teacher in the house!
We are scatterd around Sanur however on Sunday we got together to welcome the 7th volunteer who is late on joining us due to an ear infection which prevented him from travelling to join us at the beginning of the week. As a bonus, Michelle who is staying in my town was over so we met for dinner and he had a lot of great stories to tell us. I think we will have fun together in Ende, and he will keep me right!

So, a week in and still only just scratched the surface! The serious work of learning the language begins properly on Monday so it will be head down and practice practice practice!

Oh and a parting note, I am sleeping on Manchester United sheets!!! Ha, ha ha!
The breakfast at Yulia homestay, so pretty!

At the office -

My bed, I am shaking my head!

My bathroom...that bucket is the water I use to wash..Ive got the hang of it now, and quite like it!

my room

the view from my room

Me doing my washing...Bali styleee!

A rice field

On the way to proud ibu wanted to take a photo to mark the moment! I felts happy she is accepting me into her family :)))))

Thanks for reading!!!!