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!