the fear and the delight

we believe and we don’t believe

so basically, the past blogs are leading up this this: that i want to make absoutely clear that i am not living in paradise, and am not a vacation. not even a national lampoon style vacation, everything that’s happened so far is like. on the verge of grotesque absurdity that i can hardly believe what’s just happened.

BUT

i am wearing sandals all the time. which might be one of those qualifiers for being on vacation… OR jesus!

anyway, when i get home, i can’t wait to use this product called baby foot. and who doesn’t love that name for a consumer product? anyway, my feet get really dry and cracked, oh it’s really bad. but not nearly as bad as my sister (who is always wearing clogs sans socks) and my mom who goes barefoot on the brick floor of our house in albuquerque.

ok, so it’s been established: this is no vay-cay. and my feet are all effed up.

now what?

the people here have the most beautiful smiles. which is a big deal, considering i live in seattle where eye contact is avoided at all costs. everyone smiles.

this land is rough, really rough. there’s something about being on the equator that is strange. two days ago, nicholson was telling me that when he wakes up in the morning and is on the patio making phonecalls back to grenada, he notices that the clouds move in the opposite direction of the sun’s path across the sky.

i don’t really know where to start next.

i saw a dog today riding in the trunk of a car, wearing that face that dogs get when they ride in cars. indonesians are horrifed by the thought that people live with dogs indoors. so, right. i see this dog. as we’re passing by (on a scooter, dangerously close), i see that it is chained. like, with very little slack. and the lid of the trunk is held open by a piece of firewood wedged in there just so. the dog’s head is basically by the chunk of wood. so if the piece of firewood were to give, i’m pretty sure the dog’s skull would be crushed.

the other day i saw children flocking towards the man selling chicken and sausage on a stick. so, i asked my friend “hey, what’s that i wanna try!” and he said “oh, it’s for children only…” but indonesians love making people happy, so we go up to the vendor. the children throw crumpled up rupiahs at the meat on a stick guy, pick out what they have paid for, and put it into the frying oil. you know. with their fingers. and then they watch their meat on a stick fry. faces inches away from the oil. and then when they’re done frying their sticks, they pick them out. again, with their fingers. and then dip the sticks in chili sauce and run away, dripping chili sauce and oil everywhere.

if something like this went down in america, the guy would be like: “get the fuck away from that are you crazy?” or a parent would come up to him and be like “we’re at a school get the fuck away from here with your frying death trap!” but not so much in indonesia.

i’m working with limited time, but wanted to share that.

also, i’m listening to pema chodron religiously and hoping that her soothing, soothing voice will give me a little clarity in all this madness. it’s the cheerfulness practice.

careless whisper

i don’t know how much time i’ve got to work with here. the electricity was out today for three or four hours. and it just cut out a little while ago for about ten minutes. our cutoff time in the administration office is 11 pm.

living in padang panjang feels a little bit like some fucked up version of camping and prison. no running water, no electricity. nosy security guards monitoring our movements. but it’s kind of like prison band camp, because i wake up on my metal frame bed to the sound of really out of tune horns blasting autumn leaves (recent development) or the sax solo from that wham song (ongoing.) this happens around seven in the morning.

today i went outside of campus by myself today. this is an event which pitifully enough has only happened one other time… or maybe two.

when i’m on campus and people yell out my name, i feel a little apprehensive because i wonder if the person calling my name out is someone i’ve actually interacted with and if they are, if i can remember their name. but it horrifies me when the same thing happens off campus. i feel a little shattered and creeped out after someone i don’t know – who has absolutely no basis for interacting with me – says my name in an attempt to get me to acknowledge them when i just want to buy some food or some credit for my cell phone.

it freaks me out pretty badly, because it’s like this complete stranger knows exactly who the fuck i am. if they know me by sight and they know my name, what else do they know? considering indonesians are creepily observant and horrifically gossipy. my classmate asked me today if i was going back to my mess to poop. which is kind of funny, because after classes, i take off. it’s not because i want to poop at home, which okay, makes total sense but i’m not one of those people with that particular issue. so i can only imagine that all the times that i’ve taken off after class, my classmates are sitting there speculating what i could be doing alone. and somehow, shit just makes sense.

but i leave so i can just get away from people – which is an incomprehensible idea to the folks here.

people i’ve never met before on campus will just say my name as they pass me by. just to make me acknowledge them. and to test to see if i’m stuck up or not.

when i was massively homesick a little ways back, i skipped classes so i could avoid the walk to class. it was like the more people trying to interact with me, the more isolated i felt. there were some pretty desperately bad moments, but i broke down crying once very pitifully sobbing “i wanna go home.”

i had NO idea that i would feel homesick so early on in the game. i thought this was going to be some kind of vacation, but considering how much i feel my spirit and mind being tested… this is some kind of hazing i’m going through. please, be gentle with me if i come back to the united states a little twitchy and strange.

the status of my visa is currently unknown to me.

the story of my visa is a long one. i wasn’t really sure if i was going to come to indonesia in the first place. i had some kind of a nightmare scenario set up in my mind.

jackie in the beer aisle at qfc, and bumping into someone she knows

friend: “hey jackie, aren’t you supposed to be in indonesia or something now?”
jackie: “uh, ur… ug. um, you have the wrong asian person, uh. gata go.”

and this awkward interaction snowballs into something where i avoid going outside for about a year.

something like this.

my visa was fedexed to me on the thursday before i was supposed to leave late on saturday night. and i was only given a 60 day tourist visa.

when i got here, i asked our go-between when we were going to get my visa lengthened. he said “since you have a sixty day visa, we have two months to wait to do something about it!” my adrenal glands kind of perked up a little bit when he said this to me.

my visa expired on saturday, the 30th.

okay, this is actually a pretty long story. but let me condense it: indonesian bureaucracy is totally fucked. up.

i started sending text messages to someone in jakarta on the 19th of october. and i’ve been to the immigration office in bukittinggi (an hour away) three times. and my visa situation still isn’t straightened out. the level of incompetency is shocking. but because people here aren’t self-conscious, they don’t mind coming off as totally careless and semi-retarded.

tonight i opened up my backpack for the first time in maybe six weeks?

it smelled rank.

my cute shorts that i packed away – because short shorts are a no no in allah country. the cotton kept on taking up moisture through the air and my CUTE shorts (with a button up sailor panel front) had moldy spots all over. formerly expensive. a pair of really cute pair of sandals that i stopped wearing because buckling and unbuckling them was a pain in the ass – also consumed by jungle mold. also formerly expensive.

have you seen my facebook wall? it, too is consumed by some variety of jungle mold. it has been co-opted. and i totally deleted the link to my blog. but it’s probably already been stalked. but online translators are forgivingly insufficient. but to want privacy when i’m posting stuff on the internet is a fool’s dream.

i’ve told some people about the laundry story. have i already blogged it? i can’t keep track of my mind.

anyway, so i was by the on-campus cafe talking to rita. i said “hey, i’m gunna go. i have to do my laundry.”

but later that night when i met with an indonesian friend, he asked: “jackie, why you didn’t wash shirt?”

so he must have overheard from someone else who overheard. and someone who was peeping through our patio must have not seen any of my clothes hanging up. so somehow this was relayed over to my friend i met up with later that night.

but to answer his question: it rained. so i didn’t do my laundry.

the one year anniversary of my dad’s death was on the 25th.

a year goes by really fast. things change really quickly within a year.

and a year from when my father died i had to go to the immigration office and was writing down my place of birth, the place where my father died, the place where my family was going to be gathered for the next few days, the place i was raised, where some of my father’s ashes are scattered. i could smell the desert and feel the dry heat and visualize the moment where the sunset turns everything magenta. the brick floor of my mother’s house.

and this culimated in my sobbing on oliwia’s shoulder: i want to go home.

i’m pretty burned out.

classes i originally signed up for:
- silat (minangkabau martial art)
- randai (minangkabau theater/dance/music)
- rabab pisisir (bowed instrument played while seated on the floor – my violin teacher would not like seeing me do this, i think)
- silang karawitan (silang – cross, karawitan – traditional music. hence, silang karawitan is a cross-disciplinary class, where audio meets visual)
- silang gaya (silang – cross, gaya – style. this is my gamelan bali class.)
- talempong (brass bells – percussive and melodic. played while seated.)

silat and randai ended up dropping off the list because i fucked my knee up in the 3rd week i was here. and it still feels weird.

i took on:
vokal tradisi
musik tari melayu (semester 3)
muskc tari melayu (semester 5)
saluang

oh god i have to leave now. more later.

festering

there are things that i just don’t have to say that i want to say anyway.

here’s one: if i knew now what i didn’t know then, i wouldn’t have done things differently.

i had a dream very early on that i went home back to seattle and i was hanging out with a friend i haven’t really seen in a very long time. i was in their house but for some reason my stuff was there, so i was like “oh hey cool, i can grab some of my stuff and take it back to seattle.” i went down stairs with an armful of shit and got to the car to put my stuff inside and realized that i left most of the things i wanted to take upstairs. my friend had already left with the key. and i was in a panic. and then i woke up.

another one is where i only have a few hours to grab all the things i want. i’m in a panic and i am trying to remember what i want. i have to leave very very soon otherwise i will miss the plane. i realize i forgot to bring the stuff that i don’t need in indonesia. my mother is there, screaming like a banshee at me because i’m going to be late. i wake up.

right, so my dreams are fun. i also feel very american dreaming about “stuff.”

last night i dreamt in indonesian. people say that you are beginning to become fluent in a language when you dream in that language. but the dream was of me not understanding a word of what anyone was saying and struggling to communicate.

when i was working at dick’s, all the employees had to work one weekend closing shift back to back with a weekend opening shift. so once a week i’d go to school then to work, go home to get shitty sleep where i’d dream about work, go to work feeling like shit, and then be dazed when i was off, my concept of time fucked sideways.

that’s what last night (and most nights) are like. so if you can imagine, i hardly feel well-rested after sleep here.

if you told me a year ago that i’d be waking up at 8 in the morning watching justin bieber video after justin bieber video, i’d tell you you were crazy.

this happened on a home visit. clearly i didn’t wake up at 8 upon my own volition. or watch the justin bieber videos of my own volition (i can’t not watch tv when it’s on, it’s really bad – like a more cooperative version of the beethoven’s 5th scene in a clockwork orange.)

what i’ve understood so of indonesians is that they are a tireless people. they don’t get tired. even in this equatorial sunshine, they’re fresh. disproportionately fresh to how little sleep they’ve gotten: hop into bed at 2 and hop back out at 6 looking and feeling great. it’s mind-boggling and somewhat troubling to me. when my hosts were like “jackie! wake uuuup!” i told them in my broken indonesian how i don’t understand how indonesians go to bed so late and wake up so early. with a hearty laugh, what i was told was this: “because indonesians are from another planet!”

i was mildly disturbed of course, because i was beginning to suspect the same.

we had the neighbors from hell for a while. in mess 6, a shitton of students were staying there during orientation/freshman hazing. i made a field recording of it, and it’s fucking hilarious because it sounds like they are IN our mess. and they’re cackling, discussing, scootering, shuffling around in flip flops… very active. at about 3 in the morning. and they (to my knowledge) are not under the influence.

later, i learned that in mess 6, they only have two mattresses. kristyna and i joked that the reason why they are up all hours is because they have to sleep in shifts on account of the mattress shortage.

indonesians can sleep through anything. in a room that is fully lit by flourescent light with tv on really loud and people talking really loudly. as they would say… “no what-what!”

i’ve gotten sick again. there is a bacterial circus act going on inside of my body.

being incredibly homesick doesn’t help. at all.

i had no idea i would be nearly as homesick as i am now. and so early in the game. it’s hard not to feel dismayed by this development. when i was talking to louis about a week ago, and how shitty life is here, he said “you got this.” i remembered it later on and i almost totally lost it. no, actually. i don’t. and i want to go home. now. just for like, a week. a vacation from this fucked up mess. i swear i’ll come back to the dump otherwise known as padang panjang.

…really.

to say that i want to key the car of the corrupt asshole who is supposed to be taking care of us but doesn’t is somewhat of an understatement. i want to pour sugar in the gastank and light the thing on fire. while his family is inside.

ok. i can really understand how headhunting was a tradition for so long in sumatra. it makes sense.

i was walking up the road back to school the other night with paul and hidayah. some dude sitting at the flip flop shop yelled out, “hi jekky!”

i don’t know how this guy knows my name and i have no idea who this person is. which is to say… he knows exactly who i am, and wants me to acknowledge him even though i have no fucking clue who he is. in this moment, i am creeped out and wanting to cry because i am already feeling very homesick.

i don’t know how people get my FUCKING number and tell me “good night” and “good morning sweetie!” at very odd hours when i VERY SPECIFICALLY tell people not to give my number to others.

today i was really feeling shitty, but i had to get my passport scanned and just dreaded the walk to the karawitan (traditional music) department building. the eyes. hearing my name yelled out. the dread.

if i don’t come back a twitchy paranoid misanthrope, i will be a really. really. happy girl.

i realize i’m in southeast asia, but there’s somewhat of a misconception going on that it’s a vacation over here. because it’s not. i don’t know the language and there are no classes* for me to take. for some unpredictable amount of time at some point during the day, there is no water. sometimes i don’t have electricity. i don’t have close friends here like i do in seattle. i don’t have privacy. people are constantly trying to get my attention. i can’t be alone and i feel incredibly lonely.

but then there’s the tradeoff. if you told me a year ago that i’d be riding a dumptruck on an undeveloped road in west sumatra to go eat a communal meal off of a banana leaf, i would have told you you’re crazy.

but i wonder if having bragging rights to these singular experiences is really worth the squalor and the spirit breaking i have to go through during the day. spirit breaking like being in a group of indonesians and one of them saying: “when you first arrived you were chubby, now you’re slim… what happened, did you get sick?” no, actually, i’m not going to get engaged in a group conversation about my painful bacterial diet.

and also, the tradeoff isn’t proportional, either. the dump truck ride was ten minutes long. me having to be stuck in a really shitty living situation is every day for a year. i don’t want to do the math for how many minutes that approximately comes out to.

and i was trying to visualize the graphic representation of the loneliness/social exposure phenomenon here. i find that i am completely surrounded by people at all hours. but anyways, it would be like the supply and demand curves.

and i need to remind myself that desire is the root of all suffering.

when i was on my home visit, my host pointed to the mountains nearby.

“these are the ghost forest.”
“why ghost forest?”
“oh, because if someone goes in the forest, they don’t come back.”
“what about a group of people?”
“if we go into the forest a group of ten, only eight will come back. a person or two will get lost*.”

he didn’t have to tell me that. anytime i look at the jungle here, i get creeped out. it’s freaky beautiful, yes. but the consumptive energy of the jungle is salient.

*which is actually saying a lot, because indonesians are incredibly aware of each other’s current location.

i’ve tried to keep track of things, so i don’t forget. i spent a year in france in high school and i think my depression-addled brain getting it’s first taste of freedom was overloaded. i don’t remember as much as i feel i should. i keep on writing this same line in my journal, and for some reason i keep on thinking i haven’t written it yet:

“i wonder how much i’ve already forgotten.”

here are some things i want to remember:

a chicken in the back seat pocket on the bus (i don’t remember from where but i think it was coming back to padang panjang). i watch it’s reticulating eyelid close, the frail, wrinkly pink skin. it is in a black plastic bag that you’d get at a corner store. the old man who is taking it to the market is dozing off, wearing a muslim cap. it’s making beautiful little chirping, cooing sounds from it’s throat without opening it’s beak.

on a bus when it is already dark, i am sitting in the front with a friend. we are crammed in the front, four of us including the driver. the man sitting next to me has crippled legs. we’re travelling at normal speed, maybe at like 35 mph. there’s something lying in the road, and i see it’s eyes glint because it is looking at us as we go hurtling towards it, it’s a tabby cat and it stretches it’s paw towards us and the bus is big enough to if we did roll directly over it we wouldn’t have felt it at all. my heartbeat shoots up because i know that we pretty much just killed something. but i felt like it was looking right at me. and it looks like it put it’s paw out, mercy.

we are going to take the bus to solok but there is a young boy of about eight by the side of the road shrieking and crying hysterically. a crowd of people are around him trying to calm him. i can see the boy’s arm, something has happened to him because there is a giant scab or something. the boy we are with on the bus says, “trauma, he can’t go on mobiles or bus.” the boy and his mother sit in the front. he falls asleep immediately and we travel peacefully.

me and a friend are walking towards school and we see a kitten in the road, just sitting there. we watch in horror as scooters pass by it, it tries to stand but it can’t, really. then we essentially and freak the fuck out as a bus passes over it. we’re frozen in shock and an old man in a nearby store picks it up by the scruff. it’s hind legs are curled up. the old man walks off with the kitten, holding it up to eye-level. i don’t know what happens next.

i’m sitting in a bus, crammed in with about 30 people. the bus we’re in is a little smaller than a suburban. there is a man hanging out of the open door. i saw a school bus go by the other day. this was a local bus, so about the size of one of those small boxy toyota vans. there were school boys hanging out of the open door, just holding onto it. it was raining.

there is a vibrating black mass in the bathroom. i think i know what it is based on it’s vague fuzzy shape. i shoo the ants away, and sure enough. it’s a lizard tail.

and there’s so much i’ve already forgotten. and it’s so impossible for me to write in my journal to remember because i can’t find the time to be alone. it’s expensive to be in the internet cafe frequently, and the bad man in the office who neglects us yanked the whole free wifi thing from under us without telling us.

so this is a whole lot at once.

being here has already warped my mind, and i just realized it last night.

nicholson had a short video clip about grenada, just a little “intro to grenada” to encourage tourism.

i watched it and felt a strange question welling up inside of me. which i knew i was influenced completely by living in indonesia.

“nicholson, i’m about to ask you a strange question… but are the beaches in grenada really that clean?”

there’s garbage EVERYWHERE. watching indonesians littler is a little heart rending. when the time comes where i am finished with something and there’s no place to throw it away, i have to hand it to an indonesian who can chuck it into the beautiful landscape with no looking back. and now i can’t imagine anyone living in a tropical paradise and not just thowing plastic cups out the bus window or burning piles of garbage. i just. can’t. but i can’t bring myself to do it.

the other day i was in the bus, crammed in, as per usual. my host is a big boy. he is shaped like a meatball and sweats when he eats, his eyes are squinty on account of his chubby cheeks. he does the thing that people do, the urgent nudging “look at me, watch me, look, look!” like, when he’s just saying something. or demonstrates how to eat something (that doesn’t need demonstration) or, or. i find myself becoming mildly annoyed on account of the prodding and questioning: “are you going to *poop* now?” (his eyebrows go up and there is an up inflection in his voice when he says poop). he makes me look at him when he sings really bad pop love ballads: “it’s because of you”.

so, we’re crammed in the bus and his sweaty tit is nuzzling the back of my armpit.

and i realize, we are one.

so i kind of feel like i’m in prison now.

the other day i got this idea in my head that i was going to give myself a stick n poke tattoo. that coupled with the persistent smoking and coffee guzzling makes me feel like i’ve never been more of a seattlelite than now. i just had to go to the jungle to have seattle sink it’s claws into me.

i have meth head skin on account of all the mosquitos that keep on biting. i’m allergic so it’s sooooo hard for me to not scratch the bites. i’m trying to eat more bitter food so the mosquitos stay away. but. we’ll see.

when i think of how people were saying “your skin and hair are going to be so beautiful there,” i scoff. people have some of the worst complexions here, and i’m sure it’s on account of the burning piles of garbage and whatever else seeps in the water.

the “gas stations” here that sell “gasoline” say “bensin.”

i wonder if “bensin” means “benzene.” aka the known carcinogen that is outlawed in the united states. just wondering.

i love you all, please pray for me while i am here. i could use all the spiritual backup support i can get. it’s easy to get bummed out here, everything helps.

tremors

when i go to bed at night, my subconscious rolodex opens up.

i have had dreams about people i’ve seen and interacted with. but it’s really nonsensically random i’ve dreamt of people from my middle school class, seattle trannies, friends i used to hang out with a lot at some point but sort of lost touch with… i wake up exhausted.

it wasn’t until two nights ago that i think i nearly slept through the entire night. and woke up only once.

i had a dream a few years ago about this surreal lake… the landscape was breathtaking. three weeks ago i saw it in person on a small weekend trip with marta and rita. randomly, on another trip there where i was invited by a teacher to watch a traditional minangkabau wedding, i was asked if i wanted to stay there forever.

morale has vastly improved since classes have begun.

my moments when i’m here when i ask myself why i’m here. of all places in this program, why here. hearing word from other students at other universities how their needs are taken care of is really depressing.

speaking of mornings and being exhausted, i was woken up this morning by triplets that my roommate shares classes with. they tried the door, but found it was locked and banged on the door yelling “uni, uni, uni, uni!” for twenty minutes until my very shy roommate, hidayah, opened the door for them and let them in.

i’ve had to tell people things like: “this is my number, but please don’t give it to people i haven’t met.” and today, “don’t disturb my sleep, and be sure to call or text before you come over to confirm that it is okay for you to hang out in my home.”

if someone were to ask me, “i’m thinking about doing darmasiswa, should i study at isi padang panjang?” i would say “absolutely not.” and then i would ask, “wait, are you interested in studying music or dance?”

i have a sneaking suspicion that the man who is supposed to be taking care of us has been consistently negligent and the students and teachers here have taken it upon themselves to take care of the foreigners that arrive.

so he must have some real leverage to keep the position that he has. considering that there are concrete and rebar frames for buildings on campus that remain unbuilt since 2002 and 2006, i’m guessing that leverage is financial.

it’s not been so apparent has to how negligent this guy is, but now that there are eleven of us on campus, it has become more clear. what with the no running water and MAJOR fucking security issues shows how completely uninterested he is in setting the administrative organization in place to acommodate foreigners on campus. although somehow, our money matters are taken care of here. oh fucking WEIRD, really?!?!

i wonder what kind of car he drives. i was admiring his prada frames the other day. oh. and i’d love to have running water during the day.

the other night we were sitting around and nicholson was like “did you feel that tremor?!?” i was the only one that looked up and responded. no one felt it. we were so absorbed in the internet. his heart was racing and he was ready to sprint out the door. he told us that in his classroom where he taught art to teenagers, he kept bottles of water in a cluster on a table so that he could be able to tell when tremors were happening.

considering the earthquake in padang in 2008, and all of the really horrible and crazy things that tend to transpire here, it’s just another thing to be paranoid about. but it’s hard not to be aware of the earthquake in 2008, so many big buildings in padang remain broken down. twisted rebar. piles of rubble. there is a nonexistent building on campus here, you can see it on the ISI padang panjang wiki page, but if you walk around on campus it simply does not exist. there’s some broken tile in classrooms.

it’s become remarkably clear to me now that the people here don’t care about the condition that things are in, but simply in what you are doing.

one of our neighbors borrowed our broom and later handed kristyna half of a broom.

she got pissed, and i don’t think she’ll live that one down in the minds of the students.

Welcome to Padang Panjang

I find out that I’m a late arrival, but there are two more due from Grenada. There was a man from South Africa, who was very proud of himself at first because his country had sent him to do the Darmasiswa program. A randomly selected top student. He developed “health problems” and went home, he told the other students here that one month in Padang Panjang was enough.

A couple of weeks ago, Nicholson arrived from Grenada.

So our Darmasiswa crew is now as complete as it’s going to get.

Padang Panjang has no arts and crafts. No trinkets. No postcards. This is not a tourist town.

So it’s a little exciting for the folks of Padang Panjang when the Darmasiswa students show up.

For my first week here I had to learn how to say:

“Saya bukan orang China. Orang tua saya orang Korea. Orang tua saya datang di Amerika tahun sembilanbelas tujupuluh enam. Saya lahir di Amerika.”

Translation: “I am not chinese, I am korean. My parents came to America in 1976. I was born in America.”

But thankfully, my roundeye counterparts get most of the attention since they’re so exotic here.

So blogging these things now are a little funny to me, I have a journal that I write in but it’s by no means as (loosely) sequential in it’s story telling as a blog is. Now that I’m putting stuff in order, I’m seeing some foreshadowing going on, and if only the me now could warn the me then. I’m having that feeling of frustration that’s aroused by horror movies; the desire to yell at the girl in the fuzzy white sweater that she is about to get the shit stabbed out of her for checking to see what exactly the source of that strange sound was.

Which is where I pick up where I left off, roughly. I really should have just manned up and take my dump that night. Holding it in did my digestive tract no favors with dealing with my dinner that I had. My dinner was freshly caught fish was caught on premises at the rumah makan on the way from the airport. Frans pointed at the pond below the below the rumah makan when he was telling me that the fish was grilled and also very good. I remembered thinking that the water looked kind of fucking nasty. As it turns out, the ponds are where people do their laundry, bathe, piss and shit in. Even some Indonesians are wary of eating pond fish.

But didn’t think anything of it as I sat down to eat.

My first day in Padang Panjang and I’ve got traveller’s diarrhea. The Lonely Planet guide to Indonesia has a little section about it, and it goes a little like this: “Traveller’s diarrhoea is by far the most common problem affecting travellers – between 30%-50% of people will suffer from it within two weeks of starting their trip. In over 80% of cases, traveller’s diarrhoea is caused by a bacteria (there are numerous potential culprits), and therefore responds promptly to treatment with antibiotics. Treatment with antibiotics will depend on your situation – how sick you are, how quickly you need to get better, where you are etc.”

It passed, but possibly mutated into something different. I went to the hospital the other day to get checked out, which was fun with my broken Indonesian and Kristyna’s electronic dictionary. I was palpated, stomach listened to with a stethoscope, and a little percussive knocking on my belly and I was given a bunch of different meds in dark green ziplock baggies. I tried to ask what they were for, but no what-what. I keep on forgetting to bring them along so I can wiki what is what… But they look like digestive aids, an anti-inflammatory, and weirdness.

Oh, more foreshadowing. The dirty dishes in the kitchen weren’t sitting there because of slovenly kitchen habits. The situation in which they dishes had been left there were a little pathetic. Because of Ramadhan, the girls could buy food in the market but not be able to eat it out in public. Food had to be brought back home to be eaten, but because there wasn’t running water that day, they dishes couldn’t be washed.

I am a poor housekeeper, which is to say that wherever I’ve lived, my situation ends up looking like something out of Hoarders. The junior edition. But I strangely enjoy doing the dishes, which is something that evolved out of being unemployed for a really long time. Mostly because I just like the feeling of having clean dishes, it’s just nice.

Anyway, I can’t really describe the feeling of relief that I had when our water in the mess would come back on around midnight (we’d leave the taps open during the day just in case.) I’d go straight to the sink and do dishes. God, it felt good. I can see where compulsive cleaners get their rush from.

The first load of laundry that I did smelled like moldy socks on account of the humidity and the 5 day drying time. And the subject of laundry remains a little depressing for me and not something I’m going to spend much time elaborating on. I can see how the invention of the washing machine was instrumental in the development of feminism.

I’m really far behind on blogging, but I’ll try my best now that I’m able to use the internet on campus now.

the squalor.

it’s really dirty here in padang panjang. really.

going for wireless is like. i dunno. kind of a luxurious event.

i need to explain the situation with the wireless, which takes a while to explain.

so we’re actually supposed to have wireless access to the internet on campus. but we don’t. the girls have asked and asked about the wireless network, and frans, our go-between, is helpless in explaining to us that it is broken. simply, that it is broken, sorry. there have been several requests about repairing what ever vague thing is making the wireless so broken and the internet so very far away. but the response has been a helplessly unhelpful “sorry” and kindly informing us that the internet is broken. but when will it be working again? sorry, but it is broken.

you get the picture.

but about a week ago, frans told one of the girls that there has been no wireless on campus for over a year.

welcome to indonesia.

so, we are twelve on the institut seni indonesia padang panjang campus. i’m not exactly sure how the darmasiswa program works, but basically any secondary school student from country that has a diplomatic relationship with indonesia can apply. i didn’t even complete my application and was accepted. i didn’t even get my 60 day tourist visa fed exed to me from the consulate in washington dc until three days before i left.

for anyone who considers themselves an anarchist, they should come live in this country. there’s a huge difference between the concept of chaos and what the experience of chaos is actually like.

for a little bit, mess 5 was a squat. eight girls in a 4 bedroom house with one bathroom. there is a second bathroom but it’s in bad shape – not like the indonesian version of the toilet in trainspotting – but it’s pretty unfriendly and goes unused until mister doni comes to clean it for us.

mess 5 on my first couple of days in padang panjang consisted of:

kristyna – czech
trang – vietnam
hidaya – laos
marta – poland
oliwia – poland
beata – hungary
rita – italy

…and little ol’ me.

there is the street kitten that lives in front of mess 5. the girls named him “mister.” indonesians love “mister” and shouting out, “hello mister!” at any foreigner, regardless of the gender of the individual in question.

so. mister: he’s got a sparse coat of black fur so you can clearly see his wrinkly skin and skeletal structure. his belly is bloated which is probably related to the situation going on with his asshole that puckers outward. mister’s face is tiny, with huge ears. he looks like some kind of fucked up wingless bat. with worms. we’ve come to love as much as we are revolted by this atrocious little creature. kristyna found him meowing his brains out during a rainy night. so now, he camps out in front of mess 5.

there’s kind of a moat around mess 5… miscellaneous bits of garbage, moss and the occasional plop of sickly kitten shit. our patio has traces of algae and parts of broken, moldy furniture pushed into a corner. other than that, it is clean. kristyna, trang and hidaya cleaned the best they could.

mess 3, the mess that frans showed me the day i arrived, was supposed to be cleaned for beata, oliwia, marta and rita to move in. but they couldn’t quite move in yet. they had to wait.

there are two guys from thailand, bob and paul (the names that i call them by because i just don’t want to butcher their thai names). they live in mess 4. they smoke indoors, almost constantly. the four bedrooms in their mess go unoccupied, their mattresses are side by side in the livingroom, where the only other outlet (besides the one in the kitchen) resides. paul is a chunkier guy with short hair and wears a backpack – he totally reminds me of an american dude, bob is smaller with long hair – and looks like a thai elliott smith. bob and paul sit around in their boxers a lot.

so, we are twelve, and have no idea what is going on.

we darmasiswites are given a scholarship – 1,500,000 rupiah – a month.

i have no idea where this money comes from. the ministry of education, yes. but where that money comes from is a mystery to me.

and considering how corrupt it is here, i’d be surprised if the people who didn’t arrive (four) will ever go reported to the ministry of education. there was also a guy from south africa who was sent to padang panjang to study at isi padang panjang and was very proud of himself for it. but after spending time in this dismal little town, said that one month in padang panjang was enough, contracted some “illness” and went back home.

one evening at a tiny little cafe on campus, rita was having tea. there were three other foreigners. one of them asked rita if she was italian. in italian. somehow, a divine lifesaver was cast for rita to grab onto.

the girls were also here for the arts, also through a program paid for by the indonesian government. however, the duration of their program was only two months. the three girls, ella (spain), fabrizia (italy) and aurore (france), are fine arts students who were sent to west sumatra to absorb the landscapes and make paintings of indonesia. the work would then be shown in a european exhibit.

the girls said they were living near the campus, in a homestay, at a hotel. the one i am sitting at now. with the nice open-air lobby. a patchy-furred cat just trotted across that gleaming tile. and i saw the nice domesticated rabbit that hops about the premises. the rabbit is in such nice shape, the first time i saw it, i thought i was seeing things.

anyway, the girls’ accomdations are paid for (the rent for our shabby mess is 150,000 rupiah a month – about 15 american dollars, but a total rip off.) the girls are provided spice-free meals in their room. all of them: breakfast, lunch and dinner. there are women who come in to clean. frequently. and! they have wireless for 15,000 rupiah for 24 hours of access.

and! their place is furnished! really lovely. the girls have their own personal bathrooms with western toilets. and! besides having water that runs all day long, they also have hot water. ten luxurious minutes of hot water to shower with.

being here is like a surreal departure from the mess. although strangely, i’m not that envious. well. i haven’t asked if they have laundry service. oh fuck, they probably do. ok. now i’m getting a little bummed out.

the kamar mandi was at first cryptic and intimidating.

there is a tile “tub” filled with water – the mandi. you dip a little plastic bucket with a panhandle into the mandi to wash yourself and flush the toilet with. although the squat toilet is a little primitive at first, it’s kind of genius how you just pour water into it to flush. but a real pain if you’ve eaten something bouyant earlier in the day.

but taking showers is something i struggle with on a daily basis. maybe it’ll get easier. but i just can’t do it first thing in the morning. it’s too harsh. i do a lot of deep breathing to be able to handle having cold water splashed onto my back. my shower ritual takes a lot of staring at the kamar mandi. kristyna apologized for being in my way while she was filling the laundry bucket today because i was standing in my room staring at the mandi from my room, wearing a towel. and five minutes later when she came back i was in the same pose.

“but… what are you doing? i’m done! you can go in.”
“i’m killing a dragon, kristyna. this is just a part of the ritual.”

the kamar mandi is no longer cryptic. it’s my foe that i have to face on a daily basis. before the girls here have to leave for europe, i am going to take a hot shower. ten minutes in heaven!

gunna check my horoscope and write some emails.

first.

i’m sitting in a luxurious open-air hotel lobby on a bamboo chair, using hotel wifi with my laptop. the speckled mauve tile is polished to a lovely sheen and the recessed lighting above reflects pleasantly from the floor.  it’s an equatorial nine thirty in the evening, so it is really dark out.  exotic plants surround the lobby.  i can see the brass of the peaked bull’s horn roof nearby gleam from a streetlamp.

there are two kids nearby, rhythmically hocking what sounds like dry loogies into pond with a fountain feature in the middle of it.  a cat sitting next to my left foot is grooming itself furiously, i’m sure it has fleas.  lots and lots of fleas.  the cat has a weird short tail that is crooked at the end.  a car drives up and there’s some light violet l.e.d. strobe light going on inside, and a woman wearing a jijab trimmed in rhinestones steps out in a tan and aubergine outfit, she is holding a light pink plushy pillow with bright fuchsia tulle trim.

and this isn’t even what indonesia is like.  this isn’t even what sumatra is like.

this one time i was visiting manhattan and my boyfriend at the time was like “so, what do you think of new york?”

“well, uh.  i dunno, it’s okay i guess.”

“no matter where you are in the city it’s hard to say “this is new york” or “that’s new york.”  it’s like new york doesn’t even exist.”

using the internet is soma.  a virtual departure from the absurd reality which i have entered.  a lot of what happens in a day is beyond description, but i want to share what i’m capable of communicating.  so here’s this blog.

sumatra is muslim, so loudspeakers from mosques throughout the town will fire up with men singing text from the koran.  minaret singing.  it sounds like cursive.  i showed up during the end of ramadhan, i can’t imagine what it would have been like to be here from the beginning.

right, the beginning.

where to begin?  there are a few different beginnings, but i guess i’ll start with the mess.

i was taken to the campus by the darmasiswa go-between, frans and a driver (whose name i can’t remember).  we were riding in a school pickup truck.  we got to campus and frans said, “you are the first one to this mess, this is where you will stay and sleep tonight!”  mess, i guess, is from military terminology.  but.  holy shit.  mess seemed more appropriate as a description of my future accomodations.  frans opened the door and there were big droplets of dried mud (?) tracked through the place.  that’s about as much as i can remember, i saw the bathroom and pretty much mentally checked out from there. details will be lacking from this narrative, but the parts that shocked my consciousness into recording events i’ll describe.

two girls came up to me, marta and rita.  they told me to come over to the mess that they were staying at.  frans and the driver had to leave very abruptly (time to pray!) so they gave me the food that had been picked up from a restaurant on the way from the airport (fish caught on premises, grilled, very good!) and some “fruit” (more like a potato, reminiscent of jicama – also procured on our trip from the airport) and hurry off to the nearest mushallah.

i sat down at the table to eat, the girls asked me if i wanted some silverware which i declined and ate with my hand.  the girls all seemed to be in good spirits and were laughing.  krystina opened the door to give the stray kitten, mister, some food.  marta tells her not to let the cat in and krystina grumbles back at her “marta, i KNOW!”    the girls giggle a bit.  at some point, rita does a turn and then a handstand.  at another point, oliwia walks in from (knowing her now) i assume the internet cafe.  the girls said “she just arrived today!”  she looked me dead in the eye and asked in a cheerful voice, “and do you feel disenchanted?”

i think i might have felt something like that when i felt the urge to take a shit that night.  i saw the pink squatter toilet with no flush and immediately wanted to go home.  just to take a shit.  i swear i’d come right back.  so i held it in and waited until the next day.

there is some talk about the water “not working today.”

what other mental snapshots do i have?  a bowl in the kitchen with some coconut curry sauce in it.  specks of red grease pooled on top.  the sauce looks jaundiced, a bit greenish, due to the compact flourescent lightbulb overhead.  there is a spoon in the bowl.  i think “so much for reforming my ways, looks like my roommates are slobs, too.”

there are parts of a broken bunk bed in the kitchen, and damp clothes hanging haphazardly over them.  i feel mildly depressed.

i smoked a clove cigarette, and i had two nice conversations, one with beata and one with rita.

everyone insists that i stay in the mess with them, that it is not good if i stay alone.  i pass out around 9 (which is exceptionally early for me) on the floor of the living room on my foam mattress imported from the mess with the mud.  the lights are on and everyone is still hanging out in the living room.

around five in the morning i’m awoken to air raid sirens from all around the city.  and public address speakers from every direction with the voices of men’s religious drone-tones.  this partially affects what is a semi-nightmare the next night, where my mother salutes me, then jumps from an airplane during a military maneuver during world war 2.

whenever i stop to look at the mountains surrounding padang panjang, i am shocked.  sometimes it’s lookin very “gorillas in the mist.”  and i find it deeply disappointing that the only way my mind can make sense of my surroundings is by comparing it to movies.  the jungle has “jurassic park” days, or sometimes “apocalypse now” moments.  this dense beast covered in living green fur with small garbage pile fires escapes my understanding.  the jungle looks at me and i know when i look back at it that if i were to try and survive one night alone in the jungle, i would surely die.  or lose my sanity.

very early on i very enthusiastically expressed my dismay with something by yelling “jesus christ!”

i don’t know exactly when or what it was that excited me.  but the catholics in my midst got a real kick in the pants over it.  they didn’t even say anything at the time, but probably exchanged glances.

rita later told me, “you said “jesus christ!” i never hear anyone say this before, never!  it’s so funny to me, “jay-zus chraiest!” haha, i cannot believe, in italian “gesu cristo!” no one would say this in italian!  hahaha, “jay-zus chraiest!”"

but can you imagine the dread and the guilt i felt?  when i was nannying owen and eliza, i exposed them to one of my worst habits.  nannying involved a lot of driving.  which involved a lot of me yelling out “jesus christ!”  there was one day where i heard eliza, a bright-eyed eight year old girl, yell “jesus christ!”  most likely, at the pet dog for chewing some plastic toy into a ragged, fabric-snagging pulp.

something i know about myself is that i can quit smoking pretty easy.  but for fuck’s sake.  i just can’t quit jesus.  i don’t know if i’m in trouble for blaspheming his name.  or if i’m stuck in a scene from an ang lee movie with the son of god.

there’s so much more.  but i’ve gata quit you, internet.