Monday, June 07, 2010

Saying Goodbye

This is my final blog from Indonesia. We leave in a few days, which will be filled with packing and throwing ancient, forgotten papers away.

Today I was working at the school to do some computer work in the library. When I was finished, I realized that I likely wouldn't be back in the library before I leave. As I was going out the door, I turned and said, "Goodbye library. Thank you for serving me well these past few years."

I've discovered that to be thankful doesn't require a living recipient. The importance of thanksgiving is found in the state of mind: a recognition of service or kindness or availability that wasn't of my own making. The library has been a place of solace and, sometimes, solitude. A place where I can read National Geographic when I want to hear about the exotic world abroad without being in a NatGeo-type setting. (It's humorous to me that I have to go into my Western-constructed environment to do that.)

The library has also been a place where I've done some of my best work here, writing and researching for articles. It's where I've met with students to discuss their papers or their relationships or their problems. It's where I've played chess in the air-conditioning on steamy monsoon days. It's where I've escaped from the heat and muggy-ness outside when I simply can't breathe the Javanese air any more.

It's important to say goodbye. And it's important to be thankful. And places can be just as important in our lives as people. So, goodbye library. And thank you for serving me so well these past few years. I won't forget you. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ghost Bird

Our house helper left us a lovely present the other day: an owl in Mona's bicycle basket with a newspaper lid.

It's the weekend. We work on Saturday morning in preparation for finals week at school, then kick back at the house for the evening with a friend in tow. Mona goes into the side room where her bike is parked and begins screaming that there's something in the room. I grab my shoe expecting a roach only to hear her say, "I don't think your shoe's going to be big enough."

Sure enough, I peer into the basket to see an owl sitting with its back to me, its head turned all the way around to see my face. A gorgeous creature about the size of Errol from the Harry Potter series (volleyball sized).

I send a text message to our helper. She writes back the following: "When I opened the curtains, the bird was already on top of the ceiling fan in the front room. The bird flew down to land and the orange cat tried to catch and kill it. So I caught it and put it in the bicycle basket. I thought that bird was there last night in your house, and that bird is often killed by cats (its name is “ghost bird”)."

What?! She left the bird in the house rather than releasing it, and she didn't leave us a message or note about it? By the time we found it, it had been in captivity for more than 24 hours, sitting silently in the basket. And the cats didn't make a fuss about it either. In fact, when I brought it through the living room to release it, Homer, the orange cat she referenced above, didn't even open his eyes from his lounging position in agknowledgement of the momentous occasion. Completely docile.

Anyway, now we can say that we've had a "ghost bird" in our house. Hey, that's a great prank. Catch a large bird and put it in someone's house. Images of Will Ferrell with a cougar in his car come to mind, on a much more tame scale, of course.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Back from Bali

So, we're back from Bali for a week before we jet off to Malaysia for visa work. Just enough time for me to fall ill once again. Life in an impoverished country can take its toll on even the most diligent of us.

While in Lovina Beach area on the north coast of Bali, Mona and I both completed the PADI Open Water SCUBA certification. A phenomenal sport...philosophical undertaking...shift in perspective. I have many diving friends that have boasted of the beauty and majesty of life underwater, but I couldn't have understood the depth of this truth until I did it myself. And all this joyful transformation takes place a mere few meters under the surface. Added benefit: now when we're on vacation, we have another option of activity.

My underwater camera will be developed shortly. Pics to come here and on Facebook.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Prayer for the Future

Lord, guide my future path in wisdom. Enable me to be courageous through transition. Open my mind to new possibilities that my culture or background would negate. Unstop my ears to the cries of the suffering and the music of humanity. Speak to me through your valued creations and draw me to a deeper understanding of the unending love upon which you founded all that is. Help me to recognize and develop my Self as a member of your family in whose growth you seem immensely concerned. Thank you for the Sacrifice that freed me to see, receive, embrace and extend reconciliation to and from all. Amen.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Jane Austen in Java

Reading Pride & Prejudice while on Java adds a new flavor. Austen's humorous look at young passionate romance and the ever-flirtatious pursuit of a spouse mimics modern Javanese life in many ways.

The first parallel I see comes in the words of Austen's young maidens who exclaim that being mid- to late-twenties without a husband makes one an old spinster. Many of the girls here are quick to jump at marriage as a form of social salvation, accompanied by the obligatory first child within a year. Unwed girls of 25 or more, and boys of 27 or more, are held in suspicion for their apparent lack of social understanding. Parents become nervous for their child's well-being, and extended relatives watch attentively out of the corner of their eyes while searching vigorously for a prospect from other circles of influence.

The second major parallel I notice between Austen's realm and that of modern Central Java lurks a little below the surface. In Emma and Sense and Sensibility, Austen's heroines collide with the age-old battle of youth: love versus security. Do I marry for basic compatibility and money? Do I pursue love and passion at all costs? Isn't love all that we really need? Although their is little money in Java, family ties and neighborhood connections become that security that correlates to a healthy income in Austen's novels. I know and know of several girls who have married for the social security of a spouse over passion.

One major contrast still remains. Austen's novels are filled with wealthy, single young men who are in search of a wife just as much as they are being pursued. Social life in Kent or Hamptonshire revolves around who has how much per year and how do we bat our eyes at them. Life in Central Java is not so high up. With next to no middle class, the measurement of a man by his income is more or less a question of if he has one at all. Even then, the compulsion to marry overwhelms any recognized Western sense of economical sustainability. "Neither of us have jobs, education, ambition or prospects, but let's get married and have kids right away anyhow." Whereas Austen's families are concerned with a consistent income and a life of comfort, many in Central Java see children as a sign of arrival, even if it means that they can only afford to eat 1,000 calories each per day.

Perhaps Austen's Sense and Sensibility wouldn't be understood here after all. Our Western notions of sensibility and practicality don't fit with Javanese rukun or gotong royong, surface social harmony above all.