I hold the kaleidoscope to my eye
do a tiny twist with my hand
and a new image appears
I look, twist again
and another image crystallizes:
a selamaton (ceremony) marking 1000 days
after the death of Pak Boesch’s mother
the men get out the mats
we women sit with the children off to the side
men chant and pray sacred text
prostrating, standing, kneeling
then women and children join the men
sitting opposite on the rattan mats
the children are suddenly very quiet
the imam offers special prayers for the dead mother
we intone some parts of the prayers too
we are individually invited to
a feast cooked by Pak’s wife
silahkan (please, come, enjoy)
some of the women are covered
I inquire, “What does this mean for you?
I hear most often, a sincere, “It helps me feel closer to God
because it is a constant reminder.”
the Muslim head coverings are quite beautiful here
with jeweled pins and color coordinated with clothes
lovely fashion statements actually
other conversations bring in other points of view:
“She says it’s her choice, but really
she’s responding to her husband’s request.”
another: “My fiancé and I talk about
everything and we make decisions together.
I like being covered. I made this decision on my own.
No, I don’t know how common this is
for Muslim men and women to talk equally.
In the city it is more common than the country.
I wonder if anything will be different when I get married.
Was it different for you?”
another: “I had a good job in the city
and my Korean employer would have given
us a car and my fiancé a job…anything, for me to stay
but a woman must follow her husband
so right after we were married
I went to his work in a rural village
with no running water or electricity. I cried.
Now we live in town and have three beautiful boys.”
another, a white woman: “From my sense of it,
these women would find it
very hard to stop wearing head covering.
I think it is a kind of protection for them.
They imagine that it keeps them safe
from all their faults showing. They hide behind it.”
The seventh graders interview parents
or grandparents about their lives.
Adella says, “My grandmother said, ‘You have
a teacher who wants to know about ME?’”
Sean writes: “If my mother [named Larissa, age 39] wanted to go from one place to another, she rode a horse. Her favorite food was fried rice. If she was sick she ate soup [and got a massage].” Alsha writes: ” When [my father] he was a child, he just had a radio, a watch, and a traditional toilet called ‘jambon.’ They used fire and wood for cooking. When they were on holiday, they just went to the forest. They used boats to get from one place to another.” Adella writes: “I have someone to interview. She is Tati Kena Laba, my grandmother. . . now she is 74 years old. . . .I live with her. When she was six year old, she could cook for her parents. Tati’s favorite food was manghahai soup, a traditional food from Central Kalimantan.” Segah says that his grandma Ranti Batus who is 65 “played with dolls with her sister and was scared of the dark. . . . She didn’t go to school because there was no school.”
Most of the children in our school come by bus, have cell phones, access to computers, and their families have motorbikes and houses with electricity and running water.
In Janny Scott’s wonderful biography of Ann Dunham, Obama’s Mother
who spent 20 plus years in Indonesia, I read: “Like pretty much everyone is Indonesia in those years [she arrived in 1971], they had no running water, no plumbing, no telephone service. To brush their teeth, they pumped water from a well, boiled it on a single kerosene burner, and spat it off the front porch. . . .They had fenced a five-foot pit in the yard for use as a toilet. Bushes served as a clothesline.” (Scott, chapter 4) In rural villages that we have visited, things are much the same, with the additions of a few generators and dish satellites.
The sixth graders love to use new American expressions like
“It’s a bummer.” “Piece a cake.” “Holy moly”
Reading together “The Phantom Tollbooth”
they buy some words at the word market:
quagmire and flabbergasted
we look up the meaning in the dictionary
the next day, one of the buses is late
Bagus says “The bus is in a quagmire.”
“People will be flabbergasted
when you use these words,” I tell them
“You wrote really great stories for homework!
I want to read a few excellent sentences.
Here’s one from Syifa’s story
‘Suddenly, the Princess heard a small voice saying,
You can make some money by dancing in the street,
and I will sing a song to make it more colorful.’
What I like about this sentence is that it uses dialogue
and suspense to keep us interested and curious.
She could have said, ‘Then the bird told the Princess
that she could make money by dancing.’
That would have been kind of boring, right?”
Ibu invites me on a motorcycle ride
to some off road places.
“Will you come?” “Sure, I’d love to.”
“But I have to ask your husband for permission to take you.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I am going into ask him.”
she drops me off at our cottage
and formally asks Ren’s permission
he smiles and says, “Yes, she has my permission.”
a national holiday
have practiced well
they line up at attention
while the Indonesian flag is raised
and a formal declaration is read
teachers on the other, salute
the students sing several patriotic songs
the co-principal speaks
this is a very formal event
as different as it could be
from our Monday morning assemblies
the students do both equally well
5 pm swim
Ahhhhh, a delight
water like getting into a lukewarm bath
refreshing anyway, deeply refreshing
floating on our noodles
looking up at the amazing cumulus clouds
like living sky creatures
horse (kuda), dog (anjing), cat (kucing)
sky darkens and bright, bright Venus emerges
other swimmers join us sometimes
palm trees surround the pool
this is an Indonesian loveliness
the magrib Muslim prayer
coats and blesses our ears