Sunday, September 15, 2013

Another Day, Another Adventure

"Mal, tomorrow at 6:30 AM our neighbor's daughter is coming to get you and you're going to a mountain to take pictures." Uhhh. Alright, Bunda. I woke up at 5:30 this morning, got dressed, grabbed my camera, and was out the door. My neighbor and her daughter, Fia, picked me up, and we were taken to a small house. I patiently sat on the floor, still confused as to what the day would consist of, and talked to Fia about America. Eventually, about eight other high school and university students joined us. Before we left, we had to pray for our "safety within the mountain's dangers." Now, at this point, I was a wee bit concerned. I had been told we were going to be taking some casual pictures, but all of a sudden we were praying for safety... Being the Montana girl that I am, this made me simultaneously stoked, and terrified. We all piled into two cars, and drove for about an hour to the mountain. Now, I say we drove. But to put it in the words of our driver, Rafa, "Mal, we may have to do a bit of off-roading. And this car really isn't made for that. Sorry"

After a drive that reminded me of Montana dirt roads, we had finally arrived. Within thirty seconds of walking on the trail, school girls spotted me and came running asking for photos. This was of course, no problem for the photo queen that I am. And they were absolutely adorable.
Such cute girls!

Left me speechless.
The trail first went through rice fields that were absolutely stunning. A smile spread across my face as I realized that I was back in my natural, nature habitat where I belonged.

Some of the boys on the trail
Over slippery rockslide, mud puddles, tall grass, and bugs galore, Ryan and I lead the pack. After about an hour hike, (which by the way kicked my butt considering how I haven't worked out since I got here,) we had arrived at a small, quaint waterfall. The waterfall was full of people, and despite my wanting to take a few pictures, I couldn't. I was too busy trying to cross the water on slippery rocks and not fall over and embarrass myself. After the group had crossed, we continued our hike on. After a trek up a mountain face, (I kid you not, it was SO steep,) we had found a place to set up a small camp.

While the girls took selfies, myself and the boys set up shelters. "That's so cool," they said as I started making a lean-to. (Shout out to my dad for teaching me so well!) Within a few minutes, we had a hot pink, lean-to and a hammock made out of a poncho.

Then, it was time to eat. Now, this is where the Indonesian kids really beat with me their survival skills. The girls made delicious tempe goreng on an ultralight, backpacking stove. How they did it, I'm not sure. But it was dang good, and I need to learn how to do that for when Dad and I go backpacking.

Chilling in the poncho hammock
After some dang-good food, Mallory was sleepy. So, I set down my pack, rest my head on it, and within seconds I was asleep. I considered making this part all poetic and beautiful, because really, that's how it was dozing off in the Bandung mountains. However, waking up to golf-ball sized bug bites on my hands and legs was really not that lovely. We took a few more pictures, had a few more laughs, and then we were on our way back home.

Today I had to cross a waterfall with people whom I had just met hours before. The majority of them didn't speak my language, and I spoke very little of theirs. And yet, a bond was created. We trusted each other. I trusted them to not get us lost, or push me off of a mountain, or whatever else could have happened. Being an exchange student does that you. It teaches you to trust people, because that's all you can do. You have to trust your friends at school to not teach you bad words. You have to trust your new host family that just weeks ago, you didn't know. You have to trust yourself, in knowing that you are capable of this year. And even though that's the hardest part of exchange, I think I'm doing just fine.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

9/11: Newfound Meaning

"Do Indonesians brush their teeth?"
"What part of Europe is Indonesia in?"
"Does it ever snow in Indonesia?"

Since coming to this country, I've been asked some fairly shocking questions. The questions usually range from serious to hilarious. However, one question that I have been repeatedly asked is, "What's it like living with a Muslim host family?"Well. What's it like living with your American family? Do you feel safe? Do you talk to each other? Do you eat dinner together? Because I do all of the above with my Muslim host family.

My Muslim host parents both have PhDs. My host mom is a rehabilitation doctor and my host dad does some other crazy, smart things. My brother is very proud of his soccer abilities, and his favorite team is FC Barcelona. My host sister is an incredible student, and between all of her school work, she takes piano lessons and art classes. Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of this sound bizarre? Don't get me wrong, my host family certainly isn't the same as my family in the US. But if you ask me, I think they share more similarities than they do differences.

People have also asked me about school here. "Do they like, want to like, convert you?" Monday through Saturday I spend seven hours a day with Muslim students, or as I like to call them, students. No, they do not hate Americans. No, they do not preach to me about converting to Islam. And no, men are not oppressing women. On that note, the hijab is not a sign of complete, male domination. Muslim women wear the hijab to feel empowered, to say, "I am not a sex object" On another note, teachers are also not telling students to go on suicide bombing missions. Sorry. I have digressed. My fellow classmates... Scratch that. The entire school, has been nothing but welcoming. All of these Muslims are making feel like I've lived here my whole life.

In the short time that I have lived here, I am quickly realizing the importance of the YES Abroad program. Not only are there misconceptions in America about Muslims, there are also Muslims with misconceptions about Americans. Just the other day I had a friend come up to me and say, "I thought all Americans were mean to Muslims. Why are you so nice?" That really shocked me. To think that we are currently living in a world where there are still tensions and miscommunications over something as beautifully simple as religion. So that's why I'm here, living with a Muslim family. Going to school with Muslim classmates. And doing things in an Islamic society. And you know what? I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Here is a lovely video for thought.

And this as well.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I started school!

Ladies and gentlemen, this girl started school. On Monday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn, got dressed in my shiny, new, not-too-revealing school uniform, ate a quick breakfast, and was rushed out the door to school with my host mom and liaison, Priyanka.

My family and I on my first day!
We headed to the school that would in a few days, quickly steal my heart. The second I stepped foot through the towering, steel gates I was greeted by a mix of puzzled expressions and enthusiastic, "Hellos!" After a quick meeting with the school headmaster, I was escorted up to my new classroom. The second I entered the class went crazy. Now, I say crazy but, really that's an understatement. Picture what your reaction would be if you won the lottery. Twice. Now multiply that by thirty loud, enthusiastic, Indonesian teenagers and that's sort of how that went. The class was shouting things like, "beautiful" and "Selena Gomez is here." Just to name a few. After a few introductions, I got the honor of a seat right in the front of the class. My first day of school was one big hot mess. Let's be honest. Between not knowing what anyone was saying and having everyone want to touch my hair and having people ask me,"Do you know Justin Bieber?" and taking millions of photos and sweating like a dog in that dang uniform, I was grateful when the last bell rang.

Keep smiling! It's an Indonesian thing. 

Tough guys.
However, the next day went much smoother. The day was filled with singing songs and playing guitar. For whatever reason, all Indonesians have been blessed with a musical gift. I was serenaded by the boys of the class multiple times and I really enjoyed it. Really, really enjoyed it.

Sandy teaching me guitar :)

I swear I'm usually good at history but...

While everyone still wanted to talk to me and take photos, it was okay. Everyone is so friendly, and so welcoming, and really wants to take strides to make sure I feel at home. My classmates are hilarious, my teachers are understanding, and everyone in the school is just great. SMA Kartika, congratulations. Because you've officially won this American girl's heart.

Until next time,

Nature Mal signing off (Reference for Charis Ramsing) :)