This past Wednesday, the first of June, my Peace Corps class concluded pre-service training and was sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). The start of our two years of service officially began. We received our Peace Corps pins, and most of us said goodbye to Kediri, our first home in Indonesia.
The day before swear-in was very similar to any other day during PST. We had language class in the morning, followed by some sessions on what to do our first months at site and information about living with a host family. For my language cluster’s final Sundanese class we reviewed everything we had learned in our ten days of lessons and had a one-on-one talk with our language facilitator about our strengths and weaknesses in the language.
Immediately after language class I went around Manisrenggo with my community liaison to the families with whom I had grown close and said goodbye and thanked them for their hospitality. They were all very nice and expressed their hope that I would get a chance to return to Manisrenggo soon and visit them.
After the goodbyes I returned home to place the last of my things in my luggage to send to Bandung. Our bags left a day ahead of us so we wouldn’t need to worry about transporting two years’ worth of stuff to and from the train station immediately following the swearing-in ceremony.
The night before swear-in was also unusual in how similar it was to many of my other nights in Manisrenggo. Some trainees went out to celebrate having completed PST and some spent their last night with their host families savoring their last night together. I heard some trainees’ families had done something special for their last night in Kediri, I thought maybe my family might attempt something special but nothing was out of the ordinary. Ibu made dinner, I ate with bapak, washed the dishes, and sat in the living room with my host sister before bed.
My host sister and I talked about American and Indonesian cultural differences, I explained why Americans do some of the things they do, or tried to at least. It was a conversation reminiscent of our first conversations during my second week in Manisrenggo. My host sister said she thought I had become fat (her words, not mine) since I came to Indonesia because I eat so much here. I told her I’ve actually lost ten kilograms since PST began.
The morning of swear-in was equally underwhelming in how different it was from any of the days from the past two months. My family stuck to our regular routines, except instead of me leaving for language class before seven, I waited until it would be time for me to walk to Sam’s house to take an angkot to the swearing-in venue. I’m not sure how other trainees felt in similar situations, but I appreciated the sense of normalcy my family instilled into the days leading up to swear-in.
My sister said goodbye before she left for work. When saying goodbye for what could be a long time it is common for Indonesians to apologize. As an American, this is something I had a hard time understanding. They apologize for the mistakes they have made or expectations they were unable to meet and ask for forgiveness. A couple of the families apologized to me when I said goodbye, and my sister said it as well. This was hard for me to hear because I can’t think of one thing any of them did that I would classify as a mistake. Nonetheless, trying to maintain cross-cultural understanding, I told them they did nothing wrong and I apologize for my mistakes in kind. After my sister and I exchanged apologies she was on her way to work.
Around nine o’clock I said goodbye to my host mother as best I could and began my final walk through Manisrenggo. It was surprisingly difficult to leave a place I hadn’t even known existed three months earlier. Manisrenggo is filled with so many firsts. Too many to count. It is where I came to know Indonesia and finally establish firm footing in this land and culture so foreign to me. During my walk to Sam’s house I could sense that I was losing that balance I had only just gotten. The ground beneath me shifting to something, yet again, much like what it was when I landed in Surabaya only eight weeks ago.
The swearing-in ceremony itself was simple enough. Remarks were made by the head of the school Peace Corps partners with for PST. In his speech the head of the school apologized for the shortcomings of his school; a very Indonesian thing to do. The Peace Corps Indonesia country director gave a brief speech as well as a minister from the Indonesian government and the United States ambassador to Indonesia, Robert Blake. I did not get a chance to speak with Mr. Blake one-on-one, but he seemed like a very nice and down-to-earth fellow.
After we recited the volunteer oath and the core expectations of Peace Corps we received our pins and the ceremony was over. We took group photos and had lunch with our host families. My bapak came but my ibu was unable to make it. Regrettably, my bapak and I did not take any pictures together, as I don’t think that either of us are wont to treat anything like it’s a big deal or deserving of commemoration. Our last meal together was just as silent as the dozens that preceded it; however, I did make a joke about washing the dishes that really got him laughing.By one o’clock most of the host families had gone home and the newly minted Peace Corps volunteers were hanging out at the Peace Corps PST office trying to relish the last time we all had together. PST almost seems like half of the service. It’s when we’re busiest and everything is most intense. We will be arriving to our permanent sites at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in which almost nothing will happen during the daylight hours. The space between PST and our two years of service, while short in time, was expansive enough to allow all of the ID10s to breathe easily once again, even if it was only for a day or two.
The goodbyes between volunteers were many of the hardest. There are many volunteers that I may not see again until close of service two years from now. I’ll be in West Java with about thirty volunteers and the remainder of ID10 will be in East Java. West Java volunteers left for the train station at five and we got on the train to Bandung at seven in the evening.
We arrived in Bandung at nine in the morning on Thursday and made our way to the hotel where we would have a conference with our principals and counterparts from our respective schools. If this had still been in PST we would’ve gotten off the train at nine, and the conference would’ve begun at ten. Luckily, this was not in PST so we had the day off to explore Bandung with only a dinner planned in the evening at six thirty. We had breakfast at the hotel, got cleaned up, took a quick rest, and then broke off into groups to find some trouble in Bandung.
The group of volunteers I stuck with unfortunately ended up eating lunch at a Pizza Hut; although it was definitely the fanciest Pizza Hut I’ve ever been to, it was still a Pizza Hut. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Americans eating at American food chains while abroad is never a good choice, especially when those Americans can speak the local language with great skill. After Pizza Hut we managed to find a nice Spanish-themed café, named Soleluna, which served some choice beverages not readily found back in Kediri. If you ever find yourself in Bandung, I’d highly recommend it.
At five we left Soleluna and went back to the hotel for our dinner with the principals and counterparts. To get back to the hotel we used angkots. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal to you, the reader, but angkots can be pretty intimidating to the unversed. In Kediri our exposure to angkots was always scheduled and planned. Normally, angkots operate much like buses do in America. They are public transportation, follow fixed routes, and have varying fares depending on how far you go. The routes of angkots aren’t posted anywhere, at least not to my knowledge, so in order to figure out if you’ve found the right one you must ask the driver. This of course requires a decent level of proficiency in the language. I am very pleased to say that our first bout with using the angkots went superbly.
The dinner with our counterparts and principals was good. It was great getting to meet other volunteers’ counterparts and talk about their schools and teaching. After dinner some of the volunteers went out to a quaint karaoke establishment to spend our last evening together. Hanging out at the karaoke place, in Bandung, Indonesia, with some of the coolest people I’ve ever met, interacting with locals using their language, and knowing that one year ago none of it was certain, was quite surreal. It was June 4, 2015 that I received a request for an interview from the Peace Corps for a position as an English teacher in Indonesia. June 4, 2016 I am in Sumedang, Indonesia and a Peace Corps volunteer.