The phrase “typical Tuesday,” as immortalized by Taylor Swift’s hit 2009 song You Belong with Me, is somewhat of a fallacy as no individual day can really be an accurate representation of all like-named days. But in as much as any day can be said to be “typical,” I suppose this Tuesday was as good a use of that word as any other day.
Beyond the fact that none of my days follow any sort of reliable routine is the reality that every Peace Corps volunteer in Indonesia has dramatically different experiences at his or her site. Our schools, counterparts, host families, and communities vary wildly. My days do bear a strong resemblance to one another but they share only the vaguest of similarities with those of any other volunteer.
All that being said, here is what Tuesday the seventh of February 2017 looked like for me.
~ 4:30 AM Woke up
The morning call to prayer happens in my area around 4:30 in the morning. It’s determined by when the sunrises so it changes a little throughout the year. Since Indonesia is close to the equator this change is never by more than thirty minutes.
The call to prayer is not particularly loud at my house but it’s loud enough to almost always wake me up. But it’s not so loud as to prevent me from going back to sleep.
5:10 AM Got out of bed, brushed teeth, ate breakfast
Breakfast is oatmeal. I used to pay my host family for breakfast but they were prone to forgetting I need to eat, so nowadays I just take care of breakfast on my own. Because of my limited resources I prefer something simple, and that’s oatmeal. It’s not the most delicious breakfast I can imagine but it’s reliable and in my control, which I prefer to the coin flip that was hoping my host family would prepare something for me.
5:30 AM Prepared my laundry for washing
I try to let my clothes soak for at least an hour before I start to scrub them. In the rainy season it’s important to do laundry early because the days aren’t as hot and if it’s cloudy or rainy then clothes take much longer to dry.
5:45 AM Ran
I usually run two times a week. Today I ran three miles. Not a great distance but I’m still working up to longer runs. To get an idea of what running here is like I wrote about it a couple months ago.
6:15 AM Cooled down, ate again, caught up on the news
After running I ate some peanut butter and oats while reading the news. Peanut butter is quite expensive in Indonesia; luckily, my family tends to include a jar or two every time they send me a care package. Peanut butter and oats is about as exciting as it sounds, but I’m a simple volunteer with simple tastes.
I have a Wi-Fi hotspot that allows me to connect my phone or computer to the internet using a cellular network. Data is much cheaper before seven o’clock in the morning so I try to do all my internet browsing then.
6:30 AM Scrubbed my laundry
I do laundry at least twice a week so it doesn’t build up on me, making me have to do a bunch of it at any one time. I really like doing my laundry because it can be a fairly time-consuming task. Even if I do nothing else besides wash a load of clothes in a day then I’ll feel pretty productive.
7:00 AM Mandi pagi
Mandi pagi means morning bath, and that’s what I did at seven o’clock. Since I shower in the same room that I wash my clothes I just switched from scrubbing clothes to scrubbing myself. So convenient.
7:10 AM Rinsed clothes and hung them out to dry
Another reason I try to do my laundry twice a week is because I do not have a lot of space to dry my clothes. When I moved into my host family’s house I couldn’t use their clothesline (for unknown reasons) so I had to set my own up on a balcony upstairs. It’s not very spacious so I have to be economical with the clothes I hang out to dry.
7:20 AM Got ready for school
School begins at seven but my first class on Tuesdays is not scheduled to start until 8:20.
7:30 AM Walked to school and hung out in the teacher’s lounge
My school is only a few hundred feet away from my house so it takes only two minutes to walk there. The teacher’s lounge is the place teachers hang out when they’re not in class. Everyone has a desk (except me) and they talk to each other, check Facebook and Instagram, smoke, watch TV, and, if the mood strikes them, work on something school-related.
8:20 AM Waited for class to begin
Indonesian classes frequently do not begin at their scheduled time. Sometimes students will even need to go to the teacher’s lounge to find their teacher and bring them to class. Absenteeism is a fairly common problem in Indonesia as well so the teacher may not even show up. My CP (counterpart) was sick for the past two weeks so I was left to teach on my own.
8:40 AM Went to first class
Because my CP has been absent lately we haven’t had time to lesson plan. She typically works straight from their book and I do my best to avoid working with the book since it’s riddled with errors and doesn’t focus around concepts the students would be able to understand.
I worked with a different CP last semester and despite my many attempts we never lesson planned together. It was a very frustrating experience because I ended up just teaching by myself without any guidance as to what the students should be learning while my CP was more of an observer and occasional translator.
Still, this semester, even with the recent extended absence and lack of collaboration on lesson planning, things are going much better. I didn’t even have a book to structure my lessons off of last semester so now I can come up with activities and exercises at least tangentially related to what’s in the book.
10:40 AM Break before next class
A little breather between classes. The English classes I teach are two hours long but broken up into forty minute blocks. Usually my CP and I teach for two continuous hours regardless of a break being scheduled partway through our teaching time. It was odd for me to get used to the idea of a schedule being so malleable but it allows for a lot of useful flexibility with when classes begin, start, and are on break.
10:50 AM Second class
The second class I taught followed the same plan as the first. We opened by playing a game with students where they were divided into two teams. Each team sent four people up to the board at a time and they had one minute to write a string of words where each word began with the same letter that the previous word ended on. Not especially relevant to what they spend the rest of class doing but giving them an opportunity to get out of their seats helps them prepare for the next hour or so of learning. It also, hopefully, got them to start thinking about English a little bit more.
After the game I delivered a brief explanation of some of the concepts they would use in order to do the assignment from their book. Their book had thirteen questions about a passage they had previously read. The passage was about Heroes Day in Indonesia—a day to commemorate a battle in Surabaya between the Indonesian military and the British in 1945. Many of the themes in their textbook focus around patriotism and morality.
The questions were not something I would’ve assigned because they didn’t follow any clear grammatical concepts and the students’ English skills were nowhere near being able to handle questions with anything more than simple, straightforward answers. Many of the questions were difficult for me to translate so my CP took the lead in guiding them through the questions. But my favorite question was this one, “Describe in one word the Indonesians who defended their city at that time.” Since the day they’re talking about is called “Heroes Day,” the students invariably chose to answer that question with “heroes.”
12:40 PM Returned home
After school I returned home and immediately took off my pants and put on shorts. I only ever wear pants to teach or to attend Peace Corps meetings or trainings. Indonesia is too hot a country to wear pants all the time.
12:45 PM Went to Indomart/BRI ATM
There aren’t a lot of things in my desa—it’s almost entirely residential. Because of this, if I need to go to a minimart, shop, bank, or post office I need to get in an angkot and head east. Today I went to Conggeang, another village with a lot more going on. It took me twenty-five minutes by angkot to get there and cost five thousand rupiah (40 cents).
1:20 PM Purchased train ticket
Today I needed to purchase a train ticket to East Java for an upcoming training event in Kediri. To buy the ticket I had to withdraw money from a BRI (the bank Peace Corps Indonesia pays volunteers through) ATM and then pay a minimart (in this case Indomart) cashier for the ticket. Making travel arrangements and paying for things is surprisingly simple in Indonesia. I made the ticket reservation on my phone, showed a payment code to the cashier, paid her, and got an email a little bit later confirming I had bought my ticket. Very convenient.
1:30 PM Lunch
I was hoping to find some lotek (a delicious Sundanese dish) in Conggeang but didn’t have any luck. I knew of one place that sold it but they were out and even though I think of Conggeang as a bustling metropolis I guess it isn’t big enough to have more than one place that sells lotek. Warungs (Indonesian food shacks) aren’t known for serving a wide breadth of foods so once lotek was ruled out I was limited to fried rice or noodles. I chose fried rice.
Talked to some nice locals and went through the usual cadre of questions and answers almost every Indonesian asks me. How long I’ve been here, what I do, where I live, what my favorite food is, if I like Indonesia, if I’m married yet, et cetera.
Unfortunately, a guy in the warung thought it would be cool to take a picture of me as I ate. After nearly a year of being in Indonesia I’m not all that interested in being treated like a zoo animal so I explained to him it’s more polite to ask for permission before taking someone’s photo. Another conversation I’ve had a few too many times.
1:55 PM Headed home
Before about three o’clock in the afternoon it’s not difficult to find an angkot around my area. It may occasionally require waiting ten or fifteen minutes but they are quite frequent. However, after five in the afternoon it can be near impossible to locate an angkot. I waited less than a minute outside of the warung I had lunch in before an angkot came by.
2:20 PM Folded laundry
As I got home it started to rain. I had planned on going to a little hut above a fish pond on the edge of a rice field but the rain put the brakes on that idea. Instead I folded my laundry as it was sufficiently dry and put it away.
2:30 PM Read and slept
Sleeping and reading are my two main activities when I’m in my desa. If you want to know want to know what a “typical” day looks like for me then take one part sleeping, one part reading, add a scoop of writing, and a pinch of teaching and there you have it.
5:00 PM Started writing this blog post
Writing takes awhile and I wanted to post this the same day it happened. I always write everything out in pen on paper first, then type later.
6:15 PM Mandi malam
Evening shower. I don’t know of any Indonesians who only bathe once a day and going a day without bathing is unheard of. Indonesians think it’s odd how Americans are rather infrequent bathers. Considering how hot Indonesia can be it makes sense to bathe often.
6:40 PM Wrote in journal
Kind of redundant to write in my journal on a day which I have already made such an effort to document, but this is one of the few constants in my days. I write every day (or close to it) regardless of how little actually happens.
7:00 PM Dinner
Dinner is rice and a fried egg. Always. My host family only ever cooks me a fried egg and rice. And I always eat it by myself. This is also a constant. It’s a little annoying because my host family in Kediri would make actual meals and we’d all eat together, but this is fine too because I don’t have to think about it and they rarely ever forget about making me dinner.
7:15 PM Continued writing this post
Spent the rest of the evening writing this and working on getting it posted to Here to Make Friends. If I wasn’t writing this I would probably be reading something.
And that’s about it. I usually brush my teeth around nine and then head to bed shortly thereafter. But it’s almost eleven and I’m still working on this post.
There were many things which didn’t fit neatly into my timeline that I had to leave out. For example, as I was getting ready this morning the power kept going out. Power outages are frequent here but this one was odd because the power would be on for two minutes, then off for five minutes. Odd, but not the most noteworthy of event. It’s hard to capture all the minute details that make up a day.
Before I came to Indonesia I was really looking forward to falling into a routine here and understanding the exact procession of events for each day. I’ve been here for close to a year and I am still not much closer to having a routine than I was just a few weeks after swearing-in. Can’t say that I mind, though. The unpredictability and variation keep things interesting.