Earlier this month I had a week off from school as students took their examinations. With a spare week and no other plans I decided to visit some nearby PCVs, enabling me to get out of my desa and see more of West Java.
One PCV I visited was fellow ID10 Taylor. Taylor lives in Ciamis (Chee-ah-mees) to the southeast of me. She works at an SMA, non-religious high school, so they didn’t have testing the same week my students did. Because of our different schedules I was able to catch her in action.
Taylor graduated from Mizzou with degrees in Journalism and English in 2015. Like Evan and Rachel, Taylor taught in Korea before coming to Indonesia. Taylor was there for about six months whereas Evan and Rachel were in Korea for over five years.
Blogging is something Taylor and I have in common. She also keeps a blog about her Peace Corps service and we frequently talk about writing and what we have planned for our blogs. We collaborated on a previous post and we’re working on some future content. She is the primary person I bounce ideas off of for Here to Make Friends.
Taylor spends her spare time at site reading, writing, and eating—not too different from most PCVs. We exchange books with one another on a fairly regular basis so we also talk about what we’ve been reading. Taylor is also an editor for the volunteer-led newsletter Kabar Kita (Our News) which keeps her busy with writing and editing volunteer-submitted content each month.
Traveling and trying the local foods are two of Taylor’s favorite pastimes. She has quite a knack for finding delicious local cuisine. Each Tuesday she posts about a different Indonesian food. I highly recommend checking it out.
One of my favorite things about Ciamis is the nickname people call it: Ciamis Manis, meaning “sweet Ciamis.” It’s a lot of fun to say.
In 2012 Ciamis was split into two separate regencies, Pangandaran to the south and Ciamis to the north. Pangandaran is a popular and well known holiday destination among foreigners and locals alike. Due to this recent split whenever Taylor tells an Indonesian she lives in Ciamis they respond, “Oh! Pangandaran, close to the beach.” Because of course the foreigner lives near the beach. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Taylor lives in the northern part of Ciamis, far away from Pangandaran regency, up in the mountains. Given perfect conditions Taylor lives about five hours away from the beach in Pangandaran if she had her own car, which she doesn’t. The trip is closer to seven or eight hours considering traffic, road conditions, and the usual delays of taking public transportation.
Taylor’s site is quite a ways up in the mountains. She lives on the slope of a mountain with the main road going up and over the mountains, thus making biking prohibitively difficult. In fact, like me, Taylor doesn’t even own a bike. Quite different from Evan and Rachel whose bikes make getting around their site relatively easy. Still, there are transportation options to be had.
Unlike my area, there are no angkots, only buses and elfs (small, open-air buses). Rachel and Evan’s site didn’t have angkots either but at least there were becaks, pedicabs. Of course, anything peddle powered would not work at Taylor’s site. Not having access to angkots is odd for me but since she’s on a main road the buses and elfs are fairly frequent. But good access to transportation doesn’t mean much where Taylor lives because there’s not really anywhere to go.
The closest minimart (and thus decently sized town) is over twenty kilometers away, quite a distance on Java. In Taylor’s desa the only real amenity of note is an ATM right next to her house, something I’m a fifteen minute angkot ride away from. Aside from the ATM, a smattering of tokos, and a single warung there wasn’t much to offer in the desa. But the remoteness and quietness made for a picturesque area.
It rained almost nonstop during my time in Taylor’s desa which was unfortunate because the mist hid from sight a spectacular view of Mount Ciremai, or so I’ve been told. But even if the skies had been clear I wouldn’t say Taylor’s site is full of wonderful vistas. It’s more of a close-up, soft beauty. Her desa is tucked in a valley, amongst jungle and clouds. Very much the kind of place I think people imagine Peace Corps volunteers work. Remote, yet undeniably charming.
Taylor lives with an ibu and bapak as well as their daughter, and her two kids. Her ibu, now a retired 2nd grade teacher, stays at home to take care of things and cook while her bapak is now a farmer, having retired from being the principal of the same elementary school her Ibu worked at. Her bapak only speaks Sundanese so there isn’t a lot of communication there, but they seem to get along fine.
Taylor eats the dinner her ibu prepares at home and oatmeal for breakfast. For lunch she sometimes tries to visit her school canteen, often the teachers bring food and force it upon her, but normally, she indulges in the power bars and protein powders sent to her from America. Taylor’s ibu is a terrific cook and made some of the best food I’ve had at an ibu’s house.
Watching television is how Taylor’s family usually passes the time in the evenings. For a couple hours each night Taylor tries to sit in the living room and either watch their shows with them or read. Her favorite show was Anak Jalanan (Street Children) but it was cancelled a couple months ago and nothing since has been as good. But she still hangs out with her family and tries to watch TV with them.
Taylor has certainly done a much better job at integrating into her host family than I have. After any trip she takes, even just a short weekend in Bandung, she brings her family oleh-oleh. Oleh-oleh literally means souvenir, but it’s always food. Usually, after coming back from a trip an Indonesian will give all of their friends, family, and co-workers oleh-oleh. Taylor is very good about remembering to bring her family oleh-oleh after making a trip.
There are 505 students, 38 teachers, and 3 English Teachers at Taylor’s school. Of the 3 English teachers Taylor works with all of them this semester for a total of twenty-two hours each week.
School is scheduled to begin at seven Monday through Friday and almost without fail Taylor will be in the teacher’s room ready to begin the day before the first bell rings regardless of whether or not she’s teaching during the first hour. I cannot say my dedication to punctuality has held up as well. Her school does have Wi-Fi, so that’s a nice motivator. But Taylor chooses to arrive early for another reason.
When Indonesians arrive somewhere it is customary to greet every individual in the room. This is the main reason Taylor gets to school early. If she is the first teacher in the room all the other teachers will have to greet her instead of the other way around. It was cool seeing everybody (save for one or two seemingly spiteful teachers) come to Taylor’s desk and greet her in the morning.
When it comes to being a teacher and teaching, Taylor is a rock star. On the day I visited she taught three, two-hour classes. The lesson was over informational pamphlets and brochures. She started her lesson by playing a game with them that reviewed numbers and helped introduce me to the students. She then discussed the lesson material, provided information on pamphlets and what they’re for, and kept the students engaged and listening.
After offering a brief explanation about what a brochure is Taylor handed out four tourism brochures she had made beforehand for popular world destinations—Egypt, Australia, London, and Paris. The students read through the brochures and then presented the things they learned. Finally, each student had to create their own brochure featuring a destination of their choice. A terrific, well thought out lesson.
One thing I noticed quickly was how well Taylor had developed her own classroom culture. She spoke in phrases and sentences with an intonation and cadence her kids could easily understand. She used consistent hand gestures and sounds to communicate ideas. Students also knew to raise their hands when they had questions about the lesson and they even felt comfortable to ask me questions when they came across a word they didn’t understand.
I’m still working on the best way to present these visits without them coming off too much as a boring middle school book report. I think I’ve worked into an alright format now but I haven’t been able to work in as many pictures as I would’ve liked. Since Evan and Rachel’s site visit post had a glut of pictures at the end I guess I’ll do that here too.
And last but not least is a video I made of clips I recorded during my visit to Taylor’s site. Unfortunately, because of the music I used, unless you’re in the United States right now you won’t be able to watch it. Also, Taylor was the one to suggest the genre of music so don’t go thinking too hard about the song.