Frequently people will, when speaking about learning the Indonesian language, claim it is a very simple and easy language. While Indonesian lacks anything similar to the abstruse grammatical rules so frequently found throughout English, it is still just as difficult a language to master as any other.
Indonesians are quite the inquisitive people. Upon first meeting someone they are prone to inquire about all sorts of things most Americans would find odd, or even impolite, to ask an acquaintance. Age, marital status, religion, and when you have had your most recent shower or meal are all things Indonesians do not hesitate to ask. These are not questions many Americans would readily find appropriate to pose, even to someone with whom they regularly associate.
What started as an attempt to write about Indonesian cultural events has evolved through many different forms over the past few weeks. Realizing it would be impossible to sufficiently cover the three main types of selamatans (celebrations for weddings, funerals and births) I decided to narrow the focus to weddings only. Surely a single type of event would provide substantial interesting material while simultaneously being easy to encapsulate in a few hundred words.
Well even this more focused task proved too complicated as I spent the majority of time trying to explain the origins of the major wedding traditions. A big problem is that Javanese weddings can have a lot of variation, too much variation to apply a simple generic explanation. To solve the problem I switched from weddings to traditional Javanese culture and the external influences they have adopted over the years. Maybe this iteration was a step up in difficulty as my goal was nothing short of disentangling one-thousand years of culture from foreign influences. Then it is not surprising to learn that I have fallen terrifically short of my previous goals.
Today was our Language Proficiency Interview, or LPI for short. Every volunteer has an interview at the start and close of their service. The first interview happens near the end of PST and is to gauge each volunteer’s skill with using their primary language and to see if they are ready to start learning a secondary language. In order to be sworn in one must complete the interview with a level of at least intermediate low. The LPI that volunteers have at the close of their service is to gauge how much they have learned over the previous two years.
The first several days with my homestay family were particularly difficult. I couldn’t understand anything my ibu said and very little of what my bapak said. No one spoke to me in English so I had to rely on only two days of training in bahasa Indonesia. During my first week of PST limited communication with my homestay family was only a small part of the my vast collection of fledgling Peace Corps trainee woes.
The last two posts have been snorefests. So it’s time to pull out some good content.
I moved in with my pre service training host family on a Saturday. I had only had two days of language classes. My language skills were pretty much limited to telling someone my name, saying where I’m from, and saying where I live. I could also point to a couple of objects and identify them in Indonesian. Oh, and numbers. I could count to like a billion. But that wasn’t very useful.