Chapter 2: Attempting to Harness the Raw Power of Selfie-Thirsty Adolescents


I am at Starbucks right now. I have no shame. When I first heard there was a Starbucks in the BLT, I turned up my nose at the thought of ever setting foot in the megacorporate, neoimperial establishment. In spite of that, here I am ,sipping on my Grande Es Latte, happy as a clam. After a week of family visits, nenek (grandma) posses, crying toddlers, constant supervision, and seafood breakfasts, I was struck by intense pangs of homesickness for WiFi, Espresso Drinks, Pristine Corporate Cleanliness, and Alone Time Without Scrutiny.

My return from Orientation last Sunday night marked the beginning of my ***real life*** tenure as an ETA in Bandar Lampung. In the 5 days before orientation, I spent my time being enthusiastically fed by crowds of teachers at school, awkwardly crutching around the SMK 2 campus while trying to ignore the calls of my nakal (naughty) students, and being carted around town by my counterpart, Ibu Halima. Over the past week, things have settled down a lot. Thanks to the incredible instructors from Wisma Bahasa at Orientation, my Indonesian is now passably conversational in the most basic of situations. I’ve explored a tiny bit more, gotten comfortable with my students, nakal and sopan (polite) alike, and entrenched myself with the “arts society” at Universitas Lampung, or UniLa. I am excited to get closer to some of the wonderful characters I’ve met there. I can almost say that I’ve developed a routine, but I still have a lot to figure out here in the BLT.


My first Saturday in the BLT: Ibu Halima and Fam took me to the beach, where I jumped three feet on crutches to get into this boat!


This week’s extended family posse at Lampung Faire.


Indonesia is really big on the posse. The posse is basically how life works here. You walk to school with your posse, you do your homework with your posse, you jog with your posse, you live with your family posse. That’s just the way it is. So, when I want to, say, walk two blocks to UKMBS (the University arts club) by myself, the response is, overwhelmingly, “By yourself, Miss??? Miss, are you sure?”. Although I do dream of one day having my own friend posse, right now I’m just trying to get people to understand that, in my culture, it is perfectly healthy to want to walk a few blocks by myself. Even without a friend posse, I still have partaken in some posse activities.

My counterpart and her husband have been out of town since Thursday, so two neneks, a brother-in-law, a cousin, and an uncle came to stay and keep the two kids company. Also, various other cousins, nieces, nephews, and other relatives come to visit on the daily. It’s been great for my Indonesian, since no one around me at home speaks English. It has also been a lot of fun. The neneks stood by with much consternation as I cooked up a batch of “Mie Rebecca” (Rebecca Noodles) a few days ago. They wereELFIE! Appar concerned about the lack of rice, and the presence of too many varieties of vegetable in one dish.

SELFIE! Apparently it is imperative that I find new, more original, selfie poses. Oops.

SELFIE! Apparently it is imperative that I find new, more original, selfie poses. Oops.

Lampung Faire!

Lampung Faire!

I’ve also been invited to jalan jalan (lit.: walk walk, but it can mean any sort of recreational activity outside the house) with the fam on a handful of occasions.  I’ve concluded that approximately 90% of outings in Indonesia are undertaken solely for their memfoto (picture-taking) potential. When you go somewhere, you don’t think about things to do so much as places to take good pictures. We took pictures at every suitable location at Lampung Faire (a celebration of the culture of Lampung Province and an opportunity for hordes of vendors to push their goods on the people of Bandar Lampung), and also at a “nature tourism site”.


I was pretty nervous about my first forays into teaching, but somehow I managed to pull off a mildly successful first week. I think the first step was accepting the fact that my students treat me like a rock star, and using this to my advantage. With a bit of last minute planning and a lot of spur-of-the-moment adaptations, I made it through my ten weekly classes without being torn to a million pieces by my students.

Attempt #1, while supervising the classroom alone.

Attempt #1, while supervising the classroom alone.

Raw, unharnessed, selfie power.

Raw, unharnessed, selfie power.

I’m still terrified of the overwhelming task that lies before me: memorizing some 350 student names, along with those of all of the teachers at SMK 2. In a (perhaps misguided?) attempt to make this daunting task more manageable, I decided to take pictures of students holding up name cards. The first time I did this was in a class that I presided over alone, since Ibu Halima was away in Jakarta. Because my VISA does not allow me to teach alone, I just played hangman with the class, tried to play their favorite Sam Smith songs on my cell phone speakers, and made my best effort to curb the mayhem. When I asked to take selfies with only two students at a time, the class went insane. I suppose I’ll have to try again next time. Later, in classes I taught along with a co-teacher, my efforts were much more fruitful.


I’m slowly figuring everything out, getting better at expressing myself in Indonesian (even though I’m pretty sure my grammar has gotten worse…), and starting to feel more at home here in the BLT. My housing situation is still in the works. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be moving to the kosan, but I’m looking forward to finally unpacking my suitcases and having a bit more freedom. It should be within the coming week. I’m also very excited to spend the upcoming holiday (Idul Adha, celebrating those who have completed the Haj) with Ibu Halima’s whole extended family. Right now I’m in the teachers’ room at school (didn’t have enough time to finish this at Starbucks!) To be honest, I’m getting tired of writing this while surrounded by other teachers trying to chat with me for the 1000th time about which foods can be found in both America and Indonesia. So, I think this will be all for now.

UPDATE on WiFi: I now figured out that there is Wifi in the teachers’ room, so I’ll definitely be updating more regularly, albeit more distractedly.

Teachers' Room!

Teachers’ Room!

The wonderful Ramon at the artsy club at Universitas Lampung!

The wonderful Ramon at the artsy club at Universitas Lampung!

Fiberglassfoot goes on a voyage.

Three weeks ago, only recently revived from a medicated stupor, I left Philadelphia for Bandar Lampung with an enormous backpack, about twice my body weight in poorly selected personal effects, and a very sad and heavy foot made out of fiberglass. I was, quite understandably, pretty bummed out. I still am, a little bit. I never imagined my maiden voyage in foreign living would begin with a month of hopping around (and, occasionally…dancing) on one leg.

So, uh, yeah, not the best time to break an ankle in a bike accident, but I wouldn’t let an enormous, swollen, bruised right leg keep me from my HOPES and DREAMS. I will admit that it has made the past few weeks a bit frustrating at times.

I guess this is where I start to chronicle the events of the last couple of weeks. The whole blog thing is very new to me. I hope it’s funny enough. Let me know if you get bored. I’ll try to keep it focused, but, as all of you know, I am quite possibly the most distractable storyteller in the world.

After spending one night in Jakarta, I was shipped out for my first week in Bandar Lampung, along with my fantastic sitemate, Ramon. After the 20 minute flight (shuffle in on crutches, sit down, take selfie with very touchy feely older Ibu, get fed, disembark), I was greeted by my counterpart, Ibu Halima.

Counterpart=the person at my school responsible for my well-being and safety.

Ibu=literally, mother, but actually more like Mrs. It’s what you call any woman who is older or more important than you in Indonesia.

Ibu Halima was essentially my mother for the following week: taking me to school, feeding me, introducing me to people, helping me go grocery shopping, carrying stuff for me. Considering my legless state, I don’t know if I could have even survived that first week without her. I’m staying with her and her two hilarious kids (ages 5 and 3) until my kosan (boarding house) room is ready. Two weeks ago, cement dust was raining from the bathroom ceiling, but it will be brand new and shiny in a few days, apparently.

So, the three-legged bule (BOO-LAY-foreigner) arrived in the big BLT (Bandar Lampung Town, a term Ramon and I coined). After eating McDonald’s for dinner, I promptly passed out at around 8. Ibu Halima would not believe that I could tolerate Indonesian food, much less prefer it to McDonald’s. I convinced her otherwise in the following few days by eating makanan pedas sekali(SPICY food) and failing to have a fatally upset stomach.

I woke up dark and early to the sound of approximately 923749 calls to prayer, one of which was about 20 meters from my window. It was 4:30am. Ibu Halima was already awake and cooking. By 6:45 I was well-fed and showered (eee-yaaaaah sudah makan. Sudah mandi. Sudaaaaah.) and ready for my first day at school. I met the headmaster and about 10 other officials, introduced myself to a rowdy classroom, and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the teachers’ lounge and the principal’s office. Everyone was very tickled by the fact that I already spoke some bahasa Indonesia, but I still had to drop out of approximately 99% of conversations because I had no idea what was going on.

I have no idea how much of a spectacle I would have been without crutches, but, let me tell ya, I was comparable to a moose or unicorn as I crutched around the SMKN 2 campus. Everywhere I go, I’m greeted with “hey, miss”, ” how are you miss”, and “miss you are so beautiful”, by the predominantly male students. Some brave souls come up to me and press their heads to my hands. Apparently this is a very respectful greeting, but they usually don’t do it for their other teachers. My wonderful Bu tells me they’re just doing it because I’m the exotic newcomer. All of this was pretty overwhelming, but I’m hoping it will die down a bit/I’ll get better at not being shell-shocked as I get to know the students personally.

The teachers’ room was my daily hang spot. It’s always full of food and lively conversation. Everyone’s favorite thing is teaching me 3 or 4 regional languages in addition to the national language, bahasa Indonesia. This is an especially cruel endeavor of theirs because I can hardly speak Bahasa, let alone try to learn Javanese, Batak, Lampungese, and Sundanese.

Later in the week, I gave a speech in bahasa indonesia for my entire school at my own welcome ceremony. observed English classes, met the regional director of education (I think it’s like an extra fancy superintendent?), and went to a “gamelan Lampung” (more details to come!) rehearsal. On my last day in Bandar Lampung before heading off to Bandung for orientation, my wonderful Ibu and her family took me to the beach.

Then, I went to Bandung for two weeks! Free WiFi, endless pastries, fancy fruit juices at all hours, beer at the restaurants, karaoke (involving crutch damcing), banyak (lots of) american bules, and hours upon hours of learning about the coming year. If I hadn’t waited a gazillion years to write this post, I probably would have written more about orientation. It was fun, the hotel was luxurious, I learned a bunch more Bahasa, and I may have a bit more of a clue about teaching now. All good stuff! Also, I got my cast off during orientation, so now I’m hobbling around in a walking cast. It’s a whole new life!

Right now, I’m back in the BLT, about to go to sleep waaay past my 9:00 bedtime. I’m happy to have left paradise Sheraton world and returned to my real life. I am so excited to go back to SMKN 2 with two legs, meet some of my new students, and start teaching ASAP. I’m ready to do some exploring, too.

Ok- until next time, all.

P.S. next time there will be jauh lebih banyak pictures. I have no WiFi, so I wrote this whole thing on my phone. I promise I will talk about all the important and exciting things like eating and bathing next time. Spoiler alert: I do both of those things an alarming number of times every day. Find out more next time.