Saat July—Moments of July (Part III): Who knows the difference between the U.S. and America? (And who knows the difference between the U.S., Mexico, and Australia?)
Instead of updating my blog with frequent posts about “I did this today/I did that today” and ending up with a thousand entries by the time things are done, I’m going to instead try to distill each month into one post full of tidbits from my journal, e-mail correspondences, or memory. I think that this format will (1) be easier to parse through for you, (2) give me a chance to reflect on things before I share them publically, and (3) still provide a comprehensive idea of what my daily life is like in Indonesia.
That being said, I am not prepared to write a Saat July (Moments of July) that encompasses all of my daily habits or important notes. There are three topics I still want to share with you: (1) The Anniversary and purpose of Peace Corps, (2) a short and funny story about local food and media, and (3) a funny story about my failures to explain where exactly I’m from.
I have tried, apparently in vain, to describe to my students the difference between the U.S. and America. I simply want the distinction to be made clear that “America” is a vague word that could describe someone/something from Canada, Guatemala, Chile, Uraguay, Paraguay, or even French Guiana. I spent a good ten to fifteen minutes on the matter in each of my first classes that included a well organized chart and map. I thought I had been successful but a few days later I received three harsh blows on three consecutive days (one from each of my three Counter Parts) that suggested I had utterly failed.
Blow One: “So Obama is the President of the U.S. too?” …What do you mean? Every Indonesian knows very well that a man who went to elementary school in Indonesia was now my President… “I know he is the President of America, but is he the President of the U.S. too?” I HAVE FAILED.
Blow Two: “When you go back home to Mexico—” I don’t know what was going to come after that because I cut my CP off to provide the reminder that I was not from Mexico. I then had to re-explain that Texas was merely next to Mexico, still firmly a part of the United States (despite Gov. Rick Perry’s envisioned scenarios otherwise), but indeed enjoyed many Latin and Mexican cultural influences. I HAVE FAILED.
Blow Three: “Yes, but maybe they will want to meet our Volunteer from Australia” This was the most dumbfounding. This quote was my Counter Part telling me about the government assessor’s plans to tour my school one afternoon. It took all of my will power to not sarcastically respond, “Oh, when can I meet our Volunteer from Australia?” To be fair, I believe this error arose as a mere slip of the tongue. This particular Counter Part had worked with foreign teachers from Australia before, and I think the word just came out. Still, he didn’t catch it, and I had to correct him. I HAVE FAILED.
In truth, I have taken these failures good-naturedly. I only wonder whether the breakdown was due to the language barrier, a lack of a clear explanation in general, the foreignness of what I was explaining, or lack of attention on the listeners’ parts. Probably a combination of the first two.