A Reflection on Pre-Service Training: Part 8, Other Fun Side Adventures
What sort of things do you do to occupy your time in Indonesia? Can you see any volcanoes? Have you been on any hikes?
Alun-Alun, Local Volcanoes, and Scenery
The city that the trainees and I have been staying in bills itself as an entertainment tourism mecca. For those that are familiar with the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, I am essentially living in the equivalent of Arlington. The alun-alun (“town square” or “mall” in the D.C. sense) is complete with fountains, a night market, and a Ferris wheel. The city is also surrounded by mountains—eroded and active volcanoes. From my porch, I can clearly see the jagged ridge of the Tengger Caldera complex as well as the high peak of Semeru to the east. The plume from Bromo has been large and consistent almost every day I’ve been here and Semeru regularly issues small puffs of smoke from the top of its cone. Directly to the north are Arjuna and Welirang. A large sulfur plume has been visible from the later for the past week or so. The size of the plume was abnormal, but its presence wasn’t a surprise. Geothermal activity at this site is well known and exploited with commercial hot springs, which I had the privilege of swimming in with my host family during one of the first weeks of training. Just to the west is the Kawi-Butak ridge with Panderman peak in close proximity to my village. Both Panderman and several other valleys and waterfalls have made for excellent day hikes on weekends and in afternoons with fellow trainees.
The most striking aspect of Indonesian geography is the terraced slopes. The area of East Java that I am currently in is a very hilly high plateau between two larger volcanic complexes. Every square centimeter, from my estimation, of the land here has been intentionally shaped by the hand of man. The valleys look like tiers of lego blocks. In the rice paddies, which can be quite vast, it doesn’t appear that there are any streams—just irrigation networks working their way from one farm to another. I have no idea how land ownership here works or how large of swaths any one person owns. It’s difficult to imagine the cooperation necessary to make the whole system work.
There are also several waterfalls hidden in the valleys. My village mates and I spent a solid hour and a half to find Coban Talun…and that was after we entered the park named “Coban Talun” and got directions from three people. After finding the correct path, the hike turned out to be a mere fifteen minutes. For the record, we also weren’t anywhere near the direction that the people giving us directions told us to go.
Most of my entertainment and social activities, however, haven’t involved the local tourism hot spots or any of the near-by city attractions. The villages provide their own community-based entertainment on an ongoing basis. Weddings, birthdays, circumcisions, deaths, and even pregnancies are celebrated by blocking off entire streets with tents, large speakers, and rows of tables for guests. Each celebration is usually headlined by a local dangdut (a strictly Indonesian genre of popular and sensual pop music) band and generally lasts two to three days. In addition to the pop music, I’ve also seen exhibitions of gamelan (a more traditional form of gong-based Indonesian percussion music) and Pencak Silat (Indonesian martial arts).
I have noticed that there is a fairly reliable structure to this style of street celebration. They generally begin in the evening around 7 or 8pm (though the start is definitely fluid) and guests arrive casually. My bapak (father), ibu(mother), and I will dress up in batik and kopi/jilbab and walk over to the party. Upon arrival, guests find a seat at any one of the tables where they talk to the neighbors, congratulate the host/person of reverence for that celebration, and snack on the small food items (usually crackers or cake) that are on the table. At some point, the host will tell you it is your turn to eat and you can file into a smaller room or sometimes hallway to dish up food buffet-style. After serving yourself, you stand around the table, eat your food, put the empty dish on another table and leave the eating area. The actual dinner part of the party moves pretty quickly and isn’t for socialization. When you are done eating, another set of guests circulates in. After dinner, my family is usually done for the event and returns home. If the celebration is for a close friend, we will stay later and continue talking.
Celebration of Death
The celebration of death in Indonesia is very different than that in the United States. Following a death, family members, close friends, and families will gather at the deceased’s house for seven days. The extended period of time for this wake results in all sorts of furniture accumulating in the front lawn of the late community member’s home. If the family lives far from where the deceased person lived (far = a couple of blocks), the wake will generally occur at two sites. After the seven day morning, tahlils (prayer groups) are later held forty days, one hundred days, and one thousand days after the death.