We left the U.S. on September 4th, and after 35-hours spent either on planes or trying to catch some sleep in departure lounges we arrived at Soekarno-Hatta airport midday on Monday, September 6th. We were met by representatives of the Indonesian Fulbright office, known as AMINEF. They gathered us up, along with our 250 pounds of luggage (including more than 100 pounds of books), and took us to their Jakarta office for a brief meeting with the director of AMINEF. Then they drove us by van for the 3-hour trip to Bandung, our home for the next ten months.
We slept for much of the trip, missing the climb through the volcanoes ringing the city, and awoke in darkness on the outskirts of town.
Waking the next morning, we took stock of our surroundings. My department chair at the school where I will be teaching beginning in February has graciously given us her nephew’s apartment to use temporarily. It is Idul Fitri (known as Eid ul-Fitr throughout much of the rest of the Islamic world). Idul Fitri is a three day holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. While the holiday officially lasts three days, many Indonesians take the opportunity to return to their kampungs, or local villages, to spend more time with their families. This is where our host has gone, and it is why his apartment is empty for us.
Unfortunately, it seemed everyone else in the compound where the apartment is located has had the same idea, leaving the area with a desolate, Mad Max kind of feel.
The compound appears to be relatively new, and was dropped in the middle of fields on the southeast edge of town. Each home is surrounded by high concrete walls on three sides, with a metal fence blocking the front. And the entire compound is surrounded by another wall, with entry points blocked by guard posts. It’s an interesting conundrum – while crime seems relatively low, at least when compared to large American cities (for instance, there is nowhere in Bandung where I would feel threatened while walking at one in the morning) most middle-class Indonesians seem to want to live in a fashion that isolates them from the rest of society. I’m not yet sure why that is.
Surrounding the compound are fields, bordered by other compounds. The streets are desolate, with few people out even during the day. The closest business district is a long walk away, and we choose not to risk the trek until we know more about our surroundings. Instead, we call a cab and begin exploring our new city.
We quickly visit the children’s school. The Bandung International School, lovingly known as BIS (pronounced Biss), will play an important role during the kids’ time here. Because of the amount of time they will spend in class, it will almost be more of a home for them than where we will be living. So it’s important that it feels right.
It does. The facility is well-secured, which is a good thing for any space where the children of many international families gather. While safety is high throughout most of Indonesia, if there ever were an incident foreigners, especially those known as Bule, (white folks) would make likely targets. We don’t expect any difficulties, but it’s nice to know the school is a safe place.
The class size is small – averaging 14 students per grade. The classrooms are open and airy, with those on the ground floor having one wall of windows and a door that opens out to a covered area with benches. The kids eat at the outside tables, and sometimes have classes there. And even the ‘halllways’ are outdoors, with thin roofs protecting students from the daily rains. There are basketball courts and a wonderful swimming pool families can use when the school is not in session.
I’ll post more about the school later.
After a couple of days exploring, we are beginning to feel more settled. By Thursday night, we even feel sleepy at bedtime as the jetlag begins to, well, lag. As we curl up and start to drift off for the night, a sudden explosion just outside our door snaps Beth and I awake. It sounds like someone firing a shotgun, uncomfortably close to our house.
This is the same week that a crazy ‘preacher’ in Florida – although I don’t think anyone with so much hatred in their heart should be called a religious man – announced plans to burn a Koran, the holy book of Islam. Much of the world, and fortunately much of America, responded with outrage. But given that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, that did not stop me from thinking briefly that these blasts could be some sort of retaliation.
I jumped out of bed and peered carefully through the corner of a front window, seeing nothing. So I went out the front door, and finally saw fireworks lighting up the night sky. Part of the celebration at the end of Ramadan includes shooting off fireworks.
Clearly we have so much to learn.