Where to start? Oh, I know - this post is not affiliated with AMINEF, Fulbright, etc.
Let's start with the earthquake. Reportedly a 7.3 on the Richter scale, it struck nearly 3 weeks ago from today. Luckily, our group was still in Jakarta and not Bandung (where I am now), as the epicenter was much closer to Bandung than the capital. I was sitting in the immigration office, sweating, waiting for my turn to apply for a KITAS (ID) card, the building felt as if it were swaying below me, and in my balance felt very off. Suddenly, Indonesians began pointing at the TV hanging from the ceiling, which had begun to shake violently on its axis. Immediately everyone got up and began running down the stairwell as the building shook below us. Luckily, there was no structural damage to the building, and everyone escaped alive. Afterwards, however, the immigration office and the hotel had many noticeable hairline cracks running up and down the walls. It is my first earthquake and I hope my last.
We arrived in Bandung a few days later, and we had all already become better friends. Since that first day three weeks ago, I have been lucky to count many friends, including three (Ricky, Kerry, and Vidhi) that I have become closer with than the others. As a group, we have gone out in Bandung many times (despite Ramadan, there are always places open at night), explored the local culture, and eaten at many delicious and questionable locations alike.
Highlights include an ex-pat bar called Cloud 9, which is situated in the mountains and overlooks the city, an Angklung perfomance (a traditional sundanese instrument), a volcanic crater named Tangkuban Perahu (Tang-koo-bahn Pra-hoo, with a rolled r), and learning to speak Bahasa in general (although just recently I found out it may also be necessary to learn Javanese, ah!), which has been the highlight of the trip so far. I cannot explain the euphoria of being able to communicate in another language - of particular interest to me is the pronunciation, as I believe it is the key to understanding the speech of others and effectively communicating your point of view (with the proper vocabulary, of course). It helps, however, that Bahasa Indonesia is a very simple language - for example, if I want to say "Ross is tall" the Indonesian equivalent is "Ross tinggi" or literally "Ross tall". Or if I want to say "Where is the ferry?" I would ask "Di mana kapal laut" or literally "At where boat ocean?"
Another particular interesting experience has been what Indonesians call the "azan", or "call to prayer". Muslims, as you may or may not know, pray 5 times a day (as stated by one of the five pillars of Islam), and in Indonesia, they pray at Noon, 3pm, 6pm, 7pm and 4am, or some variation of those times (for example, there is a window between 11:30 and 2pm where they may pray, and sometimes there is optional prayer at 9am). The azan is what we would politely term disturbing the peace in the United States. Connected to huge speakers that can be heard throughout the neighborhood, the call to prayer is blasted by mosques all around the city, some of which are beautiful renditions of the Qur'an, others of which are just those repeatedly yelling Allah hu akbar (God is great) in discordant tones for all to hear. An interesting experience to say the least - if you want to get some sleep, get some earplugs (luckily I have many).
Tomorrow I leave for Surabaya, where I will stay for the night before driving the six hours with my counterpart, Gugy (who is amazing, a man in his late twenties who is very relaxed and willing to help, as are most Indonesians) to Genteng, in Banyuwangi province. I am excited to see the city and meet the students on Monday!
Sampai jumpa lagi! (Goodbye, or literally - Until (we) meet again!)