Opening Remarks

Family, friends, strangers alike. I am well, despite the four week hiatus from writing a blog post. Sincerest apologies, and I hope this makes up for it.

I’ll break this up into a series of adjustments, with all the beautiful and less beautiful that you can imagine mixed in. While reading, please keep in mind the differences that I’m acknowledging do not mean something is better or worse, just what is familiar versus unfamiliar to me. That’s culture, and it’s fascinating.


Today is a Muslim holiday, Idul Adha, so my school has off. School, what I’m here for, to teach. The next eight months I’ll be working as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at a vocational high school (SMK) of about 1,200 students. This means several things:

a. The level of English among SMK vocational high schools is often lower than that at SMA senior high schools. The former prepares students for work directly after high school, where as the latter prepares students for higher education.

b. With a lower level of English comes less confidence and less flexibility within the classroom.

c. The school I’m placed in has a number of departments: Hotel Accommodation, Tourism, Culinary, Beauty, and Fashion Design.

d. Yes, being at this school is as badass as it sounds and the students are super talented.

I am still getting into the rhythm of co-teaching, a new concept to the vast majority of Indonesian teachers. I have three co-teachers. One speaks English very well, while the others hold an understandable speaking level. I sit dead center in the teacher’s lounge, where I am fed large quantities of food (i.e., it is normal to show up to sweet potatoes on my desk), told that I am “Super Woman” and brave because I enjoy exploring the city alone, and praised for my diligence because I write down new vocabulary words. I love the atmosphere in the teacher’s lounge. We always get delicious tea, there is constant banter, there is laughing, there is happiness. One time, there were two guys selling kitchen supplies. That was weird, but whatever, why not? The students, however, are the best part of my day. Indonesian high schools are like High School Musical, except I don’t know High School Musical well, so maybe you should take that lightly. But, for real, everyone is so happy. Not a day goes by where I am not greeted with hundreds of smiles and, “Hello Miss!” “Hello, Miss. Savannah!” (Sa-fana). People sing. I am called beautiful more times a day than I can count. Some call me Barbie (must be the brown curly hair). I am told that I am loved. I feel loved. All of the attention is weird. I appreciate the kindness, but at the same time I am overwhelmed with guilt that my Western features are intricately linked with beauty and fame. Just the other day, after a game I played with one of my 10th grade classes, I handed out American flag key chains as prizes. After class, the students approached me, “Miss, can we have your signature?” My signature…I understand that I am a bule (foreigner), but my signature? I obliged because they were excited and I did not want to be rude, but I was sure to make another mental tally next to the importance of instilling within them the beauty of diversity. They are beautiful in their contagious personalities alone.

Outside of Hotel Citra, the school’s hotel.
Front of my school
Front of my school.
A celebration that I attended with some teachers for someone leaving to make the hajj
A celebration that I attended with some teachers for someone leaving to make the hajj.
A day in the life of a batik class
A day in the life of a batik class.

Pre-wedding celebration that I went to with some teachers from my school.
Pre-wedding celebration that I went to with some teachers from my school.
View from the third floor of my school
View from the third floor of my school.


Something else worthy of mentioning is that I live at my school. It is not a boarding institution like many Indonesian high schools, however, because there are Hotel Accommodation and Tourism departments, there is also a mock hotel, Hotel Citra. This is my home. It sounds glamorous, but I’ll say that’s a stretch. With that said, however, I truly do feel lucky to be living here. I cannot begin to elaborate on how helpful the ibu (Indonesian for mother, but the equivalent of saying Mrs.) is that I often consult with about my living questions and concerns. She calls me her family and genuinely cares about my comfort. She is tiny and cute and kindhearted and all of the other great things you would envision an (i)bu to be. Nothing to cook with? She’s on it. Lack of water jug? Also got that covered. Notorious kingdom of ants? Well, we can keep trying. Broken toilet? More on that later. My room is equipped with AC (!!!), a bed large enough to fit three average sized people very comfortably, a bathroom with a shower head AND hot water (this is worthy of swooning over, except it didn’t work today), a sink where everything from teeth brushing to dish washing occurs, a wardrobe, a vanity, two chairs, a small coffee table, a night stand, and a balcony accessible by a door that only opens on a good day. Outside of my room, which is on the second floor and thus apart from classrooms and the hotel lobby, there is what I consider a living area with chairs and a larger coffee table, my single burner gas stove which I am convinced will soon house many lizards, and a bird’s nest that produces copious amounts of shit everyday. I am very lucky in that the hotel also has a laundry service. I can pay for them to do my laundry (+ a 50% discount), with the exception of bras and underwear, and I now have access to the laundry room on Saturday to do my own wash! A washer and dryer! Something I was not expecting to be able to have the freedom to use. Another major pro of being here is that I can sleep a bit longer. My commute isn’t exactly a hassle when it consists of walking downstairs.

Update: As of late October, I have done some redecorating. It was time.

Stubborn door
The stubborn door.
Window + ant house
Window + ant house.
Bird goodies
Bird goodies.
Lovely stove + girl who scares me once a day on average
Lovely stove + girl who scares me once a day on average.

The Westerner
The Westerner.

Current distraction: mysterious tapping coming from the bathroom door. There is a small window in my bathroom that lacks coverage. Assuming a bird is nesting, a rat is burrowing, or a giant cockroach is plotting. I have to pee.

Needless to say, I am still adjusting to my new living arrangements. This is in part due to the fact that I am now living more or less on the opposite side of the world, and also in part to the fact that I was in Bandung for two of these four weeks for orientation, at a luxurious Sheraton. Don’t be fooled by the word luxurious. I got sick.


Yes, sick…has a great ring to it. My first bed ridden illness in Indonesia, the day after Dr. Health Lady gave us a whole spiel on keeping our bodies on track. Moral of her lecture: live in captivity for nine months, OR, prepare to “feel like death,” contract mysterious diseases, shit our pants, and experience Indonesia. “You are your own doctor here.” Great, thanks for the heads up. Note to self to call all loved ones as soon as possible. So, you ask, how many forms of mosquito borne diseases and miscellaneous viruses did I diagnose myself with? Well, lots. Fortunately in Bandung there is no risk of malaria, so I was convinced that I either had the flu or that I ate something. One wrong bite or sip can lead to all sorts of outrage on any end. I felt like death. She was right. However, to my rescue came my roommate with a Z-Pack. Never before had I taken a Z-Pack, and never again will I not have one on hand. Not only did I stop horrifically shaking by the next day, but I was well enough to eat again, get my very first massage (and certainly not last), and even go on an easy hike at Tebing Keraton. I love you Zithromax. Sickness aside, I had a swell time in Bandung.

Welcome dance.

Tebing Keraton, Bandung
Tebing Keraton, Bandung
Tebing Keraton, Bandung
Tebing Keraton, Bandung
Tebing Keraton, Bandung
Tebing Keraton, Bandung

Teaching in Bandung
Teaching in Bandung

I know the broken toilet bowl comment from earlier has you all on your toes, so i’ll jump to that to spare all of your eager curiosity. Rewind to this past Saturday, I get home from an excursion and my trusty little toilet is seemingly disobeying. He will flush, but he will not flush well. Hm. For the time being, I decide to use my toilet sparingly, and use the public bathroom downstairs more. I tell my main bu, who contacts the handyman, who apparently did not think that a malfunctioning toilet was an urgent matter. Let the clueless bule flounder for a few days. Tuesday rolls around, I get back from my school’s beauty salon (the last time my hair was this short was in the first grade when my brother drew devil horns on me in the yearbook) to find my toilet is nearly overflowing. Disobedient son of a. Bless the bucket in my bathroom that I used as a tool for emptying out water and pouring it down the drain (I will not specify shower drain because the shower and bathroom floor are a single unit). Contact bu. Smiley Handyman comes within thirty minutes, says he does not have the right tools on him so he will have to come back tomorrow morning to fix it. I’ll take it. He begins to leave. I gesture that the toilet is still running and will overflow. His response translated to, “Oh, don’t worry! It cannot overflow into your room, only the bathroom and there is the drain!” Well. I proceed to ask if there is a way that he can shut off the water. “There is!” I felt relieved that he could turn it off, but confused as to why that was not step one. Thus, toilet did not become a fountain, but was temporarily out of order. To be honest, it was not a big deal, there was another bathroom right below my room that I could use. Significantly less clean with significantly more bugs, but usable.

Exhausted, a trend of mine here in Indonesia, I decide to go out anyway after this slight mishap to get a hairdryer so I can tame what would otherwise be an afro bob without one, and meet my site mate for dinner. My stomach was a little off, I assumed from being overtired and maybe the drink someone had bought for me earlier was funky. It was a good day, though. I successfully purchased a hairdryer, I located a rooftop cafe that my site mate and I wanted to try, I ate…Poor choice, Savannah. Not only did I eat, but everyone and their twelfth cousin knows that I don’t leave food on my plate, so I polished off my meal. One too many wrong decisions. I determined that I must leave, immediately. Walking home seemed doable, maybe moving would help. After all, I did not have a functioning toilet within my room. Friendly skateboarder tried to chat. No can do pal. Sorry for acting so disinterested, but all sorts of unpleasant things that should not take place in public were able to occur. Some angel allowed me to get back to the hotel in one piece, but that little angel was soon replaced by vomiting in the less than clean bathroom. Vomiting ended. Then the chills came on. And the body aches. Death was upon me again. I cursed the food and drink and whatever it was that made me sick. I cried to my parents. I felt sorry for myself. I went to bed at 8.

I woke up feeling much better, already less negative. I thought I could get through lesson planning and one class. Thought. I walked into the teacher’s lounge where they kindly told me I looked like hell and that I should go rest. Okay, good idea. I slept all morning and stayed in bed all day. Small, but exceedingly worthwhile disruption when my toilet was repaired by the friendly handyman. The whole point of this rant is the following: Your toilet will break down at the most inopportune times. Or, if you’re me, it will.

Culprit of mysterious door tapping: wind.

Mom tells me that at this rate, I will have no problem keeping weight off despite all the fried and sweet food. Unfortunately the feeling that all of my internal organs are exiting my body is not a biweekly routine I hope to maintain.


Last weekend one bu that sits near me in the teacher’s lounge invited me to her home to go to a carnival and visit Candi Gedong Songo. Not sure if I should thank or blame my adrenaline for encouraging me to go on the most unregulated rides I have experienced to date. On the other hand, the temple and hiking involved were both beautiful and much needed. Her family was so sweet and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to meet them. Despite the language barrier, they told me that they were my “Indonesian family” and that I am welcome in their home anytime. Keep in mind I am essentially a stranger, maybe nothing more than a weird American that fears squat toilets.

Traditional dance at the temple, Candi Gedong Songo.

Carefully note the safety on this viking ship. There is none.
One of the nine temples at Gedong Songo.
Hot spring with the sweet smell of sulfur.

Last Sunday, I made my first visit to Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, with my site mate and some teachers from her school. The pictures will say a lot more about it than I can. Amazing, that’s a start. This Saturday, I have plans to go to Solo with the teachers in the lounge where my desk is. This is subject to change based on my health and sanity level.

I am happy. I am so lucky to be where I am, and carry with me where I come from. I am in the presence of some of the friendliest and most inviting people I have ever met. I live in a smaller, cleaner city surrounded by five mountains and volcanoes that boast breathtaking silhouettes when the sun rises and sets, as well as provide cool mornings and evenings to make up for the heat of the day. I have my moments of feeling estranged, exhausted from being painfully noticed and talked about wherever I go. As I said, these are adjustments, with lots of beautiful and less beautiful in between.

This was a long rant, and these is still much more to tell. I will TRY to post more frequently. I’m hopeful. The first one is always the hardest. Sorry for talking about toilets so much.

Carnival in Magelang
Carnival in Magelang

2 thoughts on “Opening Remarks

  1. So glad you shared all this, even the toilet issue. It is so nice to hear about these wonderful places and amazing people in the world. Continue to absorb as much as you can (except some of the questionable food/drink) and this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience. Sounds just like Donovan’s Wilson Tech program. Isn’t teaching fun and rewarding!

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