(In true Indonesian fashion, as soon as I opened up a new blog post and began to type, the power died leaving me sitting on my couch in the pitch black. Oh Indonesia…
To begin, here is my current favourite photo of Lake Sentani. I took it about a month ago.)
It’s probably time for me to actually post something again. I’ve been very bad at blogging over the last year. A large portion of that has been our utterly crappy internet, but it’s also been a lack of clarity in my thinking about how to communicate my life. More on that in a second, but WE HAVE FIRBRE OPTIC CABLE INTERNET!!!! As of 13 days ago we now have really good internet! I am truly excited! We’re getting speeds of 2MB/s for those of you who are more technically minded. This means I can Skype people without delays and constant drop outs. I can even video Skype! I can watch videos that people send me & it doesn’t take forever to load Facebook photos. This might sound like a small thing, but when you’re this far from home, it’s a huge thing!
Now that I have no such excuse for not writing I hope to get back into more regular blogging. I often struggle to find the balance of talking about the positive things about living here, and the struggles. It’s hard to communicate the difficulties without sounding like I’m just complaining, and it’s hard to communicate the good things without making life sound wonderful and easy. I hope you have understood that life here is both. It is beautiful and disgusting, fun and difficult, rewarding and frustrating.
At the beach with some of my girls. And yes, I have blue hair now.
Since I last wrote school has plodded along nicely, but our big event was heading to a remote village for 2 weeks. As we do every year, we took our entire high school (years 9 – 12 here) into a new remote location to serve the local people and learn more about the culture and ourselves. This year we headed to the Ilugwa area, specifically to the village of Danama. We hiked to small villages (each group went to a different village) for a few days and spent the rest of the time in Danama doing various projects. The projects varied from setting up clean water systems to sustainable gardening setups to HIV/AIDS presentations to medical surveys to kids’ clubs to meal prep and many others things.
The goodbye feast in Danama
It’s always an incredible time of personal growth as well as service to local villagers who don’t often (or ever) receive the kind of help we are able to provide. It’s a truly unique experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s not the easiest of experiences, with 80 kids to organise and no access to clean water/showers/toilets etc, but it’s definitely a worthwhile one. This year we had some electricity because this village had a few solar panels, this meant that we had some light in some places at night time which made things a little bit easier than last year! Although it attracted all the bugs. I (and everyone) was bitten by soooooo many mozzies! I also fell through a bridge on the first day (as did 4 others…) and still have a scar.
Dancing with the locals in Danama
The local people were so friendly, welcoming, kind, generous, grateful, fun and lovely. It made our experiences really memorable. They gave all the girls nokens (hand made bags) and they gave lots of other things to a huge variety of people. They put on dances for us, spent time telling us their history and life stories, and cooked a huge feast as a thank you for us on the day we left. We were so blessed to experience life with these people for 2 weeks. Here are a bunch of photos from our trip.
A welcome lunch with the locals in the village we hiked to
The view from the building we stayed in in small village we hiked to
Lunch in our small village in one of the local’s kitchen
The honai I slept in with some of my girls. It was warm and comfy but I got flea bites on my legs and a rat ran across my back during the night…
It was pretty muddy… it rained every afternoon. We were in the highlands this year and the weather is much cooler.
Kids’ club in Danama
Preparing the goodbye feast. They put all the food in huge pits in the ground with hot rocks to cook.
Paul & Pete were given headdresses and thank you presents
Eating the goodbye feast
There are only six weeks left until graduation now, so we’re getting to the pointy end of the school year! It’s strange to think I’ll have to say goodbye to all my seniors as they head to various countries to go to university. It’s always a hard time of transition here in May when everyone departs either for a break or for good. We’re losing a number of staff at the school too which is always sad.
My seniors (year 12s)
If you’ve ever thought about teaching overseas, just let me know! I’d love to send you some info on our school. Here’s a video. There is a fair bit of footage from my classes here (even though I’m nowhere to be seen!) and my choir even made it in!
Over the 2 month break I’ll be heading off for a while. I’ll be gone about 5 weeks and I’ll spend 4 of those weeks in Makassar, a city on another island, doing language school. It’s been a challenge to learn Indonesian when I’ve never had proper lessons and I spend all my time teaching in English. Living on the school compound has not helped me learn the language at all. I have the basics down, but I can’t have a meaningful conversation with anyone, so I’m looking forward to improving my language skills for the final 12 months of my time here. The plan is for me to stay until June 2017 then move back to Australia.
Part of my Geometry class
At the moment I’m feeling terrible about the decision to stay an extra year. I know it won’t last, but I’m missing home right now. I missed a good friend’s wedding today, I’m seeing photos on Facebook of other friends having babies and I get sad that I can’t be a part of any of that. I feel so removed, yet so connected at the same time because of the internet. It’s both a blessing and a curse. My friends are lovely in that they still invite me to Facebook events, which I love, but it often just makes me sad because I’m reminded of all the things I’m missing out on. Removal from the people you know and love is a truly difficult thing. I’ve been here almost 2.5 years now, and that’s a really long time to be away.
So like usual, life is both good and bad. I know I’m in the right place for now, but it’s also hard to be away from home. Through it all however, God is good.
(Editor’s note: My photos are massive and I can’t seem to shrink them without making them very tiny. I’ll work on that…)
The internet is finally working again! YAAAAAYYYYYYYYY! As of Friday we have the internet again! It’s been more than a month without internet here, and whilst it’s still dial up speed awfulness, it’s better than nothing. I’ve been using the 3G on my phone in the meantime and that’s hardly sustainable.
The exciting part is that we’re getting actual fibre optic cable internet! It was meant to be here in November… but it is coming. The cables are up on the hill, just not connected yet. I. CAN’T. WAIT.
It’s been a while since I’ve written because my laptop hasn’t been able to connect to the internet, so here I go.
On the way home from the beach
Over the Christmas break my mum and aunty came to visit! It was so awesome to have people from home come to see where I live and understand more about my life here. I had such a great time showing them around and seeing life through their eyes for a while. We went to the beach, the capital of our province, flew out to a remote village, went to the lake, looked around town, etc. I wanted to show them what my life is like day to day as much as possible.
The village of Mamit
Mum in Mamit in front of our plane
They were also here for New Years Eve, and it was pretty great. The fireworks are incredible! (photo cred to Andrew Kimball)
Sentani on NYE
After a great week in Sentani we went to Bali together for a holiday for another week. It was so nice to go somewhere full of convenience and ease for a while. I truly had a brilliant time!
The rice fields in Bali
Hindu temple in Bali
At a coffee plantation in Bali
After Bali it was time to immediately get back to school. Christmas is not our big break here as we go mid year to mid year instead of calendar years.
This semester I gave up Algebra II (year 11) and picked up Pre-Calculus (year 12). We had a teacher leave at the end of last semester so we had to do a bit of reshuffling. I’m really enjoying it, but it’s definitely more work because I’ve never taught this subject arranged quite like this before. Second semester is almost all trigonometry and it’s been a while since I did this level of trig. It’s actually fun though! Choir is still going well. I love the challenge of arranging music.
My incredible choir
We’re preparing for OE at the moment. That’s where we take our whole high school into a remote village for 2 weeks. We’re going from Feb 22 – March 4 this year. I can’t wait! No electricity, running water, toilets, showers, anything. This year we’re going to the Ilugwa area to a village called Danama. We’ll be doing more water projects like last year as well as running kids’ clubs, doing AIDS/HIV awareness training, medical stuff and anything else they need. Whoooo!!! This is my brilliant group.
My 2016 OE group
And there’s a bit of a summary of the last couple of months.
Aussies + honorary Aussies
Also, I now have purple hair. Well, some purple hair.
I had more to say on Monday, but I decided 1700 words were enough for one blog entry. Then I wrote something else on Wednesday about responses I received. Now here are some more reflections on the whole thing.
I’ve had some interesting residual effects from being assaulted. One of the awful things was that I was assaulted by one of the very people who was being paid to protect me against such things. This man was a Christian from one of the local churches, and was married with children (I feel particularly bad for his wife and kids. I have no idea why they think he lost his job). If I can’t trust him, then who can I trust? This has created some trust issues in me, particularly around local men. The national people who work at our school are wonderful people. We have lots and lots of Indonesian staff and I have developed friendships with some of them. They’re friendly, caring, generous, kind and pleasant people.
I’ve had lots of good experiences with local people and one very bad one. Now my first inclination on meeting new national men is mistrust. I assume bad intentions, but I don’t want to. I catch myself making bad assumptions about people. It’s not fair and it’s not right.
I want to see the good in people.
Whilst the community here is full of lovely people, it is also full of violence, poverty and all the issues that go along with that.
It is right for me to make sure I am safe and behave in a pre-emptive, protective way to a point, but what does that mean for how I interact with new people? It’s a delicate balance.
The reality is that it isn’t always safe for women. White people get stared at a lot because we’re obviously different. We stand out. I get it. Sometimes random Indonesians want photos with you just because you’re white. It can be a little uncomfortable, but it’s fine. What I don’t appreciate is the men who come up to me and ask me lots of questions and try to find out where I live. The drunk ones can be particularly stubborn and unpleasant. I don’t mind talking to strangers, but I’m always weary of strange men who talk to me because usually their intentions are not wonderful. I’ve never had anyone actually do anything bad whilst I’ve been out in the community, it’s mostly just questions that can be intrusive and sometimes annoyingly persistent. I’m never out in public alone without it being a very populated place like the busy main road.
I don’t get approached by men when I’m with other people, only when I’m alone, which says something about why I’m getting approached.
Some ex-pat women (especially some of our high school girls) carry pepper spray or occasionally tasers to protect themselves. I know of a number of women/girls who have been groped while on their motorbikes stopped at traffic lights. I get yelled at when I’m riding my bike sometimes, but I can’t usually make out what’s being said.
I hate that it’s safer for my 16 year old male students to go around town alone than it is for me. They can go on long motorbike rides to enjoy the scenery, but I shouldn’t go out of town to do that. I’m loathe to go riding around the lake on my own, even thought I’d like to. I’m an independent adult who is used to being able to do as she pleases and be physically safe. No longer having that assumed freedom is both frustrating and unjust. I have lived my life in relative physical safety and now it’s something I have to think about as a daily reality. It’s not like someone is waiting to attack me around every corner, but I do have to consider where I go and what I do.
Life here is more complicated than life back in Australia. I still want to be here, and these sacrifices are worth it for me at this point in my life, but I don’t enjoy everything about living here.
I’ve been thinking about some of the reactions to my last post about my sexual assault. One of the things that has come up a few times is people calling me brave. Brave for sharing, brave for speaking so candidly. This seemed like a weird thing because I didn’t feel brave, or at least speaking about such things shouldn’t be brave.
Maybe Lisa made the point best; speaking about how it is brave, but it absolutely shouldn’t be. I’m not the one who did anything wrong. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Why should anything I have to say about my assault be brave? I know it apparently is because of the way society still thinks about sexual assault, but it shouldn’t be.
We all have boundaries. Some of us have boundaries in different places, but we all have them. Some people share easily, some are hard to get to know. Some people are sensitive, others have thick skins. Each to their own, and all ways of being are ok, they’re just different.
One boundary we all have in common is our skin. It is our most primal boundary and there is something fundamentally and intensely personal about it. Again, people have different physical boundaries that they set for themselves, but we all have them. Some people are huggers, some don’t really like being touched.
When someone violates the physical boundary that separates us from another, something happens to our sense of self. Our psychological boundaries are violated as well as our physical ones. We can’t separate the two, they are necessarily, intrinsically linked. We don’t have a body and a mind, we are body and mind.
When our bodies are violated, our sense of self feels tarnished. Our power and our choices about our own bodies, our most basic boundaries, are stolen from us. Something about that sense of powerlessness almost always triggers a sense of shame and guilt. It doesn’t reflect reality, and it’s awful to feel this guilt and shame, but it’s understandable. When we are unable to protect our most basic boundaries we feel guilt for allowing something to happen to us that we didn’t choose. There is also a justified fear of judgement, which no one wants to experience. Almost all of this is happening on a subconscious level, which makes it even harder to fight against.
Emotions are hard to fight, even if you know in your head they don’t reflect reality.
This is one of the things that has come out in the documentary ‘Hitting Home’ that is currently showing on the ABC (please watch it!). The question of ‘why don’t you just leave?’ comes up and women constantly say that they feel so much guilt and shame they couldn’t bear the judgement if they told someone.
Abuse is always a matter of control. The control begins much sooner than the abuse in terms of domestic violence, but even in lone assault cases, that sense of powerlessness, guilt and shame are drivers for silence, and that makes the statements about victims being brave to speak out, true.
I have no guilt and no shame. I am lucky. My experience is not the experience of most victims. I had a woman tell me just this week that she was propositioned by a married man wanting to have an affair with her (she is happily married and said no) and felt too ashamed to even talk about it. No one even touched her. How awful! She questioned what role she played. Did she lead him on? What was she wearing? She did nothing wrong, but our society grooms women to question how they contribute to awful men doing awful things. The victim should not have to question how they contributed. They are not responsible for the perpetrator’s actions.
I didn’t do anything wrong. No victim did. No matter what they did leading up to the abuse, nothing excuses it. The perpetrator is always responsible for their actions; the victim never, ever is.
Victim blaming on any level only contributes to the problem in a very tangible way. Don’t ever fall into the trap of saying that the victim could have protected themselves if only they’d *insert excuse here*. Let’s stop asking why women don’t leave and how they couldn’t have protected themselves, and start asking why abusers behave the way they do. The abusers are the problem, not the victims. Never, ever the victims.
We have nothing to feel ashamed of. We shouldn’t have to be brave to speak out.
This is a strange thing for me to write about, but I think it’s something worth saying.
In May last year I was sexually assaulted here in Indonesia.
I live on the compound where my school is and we have barbed wire fences as well as 24 hour security guards. There is no imminent threat to our safety (plenty of ex-pats live out in the community), but there is always the possibility of something happening in a place like this. Given that we are a school, it is right for us to protect our students and their physical safety. We have two student dorms on campus.
There is no need for me to go into details, but in short a guard came to my house and I opened the door to him because I couldn’t tell what he wanted. It turns out that what he wanted wasn’t something I was willing to give. I managed to shove him backwards out the door, slam it and lock it after he didn’t take no for an answer, and then called for help.
I was so impressed by the people around me and how I was cared for. The people who look after the campus immediately flew into action and had the man removed at once (obviously he’s never allowed back on campus). They kept me informed at all times and let me know exactly how things were being dealt with. My sending organisation was also very supportive in making sure that I was looked after and had access to anything I needed.
The way of dealing with conflict here is unpleasant. All our guards are local Papuan men and violence is a very normal part of the way that people deal with each other. On the night this happened the other guards took this man and asked our white leadership to leave so they could deal with him ‘culturally’. This basically means they beat him badly to teach him a lesson. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it wasn’t my decision, and this is how they deal with conflict, so… It is what it is I guess.
Keep in mind that these are all Christian men from one of the local churches.
I was offered the opportunity to go to the police if I wanted, but I was also told what would happened if I did, so I chose not to. It was likely that the police would beat him even worse, throw him in a cell for the night, then let him go. Then I’d have to fill out paperwork, be on record and get involved with the local police in a way that I wasn’t sure was going to be good for me. I’d get no justice and it would possibly cause more problems. Or they might not do anything at all. I opted to leave the police out of it and the school said they’d support me either way.
Obviously this was a bad experience for me. Especially seeing as I’d only been in the country a couple of months, had rubbish Indonesia language skills and was still in the intense settling in process having moved to a third world country. I’d just taken on a new job with entirely new people and my usual support network was far, far away. This was bad for me, but what about other women who experience assault here?
I had access to strong support networks that helped me when I asked. I am a strong, independent person who can handle myself. I can’t imagine how less strong people cope with sexual assault, or cope with an assault much worse or more violent than mine. I can’t even fathom how you recover from rape, but I know that plenty of amazing women do it.
What about the women who have no one to go to? No one who will help them?
The police aren’t really interested in such cases here, so going to the authorities makes little to no difference in the lives of sexual assault victims. I suspect it actually makes it worse. If your husband or someone you know is violent towards you and you have them arrested and beaten, they’re going to come back to you after one night in a cell even angrier than before. I can see how that is a deterrent to informing on someone who hurts you. Although the more likely scenario is that nothing happens at all.
I’m going to tell you two very sad, but not rare stories. A friend’s 14 year old neighbour was attacked earlier this year by a man who tried to rape her. The girl’s family caught him in the act and beat him senseless, as normally happens in this culture. The perpetrator’s family then demanded monetary compensation for the injuries this man sustained in the beating. The victim’s family ended up paying him money (although not as much as he’d asked for) because otherwise they would have been constantly harassed and couldn’t get rid of them any other way. The victim did not go to the police because the police don’t care about such things. They probably wouldn’t have done anything even if they had gone to them.
Another young girl (about twenty) here was living in a kampung (traditional community) where women and men live in separate huts. The women’s hut this girl was staying in was usually full of young girls as the adult women worked during the day. Drunk men would frequently come in and try to have sex with the girls, but apparently it wasn’t impossible to fight them off because the men were so drunk. The girls were usually able to do so, although they often sustained physical injuries. Again, this is quite a common story.
The spread of HIV/AIDS is rampant in this part of the world due to the amount of unprotected sex that happens between multiple partners, but that’s another issue.
This is definitely a patriarchal society and women don’t have a lot of power. If women have little to no power and become victims of sexual violence, then where do they turn for help? Who is there to stand up for them? I had people to stand up for me and I had the ability to stand up for myself without repercussions. Most women here do not have that ability. If a man is physically stronger and no one is willing or able to impose consequences on him, then what is a woman to do?
It’s bad enough to be assaulted once, but what about those women who are stuck in cycles of domestic violence? It’s a common thing here. It’s common enough in Australia and America and many other developed nations. It’s difficult enough to get help and get out of the cycle of violence in places where there are support networks (albeit inadequate ones), but how does someone do that in a third world country with no access to any help at all?
How could she leave when she has no money, no where to go to and no way to care for her children? And forget the practical aspects for a minutes, what about the psychological trauma associated with abuse at the hands of someone who is meant to care for you? How does a person recover from that when there is no one to help them? Abuse does not just inflict physical injuries.
If you have been exposed to cycles of violence your entire life, and it’s normal to see people in them, then why would you think that it could be any different for you? You saw your mother treated badly, you were treated badly as a girl, you get treated badly by your husband, your sons, and your neighbours go through the same thing. How could it be different? And even if you thought it could and should be different, how do you make that happen? What resources are available to you?
Of course I am speaking in generalities. Not all women here are abused and not all women need to be rescued from violent husbands and neighbours, but it is very common that many women have been exposed to some level of violence in their lives.
A friend here was telling me that her white daughter married another white guy here in Indonesia eight years ago. The Indonesian who officiated the certificate signing gave them some marital advice that he gives all newly married couples. He told the husband not to hit his wife with a stick that was too heavy, and he told the wife not to throw hot oil on her husband when she was angry because that just makes things worse. This was not a joke, it was serious advice. I don’t even have the words to respond to this.
I would love to see a ministry here that cares for abused women who have no where to turn. It is such a desperate need. I would also love to see a ministry to the men that shows them how to treat women with respect and love. We must break the cycles of violence.
I am so grateful for the people in my life who stand up for me and take a stand for what is right. We are called on by God to protect the vulnerable and to care for the wounded. We are commanded ‘…to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8)
Who will stand up and do that for these women?
As an addition to this post, let me recommend the documentary by Sarah Ferguson on domestic violence in Australia called ‘Hitting Home’. It airs Tuesday and Wednesday this week on the ABC and the trailer can be seen here:
Here are two recent articles very worth reading too.
Sarah Ferguson on filming ‘Hitting Home’
Jane Caro on why women stay in abusive relationships
I’m feeling both happy and sad about today. I get to go home to a life that I enjoy, but I have to leave a life that I enjoy. I’m going to miss my family and friends so much. I’ve loved getting to see them all again and I’ve also loved being back in such an easy part of the world.
I wanted to share some updates from a couple of friends back in Sentani over the last couple of days, just to give you a picture of what life can be like there.
Life in Papua is never dull: we are going on a week with no running water due to our well running dry and no city water. Thanks El Niño. Aaaaand, after ordering a fire truck of water to fill our tank and joyfully opening our faucets to let the water run over our dirty hands and stinky toilets, we unknowingly funnelled THOUSANDS of dead bees into our pipes (a hive must have fallen into our tank and died sometime in the last week) clogging every water source in the house so that only sewer-like, wormy water could drizzle out. Pak Dandy, our favorite handy man, is spending Saturday cutting open pipes and flushing bee decay out.
I heard my helper answer her cell phone and kept telling the person “I’m coming, I’m coming” in a frantic voice. They told her her 18 year old daughter was in a motor bike accident and had a head injury and was unconscious. We took off to the hospital that is about 20 minutes away. The man called back numerous times but my helper couldn’t understand him. He was from a different part of the country. I tried to talk to him and understood a little more. He said we needed to stop and buy oxygen on our way. I started to get the feeling this was a scam. I told my helper we would go straight to the hospital first. My helper was so upset and really wanted me to stop and buy this “medicine” I didn’t know it till afterward that the man was telling her if we didn’t bring the medicine in 15 minutes her daughter would die. We got to the hospital and her daughter was not there. It was all a scam. If we had stopped and bought the oxygen (at a specific store he was telling us to go to) I’m sure we would have been sold a very small amount at an outrageous price. Such a cruel way to get a little money from innocent people!!
Sadly that second one is not an uncommon scam in our part of the world…
Now to finish with a pretty picture. The outskirts of Melbourne is rather beautiful.
(I wrote this yesterday, and in true Sentani form, the internet wasn’t working so I couldn’t post it. I’m at the Bali airport now killing time after an 8 hour delay this morning and an almost cancelled flight…)
It’s time to go home!
I fly out tomorrow morning for 2 weeks in Oz. Can’t wait!
Whilst this is terrible timing (leaving in the middle of the school semester), I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends again. Also life in Australia is just so easy. I love the convenience of living in a land of options, safety, cleanliness and working internet J
I’m not as excited about going home as I might be at another time because I was only there two and a half months ago. It hasn’t been a long enough sojourn that I’m longing for home, but I’m still looking forward to getting a break from life in Indonesia. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy my life here, but everything requires more of you, everything requires more energy. Life in Australia is just easy. Although look at my backyard…
The reason for my trip is Alison & Bernie’s nuptials. I’ve known Alison literally my entire life and I’m lucky enough to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I’m very happy that I get to share in her special day!
On a completely different note I went remote beach camping again last weekend. I just love hanging out on a beach in the middle of nowhere for a few days. So relaxing…
And another tangent; I’m starting to feel conflicted about leaving. I know there is heaps of time left, I’m not due to leave until June, but still, it’s coming up. My life is here now and it’s going to kill me to leave my friends and my kids. I adore my job and I don’t want to leave it. I also don’t want to not go back to Australia. I miss my life there. I miss my family and friends. Can’t I do both? Sigh…
I mean isn’t this amazing?
(Above photo stolen from the Olvers)