Visit to Pesantren Pabelan

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Driving into Pabelan with a hint of Gunung Merapi, an active volcano in the backgrond.
Driving into Pabelan with a hint of Gunung Merapi, an active volcano in the backgrond.

**I apologize to those following along and noting the absence of recent updates.  Updating a website without internet access proved beyond my wizardly abilities.  Thank you for your patience and support.  And comments always make my day.**


A two-hour bus ride away fellow ETA and friend, Max B., lives in a little village called Pabelan.  During our two-weak orientation Max and I hit it off splendidly.  With ETAs placed all over Indonesia it was a fortunate coincidence that he was placed so close.

Welcoming Committee. (Video)

In the first few weeks, I have been mostly confined to within a few blocks of the school and asrama (student dormitory) where I live.  The Indonesian people value community and care deeply for one another.  I am now part of this community and they are quite protective of me.  While this is deeply appreciated, I realized that I needed to venture outside of my little bubble to fully experience Indonesian culture.


Welcoming the Palestinian Ambassador
Welcoming the Palestinian Ambassador

I took the Trans Jogja bus to a central terminal where I caught a bus to Magelang.  From there, I caught a third bus to the outskirts of Pabelan to visit Max for the weekend, all for about $1.60.

It’s interesting to note how our experiences match and differ.  I live in a relatively large city, he in a village.  We both live at our schools.  Indonesian customs like giving small gifts, oleh-oleh, to the headmaster and other prominent members of the community you’re visiting, persist.  The food was quite similar, though arguably, the ayam bakar (grilled chicken with a sweetened glaze) is a little better in Pabelan.

He teaches at a Pesatren, a more deeply religious school, than the one I teach at.  At his school they don’t have classes on Friday to observe religious practice and students are not allowed to own cell phones.  My school teaches Monday – Saturday.  Much like living in a more rural area in the USA, the community is knit a little tighter there.  Everyone seems to know each other, there’s a special person for any particular need from Internet to breakfast to renting a PS2.  When things break, you fix them rather than buy a new one.

When applying for the Fulbright we had no idea where we would be placed.  We weren’t allowed to select a city, region, or type of school. We were entirely in the dark up until about one month before leaving.  For 10 months after submitting the application we pondered our lives in Indonesia, scouring the web for blogs from old ETAs who might enlighten us.

Max obliging sweet Indonesian student requesting his photo at Borobudor.
Max obliging sweet Indonesian student requesting his photo at Borobudor.

After seeing Max’s community, I realized how varied our experiences must be.  Some ETAs are on different islands with their own common local language.  Many people on our island, Java, speak Javanese and Bahasa Indonesia.  Some ETAs teach the sons and daughters of ambassadors, others in local villages.  Some have air conditioning, western-style toilets, and refrigerators – others do not.

Leaving the city was important for me.  It was important to see Max and to process our experiences together.  It was important for me to expand my bubble a bit.  It was important for me to see the beautiful countryside outside of the city.  It was important for me to use public transportation.  It was important for me to see the school where my co-teacher in Jogja went to school (awesome coincidence).