It occurs to me that I have been extremely remiss in writing absolutely anything at all except lesson plans and the occasional email for a considerable time! I have started a few pieces, which will eventually come to fruition, but as I have had an increasing number of gentle ‘are you OK’s and ‘you have been very quiet’s cropping up from various bods, it’s clearly about time I pulled the proverbial finger out and recorded a little more about my life here in Surabaya…especially as, to my surprise, I have been here over three months now. Time flies. And, as always, I am grateful for and inspired by your interest in what always seems to me to be a rather ordinary life really! So, this hot, sticky, Friday evening, I have decided to try and paint a picture for you of a “Day in the Life of Ms Becky”, one that is definitely tinged with glee tonight after one of those wonderful days when everything goes according to plan, your students react brilliantly to your classes, nothing untoward crops up, and, particularly this evening, you are positively revelling in feeling fit and healthy – it had to happen eventually – the inevitable Asian Germ made its presence felt a week ago, crescendoed to a tumultuous climax by mid week, but has now left the building. Isn’t it just the best thing about being ill, the day you finally feel completely recovered?!
With no further meanderings, let me begin by saying that my days here start early. And I really do mean very early, usually around 3.25am to be precise, when the first of the pre-dawn calls to prayer kicks off at one of the local mosques. It’s Asia. So it’s amplified, as much as possible. And no sooner has the first one started, than another chimes in…and another..until by about 3.45 I can clearly identify six or seven separate muezzins, although it does tend to end up blending into a formless mumbling discordant row that fluctuates as the breeze carries the sound around and up to me on the nineteenth floor. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds! Those of you who know me will understand that I say this with no religious intolerance; I have always respected everyones right to worship as they see fit; but this is blatant noise pollution, and I am often reminded of the scene in Game of Thrones where Theon Greyjoy is being driven crazy by the trumpeter outside the walls of Winterfell – the muezzin who not only broadcasts his call to prayer slightly flat, but the entire service going on inside the mosque as well, has earned the same degree of loathing from me, and I have oft muttered Theon’s very words as I make coffee. I know his voice. Much too well.
Be that as it may, there’s an up side to the early mornings as it’s about the only time of day I can get reasonably good internet – and to be fair, I can sleep through it, and often do at the weekends by switching on the AC and closing the windows before going to bed. With a Xanax and a Scotch. But on an average weekday, it’s grumble a bit, get up, kettle on, coffee made, and internet time for me. (Heads up – it’s the best time to catch me on Skype!)
School days start early here. I use a ‘pick up service’ to get to school along with three Filipino girls who teach in the kindergarten, and an Indonesian teacher from my school. Miss Tan and I are the first pick up at 6.25 outside the apartment block, then its a hair raising thirty minute breakneck roller coaster ride to school. The first part of the trip is through an older and more traditional part of the city – narrow lanes between close packed small houses, deeply cut water channels for the wet season along the sides, vegetable vendors carts, chickens, goats, and children, laundry strung between trees, small banana plantations. Beep beep outside a small block of older flats and out comes Miss Noela and off we go again, this time out on to a major road that is teeming with traffic of all sorts and in all directions and as fast as possible, braking madly for every speed bump (there are a lot, not sign-posted, and pretty brutal; the suspension in the pick up car is less than fabulous and we are all adept at wedging ourselves in with our bags to cushion the inevitable bangs and bumps). Hurtle through a major intersection – I’m really not sure how the road rules work here as we go through a red light on that one every single morning without exception, straight past a policeman who completely ignores us, and merge recklessly into a river of motorbikes and scooters which parts like the Red Sea to let us reach an exit on the other side, and we can breathe again as we stop at Miss Peggy’s apartment complex. Beep beep again. Interesting thing that happens here – every parking area has a dude who’s sole purpose is to step fearlessly into the traffic and stop it by putting his hand up and blowing his whistle, and miraculously, although everything continues to go past and around within a whisker of him until the very last minute, eventually he causes enough of a hiatus for the car to cross the traffic and get Miss Peggy – then the same process happens in reverse to get us out again. Amazes me every time, truly!
Now we are leaving the older part of the city and are into a maze of new estates. The homes are all shiny new, with serious gates and fences; almost every street has a security post on the entrance with barricades and men in quasi-police uniforms. I’m always surprised by the lack of parks and gardens, but of course, no-one wants to be outside in the sun when you can be inside with air-conditioning. Some areas are middle class – in others we pass McMansions which have huge columns and cupola’s, Juliet balconies and balustrades…some of them are immense palaces, but again, no gardens, and built wall to wall, terrace fashion. It seems the style of choice is a combination of baroque Parisian and Roman villa with the odd absurdity like a gate adorned with a gigantic and singularly aggressive looking cast iron crab; perhaps they made their loot selling seafood? Who knows, but this area reeks of new money and lots of it. The only living souls visible are the houseboys and pembutans, cleaners and nannies, washing cars and windows or trudging along with conical straw coolie hats and cloth bundles over their shoulders to work somewhere. No one walks anywhere here if they can afford not to. Which explains the almost complete lack of pavements.
Beep beep again outside a modest house that Miss Jem shares with friends, and we are all on board now and rejoin the main traffic lanes heading for school. There’s a wide stretch of road past a small and rather grim looking lake near the university – people fish in there, can’t say I’d fancy eating anything that came out of it – which is lined with food vendors doing a roaring trade as workers on their bikes stop to pick up a neat little paper wrapped breakfast, and we fair screech along that bit, only to hit the brakes hard again as the road suddenly narrows approaching a crossroads. To my endless amusement, as we join the throng of vehicles squeezing into every available bit of road to get around the corner, Miss Peggy, who’s in the front, pulls her seatbelt over her shoulder in what I can only imagine to be a concession to the fact that there are always traffic police manning that junction in the mornings, because it comes off again as soon as we make it round the corner.
Into the estate my school is in. The entrance is imposing from a distance – big gateway, a mock Big Ben, statues of Roman centurions and voluptuous goddesses holding another cupola aloft, more security – but as so often in Asia generally, when you look closer the cement is already crumbling under the peeling paint – it has to be the climate, nothing lasts, because instead of being built of stone, it is just cement. Called semen in Bahasa. Childish of me to giggle every time I see a sign with that on, but can’t be helped.
It’s a lot more peaceful traffic wise now, but having said that, some of the hairiest moments in the trip have happened in here as in the time three cars played chicken at top speed to get through a one car wide gate. We won. My life flashed before my eyes. As the Arc D’Triomphe looms ahead, Miss Peggy and I are de-safety-wedging ourselves and our bags as we pull into the school entrance. Yes, there’s a fake Arc D’Triomphe outside my school. The tallest Indonesian ever, Fendi, one of the security guards – I do wish someone would either let his pants down or buy him some longer ones – greets us cheerily, and in we go, Miss Peggy and I, to fingerprint ourselves in and start the school day. The fingerprint thing always thanks you politely when it registers your print correctly, but sounds quite stern if it has to say ‘coba lagi’ – try again, which it often does.
Another thing I’ve noticed here is that its all abut the gleam. Glossy tiles, expanses of highly polished marble; the school lobby is no different, and the students dragging their wheeled bags up the tiled stairs create a deafening noise. There are nannies all the way up the stairs to help them with their bags, or they take a lift….hmmm! The staff room is on the first floor and it’s always a relief to get in there and away from the noise in the halls. And as I write that, I realise I have, as far as this blog is concerned, only just reached school……to be continued I think 🙂