Saturday, May 31, 2008

A day in the life of ...

Our day usually begins with Mia or Sara waking me up around 6:30am. On school days, I will then spend five or ten minutes trying to wake Katie up. Yes, she is slowly morphing into a teenager. Breakfast usually consists of home-made bread and peanut butter, for the girls, or cinnamon buns, for me. Occasionally we will have instant noodles, but Lori doesn't approve of the MSG in them. I, on the other hand, am a big fan of MSG, and any other spice that makes food taste great. Apparently, Lori likes her food boring and bland. But that is a different post.

On school days, the oldest two girls have to be ready to leave the house by 7:30. The girls have to wear school uniforms. The regular uniform is a crested blue polo shirt with either beige pants or skirt. However, the P.E. uniform is a red T-shirt with blue shorts, so at 7:15 we are running around trying to figure out whether this is a P.E. day and where the appropriate clothes are. The girls don't take a lunch. An Indonesian woman who lives near the school has set up a service where she offers lunches for students. The menu is a mix of Indonesian and other kinds of dishes, including spaghetti and hot dogs. However, the girls do need to take along drinks and snacks, so at 7:25 we are running around trying to get hair combed, bottles filled with water, and snacks that make everyone happy. The early part of our mornings tends to involve a fair amount of running around.

We share school-driving duties with a neighbour family who have a boy and girl also attending the International school. Some days I drive the kids to school, other days I pick them up. The other MCC family in Jogja have a girl also attending the school, so we pick her up on the way. We arrive at school, then, with five kids, which is quite a sight given that the school doesn't have more than fifty students.

(I will try and encourage Katie and Mia to write something about their day at school.)

If I am driving the kids to school, I tend to get back home shortly after 8am. I usually aim to be in my office by 9am, so I have to leave the house by 8:30. To this point, all my classes have been in the morning, starting around 9:30. Classes tend to be about 2 hours long. The undergraduate course was in a different building in a classroom with no air conditioning or fans. It was hot. I told the other professor that I would never teach another course in that building unless the classroom had A/C or a fan. I was joking. But not really. Fortunately, my other class was in a room with A/C, in the same building as my office. I tend to work in my office till noon and then walk home.

(I will try and encourage Lori to post something about her work.)

Lunch in our home is starting to become regular now. The menu includes fried rice, soup with rice and noodles, rice with peanut sauce and toppings that include potato, bean sprouts, and egg. We also have hamburgers and french fries, baked potato, and tortillas. Recently we added a mixed curry salad. Every meal has fresh fruit, including pineapple, watermelon, or papaya, and vegetables, including carrots, cucumbers. We have also started to enjoy a vegetable that is here called bengkuang, but is apparently also called Jicama. Occasionally we will have corn on the cob.

Our afternoons don't have a routine. If it is my turn to pick the kids up from school, that needs to be done at 2pm. I rarely go to my office but try to work at home. The girls will do their homework and then play with friends or watch videos. This is also the time we try to do shopping or run errands.

Supper tends to be around 5 or 5:30. This meal is almost always leftovers from lunch.

After supper, it is time for baths. Indonesians tend to bathe twice a day, first thing in the morning and then in the late afternoon. After baths, the girls will watch videos or we will read books together. We try to have them in bed by 8pm, though they are allowed to read or play quietly in bed.

Lori and I will then watch videos. We have worked our way through all the seasons of the TV shows 'Monk', 'The Unit', and the U.S. version of 'The Office'. Occasionally we will watch a movie but usually we don't have enough time.

Our days tend to be full but not busy. We have developed a comfortable daily routine that has allowed us to enjoy life here in Indonesia.

Monday, May 19, 2008


While the Yogyakarta area is now overwhelmingly Muslim, traditionally it was a mix of Buddhist and Hindu. Two of the largest tourists sites in the Jogja area are the Buddhist temples at Borobudur and the Hindu temples at Prambanan. Today we visited Prambanan with fellow MCCers from Jogja.

Pramabanan, which was built around 900 A.D., is comprised of three large temples to the Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, surrounded by several hundred smaller temples. All these smaller temples have collapsed while the larger temples were damaged by the earthquake in 2006. Because of the damage, the buildings are structurally unsafe and therefore people are not allowed in or around them. The buildings are very impressive and we were disappointed we couldn't get closer.

We arrived at Prambanan around 10:00am, which was too late, so it was hot and the kids were not happy with the tour part of the visit. However, there was a play and picnic area, which the kids did enjoy.

One of the things that has become increasingly annoying for us in Indonesia is the attention our two youngest kids receive. This attention includes strangers blocking our way so that they can take pictures of the kids with their cellphones or asking us to stop so that other people can take their picture with us. This was a problem at Prambanan and I took a picture of the crowd of people following Lori and the kids.

We have had a stream of people staying at our house the past few days. First, Katie and her friend from school had a sleepover. Then friends of ours from Salatiga have been here for the weekend. She is Malaysian and works with MCC while he is from New Zealand and is working on a Ph.D. in Anthropolgy. It has been a lot of fun.

See the pictures for more.


Saturday, May 17, 2008


The rainy season is over. I suppose it was over a couple of weeks ago when suddenly the humidity dropped by about 20 percent and the evenings were cooler. We still had rain occasionally, but it has pretty much stopped now. The days are still hot, getting into the low to mid 30s, but a regular breeze has started. Most importantly, it is drier and our clothes dry the same day they are washed.

The bad side of things being drier is that Indonesians now start burning all the vegetation that wouldn't burn during the rains. One can't walk anywhere without seeing and smelling burning leaves. I have heard stories that Singapore and Malaysia regularly complain to the Indonesian government regarding the smoke that drifts over. I don't know of any reasonable alternative. Leaving the growth on the ground encourages pests and snakes.

I am appreciating the more comfortable weather since my walk to work has gotten longer. The university has locked its front gates so that all traffic now has to enter from a different street on the other side of the campus. The reason I have heard for closing the gates was that since there has been an increase in theft on campus, having only one access point will deter thieves. The logic escapes me. Both entrances had security posts and since closing the front gate, security has not been tightened at the remaining post. If the thieves walked out before, they walked past the same level of security that is in place now. It would not be unreasonable to suspect that a bureaucrat felt the need to demonstrate that they were doing something about the problem. Personally, I think the gates were closed to give me a hard time. Instead of 20 minutes at a brisk pace, it now takes me 30 minutes to get to work.

My Intro. to Philosophy course finished last week. We had a good group of students and I really enjoyed the discussions. I finished the course with three classes on Nietzsche, Freud and Wittgenstein. Those classes were hard work. I am midway through my Religion and Democracy grad course, which will finish the beginning of June. The students are now giving seminar presentations and I am learning quite a bit about Islam and politics in Indonesia. In June, I begin teaching an intensive summer course at Gadjah Madah University in the Center for Religion and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS), which is the Master's program for Religious Studies at UGM. The course will be on Post-Modernism and I will teach it with a fellow MCCer who is seconded to CRCS. The class should be really interesting but it also leaves me with a very short break before classes at UIN begin in August.

Finally, I preached my first sermon here in Indonesia. Today is Trinity Sunday so I decided to do a teaching sermon on the Trinity. I gave time after my 'sermon' for questions and discussion, and there was some good interaction. What made it memorable was that as the worship leader came up to the front, she loudly announced 'Well, that was confusing.'


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Islamic Education

A debate is going on within Islamic circles here in Indonesia regarding the nature of Islamic education. Actually, this debate is similar to debates going on in Islamic communities throughout the world, and the debate in Indonesia is influenced, in part, by these other debates, particularly the one going on in Egypt. (Al Azhar university in Cairo had been a model for Islamic universities in Indonesia and the changes at Al Azhar influenced the development of UINs in Indonesia.)

With the foundation of an independent Indonesia, there also came the formation of Islamic institutes of higher learning. These institutions, known as IAINs (State Institute of Islamic Studies), were established throughout the country with the intent of providing an explicitly Islamic education, distinct from the education students would receive at 'secular' institutions such as the University of Indonesia. Faculties included the study of Arabic, Sharia (Islamic law), Koranic interpretation and Islamic propagation. With the spread of these IAINs, the development of pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools), and the establishment of Islamic courts, there was a need for religious teachers and scholars. However, as a saturation point was reached, the need for religious teachers became less. At the same time, Indonesia started to be influenced by the development that was sweeping South East Asia and there then grew a multitude of opportunities for young people to become involved in business and technology. The consequence for the IAINs was a marked decrease in enrollment, with in some cases, a complete lack of interest.

The two main IAINs, Jakarta and Yogyakarta, decided to expand to include non-traditional subjects such as the hard and social sciences. In order to accommodate this change, the institutions altered their identities, becoming UINs (State Islamic universities). However, in order to maintain their Islamic identity, the institutions adopted the mantra of pursuing the 'Islamasization' of knowledge. So-called 'secular' subjects would be taught with an Islamic perspective. There was little thought given to what this might look like and in practice it often involved combining Koranic texts with course material. Given their recent development and mixed mandate, these faculties are at a disadvantage in competing with the well-established programs at UI and University of Gadjah Mada. The government has intervened by heavily subsidizing the UIN programs so that they are, in relative terms, very inexpensive.

The debate in Indonesia, therefore, has two competing focal points. First, should these institutions of Islamic higher education include 'secular' subjects or should they focus solely on the Islamic sciences? Second, how can these religious institutions remain viable given declining interest in an exclusively religious education? UIN Yogyakarta is a curious institution resulting from these two competing forces. Combined with faculties in Information Technology and Science, and Social Sciences, are faculties in Sharia, Ushulludin (Islamic Theology), and Dakwah (Missions). It therefore has a curious split identity between a very modern streak, as represented by the faculty of science and my own presence, and a very traditionalist streak.

As I said before, this debate is not peculiar to Indonesia and has raged in such iconic institutions as Al Azhar. In many ways, this debate is about the role of Islam in the world today and so it is a particularly important discussion for many people, whether they are Muslim or not.