Saturday, August 23, 2008

School starts on Monday (Lori)

School starts on Monday. It’s been a long break. Throughout the summer, I did my best to give the girls a bit of a schedule. I bought spelling and math workbooks, so they could have something to exercise their minds. I tried to take them swimming every once in a while. We tried out 3 indoor playgrounds in 3 different shopping malls, (outdoor playgrounds are very, very rare) and decided we like the one at Saphir Square best. Whenever I had the chance, I would take them shopping with me (usually against their will!) We tried to set up playdates whenever our schedules allowed. In spite of all this, the TV has been getting a lot of use, and on several occasions I’ve had to wrestle kids to the ground for a chance on my computer.

Before school finished in June, I was asking around about summer camps, swimming /voice/gymnastics activities that would possibly be held during the break. Jogja is a city of many universities and I was hoping that at least one of them would have programs in place. But when I asked Indonesians if they knew of any summer programs for kids, I almost always got a surprised look, followed by “Do you mean just for the holiday?” responses. After talking to a few people I realized that Indonesian kids are really only away from school for about 2 weeks, before they start the next grade. So that idea was quashed.

We had understood that we would need to go to Singapore to renew visas this summer. There was a possibility that we would have to go in July, but the paperwork for our visa was sent to the wrong office and we ended up getting just another temporary stay. This meant we would surely have to leave in 30 days. And then, after making various plans and reservations, Phil’s university was able to get another unprecedented 30 day extension the day before our visas expired on August 20! This alone was a bit disappointing, but we had also been planning a trip to Bali around the Singapore trip, and for various reasons we needed to cancel them, and then re-book and cancel again. So as I think back over what has happened in the past 10 weeks, nothing significant stands out – except for the nothing part.

School starts on Monday, and I am glad.


Traffic in Indonesia

I was walking home from the university today and while I crossed the street, I was reminded of a recent article in the Jakarta Post. The writer, an Indonesian, was recalling a conversation he had had with an Australian who was frustrated with how Indonesians drive. The Indonesian responded by suggesting a difference between how drivers think in the two countries. In Australia, as in N. America, drivers aim to keep a safe distance between their car and the cars around them. The thinking is, if the car ahead brakes suddenly, the space between the cars gives time to react.

The writer suggested that in Indonesia, drivers think differently, adopting a 'fill-in-the-space' mentality. According to this way of thinking, a space in traffic is room to drive. If a driver wants to move into my lane, all the driver needs is enough room to maneuver the corner of their car in front of me. I will then be expected to make room. I can make room for the other driver by either stopping or moving over into the lane beside me. And in keeping with the fill-in-the-gap rule, the lane beside me doesn't have to be for traffic going in the same direction. It is, therefore, common to have on-coming traffic in one's own lane. To resolve this meeting of traffic heading in opposite directions, the rule is, yes, to fill-in-the-gap. That is, if I am in my lane and there is traffic heading towards me, I am expected to use any space beside me to make room for that on-coming traffic. Therefore, lane markings really are mere suggestions. It is rare to see traffic stopped at lights lined up according to the marked lanes. If cars are turning right at the light (remember Indonesians drive on the left hand side), they will often straddle the middle line. At traffic lights, two lane roads often have three or four cars across. Two 'lanes' for cars turning, two 'lanes' for cars going straight. Driving safely in Indonesia is not a matter of knowing the official rules of the road, but knowing how customs, like fill-in-the-gap, function. At first one might think that this custom is dangerous and would result in many traffic accidents, but there is so much traffic here, people just aren't driving that fast.

What brought all of this to mind was that I have finally grown accustomed to walking across intersections. Traffic lights here operate in a rotating manner. That is, at a four-way intersection, only one way has a green light, with the other three ways waiting. Sometimes the green light moves clockwise, sometimes counter-clockwise. (I haven't figured that one out yet.) Crossing the street therefore requires awareness of who has a green light and who will have it next. Furthermore, traffic can always turn left. However, traffic doesn't have to stop in order to turn left on a red light. Here, again, we have the fill-in-the-gap custom. As one is turning left, one checks to see if there is any room, and if there is, one proceeds, even if this means that traffic with the green light has to slow down or even stop. So when I am driving through an intersection, I need to keep an eye on the cars around me, but also any cars that might be turning left into my lane.

But back to crossing the intersection. I was standing on the sidewalk and when the light changed, I started to cross. However, motorcycles were turning left, fast. In the past I have made the mistake of stopping, or even worse, backing up. This is a mistake because it runs counter to the fill-in-the-gap custom, and drivers don't know how to respond. What I did today was to just keep moving forward, and the motorcycle drivers did what they are used to, filling in the gap around me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nasr Abu Zayd

UIN held a colloquium this afternoon with Nasr Abu Zayd as the main speaker. Zayd is an Egyptian who was a literature professor at the U. of Cairo before he was forced to leave the country. Zayd is at the forefront of a movement that applies hermeneutical tools for reading the Quran. This approach, which sees the Quran as a work of literature as well as holy text, has been condemned by Egyptian Muslim clerics and Zayd was declared apostate. A curious twist to this tale lies in the judgment that a Muslim woman cannot remain married to an apostate, so Zayd's wife was declared divorced from Zayd even though she refused. Remaining in Egypt was dangerous so he is now living in Holland.

Zayd's presentation was largely a summary of a recent book of his on the reformation of Islamic thought. For the most part, this reformation lies in applying historical critical methods to the Quran and the development of Islam. Some Christians may recognize this as something that has been happening in Christianity for over 100 years.

This historical critical method involves asking questions, for example, about the relationship of the Arabic language used at the time of the Prophet to the revelation of the Quran, the development of Islam as it spread beyond Arabia, and the nature of reading the Quran today. Zayd gave a fascinating overview of many of these issues but, more importantly, pointed out how such a hermeneutical method may lead to a resurgence of Islam. Zayd emphasized that Islam today has been reduced to Sharia, which represents a small part of the Quran, and what was needed was a desire to pursue other ways of being Muslim. These included the development of mysticism/spirituality as well as theology and philosophy.

What I found most interesting, however, was that Zayd tied the reformation of Islam to the necessity of respecting individual freedoms and rights. Individualism is often cited by Islamic scholars as one of the defining faults of the West and particularly democracy. Zayd emphasized that respecting human rights and the development of democracy was necessary for addressing problems of oppression as well as poverty and injustice. Unfortunately, he did not make clear why individualism was necessary for the reformation of Islam. What is the connection between a hermeneutical reading of Islam and democracy? Zayd did not make clear what this connection might be and so the relationship between a method of reading the Quran and Islamic politics remained unclear to me. Luther's insistence on the individual believer reading Scripture and being directly responsible to God transformed the politics of Christianity and Europe as a whole because it established the sacred as a realm distinct from the profane. It is not clear to me how a historical critical approach to the Quran and Islam produces a positive alternative politics that could establish the sort of reformation Zayd is looking for.

While the politics of Zayd's approach is not clear to me, it was clear why some Muslims might feel threatened. I was curious how the audience would react to his presentation. In fact, the questions were largely positive and I didn't sense any real opposition. Curiously, though, the audience was made up almost entirely of students, with only a few junior faculty. I am not sure what to make of the fact that apart from Zayd, I was probably the oldest person there.

I found the presentation to be fascinating, largely because it opened a window on a part of Islam I have not yet encountered directly. What I have experienced so far is an Islam that is heavily dependent on maintaining and repeating traditional understandings of being a faithful Muslim. Zayd's approach is a distinctly modern method that applies a scientific analysis to the tradition in the hope of opening up previously repressed possibilities. I have no idea how influential this hermeneutical approach is, nor do I have any sense of how effective it could be in bringing about a reformation in Islam.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thursday, 21 August - Final Update

We got our extension and so won't have to leave for Singapore till the end of September. We probably won't go to Bali because school begins for the girls on Monday and Katie doesn't want to miss the first day. (All flights are booked on Sunday)

So in spite of all our planning and uncertainty over what might happen this summer, it ends with a whimper. Depressing, really.

Have I mentioned that I am probably going to Malaysia in November?


Thursday, 21 August - Update

It is 2pm Wednesday, 20 August and still unclear what we will be doing tomorrow. We have our tickets to fly out of Solo at 10am, which would require that we leave Jogja at about 8. Someone from my university is in Jakarta applying for the extension and has been told that an answer will come by 4pm today. He is confident that we will get the extension but it isn't clear to me what his confidence is based on. He has worked hard on our behalf and I would hate to have all that effort go for naught.

If we don't get the extension, things get a bit more complicated. In order to apply for the extension, we had to hand over our passports to Immigration. And we can't get the passports back until the question of the extension is resolved. Which means that we have to consider how we will get our passports back in time if we have to be in Solo by 10am. At this point, if we don't get the extension, the tentative plan is to be at Immigration here in Jogja when it (hopefully) opens at 8am, get the passports, and then race to Solo.

Of course, by 4 we may find out that we don't need to go and then the only things we would have to do is cancel appointments in Singapore and figure out what we will do for the rest of the week.

This isn't really interesting in and of itself, since we will be fine no matter how things turn out. What is interesting is the degree of uncertainty to which we have become accustomed. Much like our lives in Africa, we have slowly become used to a degree of uncertainty that one wouldn't normally experience in N. America. In 24 hrs, we may have to be in a different country. Or maybe not. I don't know what courses I will be teaching in September, nor do I know when classes begin. Also, Ramadan runs over most of September and I am not sure how this changes the operation of the university. I have heard that as Ramadan progresses, the campus becomes progressively more empty. Our lives rarely have the opportunity to become routine so we gradually become used to change. I really need routine to structure my day but I have to admit that I also enjoy the uncertainty of our lives here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday, 21 August

I am afraid we won't go anywhere on Thursday.

The last few weeks have been a bit difficult. At first, our plans to holiday in Bali were on and off for a variety of different reasons. Then, as August came, we weren't sure about going to Bali because we were supposed to be going to Singapore at the end of the month. We are on a kind of visa that is good for six months, after which we are supposed to leave the country. Through my university, we are working on getting a different kind of visa that would allow us to stay for a year before being renewed. However, getting this different visa has been complicated. The short, and polite, version of the story is that our situation is now so convoluted we aren't certain what will happen on Thursday.

One scenario has us leaving the country, on Thursday, for Singapore because our visa expires and we need to renew it out of country. We would stay in Singapore getting a new visa of the same kind we have been on so far in Indonesia. But we would also be doing all sorts of medical checkups, for which we have already made appointments. This is high season for Singapore so we have booked flights as well as hotel rooms. We would then return on 26 Aug. This is the scenario we have been planning for months. The downside of this scenario is that when the process for getting the different visa is complete, most likely by the end of September, we will have to make the trip to Singapore again. We don't necessarily mind visiting Singapore, but the trips are expensive, even though we don't pay for them.

Another scenario, one which we became aware of almost by accident in the last few days, is that my university manages to somehow get a special dispensation for us, allowing us to overstay our visa by one month. The university has told us that we don't need to go to Singapore until the end of September, at which time we will be able to get the new kind of visa. However, it isn't certain that this special dispensation will be granted, and we won't likely know until Wednesday. (Monday is a national holiday.) The university is confident it will work out, but we have never heard of anyone getting this sort of dispensation.

This leaves us not sure what will happen on Thursday, but having to make plans as though we will be traveling to Singapore. If we have to go to Singapore, we have plane tickets and hotel rooms. However, if we don't go, we are thinking of going to Bali. But this is high season in Bali so getting flights and rooms is difficult. But we can't book flights and rooms in advance because we might be going to Singapore. So we might not have to go to Singapore and not be able to go to Bali because we can't get flights or rooms.

I fear that on Thursday, we won't go anywhere.