When I told my Kediri family where I’ve been assigned, my little brother, Rafa, started yelling for me not to go, and my sister, Monica, threw a fit about how it wasn’t fair that I’m in Kediri for three months, but Ciamis for two years. Ciamis — my new home. I have been assigned to SMAN1 Panawangan in a small mountain town in the north of the Ciamis Regency, West Java—Panawangan.
I arrived in Ciamis for a site visit just before 6am after a thirteen hour overnight train ride from Kediri. Luckily, with one other volunteer, also assigned to Ciamis. When we got off the train, two ID9 volunteers were waiting for us with welcome signs and I will forever feel guilty at how unenthusiastic I was upon meeting them. The exhaustion from the train, plus being terrified at meeting my counterpart and new family left me with no emotions to give to them. Talia and I were both zombies, and it was probably extremely underwhelming for the older volunteers — sorry forever guys.
When my counterpart arrived, we drove for about an hour up into the mountains through small, extremely windy roads and stopped in the tiny town of Panawangan. I’m staying with my counterparts and their sons because my real host family decided they no longer wanted to host a volunteer at the last minute. By last minute, I mean while I was waiting in the car outside their house. Sadly, things like this happen quite frequently, which is understandable when you imagine opening your doors to a strange foreigner and committing to hosting them in your home for two full years.
In my experience, Kediri and Panawangan couldn’t be more different. To start, it’s cold. Like, icy cold (almost). I sleep with the windows closed and a blanket, something that may have actually killed me in the dry-heat of Kediri. The daily mandis terrify me, and I have to actually brace myself every time I pour a bucket of water on myself. Room temperature here is far different from the warm room’s temperature in Kediri, but I know I will be embracing the temperatures while walking around and while teaching.
It’s also quiet. Silent. Because the town is so small and mountainous, there is little traffic, I also no longer live at a warung (small restaurant), so there are far few (no) visitors. I can hear crickets chirping and other insects humming. I fall asleep to the sound of the stream outside my window floating downward.
Other than the fact that my home is no longer a warung where men gather to play cards and drink coffees until the early hours of the morning, the Sundanese are afraid of the dark. My family sleeps with the lights on and the curtains are closed at magrib for protection (both from spirits and from bugs seeking the light). This leads people to going home, and going to sleep, far earlier than I am used to in Kediri, an extremely welcome change for this sloth trapped in a human body.
During one of my breaks from observing/answering questions in class during my visit, I heard KPop blasting from a room, so I went on an adventure to find it and ended up wandering in on a small dance class and joined a dance party with a group of students.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t stand KPop during my time living in Korea, the familiar songs made me feel at home and I was glad for a chance to bond with some of the students.
Later on in the visit, three students wanted to come over to cook for me and have a small get-to-know-me-type party. Those three students turned into over twenty and they prepared a Sundanese feast of tempe, krupuk, sambal and fresh vegetables. I contributed guacamole and my counterpart proceeded to sit down and eat the entire bowl alone with a spoon.
The students stayed for over two hours taking pictures and asking me questions. They are all so outgoing and fun, I think this could be a great way to connect with them more for the next two years.
The happiest of days are spent dancing and cooking with people you’re going to be living with for the next two years.
Despite my initial anxiety, and reluctance to leave the family I’ve grown to love so much, the students at SMAN1 Panawangan have shown me such a beautiful welcome that I’m eager to get started and be a part of their community. So begins the next two years of my life.