Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Retreat From Sanity

I just spent the last one (hellish) night and two (surreal) days on a "rededikasi spirituel" retreat for all the teachers (middle school and high school) at my school. While I love all these people dearly--really I do--this love seems to hinge as much on my ability to retreat (get it?) from their combined presence for an occasional breather, or at the very least an occasional ten-minute stretch without someone, usually proxying for a wandering fruit saleswoman, asking me if I like avocados.

(It's not very Christlike, I know. But I like to think even Christ might have whipped out his trademark sarcasm at that point--a little bit of "render these avocados," if you know what I mean. Then again, that thought is probably just proof of how little "rededikasi" my spirit really got.)

While the retreat had its high points--like when I accidentally got locked into the conference room during our lunch hour and had to escape by climbing out of a window--my general opinion on it is probably best summarized by my first thought upon waking up this morning: "Please don't speak Javanese. Please, please, please don't speak Javanese. I can't take another second of not understanding what's going on. Please...oh, sialan."

This whole language thing was the main problem, see: I love everyone dearly on an individual basis, where I can persuade them to stick to Indonesian, and to repeat things when necessary, so that we can actually talk. When everyone gets together, though, they switch into raucous Javanese from which I can only catch basic words like "Miss Hannah," "does," "not," "like," and "avocados." This means I'm completely left out of the fun bits of every conversation, which, by definition, is no fun.

Moreover, I was left out of the fun bits of our spiritual rededication. We had about ten hours, all told, of what were basically church talks with PowerPoint. This being a mainstream (and sometimes charismatic) Protestant school, most of the speakers were professional preachers and therefore reasonably talented. (Although, to my Mormon mind, used to a lay clergy, this also made them vaguely slimy and not to be trusted. Plus, it's triply disappointing when a professional's talk resorts to "it was then that I carried you." For heaven's sake, man, you're paid to do this! You really couldn't come up with anything better?) However, since they liberally made use of Javanese to keep their audience entertained, their talks, to me, sounded something like this: "And we need to REDEDICATE ourselves to the LORD! As my grandmother used to tell me...blo blo blo londo goble goble songo lungo siji loro!" [Hearty laughter from the audience, with the exception of Miss Hannah, who is thinking of trying to choke herself to death on the nearest avocado.]

And of course, I had to concentrate ridiculously hard to even understand the speakers' Indonesian, so after an hour or two (out of ten, mind you) I ended up with a headache. When I tried to kill my headache (and my sore throat and runny nose and cough and aching stomach--did I mention I was sick with a cold through all of this?) by going to bed early, I found that my two roommates wanted to watch TV until one in the morning. (They were possibly celebrating the fact that we got to wake up "not too early in the morning," which the retreat coordinator apparently defined as "in time for a mandatory 6 AM exercise session.") And then my host mother arrived and brought two of the maids, which excited everyone because the maids could take care of me, which was terrible because hello? I spend all my time trying to persuade them not to take care of me. And on the way home, we had to stop to buy oleh-oleh, or edible souvenirs, where I then had to explain to an estimated fifteen people, in the space of five minutes, why I was not buying anything. (No, I don't hate you. No, I'm not on a diet. No, I don't hate your food, with the exception of avocados. I just don't. feel. like. eating. Is that so hard to understand?) And there was no hot water at the hotel, which is fine in Semarang's 100-degree weather, but not so fun in Kopeng's breezy 75 degrees. (I ended up just faking it: going into the bathroom, splashing some water around noisily, including on my hair, and changing my shirt. Luckily, that same breezy 75 degrees guaranteed that I didn't smell too bad.) And, of course, I managed to eat something spicy just before leaving Semarang and so had to request an emergency gas station stop halfway to Kopeng, which I found hugely embarrassing, especially since it encouraged all the teachers to watch what I ate even more closely than normal, and, of course, to make plenty of snide comments about how Westerners just can't handle their chili.

So yeah. It was not, let's say, the best two days of my life. On the other hand, it's over now, and early tomorrow morning (too early, even by the retreat coordinator's standards), I get to make my own retreat (surely it's funny now?): I'm flying to west Sumatra, where, as long as I don't die in a fiery plane crash, I intend to visit beaches, jungles, lakes, and mountains, speak English with an honest-to-goodness American, buy lots of cheap silver, and not even look at a single avocado.


esposadepadredelapiedra said...

But you do like corn right? You don"'t.? How can you not like corn? Try some?"

You thought he was being annoying but after all these years you finally understand, he was preparing you for this.

Confuzzled said...

I told you there would be lots of emphasis on the word "Lord." But I grant I was wrong about the number of exclamation points that followed it.

Master Fob said...

I'm saddened by your dislike of the God-food.

Tolkien Boy said...

Oh, dear. Knowing you, all this must have driven you crazy.

Tell you what. I'll come be your roommate and everyone can pamper me and feed me avocados, and you can escape them.

mysh said...

I think you're right: Christ would've pulled out his trademark sarcasm. And a slimy "and it was then that I carried you"? Jesus must be spinning in his grave.

Th. said...


My favorite is where he tells people to make friends with Mammon. That cracks me up.