–By Kelly Fitzgerald–
On Wednesday, January 11, 27 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) and their co-teachers gathered in Jakarta for an evening of talent, humor, and cultural exchange at an event called Indonesia Through Their Eyes. As the title suggests, ETAs were tasked with creating a performance that showcased what they have learned during their first five months of living in Indonesia.
Given one month to prepare their performances, ETAs in cities spanning nearly 2,000 miles worked hard to put together a memorable evening. They planned skits, made videos, learned local dances, and even prepared for a traditional wedding. On January 11th, as the ETAs and their co-teachers made their way to the @America venue, the excitement and nervousness of the performers was palpable.
When asked for her thoughts before the event, Julianne O’Connell, an ETA living in Kupang, said “I am excited to see everyone else’s performances and I’m excited to learn something about their regions. I’m really nervous no one will laugh at ours.” Another ETA, Mackenzie Findlay, shared that while her group had only rehearsed once, she was not too worried about the performance: “[Being flexible] is one thing I have really learned, especially for something like this where you’re not really sure what to expect.”
ETAs and their co-teachers were not the only audience members eager to see Indonesia Through Their Eyes. Members of the general public as well as the American team of the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation (AMINEF) were present to enjoy the show. Astrid Lim, the Senior Program Officer of AMINEF (the organization that administers the Fulbright grant in Indonesia), commented that, “Reading all the scripts and the plans of the ETAs this year, I think it’s getting more and more creative so it’s going to be interesting.” 2017 marks the second annual Indonesia Through Their Eyes event. The AMINEF team hopes that ETAs will continue to perform at @America during their annual mid-year conference.
As for this year’s event: the ETAs certainly did not disappoint.
After welcoming remarks from the @America staff, AMINEF’s Executive Director Alan Feinstein, and the ETA Program’s Research-Coordinator Grace Wivell, the first performers were called to the stage. Performance groups were based on regional location: Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). The ETAs of NTT, including O’Connell, were the opening act. She needn’t have worried as their performance was well-received by the audience.
To share what they have learned about life in NTT, the ETAs created a slide show that featured 26 words starting with every letter from A to Z. Some of the words were in English, such as O is for One Love in honor of the unique rasta culture experienced by Labuan Bajo’s ETAs Sam Geary and Anna Katomski. Other words were in bahasa Indonesia, such as N is for Nikah [marriage] as a nod to the many weddings that the ETAs have attended in the past five months. Still other words were in local languages found in NTT, such as G is for Goyang, which means dance in bahasa Kupang and H is for Hang, which means both rice and to eat in bahasa Manggarai.
Perhaps the highlight of NTT’s performance was when the ETAs were joined by a teacher from SMK Stella Maris Labuan Bajo to dance the Mogi, which was the word for the letter M. The Mogi is a line dance native to Flores and is performed regularly at weddings, parties, and many other events.
The next performers were from Java. Nine out of eleven ETAs opted to share what they learned by performing a skit (almost) entirely in bahasa Indonesia. The skit was loosely based on the American television show “The Bachelor.” By introducing the contestants and then having the contestants ask and answer a series of questions, the ETAs were able to showcase elements of Javanese culture. Krupa Patel, an ETA living in Surabaya, played the role of Pak Kentang and emphasized the Indonesian love of gorengan [fried food] in her performance. Another ETA living in Kudus, Grant “Vinny” Owen, brought his rural lifestyle to the stage by wearing a traditional sarong and peci as well as politely refusing to shake hands with a woman, which received much laughter of recognition from the audience as cross-gender touching is not a cultural norm in conservative areas.
Katarina Krueger and Michaela Chinn, living in Bringin and Salatiga respectively, decided that instead of performing live they would rather make a video. As a result, the audience was able to see the countryside of Central Java for themselves as well as meet students and teachers at both SMA N 1 Bringin and SMA N 1 Salatiga.
After Java’s performances came the representatives from Sumatra. Matt Poissant from Bandar Lampung engaged the audience in a game of “find the siger” using images of Bandar Lampung found on Google Map’s street view. A siger is a crown worn by brides in Bandar Lampung. The siger represents femininity and the motif can be found everywhere, a point made clear in Mr. Poissant’s creative game. Following Poissant came the ETAs from Pangkal Pinang, Elizabeth Hardison and Kiana Ward. They performed “Naik Delman,” an Indonesian children’s song that they learned from kids in their neighborhood in Pangkal Pinang. At last came Daniel Gerardi from Balige, who sang a song in bahasa Batak and then modeled a traditional Batak wedding with help from his fellow Sumatran ETAs.
Finally, the entire group of ETAs from Sulawesi took to the stage to reenact the Miss Sulawesi Pageant, which was another skit performed (mostly) in bahasa Indonesia. Ayat Abourashed from Makassar, Carolyn Murphy from Gorontalo, and Shelby Lawson from Kendari were the contestants representing their respective cities. The contestants competed in three rounds consisting of an interview, a talent show, and a fashion show. Every round featured city-specific cultural references, such as when Miss Kendari cited a local monument called Tugu Religi Sultra to argue that her city was the best in Sulawesi; or when Miss Makassar demonstrated how to get a free GoJek, an application available only in Makassar; or when Miss Gorontalo modeled karawang, a fabric unique to Gorontalo, in the final round. Naturally, all three contestants were crowned winners at the end of the skit, ending Indonesia Through Their Eyes on a high note.
After the show, all of the performers gathered on stage for a triumphant group photo. The atmosphere was one of relief and joy at the success of the performances. Co-teachers clamored for photos while ETAs congratulated each other on a job well done.
In the post-show hubbub, Grace Wivell shared her thoughts on putting the event together from behind the scenes. Wivell is the Research-Coordinator for the ETA Program and as such works closely with both ETAs and AMINEF’s American team. She was a primary liaison between ETAs and the @America venue, a role which came with its own difficulties. “One of the biggest challenges in preparing for an event like this is just being able to coordinate all of the pieces with everyone being so scattered as they are, and in circumstances that are very different from Jakarta,” she said.
Still, despite the communication difficulties compounded by distance, she would agree that this year’s Indonesia Through Their Eyes was a success. “I think at the end of the day when an event comes off like this and it is so wonderful, I think people see that it’s well worth the slight struggle to get here.”
Kelly Fitzgerald is a second-year Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) living in Sidoarjo, East Java. She spent her first grant in Pangkal Pinang, the capital of the beautiful but lesser-known province of Bangka-Belitung. When she is not busy teaching or hamming it up on stage, she enjoys learning Indonesian pop songs, drinking excessive amounts of coffee, and exploring Sidoarjo and Surabaya from the back of a GoJek. You can read more about her travels at https://whereintheworldiskelly.com/.