Friday, June 10, 2011

Not all those who wander are lost

All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. - J.R.R. Tolkein

What is it that draws us to new places and fresh experiences? What is it that makes the desire to experience the unknown stronger than the ease and comfort of remaining in the places and with the people we know? I'm honestly not sure. Maybe it's a natural curiosity or maybe we are seeking the little rush of adrenaline we get each time we are somewhere entirely new and must find our way through, adapting and learning through experiences. I also find that I'm always struck by how similar people are regardless of how they or the place they live or their expressions of culture may appear at first glance. I also love how every place always has the ability to surprise you, if you'll only look and listen, instead of imposing your expectations upon it.

I went to a gym with one of my research team members after work the other day to try to relieve our stiff muscles after a week of sitting and sitting and sitting. At first it was as I expected: the majority of the gym was free weights or weight machines, with men lifting weights wearing shorts and t-shirts and often without shoes on. There were six or seven treadmills with about four women and two men using them, about half the women wore headscarves while walking or running, while the others did not cover their hair but wore pants and t-shirts or long sleeve shirts. It was probably 85 degrees inside, with a few air conditioners on. The music blasting was the choruses from American hip hop or pop, intermixed with techno and Bahasa Indonesian singing. After an intense and hot workout, we went back to the women's locker room to collect our things.

My first thought when seeing that you had to cross through a room where classes took place to get to the women's locker room was that women attending the gym may have been an afterthought. The gym and men's locker room were built first, then women showed interest and a locker room was added on the back of the building. As we opened the door into the room for classes, a dark brown curtain, covering the view of the room from floor to ceiling met us. Thumping music and a wall of heat met us. As we crossed through the curtain we saw the room full of 30 or 40 women in an aerobics class. But at first glance these did not look like Acehnese women. None wore headscarves. Many wore shorts. Some wore shorts and sports bras only. All of them were dancing and sweating, two things I'm not sure I've ever seen an Acehnese woman do (not that they don't, I've just never seen it in public). In many places there are women's groups in the community that one must be initiated into and that are an integral part of participation in community life. What happens in these groups is not spoken about publicly and can range from spiritual to social to rites of initiation. And here I felt we had found something slightly similar, only in an urban setting. A place women come to where men are not invited and they are free to dress and act and speak as they choose. On the other hand, perhaps I was particularly struck by this contradiction to local culture, because it seems to move away from tradition and toward Western practice, rather than towards more traditional practices, which is a difference I might not notice. Thought provoking if nothing else.

I'm on the road again as of Monday. During my last project where I had the privilege of staying with a friend in her beautiful home and moving around to different parts of Jakarta for data collection. This time we've got a bigger data collection team so we'll be splitting into two smaller teams, each of which will depart for the far reaches of this district bright and early on Monday.  I'll be going to Aceh Selatan or South Aceh. The research I'm currently involved in is looking at traditional community child care practices, and given the ethnic and cultural diversity of this district, we're conducting 3/4 data collection periods in very rural areas where members of minority groups live. From what I've read and heard from researchers (all of whom are Indonesian,  and all but one are from Aceh and speak Acehnese as well as the national language of Bahasa Indonesia) is that the area is relatively rural, but also very beautiful as it is by the ocean. Also, it is an area of Aceh that was not hit by the tsunami because the island of Simeulu protected it. I'm excited to get to know another part of Aceh, because on my last work trip here I worked exclusively along the North Aceh coast, which was beautiful and enjoyable, but much of it has a similar culture.

Happy weekend to everyone and fingers crossed for great internet while I'm in the field!

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