Friday, February 22, 2008

One Gong or Two?

"Everybody take out a piece of paper and something to write with." So begins the writing workshop. Michael and I conducted about 20 workshops at JIS Middle -- lots of students, lots of pens on paper. Some of the poems I never heard because the writers were too shy to share. Others flew by in presentation almost too fast to hear (pacing, pacing). In the end, everyone got something written and hopefully gained some confidence in their own ability to organize thoughts and commit them to paper.

At the end of the week the students participated in a series of poetry jams -- not really slams. But the audience was still involved as they cheered for each poet to receive one gong or two from the giant gamalong on stage. Due to the inevitable reality of score creep, we were up to 5, 6 and 10 gongs by the time each class period ended.

Two girls (separately) were so freaked out by the idea of live performance of their own poetry that they were actually sobbing when it came their time to read. But each girl DID IT. Everyone marveled at their courage (6 gongs!)
There were many great poems throughout the week and it really is impossible to choose just one to feature as an example, but unfortunately there isn't space here to publish them all. Eighth grader Simran Ahluwalia's poem was powerful when he read it in class, and then again at the end of the week. I asked Simran (pictured above with Michael) to share a copy of his poem with me so I could post it here. His teacher Scott Chamberlain forwarded it on. Like many of the JIS students, Simran has mastered English as a second language, which makes his composition all the more exceptional.

In the depths of the abyss we call a brain,
In the left half lays the most powerful psychological weapon.

Creativity is a rainbow coloured sword,
A sword which brings all knowledge to its knees.
Sages of the coloured art speak out against the box,
The box which keeps uniform and order.
To have creativity is a curse once you show it,
Public want more and more of it.
A masked poison to keep unicorms alive,
Used by war departments to inflict maximum pain.

Simran Ahluwalia

To all the poets I met at JIS, I say thank you for sharing a little piece of yourselves through your poetry. Special thanks to Simran for allowing me to share his poem here.

Jakarta International Middle School

A couple of traveling poets might be a little wary about an assembly at 7:30 AM on Monday morning under any circumstances. The kick off assembly at JIS Middle School followed a long weekend, a holiday to celebrate Chinese New Year. And just as Michael and I had vacationed in Bali for the weekend, many of the students had been off somewhere if not physically, then mentally for five whole days. But as the stage was once again lined with flowers and the members of the string ochestra poised their bows to the tap of the conductor, I felt the room of students settle into quiet attention. Not nap mode -- quiet attention.

First, about the string orchestra. Bravo! I mean, incredible. They were playing Arabian Dreams, by Soon Hee Newbold. (here is a link to an online version They were not playing Home on the Range or Long, Long Ago, mind you. It was beautiful. Haunting, lyrical, like a Rumi poem on horseback. The other piece (I believe) was Vivaldi, but when it comes to classical music, I am definitely NOT smarter than a sixth grader. We were introduced with an original poem by two students and read by the poets. And then Michael and I were both presented with lovely silk scarves, tokens of honor, and instructed in how to wear them. Many thanks to media specialist Kate Hodgson for all her planning and extraordinary efforts to make the week a success.

The rest of the week was great as we got to meet each class twice, one for writing and once for performance. On Thursday night it was Family Poetry Night and we joined Georgia Heard (and her son Leo, who were there visiting the elementary schools) for a night to celebrate poetry.
It happened to be on Valentine's night, and it truly was a heartwarming event. Kids, teachers, and parents wrote love messages (I love your eyes, you are my heart, I love when you lean into my shoulder, etc.) on post-its and we read them as a giant list poem at the end of the evening. The kids lined up to take turns reading each other's notes and continued to write more, all for a chance to come to the mic in the name of LOVE.
Spontaneous poetry.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Good and Not so Good

"Don’t breathe as you pass by."

The sun searches for landing pads on the jungle floor, hopping from leaf to leaf. Dawa has picked a small white flower and explained it is used for eye wash, cautioned us not to touch another broad leaf plant because the surface is covered with fine skin penetrating spines that cause insane itching and pain – the only relief is to roll a sticky toad over the assaulted body part to remove the needles – no worry, the toad does not suffer and quickly replaces his gooey body covering. No worry?

This is not the metropark or a tourist attraction, although we are indeed tourists in our sandals and cameras, Dawa is taking us into his village to explain his way of life. Keleki Village is about 20 minutes north of Ubud on the island of Bali and stepping down off the main road onto the red dirt path way is stepping through a portal in a previous century. Which century? Doesn’t matter, they all blend together here. A special festival is being prepared at a nearby temple, but everyday is celebrated by spiritual devotions in the form of round, square and leaf offerings are made to the gods – some high up to honor the Hindu gods of Vishnu & Co. and others placed on the ground to appease the bad gods. It’s all about balance, black and white. Outside every shop in town, every home, and scattered about on the street are offering set there three times a day.

Dawa explains there each day is defined on a master calendar – some days are good for planting, some bad, there are good days for building, for marrying, for traveling and bad days for all of the above – the list is extensive. Naturally, there are good and bad days to be born. We are touring the morning after a bad day to die and one unfortunate had slipped away in the night. The usual practice is for the dead to be carried to the cemetery by the entire village, the spent life celebrated with prayers and song and the grave sanctified with holy water. he has been buried unceremoniously.

According to Bali custom, nothing is all good or all bad – good and bad only exist because of each other. Black and white. Even the Bali bombings which crushed the tourist industry on the island aren’t viewed as all bad, more like an opportunity to look at what was being done to disturb the gods of the underworld in the first place. The bombings happened in nightclub area in 2002 and 2005 and there is hardly a conversation with a local that the tragedies don’t come up.
Our two hour tour turns into a six hour trek along narrow rice paddy lanes and through houses and home shrines. As we pass through the 400 year old cemetery, Dawa explains that every three years they did up all the deceased and cremate them, thereby satisfying both their Buddhist and Hindu gods.

But as we walk up to the most recent grave, Dawa cautions us not to breathe as we pass by. Since the villager died on a not so good day, a hollow bamboo stick was placed in his mouth. After 30 days, they will have a ceremony and holy water blessed from the priest at the local temple will be poured into is mouth. Going out to the rice fields and on our return we file past the bamboo – and do not breathe.

Bali Backroads and mind massage

Whatever happened on super Tuesday?
Has another snow storm hit Cleveland?
Is our house still standing?
Do I have everything in order for school next Monday?

Thoughts of elsewhere dart into my mind like now you see ‘em now you don’t geckos. Not the geckos on commercials who casually offer tea and jam with insurance quotes, but the real little green lizards that are treated like royalty here because they eat bugs. I don’t know if it is the lingering jet lag or just the spiritual magic that hangs heavy in the rain forest, but its hard to think here, there’s too much to experience.

We drive as fast as possible past the morning and evening sunset beaches to a spa owned by Jakarta teachers Hugh and Rita Collett. Well, to put that a little more accurately, a driver from the Alam Sari Spa drives us. Only tourists who have a mad desire to get REALLY in touch with the spirit world would venture to drive out of the airport where traffic lines are for sissies and every four wheeled vehicle is orbited by satellites of motorcylces. There is a fair amount of horn honking, but I notice that it is not aggressive "get out of my way" honking. More like, "hey, I'm over here, don't hit me," honking. Lots of speed bumps, everyone gets cut off regularly and there is zero road rage.

The above picture is the corner of our private bungalow for the week. Our bed is decorated with flowers and we look out on a temple that receives offerings from staff 3 times a day.

Having just read Eat, Love, Pray (highly recommended) I know that Bali is a spiritual place, but nothing prepares you for the ubiquitous temples that rise on every corner and rice paddy. Each of the mailbox shaped structures here in the rice paddy is a temple made for offerings to enhance fertility. By all appearances, the offerings seem to be working as Bali ia one of the most fertile places on the planet. A balsa tree can grow 12 centimeters a day! Plant such as bamboo and rice and sweet potatoes are just broken from an exising plant and tucked in the red earth.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jakarta International HS

I'm three weeks behind in blogging and over flowing with images and notes about our trip to SE Asia. Like a series of red roofed pagodas, Jakarta Airport sits surrounded by palm leaves and blossoming trees. Another American on board shows us how to scoot through the process of purchasing visas and before we know it, we’ve cleared customs and met our hosting teachers Dianne and Kate. Finally friendly faces to put with all those emails we’ve sent over the past months. One bag has lost a wheel, but other than that we arrive in tact. We are driven to Dianne’s house where we will spend the next three days while visiting JIS High School. All told, the trip has taken us 36 hours, not enough of it sleeping.

The first night we have dinner at an elegant hotel restaurant, but I am so tired, I almost take a header into the pesto. Monday morning comes the way it does everywhere else in the world, a little too early and less rested than ideal. Michael and I perform a quick 30 minute set for 1000 HS students and then split up to visit, write, and practice performance with a series of classes.

The assembly is in a dark auditorium, the students file in laden with backpacks, and every thing is very regular from a US point of view except that prior to the show, a caretaker has taken care to line the front of the stage with draped batik and fresh flowers.

The school is a sprawling, two story building connected by brick walkways and overhanging greenery. Students gather on benches and at kiosks to socialize in between classes. The classes are relatively smail, twenty something students, every single one of whom appears to be engaged and attentive to the class – and keeping in mind these are the two days between a major sports tournament and their five day break for the Chinese New Year, this is amazing. We have a great two days and hopefully the students take away not only a poem, but the inspiration to commit more poetry to paper.

One thing I learned for sure: it is not a good plan to fly in on Sunday afternoon and committ to an assembly for 1000 HS students at 7:30AM the next morning. By the end of the day I was spinning, literally. Turn me around fast and no way could I have pinned a tail on an elephant. Thank you to librarian Dianne Salimen for all her background work to make the event a success and for bringing me chocolate to help me make it through the first day.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Kid friendly airport in Taiwan!

Check out the Hello Kitty lounge for girls and the video game lounge for boys. Please also ch

eck out how calmly the kids are playing. We have been traveling 20 + hours and have 4 or 5 more to go -- if we totally understood the time changes, it would make calculating easier. One thing for sure -- when we get there, we'll be there. Brushed my teeth, changed clothes and washed my face. Whew, that feels better. Even had a real time online conversation with Kelly. Technology is so amazing.