Saturday, July 24, 2010

Living perilously

So after much agonizing and not a little flip-flopping over the last month, I'm headed to Indonesia this fall on a Fulbright teaching fellowship. Peace Corps and 27 months in Cambodia are out; the volcanic vistas of Central Java are in. I leave mid-August and will be gone for at least nine months.

I received my teaching assignment earlier this week and I'll be working at a vocational high school in a small and relatively backwater burg called Magelang. Map it and you'll see it's located near the Borobudur temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and just downwind from Mt. Merapi, the most fearsome volcano on an archipelago filled with murderous mountains. A relatively short motorcycle ride away to the south is Yogyakarta, a regional city considered the cultural capitol of Java (puppet theater, gamelan, batik, one small ice rink in a mall), and to the northwest lies the Dieng Plateau, home to hundreds of Hindu temples dating from the 8th and 9th centuries. Jakarta's hours away to the west, which I think sounds just fine. Bali's an hour flight from Yogyakarta. Not bad. Magelang itself is home to Indonesia's military academy and to a couple small colleges. It's a jumping off point for visitors to Borobudur but doesn't rate a mention in the otherwise-comprehensive Lonely Planet guide. Not sure what to make of that just yet. No mention?

I'll be teaching conversational English to kids who are basically in the 10th and 11th grades. The school has about 2,500 students, most of them boys and almost all of them Muslim. I'll likely be living on campus. The Fulbright teacher who worked at the school last year said she had a small two-bedroom house that sat smack in the school parking lot. In addition to air-conditioning units for the bedrooms, the house also apparently is home to the occasional scorpion. It does, however, have hot water service in the bathroom.

From the bedroom window, I'll look on Mt. Merapi. Designated one of 16 especially active and deadly sites around the world dubbed Decade Volcanoes, Merapi is also a proud member of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This volcanic and seismic belt is home to most of the world's catastrophic earthquakes. All by way of saying, it'll be a year of living perilously. Will keep you posted.

A view from the crater ...

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