Week 4: Settling In
Just as we seem to have found our groove here in Kamanggih, it’s time for Connor to head out.
Last night after dinner, Connor and I sat under the moonlight with Ridho, Eti, and Rambu Nitha, our new friend who has returned to Kamanggih from University to teach english and has been helping us conduct surveys. We spent the night laughing at each others’ poor accents, lingual quirks, and making fun of the many different noises used in Kamanggih to shoo away aggressive or hungry dogs: HEYYUHHHH, HeiH, Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch, HeyaiSH, HAH, ey-Key-key-key, YEesh… etc. We then used these noises to pretend to shoo away the two younger boys who were playing a game of “scary monster versus intentionally innocent and unaware younger brother” in the driveway near us. As their game came to an end with a winner unilaterally decided by the older monster/brother, they joined our noisemaking and cackling.
It felt like we had truly been welcomed into the community. The initial awkwardness was gone and we felt completely comfortable with the people in Kamanggih. While plenty of people still stared, they didn’t seem quite as surprised as they used to. Now they were merely interested. Furthermore, the group of people closest to us began to feel like true friends and family. To show our appreciation for the incredible hospitality we received, we presented Ibu Liyana, our gracious host and master-chef, with a gift we had bought for her at the local market. We were surprised to learn that Connor’s upcoming departure had knocked Ibu Liyana into a spell of sadness, so we thought we would try to break the sad spell with the gift. At first, she refused to open it since she was sad that Connor was leaving already and didn’t want to embarrass herself by crying when she opened the gift. She sat quietly for several minutes with the jacket hidden by the newspaper wrapping sitting in her lap. With the help of Eti and Rambu Nitha, we convinced her to stop being so depressed and open the gift and try it on. She finally smiled. She looked great in the new jacket, and it warmed our hearts knowing that she was so happy to be hosting us and we could give a small token of appreciation. (She was quite camera shy, so unfortunately no picture).
This was the first week that actually felt like work. I write that without any negative connotation and only a feeling of gratification for knowing that we are well on our way to providing meaningful information to IBEKA, Kamanggih, and the larger world interested in energy access. The previous weeks felt like play, but they were full necessary introductions, observations, and acclimation to the habits, pace, and priorities of Kamanggih. Without this time to grow our understanding of the people and structures around us, we would have gone into our research essentially blind. We also took a very mission critical weekend surfing trip to the south coast of Sumba.
This week was more regular, but just as exciting for me. After three weeks in Indonesia we were finally applying what we had prepared for all this time - collecting meaningful data! Every day, we stopped by households where we had dropped off a survey the previous week. For those that could read and write, we reviewed their answers to check for errors. For those that couldn’t read and write, we conducted the survey verbally. If the respondent was particularly excited, interested, or simply funny, we would ask to conduct an on-camera interview. These interviews were a chance for the respondents to break out of the cold yes/no questions of the survey and share their personal story. As expected, some interviews fell a little flat, but some were incredible and full of a unique Kamanggih energy that I can’t wait to see what Connor does with in the edits.
One thing that you all should understand about Kamanggih is the warm culture of hospitality. For each house we approached, a woven mat was immediately unrolled on the porch for us to sit on. We were told, rather than asked to sit. Just as our butts hit the matt, our host would slide a box or plate of Siri Pinang towards us. (If you didn’t read week 2, perhaps go check it out to learn more about Siri Pinang) I felt that over the couple weeks in Kamanggih, I had given the Siri Pinang an honest and open-minded try. When it was still unpleasant after the 7th time trying it, I followed the lead of Eti and Rambu Nitha at each home and pretended to enjoy the offering rather than actually “enjoying” it. According to Eti, it was rude for a guest to deny the Siri Pinang. Perhaps that was true, although I got the feeling that it didn’t really matter how bad the acting job was as long as I acknowledged the offering and didn’t simply say "no thank you”. This routine was repeated at every porch, and only after a minute of greetings would Rambu Nitha or Eti ask about the survey we had dropped off last week. Almost every time, this question came as a great surprise to our host. I found this both charmingly funny and refreshing. If I was a host and saw two “boolehs” (foreigners) with backpacks approaching my house, I would immediately go inside to grab the survey they had dropped off last week. Here in Kamanggih, a motive for visiting like that is not even an afterthought - it’s not a thought. They are so focused on greeting Connor, Ridho, and I, as well as Rambu Nitha and Eti (who are normally somehow related to the host through an extremely wide family tree that I have no hopes of trying to figure out) that they give no attention for anything other than enjoying each others’ presence. I almost feel rude when the host gets up to grab the survey he or she had happily agreed to complete.
I think we collected about 45 out of the 65 surveys handed out this week. Noteworthy events include: learning that many families which used to spend 4 hours every day collecting water now spend about 5 minutes as they are able to use an electric pump, learning that the electricity has increased school performance/desire to study/time spent studying in almost every household with children, having to print out two more copies because two households left their completed surveys out in the rain-storm, crashing the motorbike on the way to one hamlet, and sharing lunch with three teethless grandmas who seemed to be the three happiest grandmas on the face of the earth after filming an interview with them. To read more about how initial survey collection has been going and for some initial observations from the responses, check the Project Page sometime after 6/27.
Both before arriving in Indonesia and during my time here, I’ve spent a considerable amount of mental energy thinking about the ethics of the work IBEKA is doing in places like Kamanggih. Aside from my overly theoretical environmentalist's quandary over how providing renewable electricity to unnelectrified villages is probably speeding up Climate Change (ask me for an explanation if curious), I am constantly thinking about whether IBEKA is justified in the work that it is doing.
I haven’t been able to satisfactorily put my thoughts into writing yet, which of course means that I don’t really know what I’ve been thinking… The general dilemma that is constantly on a slow tumble-dry cycle around and around in my head is: Is it possible to respect a community’s culture and priorities while also trying to change habits to create a more productive, empowered, and physically healthy community? Unfortunately these thoughts are all still tangled and damp with philosophical uneasiness that even this paragraph doesn’t seem to be making any sense.
I’ll do some writing on my own and try to put some cohesive thoughts together next week. What I do know is that I’ve had some amazing conversations with Connor, my friends in Kamanggih, and IBEKA staff about this moral dilemma. I’m thankful that the people around me are not so blinded by their mission that they fail to acknowledge potentially problematic effects.
Peace Connor! Thanks for a great 4 weeks, it's been a blast. Thanks for tolerating my slow jogging pace on those damn runs you always wanted to go on.