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The alarm goes off. It is 3:15am. The room is dark, and there is a chill in the air. It drifts in through the open windows, taking the place of A/C.

The alarm belongs not to me, but to one of my bed-mates, Atun. She hits the snooze button and I close my eyes for a few more minutes.

My bed consists of two, twin-sized mattresses, laid on the floor and pushed together. I share this makeshift double bed with two other women, Atun and Fatika. They are both teachers here at the pesantren. Fatika teaches Islamic Studies, and Atun teaches English. Atun is my sole guide and translator here, helping me to understand the daily routine.

The bathroom is equally rustic; a “squatty potty” that you cannot use toilet paper with, since that would clog the pipes. Instead, there is a large basin of water and a cup to pour it on yourself to “rinse” off after doing your business.

….yeah. I’m still figuring out the logistics of this. I may or may not have peed on my foot once already…

The shower is just a spigot in the wall next to the toilet. You use the same cup to pour water on your head when you “shower.” There is no hot water here, so I was advised to take my showers during the day, before the sun goes down and the weather cools.

The alarm sounds again. It is now 3:30am; time to get up for Fajr, the first prayer of the day. I dress in leggings, a long dress, a jacket to cover my arms, and my new hijab that Joas bought me back in Jakarta. I ask Atun if it is on correctly. She adjusts it slightly, then says, “beautiful!” We laugh.

The adhan sounds from the village mosque, it’s harmonious music comes through our open window. This is the Muslim call to prayer, and we leave our room to head to the mosque.

Outside of our bedroom door is a hallway, with a handful of other rooms just like ours. Except these house 6-10 students in each. Middle and high school girls who live and study at the pesantren. They stack their mattresses up every morning in order to have space on the floor to sit and do their homework.

We see them as we make our way down the stairs outside. Sleepy-faces, stumbling along. I am sure I look the same.

The mosque is only about a quarter of a mile away. The walk is up a steep hill, though. Everything in this village is steep, either going up or going down. One of the features of living on top of a mountain, I guess.

We enter the mosque (removing our shoes first), and I respectfully sit in the back, observing. Later today Atun will show me the movements and motions made during prayer so I can learn them and start to participate.

The women line up facing Mecca (the men are in a different area of the mosque, separated by a small, moveable partition). The Imam recites from the Quran, and they perform salah, or prayers.

This praying involves many different motions; standing up, bending forward, kneeling and bowing prostrate, then repeating the sequence all over again.

There is also a time when they greet one another by shaking hands.

This whole prayer time lasts only 10 minutes, and then we are headed back home to the pesantren.

The students spend the next two hours reciting the Quran. I journal some, and then take a short nap before breakfast at 7:00am.

Atun tells me my program for the morning will be to tour around the schools here, visit a preschool, and then perhaps teach the girls some english. Normally they would have class from around 8:00am-3:00pm, but today there is a special agricultural seminar being held in the village and boys from many different schools are coming to attend it.

Therefore, the girls have a free day (they are not invited to the seminar). Hence, me teaching english.

First though, we visit the preschool. I watch (and participate!) as the 3 and 4 year olds exercise before their lesson. After burning off some energy they go inside and sit at desks. They pray, and then the teacher asks them (in Indonesian) what day of the week it is, what month, what year. Today their lesson is on fruit.

They are adorable and small. The girls wear tiny hijabs, the boys in small caps. There is one girl who is not in a good mood. She has taken off her hijab and sits with her face in her hands, not wanting to color the picture of the apple and mango the teachers passed out.

After spending a while here with the preschoolers, we head to the girls’ classroom. I walk into a room of about 40 teenage girls, all eager to hear from me.

I met a few of them last night – those who are staying in the pesantren down the hall from me. They were both excited and shy when I arrived. Only a couple were brave enough to approach me, say hello, shake my hand, and tell me their names. Others tried, but got nervous when I made eye contact. The would run back behind their doorway, giggling with embarrassment.

Typical middle school girls.

Last night before bed about 15 of them crowded into my bedroom. They were curious and wanted to see me.

They have only ever had two other foreigners stay here before me at this pesantren. The first was a German back in 2010. The second was from Tanzania in 2012. So, it has been awhile. These girls were not here in 2012, and so have never experienced a foreigner here. They also likely have never seen an American before in their lives.

When they all came into my room last night they asked Atun various questions about me for her to translate – where I was from, how old I was, whether I was single or married.

I explained to Atun that I am engaged, to be married next year. She translated my answer to them, and it was immediately met with shrieks and giggles.

I had a similar response when I asked if I could take a picture with them. Evidently everyone loves photos here, especially selfies. They were all very excited to take one with me, the foreigner staying at their pesantren.

Because of this, having me in their classroom was especially new and different. I began by introducing myself in a few short phrases that I wrote on the board to help them comprehend: my name, where I am from, that I have 1 dog and 1 cat, 4 brothers, 0 sisters.

I then asked them to introduce themselves to me in english by saying their name, the letter it starts with, and something they like that begins with the same letter.

For example: My name is (Jessica). It starts with (“J”). I like (jumping).

There was much laughter at this, especially because I acted out “jumping.” Several brave souls volunteered to try in turn. Several others turned to their indonesian-english dictionaries for help, and still yet others whispered to classmates, trying to figure out english words that started with the same letter as their name.

After a while of this game, the students decided they wanted me to reintroduce myself to them using this same format, but this time in Javanese. Here is me being taught by one of the girls how to introduce myself in Javanese:

I will write later with a more detailed post on the practice of prayer here, and my participation in it. But, so far, it has been a pretty incredible experience!

Here is me with the preschool students:\

And with some of the girls in their classroom: