Poet Feminist Independetista

Orgullosa de la poesia de mi isla!


Poeta Julia De Burgos by vagabond © Poeta Julia De Burgos by vagabond ©

“I have an urge for freedom. If I die I do not want this tragic nation to swallow my bones. They need the warmth of Borinquen, to at least fortify the worms from over there, not the ones from here.” – Julia De Burgos
(written from New York in a letter to her sister).

Julia De Burgos is considered one of the greatest poets of Latin America, she was also an advocate for the independence of Puerto Rico, an ardent civil rights activist for women, African and Afro-Carribbean people and a vocal critic of any and all political tyranny. She was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico on February 17, 1914. Today she would have been 100 years old.

Burgos was raised in a poor section of Carolina called Barrio Santa Cruz. Her family’s poverty did not keep her from developing a love for nature…

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Quick view of Las Filipinas!!

Going to a new Asian country always means Wes friends are there for you

My 10 day visit of Manila and Puerto Princesa allowed me to have  a bit of insight into Filipino culture and a few pounds to my body. The Asian country is unique in that the Spanish culture and legacy is so strong in the religion, the way of life and the language that it reminded me of my Latin American countrymen. Manila is a contrast of wealth and growth, along with poverty and tradition. Catholicism is so strong in the huge churches, in the traditional public transportation bus: jeepneys, and in the laws such as “Divorce is Illegal.” People are happy, massages are cheap and widespread and drinks are the cheapest probably in the world. It was a great visit and stop over.

Puerto Princesa’s Guide to creating a “Green City”

I came to the Philippines to visit my dear friend Maria Luz Isadorra Timbancaya Ponce de Leon, Malialay! She lives in Puerto Princesa, but moved to Manila the week I came to visit her! So I went to visit Malilay’s hometown without her being there, nice!

So I stayed instead with the nicest most welcoming parents in the world: the Timbancayas. What a fun and sweet couple. They took great care of me and Andrew and made us feel as if Malilay was never missing.Anyhow for me the city was simply inspiring. According to Lonely Planet it says that: “Other than an admirable and strictly enforced no-littering law, Puerto as locals call it, though cleaner than other Filipino cities is no tropical paradise.” They got a point, there’s traffic and the buildings are nothing out of the ordinary, but there is good feeling to the place. The “family” and welcoming feeling, the lack of crime and the many enforced “green” regulations make Puerto Princesa a special place.

My friend Andrew from Singapore was not as impressed by the city itself and I guess it has to do with the fact that he is from ultra regulated safe and clean Singapore. But me coming from Puerto Rico and recently from North Sulawesi, one is full of crime and the other with trash, I have more appreciation of places like Puerto Princesa and view it as a role model for other cities like Ponce and Tomohon.

After living in North Sulawesi and traveling to several tourist spots across Indonesia, I realized that trashing is a cultural problem. I came to the frustrating conclusion that it is impossible to solve North Sulawesi’s and Indonesia’s general trashing problem while the country is developing and unable to push for strong laws and measures to change its citizens uncontrollable tick of having trashing their lands, rivers, lakes and oceans. The inability to stop this behavior, committed so innocently, is one of my major concerns for the future of the region.

People trash everywhere. One of the most famous diving spots in the world lies off the coast North Sulawesi and though its water still remain clear and it’s a true underwater wonder, trash is killing the view, the creatures and will soon kill tourism.

Many places I visited in Indonesia had uncontrollable amounts of trash:

Bunaken's real nightmare

And of course with this comes many economic, conservationist, and touristic problems which many fail to recognize.

Port to Bunaken: What every tourist sees as they get in and sail in their boats

Education may seem the way out of this, but most students are already know about this. I held lessons about the environment and trashing. Many students seemed bored listening to me about something they know so well. They know it, but seemed not to noticed their behavior or understand the negative and long-term consequences. Students need to be taught about this issue beyond the classroom, schools need to go beyond lecturing their students and then ignoring the issue once the lesson is over. They need to teach, excite, implement and punish or reward. At the moment teachers and parents are horrible role models, while the local government wants to create a fake image of Manado as an “eco-city” to make it attractive to tourist and investments. Still there is no commitment to actually creating this “eco-city,” local officials take it as a given. And that’s the major problem, if government officials and educators don’t want to notice and act upon the problem, much less will its citizens and future generations. Even the best students, who swear to God they never trash, still so naturally and guiltless throw the candy wrapper anywhere but in the trash.

Enforcing the Law in Puerto Princesa

Sanitary recycled-bags


Considering this behavior, it was interesting to visit Puerto Princesa. This city and capital of the island of Palawan has grown considerably in the last decade. Its current mayor Hagedor is often referred as an importance force in making a change. Ever since he began his term, 24 years ago, he has made radical regulations and changes to make the place friendlier to the environment. Adopting such measures as having a national day for planting trees, having taxi’s in form of motorbikes instead of cars to cut traffic, no buses in the city and no smoking in public. A really cool thing to is that people DON’T HORN!!!! Its considered rude, no shit. Anyways the place is lovely, the people super friendly, the beaches spectacular, the food super delicious, and the pearls and cashews are abundant and cheap. I will come back Puerto Princesa!

Heaven Food: Halo-Halo


Intrigued Tourists

SealNet in Medan

After my Fulbright grant ended, I did some traveling that took me to Jakarta, Bandung, Balikpapan and even to Singapore after visiting some old friends and Sandy’s family, I was off to Medan to join SealNet’s Project Indonesia 2011.

Now I can say: I am an official SealNet ALUM! I spend my last 2 weeks in Indonesian “Seal Netting,” teaching kids about sanitation and community leadership. It was great!

SealNet Stands for the SouthEast Asia Service Leadership Network and is responsible for running diverse service projects across countries in SouthEast Asia. I know the project well thanks to my Wes asian networks. Many friends have been part of projects in the past and now it was my turn. So in addition to educating kids about important stuff, I made amazing friends. When you spend 2 weeks seing the same group of 14 people all day and all night, you either end up hating them or loving them. In our case love won and now I have great Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamise, American and Hong Kong friends.

My two lovely roomates: Nina Santos and Kim Doan made my experience extra fun and especial. Not only do they love to talk about life but also are talented and creative. Kim is a talented singer, Nina a great fundraiser.

For more information, details and photos from the project check out our SealNet Indonesia Blog:


Cause my internet ain’t that great back home, here is a small summary of fun things we did outside “work”

eehhh not sure what's going on in our heads

The National Anthem of the Minahasa People

When the time came to say goodbye, why not close with some Minahasan Patriotism?

O Ina Ni Keke


O ina ni keke, mange wisa ko
Mangewa aki Wenang, tumeles baleko
O ina ni keke, mangewi sako
Mangewa aki Wenang, tumeles baleko

Weane, weane, weane toyo
Daimo siapa ko tare makiwe
Weane, weane, weane toyo
Daimo siapa kotare makiwe


This extremely famous song is known by every Minahasan person, yet no one I asked knows what’s going on. “It’s a love song!” thats what they all say… and though the song is so repetitive still no one can give me a clear meaning of what is going on. The song is in Tombulo language, the ultimate mother tongue of the Minahasan people, though spoke less today as Manadonese dominates the speaking scene.

Leaving Tomohon

An everyday view in Tomohon

My last few days in Tomohon were nice, the family that hosted me took great care of me. Invited me to different events and made sure I was very comfortable. I stayed in a beautiful house in Kakaskasen 1, close to Lokon Volcano and right on the road that leads to Manado. I  left Tomohon with beautiful memories of a place enchanted by cool weather, flowers, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, forests, and much more natural beauty. I leave behind great friends and people who guided me and helped make these last months enjoyable. I left Tomohon sad, but my school full of joy and thoughts of “finally is over!” As I mentioned in earlier posts, things didn’t go well my last few weeks in SMK St. Familia. I hear other ETAs talk about their goodbyes and how sad it was for them to leave, how much they cried, how many parties they had to say goodbye and blah blah. I did get a goodbye assembly (since I refused to make my own party)

On my last days my principal and counterpart found different ways to irritate me. Giving away my stuff was the most stressful activity. I  wanted to give all my stuff to kids in a village call Batu Putih or the orphanage I volunteered at, Panti Asuhan Melania Langowan, but because of time and transportation issues, most of my last stuff had to be given to teachers and my counterpart. There are over 30 teachers in my school, plus the tailor people. The biggest drama was over not having enough things to give to all equally. The male teachers were kind of pissed I was a woman, thus unable to give them my stuff. Many of them suggested they have wives and children I could donate my cloths to. I discarded the male teacher with the fact that I am a woman and cannot give them my stuff. I discarded giving away my really nice shoes with the fact that I am size 10 and most Indonesians are below size 7. My counterpart is size 5. But drama went down with my red coat and my internet modem. My coat cost about $30 and the modem about $60, very valuable possessions that no one wants to buy with their own money. In Indonesia I have a rule that I can’t sell or ask for money from anyone that has less than me. I had in mind giving my red coat to a teacher who always been nice to me, nothing great but she at least talks to me and is nice. When Miss Ria found out about this she warned me that it was a super bad idea to give my red coat to her, saying: “Melina, she is not a good person, we don’t like her. If someone is sick, she never comes to visit. All the teachers here think the same.” Oh thank you Miss Ria for telling me about this evil side of the nicest teacher here on my last day! To give her the coat, I had to seriously wait for all the teachers to go out and then put it really quickly in her bag, still the school found out. I can imagine them today talking behind my back because of that coat. 

That afternoon Miss Ria came to make sure I had packed properly and not stolen any of the schools supplies and make sure I have the modem ready for her. By then I had decided that I would give it to anyone in the world but her. When she came to my house and saw it all wrapped up, she freaked out thinking I was giving it to someone else. Then I told her I was still thinking about whether to give it away or not, she started winning and almost started crying begging I give her the modem. This continued for the rest of the night and the morning, seriously until I got in the plane and had phone signal. In the end she got the modem. I still respect Miss Ria and glad I never flip out on her, but she’s the most annoying childlike person in this universe. Maybe I’ll miss her in a few months or years, but for now I’m so glad I’ve move on from my school.

In the meantime Miss Ria and my principal come over my house in the middle of the night to check up on me (I wasn’t there cause I already moved to another house with no rats. But not finding me there gave them a reason to create their own gossip as to where I could be).

And to close my last day officially teaching at SMK it rained and thundered like crazy such that the roof broke and water came in as I taught my last class. Great ending!

My school is drowning!!

On my days off I did get to do the things I love that have kept me sane and in love with this area more and more, and that is traveling and visiting my kids in villages and orphanages.

I did get a chance to do a day trip to Batu Putih, a village close to the Tangkoko nature reserve.

One last visit

and spend time with my wonderful Panti Asuhan Melania… Over a hundred orphans live here. I would teach them  dance lessons once in a while, and as a goodbye present they got my bike! (Before this I had several awkward and annoying encountering with my counterpart and landlord where I had to justify to them why I decided to give the bicycle to the orphanage, instead of giving it to one of them… oh god!)

Dropping off my bike at the orphanage

Will miss you all soo much!!

More on Batu Putih

Making the Bina Antarbudaya Dream Real: Results

The moment has come

In my post titled: The Bina Antarbudaya Dream” I wrote about the reasons behind wanting to create a Bina Antabudaya chapter. I realized soon after that it was impossible to make a local chapter with the current circumstances, I had to settle with working with the Makassar chapter. To create a North Sulawesi Chapter we needed great financial and alum support both hard to find in an area where no one has heard about the program.

Bina Antarbudaya Chapter Makassar provided information and steps to make students in my region eligible. I needed to:

  • Spread the word to schools in the region
  • Get permission to visit and talk to students
  • Educate myself about Bina Antarbudaya to answer questions posed by students and administrators
  • Find financial and human support to make this possible
  • Make time to visit and answer student and administrator questions
  • Get funding to cover expenses for the Makassar team to come to North Sulawesi: airport tax, flights, place to stay, transportation, food, local needs.

After months of looking for help to take local action, members from a local English teaching company, British American, and a high school, SMA Lokon, offered to help. Marco from the BA Course helped me visit schools to meet and tell students about the program, as well as assisted in the process of collecting applications and money. The national deadline to drop applications was April 17, however since the North Sulawesi region did not have a Chapter I had to push the deadline to April 11 to send all the documents to Makassar in time.

The applications were send alright and after many months of work I was proud of how in a few months I managed to get funding and time to visit 15 schools, meet with thousand of students and have so many prospective students attend the first stage of the selection process. I was most proud of being a gateway of the program in the North Sulawesi region, while getting to meet and work with local Indonesian youth, schools and organizations. On May 1st Tomohon was the ground for the first-ever Bina Antarbudaya selection process in North Sulawesi. BIG DEAL.

On May 1st we received the testers all the way from Makassar. They came to test about 75 students, though only 55 showed up. The test went alright students were excited and though some came late, everything was on schedule by the end.  After the exam the Makassar representative and me went on a small tour and dinner at Tante Mary’s house.

SMA Lokon provided a space for us

Yeah gotta take them to the famous lake

Tante Mary, our donor to make this possible

May 1st marked the first stage of the long Bina Antarbudaya selection process. As a result we got only 4 participants going to the second stage. I was very surprised and sadden by the results, after all the work and effort to address thousands of students, getting only 4 participants to pass the first stage was quiet heartbreaking. I am very proud of those 4 finalist though, I hear the exams are really hard a require great knowledge of world affairs, english and Indonesian.

Students who passed the FIRST STAGE: 

No.         Nama                                Sekolah





Nevertheless getting only 4 participants was a problem because we needed to get at least 10 people to be able to bring the Makassar people back to North Sulawesi. Because that didn’t happen, those four students had to go to Makassar at their own expense, and only one student, Michael, could afford it. At the moment the possibility of getting a representative from North Sulawesi is all in Michael’s hand. At this point in time he already passed the 1st, 2nd and is waiting for the results of the 3rd stage. All my best wishes and admiration to him who is now the face of North Sulawesi in the Bina Antarbudaya selection process. GOOD LUCK MICHAEl!


National Examinations Vacations

I can deal well with changes of plans, lateness, misunderstanding and other things that would make others extremely annoyed. After the AFS week frustrations, I was ready to take a vacation and relax. I was planning to go with a group of friends from the ETA program to an island off of Gorontalo. Originally I was planning to stay in Tomohon and do some work for my program for the holiday, nevertheless I was convinced other wise and got on a plane to Gorontalo.

Gorontalo marked the first bad decision. I’ve been there a week before and wasn’t really interested in returning so quickly. A flight there cost about $50, a bus about $12. I wanted to take the bus along with my friend Polly but it takes 12 hours so needed to take a plane to catch my boat to go to island paradise of Togeans. So that day went to school my class got cancel, again all students where there and all teachers, but my counterpart told me when I arrive “Oh Melina you have no class today, I don’t know why.” Even though an airplane is faster and more comfortable than a 12 hour drive, I hate taking airplanes to drivable places. Reason #1: Its cheaper to take the bus. Reason #2: The views and getting to know the country and area. Reason #3: Make good friends in the car from the long-term contact and stops. Reason #4: The breeze out the window. Reason 5# No need to drive to the far away airport, pay tolls, airport tax and carry my bags through motorcycles, micros and cars to get there.

And many more but the most important is: NO FIVE HOUR AIRPORT DELAYS!  So after realizing I did not need to flight after all thanks to my surprised cancelled class (which I should have just skipped anyways but felt bad not teaching after 2 months of getting my classes cancelled) I was not happy to go to the airport. But I made it and to my joy, my flight got delay 4-5 hours. I arrived in Gorontalo at the exact time the ferry was leaving for Togeans, taken it will take me 40 minutes to get there to the ferry, I quit and sat in the floor. An Indonesian lady obviously saw my frustrated face and asked me what was wrong. After I told her my story she kindly offered me her house for the night. I would have accepted, but I was waiting on my friend Rachel who also had her flight delayed after a long day traveling from Bontang.  So in a matter of half an hour, it was Melina and Rachel stranded with nothing or no one to see in the Gorontalo airport. We took a taxi to Jolie’s school, which kindly rejected our entrance until I almost decided to break in without caring what they said.

Next morning we left for Manado on the sweet 12 hour car ride. I really enjoy long car rides, but under the condition that I can have my windows down. This is often a problem when you drive with Indonesia people, not sure why but most hate having their windows open, even if it bloody hot inside. Everyone, except the driver has a hate for nice cool wind blowing in their face, or at least for some wind to simply refresh an enclosed car. So I knew I was in for a long horrible ride when the only seats available were windowless seats. Whenever I get blessed to sit next to a window, someone from the back of the car sticks her hand to close it. I was planning to use this technique to open the window from the person in front of me, but as expected as soon as I opened it, he would close it.

After our long ride back home, we decided to make the best of our time in North Sulawesi, so the next day we headed to the village of Batu Putih, where the Tangkoko Park is found, home to many endemic and endangered creatures. This visit really exposed me to the beauty of my region and to sweetness of the local people. I was out in a very poor village taken around by little kids, offered food, rides and smiles from local people who can barely afford a pair of shoes. My religion and my ability to speak english were no longer important. I made great friends there, all in the age range of 5-15 and I promised them I would come back, despite the long 3 hours tedious journey.  And I did, on May 15 I went back to drop off presents and cloths for “my kids” then again I promised them I would return the following year, I hope they can remember me and call me by my name as soon as they see my face in the pick up truck, as they did last time I visited. Below sums up my activities in the area:

Got to see a flying squirrel

Fire by the beach along with stories and songs

Then we saw these little fellaws

Highly endangered animal, expected to less than a decade


I love these kids

After a two day stop in Batu Putih, we headed to Bintung and the island of Lembeh. A teacher friend from SMA Lokon and his wife took us there. This is the closes I’ve been to a nice beach in Indonesia:

In the end things worked out for us after missing he Togeans trip. Though here and there we always had to change plans and dear with wasting time and money thanks to inefficiency of transportation and some people’s failure to comply to schedules. But oh well there’s too much beauty in one place for us to quickly cheer up.

Oh also this week marked “Holy Week”… extending my vacation even more, letting me and some other friends go visit such things as:

Ladies and Gent, the Biggest Trumpet in the World

Important Day Food: Dog, Snake, Bats and some Pork and Chicken

My favorire Lake: Danau Linau

WORDS for my Vision 4 Indonesia

Words Competition

The Words competition is an annually held competition for students in our High Schools to use English and prepare creative presentations. The English Teacher Assistants and AMINEF work together to arrange the competition.

ETAs are responsible for holding competitions at the local level in their respective schools to select a student winner to come to Jakarta for the WORDS National Competition. This year students had to respond to the question: what is my generation’s vision for Indonesia?

The competition was the highlight of my time in SMK St. Familia. On Monday April 4, we had the local school competition and 12 students participated for the grand prize to go to Jakarta from May 6-8.  My students level of dedication and ability to articulate their thoughts so well in English really surprised me. I was honestly terrified no one would show up for the competition, but instead had the opportunity to see my students at their best, performing: speeches, songs, poems and dramatization. Thank you SMK students for your efforts and making me proud!

SMK St. Familia Participants

Christine Payong won the local competition with her speech and song titled: The Spirit of BHINEKA TUNGGAL IKA in Uniting Indonesia. Christine excellent pronunciation and ability to memorize the speech in a day made her a winner. Runner up was Desire and Angle. Desire wrote a beautiful song about corruption and Angel a great speech about “Go Green!” The three of them live in the dormitories thus it clearly pays off to live under the watch of nuns who make you do tons of house chores and prohibit you from using phones, internet and facebook.

Christine Payong speech, which highlights Indonesia’s lack of unity and poor treatment of different people, enforces Indonesians need to love more their nation and to work to make it better for the future. She used a glass cup and a hammer to symbolize how the nation is broken because the hammer (criminals, corrupted people, terrorists) are breaking the nation apart.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must look into our similarities, not our differences. If we look into the similarities there will be more unity, and with unity we hope there is no more corruption, cruelty nor negative actions. Our country can be a world power, more than Europe or America. Why not?

We are rich in natural resources like oil and gold, and we have beautiful nature and a wonderful underwater world.  I am proud of my country Indonesia, and we all should be proud of being Indonesian. Let us move on forward together, united. To build a better Indonesia for the tomorrow.”

She closed her speech with a song that went something like this:

Song: Story of Indonesia

This is a story of a wonderful country

Which became fragmented

And broken everywhere

Now this country crying

Waiting miracles for Indonesia

Like the leaves in garden

Are falling down to the land

This is Indonesia

Broken because of cruelty

Waiting for freedom

To be a peaceful country

With blessings for everyone


I love Indonesia,

We love Indonesia

Why you are crying?

And hurt by cruelty?

Where is your Unity?

Unity of Indonesia

Please stop cruelty

Because you are a blessing!

This is a Story of Wonderful Country!

After a month of practice and breaking some glasses we made it to Jakarta to compete at the National WORDS Competition along with 42 other students from all over the nation.

Christine and Me at words

The Competition in Jakarta was AMAZING!! So many talented students and creative presentations shock all the ETAs at @america museum where the even took place May 7, 2011.  Three winners had to be selected and all I can say is they totally deserve it. The winner told a fantastic story about the need to care and value more family. Her story was so well read and acted out that it made us laugh and cry at the same time. Another winner did an amazing drawing that talked about the vision for Indonesia, through the eyes of a leader:







Christine did an excellent job to, if wordpress let me, I could upload the video, but for now you can check out all the performances at: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/14538427

There’s also an article on Jakarta Post about it: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2011/05/10/students-express-themselves-words.html

42 Students from all over Indonesia

Lastly, in addition to the competition, we had a great time doing other activities like:

Meeting Indonesian singer and super star Agnes Monica:

"Modern Kebaya" Fashion


I suck at Bowling, confirmed for the #107 time

Going to MONAS:

The Must See in Jakarta, not sure why...

The Road between 2 Faiths


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