Indo the wild, wild west

It happened. I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. I took an oath in front of the US Ambassador and shook his hand as he gave me a pin to prove I said the words of all federal employees.

Check out our KILLER PC Pins. And those faces.

Check out our KILLER PC Pins. And those faces.

We met, we smiled, we sang the Indonesian national anthem, we shook hands and took pictures, some of us are in the papers, we hugged and said goodbye, and that was that. Like most ceremonies. Some of us went out afterward for an adult beverage which was nice but I had to get home to pack and spend my last night with host family numero uno. Now, they are something I did not account for. They are overwhelming with affection and kindness and caring. I couldn’t cough without someone asking how I was and I couldn’t be on the phone without someone wanting to say hi. It was suffocating. And I miss them. I did not expect to nearly cry as I left their house for the last time. As I high fived Miss Noreen for the last time. I know these are things that should have occurred to me, but they didn’t. So, I miss them. They were good and patient and kind. I do hope to visit them if given the opportunity to help with training next year. Even if the mandi water is freezing.

A last photo with Ibu, Nenek, Sam (the PCV who lived with this family last year), and some of us ID-7s.

A last photo with Ibu, Nenek, Sam (the PCV who lived with this family last year), and some of us ID-7s.

After a prolonged goodbye, we got on a train Tuesday at around Noon. 16 hours later we arrived in Bandung. Lemme say that again. SIXTEEN hours. On a train. I would really love never to do that again. Somehow I think that’s not a very likely hope, but a girl can dream. It was fun, though. All 20 of us were seated together so we, of course, played train mafia and other fun and ridiculous games. We got to Bandung at around 4a and everyone shuffled out in a dazed and exhausted stupor akin to a bad zombie movie whilst carrying all of our wordly possessions. We crossed the street and promptly passed out in our hotel. We were lovingly awoken at 11a to come down and meet our principals/vice principals/counter parts/whoever decided to show up from our school. You heard me right, folks. We traveled 16 hours, didn’t really sleep, and then got dressed up to meet our future employers. Woot. We were thrilled.

Luckily for me, my counterpart (Pak Dayat) is one of the nicest people on the planet. He is so excited to have me here and he made that very clear. Publicly. We had three wonderful nights in the hotel with warm showers and a wealth of restaurants nearby. We found Indian Food and Pizza Hut. It was a cultural oasis. The few of us who needed to stay a third night had a grand time having a girls’ night. We did facials while some of us got a massage and we watched a chick flick whilst doing our nails. It certainly wasn’t an accurate depiction of what life would be like at site but it was a lovely way to celebrate our last night in a city.

Alan, the only man to be invited to girls' night.

Alan, the only man to be invited to girls’ night.

Alan (the only male in girls’ night) and I are neighbors. I mean, for the Peace Corps, you can’t get much closer than he and I are. It’s apparently about 30 minutes to an hour by bike. Because of this fun little fact we were able to hitch a ride together to site as his Vice Principle and my Counterpart had ridden together. So, we buckled up (figuratively, not literally, as there were no seat belts in the back seat) and settled in for our 6 (ish?) hour ride to site.

It was really quite beautiful. We passed countless rice patties littered with farmers and palm trees. Alan dubbed one particularly green expanse The Shire of Indonesia. As we were passing through the windy roads of Gunung Gelap (Dark Mountain) we drove into clouds and I thought I was home again. With the exception of a few odd trees I could have been on Hwy 17 going to Santa Cruz.

I swear, we drove into a cloud.

I swear, we drove into a cloud.

We arrived at my house first. I was reminded of a time that seems both years ago and yesterday. I thought about when I was delivered to my family in Batu. I couldn’t speak a word of real Indonesian, I was nearly quivering like a leaf, there were tons of people there to receive me. I wasn’t quaking this time and I can speak quite a bit of Indonesian now. My Ibu was out when I arrived with no one in the house but her family that had been visiting from Bandung. It was a peculiar way to arrive, but no matter. I found my room, explored the house, and settled in to unpack. There are some major stores nearby as well as a little collection of local shops. My house is very quiet and there’s a well in the back that looks like a small child covered in black hair may crawl out at any moment. I am making a ton of friends with local children and teachers. My school seems really fantastic if somewhat huge. My desa is darling and the beach is beautiful and close. When I buy a bike I should be able to get there fairly quickly.

The boys and I enjoying the beach at sunset.

The boys and I enjoying the beach at sunset.

It’s amazing how much you really get used to given enough time and resilience. When I first came to Indonesia I was constantly worried about the heat and the squatty potty and the mandis. Now it’s just the heat; the other two are a normal daily occurrence. There is always a measure of resolve you don’t know you have until you’re in the middle of using it, some measure of resilience you didn’t know you had until you refuse to stumble. There are, of course, new challenges in a new village. New sources of excitement, new people, new family, new language, new life. I told my mother something once that she recently quoted back to me (god, I hate having myself quoted at myself): It takes you 6 months to stop feeling uncomfortable in a new place and a year to be comfortable. Alright, so maybe she didn’t remember the exact quote but I’ll give her props for trying. Trust me on that, though. I’ve moved a lot. In a month I will know people and feel a little more secure. Two, and I’ll have a friend or two. Six, I’ll feel like I’ve been here forever. At one year I’ll be able to shake things up. It’s a process; it’s slow and it can be tedious, but it’s necessary. It’s why I’m here for two years and not on some 6 month program. I want to really help. Lasting, effective, sustainable change. So buckle down, saddle up, batten down the hatches, and any other silly clichés you can think of, because we’re in for quite a ride.

Here she goes again.

I swear in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer in under 10 days. I leave for my permanent site in about as many. I leave my soft, sweet little bubble of friends and rambunctious bule (white folks).

All the folks at Coban Rondo

All the folks at Coban Rondo

Preparing to come to the Peace Corps is vaguely akin to a sick joke, full of dramatic irony. Everyone watching from the other side knows that no matter how much you try, you’ll never prepare enough or in the right way. You’ll never be able to pack the right things or spend enough time with the right people or say goodbye in the right way. You’ll never be prepared for a new climate and new people and a new language. You’ll try because, well, what other choice do you really have. You have to try. Try I did. I prepared myself for the heat as best I knew how. I packed what I thought would be appropriate. I spent as much time as I could with the people I love. I said goodbye in the only way I knew how. I mentally and emotionally amped up my steely resolve to be completely alone for a long time. Maybe not two years, but at least until I learned the language and made friends in my excessively slow fashion. And then PST happened.

Let’s all just take a moment to chuckle at me about this one. I had prepared myself to be alone for an undetermined amount of time and then I was thrown into the mix with 49 other like-minded, insane individuals. You know that person in your group of friends, that one person who’s a little off in some way? Maybe a little kooky or idealistic. Maybe they are brilliant in a way you don’t expect or awkward in a way that’s endearing. It’s just one person you can’t quite place in one box and you love them all the more for it. Imagine being that kind of person your whole life; now imagine being thrown into a room full of 49 other people just like that. It’s freaking magical.

Eat the cracker with no hands!!

Eat the cracker with no hands!!

Next week we say goodbye. Again. We try to get ready for the unknown again. There’s not even anyone on the other side to giggle at our futile efforts. Our sites are all individual and new. Those 20 of us going to West Java are in for a whole new level of what-the-hell. There are only three Peace Corps Volunteers that have been there before us, all of whom moved there after living in East Java for two years. So, we prepare again. We put all of our belongings back into bags and firm up for a teary goodbye and get on a train.

Until then we are spending as much time together as possible. My host family is in a perpetual state of dismay and concern over my whereabouts. Both because I come home at ungodly hours (7pm and 8pm!) and because I can’t seem to stop falling. I blame the rain, mainly, but we all know it’s also just a trait I possess. We have been back to Coban Rondo for a fun picnic with the entire trainee population which was promptly rained out after playing traditional Indonesian Independence Day games. We head to McDonald’s and Pizza Hut while we still can, we grab a beer on the roof when we’re feeling overwhelmed and have a dance party. I’ve already booked my plane ticket to Bali for late September when we are allowed travel. I’ll be vacationing with a large group of fellow volunteers and we plan to recline on beautiful sandy white beaches with crystal clear water and adorable bungalows. I can get through absolutely anything with that picture in my mind.