Before I get on with how absolutely wonderful my Bali vacation was I would like to begin with some real life. This is a bit of a doozy of an entry as far as length is concerned. I contemplated making it a two-parter but it seemed like more work than I cared to exert so I warn you in advance.
I have come to realize that I may have painted roses with no thorns in this blog about my life here as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Let us call a spade a spade.
Peace Corps claims to be the hardest job you will ever love. This may very well be correct. I have so much fun here. Living in a village is such a treat for so many reasons. You learn about yourself. You learn what you can stand. You learn where your personal lines are. Yes, I will shower with a bucket but no, I still will not eat meat. What is important to you? Is it important enough to fight for? What things do you look back on about your life in America and gasp in wonder? Either because it sounds so good or because you can’t imagine ever needing that sort of thing. So, there is a great deal of good and insight to be had. But it comes at a price.
The things that I find the hardest are not what one would expect. Most of my American friends think it would be the bucket baths or the squatty potty, but you kind of get used to those. Granted, I still get really frakking excited whenever I get a warm shower and toilet paper, not gonna lie.
I left my family in America. This has been harder for me than I anticipated. I am making new family here in Indonesia, but there are some people you just can’t help but miss with every bone in your body. This may seem an obvious point to most people, but it snuck up on me.
I have a wicked hard time with what’s referred to as Listening Fatigue. This is what happens when you spend an extended period of time speaking in and listening to a foreign language (usually one in which you are not fluent) and your brain reaches its threshold for stimulus in that language. There are some days where, at the end of the day, I can’t understand the most basic sentence in Indonesian anymore because I’ve been speaking it all day. It absolutely kills the mind. I have to put myself in a time out in my room until the batteries reset and I am able to handle more language.
I can’t tell you how many times people have told me I will never find a husband or I won’t be a good wife because I can’t cook or can’t sew or can’t clean. Our little secret, I can do any and all of those things. My ability or lack thereof will in no way, however, determine my suitability as a mate. This takes us back to a two way street of cultural exchange, where I get to explain to them in America sometimes the man stays at home with the kids. Often both parents cook and clean. It’s a simple matter of keeping the conversation open, which is the whole reason I’m here. But after a full class load of sweet but loud students, a little tickle in your throat promising to turn into a wicked cold you don’t have time for, and eating rice for the umpteenth day in a row, having that conversation again seems nigh impossible.
You are constantly noticed and scrutinized here. When I say that, I don’t mean that people are picking on me 24/7, I mean that I am the only white person who lives in my village. So much so, that when the Canadians moved in a few villages away I heard about it in my village. Anyone different makes a big splash in my area. While people are getting a little more used to seeing a white face around town, most still haven’t met me, so I often get bombarded with children chasing my bike; people of all ages staring and often calling out “Bule bule bule”, screaming for me to come to them, or yelling “Hello Mister”; and a steady stream of people asking to take their pictures with me. These are all relatively small, if irksome, things to go through and one would think a volunteer would more easily disregard these things. Well, we do. And then it doesn’t stop. After weeks of teaching long days in a constant state of vaguely sleep deprived heat exhaustion the ‘Misters’ and the questions and the chasing children can wear away at you. I have always been a bit of an introvert naturally. This doesn’t mean I’m not personable, it just means that I like to deal with humans in moderation. I recharge my batteries alone and I like to slide under the radar when possible. That isn’t always an option here. On my good days I have the patience and strength to smile and nod my way through the strenuous or the tiresome aspect of being the center of everyone’s attention, but they aren’t all good days. Some days I am tired and I am hot and I just want to sit in my shorts in front of my fan without children yelling for me outside my window. I don’t get to pick the days and I don’t get to change them. I have learned a little more about myself and what I need to be happy. I know when it’s time for me to go to hibernate.
The cultural differences are always manageable but not always easily so. On top of that we are constantly fighting against an educational curriculum that, let’s be honest, needs improvement. We teach Genre Based English at the government run SMA (high school), which is something that even native English speakers have a hard time with. The teachers are often fantastic, but the curriculum fights against us. You have to find ways to work on grammar and vocabulary while teaching them the difference between Narrative and Recount text. It would be too much for most American students.
So, when I say I earned my vacation, I promise you, I mean it. I am so lucky to be in Indonesia and I am so lucky to love my site. I really do think my school is fantastic. When I first came to school we already had an English Club in place that was so official they had their own t-shirts! That said, being around people who make me feel so refreshingly and wonderfully normal is a vacation in and of itself.
We’ve been planning on Bali for about three months now, since before we got to permanent site. I bought my plane ticket before I met my principal. We weren’t allowed to travel without our family or principal for the first three months at site and we all knew we would want to spend some quality time together after that.
Those of us in the Barat Pack (aka. The 19 of us who live in West Java) that were going met up a day early in Bandung to get the vacation started right. Also, and slightly more importantly, because we didn’t want to miss our plane. We navigated the airport just fine after leaving the hostel and flew out without a hitch. After a whopping 1.5 hour flight and a 1 hour time change we arrived in Bali. We lost no time in rushing to our beautiful series of villas tucked away off the main strip.
We were in Kuta, Bali which is at the southern tip of the island. It’s where most of the tourists end up and it is certainly a one time visit, as I generally prefer a location a little less crowded. Our accommodations were absolutely perfect. There was a walkway leading up to a series of small houses with one or two rooms each and a patio. We occupied at least 4 to 5 of these and each house had from 5 to 7 people. Peace Corps paycheck means you BARGAIN.
Walking down the main strip (Jl. Legian) is a bit of an overwhelming nightmare at times. People pop out of alleys to try and sell you things at exorbitant rates while saying things like “Hello, darling,” and “You are so beautiful, come over here.” I went to try and buy a pair of sunglasses after I lost mine and the guy started the bargaining process at 80.000 Rupiah! That’s $8 for you American folk, and while that may not seem like a lot to you, it’s outrageous to me! I won’t spend that kind of money, least of all on knock off sunglasses, especially when I could buy an entire meal and a half for that. So I got him down to the same thing I pay in my village, 25.000 Rupiah ($2.50). Way more my speed. This is how every shopping exchange went. They would start in English, I would counter in Indonesian, and then I would win.
I swear to Batman I could have gone to Bali for the food alone. I did not eat rice one single day while I was there. Not ONCE. It was splendid. We had some (less than authentic) Mexican food, ah-freaking-mazing Italian food, fake Indian food, and even some American food sprinkled in there. I know it doesn’t sound that exciting to those of you living in a country where the world caters to your foodie desires, but I was in pig heaven. (Except not really, because it’s one of the few places in Indonesia where you are allowed to eat pig.)
Part of the schedule of events while visiting Bali was to stage a faux-wedding for two of our volunteers. They are close friends and have had countless inquiries as to their marital status. (See the above discussion about marriage) They decided to say they were marrying each other. We all later decided the charade would be too much to hold up and that lying wasn’t the way to go, but who doesn’t love a fake wedding on a beach in Bali? I mean, really. There was a bride and groom given away by our teary-eyed Peace Corps ID7 mom and dad (Inge and Joe). There was a Maid of Honor, a Best Man, a Flower Girl, a Ring Bearer, and even our own sort-of Priest!
We had a wonderful time dancing and visiting and loving life. I went snorkeling for the first time in my life. Well, no, that’s a lie. I went snorkeling for the first time in my adult life since I’ve developed an overbearing fear of swimming in natural water due to the inexorable existence of Lake Monsters. (Lake Monsters defined as anything remotely creepy that lives in a lake, pond, puddle, river, ocean, sea, sound, inlet, etc… It usually has tentacles and can often kill and eat you, but not always.) I survived the whole hour! Nothing even tried to eat me! Just the little fish that ate the bread I tossed in! It helped that the water was so clear I could see all the way to the bottom. It really was breathtaking.
We took a trip to see a little bit of culture on our weekend of binging on foods I can’t find on my island. We went to the Hindu temple at Uluwatu. That’s the the trip I have no pictures of my own to show you because I spent the entire day blissfully phone and camera free. It was almost like I was living my life instead of recording it. The magic can’t be rivaled, I really suggest you all spend at least one day of every vacation like that. The temple was gorgeous and way older than America and it sits on this cliff face more beautiful than any I’ve ever seen. And I lived on cliffs. There were plenty of monkeys there and, in true Dr. Dolittle style, I befriended a few. I had to draw the line when they crawled atop my head. Call me crazy, but a girl has to have her boundaries.
We ogled over the scenery there for a short while and then continued on to a nearly secluded beach deep in a cliff face away from most American tourists. It looked like a paradise in a picture. The water was a deep blue with a hundred yards of tide pools before the waves crashed onto white coral sands. I spent the day tide pooling and sitting in the water. Not doing anything, just sitting belly button deep in the water. Because I could. And it was clear, so I knew there were no Lake Monsters.
I needed this vacation. I needed to see my friends. I needed to be the very craziest parts of me. I needed to relax. I needed to be free. And then, after four days in Bali, I needed to come home. Alan and I started our journey home the morning after getting into Bandung on a night flight. We met up with some of his teachers once we got about half way home and they drove us the rest of the way after we got some food. I’m a little uneasy saying it, but I was so excited to eat Sundanese food again. I gobbled up the rice and the Fried Tempe and the Perkadel and all the rest like I was starving. When I saw my host family I was so happy, there was squealing and hugging and hours of talking. Just like my time here has made me better appreciate the things I love most about America, my time away from site makes me all the happier to be back, to see my kids, to go to school, to talk to my community, and to do my job.