Creative Destruction

This is Felix. See that bag, there? It's full of tricks.

This is Felix. See that bag, there? It’s full of tricks.

I have a great many marketable skills at my disposal. I’m a good electrician, I can cook pretty well, I can sing on key, and I go big. Alright, so maybe that last isn’t really marketable, but my point is that I have developed a bag of tricks, so to speak. I keep adding to the bag as I get older, and now is no exception.

I have become quite gifted at the art of burning things down when I have decided it’s time to build something new. Well, folks, the time is nigh.

I’m coming home.

I’ve known for a while that this was an eventuality I was wrestling towards. It has honestly been one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I’ve come at it from places of guilt, of anger, of determination, and now of pride. It has slowly come to my attention over the last few months that I have not been happy here. Not just an inkling of displeasure but a genuine discomfort. Rule one is that if you are not happy you are the only person who can act to rectify that situation. So, I did. I acted. I changed the way I went to class, I added activities with local youth outside of school, I altered my workout regimen, I went through and systematically sorted through to try and squash this bug. But it didn’t die. I would leave my house in the morning and dread the ride to school. I would try and let off steam but the catcalls and comments would make me boil over. I was having arguments in my head before they could even became a reality. And finally the only thing I could see left to change was my environs.

No, but really. How could you not love this place?

No, but really. How could you not love this place?

I must take this moment to make it perfectly clear that I do, despite its quarks and irksome details, love Indonesia. I love it like the super annoying kid sibling that kicks you and laughs at your pain. Sometimes I want to strangle it, but even in those moments I have this deep and pure love for this country and its peoples. I have, generally, never been so completely welcomed by a group of complete strangers. My host mother took me into her home and treated me like her own child. My two best friends at school led me by the arm and made me feel included and welcome. My students grew to respect and love me as a mentor and teacher.

Despite all these wonderful and inspiring parts of my service, there is a darker side. I’m a big fan of lists and order. In any decision process you can generally pin me down and have me admit I made a pro/con list. I even broke up with a boy that way. And now, it seems, this list has come back to solve another relationship riddled with irreconcilable differences. There are a myriad things on the pros side of my list. As I mentioned, my students, my host family, my sheer will and pride, etc. However, on the cons side there were a few things and then this glaring singularity. It was this seemingly infinitely small thing but it was infinitely dense and could not be overcome. I no longer felt that the benefits outweighed the unwanted attention and outright sexual harassment to which I was being exposed.

Many of you may not know about this part. I’ve hinted at certain instances here and there but I try to keep it light in the blogosphere. This is not light. This is the heaviest of singularities. New universe, status. Peace Corps Indonesia is still considered an ‘adolescent’ program. We are no longer shiny and new with extra money at our disposal, but we’re still not a mature program with clean procedures and lines in place. To their credit, the staff have been working tirelessly to put these procedures in motion, however, one must consider the constant turnover in American staff (there are only ever three in country and they are required to change every 5 years or so) and the green nature of the program and, consequently, its local staff. We are only 5 years old. You can’t grow a program specific to a country in 5 years. You can have a damn good start, but it’s not a lego set with pre-printed instructions. It’s an ikea bookshelf with extra dowels leftover and directions in Swedish. So, with each group they listen to our feedback. They ask us questions and try to mold the program accordingly. Each individual’s needs will, of course, be different, and so unfortunately there is a requirement that they cater to the masses. In short: they’re trying to figure it out. Everything they learned from my experience will be applied to future groups and, indeed, already has been in some cases. I was able to help facilitate an open forum for communication about unwanted attention and sexual harassment in further trainings. They reached out to me and other volunteers to assist them in creating new sessions to ensure the continuation of important information to the volunteers to keep them safer and healthier. We are taking steps to arm every volunteer with the tools they will need to deal with the inevitabilities of these wretched events.

But that wasn’t enough to keep me here. Someone put it to my nerdy self in terms of physics. An object in motion requires very little energy to keep it in motion. It requires a great expenditure of energy, however, to stop an object already in motion. The easiest course might have been to continue my service and see it through to its terminus. The cons of such an action, however, were heavier than the pros, though the latter list was bursting. It was no longer a question of could I complete my service, but should I. And maybe that voice screaming at me to suck it up and carry on was coming from a place of hubris and folly.

My wonderful Ibu Haji Esin. I couldn't have done it without her.

My wonderful Ibu Haji Esin. I couldn’t have done it without her.

So. I made a tough call. I spent the last week in a living hell. I said goodbye to sobbing students and cried along with them as they told me how much I had changed their lives. I hugged my Ibu for the last time (for the foreseeable future) today. That woman who stood with me through everything and yelled at people on my behalf. I am leaving friends that I will keep for my lifetime to fend for themselves. I’m leaving my new home behind. This is not easy. But I’ve never been afraid of the tough choices before, and I certainly will not stand down now.

Expectations’ End

This is absolutely what I expected.

This is absolutely what I expected.

When you go in for the initial interview with the recruitment officer for the Peace Corps they ask you a ton of personal questions you don’t expect. They also give you some quick little tips and tricks about Peace Corps. The biggest thing they try to hammer home is not to bring any expectations to the table. Of course, at this point, you’ve already broken that rule by walking into the interview expecting it to be like a normal job interview. I took the advice as best I could and I thought, “Good, I’m all set. I have zero expectations! I’ve got this!” But expectations are not a thing you just cut out of your system. Humans, by nature, seek patterns and demand categorization. We expect. Once we got into Pre-Service Training (PST) they continued to harp on the concept of leaving all expectations behind. This isn’t the service you think you’re going to have.

Before I knew anything else about Peace Corps I expected it was an agency that sent people to remote places to dig ditches and collect rainwater. I was so wrong. I expected the process to be efficient. So wrong. I expected to be in a tiny village living in a lean-to. So wrong. I expected not to have internet. So wrong. I expected to have a relatively easy time doing my job. So wrong. There were so many little expectations I didn’t even realize I had and, almost without fail, each has been tossed on the ground and trampled by reality.

This isn't my house, but it's close enough to reality.

This isn’t my house, but it’s close enough to reality.

I seldom feel like I’m in the Peace Corps. I live in a decently nice house, I have electricity almost all the time, the well water isn’t safe to drink but that’s ok, I have internet in my room, and I have my iPhone with a data plan. I can’t say I expected any of that. I honestly think I expected to be in a mud hut on the plains of Africa. Instead I am living on the most populous island in the world in a fairly large little town with many modern conveniences. This, of course, varies from country to country and even from village to village in Indonesia. Many of my friends have to ride some distance for internet or even to withdraw money from an ATM. Maybe they didn’t expect that either.

Now, though, is the time to parse reality from expectations. There are many things I never expected. I never expected to be so happy when I first convinced my Ibu to hug me. I never expected to love riding my bike. I never expected to want to punch people in the face for saying hi too much. I never expected to become the woman I am today.

Learn from it, bruh.

Learn from it, bruh.

As I’m sure many of you have gleaned, things can be difficult here. Street harassment and catcalls, truancy and absence at school, living and functioning in equatorial heat, sharing your room with small creatures. Instead of focusing, however, on how things should be or could be it seems important to take a step back and acknowledge this is how they are. There’s an adage from I have no idea where that says, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Things are as they are, for now at least. To steal and adapt the words of Rafiki, you either learn from it or run from it. You adapt to the situations as they are and gently set down the baggage you carried for how things are expected to go. This is not America. This is not California.

So instead of focusing on the things that can weigh me down, I choose to focus on all of the wonderfully surprising things I did not expect. I have found myself in a family here. My host mother now refers to me as “Sayang” or “Dear” because she’s adopted me as her own. I escape to a deserted beach and drink straight from fresh coconuts for fun. I have adorable kittens aplenty with which to play. My students make me happier than anything else here. On vacation I can go to Bali or, better yet, deserted islands.

It’s well past time to accept what is and cherish the little things I find here, because before I know it these 7 months will be gone and so will I.

What he said.

What he said.

No Place Like Home

These are just the book boxes. Don't carry more than one at once...

These are just the book boxes. Don’t carry more than one at once…

I’ve moved around a lot in my life. After I moved out of my parents’ house I went full nomad and by the time I headed out here I had moving down to a science. All of my belongings could fit into 6 banker’s boxes, 4 of which were full of books. My parents moved after I was already in college, so I have technically never even lived in their house. What I mean to say is, there’s no one building that I would point at and say “I grew up there.” I have memories strewn across the country like a very comforting trail of breadcrumbs. I have had my little hiding places in various houses, apartments, trailers, theatres, and rose gardens. I call Santa Cruz my home town because it feels small and comfortable and safe, but after I moved out I made San Francisco my home. I chose it. I built my life there. I made the decisions and picked out the apartments and made things happen for me. I explored the new nooks and crannies and I made it mine. That place became a part of me.

But I don’t miss it that much anymore.

When I first moved to Indonesia, I would open google maps on my computer and it would pop up immediately to San Francisco, centered on my old house. I would navigate away from that image as quickly as possible because it hurt. I would look at my little peninsula on that screen and feel a visceral pain that would grab my gut and not let go. I couldn’t tell you if it was the people or the streets or the food or what I missed most about it. Maybe it was the combination of all the those pieces which made a whole. The City has a pulse, a life, a soul. I missed everything about it and I thought to myself, “Is this what home is?”



I know everyone says that home is where the heart is, and hell, there’s a song about leaving your heart in San Francisco. There’s even a giant piece of art to commemorate said hit. But then I was sitting in bed earlier today and I realized; I can look at a map of San Francisco now. That sharp edge is gone.

With all my moving, I made a personal philosophy some time back: It takes two years to really get settled in a new place. After about six months you’ve stopped focusing on what your new location is not and have turned your attention instead onto what it is. At the end of year one you’ve stopped missing it with the all-consuming sense you once had, you’ve made some friends, and you’re really getting your feet wet. Some time in the middle of year two you make real routines and lasting connections, and understand the flow of your new surroundings. By the end of year two you’re all settled into your new place and it’s as if you were never anywhere else. For this reason I usually moved into a new apartment and neighborhood after one year. I liked to keep things fresh.

Here I am, one year five and a half months into service and, for some reason, I’m surprised that I still manage to fit into my original hypothesis. I’m not comfortable here, per se, but the part where that burning longing ebbs holds true.

The closest thing to home I'll get for now.

The closest thing to home I’ll get for now.

So, to answer my own question, I’m going to have to say: Yes. That is what home is. But a part of me used to think you could only have one home at a time. That because San Francisco was my home, Santa Cruz or my grandmother’s house could no longer be my home, but I was sorely mistaken. The rose garden in Raleigh, my parents’ house in Santa Cruz, my grandmother’s house, and the entirety of San Francisco are still my home. And when I get back I have the opportunity to make a whole new home. Life is moving forward at a million miles an hour, even in this place where time stands still, and to focus so much on what I had seems frivolous and a little foolish. I loved my life there. I learned so much. And now I am here, in Indonesia, learning more. Later I will be in LA, learning yet more. After that… who knows?

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.

Apa kabar! (What’s Up?/How are you?)

Our little resort!

Our little resort!

Well, it would seem I’m living in Indonesia now. I keep waiting for the shock to wear off and for me to realize I’m in another country about to be thrust into a myriad of new and often uncomfortable situations. But it hasn’t. I’m tucked blissfully away in a little resort hotel and, until tonight, I hadn’t travelled outside the hotel without “adult” supervision.

We got here Tuesday (I’m pretty sure) at around 9am and were all basically zombies. My prediction was correct, the last leg of the journey was, by far, the worst for me. That two and a half hour plane ride seemed like it took a small eternity. You couldn’t keep me still. We were met with a warm welcome by some of the current volunteers. In their lovely batik fabrics and colorful signs, they greeted us as we came out of the airport with shouts and general merriment. Walking out of the airport was like walking into a wall of sound, smell, and heavy heat and humidity. I walked out of that small airport and into a whole new world. (YUHP, disney reference number 8 billion, just for you.)

We took busses to the hotel and were instructed to report to the meeting room promptly. We had our first day full of introductions and details and protocol. I can’t remember a single word. I’m grateful they did it, if only to keep me awake until 7pm, at which point I fell on my face in my pillow and didn’t move again until 5:30a.


Some of us on an Angkok!
But we cheated. Normally there would be a TON of people on this tiny bus.

Wednesday and Thursday have been full of fun training adventures. We started language class Wednesday which takes up the first 3-4 hours of each day. It seems as though they are trying to see how much information they can cram into our heads at once before we break. An interesting method, I’ll let you know how it goes. After language on Wednesday we were split into three groups and mine took a field trip to the Peace Corps office. All 16 of us were piled into 3 Angkok (the public transportation busses) and shuffled off to the office. We had an opportunity to meet the staff which was followed by a Diversity training before getting to the really good stuff: girl talk. They split off the girls and the boys and we were able to sit down with three of the current volunteers to ask all of the nitty gritty questions. How do you sit on the “Squatty potty”? How do you clean up? What can I wear to bed? How do I wash my hair? I have to say, being able to sit and giggle while one of the current PCVs did a (fully clothed) demonstration of how to use a squatty potty made me feel worlds better.

At this point I was feeling a little more like a human and a little less like a zombie, so I was thrilled when they told me there would be an additional optional dance class. My step father has often enjoyed reminding me how I can’t walk from one room to the next without falling on my face and traditional Indonesian dance is no exception. I may not have fallen on my face but it certainly took me most of the hour to figure out where my feet went. What better way to reward yourself for learning something new than with a nice game a Marco Polo? You heard me folks, about 8 of us opted to regress to the days of yore in the middle of Peace Corps training to unwind for just a moment with some poolside merriment.

A fellow PCV and myself posing for a selfie!

A fellow PCV and myself posing for a selfie!

The fun continued into today as my small language group grilled our poor teacher with digressions and superfluous inquiries. As a result I can now say Saya suka Anda, tapi lebih baik kalau Anda harap tenang. Which translates to: I like you, but it would be better if you be quiet. How many of you have I said that to in the States?? Well, fear not my friends, the legacy can continue. After language we had one of the most terrifying talks yet: Malaria and Dengue Fever discussion. The self proclaimed point of this lecture and accompanying powerpoint was to scare us into taking our anti-malarial meds and to wear so much insect repellent that we sweat it back out. I’m just going to warn you all now, I will probably get Dengue Fever (aka. The bonebreaker) before I leave. I will whine and complain and tell you all about how miserable I am, but I promise to take pictures of the hideous rash that follows after the fever breaks.

As much as I have enjoyed this government funded vacation, I’m worried about what happens in the days to come. I’m currently reclined in my warm bed with my A/C blaring with a western toilet and shower down the hall. Sunday we leave Surabaya at 6am to go to Malang where we will meet our host families and begin real integration into Indonesian society for the remainder of our Pre-Service Training. I’m thrilled at the prospect, every lecture makes me more certain this is where I should be, but I’m still holding my breath, waiting for the water to get to my head. But what’s the motto? Let’s do this.

Moving All Over

I suppose it’s fitting that I host a virtual move at the same time I’m making so many physical moves. So many changes all at once, it seems only fair to bring everyone along for the ride.

With my departure looming ever closer, there’s a whole host of new emotions. I was talking to my mom recently and she asked if I was excited yet. I pulled a line from Into the Woods and said, of course, “Well, excited and scared.”


Yes. I went there. And you went with me, don’t lie.

I surely chose an interesting way to go about this whole process. T-Minus Two months out and I thought it would be a good idea to move out of the house in which I’ve lived for over two years (for those of you who don’t know me that well, two years in one place is HUGE). Ok, so it was a mutual decision caused by a rent increase. But still. After a heart breaking departure that was NOT full of tears (it was just really dusty. You know. We’d been cleaning.) I moved to Berkeley. First time I’ve been on the other side of the bay for more than a weekend. It’s a lovely place and I love the people I’m living with, but it’s not home. That, it turns out, is a very good thing. It’s the first step to growing comfortable with my discomfort. I had settled in to a nice, comfortable, standard life. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. I’m sure it’s what a lot of people really enjoy and strive for. I, on the other hand, want adventure in the great wide somewhere.

All my boxes were full of books...

All my boxes were full of books…

After a weekend of vigorously moving out (thanks to the mostly tireless help of a friend up from Santa Cruz) I successfully settled in to the new house. I had the fabulous timing to be giving notice to my boss on the Monday immediately following the move. Good plan, there, Gaux. Way to be. This was a conversation that felt like a small eternity squeezed into four hours and was received as well as can be expected. Which is to say, not awesome.

So, in all my misadventurous, serendipitous foresight, I shook my own personal snow globe just in time. Welcome to the mess. It’s an ordered chaos of my own making and you’re welcome to share it with me, if you like.

To answer the question I get the most: Am I scared? Yes. Am I excited? More and more every day.