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.

Let There Be Rain

I cannot begin to truly explain to you all what this past week has been like. I can’t accurately describe the range of emotions I experience on a nigh daily basis. I will do my best, but know that anything I write here will be a pale comparison to the experience itself.

We spent the remainder of last week at the resort in spoiled style. We had a total of 4 days of language class (approximately 3-4 hours a day) to grossly under-prepare us for what was to come. I did spend those few days studying as best I could, but there’s only so much that can fit in this little mind at once. The numbers messed me up so badly I had to write them on their designated fingers. No. No, I am not too proud to admit that.

6 though 10 in Indonesian

6 though 10 in Indonesian

We begin with a relatively uneventful trip to Malang from Surabaya. It was a morning hotter than the unmentionable bits of Hell but the bus was air conditioned (the last bit of commodity I will have for some time). We arrived at the University Muhammadiyah Malang (UMM) in the early morning for a quick chat before we left for our villages in groups of 5 or 6. We piled our things into one car, ourselves into another and, with the help of our trusty Cultural Liaison (CL, a local who has offered to babysit the crazy Americans), we were delivered like little white packages into what would be our new homes one by one. I was the last to be wrapped and handed to my new family. Ary (our CL) came in to the house with me to initiate introductions and make sure someone would walk me to school in the morning. That’s right folks, you heard me right, I have a babysitter named Ary who communicated with my Ibu (female head of house/mother) to make sure I get to school on time. This is really happening.

So, here I am. The last one in the car. Sitting. Waiting. By myself. Watching Ary make sure it’s the right house and return to retrieve me. I am dropped into the midst of a sea of people that rivals even my own family reunions. But in Indonesian. I can understand nothing. Before I know it, Ary rises to leave me alone with these strangers in a strange house and a strange language.

This is the point at which I have my first “Oh, sweet Jesus. What am I doing with my life? Why am I here?” moment.

I regret nothing. Let me make that perfectly clear. This is freaking amazing. I am so happy I made this choice. My Ibu Mistin is one of the sweetest women I have ever met. Nanek (grandmother) Cami has been hugging me since I got here. There are at least 6 children running around peeking and giggling at any given time. I am hot and sticky and I have to shower with a bucket and seemingly ice old water but, oddly, I don’t mind.

I spent the rest of the evening in a distant haze of body language and stilted Indonesian. I was able to discern that there was some sort of party happening that very night and I was expected to wash and get ready to go. (Now imagine getting all of that information without any sort of spoken language. Yeah, exactly.) I shortly discovered that my family and that of a fellow volunteer were related when he and his host parents showed up on my doorstep ready to drive us to the party. They let us sit together and talk awkwardly as they giggled in the corner before shooing us out the door to show off their new American toys to all of their friends.

The wedding itself (I found out after I got there that someone was married. Alan’s Indonesian is really much better than mine. Thank goodness one of us understood something.) was quite uneventful. We went, we sat, we ate. We ate some more. We were told we didn’t eat enough so they fed us again after which we went to our respective homes.

As I reclined for my first evening in my mosquito net protected bed in a stifling heat I took a long, hard look at the series of choices that led me to that place. The overall conclusion of night number one? I am exhausted, I am overwhelmed, and I am way in over my head. I couldn’t ask for anything better than this.

My 6 year old Study Buddy.

My 6 year old Study Buddy.

The days got progressively easier as my Indonesian improved and I began to fall into a routine. I have a daily language lesson followed by either self-directed learning or TEFL training. This usually takes me from 07:30 to about 16:00 at which point I head home to be stuffed like a foreign pig. The first real Indonesian I learned on my own was “Tidak, terimah kasih. Saya sudah kenyang.” which translates to “No, thank you. I am already full.” or, more likely “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME EAT ANYTHING EVER AGAIN” in the most polite way possible.

Over the last five days I have really grown to adore my Ibu Mistin. She is one of the kindest, sweetest, gentlest, and most patient people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She is beyond what I could hope for from a host mother. She sits with me and makes sure I eat (which can be odd, but sweet), she sounds out words for me and helps me to study, she packs my lunch in a small adorable tupperware and asks me what’s wrong if I don’t eat enough. My Indonesian is sky rocketing (still not good, but I can have elementary conversations with people and understand a great deal) and I have a gaggle of adorable children wherever I go to help make sure I’m never bored.

We are starting to really get into the technical training which is exactly what I need right now. It helps to be reminded I’m here to be more than just a side show. I’m here to help and teach and work. I’m so excited to continue to works and to observe classes next week. I’m excited for my Indonesian to improve. I’m excited to get to my permanent site. I really think I got the luck of the draw coming to such a beautiful, open, and loving culture.