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.

The Race Card

This is my card. Ok. It's not a race card, per se, but I'm gonna go ahead and say it's a card I should not ignore.

This is my card. Ok. It’s not a race card, per se, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it’s a card I should not ignore.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s sometimes difficult to pin down a specific place to claim when someone asks me, “Where are you from?” Here, the answer is simple: America. In America, however, the answer can vary greatly depending upon my needs and the situation. I spent the first 16 years of my life in North Carolina, which would, in most people’s minds, make me a solid shoe-in for a southerner. I then moved to California where I finished high school and spent the next 10 years calling it home while generally renouncing the South. Not just any years, mind you, but the years I feel like molded me into the woman I am and pushed me onto the path along which I currently gad. I decided that this makes me mostly Californian. Pretty much my entire family is from Massachusetts. I have Okie blood and Oregon blood too, but the family reunions are in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Almost all of my sporting allegiance, and most of my heart is wrapped up in New England, so that makes me part New Englander too, if you ask me. All of this circuitous talk about identifying the self is leading up to the fact that I’ve lived in a variety of places and been surrounded by a plethora of people. I was raised in a very liberal and openminded house. We were taught never to judge someone based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or color of their skin. The rule was to always get to know a person before you hate them. Or, in my case as an adult, hate everyone the same regardless of superficial features until they convince you to like them.

Growing up in the south meant I was constantly surrounded by a pretty diverse rainbow of skin tones. I saw race, we all do, but as a white girl it never mattered to me. I was friends with people regardless of race or ethnicity, but I also never understood what it was like to be anything other than white. I still don’t, obviously, being the lily white lady that I am. It’s very unlikely I will be judged based on my skin color alone in that way; it’s never something I really had to think about.

And then I moved here.

This lovely lady is demonstrating the whiteness of the whitest of breads, much like my skin.

This lovely lady is demonstrating the whiteness of the whitest of breads, much like my skin.

There is very little racial diversity on this island. Combine that with the 350 years of colonial imperialism from the Dutch and you have this western-worshipping mindset that makes a white girl stand out in a crowd. Or a rice paddy. Or a corner store.

After living here for a year I have become very cognizant of my own skin: the color, the texture, the various levels of tan. Every piece of my skin that is exposed (which usually isn’t all that much) draws my mind in some way now because I know it’s different. I know people stare at me for no other reason than because of the skin I was born with. People yell after me, they approach me, try to talk to me, to get my attention because of some tiny genetic marker that slated me for paler than paper.

I never considered myself an overly private person before I moved to this country. I am great at parties, a good leader, generally pretty charismatic and outgoing, but it turns out I’m quite the introvert. I do well in large groups for a limited time and then must regroup by myself in order to recharge the ol’ batteries. It would also seem I don’t much care to be the center of a lot of attention. I suppose there’s a reason I gave up acting so long ago. I don’t like to be stared at and watched. The only place I am not stared at, pointed at, yelled after, or otherwise accosted is at home, in my room. Generally the attention is positive. It’s people who are excited to see a bule and just want to say hello. They don’t really have negative associations with my skin color except to place me on a scale that is even further from a real person. Generally, women are objectified, no matter what country you’re in. Here, being a white woman makes me even more of an object: a pretty porcelain doll that couldn’t possibly adhere to the same rules that apply to everyone else.

I still don’t understand what it must be like for other races in America. I can’t fathom being discriminated against for my race, especially since I’ve only been identified as an ‘other’ in circumstances where it gives me a general advantage, but I feel like I now have a vague understanding of how much I truly do not understand. For the first time in my life I have had moments where all I wanted to do was disappear and scrub the white out of my skin just to have a moment of peace, and it breaks my heart to imagine there are people who may have felt like that their whole lives.

So I tell my kids they’re beautiful. All of them. I talk about how, in America, a lot of people really like to be dark or tan. I tell them that I love their noses and their dark hair and brown eyes. I tell them they are perfect just the way they are. And I’m not lying. These people are generous and kind, they do not have the unnatural suspicion with which I was raised, they smile and make friends for no reason at all. And not one part of that has the slightest bit to do with the color of their skin or the way they look.

I try to find the perspective on days when I want to disappear. I try to remember that many of them have never seen someone with blue eyes in person, whereas I grew up around a veritable rainbow of eyes, hair, and skin. When I try to remember all of that, I find that I so thoroughly cannot relate and decide to again embrace what my left foot says, “Know Thyself.” Know that you know nothing and that there are some things you may never be able to understand. I will never be able to relate to the clamor to say hello or the shock when they see my eyes, but as long as I retain the ability to remember the perspective and appreciate the difference, I have hope that I won’t lose my mind. Everyone has a story and I just have to remember theirs.

Look at this beautiful rainbow, courtesy of a National Geographic project. Every one of those kids is perfect.

Look at this beautiful rainbow, courtesy of a National Geographic project. Every one of those kids is perfect.

A New Found Patriot

I’ve never identified myself as a particularly patriotic person. I look at politicians as mostly blood-sucking liars, a large number of our policies make me want to gag, I grew up in an era of George W Bush when I was embarrassed of my president, I don’t like fireworks or the fourth of July, and I often lied when abroad and said I was Canadian. Our PR as an American stereotype is less than ideal.

When I think about people who are overly proud to be American, the first thing that comes to mind is a group of overgrown beard-having, camo-overall wearing, backwater hillbillies waving a confederate flag around while playing the banjo as their hunting rifles rest on their knees. I understand that this is a stereotype, and is probably somewhat colored by the fact that I spent most of my childhood in the south. I’m not proud of it, but I am, at least, self aware. But even now, when searching for a good American flag image to post, I find them mostly plastered on websites about ‘taking back our country from the aliens’ and urls like ‘lawersgunsmoneyamerica.’ C’mon, guys…

Of course, I still always knew my country was something at least a little special. I said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in elementary school, I knew people who had worked their damnedest to get into the country (legally or otherwise), and I knew that the heart of our origins was based, at least somewhat, in something good. But I was taught to train a more critical eye on myself and, therefore, my country. Most people look at our forefathers with this reverence and awe; I look at them as faulted men who achieved historically significant tasks. Most people find our history rich and thriving; I look at how many we slaughtered to get here and question the washing of our history books.

Now I have left my home country and traveled to one of the furthest places I can get on this planet, both in geographic distance and cultural experience. Because of this, I look at my country through very different eyes. I have, in large part, Indonesians themselves to thank for this.

You can't look at these adorable children and not swoon at least a little.

You can’t look at these adorable children and not swoon at least a little.

I was recently called upon to judge various competitions: A singing contest for kindergarten and elementary schools, and an English Speech Competition for local elementary schools. The speakers at the latter were asked to memorize one of a number of pre-written monologues covering a variety of topics. About a third of the 50 students chose one called Our Country, Indonesia. It discussed the pride of being Indonesian, of being free, and embracing the diverse cultures that compose this nation. My little singers were asked to choose two of a few songs to sing solo in front of their adjudicators and peers. 95% of them began with a piece proclaiming their national pride. The most popular of said songs is called “Aku Anak Indonesia” (“I am an Indonesian child”) and the lyrics are as follows (with my less than poetic translation):


I am an Indonesian child, a child who is free
I have one homeland, one nation, one language


Indonesia, Indonesia
I am proud to be an Indonesian child


Founded on the equator, my land is Indonesia
A thousand islands, diverse peoples, one body and soul


Indonesia, Indonesia
I’m proud to be an Indonesian child.
Indonesia, Indonesia
I’m proud to be an Indonesian child.


I am an Indonesian child, a child who is free
I have one homeland, one nation, one language


Indonesia, Indonesia
I’m proud to be an Indonesian child.
I’m proud to be an Indonesian child.

Freedom. Sing it, little dude.

Freedom. Sing it, little dude.

Now, I’m in no way fluent yet, but these kids were singing this song for hours. Eventually I started to pick out words and phrases I understood. They each marched proudly to the front of the stage and held their fists in the air while positively oozing this patriotism and pride. I’ve never seen anything like it in America. Sure, we have our patriotic moments; we pledge allegiance to the flag in elementary school, take off our hats for the national anthem, and we even blow things up on the fourth of July, but there was a sparkle in these children’s eyes that can’t be matched by the recitation of rote words to a flag.

Indonesia is still a new nation; they finally earned their independence from 350 years of Dutch colonialism (as well as a few other invaders in the void left by the Dutch) in 1945. Lemme say it again, ya’ll, 194-freaking-5. That was only 68 years ago; a paltry 2 and a half generations. There are possibly people alive today who remember what it was like in the struggle for Indonesian independence. Now contrast that to our own American independence which took place some 237 years ago. We are 8 generations removed from the struggle for freedom and the pride that comes with such victory. Children here boast loudly that they are Indonesian and they are free while I grew up taking this fact very much for granted. Of course I was free, that’s how it’s supposed to be, right? I could maybe even be president one day, as long as we can get in gear for a female in charge. You know, in Indonesia’s six presidents, the fifth was a woman. They’ve already got us beat there. Before Obama, our biggest variation of the previous 43 presidents was electing a Catholic, JFK. Good job, America, good job.

The students and teachers gather after successfully running an English Speech Competition.

The students and teachers gather after successfully running an English Speech Competition.

So I look at these bright, proud little faces and I have to reevaluate what I was born into. America is a land of religious freedom. We have more social equality than most (but we’ve still got a long way to go.) And, for the first time in my life, I’m genuinely, unabashedly, proud to be an American. This isn’t to say I agree with all Americans or all policies (looking at you, Arizona…), but I can finally take a step back and approve of the label as a whole. People often assume I’m Canadian because there is a small group of Canadians in a nearby village and, for the first time, I am quick to correct them. “I’m not Canadian, sir/ma’am, I’m American.” I want to wear shirts with Obama’s face on them and American flags printed all over it, I want little American Flag accessories and red, white, and blue stationary, I want to yell from the rooftops that I come from the land of opportunity.

US and Indonesia.

US and Indonesia.

I also want to hold up the hand of every Indonesian child and yell with them that they are free. I want to join in on the Independence Day parades and march in celebration of “Merdeka” (Freedom). I want to applaud them for their growth as a nation and encourage them never to give up. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) was the first president to be elected by direct election in 2004. The next election will be held in a few short months and I’m so excited I get to see it. I’m excited to encourage everyone to vote and to strive for their ideal. I’m excited to live in Indonesia not only for the respect I gain for this country, but the perspective it gives me on my own.

So, hi. My name is Margaux. I’m proud to be an American and I’m so proud to live in Indonesia.

Merdeka, folks. Freedom.

Even Alice Needs Jiminy Cricket Sometimes

Being in Indonesia can be fun and strange. Being in Indonesia at 26 can also be fun and strange. Being 26 anywhere can be fun and strange. Before I get much further let me try and preempt some of your inevitable groans. I know 26 is not old. I am completely aware that I have a long, full life ahead of me that is just beginning to get really good.

That said, Facebook has a nasty habit of showing me exactly where all of my friends are in their lives. And, golly, am I at a different place than some. I grew up with these people, I went to classes with them, I got into a lot of trouble with some of them. Now I see them having babies, getting married or, heaven forbid, BOTH!

This is my happy face. I swear.

This is my happy face. I swear.

This was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose I was just hoping for later. There are points in our lives when we are faced with these invisible walls built of the expectations of others that remind us of our own mortality. It all gathers together and makes a girl, who is already in a vulnerable place, feel very far behind the curve. I always used to joke that I wouldn’t feel old until my friends started having babies on purpose. Well, the time of ultrasound photos, engagement shots, and happy wedding portraits is here. Congratulatory messages aplenty and, though mine will never be the voice of dissent, inside I feel a little like the ugly duckling wandering lost, in search of a place where I belong.

In the darkness of night, in those awful moments before I manage to fall asleep, I sit there and wonder if I’ve done something wrong with my life. If maybe I took a left when I should’ve taken a right and now I’m irreparably lost in the woods with no hope of finding even the Beast’s castle. The pictures of happy families and newly weds and honeymoons dance in front of my face like a scene from some bad 50’s horror flick. Being in Indonesia can exacerbate the problem; this is a land of marriage and babies and cooking. It’s hard to say I have peers because almost all of the women my age are married with children. We can talk about school or teaching or food or the weather but then they have to return to their role as mother and wife while I go home to watch Doctor Who. There is a constant bombardment of inquiries as to why I don’t have a boyfriend, why I’m not married, and discussions of how to make me a good wife. Ultimately, what do you say when someone asks you why you don’t have a partner? Because in America I was too busy to meet people? Because I met people and didn’t like them? Because I have a nasty habit of wanting the unattainable? (Like Ryan Gosling. Or Batman. Or John Krasinski. Or my Classics professor from University.) Because I find human relationships exceedingly complicated and I don’t understand how emotions work? Yeah, have fun with any of those.

Wise words from Mr. Carroll.

Wise words from Mr. Carroll.

But then there’s this little voice. A tiny Jiminy Cricket sitting quietly in the dark recesses of my mind struggling to be heard over the rushing ambush of hormones and fear. He whispers urgently that I did take a different path. I gad along my own road, pausing for wonderful, ridiculous dance solos in the spotlight of the few people I invite along for the ride. No, I’m not engaged or even dating, I don’t have a baby on the way, or a mortgage, or a stable career with a real salary. What I do have is a story. I have a beautiful mess of a life. I have wonderful friends all over the world and a family that loves me more than I can measure. I have support and affection and strength. I have experiences few know of and fewer can imagine and each of them make me the strong, resilient, wonderful woman I am today. Every new chapter adds a depth of character that has boundless potential. I am not the woman that I will be when I die and I am not the girl of yesterday. I have so much more to learn and see and understand. I am grateful for every bump in the road because it has led me here. To Indonesia. To the Peace Corps. And for every day I’m here I make a myriad of new discoveries about myself. As my left foot says (as well as the Temple of Delphi… and Socrates…), “Know Thyself.” And as the story goes, know that you know nothing so that you can strive to learn ever more.

This is my magical secret path in the forest. It is quiet and it is mine.

This is my magical secret path in the forest. It is quiet and it is mine.

Almost all of my of cousins my age have babies and families. People I went to high school and college with are now popping out kids like it’s a hobby. The amount of weddings I’ll miss while in Indonesia is starting to make me nauseated. And then I have the friends that inspire me. This isn’t to say that babies and marriage isn’t something to aspire to or to be inspired by, but it’s something I can’t control. It’s something that will happen or it won’t. I will find a partner or I won’t, but in the meantime I like to think making myself even more awesome is a pretty good pastime. So I see my friends my age or older starting businesses, running theatre companies, traveling the world, making a difference and I think to myself, “If I end up like that or if that’s what I look like from the outside right now, I’m doing alright. Hell, better than alright.”

So, to all of my peers on the family track I say to you a genuine and warm congratulations. May your years be plentiful and filled with laughter. May your smiles grow deeper and your worries grow lighter. I really mean it, from the very bottom of my cold, dark heart. One day I hope to have a family and ultrasound pictures and cheesy engagement photo shoots just like you all.

To my peers who are sexy and single and living it up I say, Rock On! Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone on this path. Thank you for being my date to the weddings and the baby showers. Thank you for shining so brightly as you blaze the trail so that I don’t lose footing on my own.

A Vacation Worth Fighting For, Conclusion

I know I took some 90's kids back with this one.

I know I took some 90’s kids back with this one.

Of course we made it to the island safely. Don’t be dumb. I wouldn’t be writing this if we hadn’t. Unless I was ghost writing. Literally, not figuratively. Like that awesome show from the 90’s.

Anyways. I slept through most of the second half of the boat ride from Hell so I didn’t revisit my Pop Mie. That was a reunion no one wanted to see.

I popped my head up at one point and saw in the far distance the shape of the island beginning to appear on the horizon. I can only imagine how welcome a site that would be if you had been at sea for weeks or months. Those old sailors get so many kudos from this girl because I was elated to see land again after only 6 or 7 hours.

Karimunjawa literally means “a stone’s throw from Jawa” in the local dialect of Javanese. It’s a small archipelago which consists of about 27 islands and it’s 80 km (50 miles) from Jepara.

Since we had hitched a ride with a supply boat we were deposited onto the local harbor, not the tourist entrance. We slowly recovered our land legs, paid the man, and began a brief exploration of the island to find another homestay. Our biggest goal is always cost, obviously, so when our original place was booked and the next asked for $20 per room, we high tailed it to the furthest homestay possible. Matt took a trip down a side street and found a kind Ibu (Vocab: female head of house) willing to let us stay in two rooms for the two nights we were in town. There was no A/C, but we’re Peace Corps volunteers. We don’t need no stinking cool air! So we thought.

Look at that moon! And the water! And the mountain! Agh!

Look at that moon! And the water! And the mountain! Agh!

Matt and Brie took us to a little cove near this massive hotel about 30 minutes’ walk away from our homestay to begin our paradise vacation. It had a stellar view, a private beach (aptly named Nirvana Beach), and an adorable vibe. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t afford it even when I had a real job, but it was nice to pretend for a minute.

On the way back from our imaginary life we came across a half abandoned shack with advertisements of snorkeling and boat rentals. After poking around for a moment a shirtless man came running out of the house to greet us. We spoke with him for a while and haggled the price until he ultimately agreed to rent us a boat for the entirety of the next day with snorkeling gear and a guide.

We finished up the night with the cutest dinner at the alun alun (Vocab: sort of like a town square) where the boys picked their own freshly caught fish and I feasted on Mie Goreng (sort of like Chow Mein, it’s a fried noodle dish) and some tempe. (don’t judge me) We grabbed our food from one of the many street vendors and sat on a tarp to watch the people gather while the cats and ducks scavenged for anything they could steal. After we ate our fill we returned to our modest accommodations and proceeded to find out none of us would sleep a wink in the heat. The boys spread out on the couches in the living room and the tile floors to try and escape the heat while Brie and I left the door open and slept facing the fan as she occasionally spritzed us with water to cool off. Needless to say, when 6a rolled around we were all ready to get out of that house. I should probably mention that Karimunjawa doesn’t have electricity during the day. That’s right, folks. This quaint and darling little island has just enough electricity to power the villages for the evening hours. So, with a half charged phone and no plans of using it we set out for the harbor!

Tut tut, looks like rain.

Tut tut, looks like rain.

We bought lunch to bring with us at a local warung (Vocab: small, local eatery) for ourselves as well as the guide and the guy driving the boat (Sailor? Pilot? Boat driving guy?), as is custom in these ventures, and set sail for Pulau Cendikian. (Literally translated from Javanese to mean the Island of the Wise. No idea what the story is there, I’ll have to get it next time.) Because this is the trip of ridiculous travel, as we set sail what do we see in the distance? Nothing other than pouring rain from a dark cloud. The guide asked us if we minded going through the rain. He assured us that once we got to the island it would be clear again. At this point, we were ready for anything. Onward!

While the view ahead of us was less than comforting, looking back on the island as we sailed away was one of the most peaceful and beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The mountains loomed over the bluest waters I could imagine. It was all covered in vibrant greens and lined with brilliant white sandy beaches. It couldn’t possibly get any better than this…

Looking away from the rain to find the picture of paradise.

Looking away from the rain to find the picture of paradise.

We passed through the storm, as promised, unharmed and barely phased. The trip to Pulau Cendikian took about 45 minutes. Our guide kept assuring us that the island would be nigh deserted because most tourists don’t like to travel that far. On our way out we passed several smaller islands, some deserted and others with small huts. They all looked cute but our guide was taking us to the prime snorkeling location.

You could see straight to the bottom from the side of the boat!

You could see straight to the bottom from the side of the boat!

For those of you who know me even a little well or read my blog on Bali, you’ll know I have a completely understandable fear 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.) HOWEVER, I was determined to go snorkeling even if it killed me!

We geared up and everyone jumped off the boat. Matt had brought some waterproof pouches for our phones so we could try to take pictures underwater. We were both a little too chicken to test those out at first so I stayed onboard to take pictures of folks jumping in the water. And maybe also because I was about to get in water with living creatures. Like, ones that were close and that I could see.

After the initial shock of being in natural water in which I could not touch the bottom wore off, I really rather enjoyed myself. The guide was right, this was the most amazing coral I had ever seen. The colors were vibrant and it was teeming with life. I discovered my new favorite color in this deep, royal purple fish that swam by. Brie found a giant sea urchin looking creature with what looked like tentacles. When we showed our guide he immediately made it very clear if we touched it we would die. I saw more fish in more colors than I knew existed in every shape, size, and variety. We stayed in the water for an hour or more, the whole time I was buzzing around singing “A Whole New World” in my head, completely awestruck by the beauty below.

Brie in her natural habitat.

Brie in her natural habitat.

Eventually we decided to head in to shore. Jel, our guide, showed us the only safe route to the beach and we followed him in (navigating carefully through a gate made of trees planted firmly amongst the coral) while the boat made its way closer to our location. We are a perpetually nomadic group of wanderers so, of course, we began walking. Next thing I know I look up to see Brie parked in the middle of this vast expanse of sand bar peaking above crystal clear water. It’s like a scene from a movie. We all laid out in the water (which later proved to be a poor life choice for my skin) and relaxed as the waves lapped over us.

We had our lunch on the boat and continued to our next destination. We snorkeled in another spot that proved fun but not quite as amazing as the first. Although, I did get to see Sea Anemone filled with little families of clown fish right on the great abyss. No wonder Marlin was so afraid of it. The sea is filled with the bustle of life and then this drop into nothingness. It’s freaky. We got out to walk around this island too, but at this point I had come to realize my extra strength sunscreen was not invincible. In other words, I was burned to a bright red crisp. It hurt to move and every second the sun touched my skin I was in pain. I stopped about half way around the island to retreat to a shady spot and wait for the others to finish their trek.

Our outlines while standing on a beach with no island against a sun setting on paradise.

Our outlines while standing on a beach with no island against a sun setting on paradise.

We were promised a beautiful sunset, so Jel led us to a sandbar in the middle of the ocean. You heard me right, we parked the boat (weighed anchor? Don’t judge me. I don’t do boat terminology!) and hopped right out into the shallows. He called it “the beach with no island.” We played around there for a while, relaxing in the water and watching the sun set slowly into one of the many islands nearby.

We polished off the night with another fresh picked fish meal (and tempe) on the alun alun and returned to our sweltering establishments. Of course, most of us were also sunburned this time so the previous misery was ten fold.

We woke up early and decided to come full circle by spending our final morning on Nirvana Beach. The boys played soccer with a found ball and palm trees for a goal; Brie reclined in the water; I hid in the shade; and Matt floated here and there, hiding from sunlight and putting his chair in the water. On the way to the boat we realized we would need some sort of lunch so we stopped at a local eatery to take some food to go. It was about then we realized we were running late and the boat was about to leave without us. We shook ourselves from our paradise-induced coma of calm and rushed the poor warung women into a frenzy as Brie ran ahead to hold the boat.

T stayed behind with Alex to finish paying the bill while Matt and I hustled to catch up to Brie. We were running along with our full luggage on our backs when suddenly I remembered I have asthma. And that I had forgotten my inhaler at home. So, that put an immediate end to running for me and Matt carried my things onto the boat. We got there and remembered it’s Indonesia (rubber time!) which meant we could have strolled at a leisurely pace and been just fine. Silly Americans.

The speed boat took a mere 5 hours to get us to Semarang, to the place that sort of began it all. We bargained forever to get a reasonable rate on a taxi and finally found our way to the bus terminal to head to Surabaya (see number 7 below).

I'm talking about a looooota places. Here's a play by play!

I’m talking about a looooota places. Here’s a play by play!

This would be known as the closest thing to beat the bus ride to Jepara. As I may have mentioned a few times, we’re a cheap bunch of volunteers. We get paid an average of $2 a day. We cut corners, skimp on necessities, and bargain like mad. This is not always the brightest of ideas. We opted out of the Air Conditioned nice bus for the jam packed alternative. It was supposed to be a direct night bus, but little did we know we had signed up for something more akin to the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. At one point I looked up from my puddle of sweat to realize we were driving on the wrong side of the road. Apparently the traffic was so bad on the left that the driver had decided to pass as many trucks as he could by driving on the shoulder of the right side of the road. In case the traffic from hell and the driver from HP wasn’t enough, some time around 2a I was awoken by a loud bang, smoke streaming from the back of the bus, and an exploded lightbulb crashing down a few seats ahead of me. It would seem that all the intense driving and the insane heat caused the bus to overheat which in turn started a small engine fire and shorted the lights. You know, no big deal. I have never seen a group of Indonesians move as quickly as they did to get off that bus. Maybe it says something about us that we were all the last off the bus, dazed, half asleep, and wide eyed. Of course as we were disembarking in pitch blackness (remember, the lights exploded), T slipped on the stairs and cut his finger open. Good ol’ momma bear me rushed back onto the bus (there was significantly less smoke now) to grab my travel first aid kit and wash his wound road side. I stood there trying my best not to be ungodly amounts of angry while telling myself that asking questions would help no one. We had to wait a mere 20 minutes or so until the driver decided it was time to make it happen. He, along with a group of passengers, pushed the bus until it started up again. Everyone rushed to climb aboard and we were back on our way. Seems legit?

Just wasting time with friends. What could be better?

Just wasting time with friends. What could be better?

We finally arrived at the bus terminal in Surabaya at 4a, awoke some poor taxi driver from his slumber, and found our way to our hotel. Lest something be easy, we arrived to find all of our rooms had been changed and that Brie wasn’t even on the list. After 10 minutes or so of trying to communicate with the front desk guy, who started calling around to our friends to ask them questions… at 4a… I was ready to flip a table. Instead of doing so (It’s culturally inappropriate to lose your temper here. Also, there were no free tables around.) I told Brie to grab her stuff and sleep in my bed that night. Luckily, I had been texting my roomie all night and knew which room I was in. Upon arriving to this conclusion we left to the boys to their own devices and promptly passed out sharing a twin bed.

The next week is a blur of training sessions and amazing food. The first night I was there for dinner I passed on the provided Indonesian food in favor of a local Indian place. It was followed by Italian, American, and junk food over the subsequent nights. There was a Starbucks at the nearby mall that I make no pretenses about being unabashedly happy to see. I walked in, got a Vanilla Latte and a piece of chocolate mousse cake! That may sound like your average American morning, but it’s such a rare treat here. I was aghast at paying 60.000 Rupiah ($6) for the package. I could feed my whole family for a week for that much money in the desa! Matt, T, and I even led a successful quest for McDonald’s breakfast one day. I’m not ashamed to say I loved every greasy bite of it.

It was absolutely amazing to see everyone in one place again after three months without them. Our group is so big, it’s hard to get everyone together; even in Bali there were people missing. It’s amazing how sometimes it’s enough just to be surrounded by like-minded people who love you. We didn’t even need to go out every night, we were content to gather in someone’s hotel room and play games, watch movies, or just talk.

Me and my friends made our own costumes! Meet Thor, Wonder Woman, and (of course) Batman!

Me and my friends made our own costumes! Meet Thor, Wonder Woman, and (of course) Batman!

We threw a Halloween party that included most of the ID7s and some of our predecessors, the ID6s. I don’t think I’ve ever explained the numbers before. See, each group in country gets a number. We are the 7th group to be in Indonesia. This is a little misleading, however, since the first three groups were in 1963-5. The new program started up again in 2010 with ID4. ID7 is, therefore, the fourth group in country since PC Indonesia was reopened. You get to be wicked close to your group but it’s always fun to intermingle. I love any opportunity to see the 6’s! So, we had a blast at our Halloween mixer. I made my very own Batman costume (obviously), the inspiration for which is a costume an elementary school kid would make. I think I was successful. The only downside to this lovely shindig is when I pulled one of my epic Margaux Moments. I was B-lining toward the door on a mission when I tripped on a tiny, camouflaged stair and went sprawling. I landed on another stair that decided my kneecap should really be more acquainted with my shin bone. I spent much of the rest of the party sitting with my leg elevated. Those of us who live in West Java were supposed to be on a train to Purwakarta (see number 8 on the map) the next morning at 6a. I called the doctor who very much insisted this would not be happening for me. Needless to say, I was more than a little unhappy about this turn of events.

Epic Margaux Moment

Epic Margaux Moment

The doctor demanded I have X-Rays after examining my baseball sized knee. She was worried about a possible fracture to the kneecap, which would quite unfortunate. I agreed to head in, I let her wrap up the knee, and I even kept it elevated with an ice pack. Much more than I’ve done for a wound in a long time! Usually I’m of the opinion that you should be able to walk everything off, damn the consequences, but a busted knee gives even me pause.

I spent the next three days relegated to my hotel room, occasionally crutching my way around for food or Starbucks but otherwise enjoying some relaxing time in my A/C filled hotel room. As far as consequences go, this wasn’t half bad.

Finally, the doctor read the X-Rays and cleared me to head home saying there was no fracture and that I should heal just fine. There might be some straining of the ligaments but nothing too bad or too permanent. Peace Corps then booked me a plane (A PLANE!) to Bandung (which reduced my travel time from 12 hours to 1.5) where a driver picked me up and drove me to Purwakarta.

I spent a mere two days there finishing up my training with my Indonesian teacher counterpart (CP) after which a group of us headed back to Bandung. Four volunteers needed to go to the hospital for varying reasons. It seems IST (In Service Training) was hard on all of us. I followed along with a few others to have a nice last few meals and as a sort of cool-down from all the fun.

Returning to site was not the easiest thing I’ve done since coming to Indonesia. While I do love it here, it can be hard to be plunged back into village life after coming from three weeks of being, well, normal. It’s like living in the desa is living in a dream. You’re different and it always shows. People always look at you as an outsider, an ‘other’. Then you come to the big cities and you see a bunch of your close friends and the PC staff. No one points or yells or calls to you. You don’t have to eat rice with every meal. You wake up to what feels like real life from the dream of the desa and then you fall asleep again. You drift back into this other world.

Dressed for a parade, my students make it all worth it.

Dressed for a parade, my students make it all worth it.

As hard as that may be, when I walked into my first class to a chorus of excited shouts from my students I was so happy to be back. Every class has told me how much they missed me while I was gone. Every student squeals and comes to greet me. They’re such a wonderful group of kids and they make every second here worthwhile.

And so I leave you with this excerpt from a song from Mulan (which I may have changed a word for…):

For a long time we’ve been
Marching off to battle
In our thundering herd
We feel a lot like cattle
Like the pounding beat
Our aching feet aren’t
easy to ignore
Hey, think of instead
A vacation worth fighting for!!!!!!!!

A Vacation Worth Fighting For, Part One

This is the story of how I died.

Ok, maybe not. Maybe I just wanted a little Doctor Who reference. This is the story of how I almost died? It doesn’t have the same ring to it. And it’s still blatant hyperbole.

Bu Dewi and her adorable daughter!

Bu Dewi and her adorable daughter!

Anyhow. I left site what seems like a million years ago. Indonesia is famous (infamous…?) for its “rubber time” or “flexible time” or “no such thing as time” attitude. For a recovering Stage Manager this can be a bit, well, trying. It is, however, a great exercise in patience and learning to be a little less of a hardass. My plans for leaving site were, therefore,  flexible and fluid. When one of my best friends at site (the awesome music teacher, Bu Dewi) asked if I wanted to accompany her to Bandung to visit with her family for the holiday Eid al-Adha I embraced my new found sense of ‘go-with-the-flow’ and accepted her kind invitation. I was already planning to head up to Bandung later in the week and I love her and her family so I was more than happy to push up my departure from Wednesday to Sunday.

Mid skinning a goat with a sheep up next.

Mid skinning a goat with a sheep up next.

So. Eid al-Adha is a Muslim holiday during which a goat, cow, or other livestock is sacrificed in a town square or public location. It is meant to represent the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his only son. From there the skinning, butchering, and distribution of the meat varies. In line with most things about this amazing culture, it’s a very inclusive and giving tradition. (Don’t be a judger-bunny. We kill animals too, we’re generally just too squeamish to do it for a good reason or in public.) Some people give a great deal of the meat away to those in need, others share with all their friends and family. Once you get past the blood it’s really a lovely holiday. I actually missed most of the local slaughters since we were shopping and driving around most of the time I was with her family. It wasn’t until I got to Matt’s site in Gebang that I saw them skinning a goat up close and personal.

I started in Bandung (see number 1 below) and spent a few days with Bu Dewi’s adorable family. From my village to Bandung is about a 7 hour drive. A few days later, I hopped a train to Cirebon (see number two) (the closest large town near Matt and Brie) which took me another 4-5 hours. I spent a day with Brie and toured around Matt’s site and then we all headed to Semarang (see number three) on a bus together to grab a ferry to paradise.

I'm talking about a looooota places. Here's a play by play!

I’m talking about a looooota places. Here’s a play by play!

But this is Indonesia in the Peace Corps. Nothing is ever that simple. We hadn’t been on the bus for more than an hour when Brie got a text message from the man who runs the ferries out of Semerang saying that the waves were too high and that the ferries were, therefore, cancelled until further notice. The three of us spent a few moments in utter despair until we collectively realized we would not be defeated so easily. With Brie’s master skills of travel and planning, Matt’s incessantly positive attitude, and my language we called everyone and their mother about getting transport to Karimunjawa. We were pushing the latter half of the afternoon and the people with whom we needed to speak were slowly packing up for the day and turning off their phones. In order to get to Karimunjawa you have two options for ports, Semerang or Jepara. We decided we would meet up with T (our friend headed in from East Java) in Semerang as planned, pick up Alex (our other friend headed in from the West) at 4a and then immediately head to Jepara, a town an hour or more east of Semerang (see number 4).

Look at that 5 star hotel!

Look at that 5 star hotel!

In true Peace Corps/backpacking style, we found the cheapest and scariest motel to rest our bags. I say bags because we, being the brilliant and invincible young people we are, decided to stay up all night playing cards, eating, and enjoying general merriment. We figured if Alex was getting in at 4a what was the point of sleeping anyhow? Not to mention we were fairly certain our motel doubled as either a brothel or a place for axe murderers.

After what should have been an expected delay of Alex’s train of nearly an hour and a half (rubber time) we found a mini-bus to take us to Jepara. We would later look back on this bus ride as one of the worst since coming to Indonesia. I say one of the worst because, as we would later confirm, it can always get worse. It was hot, over-crowded, bumpy, and we all had too much luggage with zero sleep. After our fantastic ride we were deposited in the middle of nowhere Jepara. We had very few plans or ideas of what we were doing next. The main plan had been to get there; we hadn’t gotten much farther than that. The first order of business was to find a local homestay that had room for us for one night. We found a lovely house with a nice family willing to give us an air-conditioned room with two mattresses. When I say a room with two mattresses I should probably specify that there was enough room for two mattresses. On the floor. And nothing else. There was a small ledge near the far wall for a few bags and then the space for the door to open (which also led to the tiny mandi).

Coral is quite painful. In case you were wondering.

Coral is quite painful. In case you were wondering.

After getting situated in our new digs, we decided to hunt down the ferry office and beg for tickets. Beg we did. Or, beg Brie and Matt did. To no avail. They came back empty handed and with heavy hearts. We wondered aimlessly for a bit until Brie, the master of travel, busted out her Lonely Planet – Indonesia and found us a nearby island to play on. We headed to Pulau Pendek (I believe that was the name. It means Short Island) to get our beach on. We walked around the entire island looking for the white sandy beaches promised in Brie’s Lonely Planet only to find tiny swaths of water covered in coral. In addition to a moderate amount of disappointment due to the surroundings, the man with the boat said our time there had to be brief because he was worried about the waves. It was at about this point I wanted to raise my fist to the sky and damn Poseidon in all of his stormy, angry glory. But I definitely did not. If the Odyssey has taught me nothing else, it’s taught me to keep my mouth shut with that guy.

After we returned from our small journey and ate dinner at a local warung, (Vocab: a small eatery) we parked ourselves on the harbor to watch the sun set. It was about this time a small miracle happened. Along came a group of European tourists Matt and Brie had met whilst begging for tickets that very morning. Their Indonesian friend let us know that he had managed to get 1 extra ticket on the normal ferry leaving the next day as well as enough seats for all of us on a local fisherman’s boat leaving the next morning at 6a. We passed on the ticket for the ferry in favor of all of us traveling together on the fisherman’s boat. We had all but given up, with conversations of splitting the group to go to Solo, or to stay in Jepara, or to continue on to Surabaya when along came this wonderful man with his miraculous gifts.

With a renewed sense of vigor and glee, we headed back to our homestay, played some cards, and then piled all five of us into our tiny, two mattress room where we woke at random intervals, as excited as children before Christmas.

Eggs and Kripik and Goats, Oh my!

Eggs and Kripik and Goats, Oh my!

Then there was the boat ride. Mom, you may want to go ahead and skip to the next entry. We had a hasty breakfast of Pop Mie (Indonesian Cup-a-Noodles) and walked over to the dock where we met our ship to find them still piling on all of the supplies. It was a regularly scheduled trip for our fisherman friend to Karimunjawa to bring a boat packed full of everything from boxes of dried food to two live goats. We found two of our European pals and our miraculous Indonesian friend on the dock. After much waiting (remember, rubber time) we piled on to the boat and began our voyage.

Over the next hour or so we began to push things aside in order to make enough room for all of us. They cleared off the top of the cabin and covered it with a tarp so that four or five of us could sit up there. I have never been on a boat for this long and certainly never this far from shore. I looked out at one point, maybe three hours into the trip, only to find there was no land to be seen anywhere. There was nothing but pristine water in all directions. Some of you may know this is a huge bucket list item I just accomplished.

Now, before I continue I’d like to introduce you all to a short poem by one of my favorite poets, Ms. Emily Dickinson.

Nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see...

Nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see…

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.

This is maybe a little darker and harsher than my intent, but it sets it up nicely. We worked so hard to get to this island. We planned and the plans failed. We nearly gave up. We sweat, almost cried, we travelled all over the place. And then we got onto this boat.

I want to take this time to remind you that the regular ferry refused to go because the waves were too high. This may have been a wise decision on their part. Somewhere in the middle of the 8 hour journey we were all convinced we were never going to make it home alive. The waves started to really pick up but it wasn’t until one particularly intense wave when we realized how serious this was. Matt was leaning back, stretching his arms behind him, when suddenly they were in the water. Those of us on top of the cabin braced ourselves on the small railing and the captain ordered us all to the right hand side of the boat (port? stern?) in order to counteract the sway of the waves. As Matt later told me, it was when the woman who had lived on Karimunjawa her whole life started crying that he knew this was no normal trip.

To be continued!

Will they survive the trip? What happened to the boat! Did the goats make it out alive?? Tune in next week (or sooner) for the next installment of A Vacation Worth Fighting For!