Spades, Roses, and a Whole Lotta Bali

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.

I think this might be Bromo from the sky. The one in front seems to be smoking. Either way, gorgeous view.

I think this might be Bromo from the sky. The one in front seems to be smoking. Either way, gorgeous view.

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.

OMGOMGOMGOMG!! MEXICAN FOOD!!! Sorta...!

OMGOMGOMGOMG!! MEXICAN FOOD!!! Sorta…!

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.

Joe tears up as he and Inge give Lu away to Thai on their faux-wedding day.

Joe tears up as he and Inge give Lu away to Thai on their faux-wedding day.

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!

I seem to have a way with the monkeys. I do love that face, though. I was worried he would try and rip an earring out...

I seem to have a way with the monkeys. I do love that face, though. I was worried he would try and rip an earring out…

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.

Our private paradise. That's me and my friends on the horizon tide pooling.

Our private paradise. That’s me and my friends on the horizon tide pooling.

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.

Metamorphosis

One of my counterparts explaining the lesson in Indonesian before we dive into English.

One of my counterparts explaining the lesson in Indonesian before we dive into English.

Indonesia is different. We’ve been over this. There are a lot of things here that take getting used to when you come from America. This, in no way, makes it bad or inferior, just different. Sometimes these differences frustrate or confuse me, sometimes they make me smile. It depends on the day, as my world has been changing on a nigh daily basis over here. I’m thrilled to report, however, that I think I’m the happiest I have ever been.

I finally started teaching last week. My week goes from Tuesday to Saturday starting at 7a every day except Saturday. Much like when I was enrolled in school, I have managed to find an extracurricular for every day of the week because, free time, what?

On Tuesdays and Saturdays I have Pencak Silat (Language Note: the “C”s in Indonesian are pronounced like “ch”). I had my first class this week and I LOVED IT. Most of you who know me are probably aware that I do have a background in martial arts, so I was obviously wicked interested to learn about the nuances of this Indonesian based style. I show up after a full day of teaching to about 150-200 students waiting for the lesson to begin. I did not begin to fathom a class this size; to my pleasant surprise half or more were female. After a brief hello, Pak Tata (the coach) split the group into males and females and had us begin the class by running around campus.

Barefoot.

That’s right, folks, you heard me. I ran (well…jogged and walked quickly) around my campus barefoot to ‘strengthen my feet.’ I tried not to laugh as I recalled the days of old when my feet were akin to leather. After my face had turned bright red from running (jogging) in Indonesia, we ladies reconvened in the large school center to stretch and practice our basic fighting positions. It differs a little from the styles I’ve studied but it’s nothing extraordinarily foreign so I was able to gleefully follow the patterns of stances, kicks, breathing, and punches. I did, however, underestimate the added complication of doing this study in another language. I suppose I went in assuming it would be fine and I would just follow along with the instructor, but you depend a lot on the added vocal tips! It was a humorous process for all involved, with plenty of help from the girls around me. (Miss! Miss! Right leg!)

On Wednesdays I help with theatre club. That’s right folks, I moved across the world and I’m still doing theatre. It’s such a great group of kids to work with and the teacher is an absolute gem. We talk about the differences between Indonesian and American theatre while combining the practices into a really wonderful experience for these outstanding students. In fact, this week they will be performing a piece about transgendered issues in society. Talk about a well informed and open bunch! When Bu Diah told me about it I was absolutely amazed and thrilled to help.

The other sort of kid we have on campus. Just hanging out. Like ya do when you're a goat.

The other sort of kid we have on campus. Just hanging out. Like ya do when you’re a goat.

Thursdays are reserved for a project that has yet to begin, Study Club. It will be a smaller, more focused version of English Club in which the students get more individualized attention.

I was fortunate enough to already have an established English Club when I arrived (we have t-shirts!). This involves a room full (I mean, standing room only on a crowded muni train, FULL) of students who stay after school every Friday to play games with the crazy American English teacher. I’ve yet to perfect a game for over 60 students in one small room, but I will find a way!

Finally, we circle around to Saturday, my easy day. I don’t start class until 10a (which is basically afternoon here) and I only teach for a few hours. I then head over to the music teacher’s house to learn Sundanese songs for an hour or so. I can’t tell you how fun it is to be singing again, not to mention how much I’m learning about such a different kind of music! I had no idea they’re basic Do-Re-Mi was different than ours. This will also help me learn a little more of the local language (Sundanese) in a super fun way. Also, it makes everyone giggle, which is fun. After my music lesson I head back to Pencak Silat to get sweaty and (eventually) even spar!

Starting school was exactly what I needed. I’m exhausted and I’m happy and I’m finding my place. These kids are such an inspiration. I’ve met so many aspiring doctors, nurses, policemen (and women!), and even a few who want to be astronauts!

I think the part that keeps me smiling the biggest, though, is my name. Since I arrived in Indonesia I’ve been “Bule” or “Hello Mister”. In the past two weeks I have turned into “Hello Miss!” or Bu (the Indonesian equivalent to Mrs). My students still giggle when they see me, but now they come up and say hello (often in English!). I feel so welcomed and such a big part of a wonderful community. So, yes, Indonesia is different and that’s what makes it so special.

Ramadan is Coming … And other fun Indonesian holidays

I arrived at my permanent site June 21st. Ramadan didn’t begin until July 8th/9th so there was plenty of time to meet people, settle in, move about, and explore. Sort of.

School was still on vacation when I arrived and there were no small humans in my household. This made it particularly difficult to make friends. At my last house (and in many other situations in my life), I made friends with the small humans roaming around (you all met Noreen and Safa in previous posts). Once the locals see you are in good with the little ones, that endears you to them and you start to befriend their parents. It’s a nice little niche I’ve found for myself as a faux Mary Poppins. This doesn’t exactly work when there are no small humans. Since I also had not started teaching, my exposure to other teachers was limited. This put the kibosh on a ton of immediate teacher friends.

This is something we were sort of warned about. If perhaps less by PC officially and more by current volunteers. Be warned: Ramadan is Coming. What does that mean for us non-Muslim volunteers?

The motto of House PC Indo...

The motto of House PC Indo…

Well, we are given the option to fast or not. Most of you probably don’t actually know what fasting is in this context, as I certainly did not. It is not the lack of eating for days on end, but instead the lack of eating, drinking, smoking, and other things from Sahur (Vocab: the early morning prayer, this happens around 4:30a) to Maghrib (Vocab: the evening prayer, it happens around 6p). The no eating isn’t that much of a challenge for me. For those of you who are in theatre I think we can all recall at least one 14-15 hour work day during tech week in which we forgot to eat. I know I can. I often forget to drink water unless reminded. (I know, I’m a goldfish.) But here, 7 degrees above the equator, a day without water is a little more daunting. I would happily give up food for an extra few hours if it meant I could drink water all day. The result is staggering. I don’t really leave my house much and the bike ride to school seems arduous and daunting (a mere kilometer at most). People take a lot of naps and there’s not a lot else that’s done. Soooo, I watch movies. I sit. I read. I go to class occasionally, though not to teach. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

New question: Why do they fast? Very good question, reader! It’s important to understand the why before you jump into the do. Well, I was informed that Muslims fast during Ramadan in order to better understand the suffering of those less fortunate. How can you truly want to give to the poor if you have never felt hunger like they feel it? Seems like a legit reason, so, I figured why not ikut! (Vocab: follow) It also helps that fasting is a great way to ingratiate myself to my host family and my friends. It’s a way for me to participate and belong in a place where I am so often the outsider.

The kids were goofing off when they asked for a photo.

The kids were goofing off when they asked for a photo.

But now we’re here, in the midst of Ramadan. I’m always thirsty and my tolerance for other human beings dwindles to near-nothing. I fail to see, at present, why Peace Corps chooses to send volunteers into this environment to begin service. I don’t see a viable alternative as of yet, but trust me, I’m looking.

So, I still go to school on occasion, if only to remind myself I might be useful someday. I talk to the classes and say hi to the kids. I’ve already promised to help with English Club, Theatre Club, and to learn Pencak Silat (the local martial art) with the kids twice a week. On top of that I’ll be teaching more than I’m supposed to every week with classes I’m not really supposed to teach. It will either be really good or really bad, only time will tell. But none of this starts until mid to late August (no one really knows because schedules aren’t really a thing here).

Sit back, folks, because we will continue to wait. My blog will continue to be boring because I will likely continue to do nothing until the fasting month is over. We will all be happy to know that Ramadan is followed by what I understand to be a week-long party known as Idul Fitri. This is where most people return to their original villages and visit. There is supposed to be a great deal of parties and eating. The next week is one of the biggest holidays in Indonesia: Hari Raya or Independence Day.

I know that we have a thing for the Fourth of July in America. For those of us who aren’t the most patriotic we take a day to ignore all the things that piss us off and focus on all the good America can do. For the already bleeding red, white, and blue it’s a day to hoot and holler about how proud you are of your country. Super. We drink, we have a BBQ, we watch fireworks (or maybe burn ourselves trying to light our own), and we have a grand ol’ time. But do any of us remember a time we weren’t free? Do any of us actually trace the pride we carry to fighting for our freedom from the British? Naw. Not really, no. On the Fourth of July here the most common question I got was: How old is your country today? And you know what? I didn’t know. I had to do the math. (237 years old. I know that now.) Indonesia is 68 years old. That’s younger than my grandmother. There are people alive who were born in a Dutch occupied Indonesia. There are people whose parents remembered it. Needless to say (any more than I already have) Hari Raya is a big freaking deal and I’m kind of stoked.

Dissenting Compromise

Things are different here. That isn’t particularly surprising, it’s just a simple statement of fact. They are different here than they were in Malang. They were different in Bandung than they are here. Each place has been different. Each city a change.

I suppose before I continue rambling on about cities you’ve seldom heard of and places you’ve never seen I should provide you all with a brief lesson in Java’s geography and a little history of Indonesia (just the pertinent bits, I promise). I live on the island of Java in Indonesia. In Java there are a series of, let’s call them provinces: West Java, East Java, Central Java, and a few more I am unlikely to ever mention. Now, Indonesia was occupied by the Dutch for about 350 years. This has affected their languages, their culture, and their lives to this day. Indonesia finally gained its independence in 1945. While Indonesia was now one free country, it was still comprised of over 1700 islands with wildly different cultures and languages. For this reason, the representatives of the islands came together and decided to instate a national language and dubbed it, you guessed it, Indonesian.

Geo Lesson

Here we go, folks. There will be a quiz.

Alright, you say. Enough with the informational bit, you say. Ya, ya, ok, fine. You needed the back story to understand where I’m going with this so just calm yourself. In East Java there are primarily Javanese people. They have a very specific culture and their own language (Javanese) which is spoken at home. Children here grow up learning first their local language (generally), then Indonesian, and maybe English later (Makes you feel a little badly about your single language skills, doesn’t it, America?). I learned Indonesian in East Java, I lived with a Javanese family, I learned about their culture and values. Then I moved to West Java. West Java is composed of mostly Sundanese people. They speak, yes, Sundanese. This is not just a little switch from the South East Coast of America to the North East Coast of America, this is vaguely akin to moving from America to Canada. Probably Quebec. The people mostly look kind of the same, they can speak the language you know (if they’re young), but everything else is a whole new world. (Sing it. SING IT. You know you want to.)

Not only have I moved to a new culture, I’ve moved from a community outside of a large city to the middle of nowhere Desa-Desa land (Vocab: Desa – A small village or town). Things are different here. My community in Malang was open and somewhat modern and very liberal (comparatively speaking). Tattoos and piercings were not normal, but not bad. It was slowly understood that I am a strong and opinionated adult. It is different here. People are slow to understand and even more slow to accept certain things. I am a single woman who cannot cook. That is not ok. I’ve been told I must learn. I’ve been told I may not spend so much time in the company of men. That it’s unseemly for a woman to be so familiar with men and not women. They spend ten weeks trying to prepare me for this and I don’t know that it is possible. I don’t know that I can look Peace Corps in the face and tell them they did it wrong or poorly but I don’t think I was ready for what I found here. I come from a different culture and no matter how many cultures we are exposed to by living in a proverbial melting pot, it’s not like this. Well, it wasn’t for me.

This would be my normal state of being. Some people are not used to such things.

This would be my normal state of being. Some people are not used to such things.

What’s the moral here? Where’s the sunny side? What’s the solution? Well, we wait. School hasn’t even started yet, we’re still on their version of Summer Vacation. I’m still new in town. I’m still a crazy, eccentric, white girl from America (some Americans have trouble swallowing my eccentricities, the poor Indonesians didn’t know what they were signing up for!). I’m never going to be able to change the way they see women here but that’s not the goal. The goal is to assimilate enough that I become a member of the community, no longer a guest among strangers. The ultimate success is to assimilate without changing how I do things. Meeting in the middle and sharing ideas instead of one side triumphing over the other. This isn’t tug of war, this is a cultural exchange. For anyone who wants to join the Peace Corps, any strangers who may be reading this entry, if you take nothing else away, take that. This is a two way street. The people in my community may not always remember that but that’s when I offer a gentle reminder. It’s not just me to has to assimilate and compromise. And, while I may not be able to change everyone’s view on women or Americans, I can change a few. I can plant an idea. An idea is the most dangerous weapon in the world, yes? It starts as a small seed deep in the minds of a few and grows into something bigger than me. It will take years and it may only affect a few people but that would be the greatest success in the world. To see one of these girls grow up to become anything she wants to be.

So. Things are different. Different so often has the connotation of polite discontent or dislike. Like interesting. I don’t mean that here. I mean, denotatively, not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality. Things are here, as always, exactly what I make them. I will get out of this exactly what I put in. If I don’t like something, I need to change it on my own. Not enough space in my room? Build a shelf. Not a shelf in the mandi? Use smaller bottles. Don’t like what’s being asked of me? Explain why I’m not going to do it. When I was younger I took Hapkido, a Korean martial art. My particular brand was called Yu-Shim Hapkido, or, Bending Willow Hapkido. The willow flows and moves in the winds but its branches are strong and hard to break. You have to be flexible and move with circumstances but strong enough to stand your ground and preserve what makes you who you are. I’m not going to be the same person when I leave this place but I’m not going to change what I believe or how I act to suit anyone, save myself. It’s a tenuous line but I’ve spent my entire life being told I’m too stubborn to be afraid of anything.

Indo the wild, wild west

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

Check out our KILLER PC Pins. And those faces.

Check out our KILLER PC Pins. And those faces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I swear, we drove into a cloud.

I swear, we drove into a cloud.

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

The boys and I enjoying the beach at sunset.

The boys and I enjoying the beach at sunset.

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

Here she goes again.

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

All the folks at Coban Rondo

All the folks at Coban Rondo

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

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

Eat the cracker with no hands!!

Eat the cracker with no hands!!

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

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

What we’ve all been waiting for…

Let me first tease you all by saying: I KNOW WHERE MY PERMANENT SITE WILL BE!

Our lovely class on our final day!

Our lovely class on our final day!

And now I will treat you as I was treated and force you to wait until I’m done filling you in on the previous goings-ons to tell you where that place is.

Last week was fairly uneventful, thus the lack of blog. Although, I have to say, reconstructing the week in my brain took more effort than it should have. Last Friday we had our last language class (unless we failed our test). It was bittersweet to say goodbye to our super sweet language guru, Didit. They gave us the rest of the day to study for our LPI (Language Proficiency …Interesting? Intermediate? Inmate? Itchy? I have no idea.) test on Saturday. We, of course, used it to it’s full extend… to go see a movie in Malang. Hey, the way I look at it, if I didn’t know the language by Friday I certainly wasn’t going to learn it overnight. The time was better spent relaxing. So, in true klassy American style, we snuck in beer to Fast & Furious 6. The beer was warm and the movie was bad and I loved every minute of it all. We topped off our study session with the very epitome of American gluttony and ate at McDonald’s. Let me make it very clear that I would never frequent such an establishment in America. News flash: This is NOT America. So I enjoyed every bite of my American chicken sandwich and fries. We got lost on the way home, which seems pretty normal at this point, and managed to walk through the door at a whopping 9p. 9p in Indonesian standards may as well be the middle of the night. You have to understand, people get up here at 4/430a every day. (Thank you call to prayer.)

I went back to visit my BFF with Norin and Agis.

I went back to visit my BFF with Norin and Agis.

Saturday I suffered through the stupid LPI as gracefully as I knew how, which is to say, not very. I can speak the darn language well enough if you speak to me like a normal human. If you mumble at a pace that rivals the speed of sound, I will rip out your jugular and feed it to your mumbling remains. Ok, maybe that’s a little visceral, but now you understand my frustration. Hopefully I was able to show enough proficiency to avoid remedial classes. If not you’ll get a substantial rant at a later date.

Sunday was my hari libur (free day). I invited some folks over for Nasi Pecel at my house. Nasi Pecel is this delicious Eastern Java meal of rice (of course) covered in veggies and topped with a spicy peanut sauce. Ah-mazing. My Ibu made that and Mie Goreng (fried noodles that are roughly akin to chow mein) for the non-pecel lovers. After that deliciousness we had to get our fill of cute, so we walked over to the odd little stables near my house. Ah-dorable. I was able to feed my small horse friend and Courtney fed a baby deer. That’s right, we died a little on the inside from the amount of adorable.

Courtney feeding a baby deer. WHAT?!?!

Courtney feeding a baby deer. WHAT?!?!

Monday through Thursday was our site visit. All the new trainees get to visit current volunteers at their sites. It’s a way for us to learn how to travel on our own, ask questions of a current volunteer, and see how they live and work. There were six of us girls headed to the same general location, so we were able to travel together for a ways. 3 Angkots and 2 busses later, Katherine and I arrived in Melanie’s village. Her village is a relatively large one about 6 hours east of Malang. It was a beautiful ride, if somewhat longer than I would’ve liked.

We arrived and took a minute to warm up to one another over some delicious food from a local eatery. It quickly evolved into a fast friendship and an epic media share. I now have about 30 more movies (THANK GOODNESS!!) and, that’s right, every single new Doctor Who episode for this season. I managed to watch them all in two days. We got to visit Melanie’s school and help to play some review games. It was really a lovely time filled with fun slumber parties, girl talk, and relaxation.

I wasn’t until after I got back to my site that I realized how much I had missed it. It is amazing how quickly you learn to cling to the things that become familiar in a situation of such consistent unfamiliarity. I was so happy to see my bright green room and my familiar Mandi (even if the water here is FREEZING) and the people I have grown to appreciate.

It was the perfect build up to… dun dun DUN! Site announcements!!!!

So, we spent the day in various training sessions, none of which we paid any attention to. Finally they let us out for lunch, if only because we were like a pack of ravenous wolves waiting for the gimpy buffalo to fall from the pack. We consistently accosted those in charge during lunch to make sure we didn’t have to wait a moment longer than necessary. Finally, at 2:15p, Sultan led us to a vast chalk drawing of the island of Java. We sat impatiently and our regional managers began to read our names aloud. One by one we collected our placements. Each name called built the suspense a little more. Each name not my own made my stomach turn and my face contort. Finally, Sugi called me! It was everything I could do not to run up and snatch the paper from his outstretched hand.

This would be approximately where I'm living. Can't show you more deets, something about security. But I'm close to the beach!!!

This would be approximately where I’m living. Can’t show you more deets, something about security. But I’m close to the beach!!!

I’m not sure how much I can reveal in such a public forum so all I will say here is that I will be located on the island of Java (as we mostly are at this time) on the western side of the island in a region called Gerut. I should have a mailing address in a couple weeks for family and friends so feel free to shoot me and email and I’ll let you know how to find me. I will be 7 hours away from the closest main city (Bandung) and I am about 1.5 km away from the beach. The. Beach. I’m probably about 30 minutes away from the closest volunteer (which is basically in each other’s laps!), Alan. We are also close to a series of about 3 other volunteers ranging from 1.5 hours away to 4 hours away by car. That would probably work out to much longer by Indonesian bus.

I’m really happy with my placement. I will be on a beach surrounded by a community that seems to be really excited about my coming. I’ll be teaching at an SMA, which is a High School, and I’ll be teaching 10th and 11th graders. I will be learning Bahasa Sunda for a week which will grossly under-prepare me for the language challenges I’ll face but I hear they speak mostly Bahasa Indonesia over there anyway. I’ve grown fairly good at that language. I’m really just so happy the anticipation is over! Wish me luck, folks.