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 Anniversary Edition

Our merry band of volunteers in the first week we arrived.

Our merry band of volunteers in the first week we arrived.

My goal was to have already written this piece so I could publish it nicely and neatly on my one year anniversary of living in Indonesia. Aptly, however, life seldom follows the plan you set out for yourself and so here I am, one year in, trying to sort of what it all means.

As with most things in the Peace Corps I am of mixed feelings about my anniversary. I can’t believe it’s really been a whole year but at the same time I can’t believe I have a whole year to go.

So, what have I learned? What is different? What are the things I can point at and say, a year in, Indonesia has done this? Well, these are questions we actually ask ourselves a lot as Peace Corps Volunteers, not just on special days and occasions, but also on the average weekday. Why am I here? What am I doing? What have I done? Where am I going?

These seem as though they could be questions asked by any twenty-something regardless of job or international location but when you live in a place that is not your own on a contract you know will end you start to reevaluate things a little more heavily. So, what in the world am I doing? I have upended my life, quit my very comfortable job, said goodbye to the people I love, moved to a country in which I do not speak the language, and became a Peace Corps Volunteer. Of course, on the other hand, I restarted my life, quit a job in which I was unhappy, achieved a better idea of who actually loves me, learned a new language in a new country, and became a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I am not the same girl I was when I stepped onto that plane a year ago. I don’t plan to be the same girl as I am now when I step off that plane in a year. The only thing that’s certain in life is death and taxes, right? Isn’t that how the old Ben Franklin adage goes? I’d like to add just a few things to that list: stars and changes. The only thing that will never stop changing is that everything changes. Even my love of the stars is heavily based on their constant fluctuation and alteration juxtaposed against their seeming consistency and reliability. You never look at the same sky twice. Just so, I find it highly unlikely you will ever meet the same person twice. What, then, is so different about my personal changes after a year in Peace Corps versus the average human’s changes after a year of life?

To find the answer I think we need to get down to some real talk. Some people play the victim with their Peace Corps service and claim the whole thing is awful. Those are the people who usually Early Terminate (ET). Other people whitewash the whole thing and talk about nothing but the overwhelming love and joy of service. I have always strived to walk right down the middle in life, especially when it comes to situations such as these. So, we get back to the question, why have my changes while in Peace Corps been so different than that of your average Jill? Because this nonsense is hard. I get up everyday and I make the choice to stay. It’s not some inherent truth of life, it is a daily decision I make. I decide to snooze my alarm eight times and sometime between snooze number four and five, I decide that maybe I’ll stay in this country for another day. It’s the freedom in that choice alone that keeps me going. This is my decision. My choice. So when I have bad days I can look around and say, “Well, kid, you chose this.” Then, when I have those magical moments of happiness, I can look around and say, “Hot damn, gaux, you chose this!”

How have I changed, though? We know that I have, but the specifics are a bit harder for me to pinpoint. I’m still the same girl who stops mid-sentence when she realizes she has American chocolate in the freezer. (Twice.) I’m still the girl who mercilessly protects the people she loves. I’m still the girl who will move mountains for the people who mean the most to her. But my methods have changed. I value my own time now. I acknowledge my own strength. I am more patient on occasion. I am more tolerant in some ways and less in others. I have filled out a good amount of unused potential in the emotional growth category and for that I am impressed and grateful.

The Peace Corps Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment. And illustration of our emotions for the 27 months we serve.

The Peace Corps Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment. And illustration of our emotions for the 27 months we serve.

During our various training sessions they show us this nifty little graph of a PCV’s emotions. Of course, being me, I scoffed at it at first, thinking there was no way I would fall so easily into the predictions of some mass equation. The second time I saw it, however, was a little later in service and I thought to myself, “Well. Shit.” So, I’m slated for what they call a “Mid-Service Crisis” any month now. What does that mean for me? Well, it means I spend a lot of time thinking about how little I feel I do. It means I think back on the things I could have done and I reprimand myself for not doing more. I think I am perhaps in the midst of said crisis at present, but I am hopeful that the difficulty will just propel me that much further. So, I started looking for secondary projects to inspire me and I’ve pulled out old materials to renew my attempts to lesson plan. It would seem that even in what could be called a ‘crisis’ the new version of me remains solution oriented and hopeful. I’ll go ahead and put another tick in the positive change category.

One year down, one year two months and seven (ish) days to go. In the loving words of Doctor Who, “Well, there’s so much to discover. Think of how much wiser we’ll be by the end of this.”

The trusty Barat Pack of ID-7 now, one year later.

The trusty Barat Pack of ID-7 now, one year later.

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!!!!!!!!

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.

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.