Musim Pancaroba, Part One: ‘Yay! We Did It!’

several friends/students and I after we biked the nearly 30km it takes to reach our kabupaten (city), MojokertoThe meaning of ‘musim pancaroba’ is simple. It is the term used to signify the transformation and the changing of seasons, from wet to dry. I recently learned this term from my counterpart. Not only is it really fun to say (pAHn-CHah-rrrOe-BAH), slipping ever so nicely from subtlety puckered lips, with a delicate tongue roll, but it also signifies something deeper for me. Two things actually, which is why this post will be broken up into two parts! The first one–the personal growth that’s happened over the last year, where I’ve learned innumerable lessons as the natural environment continues to transition and change whether I’m here or not, whether I like it or not, and whether I go with the flow or not. Everything must and will move forward.

I think you know where this is going and I’m going to go there. I’ve spent the past few weeks contemplating how I’d craft a kind of composition that was somehow lucid enough, unique enough, enjoyable, but for all intents and purposes—a piece that somehow conveyed what kind of progress I’ve made in the past year. I couldn’t tell whether I was over-thinking it or not, bouncing between ‘meh, who gives a shit, it’s only been a year, people have survived more extreme experiences, what’s there to glorify?’ and ‘HOW DO I EXPRESS A SUMMARY OF A YEARS WORTH OF IMMENSE PERSONAL GROWTH, CHALLENGES, AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS?!?!?!?!’. Even if the former is true, I still feel something special. Here it is, have fun:

Every six months during a PCVs service, we are required to complete to the best of our abilities something called a ‘Volunteer Report Form’ or VRF. It’s a collection of individually recorded quantitative and qualitative data that monitors our progress here in bureaucratic terms. It is then compiled by sector and country and sent off to Peace Corps Washington to be used for diplomacy, congressional hearings and such. But recording the number of boys and girls I work with, how I effectively work with my counterparts or how I conduct conversation clubs and other activities isn’t enough to measure the progress I’ve made during my first year here. And sorry to say to all of you Excel nerds out there (you know who you are), but those spreadsheets can only do so much… quantifying (oy, that word makes me shiver–only kidding, a little bit).

I’m one year in. It’s an incredible feeling. To think about how fast time has whizzed by despite those blurry days during training or in the classroom with botched lesson plans (or none at all!) and hyper-active students, where you painfully glace at the clock every minute, wishing for instant Harry Potter’esque powers so you could magically force the hour hand to make its damn rotation already. To listen to specific songs that triggered certain emotions and memories. To remember several conversations that deeply penetrated my psyche and altered my perspectives. To remember initial impressions of PCVs whom I’ve quickly grown to love and care about dearly, of Peace Corps staff members whom I’ve spilled my bleeding heart to for support, and to my Indonesian co-workers, students and other community members who have at times annoyed me, frustrated me, made me feel very uncomfortable but most memorably impressed me with their kindness, honesty, curiosity, and patience to work with and accept me. Anyone who fails to mention their desire for personal discovery during Peace Corps among the many other high ranking reasons we join, was definitely lying. I mean, I smell it. Putting it simply, we join for selfish reasons, we join for selfless reasons. And we learn how to balance the two. One must complement the other; they’re the yin and the yang to keep one another in balance. For me, it was time to rock the cradle of small town Virginia and leap into the arms of the unknown. No odyssey for personal growth is immune to challenges. Words will never justify how much I’ve learned about myself, I’ve accepted that I don’t need to prove this to anybody but I feel it and that’s gratifying enough. Have you ever found yourself alone on the floor of your bedroom, your mind going in a million different loops, at speeds out of your control, sprouting everything imaginable; questioning your life, capabilities, relationships, your own depth, and decisions you’ve made, both good and bad? Sort of like that annoying whack-a-mole game. Non-stop. I know from first hand experience that this is rough, I think most PCVs go through something like this one way or another. I thought I was going crazy at some points just allowing my mind to partake in this exhausting mental marathon but I learned more from doing nothing in those moments because there was no one else there to help myself and decipher those thoughts but me, and that’s really powerful. No, I haven’t totally transformed into a bionic being. My personality is still the same. I still have several unique quirks. I am still the slowest eater I know. There is still a special place in my heart for any reality show created by Bravo. I am still pretty goofy and gregarious but still quickly become socially maxed out when constantly surrounded by people. And I still have a hard time being frugal with money when it comes to appreciating what gems life and the world have to offer. But I still have a lot to celebrate (which I surely did this past weekend, click the link for a peek—more coming in the second half of the post).

A brief list of things I thought I’d never do…

  • Become a teacher
  • Control a class of forty teenagers
  • Witness animals being slaughtered
  • Become content letting my mind wander
  • Revert to the ways of children by heavily relying on others to support my well-being
  • Become immune and numb to constant environmental negligence and desecration that would drive me ABSOLUTELY crazy anywhere else
  • Wake up daily/automatically at five in the morning
  • Surrender my privacy and many aspects of independence
  • Go a day or a few without speaking English, live weeks without seeing other Americans (sorry, T, borrowed this one)
  • Live in society as religiously influenced as Indonesia
  • Live with a host family at this age
  • Use my left-hand as toilet paper
  • Endure painfully hot, long and uncomfortable bus rides by choice
  • Become patriotic and feel extremely lucky to be an American
  • Create life-long, deep, power friendships with people from incredibly different backgrounds, beliefs and interests than my own
  • Learn Indonesian (only 200 million + people speak it, I mean come ON)
  • Become embarrassed to buy bread—for fear of succumbing to stereotypes that all foreigners like bread
  • Have people rely on me for constant encouragement and motivation
  • Treasure a granola bar like it a was a nugget of gold
  • Tear-up while eating mashed potatoes just because they were mashed potatoes
  • Become a role-model to young children and adults alike
  • Become one of those people in a long-distance relationship.
  •  Live without talking to my family for several weeks at a time
  •  Live in a rural village, embrace the extent of isolation that I have
  •  Sweat as much as I have and bathe as often as I do (3-4 times per day)
  • Feel as invested in people and a community that I’ve spent less than a year in
  • My list could obviously go on but I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve been given these opportunities and from each of them blossoms a new sense of fearlessness that has hardened my core, my personality, and made me quite resilient and determined. As a child I was told I could do anything but how much did it really resonate? As an adult now, I’ve come this far and really do feel like I can do anything. 
  • Self-gloat as much as I just did (sorry!). Done.

tots cheesin' hard

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