Reflection Eternal

 Why was Sunday, July 24th a great/unique day?

I slept in till 8am

I had oatmeal with RAISINS I brought from America

quality phone/skype time with Klaas

found out my host family has taken in deaf housekeeper

went on a bike ride and saw some men running in the street with a cow, you know, the same way people run with their dogs, only, this was a cow, on a rope.

got my haircut…by a transvestite. There’s a transvestite in my village, not that it’s that important or crazy, but was anyone ever going to tell me this?

Week 16 “evaluation” or really a regurgitation of thoughts

This isn’t a real evaluation of myself or Peace Corps thus far, but instead a few mental notes that have been swirling through my mind since adjusting to life as a Peace Corps Volunteer, or PCV.

Before arriving in Indonesia to serve as a PCV, I had done a fair amount of research concerning living conditions and lifestyle. Without sounding too cliché, it’s completely fact that you can’t truly understand an experience without actually living it for yourself. I could have read 1000s of blogs and articles, or talked to 100s of returned PCVs and still not have fully understood the PCV experience. It varies so drastically, country to country, assignment to assignment, volunteer to volunteer. I remember friends saying they knew friends of friends who served in ______ country in Africa or South America, that they could connect me with to talk to, but I knew living in Indonesia would be far different.

I just want to clarify that while applying, this experience meant the world to me (it still does!), I was ready to go wherever and do whatever Peace Corps wanted me to. I was given a “regional preference” on my application, where I checked off Asia as my top choice. Mentally, my second choice was Eastern Europe, and being sent to Africa was at the bottom of my list. But, I think that I would have gone anywhere. I was just ready to GO. It’s funny thinking how well I’m eating here. I had some skewed idea that I would be living some degree of poverty, however my lifestyle couldn’t be further from it. Before learning I would be sent to Indonesia, I was trying to indulge myself as much as possible, gaining about 15 pounds doing so—eating all of my favorite [read: cheesiest] foods, sampling every good beer possible and enjoying far too many “wine downs”, thinking that once I got on that plane, I may be eating something like rice and beans for the next two years with a high probability of constant diarrhea. So may as well put on the extra weight for support, right? Despite the fact that about 65% of what I eat is fried, I’m not sure I’ve ever been healthier in my life. I’ve essentially cut most dairy out of my diet which has been replaced with Indonesia’s fabulous assortment of delectable tropic fruits (I don’t know what I’m going to do when I return to America’s lame assortment). I haven’t had one sip of alcohol since that glass of cabernet sauvignon on the connecting flight from Hong Kong, unless you count the rum raisin gelato in Malang? While visiting Surabaya, I’ve thought about the possibility of grabbing a quick beer somewhere, but like waiting for a first kiss, it needs to be the right place, the right time, relaxed atmosphere, and with the right person. So yes, I’m still waiting for that “special” time in Bali, whenever that happens.

Surely as technology continues to permeate itself into even the tiniest, most rural villages, it’s also making the Peace Corps experience considerably different to how it was 50 years ago when PC was first taking off, but even more so 10 years ago. For example, before 9/11, PCVs weren’t required to have cell phones at site. Now nearly everyone in my village has a cell phone, nearly every single person at my school has Facebook, and if they don’t, they may literally be living under a rock. Even though I knew I would have a cell phone, I never thought I would be able to Skype with my family and other volunteers from the comforts of my own living room. I didn’t think I’d be able to check Facebook every day, or worse, become more consumed with social networking. This has been both good and bad. Good because I’ve been able to keep in touch with everyone, and everyone knows what I’m doing and how I’m feeling, but it’s been bad because I’m able to see essentially everything that I’m missing out on, the food, the trends, the trips, the get-together’s, the experiences, and the ever-changing that I will never have control over. Sometimes I feel like these two years here, are my last two years on Earth, and I start to feel bitter, thinking I’m missing out on too much, what if people forget about me? Obviously this isn’t the case (unless 2012 is true, dun dun dunnn), and every day I’m learning to absorb every cultural and unique moment that I would never have experienced back home. I also want to note that before coming here, I thought it would be painless to leave home, work, everything and everyone that had become so routine and sometimes mundane. I thought that I would be missed more but instead I was the one doing all of the “missing”. As I’ve experienced in the past few months, there were points where I’d never felt so painfully homesick and alone in my life. But I also knew in my heart that this was something I wanted, and that it would only make me a stronger person, and that returning home wouldn’t solve anything. But I knew all of this;  I knew what I was getting into, the loneliness, and the not-having-my-mom-there to take care of me when I am sick. I thought I would be prepared for anything. And how strange is it to not feel culture shock until you’re 3 months in?

I think what I really wanted to say was that I’m living really well here, considering my initial expectations of living without electricity, in a hut with a straw roof, walking on dirt roads, eating rice and beans, chiseling letters in stone to send back home in lieu of e-mail.

When I first came to site, I was on the verge of becoming depressed, the lack of activities, being without other people I could easily communicate and express myself with in person, the radical changes all over again, on top of fact that my assignment wouldn’t start for another month was really weighing on me. I will proudly admit that on one of my low days, that I wrote, “You are beautiful and have a great smile” on a Post-It note, that is still stuck to my door. That same day, I made a list of things I should be grateful for at site. I knew that my attitude sometimes was a little ridiculous considering how much I actually had. I was able to come up with 16 things that day. This list is also still taped to my door, so I am constantly reminded of how lucky I should feel instead of complaining. And every day since then, I think I have become a stronger, happier, more appreciative person. Sounds silly, but doing that really helped me to cope with everything going on inside of my head. I must sound like a mental case to you.

Perhaps a few of these things were on my previously mentioned list, but these are things should feel lucky to have/have done:

-I’ve already finished two jars of Nutella, seriously posh corps sekali. I rarely ate Nutella back in the States! Won’t be buying any more for a while after I finished the last jar in 8 days exactly…it took a lot of self control, I might add.

-my family just hired a housekeeper. You don’t really think of having a housekeeper when you think of joining the PC, do you?

-pretty certain the temperatures here, while hot, don’t compare to the heat you’re all experiencing back home

-bucket baths are one of the highlights of my day

-living in a Muslim-dominated society has made my experience here a safer one thus far. And I’m really happy that I’m getting to experience a completely different kind of Asian culture. Also when else will I ever live in a society that’s purely driven by religion?

-It is possible to live without air conditioning

-I have electricity 99.99% of the time

-clean [enough] water

-balanced healthy diet that makes being a vegetarian quite easy. Perhaps this is the  first two years in my life without any frozen or preserved foods. Everything is FRESH. Every morning, around 5am, a woman/man rides up on their motorcycle full of fresh produce, and all of the Ibu’s buy what they need for the day, no less, no more. No need for grocery stores, or refrigerators!

-I can listen to NPR and lesson plan at the same time!

-I live in a great house, with a great family, and couldn’t have asked for a better work environment. Maybe I have started bribing my shy students with candy, but that’s normal anywhere you go.

-Before coming here, I rarely ate Oreos, now they’re a comfort food that I enjoy eating in bed.

-I can text my Mom, any time I want!

-I’m only a 12-hour bus ride away from Bali.

-I can watch TED talks in HD on my Macbook before I go to sleep, seriously could you go to bed feeling more inspired?

-It’s only been two weeks, but I love teaching, and I weirdly enjoy making classroom activities.

While all of these things are positive, I sometimes wish I could experience a life without all of these things because what I’ve really done is adopted everything within my control, that I’ve been missing, and reincorporated it into my life here. But I’m also starting to think that this isn’t just me, that these “comfort items” are essentially possible to have anywhere, even in the most quintessentially clichéd remote African village that everyone imagines when they apply for PC. You can find Nutella in any major city, just like you can access Facebook from anywhere there is a radio tower. Even if there’s no clean water, there’s still find Coca-Cola. Isn’t that awful? And retrospectively, (and while I know many people live like this and on less, but I never have, so I apologize for sounding pretentious) two years of eating rice and beans does not sound ideal. Could I still have done it? Would I really be able to live without weekly/monthly communication with my family and friends? It sounds romantic to write letters, but would I be able to be that patient? I would like to believe I could.

So what is the Peace Corps experience going to be like 5 years from now?

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4 thoughts on “Reflection Eternal

  1. Pingback: Peace Corps Mood Swings «

  2. im a volunteer in morocco and i feel almost exactly the way you do (except africa was #1 on my list- morocco is not really “africa”) it’s nice to read someone else has similar feelings as i do. I realize this blog post is from a while ago, so you’re a lot further along in your service at this point – right now i’m 6 months in. im looking forward to reading some more of your blog! check out mine if you get a chance.

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