Cloudy With a Chance of Sneezing… Into Electric Fans

I have several weaknesses, many of which I’m attempting to uproot or else turn into something more conducive. Among many other reasons why idealistic and crazy people like me join Peace Corps, I think “self-improvement” is at the top of the list. We crave this sense of working towards something better whether it be us or our surroundings, there’s always something better. I’ve been monitoring my capricious behavior and attitude lately as its been like a pendulum, swinging between intense security and intense vulnerability — from feeling uneasy about returning to site post-IST, to easily and so eagerly embracing the monotony and predictability upon returning, being genuinely really happy, almost in a honeymoon-phase with my surroundings, to counting down the hours until my next reunion with other PCVs, returning to the village and just letting the weeks… go on. It’s not as if I haven’t done anything, I’ve exerted myself, I’ve been fulfilling my duties, socializing when I have the energy, but definitely not feeling a desire to go the 110% that I mentioned thirty days ago. The monotony and predictability is starting to eat me alive and I knew this would happen, it was just a matter of kapan (when). I have to remind myself that this is just life though, whether I’m in the States or in a foreign country, wherever I am (there I am), there’s a need for routine, to keep things in balance. Every day can’t always be intoxicating, thought-provoking, and beautifully bewildering in every way, every minute of the day. As much as I would love to live in a place like that, it would be overload, at least with this current assignment. Though, does such a place exist if you want it to? I hope so. I think it’s possible, and I aspire to have a passionate and invigorating future where I’m constantly on my feet, both literally and metaphorically,

In short, I’ve succumbed to the end-of-the-semester-slump. (Still happy, just…slumpy). There’s no doubt that this attitude is running high among most PCVs at the moment. We’re about ready for some R&R in Bali, a place that has been glorified for far too long. I’m ready to celebrate and cheers, to surviving and teaching in this fractured education system for a semester, knowing there’s three more to bulk up for. Back to my slump, I want to be able to take my camera out every few days, to feel inspired, to go exploring, to have meaningful conversations with people in my community that go beyond the predictable script, “krasan? kangan keluarga? (feel at home? missing family?)”. But the humidity is getting to me. I wanna be married to an electric fan and not have to sweat all the time. People I’m surrounded by seem less interesting. And when my curiosity is running high and I want to converse, I find I’m still not getting to where I want to be. It’ll take time, though. Indonesian pace, Elle, Indonesian pace. Sometimes I don’t want to leave my house because of the hollering and unwanted attention I’ll have to endure. These things don’t usually hold me back though, just the past few days. Again, it’s this swinging pendulum feeling. My motivational levels mimic the fluctuating numbers that gyrate on the marquees at NASDAQ. Sometimes the stocks are so high, everyone wants a piece of the pie, and I’m willing to share it and then yeeeeeeeeeeeowwwwww, they plummet, and I eat pie remnants by myself in my room.  Until quite recently (thirty days to be exact), I’ve come to admit to myself that I have a very difficult time accepting bad days for what they are. When I say ‘I’m having a rough day’, it’s usually with a big smile on my face. It’s a defense mechanism. Admitting a bad day is crippling to me, like being kicked in the stomach and just laying there, not being able to bounce back. I feel guilty for having bad days because I feel like I’ve already been incredibly lucky to have every thing else I need. My ‘hierarchy of needs’, like my health, security, support networks, positive relationships with people, nutritious foods every day, a standing fan to keep me cool while I sleep, Oreos when I’m stressed, etc etc…, is fulfilled for the most part.  I’ve learned that despite having all of these great things, I should be able to allow myself time to feel crappy, regardless of if I have no real concrete reason or a list of things that pissed me off that day. The past eight months that I’ve been here, I’ve tried so hard to become this super-human, exuding mental, emotional, and physical strength, suppressing trivial emotions or other thoughts that would detract from me from my job here, trying to be cheerful and outgoing all the time, perhaps overzealous, because I have this somewhat burdensome responsibility to disprove this ‘Americans are all promiscuous, immoral heathens like you may see on TV’ idea and manifest that ‘we’re ethical, caring, responsible people too’ because I may be the only American many people here will ever meet or base their opinions off of. Meanwhile there’s a lot going on in my mind. I haven’t really just let myself…be, while I’m at site (I have no problem being myself and displaying my weaknesses around my fellow PCVs though). I’m generally jovial. I’m not ashamed of being called ‘bubbly’, I usually like being around bubbly people, but I’m not sure I’ve really begun to show people here that I’m human too, that I cry, get upset, get sick, and that deep down inside, I do miss people I’m close to and all of the comforts and familiarities of home. It’s challenging to be expected to be presentable, beautiful, friendly, sociable, to inspire and motivate others, to be able to create, all the time when there’s a rigid dichotomy between our cultures and other internal struggles simultaneously going on. The times when I do feel like I’m going to crack, I hold it in, save it for when I’m alone (by that time the intense emotions that needed release have already dissipated), when really I should be letting my guard down, airing my vulnerabilities out in front of Indonesians, maybe people would loosen up more and we’d grow closer, I don’t know. It’s hard because when you’re weak, you don’t want to elicit the attention of an entire village, especially when you’re upset at nothing in particular. Then it just looks like you’re crazy! All in all, I can’t remember the last time I had a good cry, though I can remember some specific times when I’ve suppressed the urge, just kept calm and smiled instead.

_________________________

I promise the sneezing part will come soon. Last Thursday, I allowed for myself to sulk in the shittyness that ensued. It was wonderful actually.  Even though I can’t blame one thing for making my day cruise downhill, I almost wanted to laugh because of how the day evolved, errrrrrr, devolved. Upon getting home, I took a refreshingly cold bucket bath, and then proceeded to make a shit-list on a massive neon green sticky note. It was therapeutic to do this because usually when I have bad days, I attempt to revive my spirits by making a list of things I should be happy/grateful for, but this time was different, I was going to let myself be, in my shitty day. Going back to my ‘getting kicked in the stomach’ metaphor, I essentially let myself just lay there, and endured a few more kicks as they came. The day didn’t necessarily get better or worse, it just… was, and it just… happened, and I just… let it be and let it.. pass. You know?

Here’s a brief overview of what a ‘rough day’ looked like:

  1. My strange and off-putting dreams had already predetermined my day for me.
  2. I woke up to the heinous sounds of my host brother in-law snot rocketing right outside of my window (this happens often, but on this particular day, it really struck something in me).
  3. I graded forty tests, most of which, were quite atrocious and had me questioning my students abilities which I thought I had come to understand, thoughts popped up like ‘did you even READ the question?’ ‘if you’re going to cheat, at least do it from a student who knows what they’re doing!’ (I made sure to have clear instructions in both languages, along with sporadic translations to help them out)!
  4. It’s common in Indonesian schools for random salespeople to walk into the teacher’s room selling a strange assortment of things. Aside from the regular men who sell bread and soy milk, I’ve seen teacher’s swoon over the men selling Manchester United/cartoon character-decorated pillows & mattresses, knives, holographic posters of some Angelic Eden’s garden-looking scenery, and even cooking ware (the cooking demonstration left the teacher’s room smelling a lot nicer than it usually does). Each time the salesperson quietly struts in with their product, I think to myself ‘who’s seriously going to buy this stuff?’ only to find that 65% of the female teacher’s are showing off their new pillows and posters to one another, bragging about the great deals they got. Upon returning from a class I had just finished instructing, I had to hurdle through an obstacle course set up by salespeople selling eyeglasses and their blind prey AKA teachers, just to get to my desk. Along with these massive portable display cases marketing their impressively wide variety of square-framed glasses, they also brought a RJD2-time-machine-looking device to give eye examinations on the spot. (It’s possible the same machine could have been used to examine Fred Flintstone’s eyes). The teachers were ALL OVER IT. The pushy salespeople tried to get me to check my eyes and even though it was free, I didn’t want to. My eyes are in good shape plus I was busy planning for my next class. Everyone kept trying to pressure me into it, even after I repeatedly told them that I already have reading glasses and I already had my eyes checked before coming here, internal voice screaming (and sorry for sounding snooty) ‘Us PCVs have our own doctor for these kinds of things! Stop bugging me! I don’t want your stupid glasses!’
  5. It’s rainy season. In Indonesian, that literally translates to it’s ‘flying insects who like to annoy and spread diseases congregation season’. Flies, mosquitoes, flying white ants (they must be the dumbest creatures on Earth), etc. They are absolutely everywhere, and it’s disgusting. About 70% of the day I’m swatting the repulsive beasts away from landing on me or my food. I can’t say there were more flies that annoyed me that day than usual, but it undoubtedly added to the shittyness, enough to make it to my list! The Dan's are ready to combat the season
  6. The printer’s at my school are a COMPLETE joke. I’m pretty sure they’re the exact same printers once used by the royal family during the Majapahit Kingdom [read: currently ancient and busted]. Both are tucked away in busy corners (so I almost have to uncomfortably straddle or climb over people to use it), held together by several pieces of tape, the often almost empty ink-jet cartridges elevated just the right way to get the ink flowing, and yet what I print out seems to come out looking like shit no matter what. That’s only scratching the surface of my feud with the printer, I would go into detail but I can already feel my blood begin to boil when I think about how much the printers at school frustrate me. There’s something terribly wrong when printer woes make me equally as angry as the thought of people hunting endangered animals for a profit or being forced to listen to ignorant people talk about abortion. Woooo, deep breaths!
  7. While I was doing some work at my desk, I heard some strange moans. It was coming from the teacher who sits diagonally behind me. The one who’s clearly made her desk her domain, eating and sleeping at her leisure between or during her classes. The one who often belts out “YA ALLLL-AAAAAAHHHH” while simultaneously expressing what could tentatively be dubbed the yawn of the year. She was receiving an arm massage from another one of the older male teachers, who always has this goofy infectious snaggletooth’ed smiles on his face. I made the mistake of looking back, only to see her slumped over her desk, with this glazed over, blank look, just staring at me, occasionally moaning, while the other teacher exuding his standard goofy snaggletooth’ed smile, vigorously rubbed her forearm. The whole situation made me feel very uncomfortable. I think it was a combination of that stare that was ingrained in my memory, and the moaning didn’t help. So I left the teacher’s room and sat at my second desk, outside, in peace.
  8. Every so often, a teacher buys these deliciously terrible for my entire well-being fried treats to share. What looks like pisang goreng (fried banana) to me could really have a million different names, depending on who you talk to, in which language, and what hierarchical level you’re speaking on. They usually tell me the name, and unless I’m eating it three times a day, I don’t remember it unless I write it down. There’s a few older male teachers who love asking me what I’m eating, pointing to it like I’m a mentally disabled person, while my mouth is clearly full, it’s obvious they already know the name and it’s like they’re testing me. It’s obnoxious and it’s rude. That happened…
  9. Like my students snatching up every opportunity they can to cheat, I too try to snatch up every opportunity I can to sit in front of an electric fan. The fan happened to be circulating dust, and triggered quite the atomic sneeze which all blew right back into my face. Glorious. Afterwards, I laughed at myself, ‘yes that really just happened’.
  10. By this point I had already gone home, to my haven, my safe bubble. After dinner, I’m reading in bed, when the electricity cuts out. This happens frequently enough for me to have my headlamp at my bedside. I didn’t flinch, just put the headlamp on, kept reading. The electricity usually comes back on within a matter of minutes, but those minutes turned into an hour (and eventually several hours would pass until the electricity returned). To stay cool, I took what I’ve dubbed the B.O.B.B. or ‘black-out bucket bath’. There was nothing terrible about it, and in all honesty, I relished in the fact that I was enjoying my cold and dark bucket bath, and that’s when I realized my shitty day had met its prompt conclusion.
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