CRAAAAZY. I just can’t sleep.

I feel like I’m in a constant state of stress in Indonesia. A year in and that stress truly just feels like another aspect of my daily life. Wake up, feel grateful to be alive, eat breakfast, stress out.

I’m stressed for a plethora of different things here.

Going to the store because I know how high the chances are I’ll run into someone I know who will then make fun of me for not wearing make-up or for buying 3 bags of chips.

Eating with coworkers or family wondering who will be the one to make the “fat” comment.

Riding my bike waiting for someone to scream at me, point at me, or stare at me.

Getting on a bus knowing someone is going to try to rip me off.

Buying oleh oleh (souvenirs) for friends and family when I’m on vacation knowing that anything I buy still won’t be good enough, why don’t I just give them my cell phone or my laptop?

Using the bathroom in the middle of the night because Ibu will wake up and come running out to see why I’m going to restroom at midnight, am I sick?

 

I spent a lot of my first year feeling bad for myself. Pitying myself that things were harder here for me because I was a female or how things were more difficult because I’m an Asian American volunteer or how life here was harder because of my culture and its vast difference from the culture I moved into. How boo-hoo me, people just don’t “get me” here.

But that’s where year 2 perks come in.

You just stop tripping about all of that.

You sort of accept that yes, things will be different, and yes, that sometimes means they will be harder… but that doesn’t mean it’s bad!

Stresses become easier to handle when you know their coming, you almost gain this new super power of just ignoring the bullshit and accepting what you can’t change.

And being challenged and tested in life only makes us more capable humans at the end of the day anyway, right?

I know that some of the things that stress me out in Indonesia will never go away.
I’ll never stop being annoyed by people commenting on my body, no matter which way I try to culturally justify it.
I’ll never get over the fact that I can’t show my knees in a country who’s average temperature is 81 degrees year round.

But you just learn to deal with it. And if that isn’t an important life lesson, I don’t know what is.

I’ve learned to choose my battles, really think about what matters to me and what I feel like I should fight for.
And also acknowledge the times when I’m fighting something that isn’t even really against me in the first place.
Experiencing culture differences doesn’t have to be this battle between me and you, I’m right and you’re wrong. I think, despite “knowing better”, that’s how it often feels though.

But I’m here, and I have no choice but to focus on the reality that most of us just want the same thing for ourselves and for others…to be happy and healthy.

It’s really all good at the end of the day.

It’s unique for me, feeling so uncomfortable all the time. But even in those moments of discomfort beautiful things happen too.

Throwing myself into a situation where I feel all of these things so often make it even easier for me to think about what’s good, recognise the ways in which this country has positively given to my life, and ultimately be grateful for all the emotions of the spectrum I’m experiencing here because they’re all helping me become.

I’m just tryna be somebody.

Sign up for the Peace Corps and you pretty much sign up for a 2 year rollercoaster of emotions.

I’ll either be incredibly grown after this experience or incredibly crazy.

 

 

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Last first day of school

Today is the first day of school and the beginning of my final year of service. This time next year I’ll be home, elbows deep in tacos and beer, probably crying about the aspects of Indo culture I miss…that I bitch about now. Funny how that works.
It feels really good to be in a situation where I’m reminded that I’ve been here for a year. Situations that make me feel like I know what’s going on, like I’m a real member of this community and not just a spectacle or celebrity guest…like a real person, teacher, friend.
So after a year of battling social anxiety and what felt like constant discomfort,  stepping onto campus today with the feeling of pure happiness and none of that other nervousness I felt last year was refreshing and quite honestly, revolutionary in the perspective I hold on my service here.
I used to think 2 years was going to be a piece of cake. Then I got here and thought, “How can I possibly survive 2 years of this?”. But it’s in these moments that I realise how important the time commitment we make to this place is. After a year of building a foundation, there is no where to go but soaring upward.
Of course, we won’t have a set class schedule for another couple of weeks, all my boy students still have long hair which will have to be shaved before real school can begin (who can focus with cool hair-do’s, nobody) and we only had school today for 2 hours before we all went home because there’s no class…., but it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that I’m real part of that beautiful mess.
Here’s to year 2!
P.S
Cheers for the everyone who has survived their time thus far in Indo!
It’s a beautiful country but culture shock ain’t no mothafuckin joke, I’m proud of everyone who’s ever made the decision to be a PCV here.

I remember touch

I think of myself as a touchy person, that’s why Ibus sitting so close to me that they’re practically sitting on my lap, or random strangers leaning on me on buses came as no shock and of only little discomfort.

What surprised me initially though was how comfortable males are with touching each other. It isn’t uncommon in Indonesia for a male to put his arm around his male friend or for him to share a small seat with his buddy. You can tell right away the best friends in a group cuz the chances are they’re sitting right next to each other arms draped over the other’s shoulder–most often choosing to share one seat even if there is another available. There is no criticism for this type of behaviour. He is no less of a “man” because of it.

It’s another thing I absolutely love about this country and it’s something I’m going to miss witnessing when I get back to America–all the shameless boy on boy cuddles!

All of my American friends reading this, I challenge you to imagine what you’d think/assume if you saw a man walking down the street with his arm around another man. Then I challenge you to picture a community where not a second thought is placed on that type of behaviour.

It’s something so beautiful to me… witnessing people who choose to be near each other simply because they are friends, family, neighbours, classmates, people.

Humanz

Yesterday I made a new friend and we spent the evening chatting about our cultures. I asked him questions about dating, his religion and how that plays into other aspects of his life, his family and their relationship, partying, and life in the village. I posed each question with the underlying assumption that I already knew exactly how he would answer. I spent 3 months in a classroom learning about how to live in an Indonesian community.

“I’ll be a damn near expert on Indonesian culture before even getting to my village”, said PST (pre-service training) Bema.

When I first learned about Indonesia (in a classroom, surrounded by other Americans), I formed an image of a hyper-conservative culture so committed to tradition that it would be near impossible to find someone whom I could relate to. I admit, I started my service with a serious detachment from everyone around me because I felt that the way I chose to live my life would never be accepted in my new community.

How could a girl who is Californian through and through find a space to be herself in a culture that hates bikinis, tattoos, late nights, and beer.

But through life here, and especially while typing that statement, I realize how narrow-minded that view is. It’s so easy to paint an entire group of people one way when you study how the majority operates, when you learn only about the stereotypical behavior and forget that as humans each one of us is composed of so many different layers that our culture alone could never hope to fully portray.

If the most common assumption made by Indonesians about Americans were true I would be white skinned, blue eyed, and wealthy. And that’s just one example of an alarmingly and clearly wrong assumption often made about my culture.

It isn’t until after a real life interaction happens that these stereotypes are blown out of the water and Bema the American becomes human again just like the rest of my community. It takes a genuine conversation with a real person to truly understand that despite what we may think about each other we all face similar struggles and enjoy similar pleasures.

If assumptions made about my culture can be debunked by personal interactions than the same can be done for my own assumptions about Indonesian culture.

Between our host family relationship and the relationships we build at our school, PCV’s in Indonesia are lucky to be introduced to many relationships that serve to ease integration right off the bat, but I have found that looking outside of those structures and into different areas of the community has taught me more about humanity than I could have ever hoped.

As I’m chatting with my friend, I notice the ways in which we are the same before I even remember the ways in which we are different. I notice that he confirms some of my assumptions about Indonesian culture but I also notice the ways in which he defies them. I notice that he isn’t Indonesia or Indonesian culture, Indonesian culture is made up of him, people like him, people unlike him. Just like my culture, just like my community.

We are social beings, and we can never avoid carrying the weight of our cultures influence, but we can recognize that while it certainly influences us, our culture does not define us, rather we define it. Individually and Uniquely.

 

 

Desa Volleyball be like…

I got invited to play volleyball with my students last week. I showed up wearing my teva sandals thinking we were gonna play a couple rounds of pepper and bump around for a while….I didn’t realize that I would end up looking like the biggest scrub on the court. One spike nearly grazing my head at what felt like 100 mph was enough to get me sitting on the sidelines to watch and support.

Witnessing my students (and some locals I barely met) so engaged in a sport they are clearly passionate about was real rewarding even though they’ll probs never invite me to play again.

I never know what’s going on

In Indonesia I am trying this new thing called being completely in the dark. I never ever know what’s going on here. Even when I think I know what’s going on… it usually turns out that I don’t. So I just learn to accept the fact that I haven’t got a clue and it makes it easier to go with the flow.

That’s been a reoccurring theme of Indo life… going with the flow. There’s a phrase called “rubber time” because you say to show up at 8 and you’re lucky if you get someone to show up at 8:20. This place fully operates by island life rules and even the stuff that’s actually a really big deal, probably only matters to a select few, the rest of us just show up for the food.

It’s proven a pleasant lesson though, despite the extreme planner and 5 different to-do list part of me. Learning to go with the flow. To me, that means lowering your expectations…or just plain having none. And I know, that sounds bad. How are you ever going to know where you stand if you haven’t any idea the expectations to set yourself against? But what the “go with the flow” attitude of Indonesia has taught me is that sometimes we stress out so much over absolutely nothing at all.

Today me and a couple teachers showed up 30 minutes late to a huge event at our school (blame rubber time) and I walked in feeling so guilty. Thinking “I need to stay here and pretend to be completely engaged in this speaker whom I don’t understand a lick of, because I was late”. Turns out, no one gave a damn that I was late and everyone was really trying to get through the speeches just to get to the delicious yellow rice dishes anyway.

The point is, we sometimes stress ourselves out so. damn. much. And by we I mean me! I am a ball of stress sometimes and it’s damn good I got placed in this country because learning how to go with the flow makes me a way cooler person in the long run (and significantly easier to deal with).

 

Saying “I love you”

My friend and fellow PCV gave me a book called The Daily Om. It’s a series of blurbs to add some positive inspiration or reflection into your day. This morning I read an excerpt about love and how important, and necessary, it is to say “I love you” to those you care about.

This past month I travelled around both Indonesia and the Philippines for a few weeks. It was a nice break from the desa life but I ended up returning to Indonesia feeling overwhelmed and really ready to just call it quits and head home for good. I’ve been here for 10 crazy months and all the while I’ve been looking at my experience by the ways I have not been prepared and the ways in which service has fallen below my expectations. I am pretty sure I’m the poster child for the cross cultural adjustment and vulnerability chart….as you can see below, it’s basically a rollercoaster of emotional fucks. This proves helpful though, because then I know not to take myself too seriously when the going seems to get too tough.

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Upon my return back to my desa in South Garut, I was welcomed by two packages from home. Both filled with goodies from trader joes, handmade cards, books, pictures, a hard drive filled with all forms of entertainment for those times when I just need to pretend I’m back in America. Sometimes my Dad sends me a package with just vitamin E pills and toothpaste, and even that is incredible! Other times I receive a letter from someone I miss, a facebook message from a friend about a dream they had with me in it, an encouraging comment on an instagram pic, an inspirational email about perseverance and gratitude,a  text message on whatsapp of my friend’s Christmas tree, or a random phone call. All of these are such profound acts of “I love you” and even the smallest gesture has the potential to bring a truly positive impact on someone missing home, searching for comfort….or just plain trying to figure it out.

That’s been my saving grace here in Indonesia, and the more I think about it, my life in general—the random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness others have shown me. It’s humbling to be thought of, and it’s not the separation from friends and family or the challenges of finding my way in a culture I still feel so distant from that make these acts so meaningful.

It’s that these acts of love help me to see my circumstances from a positive perspective, a perspective of love, and that’s the key to surviving any challenge, struggle, change in circumstance, and unfamiliar experience.

So this post of blah blah blahs is just a massive shout out to every person who has thought of me and taken the time to share that love because my world is a lot less beautiful without you.

special shout out to Yans for trying to mail me an IPA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fat & Skinny….are they just words?

This week was mid-semester testing for my students. The first part of the test was a speaking test. We asked the students to do some counting, introduce themselves (where they live, their hobbies, and their dream), and finish up with describing themselves (their hair, face, body, and clothes).

I was surprised with what I heard when the students were asked to describe themselves and it’s something I want to discuss.

Let me explain.

Many of my students said “My face is beautiful!” (YES! I always agreed). Some of them said “My body is 6-pack” (grammatically no, but I like where your heads at). Others said “My body is fat”….and that’s the one that really got me.

Immediately I was horrified. I thought “how terrible is that these children have such negative perceptions of their own body that they just so plainly can call themselves fat?”

I felt guilty for even asking them to describe their own bodies, feeling like I was pressuring them to talk about things they didn’t want to talk about.

I paid close to attention to their reactions as they were describing themselves. Trying to maintain an encouraging smile and supportive energy all the while. I noticed though, that the students who described their bodies as “fat” reacted in the same way as the students who described themselves as “tall and slim”. They maintained their smile, didn’t have an air of embarrassment or shame. They didn’t seem, in my opinion, to have as negative a connotation of the word “fat”, as I did.

After the testing took place I carried this observation with me and I’ve been pondering it over the last couple days. Writing is where I sort out most of my ethical qualms so it is here that I am addressing these thoughts. I appreciate all additional comments and observations to help me work through these ideas.

I want to start with the connotations we add to words and phrases. I’ve noticed that in Indonesia there are many phrases that come at me like a dagger. Often times I am immediately offended and it isn’t until after I empathize with the person (remind myself I am in a different culture, with different social norms)  that I realize no offense was intended, it’s just a difference in the way we’ve learned to communicate.

For example, it is very common here for strangers to ask you if you’re married, to comment on your physical appearance, to ask you where you are from, to yell at you while you’re walking in the street with the phrase Mau ke mana!?–the Indonesian way of saying “where are you going?”.

As a young person raised in a culture that praises independence and privacy above all else, these phrases and constant questions come as invasive, overwhelming, offensive, and particularly aggressive.

We, as volunteers, are constantly reminded by each other (and our lovely, supportive, and helpful staff at the Peace Corps office) that this is a cultural exchange. And that requires a whole lot of patience and even more empathy.

The culture here, is different. Thank you for the obvious, Bema. It’s far more communal than anything I’ve ever experienced before and adjusting to everyone feeling like they have the right to comment and question my life has proven a difficult task. But I’m finding the beauty in it every day! I mean, it certainly shows how much they care about you when they’re constantly asking you questions!

When I first arrived in West Java, an Ibu said to me “you’ve gained weight!”.

I wanted to cry. I was so offended and I felt so insulted.

But then I stopped and realized…you know what, I had gained weight!

I blame the dangerously delicious fried food served at every meal. 

Why was I so offended that she commented on my physical appearance with a comment that was absolutely TRUE. She meant no offense. She was simply making an observation. In fact, she followed it with “you must be happy here!” and It’s true, I am.

That brings me back to my students and their ability to so openly describe their body as “fat” and the questions it raised for me.

Why is it okay to say “I’m tall and slim.” but when we hear someone say “I’m short and fat” we cringe like they just punched themselves in the face?

Why do we have no problems pointing out that a person is skinny but can’t fathom a situation in where it’s inoffensive to describe someone as fat.

Why is fat a curse word but the word skinny is always acceptable?

Why is it so easy for us to assume people who admit they are skinny have a positive body perception while those who admit they are fat have a negative one?

Why does an American think it’s horrible for a young person to describe themselves as fat but an Indonesian finds no harm in pointing out that a person has gained weight?

What do you think?

Playing with your food

Wanna know something awesome about Indonesia?

It’s  a country that reserves spoons for the little kids and lets the grown ups eat with their hands.

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My mom, being filipino, exercises this habit in her daily life and I remember growing up thinking “I wish my mom would stop eating with her hands in public.” I was thoroughly embarrassed by it, and now 10 years later I feel so silly for ever feeling that way! In fact, I’m so proud to have a mother that continued the habits of her culture in an environment that wasn’t exactly welcoming to it.

I admit, I’m still working on being graceful while eating with my hands. I’m amazed at the teachers at my school because they never make a mess! Sometimes they laugh at me because I sometimes get more rice and tempe on the table than I do in my own mouth, but really it’s not much different than when I eat with a spoon and fork so I still try!

Honestly though, there is something really humbling about eating with your hands. It makes me feel more human, oddly enough. So it’s a habit I hope I’ll have the strength to continue when I’m back home in the states. Sometimes I try to imagine myself eating with my hands like a boss (like my mother) at every restaurant in America and I picture how I might feel with people looking at my like I’m fresh off the boat and I just keep thinking that it’s better to be weird than normal! Right, Lyss?

Bali Blues

Let me tell you a little bit about my life in the desa. On an extremely busy day, I go to school and teach, hang out with my students and teachers for a few hours, ride my bike a couple miles to the market, read an entire book (not a joke), hand wash my laundry, sweep my floors, and write in my journal. I’m not kidding, that is Bema at her busiest in the desa.

On days where I’m not teaching, I’ll ride more than a couple miles on my bike, stop at the beach, and pretty much repeat steps 2-6 mentioned above.

On a really really exciting day I’ll stop by the local warung for a bit to listen to the police officers sing karaoke on my way home.

I mean really though, life is so simple here the “always a million things on my to-do list” part of me is taking a long time to adjust. 3 months solid of that island mentality and it really had started to grow on me. I even bought myself 3 ibu dresses! (ibu dresses are basically batik fabric that resemble nothing of your body shape (think potato sac chic) and are made solely for comfort while doing household chores). If that doesn’t scream, “I’m an official desa kid” than I’m not sure what else will.

So after a forced acclimation to desa time, I thought a week in Bali would be the perfect reward.

I had always heard people say that Bali is like a completely different country than the rest of Indonesia…it’s a little unnerving how accurate that statement is.

Locals were surprised at ME for being able to speak Indonesian because everyone there, including the taxi drivers, servers, hotel workers, shop owners, even hawkers on the beach spoke English. I mean the fact that after only 6 months of being in Indonesia I could convince people that I was Indonesian simply because I knew how to ask “how do I get to this restaurant from here?” was shocking, but also really fun.

I spent the first half of the week 18 m under the ocean getting my open water diver certification and the second half dancing my ass off at Ultra Bali. Got to see a waterfall, eat waffles, drink beer, watch the sunset, hang out with my best friend from back home. It was an incredible week. I don’t even remember the last time I took an entire week off strictly for playtime so it’s safe to say I took full advantage. I have dubbed Bali the Indonesian Vegas and for good reason. You forget that a world outside of it exists while you’re there and most often you leave with a little less dignity than you had when you arrived. My wallet, phone, and purse were stolen…so there’s that.

I was so ready to come back to the desa though, my body and my bank account were both exhausted from Bali. Also, I’m attached to my teachers and students, they’re the greatest, what can I say? But I wasn’t too excited to learn the ways in which I’d have to readjust yet again to desa life.

How do you go from a week of hot showers, AC, and a free dress code to bucket showers, squat toilets, and extremely conservative cultural expectations, gracefully? I really don’t think you can.

I got a package from my aunt, one that I was totally not expecting to receive, and it had granola in it. I cried. I mean I really cried, over granola.

I had a conversation with the teachers at my school and I used the Indonesian word “galau”, in complete seriousness, to describe how I was feeling. Galau, often used by us volunteers in playfulness, means troubled, upset, like you’re thinking way too much. They asked why and the first thing that popped into my head was “mungkin aku perlu pacar” (maybe I need a boyfriend). Even as I was saying it I immediately thought, “what the fuck?” but I couldn’t stop it from coming out. If you know me, you know the last thing I would prescribe for myself when I’m feeling down is a boyfriend! Even my teachers, who have only known me for 3 months started laughing at this. They literally said you don’t mean that and moved on to the next subject.

I definitely didn’t mean that, but I realized in that moment what I did need was comfort. So I called my sister.

5 minutes into the conversation I was crying and my sister was feeling helpless, awkward, and probably terribly confused. (She’s leaving for Peace Corps Vanuatu in January and I can only imagine how my emotional venting about life in Peace Corps Indonesia weighs on her).

Then it was time for class and the entire reason why I’m here just smacked me in the face with clarity. Funny how life does that to you.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of acceptance and appreciation that overwhelms you when you have classes full of students jumping for joy at your return. Asking a million questions about your trip, begging to see photos. Laughing extra hard at your jokes and being extra attentive in class like they think that if they doze off for one second you might go away again.

Sometimes it’s literally exhausting how much emotional effort is required in this job just to keep you at a point where you’re feeling happy with your lot. Sometimes you think, why can’t it just be easy? Especially when it’s so hard that you find yourself crying over things like…granola. But then you stare in the faces of the people who will be your life for the next 2 years and you remember your commitment to helping them grow. Through this realization though I always end up recognizing how much they are really helping me grow and I think, this job is fucking awesome!

I mean, what other job privileges you with destinations like Bali in your backyard, students who love having you there, teachers who become your family, and emotional trials that serve only to make you a better, more resilient human being?