Gripped

Hey folks. I was flipping through my journal and re-reading some things from a few months ago, and I found a poem titled “Gripped.” I wrote this poem about Indonesia while traveling in Flores with some friends in December. I wanted to share it with y’all.

Gripped

One ridge in her palm

crawls outside-out,

blackened by grimy

nails, unpainted, left long.

A stray flick

falls millimeters and miles.

The muscle–her thumb–

throbs noisily.

A residually swollen fist,

clenched and clamped,

clapped over my skull–

hut, one two, hut!

Frayed webbing tethers

the fore and middle fingers,

drifting. Watch pinky and ring,

perpetually tandemed,

a swift game of shadow:

now I’m it, now she.

Her flat crackles

over knuckled embers,

oblong, though agile,

no longer hued white.

Scar of a bucked-tooth

sleeps just left of center.

Her grip holds firm–

sanded, well-worn.

A glove in a glove.

It crushes me twice,

or I think that it does.

Fulbright Soundtrack

Hey folks. I had an idea today. As alluded to in my Facebook post from a little earlier, music has served a huge role in my Fulbright grant thus far. Karaoke is one of the most popular social activities in Indonesia, so I go butcher some Indonesian pop songs about every two weeks or so. Every day I disappoint my students with my lack of knowledge of the entire One Direction or Justin Bieber canon (though, let’s be real, Bieber’s new stuff is really good). And, as I said explicitly in my post, music has been the biggest buffer for homesickness, reminding me of home and transporting me back there occasionally.

So, I thought it would be fun to throw together a playlist of stuff I’ve been listening to that also helps explain my year so far. If this post ends up just being dry and a quick place for you to find some (hopefully) good music, so be it. But I thought this would be fun. Let’s go.

1. “The Wild Life” by Vacationer

 

To be honest, this song kind of encapsulates what I imagined this year would look like. I live in a city called Pontianak, but this city resides on the island of Borneo. I imagined my year would be wild in a lot of ways demonstrated in this song’s music video: encounters with wild animals, leaping off of cliffs and exploring beaches. And, in some ways, it has been that. I’ve spent a smattering of days visiting different “jungly” sites around the outskirts of Pontianak and have even found forests more centrally located to the city.

But the wilder things have really been more what makes up my day to day, and I have to stop and consider these wilder things before they become too commonplace to really matter to me. Every time I leave my house and have any kind of interaction I’m doing so in a language I only started learning five months ago. Oh, and every time I leave my house I do so on a motorcycle that I only started learning to drive four months ago. My cultural faux pas are still many, my patience for cultural exchange sometimes fleeting. But I’ve been reminded time and again that living where I’m living and doing what I’m doing is a kind of wild life, and this song ensures I won’t forget that.

2. “I Need Never Get Old” by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

If Vacationer has helped me remember the wildness of what I’m doing, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have helped me remember that I’m able to live here because of my youth, and that that youth is something to celebrate.

While living in Indonesia I’ve had to take many steps to plan and think ahead for life after my grant period. I’m having to weigh the important factors of major life decisions (e.g. where I want to live, what I want to do), and that process along with the tribulations of living abroad alone–to a certain degree–I think inherently introduce a different kind of maturity I may not have attained otherwise.

However, this song helps me remember that along with that maturity comes the blessing that I am still only 22 And to really enjoy still being only 22.

And that’s not simply an age thing. As I’ve matured and grown this year, I’ve been reminded by the Indonesian people to remain young in as many ways as I can.

Truly, I need never get old. Not fully, anyway.

3. “Always Alright” by Alabama Shakes

When I have the faux pas I mentioned earlier, when my students don’t want to give me attention one day in class, when my power goes out while it’s 98 degrees with 100% humidity, when I shower with cold water for four months, when my Indonesian is really off one day and I can’t communicate what I need to with anyone, when I get sold something with a higher price because I’m obviously a foreigner, when I have to use a squatty potty, when I come home to an army of ants fighting for control of my bedroom, when I find mouse droppings around my house with no sight of the culprit, when my wifi or Internet connection is too slow to communicate with friends and family back home, when I just want decent Western food for one meal, when I get asked to take one selfie too many, when I get sick from eating something I shouldn’t have, when I lose yet another sock at my laundry place or when I have really hard days that make me feel lonely, you know what?

Things are always alright.

4. “Sweet Life” by Jeezy ft. Janelle Monae

And conversely, when my students are engaged and enjoying class, when my Indonesian is really on one day and I’m able to say everything I want and need to say, when I’m playing cards and laughing with my Indonesian friends, when I’m teaching my men’s basketball league how to talk trash in English, when I beat one of my coffee shop friends in a chess match, when something so ridiculous happens that I can’t help but smile, when I’m driving my motorcycle at night and I’m the only one on the road, when I have a delicious bite of some local food, when I’m shown the common grace and hospitality that must be a genetic disposition of Indonesian people, when I connect with my students outside of the classroom, when I sit out on my covered balcony and read during the middle of a thunderstorm, when I have dinner outside and leave without a single mosquito bite, when I’m playing billiards on Saturday nights or when I have dinner and hang out with Tommy (my counterpart), Vera (his wife) and Keaton (their son that calls me his older brother), you know what?

I’m reminded of the sweetness of my life in Indonesia.

5. “Heroes” by David Bowie

If I’ve learned anything about my students during the five months I’ve been privileged to know them, it is this: they are absolute rockstars.

My students have a wide variety of talents, from musical to theatrical to athletic to artistic and everything else along the spectrum. Some of them care more than others in my English class, and that is absolutely okay. But in talking to my students outside of the classroom, I’ve acquired a fuller perspective for who they are as people. And many of my students–as are many people everywhere–are fighting some tremendous uphill battles.

Most of my students would love to go to America or Australia or Singapore or any number of places. They want to see the world, and they are encouraged that they may be able to by seeing my live among them in Indonesia. These students are obscenely talented and incredibly good-hearted. They want to conquer whatever is in front of them, and I know the drive of my students has infected me as well.

My students are my heroes, and I hope to serve them half as well as they’ve served me.

(Also, RIP David Bowie.)

6. “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy

This one’s kind of a wild card from the rest of my selection, but I find this song absolutely beautiful. This song, in a way that few others do, finds a way to slow me down and simply enjoy its beauty. It may be cheesy or pretentious to say that about a classical piece, but that’s what it does.

When I hear this song, I think of the beauty Indonesia has forced me to slow down and savor. Some of that definitely includes natural beauty. From Flores to Komodo to Rinca to Bali to Bandung to Pontianak this country has some gorgeous elements. Thick green jungles that house a variety of wildlife waiting to be found. Piercingly azure waters poured over twisting coral, fleet fish and meandering sea turtles. Komodo dragons lumbering mere meters away from you, harkening back to the Mesozoic Era while providing a masterclass in the lurking danger of the natural world. Hikes to vistas and viewpoints overlooking the largest archipelagic nation in the world. The beauty exceeds the attempts at flowery writing.

But when I think of Indonesia’s beauty, I really think of the people. The countless grins I receive (with huge variance as to the number of teeth in those mouths) from people simply because they are excited to see someone from somewhere else; the demonstrated eagerness of others to share a meal or a coffee with me; the willingness of some of my friends to ask hard questions about America and answer hard questions about Indonesia; the way anyone from my school will put their life on hold to make sure the little old bule (BOO-lay, Indonesian for “foreigner,” though it literally means “albino”) is okay.

These people have been exclusively wonderful towards me, and even after only five months I feel wholly incapable of ever giving to them what they’ve given to me: a home and a community.

7. “Who Knows Who Cares” by Local Natives

(Skip ahead to the 1:30 mark for the actual start of the song. And if you haven’t listened to this song, make sure you find the studio version as well.)

Even though I have four months left, many people I’ve talked to from home have asked me some variation of, “What do you feel like you’ve learned from your time in Indonesia?” I really didn’t have a good answer the first couple times I was asked this question. My stock reply was, “People are generally wonderful everywhere you go,” and this is still very true. And it has been (and continues to be) fascinating to learn about Islam in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country in the world, particularly at a time when Islam can unfortunately be painted with one brutal brush by some folks. These are very important lessons for me to continue internalizing.

However, my biggest takeaway has become, “There is seldom one best or right way to do things. There’s seldom a definitive ‘better’ or ‘worse.’ Usually, there’s only ‘different.'”

When I first arrived in Indonesia, I expected watershed moments of culture shock–episodes where I would try to do or understand something as I always had in Arkansas or Texas and I would find things unrecognizably foreign upon learning that it happened a different way in Indonesia. Instead, culture shock has been a gradual accumulation of minor differences. Sometimes this accumulation results in a breaking point–there have been multiple times where I’ve gotten home after one of these inconsequential culture shocks and screamed out loud because too many small ones had built up–but more often I feel a perpetual pruning of the expectations and worldview I brought into this country.

Some of this pruning happens in ways that still make me uncomfortable. Other times I feel able to let go of something I hadn’t even realized was weighing on me. And still other times this pruning introduces me to a perspective or practice that simply makes life more beautiful. “Who Knows Who Cares” is too laissez faire to actually encapsulate this emotion, but Indonesia has instilled a deeper longing to see things from another’s point of view, and this has in turn introduced me to my own fallibility in many ways.

No one likes to learn just how fallible they are. But I think everyone would be better off if they were forced to try.

8. “True Love Will Find You in the End” by Daniel Johnston

Simply put, this country has captured my heart and my soul so completely, so rapaciously and so quickly. I love one of the lines in this song in particular:

This is a promise with a catch / only if you’re looking will it find you

Cause true love is searching too

And how will it recognize you / unless you step out into the light

I went to Indonesia looking for a country and a people to love, but I never realized the extent to which Indonesia would love me.

I’m genuinely overwhelmed thinking about all the people in this country have already done to love me. And, as I said above, I’m wholly incapable of giving any portion of what they’ve given to me.

9. “Goin’ Home” by Dan Auerbach

I went to karaoke two weeks ago with my two closest friends at my school. After a good two hours of a mixture of Indonesian and Western songs, we left the karaoke facility in good spirits. After we walked out, my friend Daw suddenly grew sad. He looked at me with a grimace and said, “After next week, you only have four months left, right?”

“Yes,” I answered.

He asked, “Do you think we can take May off the calendar? If we take May off the calendar, do you still have to go home?”

———————————

Now that I’m over the halfway point of my grant period (five months down, four to go), I’m at an unavoidable realization that I, from this minute forward, have fewer days left ahead of me than I’ve already spent here. And that realization has birthed some other terrifying realizations.

  • What if I’ve missed out on something I was supposed to do here?
  • What if I haven’t made the most of my time?
  • What if I’m letting my school down in or out of the classroom?
  • What if I’m being too selfish?

Now that my time here is already dwindling, I think it’s only natural to drift to these what if’s of inadequacy. I’m fearful that I’m not living up to what I should be in this grant. I’m afraid I will look back in May and see only areas where I was insufficient. I’m scared I will have missed something.

I’m trying to use these fears to spur me on to a strong finish of the grant, but it’s inevitable for these fears to catch in my throat a little. They’re forcing me to reflect, to see weak spots, to be brutally honest. Those are not always enjoyable things. They hurt. But damn if they aren’t forcing me to pour myself into these four months.

———————————

On a separate note, I’m honestly terrified of coming home, too. What if this time abroad has altered me dramatically in ways I won’t notice until I return to a familiar setting? What if it’s difficult for me to be around friends, family and loved ones after I get back? What if I miss Indonesia in a way that hurts my heart too much to bear? What if I get home and realize I got nothing out of this year?

These fears are acutely felt when I think of going home, but when I listen to this song I find a calmness. An equanimity. This song reminds me that no matter where you’ve gone, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, who you’ve become, who you’ve lost, who you’ve hurt, what you’ve learned, what you’ve missed, how long you’ve been gone, or, most importantly, how you’ve changed, that I have a home to go to.

That this home is full of people who love me.

That this home will be fuller for all I’ve experienced here.

That I’ll be taking everyone and everything with me as much as I can when I leave.

That in going home, with its promises and disappointments, its welcome faces and re-adjustments, I have somewhere and multiple someones to bring everything back to.

Songs:

  1. “The Wild Life” by Vacationer
  2. “I Need Never Get Old” by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
  3. “Always Alright” by Alabama Shakes
  4. “Sweet Life” by Jeezy ft. Janelle Monae
  5. “Heroes” by David Bowie
  6. “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
  7. “Who Knows Who Cares” by Local Natives
  8. “True Love Will Find You in the End” by Daniel Johnston
  9. “Goin’ Home” by Dan Auerbach

Singkawang

(Disclaimer: I tried to include pictures, but my current wi-fi is too slow. I will try and do a picture dump later this week.)

I’ve been on a random 5 day vacation from school! We had three days of teacher training from Thursday to Saturday, and today is also a holiday from school (I was told by my school it is a Catholic holiday, I don’t know if that’s a global Catholic holiday or a local one). So, to celebrate that vacation, some of my students took me to Singkawang, a coastal city about 2.5 hours north of Pontianak. Ever since I arrived in Pontianak I’ve had people asking me if I want to go to Singkawang, so I’m excited that I finally got to go.

I woke up at 5 and was picked up a little bit later by a group of 12th graders. I’ve been teaching 10th and 11th graders, and we’re not allowed to teach 12th graders as part of our Fulbright grant in Indonesia, but some of my best relationships with students have come from the 12th grade class. It’s been very fun for me to talk with them about college next year, where they want to go, what they plan to study. I don’t know if there’s a time in your life filled with more promise and anticipation than senior year of high school with college on your radar, and it’s been so fun for me to get to enjoy that a little bit with them. There were about 14 of us split between three cars, and we were on the road by 6.

The 2.5 hour drive was bumpy. The infrastructure in parts of Indonesia has some shortcomings, and the most obvious way I’ve seen this is roads that are too skinny and very uneven. I rode in the back seat, and my head hit the ceiling continuously throughout the drive. It didn’t help too much that William, the student driving us, seemed to be auditioning for a role as an extra in Fast and Furious 8, but there was only so much he could do even if he didn’t treat our family minivan like SpaceX property reaching escape velocity. Any venture outside of the city allows me to see an Indonesia more in line with the Indonesia I expected: vast green lands, bucolic houses and villages, bright colors everywhere. I’ve loved being in and learning the city of Pontianak, but I think it’s good for the soul to be lost among the tall trees or sprawled on a sandy beach for a little while too.

When we arrived in Singkawang, our first stop was at a Buddhist temple. The temple reminded me of buildings I’d seen in Chinatowns in America, but it was fascinating to actually see a temple like this in an area of Indonesia that is majority Chinese. Additionally, some of the students in our group were Buddhist. I watched these students pray, light candles, and proceed through some kind of Buddhist ritual. It was interesting to have these few students in the midst of a highly reverent activity while the other students milled and joked around, but I thought that encapsulated a unique aspect of Indonesia pretty well. In Indonesia, one of the first questions people ask you is, “What is your religion?” While that question would be seen as intrusive in America, in Indonesia the sacred and the profane continually coexist. I’ve not been involved in any of the debate-style conversations that can happen in America (and anywhere, frankly) where people try to poke holes in each other’s religious beliefs, but I have been consistently in conversation where I’m asking questions about a religion and how it’s practiced in Indonesia and I’m asked the same questions about America. I’ve definitely learned a lot about religion in Indonesia, in its many forms, and that’s led me to think about my own religion and religion in America. Nothing conclusive there, it’s just been fascinating to talk, think and learn constantly about religion here: I was not expecting that!

After the temple, we did a nice hike through the woods to a slightly disappointing waterfall. The students had built it up a little bit, but Indonesia has been so dry so far this year that the waterfall had been reduced to little more than a trickle. I washed my face and hands in the water, and it was refreshingly cool. Any traipse through the woods is worth it in Indonesia though, even if it means the waterfall is smaller than you expected and you emerge with 50 more mosquito bites than when you entered.

After the “waterfall,” we made a brief detour by a mall to enjoy some air conditioning and grab some lunch, and then we headed off to the beach. Quite different from resort or touristy beaches (in Indonesia or America), the beach was very low-key and sparsely populated. There was only probably a half mile of beachfront where we were and a strong contingent of fishermen and fisherwomen finishing up their hauls for the day. These men and women were untangling their lines and preserving their catch for the day, and I walked over to snap some pictures of them with their boats. I spoke a little bit of Bahasa Indonesian with them (people here are always so delighted/surprised when I speak Indonesian), though my maritime vocabulary is critically lacking. I also found a fantastic pier (take a peek at my Instagram if you want to see it from my point of view) that I took probably 40 pictures of (which will hopefully be featured in the picture dump later this week!), spoke with a few more Indonesians on the beach, and played in the water with the students. The water (I believe we were in the South China Sea, by looking at a map of Indonesia) was warmer and shallower than I expected, and my students’ favorite game was to gang up on one student, cover him or her in sand, and run away. Which, I have to admit, was pretty entertaining to watch every time it happened. My students also loved posing for my camera, to the point that they would find a pose or a place they liked and look at me just waiting for me to point and shoot. Pictures are a HUGE deal here (I get stopped and asked to take pictures with people everywhere I go), so I was happy to oblige.

After playing at the beach for an hour or so we loaded up to head back to Pontianak. I was pretty beat from the long day and early morning, but my students had made it such a fun day. Their willingness and eagerness to include me, practice English with me and desire to have me around makes me feel very welcome and very wanted, even though I’m not technically their teacher.

There are still times here where I feel lonely, unsure, out of my element or uncomfortable. But interactions like these continue to make me feel wanted, and I think one of the biggest criteria for a place to feel like home is for you to feel like you’re wanted there. It’s taking time, but Pontianak is slowly becoming a home for me. And I can’t believe I already have under 7 months left here.

Morning Commute

Hello friends!

I apologize that it’s been so long since I last blogged, my Internet has been a little less than reliable, but that will hopefully be fixed when I get wifi at my house some time this month.

To (hopefully) make it up to you, I videoed my morning commute via motorcycle from home to school to try and give you a small glimpse of what I do every day. I put my phone in my shirt frocket, so I didn’t have great control of where the camera was pointing. The roads here are also very bumpy, and I did my best, but I apologize that the footage sometimes resembles Cloverfield.

As you’ll see below, there’s not a ton of rules of the road, so my basic driving mantra is stay out of the way. People are supposed to drive on the left side of the road, but people end up driving on both sides of the road. For a culture that often views time and commitments through a very relaxed lens, most people drive like their hair is on fire. It’s a little terrifying at times, but I love driving my motorcycle–it’s so much fun, and it makes me feel that much more autonomous while in Indonesia.

Anyway, here’s the video. Enjoy!

“Belum”

Hey friends!

Orientation is officially over, and, as my sitemate and I realized, the grant has truly begun. My first week in Pontianak, while amazing and enlightening, felt very temporary with the knowledge that I would be in Bandung for two weeks in a comfortable environment (i.e. surrounded by Americans all around my age).

I truly loved orientation. The language training we received twice a day from a company called Wisma Bahasa was invaluable simply from a language perspective (and even that excludes the bond I developed with my small group’s [C-SQUAD] teacher, Moko). I got to hike in the jungle on Java, taking in waterfalls  while observing monkeys less than 10 feet away and rusa (kind of like deer) less than 10 inches away. I got to practice teaching English in an Indonesian high school (twice!). I got to deepen my friendships with members of my cohort that had begun in Washington, D.C. at the end of June, and it was genuinely bittersweet to see the group members disperse to their respective sites.

 

{This monkey was eating crackers like the cutest little sort-of-human ever.}

 
 

{This is a rusa. I spent a lot of time with them and acquired the nickname, “The Rusa Whisperer.”}

But, as I alluded to above, those first three weeks had a vacation-esque feel to them. Pontianak is about the size of Little Rock, lives under a perpetual smog ceiling thanks to slash-and-burn agricultural practices in Kalimantan, and has (I think) 6 foreigners living in the entire city. Simply returning from Bandung to Pontianak reminded me of what I expected this year to be: uncomfortable with a lot of hard work sprinkled in. And, at times (and particularly in retrospect), tremendously beautiful.
I wanted to focus this post on one of those things that I’ve found to be tremendously beautiful, despite how miniscule it may seem. Whenever I ask my Indonesian friends (in terribly broken Bahasa Indonesian) whether or not they’ve seen a certain movie, been to a particular place in the country, or eaten at a new restaurant in town, they sometimes respond, “Ya.” “Ya,” as I’m sure you could guess, means yes, they have done whatever I’m asking. However, if the answer is not, “Ya,” then the answer is, “Belum.” It would be natural to assume that, “Belum,” means, “No.” But it doesn’t (“no” is either “tidak” or “bukan” depending on the context). “Belum,” means, “Not yet.” And I love this.

I may be projecting more meaning onto this simple phrase than was initially intended or than should be today, but ride this train of thought with me. Instead of saying, “No,” when you haven’t done something, pretend you say, “Not yet.” Doesn’t this imply that you will at some point? Or that, at the least, you’re intentionally providing the opportunity to do so at some point?

In “Belum,” I see a microcosm of the optimistic and inclusive mindset that I’ve found is prevalent in Indonesia.These peoople have been so open, so accommodating, and so eager to know and help me, and I’ve found that general disposition incredibly hospitable and a little bit infectious.  

So, in light of that, I decded to come up with my own “Belum” list for Indonesia–the list of things that I will/may do that I have not done yet. Voila:

1. Learn to comfortably drive a motorbike (everyone uses motorbikes as their mode of transportation down here)

2. Trek down to South Kalimantan to see the orangutans at Tanjung Puting National Park

3. Go to Bali (because you have to go to Bali)

4. Visit sites that my other ETA friends are placed at

5. Become conversationallly proficient in Bahasa Indonesian

6. Undertake a “small grant project” (a type of small-dollar grant project that AMINEF will fund for us) that I’m interested in and that–more importantly–my students are interested in

7. Get better at handling the spiciness of Indonesian food

8. Attend a religious service for each of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism)

9. Become best friends with Keaton, my counterpart’s four-year-old son

  
{KEATON!}

10. Understand how Indonesians view Indonesia and its place in the world

I know some of those may be easy, some of those may be impossible, and the rest fall in the middle. But if you ask me about any of them, expect either a, “Ya,” or a, “Belum.”

Finally, I’ve had some good downtime while here that’s allowed time for introspection, and I always think that’s a good thing. As a result, I’ve been writing quite a bit, and here’s a poem I wrote during a session during orientation. It needs some additional work, but I wanted to go ahead and share what I had with you people.

The Folly of Change

Youth beckons to age

Reminds and restrains

Age calls, stentorian, “In time.”

But youth cannot wait

Escapes in a spate

Flees far from the summoning chime

/

Sets out age for youth

Down oft-trodden routes

Replete with since forgotten signs

No longer youth’s there

‘Twas pummeled somewhere

Stripped naked found rawly supine

/

Age finds frantic pace

Runs face-first through space

Hopes youth can from darkness unbind

Youth slowly awakes

Hip broken, arm sprained

Tongue swollen cannot voice supply

/

Happens age upon

Feeble as a pawn

Face haggard, youth unrecognized

Eyes peer out from peat

Pink-pocked gash on cheek

A bruised worldly wisdom refined

/

Head tilted askew

Age considers youth

Seeing through since-unblinded eyes 

Youth’s grown into age
Their faces the same

Each older and younger alike

/

/
Love you friends and family. (<– that was not a part of the poem)

Reach

Hey there! I’m in Bandung this week and next week for our in-country training/orientation, and it’s so nice to have all 34 of us back together again. I spent last week in Pontianak, getting acclimated to my site, and I love it already.

I’m a little short on time, and I will do a longer blog post later this week. For now, I wanted to share a poem I wrote yesterday during orientation to try and express some of the feelings of (finally) being here. Enjoy.


Reach

My tongue fell out yesterday

A man with a megaphone

Climbed into my mouth

Shouted loudly without words

/   

I lost my ears too

Eaten greedily as a snack

Blood coagulated on my cheek

My wounds pulsed tenderly

/

Someone stole my eyes

Coerced a trade for slick marbles

That slid out of my palm

Sullied by bare feet on the unswept floor

/

Then they came to take my face

Held it up to the light

Tried it on one by one

Stretched it eagerly over their own

/

I (surprised) did not wretch

But instead tore open my chest

Plunged elbow-deep inside myself

Weakly extended my heart in sanguine hand

/

They appraised it warily

Crouched to assess the underside

Spoke brusquely between them

Each waiting for another to reach first

Selamat datang di Jakarta

We made it to Jakarta! After 21 hours of flight time, about 9 hours of layover time, and a trip through many different time zones, we finally made it to Jakarta.

I met up with 5 other ETAs (Sean [my sitemate in Pontianak], Dalton, Kelsey, Tall Sam, and Andrew) in San Francisco, and we all enjoyed a beer together in the airport as a sendoff of sorts. The flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong served as the longest leg of the trip, taking 13 hours, I think. We left at 1:00 AM Pacific time and arrived in Hong Kong at 6:00 AM local time, and I have not bothered to figure out exactly how long the flight actually was because I am too tired for math. I couldn’t quite get comfortable enough on the flight to sleep (though I did have an exit row where I could comfortably stretch out my legs) until I figured out how exactly to situate my neck pillow. I got about 5 hours of sleep on this flight, chatted quite a bit with Dalton, Kelsey, and Andrew, and started reading Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography (so far: highly recommended). 

We arrived in Hong Kong with a ton of energy, and we rendezvoused with a smattering of our group that had arrived either earlier that day or the previous night. This was the first time we’d seen each other since the in-country orientation in DC, and everyone was thrilled to reconvene and catch up. Andrew packed a frisbee in his carry on, so to stretch our legs a little we trotted around the terminal tossing the frisbee. The terminal had two moving sidewalks that cut the terminal in half with large gates on either side of these sidewalks, so naturally we spread out as far as we could across from one another and launched the frisbee over pedestrians on the moving sidewalks. And everyone loved it. We had many passerbys attempt to intercept the frisbee or film us with their phones, and I thought we might achieve some modicum of Hong Kong renown until an exceedingly polite security guard came and told us to stop.

The flight from Hong Kong to Jakarta was only 5 hours, but I was a little antsy to get on to Indonesia, so, consequently, those 5 hours crawled by. Luckily, I was seated in a grouping of four seats with Shalina, Stevenson, and Kendra (I’ll probably explain more about the people in my group at some point, but try and keep up in good faith for now!), and the four of us chatted throughout the entirety of this final leg. This chat (and really every interaction I’ve had thus far) simply reinforced the quality–both from an intellectual and a character standpoint–of our cohort. We joked, we talked about art, we talked about planes, we talked about our anxieties, we talked about our goals. I know that goals are more attainable/pressing/whatever when you write them down or share them with someone, so I’m going to knock out both of those criteria right here with you people. My goals for this upcoming year and my Fulbright experience, as stated on the plane, are as follows:

1. Develop my Bahasa Indonesian (the language at which I’m currently exceptionally unskilled) to a comfortably conversational level

2. Improve my ability to be professional, hard-working, and serious

3. Prove to myself, the Fulbright Program, the Institute of International Education (IEE), and the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation (AMINEF) that they made the right decision by selecting me for this position over the other candidates they considered and did not choose

4. Come away from this experience with something more concrete, meaningful, and impactful to say than, “Wow, I had fun”

I’m sure none of those goals are particularly groundbreaking, but it was nice to share outloud on the plane some of the things I’ve been thinking but have been unable to transform from abstract feelings into fully-formed ideas.

Tomorrow afternoon I fly from Jakarta to Pontianak, my home for the next 9 months. I’ll be there for one week, meeting folks from my school, introducing myself to my neighbors, and attempting to get the lay of the land. After that week, we have two weeks of orientation in Bandung (located on Java) where we will have intensive language classes and be taught some instructional methods for the classroom as well. And after those two weeks, it’s on for real.

I’m so excited to be here, I’m mildly jetlagged, and I’m eager to explore Jakarta briefly tonight. 

Oh, and the title of the post, “Selamat datang di Jakarta,” means, “Welcome to Jakarta.” This is one of the first Indonesian phrases I’ve used outloud. Even though I said it to myself out of excitement upon arrival, it still is very cool to be minimally using some Indonesian!

You guys will be hearing from me soon, and I should have pictures up this week of my city, my school, and my house (fingers crossed for that last one–I have no idea what to expect).

I miss y’all already, but I couldn’t be more excited to be here.

P.S. I accidentally left my awesome neck pillow on the plane once we landed in Jakarta. I was too excited to remember everything I had with me, so this is my first official casualty of the trip. And, I’m sure, there are many more to come.

Consider Me Oriented

So, first of all, this is the blog I’ll be using for my year abroad in Indonesia. I’ll try and write interesting things, introduce you to some of the wonderful people I’ll (hopefully) be meeting, and post as many pictures of orangutans as I can. I want to use this to keep everyone updated on what I’m doing and how things are going. 

So, to that end, here’s what I can tell you so far.

I found out my placement, via e-mail, a few weeks ago. It’s in a city called Pontianak in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, on the island of Borneo. If you look at the map just below, you can find Pontianak on the Equator on the country’s west coast. 

  
Yes, I’ll be right on the Equator. Yes, it is hot on the Equator.

Equally important is the name of the city. I Googled “Pontianak” immediately after I found out that I would be there and clicked instinctively on “Images” to get a feel for the look of the city. And that was a terrifying decision, because pontianak is also the name of a vampiric ghost from Malay and Indonesian mythology. The pontianak are said to be the spirits of women who died while pregnant. And they look like this:

  
But as far as I can tell, I hopefully won’t be running into too many of these while I’m there.

Actually receiving my placement was the most excited I’d been since I found out that I had been selected as a Fulbrighter, and it brought the upcoming year back squarely into my point of view. And then I got to go to DC.

From June 24 – 28 I had a Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) in DC with the whole Indonesia crew (pictured below) as well as many other Fulbrighters going to other countries in the East Asia Pacific (EAP) region.

  
 We heard from representatives of the Department of State and the Fulbright Program that reinforced the value of what we would be doing while abroad and the uniqueness of this opportunity. It is likely that I am the only American that many of the people I will meet have ever interacted with, and this will obviously provide some rich cultural exchange. I expect to have a few cultural faux paus while I’m navigating living in Indonesia for those nine months, and I also anticipate fielding hundreds of questions on what Americans think and why we think that. It’s a tall task to be the voice of the entire United States as some Indonesians may expect me to be, but I’m excited to see on a very real level the differences between Western and Eastern cultures.

We also met the staff of the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation (AMINEF) who will serve as our primary contact point in the country. We heard from alumni that had been to Indonesia before as ETAs and were able to give us all kinds of advice (e.g. “teach your students to play dodgeball cause it may be hilarious,” or “actually buy the Crocs-looking shoes cause they’ll save you during the rainy season,” or “get used to sweating through your shirt every single day”). I’ve had many questions all throughout this process and didn’t really know who to ask or how to figure them out, so these alums (all of whom will be returning to Indonesia for a second year) proved invaluable.

Orientation was helpful and prepared me in a lot of ways, but it chiefly reinforced my excitement for the upcoming year. I’m ecstatic to live in a Muslim majority country for the first time and have the opportunity to be both an ethnic and religious minority. I’m ecstatic to see the beauty–geographical and cultural–of the world’s fourth-largest country and learn to acclimate to an entirely foreign lifestyle. I’m ecstatic to “get outside my comfort zone” and “push my limits” and all the kinds of cliche terms that people use that nevertheless ring true.

I’m nervous and eager and worried and everything in between.

And hopefully I can do a good job of keeping all you in the loop.