It’s that time in my service. Time when I write a reflective piece about how I’ve been in Indonesia for a year but still have one year to go. I’ve been putting this off for a while because I was not sure what there is to reflect upon; but this past weekend the new group of volunteers (ID11) visited their permanent sites and hearing about them making that trip provided some perspective on this topic.
New Kids on the Block
Last month I was fortunate enough to visit Kediri as a resource volunteer (RV) to help facilitate a couple sessions for the new trainees during their first week of pre-service training. I was also lucky to be there as they moved into their PST host families’ houses and I even got to help with a bike tour for the trainees now living in my former training village, Manisrenggo. I was in Kediri for six days, not a long time, but enough to get to know many of the trainees and their group.
My group of volunteers (ID10) started out with 74 trainees and, after one year, we have a total of 58 volunteers still serving. ID11 started with 59 and they’re now at 58. By this time last year we had already had three trainees head back to America. My group was delayed during our staging event in LA for ten days which put us in Indonesia on the 29th of March last year. This group had no delay and their staging was not prolonged, putting them in Indonesia on the 12th of March this year.
Aside from those statistical differences ID11 and ID10 aren’t all that different. But I don’t remember being quite as upbeat as they are. Don’t get me wrong, I loved PST and I was thrilled to be in the Peace Corps, but in my interactions with ID11 seemed different from ID10 in ways hard to articulate. I thought about opening my journal from PST but I’ve taped all my completed journals shut and I’m set on not opening them until after my service is finished.
Perhaps ID10’s delay in LA, and having lost three trainees affected the group psyche in some way. Or maybe, more likely, I just don’t see things the same way now as I did then, and being a volunteer with one year of experience and perspective makes it hard for me to relate to trainees in PST. Still, their energy and enthusiasm was palpable.
Meeting new people who have embarked on the same journey I did a year ago is invigorating and refreshing. But I am quite happy to be one year into “surviving” this still all too foreign land rather than just starting out.
One of the most fascinating parts of returning to Kediri was seeing PST more from the perspective of Peace Corps staff. So much work goes into preparing the resource volunteers, community liaisons, host families, and language facilitators. Each week is full of many hours of sessions involving teaching, culture, language, safety and security, and Peace Corps policy. It’s a tremendous undertaking for staff and they do it all so well.
Being back in Kediri and seeing my old stomping grounds was the most interesting. During PST almost all my time was accounted for by Peace Corps. But as an RV I had most of the mornings and evenings to myself to hang out with Peace Corps staff, other RVs, or explore the city. Kediri, which at one time seemed unbearably hot, full of long and tiring days, confusing and strange people, was much more pleasant without the weight of PST on my shoulders and with greater language skills and Indo-knowhow. It very much felt like home.
Where I’ve been and where I’m going
The biggest changes I’ve experienced while here in Indonesia are related to personal growth. The amount of internal changes one goes through during Peace Corps is staggering. Looking back, it’s easy to see how much progress I’ve made, but looking forward to next year makes the need for further growth obvious. This is a great time to set goals for the last year of my service. Here are a few areas I’ve made some progress in and would like to make more.
When I came to Indonesia I could not speak a lick of bahasa Indonesia. Now I can carry on a decent conversation with just about any bahasa Indonesia speaking Indonesian without using a word of English. But I want to be “fluent” by the time I leave here.
I’ve recently started studying more words and using them whenever I get the opportunity. Part of fluency is knowing multiple words for similar ideas which is why I now know three words which describe different kinds of “scratches” in bahasa Indonesia.
Luckily, this goal is easy to measure. At our mid-service conference, and again at our close of service (COS) conference, there will be another language proficiency interview to see how much each volunteer has learned throughout their service. I scored intermediate high during PST so I hope to reach advanced high or superior by the time COS rolls around.
My only trip off the island of Java was to visit Evan and Rachel in Madura, which is technically still East Java. With my final year of service starting I hope to get off of Java and explore more of the vast archipelago that is Indonesia. Also, as mentioned in my post about visiting Evan and Rachel, I plan to visit more PCVs’ sites as I have time.
Shortly after I got to site I was not sure if I could teach here for two years. I don’t think of myself as a teacher and my passion for the profession, I now find myself is minimal. Now, I am certain I can make it through this last year, but this semester has me doubting my effectiveness with the task I was sent over here to do.
I have only taught a handful of times this semester due to various Peace Corps events and my counterpart falling ill at rather inopportune times. With this remaining year, I hope to at least establish an English club at my school and find sustainable ways to help my counterparts create interesting, and engaging lessons for their students after I’m gone.
When I met my school I was enthusiastic and motivated to get to work on some project outside of teaching in the classroom. But after a few months that enthusiasm faded and was replaced by a sense of complacency with the status quo. For a long time I had serious doubts about my ability to leave any sort of lasting mark in my community or at my school.
Now, after visiting other volunteers’ schools and seeing some of the great things they’ve done I am more confident in my ability to put together something to benefit my school or community. Right now, I have my sights set on doing the World Map Project, but everything is still in the preliminary stages of planning.
A year ago I would only ever eat at places I had been before and I would never go eat at new places alone. I was limited to eating only at warungs and rumah makan (restaurants; literally: eating house) my CPs had taken me to before, which wasn’t that many.
Most warungs and rumah makan in the desa do not have clear advertising or descriptions of what food they serve. Figuring out where to eat, what there is to eat, and what it should cost (because prices aren’t listed and people are eager to rip off the foreigner) can be tricky. These past fewside months have been the first time I’ve felt confident enough in my language skills and knowledge of Indonesian food to eat, by myself, at a place I had never been before.
I hope by this time next year I will have continued to perfect this skill of solitary, exploratory dining as well as learned how to cook a few Indonesian dishes on my own. Or course, in order to cook I’ll need to go to the market by myself, a skill still in its infancy.
For my first couple of months in Indonesia the attention I received as a fair-skinned foreigner was novel and not grating. Many months later, the attention lost its novelty and became one of the most insufferable aspects of living in Indonesia. Now I am at a nice balance where I don’t mind the attention but I’m also pretty quick to tell people (mostly children) it’s impolite to stare.
I can carry on pleasant conversations with the polite bapaks and ibus who ask where I’m going or where I’m from without any problem. But I still get incensed when any Indonesian refers to me as a “bule” (albino/foreigner), when people surreptitiously take pictures of me, or call me an imperialist without any provocation. When those things happen I typically share a few strong words about how they make me feel and I don’t think the offending Indonesians walk away feeling great about our encounter. I hope to work on that. Getting better at explaining how it’s rude to call people names or take photos of strangers without permission.
During my site visit I was so scared I’d get lost I was checking my phone constantly to make sure I was moving in the right direction. These days I rarely check my phone to navigate. I can ask for directions when I need to, but I usually know where things are and how to reach my destination without referencing my phone.
When going to a new place I still get a little nervous that I’ll get lost or end up at the wrong place, but my goal for this time next year is to continue becoming more independent, comfortable traveling alone, and without a plan.
My first four months of life in Indonesia were full of new and interesting things to write about so I wrote a ton. As I became more aware of the realities of Peace Corps service and the challenges facing my work here I slowed down some (but didn’t stop!).
Since New Year’s I’ve gotten back into the habit of writing for Here to Make Friends regularly, if not at the frequency I once did. My last goal for this last year in Indonesia is to have written a total of 100 blog posts by the time I leave. The pace I’ve set the past six months won’t cut it but, overall, I’m still a little ahead of that goal.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
I’ve always tried to avoid looking forward without also looking back, and vice versa. Both directions carry some peril. Looking to the future, at times, fills me with great hope for the possibilities my last year may hold and, at other times, makes me dread how futile things can seem here and how far away I am from moving on. Looking back at this past year makes me think about how far I have come as an individual and it makes me proud of where I am now. But then there are times where I look at the year I’ve already spent in Indonesia and regret how little I’ve accomplished.
Luckily, these sentiments pair up so that when I look back with regret I can look also forward to potential, or when I look forward and see another entire year of lackluster accomplishments and naïve expectations I can look back and see everything I’ve already done and where I’ve exceeded my own expectations. I thought I would dread being halfway through my service but so far I have really enjoyed resting right in the middle of things.