05 August 2009

You're Up Then You're Down ... or Vice Versa

A good example of just how much of a crazy person a combination of jet-lag, homesickness, and the travel bug can turn you into is the day I had today.  I've been sleeping lightly the past few nights (which mostly means I wake up sometime between 3:30 and 4:30 AM and do mental math to calculate what time it is in all the different time zones in which I have loved ones until I fall back asleep), but last night was particularly bad.  I woke up at about a quarter to five and basically tossed and turned until around 7, when I decided to get out of bed.  I felt stressed about something, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  There was going to be a welcome lunch for me at my school this afternoon, which I was a little nervous about, but there was no reason to be feeling this miserable.  The fit hit the shan when I opened my computer and checked my email, to find that I'd narrowly missed an opportunity to audio chat with my Dad the night before by going to bed about 20 minutes too early.  Up until this morning I'd been able to hold my homesick tears at bay for the most part (only a few rogue ones escaped in Hong Kong) but the dam was a-burstin'.  I recalled something my friend Krista, who's spending this year in Tanzania on a Princeton in Africa fellowship, told me about her own adjustment period: that what helped most was to not fight or ignore the sadness, but to not dwell in it either.  So taking that cue, I let it all out of my system for about five minutes, then resolved to push the Off button by going to have a nice cold bucket shower.  My nice cold bucket shower did help, miraculously, and I was able to pull myself together well enough so that when Mabel, my housemate, offered to accompany me early to Pusat Bahasa (literally: School of Language, where I'll be teaching) since she had a morning class but knew that I wasn't totally comfortable getting there on my own yet, I was ready to go.  

It was around then that my day took an up turn.  I was introduced to the rest of the student staff who work at Pusat Bahasa, as well as many of the teachers and administrators.  The welcome lunch was also a farewell lunch, saying goodbye to Mas Sapto and welcoming me and Pak Mouwlaka, and it was nice to see the two of them again, since they had been my first friendly faces in Indonesia.  When we all crowded into one of the classrooms where the catered Indonesian food had been set up, I saw that there were three chairs at the front of the room, panel-style, facing a semi-circle of the rest of the chairs.  Panel-style I could handle, but what was unexpected, after Mas Sapto, Pak Mouwlaka and I had sat down at the front and everyone else had taken their seat in the semi-circle, was when my boss, Bu Vita ("bu," like "pak," being the abbreviated form of respectful address for older adults, in this case women) stood up and said we were going to have speeches, and I was going to go first.  Being put on the spot like that didn't give me much time to get worried, so I just stood up, introduced myself, and said how excited I was to be in Yogya, and how I hoped to get to be friends with all of them during my time here.  After I sat down, I realized that most of them probably hadn't understood most of what I said, but they were all watching me with huge smiles on their faces and clapping, and for a second my brain zoomed way out and I saw it all in perspective: here I was, in this little classroom in this little university building in Yogykarta, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, The World, and people were happy I was there.  People were clapping because I was there.  And for that second, I felt so lucky that I almost witnessed a return appearance of the rogue tears.

Luckily, though, kept it I under control, and then Mas Sapto and Pak Mouwlaka gave their speeches (in Indonesian) and there was a lot of joking and around and laughing and chatting and I wasn't following any of it, but I was feeling okay.  And after lunch Mabel had to go to another class so I walked home alone, and I realized how much better I feel when I'm out walking around, seeing things and getting my bearings.  Something I learned about myself while I was in Madrid was how much it comforts me to understand my geographical location -- to know where I am on a map and how that relates to other parts of the city, to know which general direction I need to walk in if I'm lost and I want to get home.  A thing which is much easier achieved by actually walking around a place, as opposed to sitting on my bed looking at a map.  Duh.  It's true that Yogya isn't really a walking city -- sidewalks are intermittent, as well as intermittently side-swiped by motorbikes -- and it's true that I speak almost none of the language, but it was comforting to realize that, if I absolutely had to, I could walk myself pretty much anywhere in Yogya, including to get myself home.  It might take an hour, but I could do it.  Or I could just take a taxi.  Also that.

Nevertheless, this realization made me feel better, and I was in a much improved mood when I got home as compared to how I felt when I left this morning.  I spent the afternoon chatting with some family and friends online and writing the blog post below (ha) and then around 6:30 I heard Queenie downstairs so I went down to check out the scene.  She'd made some extra food so I ended up sharing some of her dinner and having a great conversation with her about what she'd done before she came to Yogya -- she's originally from Taiwan, but got her B.A. and Master's in the States (in Oklahoma!) and now she lives here in Yogya with her husband who runs a business here, and who knows, she said, where she'll end up.  Maybe back in the U.S., maybe somewhere else.  She also asked me about where I'm from in the States, how Princeton was and why I decided to come to Indonesia with PiA.  It was great just chatting and getting to know her better, and to be reminded why I did choose to come here -- because I wanted to see a different part of the world and meet cool people like Queenie, and challenge myself in the process.  After my chat with Queenie, Emma came home and made some tea and we talked for a little while too; I told her about my plans to explore some more of the city tomorrow, and she told me about some of the cool stuff to be seen, including various murals scattered around Yogya that are apparently, she said, the fruit of a government project between Yogykarta and one of its sister cities, San Francisco?!  (I just Wikipedia-ed it and I guess Yogya has a sister relationship with the whole state of California, as opposed to just SF -- but still.  That's gotta count for something.)  

Anyway, I guess it was my interaction with a lot of very nice people today that raised my spirits, and helped me feel a little less alone in this totally foreign place.  As I was reminded in the Pusat Bahasa lunch this afternoon, as all the student staff joshed around with Mas Sapto during his speech, hooted and hollered and dissolved into laughter -- it was okay, I didn't have to know what they were saying.  I knew exactly what they meant.


  1. Dear Fiona,

    I was so happy to read your blog. Especially the part about rogue tears and fighting/dealing with them. Our friend is TZ is a wise one. Panning out to see the larger picture is soo necessary. You helped articulate that sentiment I feel when the rugby girls tease me in a totally foreign language and yet make me feel like one of the group. The world is indeed a tiny place, or at the very least we are all in it together. Bonne continuation! And I'll catch you on this side soon enough.

  2. i hope that all goes well!! ill be checking in :)