Two mountains and a week of lounging at the beach later and I am back in the beautiful city of Jakarta *heavy sarcasm on the word beautiful.* It’s strange to think that just a few mornings ago I was waking up in a bungalow, walking barefoot along the island and lazily sipping on coconuts for a whopping $1.50. Now I suddenly find myself inside a taxi that is driving in both lanes and honking at ultra-confident motorcyclists whizzing by at alarming speeds while only barely hitting each other in the process.
And even crazier… was it seriously only two weeks ago that I was scraping the ice off of my car and hiking through the snow?
Time is a seriously weird thing. (Go watch the movie Arrival if you really want to see time going wild.)
Now, instead of walking through snow I am strolling past two-story KFC’s that offer catering and delivery, aggressive men shouting “taxi, taxi!” and awkwardly smiling at those I catch staring at me as I walk down the street since I am the only white person within a five mile radius. (I say “five” with complete confidence, but really, it’s likely to be more around the 30-40 mile range.)
I am alone.
I don’t write that in a pitiful-boo-hoo-sad-me way, but as the most realistic means to describe my current circumstance. I’ve never really done this sort of thing before because previous travel ventures that had me in a place for more than a few weeks offered a bit more structure, guidance, and perhaps most notably, involved other people. I spent 8 weeks Costa Rica living with a host family and volunteering through a reputable organization. In Europe, my best friend and I backpacked through ten countries with ridiculously packed bags. Peru had me working at a hostel where I made lifelong friends while slinging drinks together and making guests tipsy one Pisco Sour at a time. In Thailand I met up with my best friend and later worked at an animal shelter while staying in a volunteer house.
This time around feels different.
For the next few months I am renting a studio apartment in a very random Indonesian city (Depok, pronounced day-poke) while teaching conversational English at an uber conservative Islamic school in an even more random town (Cibinong, chi-bee-nong). There is not a structured organization coordinating this, there are no fellow volunteers or ex-pats to share my time with, there are no tourists.
That’s not entirely fair, I’m not all alone, I’m surrounded by a bajillion selfie-taking Indonesians giggling at who-knows-what, too. But I’m also not alone since my in-country expert and the other half to my adventurous soul is living only a few hours away and luckily we get to see so much of this ginormous country together (and more on all those adventures soon, I promise). However, generally speaking, I’m pretty much on my own learning to navigate this strange land with an arsenal of approximately 25 Indonesian words. Oh, and I say “strange” in every sense of the word; this place is weird. Like, really, weird. Take the number 4, for example. I’m not sure if counting is a difficult task or if there is some superstitious voodoo around this particular number but there is not a floor 4, 13, or 14, and even some rooms skip from 3 to 5. Plus, on the plane there was not a row 44. There was a row 24, 34, 43 and 45, but no 44. If someone out there can please solve this mystery for me that would be great.
I’ve also come to accept that I will be wandering around my new school like a lost sheep with a perpetually confused face for awhile because something as basic as my work schedule is suddenly a complicated matter. Apparently “hour” periods do not necessarily mean 60 minutes; an “hour” in elementary is 30 minutes, in middle school it is 35 and in high school it is 40. So far, so good, yeah? But wait… my schedule indicates that I teach two classes from 10:00-11:45 (at 30 minutes each that totals one hour). Still with me? But 10:00-11:45 is an hour and 45 minutes. So I ask my counterpart to clear it up and the following conversation ensues:
Me: Each class is 30 minutes, yes?
Her: Yes, 30 minutes!
Me: Is there a break between classes then?
Her: Oh no, you teach from 10:00-10:45, then 11:00-11:45.
Me: That means classes are 45 minutes..
Me: So an “hour” period is not 60 minutes because in elementary school an “hour” is only 30 minutes, but what “30 minutes” actually means is 45?
Her: Yes, yes, exactly! See, you understand!
That’s basically my life here so far…
I don’t really mind how long I’m teaching each day, it’s just that nothing makes sense! Navigating a non-sensical world is going to be challenging, yet I am excited to get out of my comfort zone, learn a thing or two and grow from my time here. I’m also going to try to learn the language because I’m currently speaking Spangdonesian. When at a loss for the Indonesian word I want my automatic reaction is to fill it in with the only other foreign language I know, Spanish, and when that is clearly ineffective I start spewing English. Many of my sentences sound something like: “di mana pagar por mi parking spot” or “No se, but I’ll take the nasi goreng, tidak pedas.”
Clearly this whole thing isn’t going to be a cake walk, although there are literally a dozen cake shops to walk to from my place (Indonesians looovvve sugar). Perhaps the phrase “it’s not going to be a walk in the park” is more accurate because not only is it going to be tough, but really, there are essentially zero parks to walk around here.
In any case, I have a challenge ahead of me and I’m ready to tackle it head on! I got all my zen in from the past two weeks of vacation and I am excited to begin this new adventure. I’m also excited to write about my experiences at Mount Bromo, Kawah Ijen, Lombok and the Gili Islands, which I will hopefully post very soon!
Until then, sampai jumpa, mi amigos!