Friday, June 11, 2010

The Final Score

I’m home now. It’s wonderful and a little sad at the same time.

My friend Jeff Laub sent me Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, about hiking the Appalachian Trail, and being home reminds me a little of Bryson’s experience when he and his friend finally decided to go home:

“‘Do you want to get a Coke?’ I said to Katz. There was a machine by the gas station door.

He considered for a moment. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Maybe later.’

It was unlike Katz not to fall upon soft drinks and junk food with exuberant lust when the opportunity presented itself, but I believe I understood. There is always a measure of shock when you leave the trail and find yourself parachuted into a world of comfort and choice, but it was different this time. This time it was permanent. We were hanging up our hiking boots. From now on, there would always be Coke, and soft beds and showers and whatever else we wanted. There was no urgency now. It was a strangely subduing notion.”


Before I ever for Indonesia, I made a list of 20 goals for myself—nothing too lofty, just things I hoped I’d accomplish over the next nine months. Of course, I made my list before I ever set foot in Indonesia. Had I known what I know now, I probably would have shaped my goals differently. But here’s the final score:

1. Take lots of pictures.

2. Learn to speak Indonesian.
Well, I’m not fluent. But by the end, I understood enough to communicate nearly everything I needed to say, and I could translate most of my students’ uber-dramatic facebook statuses.

3. Eat lots of native foods, especially fruit.
I’m proud of this one. I fell in love with manggis and rambutan, and I tried a whole bunch of other things. Even dog. Woof.

4. Keep up with this blog at least twice a week.
I came pretty close to that.

5. Read all the books I brought.
Check. I switched them all out when I came home at Christmas, too. Nine months ago, I was totally not prepared for the amount of time I ended up spending by myself in Indonesia.

6. Use my new video camera.
I got one of those nifty Flip cameras for Christmas, and I used that a lot. Still, it’s hard to find a balance between experiencing the adventures of Indonesia and distracting yourself by constantly wanting to document everything.

7. Find an English newspaper in Palembang.
Well, there just ISN’T an English newspaper in Palembang. But Raj and I did host that weekly radio program at SmartFM, so that’s something.

8. Get my nails done.
Check. And tons of cream baths. And massages. Cream baths, contrary to the way they may sound, do not involve nakedness or bathtubs. It’s more like a deep hair conditioning with a neck and shoulder massage.

This was in Yogya.
Delightful, but it's usually a little cleaner than this.

9. Prepare some authentic Indonesian food.
Well, I TRIED to make nasi uduk on my own, but that didn’t turn out to be so delicious. It might not even have been edible. But I helped my friend Yanti make pindang tulang in my house. And since this is my blog, I say that counts.

My attempt at nasi uduk.
More like nasi gross.

10. Track down the Rafflesia flower.
tried, ok?! Christine, Raj, and I trekked over to Bukittinggi, with our number one objective being to see the Rafflesia. It, of course, happened to not be blooming that weekend. Then I went to the Bogor Botanical Gardens, which apparently no longer has a Rafflesia. Rest assured, I will see that huge stinky flower someday or I will not rest.

The Rafflesia bud.
So close...

11. See an orangutan in its natural habitat.
See previous blog post. Raj and I tried to go to Borneo. Sure, I probably shouldn’t have saved that trip for the end, but they shouldn’t have cancelled all their flights, either. I did get to hold one little guy at Taman Safari.

Our hair kinda matches.

12. Ride an elephant.
Check! Actually, I did it twice. The first time wasn’t so great—in Palembang, and I shared the big guy’s back with five other people. But the second time was way more fun, and Raj and I got to feed him bananas the whole time.


13. Keep in touch with people at home.
I can’t imagine having done this fellowship ten years ago. While my internet access was limited, I was still able to send emails on a semi-regular basis. And I think I sent my mom about a dozen postcards throughout the year. Still, there’s nothing like
being with the people I love again.

14. Stay up to date on US news.
While my internet was reliable enough to send emails, keeping up to date on news was harder. I did a decent job, but now I’m trying to catch up on all of it. So the news… is kinda already history… hmm.

15. Meet at least one Ball State alum living in Indonesia.
Check. I’m so excited about the people I met. I got to know Chuzai Diem and her husband, two BSU alumni, really well. I already miss them. And I met Gary Swisher, a man currently living in Jakarta who grew up in Bucyrus. And of course, Karen: my penpal who I met up with during her vacation in Bali.

Yay BSU!

16. Travel to tons of places around Indonesia.
Check. Let’s see: Jakarta (so many times), Bandung, Bukittinggi and Padang, Bali (twice), Yogyakarta, Depok (many times), Makassar, Medan and Lake Toba, Padang again for HODR Disaster Response, Medan again for conferences. We eliminated Komodo because the cost was just too high ($800ish just for transportation!), and I wish I’d gotten to Lombok and Borneo. But maybe I’ll just have to visit again someday.

Beautiful Bali

17. Bring back special souvenirs.
Check. My school gave me so many presents that I will cherish forever: my songket (the traditional Sumatran cloth woven with gold thread), batik, my kebaya, and other fabrics. I have a special tea cup set called “Pelangi Palembang” [Palembang Rainbow] and some pearls and amethysts found in Indonesia.

18. Learn more about Islam.
Check. Definitely check.

19. Get in the Columbus Dispatch Travel section.
Ooh… rejection. They didn’t print my picture at Borobudur with the newspaper! I tried.

GRR... print this!
Ok, just kidding.

20. Grow as a person.
Check. See another post coming soon.

My mid-year additions:

21. See Komodo Dragons.
Oh, I just
had to add this one, didn’t I? Like I said earlier, Christine and I were planning a trip, but we decided to put our time into the Padang volunteering instead. And I’ve seen Komodos a few times at zoos so maybe all combined, that counts as one time in their natural habitat.

22. Find somewhere to volunteer.
Check. I spent that week with HODR in Padang counts. I spent every Friday in Palembang at the English Library, and I hosted the radio show with Raj every Saturday.

English Library,
in case you couldn't tell from all the books.

23. Travel somewhere on my own.
Well, I guess I never took a whole trip on my own. I traveled TO many places by myself, but I always at least met up with someone. Although, in a WAY, I was pretty on my own when I started this whole trip. Hmm… maybe this one isn’t finished yet.


  1. Wow! The Bill Bryson quote sounds dead on. How has it been being back? I keep thinking I will run to the supermarket first thing and fill my cart to the brim with foods I have missed, but maybe actually I'll just be overwhelmed by the choices and, as you say, realize that there's no longer any urgency. I wonder. Then again, I am coming back for a second year, so maybe I'll feel compelled to eat and do as much as I possibly can in the 5 weeks I'll have at home.

  2. I found your blog...googled 'batik'. I couldn't stop reading your entries. So, so interesting and what an experience! Just wanted to let you know that an ex-pat in Sweden, a stranger to you, thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.

  3. i'm so sorry i only found your blog today. i've been living in palembang for a few years. i was trying to see if the english library got listed somewhere in the internet or not. :)

  4. Hi again, I linked you from my blog. :)

  5. looking forward on your journey ~