I realized sadly today that I last blogged on August 25th. So much has happened since then – both in Indonesia and the US. This blog will only scratch the surface, perhaps by providing some background and filling in some gaps in the narrative.
In June and early July, after traveling around Vietnam with Tom and then alone, I began the adventure of teacher education in Bintan, Indonesia. I’ve blogged about this experience a bit; it was a great way to start what will be a long working relationship with Tunas Bangsa School.
Bintan is where I first fell in love with Indonesia and its people. People in the town were friendly and helpful. The teachers of Tunas Bangsa school are dynamic, energetic, and enthusiastic about their students and teaching. We worked hard together to affect changes in their teaching that would be implemented with students in the upcoming school year. From the moment of my arrival to my departure, I was taken care of by a group of people I’m proud to know and be able to call colleagues and friends.
While my time in Bintan was pretty sheltered and just scratched the surface of the experiences I would have with Indonesian culture and people, it whetted my appetite for my next teacher education gig and many more adventures. I was definitely teary when I left, and I can’t wait to go back next year.
The Bintan Ferry dropped me off in Singapore, and within hours I was on my way back to Indonesia: to Makassar, where my second Indonesian teacher education experience would begin. Even though I was not new to Indonesia, this big city and its frenetic pace was extremely intimidating. Even getting a taxi to my hotel was a little tricky. This experience made me thankful that my first foray into Indonesia was in a small, fairly sheltered place with such caring hosts.
The hotel I chose online was awful and I slept horribly. This fact made me fret because the next morning I had a ten-hour bus ride to Tana Toraja. I didn’t know exactly where the bus station was and neither did anyone at my hotel. After a bit of research the front desk manager figured it out and sent me on my way in a taxi. The taxi driver was very friendly, apologizing for not speaking better English (shouldn’t I be apologizing for not speaking his language?!?) At the bus station, which was really like an open office storefront in a muddy, rubbish-filled field, the taxi driver walked me in and made sure I had a ticket.
This is one more of the many, many times Indonesians have taken responsibility for my safety, which was quite touching to me, especially considering how uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden I was about this part of the trip.
I settled into seat number 1 on the bus (front row, window seat on the left); and then my seat-mate, 75-year-old Ester situated herself.
By the time we made MANY stops every seat in the bus was full, with a “driver assistant” standing in the area between the two seats in the front.
Winding our way around the city, the bus pulled into a bus station and we were all ordered out of the bus. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that I was being separated from my luggage – one of the top no-nos in international travel. While there was nothing in the bag that was vital to my survival, I would have no teaching materials or appropriate clothing if that bag vanished.
All the bus passengers were herded towards the bus terminal and directed to a window where some sort of fee was to be paid; I was confused – I knew my host in Tana Toraja had paid my bus ticket in full, and she had told me to BE SURE not to pay anyone any more for my transport. What was this? How was I to ask what it was? Before I could figure it out, a family – mother, father, and two teenage children – “adopted” me and escorted me through the check point, also paying my fee. They wouldn’t let me pay them back. Again, someone taking care of me when I was clueless and vulnerable.
Back on the bus, driving out of the terminal, I saw these goats in the road:
We then began the long, beautiful, winding ride to Tana Toraja. I was happy to sit next to the window to be able to look at the market, roads, and houses in the city, and the amazing landscape once we left the city. The road wound towards and away from the ocean, and we stopped at an oceanside cafe for a lunch break. It was a LONG ride, but it was lovely.
Ester kept me safe and well-fed, which was a relief, espcially when we got closer to Tana Toraja and I had no idea where I was to get off the bus. This incident was detailed in a previous blog; it was resolved quickly and I settled into my hotel and began the business of teaching.
On the day before training was to begin, Merda, my wonderful host, and her husband Chris took me to a buffalo fight staged in honor of a person whose funeral was in the following days. I smashed my ankle jumping over an irrigation ditch (no one’s fault but my own); this injury was very dramatic-looking
and ended up affecting the beginning of my time in Bali quite a bit. But that’s another story…
After an amazing ten days of teacher training and incredible cultural and educational experiences in Tana Toraja created by Merda, I journeyed back to Makassar where I had yet another bad experience with a hotel. From now on when I travel to Makassar I will stay with the family of one of my new Indonesian friends – so many have offered since I told them about my discomfort there!
When I first arrived in Bali, I had a reservation in a VERY nice hotel on Poppies Gang I, one of the busier tourist lanes in Kuta. Later research told me that this extravagance was not necessary (though it was nice to be a little pampered after the roach motel in Makassar); my budget told me that if I wanted to stay and have fun in Bali, it was not possible. I stayed in luxury enjoying two nights at this hotel and then began a series of moves which, by September, landed me in my favorite budget (less than $20 a night) hotel.
Meanwhile, I found my home on the beach. After walking around on my painful sprained ankle for a while, I figured out that all the beach umbrella/ chair renters charge basically the same amount; the best way to choose a spot is to find people working on the beach who are friendly and who approach you without putting on the hard-sell. I found Andri, Jungle Brother, Yoko, Sugus, and Mama Angel and her family; this group eventually became my family away from home. Again – locals who made sure I was safe, happy, and entertained for the majority of my time in Bali.
Along the way I also met some amazing girl friends – Nina, my parter in crime in the Gili Islands and Nusa Lembongan; Valerie, a gentle, spiritual soul who continues to live in Bali and who I will perhaps work with in the future; Kellie, who keeps making me smile from thousands of miles away; and others. Adventures with these women created some of my favorite memories of being in Bali.
In mid-August I took a trip to Jogjakarta, the old cultural capital of Indonesia. I have written about this in another blog and won’t go into too much detail here. The best thing that came out of that trip was meeting my guide, Aji, who connected me with another teacher educator who wants to collaborate on teacher training next summer. This makes THREE sites for teacher development next June.
And speaking of teacher development, I also had the opportunity to follow up with the Bintan teachers in August, and they were doing GREAT implementing the methods we had explored together.
Back to Bali, and life slowed down a bit. I could finally surf, which I attempted, and I spent a lot of time relaxing and just enjoying my time there. I also began thinking about starting a business to help fund my teacher education passion, or even trying to find a job teaching abroad for a year or two.
Okay, so fast forward about a month. What happened in between is important, but details of that part of this journey are pretty mundane and culturally uninformative: life in Bali is fabulous, it’s easy to get lost there, I did; I met a lot of great new friends – both Indonesian and from all corners of the globe – and then I went home, sad and heart-sick for Bali.
A week later, after talking things over with Tom, getting instantly bored and stifled by my life in Denver, and neglecting responsibilities and friendships, I returned to Indonesia to explore some more. I felt there was a lot I had missed – loose ends to be tied down – and I wasn’t ready to go back to real life. Call it impulsive; call it crazy; call it selfish, destructive – whatever you will – but that’s that part of the story.
When I returned to Bali I reunited with some good friends and started kicking ideas around. One thing I’d missed (and I felt it was a BIG miss) was Sumatra – particularly Lake Toba. In part because many of my Indonesian friends are from North Sumatra, and for so many other reasons, I had researched the island during my time in Bali – specifically, how to get there and see what I wanted to see without spending a fortune. Because it was Ramadan, high-season for travel in all areas of Indonesia, during August prices to to get there were prohibitive. Then in the weeks post-Ramadan, when people tend to travel home to be with family, prices were even higher. And then it was time for me to leave. Bummer. So getting to and seeing Sumatra was high priority on this second trip.
The scenery and weather in Sumatra were incredibly beautiful. The people there were friendly and I had an amazing experience – an experience which would have been impossible without my local guide. (More about this trip in a future blog).
And then I returned, once again, to Bali and started to get serious about either finding a job or creating a business opportunity for myself. I did a little surfing, and had quality time with friends. Once again, I got ready for my departure and my return to life in the US. I was sad to leave this time, but was able to come home feeling like I had addressed many of the things I had left undone in September. I also did some long-needed soul-searching and actually learned a bit about myself. On the day of my departure a friend gave me a ride to the airport where mother nature up-staged my departure with an earthquake. Of course.
Now I’m home and tossing around ideas for the next phase of my life. I’m observing pre-service teachers, recovering from a massive head cold, and madly brainstorming about ways to take my passion for teaching, travel, and writing to the next level.
With the help of Tom, great friends, and a life coach who also happens to be a dear friend, I’m hopeful that I can find a fulfilling way to live the next chapters of my life. It’s definitely going to look different than it does now, but I’m ready, and I’m open to your ideas and thoughts:) Thank you for caring enough to read this, and to follow me through this trip. It has meant the world to me to know so many people have been with me, yet again, as I bumble through this journey.