Returning to Something New

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The reading room where I fully plan to spend a lot of my time.

I am writing this from a table outside my university’s library, after spending the morning in one of the beautiful reading rooms inside the library.  I was thrilled to have an academic work space available to me, but eventually I had to leave, because even my warmest flannel wasn’t able to keep me from freezing in the AC: three years in a tropical country really changes your tolerance for cold.

I’m back in the United States, even back in New York State, and this time I’m staying.  I have no immediate plans to run off to Indonesia again, the way I have had for the past three years.  It’s a strange feeling, I must admit.  Indonesia has become such a huge part of my life: not knowing when I will visit again (because I am certain I will do so someday) feels almost wrong in a way, to not have a return date.

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Being surrounded by literature wherever I go (this is a brewery in Colorado Springs!) has been one of my favorite parts of coming home: Indonesia does not have a very strong reading culture, and I missed living in a place where carrying a book everywhere is considered normal.

This is not to say that I am not happy to be back in the U.S.  I am thrilled to be home for an extended period of time.  I still get excited every time I see a water fountain, and I have a new appreciation for the efficiency valued by most Americans.  I walk into stores that already have their Autumn decorations on display, and while everyone around me grumbles that it is too early to be thinking about Halloween, I have to resist the urge to dance for joy: I am a girl who loves the changing of seasons, and I have been limited to two for the past three years.  I entertain fantasies of subsisting entirely on pumpkin-flavored drinks and candy corn, and I am already looking forward to Thanksgiving turkey.

Of course, I do miss Indonesia from time to time, and readjusting to life back in the U.S. hasn’t been completely smooth.  I sometimes forget how to say certain phrases in English, or use Indonesian words without realizing what I am doing, confusing everyone around me[1]; I am so far behind on American slang that often when others speak, I am the one lost.  Already, I find myself craving the friendliness that permeates so much of Indonesian culture, continually finding Americans almost rude in comparison.  And as excited as I am for good New York pizza and my mom’s pie, I would do ghastly things for some fresh sambal or krupuk.

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One of the parks in Stony Brook.  After a year in Jakarta, I am thankful to be living in a place that has so many natural spaces.

Years ago, now, towards the end of my first ETA grant, I wrote a piece that touched, in part, on my mixed feelings of having to leave my site.  Someone quoted a part of this back at me a few weeks before I left Indonesia, and it has stuck with me as I have tried to adjust back to life Stateside: “…since I cannot be in two places at once, I now no longer have the privilege of ever living in a place where I am not missing someone.”  This has proven to be the hardest part of being home thus far.  True, I have already gotten to visit with beloved friends that I haven’t seen in person in years.  I have friends and family members who plan on getting married in the next year, and this time I will actually be able to attend, and celebrate alongside them, instead of just look at the photos later.  This is amazing.  But all the wonderful friends I have made in the past three years are on the other side of the world, and now it is their turn to only interact with me via Skype calls and WA messages.

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Wearing new batik to an old friend’s wedding: this is my new normal.

Living in Indonesia was not always easy.  Coming back to the United States and preparing to start grad school has sometimes been hard.  They’re different, but one is not preferable to the other.  I just exchanged one challenge for another.

I will find ways to blend my two homes, and keep them together in my heart.  I will learn which chilis are the best for making sambal, and make my own.  I will teach those close to me my favorite phrases in Indonesian, so that Bahasa Campur becomes somewhat more acceptable.  I will shamelessly wear batik at least a few times a week.  I will learn to no longer be surprised by the elements of American culture that I missed for three years, but I will also, I hope, never come to take them for granted.  I will find a way to fit all my friends, from whatever country, into my life no matter how busy my schedule gets.

If there is anything that I learned while working with the ETA Program in Indonesia, it is that everything is a process, and that process never ends.  I may have left Indonesia, but that doesn’t mean that I am finished with my experience there: it will continue to shape my experience here in America, and as I continue to learn and grown, my own understanding of my time there will change as well.

I’m excited to see where the journey takes me.

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Spot the Indonesian influences… 

For those curious about the details of what I am doing next, I am pursuing my master’s in Applied Linguistics (with a TESOL focus) at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.  I’ll be here for the next two years, studying and exploring the local area and New York City (a mere hour and a half train ride from me!) when I am not drowning in all of the reading and writing everyone has been warning me about.  It’s sure to be very different from what I have been doing for the past two years, but I am excited for the challenge and the chance to learn more about education and language.

I have not yet actually decided whether I will continue to blog throughout my time here, but I would like to.  I have come to love the platform, and goodness knows I will in for some adventures that may be worth writing about.  However, I don’t know if I will have the time or energy to blog, in addition to all the writing I will need to do for grad school, and, so, I make no promises.

[1] I find this especially hard, for some reason, when ordering food.  I think a lot of this stems from the fact that I rarely ate out prior to living in Indonesia, because it is so much costlier to eat out in America.  I learned how to skim a menu and ask questions of a waiter in Indonesian, not English, and now I have to re-learn these skills in what I assumed would be a familiar context.


Last Lines: The End of My Gorontalo Chapter

There are entire blogs, Tumblr accounts, etc. dedicated to the last lines of novels.  I myself wonder at the lack of attention given to the last lines of chapters: those few words that transition the reader out of one adventure and into the next.  These are often my favorite lines of a novel, some for their subtlety, others for their pomp and circumstance, and still others that somehow manage to be both at once.

If my time in Gorontalo was a chapter in a book, it’s last line would have been of that last sort, a perfect blend of quiet moments and full-scale productions.


It may have taken me until my last day at site to see the marching band perform, but that didn’t make it any less amazing.

I left site in the week after finals, which meant I had no more real responsibilities with my school: no classes to teach, no clubs to run, no meeting to attend.  I was thankful for this time and space to really say goodbye to the place I had come to call home; to finally learn how to make tinituan from my closest friend and her mother, after months of planning to do so; to ride my motorbike along my favorite roads one last time; to stop by my favorite martabak sellers and ask them to make me one last of my usual orders; to tell the folks at the internet café, who have become almost like family because I have spent so much time there, that they wouldn’t be seeing me around anymore… my job was done.


Coordinated costumes, giggles, and balloons…

But it was not all quiet goodbyes.  My final full day at site was an adventuresome one: it began with a jalan sehat (literally, “healthy walk”) in honor of my school’s birthday, which coincided with my leaving; I was finally able to see the school’s marching band perform, after passing by their practice for nine months; and as a themed costume contest was part of the parade, my last day was spent surrounded by the enthusiasm and creativity that I so love to celebrate in my brilliant students.  In the afternoon, my school held a perpisahan, or going-away party, for me, complete with speeches and singing: even I wrote a speech, and sang in front of a crowd for the first time since becoming an ETA in Indonesia (how I managed to escape this for so long is a mystery).  There was a stage, there was a banner, and there was more love than I could ever deserve.


One last sweaty, happy group photo with some of my students.

My final morning in Gorontalo was spent with some of my favorite teachers, packing up the last of my things and stopping to eat delicious ikan bakar, one last time.  We piled into cars, and headed off to the airport.  We laughed, we cried, we hugged, and said goodbye.

And then it was over.  I boarded the plane with my sitemates, every bit as important to my time here than anyone from my school or community, and headed to Jakarta for the End-of-Year Conference, to say goodbye to the cohort that was my extended family this grant period.


One of my Indonesian Moms.

Again and again throughout my last week at site, I told people: “It’s not just goodbye, it’s see you later.”  And as I am returning to Indonesia again, I know that I will see many of the wonderful people from that side of the globe again, and I do hope that I will cross paths in the future with the ETAs I have come to love.

But I will never again live in Gorontalo as the ETA at MAN Model.  That chapter of my life is over, and a new chapter is beginning.  The people and places will carry over—if not in my actual everyday existence, then in the cornerstones of my heart—because though this may be a new chapter, but it is still the same story.  But they will take on a new role, as the plot twists into a new shape.

I am sad and excited to turn the page.  I will miss the tale this chapter told.  I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.

To Market, To Market

When I first came to Indonesia, I was terrified of the pasar (market).  It was loud, crowded, hot, and full of entirely unfamiliar and not always pleasant smells.  And in Indonesia, unless you are at the rare stall that uses harga pas (fixed price), you are expected to menawar (bargain), and I am terrible at haggling: I’m never aggressive enough, and always end up either stubbornly walking away on the principle that I should not be grossly overcharged just because I am a foreigner (therefore empty handed), or submitting to being charged harga bule (the foreigner’s price) (therefore with damaged pride).


Approaching the market, surrounded by bentors, as it always is.

Throughout my first grant, I rarely had any need for the pasar, as I ate all of my meals at school and wasn’t overly fond of berbelanja (shopping), generally speaking.  Every so often, I stopped by the fruit stalls that were near the entrance of a market I would pass on my way home from school, and bought batik fabric (the one thing, other than books, I do enjoy shopping for) from the market a handful of times, but for the most part, I avoided them.

This year, I live right in the middle of two of the main markets in town.  Pasar Selasa (the Tuesday Market) is perhaps a ten minute walk from my house, and Pasar Rabu (the Wednesday Market), is a mere five.  And both semesters, my class schedule has allowed me a free morning on at least one of these days.  Since I am on my own for meals this year, and wanted to do some of my own cooking—instead of just eating at the warung near my house—without paying ridiculous grocery store prices, I decided I would need to brave the market.


The tarps give everything in the market a warm orange glow.

For the first few months, market day was my least favorite day of the week.  I would wake up early, knowing it would take me at least a half hour of hovering in my front room to work up the courage to actually walk out the door and head to the market.  Market day was a day of dripping with sweat under the make-shift tents, no matter how close to opening I arrived.  Market day was trying to get fair price for the vegetables on my list without having to go to too many sellers.  Market day was trying to weave through the crowd amidst the cacophony of shouting (in Indonesian mostly, but the occasional English, too)—“Ayam! Ayam! (Chicken! Chicken!) Miss! Cantik! (Beautiful!) Ikan!  Ikan! (Fish Fish!) Mister! You like fish?”—as I tried to find the one tempe and tahu (tofu) seller that I had been promised was at the back of the market[1].

Some people are good at this kind of chaos.  I am not one of them.

Still, I kept going, every week, week after week, month after month.  I told myself the fresh vegetables were worth it (and they absolutely are), and refused to give up and only eat out.  And slowly, market day became a bit less intimidating.


My tempe/tahu lady on the right, and Mr. Kopi on the right.  They’re always teasing one another, and I ended up capturing it when I tried to take a picture of them.

By this point, I am well-known at Pasar Selasa (Pasar Rabu is no longer as convenient because of my new school schedule).  I have my favourite sellers from which to buy various delicious, fresh vegetables and fruits, and they are always telling me what is in season and how the weather is affecting various crops (it has been particularly dry this year, and the manner in which they lament this fact takes me back to my own farming community in New York).  The man I buy eggs from asks me about my classes.  The fish sellers know by now that I do not buy fish, and have ceased to try to tempt me with their fresh, still-flopping wares, except occasionally in jest.  There is a man who sells coffee next to the only stall that sells tempe/tahu, and it has become a running joke for him to try to convince me to buy coffee from him, even though I always tell him that I only drink tea.  I didn’t make it to the market at all in January (except for the occasional quick trip to get eggs for breakfast), because I had gotten busy, and when I finally went for a full-fledged shopping trip in early February, my tempe/tahu lady actually asked me if I was okay: after not seeing me for so many weeks, she thought maybe I was ill; I smiled warmly at her kindness, and noted to myself that I wouldn’t have this element of community if I had given up on the market  experience entirely.

Though I feel I have gotten much better at the ins and outs of market life in Indonesia, I have yet to master it, and I look forward to my relaxed, quiet farmers’ markets at home.  But nonetheless, the pasar has become a key part of my life here, and I have come to find joy in the chaos.

[1] While I am not a vegetarian, I find that cooking meat for one person is far more work than it is worth, especially with only a single burner in which to cook anything, so I tend to only eat meat when I go to a warung.

Dari mana?: Reflections on a Trip Back to Malang

Dari mana?

This is a question I hear incessantly in Indonesia.  This question translates to “From where?” and can be used in two different ways: “Where are you coming from?” (as in, “Where were you right before you arrived here?”), or “Where are you from?” (as in, “Where do you come from, as in, like, originally?”).  Since I very distinctly do not look as though I am from Indonesia, “Dari mana?” is usually intended to ask the latter when it is directed towards me.


Good friends, good food, good times.

Last year, while living in Malang, my Indonesian friends and their playful sense of humor encouraged me to play with the dual meaning of this question, and whenever we went hiking up nearby mountains or to various waterfalls, when people we met along the way asked me, “Dari mana?” I would reply, “Dari Malang!”  This, of course, wasn’t exactly a lie, as I was always coming from the direction of the city, but that wasn’t what people wanted to know.  Most folks would follow up with “Asli…?” (asli means original or originally, and “Asli mana?” is another way to ask where someone is originally from), and that would lead us into the typical discussion of where I was from and why I was in Malang, my friends still giggling off to the side.

It was a wild few days of trying to see everyone who had made my time in Malang memorable (I wasn’t completely successful—there were still a few I was not able to see, and I hope I will have to opportunity to go back again and fix that).  But even with a packed schedule, I still had time to reflect on just how surreal the experience of going back to Malang was.


AFTER wiping happy tears away.

So much was the same.  I hopped on a rented motorbike and zipped around familiar roads without hesitation, my mental map of Malang still ingrained into my subconscious.  I fell naturally back into conversations with teachers who still go to lunch at the same favorite nasi padang place.  Students (following the screaming and hugging and in a few cases crying that took place immediately upon my arrival) laughed and smiled and gossiped in the same way I remember them doing when I was their teacher. I took my place at suppers with friends, chatting and eating sambal as though no time had passed.  I’ve only been away from Malang for a mere six months: it hasn’t changed all that much.

But there was so much that was different.  My school has a new principle, which meant that the teachers’ rooms had been rearranged and school committees had been restructured.  There is a whole class of tenth graders at my school whom I have never met, and who stared openly at me as I talked to some of their seniors, before I got some of my old students to introduce me.  My site mate, the rock that kept me grounded and steady during the ups and downs that is the ETA experience, is back in her home state of Florida, and was not there to share the experience.  Many other friends, either foreigners or Indonesians, have since moved to other cities, and their presence was certainly missed.

Of course, the thing that had changed the most was, well, me.

Some of these changes are of the sort that simply come with the passing of time: I’m ever so slightly better read and more thoughtful, allowing me to better keep up in conversations with my friends’, most of whom are either finishing their master’s degree or already working and are far wiser than I am.  Some changes came out of having lived in Indonesia for a little longer, such as the increased speed and accuracy of my Indonesian.


This crew.

But there were changes that stemmed specifically from my having lived in Gorontalo for three months.  My friends, most of whom are from Java, teased me for the new accent they detected in my voice, which I had not even realized I was developing over these past few months.  As my friends weaved in and out of the thick Malang traffic, I found myself getting left behind on occasion, driving too hesitantly, having adapted to the significant lack of traffic and the slightly less aggressive driving habits of Gorontalo.  “You’re not from Malang now,” my friends teased, “You’re from Gorontalo.”

And then, all too soon, I returned to Gorontalo, to streets and rumah makan which are just as familiar and to friends whom are just a precious to me as those from Malang, at this point.  It seems now that I am from a lot of places: Pennsylvania (where I spent most of my childhood), Central New York, East Java, and now Gorontalo.

All of this is really just a result of growing up, of finding my own place in the world.  Whether they move to a country on the other side of the world or to a home down the street, most people do not stay in one place for their entire lives.  For me, the difference in my various homes is more noticeable, because they have been so very different from one another; I’m one of the lucky few able to have this sort of experience.

I’m also one of the lucky few able to share my unique experience.  Not all ETAs who return to Indonesia are able to return to their old sites, and I am very fortunate to have been able to do so.  None of my friends in Malang had ever had the opportunity to visit Gorontalo, and armed with photos, kerawang (the traditional fabric from Gorontalo), and the little of the local language I know, I was able to share at least a little of this with them, in the same way that I share a little of all I have learned from Indonesia with people in my hometown, and share the experience of having grown up in the Northeastern U.S. with folks here.

I will admit that there are days when being “from” so many places exhausts me, when all of the connections I have made and which I work so hard to maintain from all over the world end up making me feel isolated from the here and now I currently find myself in.  But there are also days when these connections fill me up and shower me with a love I do not deserve.  And for that, I am so thankful.

Gorontalo Girl

Last year, the first trip I took off of Java was to Gorontalo, in the Northern part of Sulawesi[1].  I fell in love with its overabundance of cows and rice paddies and tuna sate, and hoped that eventually I might be able to visit again.

IMG_1232This year, through a series of mysterious and frustrating but ultimately lucky happenings[2], Gorontalo is my new home, and I am rapidly falling in love with it all over again.

I’ve only spent one week in Gorontalo thus far, but it was been a wonderful one. Because I do not yet have my Kitas, there is very little I am allowed to do in the classroom, but I have tried to spend my time getting to know the area I live in to the best of my ability.  I am working on getting to know my neighbors (from the older Ibu who is always working in the garden behind my house to the tiny children who race me on their bicycles), and completing the challenge set by one of the AMINEF staff to count all of the cows in my area (answer: too many to count).

I live in a small neighborhood on the edge of the city of Gorontalo. I have not ventured into downtown Gorontalo yet, because it is a bit too far away to travel by bentor (similar to a becak, or rickshaw, but replace the bicycle with a motorcycle), which is the main public transportation in Gorontalo, but I have made it a point to go for a walk every afternoon (soon I will acquire a bicycle and then this will become my afternoon bike ride), a few hours before sundown when the heat is only mildly insane, rather than I-am-going-to-be-a-burnt-slice-of-human-in-about-two-seconds insane.  By doing so, I have been able to explore my more immediate area and all it has to offer.

Essentially, if I walk in one direction down my street, I get closer and closer to the part of Kota Gorontalo that actually resembles a kota (city).  There are an abundance of toko (shops) and warungs (food stalls) in this direction, as well as a space for a pasar (market), which happens every Wednesday and Saturday.  All of this is rapidly going to become essential to my everyday life here.

IMG_1208But if I go in the other direction, the city ends and the sawa (rice paddies) begin, and is this direction I already find myself wandering in most often.  My site mate from last year always said that rice paddy green should be a Crayola crayon color, and I couldn’t agree more; there is a lively, young sort of alive that is somehow perfectly embodied in the green of blades of rice submersed happily in water, lined up in perfectly strait rows but somehow never stiff.  The paddies near my house stretch off into the distance, dotted with palm trees and rustling peacefully in the breeze.  In the distance are the gentle curves of the mountains that surround the valley within which Gorontalo is located, like a reassuring arm wrapped around the city’s shoulder.  I’ve seen the same vista every day for a week, and it still overwhelms me with its beauty every time.

I can’t begin to express how lucky I feel in my placement.  Indonesia is full of beautiful and wonderful places, but there is something about Gorontalo that just feels an extra level of special, and I cannot wait to explore exactly what makes it so.  I’m sure the next nine months will be filled with challenges, and I know I will have days when I am frustrated and wish I could return to the States, but overall, it already feels as though this farm-girl English Teacher will be very happy in Gorontalo.

One of my neighbors, who is also an English teacher at my school, asked me the night before I left for orientation in Bandung if I was “betah,” in Gorontalo.  Betah means “to feel at home,” and I have to say that even after only a week, I am indeed betah in Gorontalo.


[1] But not in North Sulawesi; that’s a different province.  The city of Gorontalo is in the Province of Gorontalo, right below North Sulawesi.  (As a side note, the fact that Gorontalo has the same name as its province has made it significantly easier this year for me to explain that I live in New York, but not NYC. It’s just an unexpected bonus of my new placement.)

[2] Originally, I was to be placed in Bima, in Sumbawa, but the site ended up not being approved by one of the Ministries of the Indonesian Government, and the fabulous people of AMINEF, the organization who runs the Fulbright ETA program in Indonesia, found me a new school in Gorontalo.

The Art of Being Lost, or, Finding Home

One of my closest Indonesian friends looks up from the hand-drawn map she has spent the last ten minutes explaining: “Are you sure you can do it? You won’t get lost?”

I smile at her, brimming with overconfidence: “Of course I can do it.”  Famous last words.

Chinese New Year is a national holiday in Indonesia, and so I took advantage of a day without classes to visit the home of one of my closest Indonesian friends, in a village just north of Malang.  Because I had a meeting for students interested in joining a speech competition put on by AMINEF (the program I fall under while I am here) I was unable to follow her home the night before, and so we decided that I would join her the following morning, via motorbike.  She lives a little over an hour from the campus where I live, much farther than I had ventured yet independently, but a distance I felt perfectly capable of conquering, armed with my official map drawn in hot pink.

Instead, what should have been an hour-long ride turned into a three hour adventure.

The trip started out just fine.  My friend had picked out perfect landmarks, and at no point during the first half hour of my trip did I have to make use of my expert U-turn skills.  I had left my house early enough that there was still only a reasonable amount of traffic on the road—a shocking turn of events in a city on Java—and so I was able to relax and enjoy cruising smoothly along in the still-cool morning air, shamelessly humming songs from Frozen within the safety of my new helmet.

And then I got outside of Malang, and nothing looked like what had been described to me.  I searched the sides of the roads for the landmarks I had been told I would see, but nothing seemed to match.  Assuming I had somehow missed or taken a wrong turn at some point, I pulled over at the next warung to ask the Ibu there for directions.

I pull off my mask, faintly registering their mild looks of surprise as my clearly not-Indonesian complexion is revealed, and cut right to the chase (with a smile, of course): “Maaf, bu.  Di mana Lawang?” (I’m sorry, mam.  Where is Lawang?)

Mau ke mana?”  (Where do you want to go?)

Lawang.  L-A-W-A-N-G.[1]

Ah! Lawang! Terus, terus!

Terus is the Indonesian word for “continue,” and when used to give directions I have found it is almost always accompanied by an excessive waving of the hands, so there is no mistaking its meaning.  According to the Ibu, I was on the correct jalan (road).  Relieved that I was still on the right route, I thanked the Ibu and waved heartily as I drove away.

Fifteen minutes later, I found myself on a road with nothing but rice paddies and sugar cane fields as far as the eye could see.  I feasted my eyes on this gorgeous view for much longer than I should have before realizing that I probably already should have arrived in Lawang, if I was in fact still going in the right direction.  I made my first U-turn of the trip, and drove back into the last kampung (town) I had driven through, to ask another Ibu for help.

This time, when I asked where Lawang was, the Ibu pointed back towards Malang and said, “Terus Malang.”  Apparently I needed to go back through Malang, the city I had just come from, to get to my destination.  I was more than a little bingung (confused).  I pulled out my now-very-crinkled map, determined to see if I could re-orient myself.

Maaf, bu. Di mana di sini?” (Where is here?)


This explained why the previous Ibu had insisted I was going in the right direction: there are apparently many areas with similar names surrounding Malang.  Needless to say, Bululawang was not on my map.  So I did the only thing I knew to do: I called my friend.

It didn’t take long for her to ascertain just how lost I was.  Lawang is north of Malang.  Bululawang is east of Malang.  I was still twenty minutes outside of the city limits… in the wrong direction.

There was only one thing to do.  I had to backtrack, a lot.  My friend was not exactly sure how to get from Bululawang to Lawang, so it was up to my poor sense of direction and my little Indonesian to get me there.  My friend gave me what she could: “When you get back to Malang, ask for Singosari.  Then, when you get to Singosari, ask for Lawang.  Then you should be able to use my map again.”  I got off the phone with her, and was off, determined to end up in the right place eventually.

As soon as I was back within Malang City limits, I stopped and asked for directions from the first becak[2] driver I came
across.  Becak drivers know the streets better than anyone, and they are, more often than not, friendly older gentlemen whom I find far less intimidating than the younger men whose friendliness is laced with everything that makes me feel uncomfortable as a woman traveling alone.  Speaking slowly, and painting detailed pictures with his hands of the statues I would pass, he soon had me off in the right direction.

There was just one tiny, little problem.  I needed to pee.  Badly.

Living on Java, this is not usually an issue.  Pertamina, the oil and gas company which has a monopoly over pretty much all of Indonesia, can usually be found on what seems like every corner—I have three to choose from on my half-hour ride to
school alone.  They are the only places I know which are guaranteed to have public toilets available, so I kept my eyes peeled for their familiar red-and-white sign. But there wasn’t a single Pertamina in sight.

Needing to pee while driving is never comfortable.  Needing to pee while driving a motorbike is an experience I would not wish on anyone. I was audibly cursing my daily dependence on instant coffee and practically in tears by the time I finally came across a Pertamina, my oasis in my time of need.  A dirty squat toilet has never looked so beautiful.

Much more comfortable now, even if a dull ache was beginning to form in my lower back, I confirmed with a friendly Pertamina employee, whose smile was as wide as the Indonesian archipelago, that I was still going in the right direction.  Very soon, I found myself in Singosari.  I shamelessly did a little dance as I was driving: I was getting closer.

I stopped at yet another warung, to ask how to get to Lawang (“L-A-W-A-N-G”). This particular warung was run by an adorable elderly couple, who cheerfully bickered about the details of the directions they were giving me.

Terus… lima kilometer…”

Tiga kilometer!”


It’s good to know that even on the other side of the world, partners in life will argue over the difference between five and three kilometers.

Once I finally reached Lawang, it was just a matter of finding the train station, so that I would know where to turn.  As I peered down side streets I could see that the train tracks ran parallel to the street I was on, so I knew I had to be close.  I searched the side of the road for signs that read “Stasiun Lawang,” or perhaps “kereta api” (train), but to no avail.  Finally, I performed yet another U-turn, and eventually pulled over to ask for directions from a middle-aged gentleman who looked to be out for a morning stroll, but who might also have been on his way to somewhere important (I never can tell here, because Indonesians almost never rush).

Maaf, pak.  Di mana stasiun kereta api?

Di sini.”

It seems I had pulled up in front of the train station to ask where the train station was.

Slightly embarrassed, I thanked the bapak and continued on my way. I found my friend’s road easily after that, and though I still passed by her house and had to turn my bike around for the…well, to be honest I had lost track of my U-turns by that point, I did eventually arrive at her front door, safe and (mostly) sound, complete with helmet hair and a sore bum, two hours later than I should have.

I spent the rest of that day enjoying the delights of my friend’s village, touring a local tea plantation and eating her mother’s delicious cooking (and acquiring a few recipes for said cooking).  I hope that I will eventually be able to return to her village and explore it further: it really is a beautiful area, and having the time to spend more than an evening with the woman who has become so much a part of my life here.  I just hope that next time, I won’t get quite so lost on the way.

Not that I really minded being lost, to be honest.  The ride was fairly picturesque, and there is a certain peacefulness that can only be achieved astride a motorbike.  And, though I did not have the faintest idea where I was supposed to be going for most of the trip, I always knew how to get home, and so I never reached that scary kind of lost that happens when you truly have no idea where you are.

I spend a considerable amount of time lost in Indonesia, in a variety of different ways.  I am lost almost every time I go somewhere new on my motorbike; I am lost by the conversations of quick-fire Indonesian and Javanese that surround me every day; I am lost as I try to muddle my way through unfamiliar educational regulations and traditions.  Being lost is no longer a state of being for me, but a part of my personality.  But just as I was never afraid during my trip to my friend because, at the very least, I knew how to get home, more and more I have come to embrace this feeling of being lost, because though I may not fully understand the situation I find myself in, I still have not lost sight of home.

By home, I don’t necessarily mean the small dairy farm in Central New York where I will return, at least for the summer, after my grant.  By home, I don’t mean New York, or even the United States.  Home is storytelling and home-cooked food.  Home is family and friends, and the blurred line in between.  Home is peace and conflict, laughter and tears, hope and temptations of despair.  Home is, in short, everything that lets me lay claim to being human.

All of which I am able to find here.  It might be a spicier version of home dressed in far more colorful clothing, but stories and food and community and all the contradictions that give us life are still here.  This can still be home.

This is not to say that I am planning on moving to Indonesia permanently.  I’m not sure that I could spend my entire life this far away from my family, and there is something about four seasons that calls my heart back. But I am beginning to see how home does not need to be found within a dwelling, or even within a particular country’s borders.  Home can be Planet Earth, with an expansive extended family and potential friends around every corner.  Home can be here, and there, and anywhere and everywhere and nowhere at once.

And so long as I have this, this vague, idiosyncratic idea of home, I will never really be lost.

[1] I still have not perfected the accent for the Javanese version of Bahasa Indonesia, and consequently have gotten really good at the Indonesian alphabet. Asking for directions always turns into a spelling bee.

[2] If you are familiar with the idea of a rickshaw, you understand what a becak is.