First year reflections

By Lee Bangphraxay
March 19, 2018

I recently read a book entitled “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon.  At one point, the protagonist states that “…because there is something they can’t see, people think it has to be special…like the dark side of the moon, or the other side of the black hole.” 

This was what I thought about the Peace Corps and Indonesia approximately two years ago when I submitted my application for this assignment.  What is this nation of islands?  What is this religion of Islam?  What is this, to live and teach half way round the world?  There was a sense of wanderlust, of curiosity, of newness of the unknown and that’s what made it seem special. 

A year into service, life has become common, familiar, ordinary.  That does not mean that it is any less special.  The wanderlust to climb atop volcano peaks remains.  The curiosity to learn a new language, culture, and religion remains.  The newness to teach 400 10th grade students day to day remains.  However, now there is a commonplace, a familiarity, a routine.  From moment to moment, the rising and passing of a different kind of special. 

Lee Waterfall
Lee and her students were having a great day out at Mt. Ciremai National Park

It all sounds peachy keen, I know.  And most days, it is.  And most days, it is not.  There are challenges for sure.  The Peace Corps tagline is not ‘The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love’ for nothing.  It’s physically tough because of the sauna heat; the mosquitos; the diarrhea; the 15-minute bike ride to and from school in scary dense traffic.  It’s emotionally tough because of the distance from family and friends; the strange looks questioning my nationality, my unmarried status; the six, seven odd times the teaching schedule changes in 8 weeks.  It’s intellectually tough because of the absence of ‘separation of church and state’; the lack of privacy and independence; the trepidation of individualism.

Over twelve months, some of the challenges lessen.  The mandi (bath) counters the sauna heat of dry season and rainy season is a delight.  Lotions and sprays counter pesky insects.  The body gets acclimated to local bacteria.  Walking to school is less scary than riding a bike.  Family and friends are a call away.  

Some challenges, however, persist.  Maintaining understanding, patience, flexibility, and mindfulness is key to stay level and sane.  All the training in the universe could not have prepared me quite like actual experiences.

And most definitely, they are unique and special experiences.  

Lee in the water
Lee likes exploring new places, such as Pindul Cave in the southern part of Yogyakarta, Indonesia

At the end of the day, it’s the relationships and connections made that stand out most.  We are bound together by our relationships to family, friends, coworkers, and those passing by in our day to day back and forth.  What we develop are the values that hold us together.  

I look forward to the coming year as I start thinking about ways I can sustain the enthusiasm for English learning at my school.  In a practical manner, it’s not the other side of the moon but it’s still special in its own original subtle way.   

Lee on top of Mt Ciremai