Don’t Think About It Too Much

Turning another year older, away from all your family and friends, is not as bad as it sounds. Although, it made me pretty ding dang dong homesick. It doesn’t matter how loved you may have felt, you still want nothing more than to be able to give your parents a hug.

On my birthday, my counterpart (one of my counterparts is also my host brother) treated me to lunch with the teachers from his English course and they gifted me some pretty blue batik. THEN, my 10th grade students surprised me at my house with CAKE. I’m telling you, by 8pm that night I was already feeling very special and relieved that I was able to dodge being egged and floured; an Indonesian birthday tradition.

It was then that I got a knock at my door from two of my soccer girls sheepishly waiting for me. After the initial “Oh my gosh! What are you doing here?, they told me to cover my eyes because I had a surprise waiting for me. I was a little reluctant at first because I thought this could be the opportune moment to egg and flour me, but it’s not like I was doing anything better on this Saturday night and I always invite the opportunity for a mandi.


So, they led me in the dark to the back of the courtyard giving me directions in Bahasa Indonesia (that was entertaining) the whole way. When they told me to uncover my eyes, about 8 twelfth graders at my school were holding a giant cake with 25 candles waiting for me to do the honors. Magical. Not to use too much jargon from Miss Drew Barymore, but it really was magical. I felt like Molly Ringwald in a weird 16 candles way. I blew the candles out just as easily as they were lit, and just as quick as the joy lit the night, it quickly left.

That was the second surprise party I have ever had in my life (I think). The only other one I can think of was my freshman year at Longwood (THE WOOD) University. I returned from class to see that my roomie and her bf had put together a surprise crew in my room. They also got me Madagascar on DVD and a boy under my bed. His name is Joel. No, he wasn’t my boyfriend, my boyfriend at the time was in VB, but Joel turned out to be one of my best friends. The terd probably doesn’t even read this. Terd is my word of the week.

I know according to everything else legal, my age is now 25. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22. I am acknowledging borrowing Taylor Swift’s song to describe my mental age. I can’t help but feeling like a 22 year old, who is underemployed, broke, excited, and confused all at the same time. Taylor Swift has the right idea. She always does. Stay on that high note, write about your exes, and when in doubt wear red lipstick.

So, while I am writing this, I’m listening to UB40 radio on Pandora, wearing red lipstick and am about to write the most comprehensive tale of love and love lost in which I throw every man/boy I have ever dated under the bus.

Just Kidding.

I have been itching to publish this piece for a while, but have been reluctant to do so. It wasn’t until the article “I almost quit Teach for America” came out a couple of days ago that I realized this was something I needed to talk about. At first I was like “DAMN IT” I have this article written and this girl beat me to it!!!!! But, her story is her own and if it’s one thing I’ve learned, everyone’s experience is so different and she left me thinking “if you leave shawty, here I go” (Drake, anyone?)…

I am going to get real. This past week ( I wrote this 2 weeks ago) I have thought seriously about Early Termination (leaving Peace Corps). SPOILER ALERT: I’m not early terminating. I was being a terd. The joy of being here went out like that birthday candle. The honey-moon phase is over. I was having a moment.

It’s a moment that seems kind of taboo to talk about. I don’t know why, really. This experience is hard. If it’s not for you, that’s fine. I admire all those who made that decision to leave and didn’t let their egos keep them here and bitter to take it out in passive aggressive blogs on host nationals or fellow PCVs. I think it is also fair to say that almost everyone (every PCV) thinks at some point, “I’m not sure if I can handle this for 2 years”, “this might not work”, “ I could get a job if I went back home”, etc. etc. etc. BE REAL. You have, and it’s okay.

Allow me to explain my emotional breakdown, which does include lip-singing Celine Dion (My Heart Will Go On) partially nude in front of a mirror and being brought to tears. This story also includes me singing myself to sleep (Fleetwood Mac/Leona Lewis) and the successful bathing of two cats.


Build the Beat Up

I have really had a challenging time “team-teaching” with my counterparts and I know that the feeling is mutual. One counterpart is a really dedicated teacher who works hard and even has his own English course run out of my backyard. He has been teaching for 15 some years. We work together well, but when it comes time for me to teach, it is hard for me to be implemented into the lesson. We do this awkward dance of “can you read this” and then “I’ll read that” and at the end of the day I am not used that much in the classroom. He uses the lesson we agree on, but just not me. This was all the case before site visit happened and we successfully team taught together and it was awesome. But this had not happened until after my break down, of course, which makes me feel like a terd for talking about this. Also, we lesson planned for the week ahead after site visit and it was a great success.

But, the following week, there was testing all week, and this past Monday and Tuesday we didn’t have class because of Idul Adha (Muslim celebration for Abraham not sacrificing his son and marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca) and when it came time to teach the lesson (today) I overslept because I thought in my mind that it was Tuesday and set my alarm for Tuesday’s schedule. As a result I missed this morning’s class, and we didn’t get to teach the lesson we had planned for.

The other counterpart does not really seem to be interested in lesson planning which is understandable for all that he is responsible for. He does a lot of things for our principal, often during class time. He is also building a new house and has a family to take care of. It isn’t necessarily him that causes me frustrations; it’s just the educational culture here. Teachers don’t show up to class or to proctor exams and it is acceptable. Being late is acceptable (not complaining about that one). I even explained if that were to happen in America, you would probably be fired. There is the problem, though. We ain’t in Kansas, kids. The adjustment is on me. Often, I am frustrated.

We lesson planned successfully for this week. Yay! Small victory! The focus was on listening and writing, and the students had to listen to both my counterpart and I read a text and then put the pictures that were out of order in the correct order. Then, individually, the students would have to re-write the story, using the pictures in the correct order as a guide. They were told to write one sentence per picture and they had already been vocabulary words to help them in the warm-up. As the lesson progressed, my counterpart didn’t understand his activity fully. The activity he picked out and we had previously gone over. When I explained the activity, I had to ask him to help me translate, and even then, the students could not do the activity. After modeling what I wanted, and then essentially doing the activity for them, I left them jaws agape and with my head pounding and heart aching.

How am I going to do this? I’m smart. I know how to teach. I just need support. I have told my counterpart that I believe we need to do English foundation building activities since the students in the particular class’ proficiency levels are so low. This was further confirmed today. This curriculum, based on text types (re-count, narrative, and procedure) are in no way focused on building communicative competence. Reading comprehension and listening are the only focus. This does not prepare the learners to use the language fully. Also, how can one read and comprehend these texts when the only thing they can successfully produce is “My name is..”.

I feel like I am up against a boulder.

I just want to be sehat (healthy).

My body has been the source of many agonies here, resulting in me feeling hopeless, confused, and just irritated. I have been more physically uncomfortable here than I have been comfortable. I’m still facing constant stomach issues. I struggle with fatigue most days, and I have been having trouble sleeping. Even singing Fleetwood Mac doesn’t put me to sleep anymore. The oppressing heat does not let up. I have my good days, but my bad days are pretty bad.

Let the Beat Drop

One day, when I was trying to withdraw money from the ATM so I could go to the pharmacy and then to a toko to buy a new cell phone because mine was stolen in Bali, all the ATMs were out of order. I had some USD so I asked my counterpart to come with me to exchange the money. The woman would only give me 7,000 rupiah to the dollar. I exchange rate is 11,000 rupiah to the dollar. I was like, no. Sorry, ma’am. NO. I was like this is ridiculous and I just started crying. I’ve cried plenty of times here. In an AlphaMaret, in an angkot, in the teacher ‘s work room…tears everywhere.

So, I got on my bike, and cried the whole way home. I ignored every “HELLO MISTER”, “HELLO MISSES” “QUITNY(Courtney)….MAU KE MANA?”. I went to the mandi and cried as I poured buckets of water on my head. I went to my room, put on some Celine Dion, and cried as I dressed myself. Singing along to “My heart will go on” made me cry more.

I decided to bathe Harry and Sally (two feral cats I adopted) to make myself feel better. They smelled like cat urine and shit (I’m convinced they piss on each other) so they needed it.

It did make me feel better. Maybe a secondary project idea. Courtney’s Pet Salon.

With all of this, I was left questioning my decision to join the Peace Corps. How am I going to improve the learning and teaching of English? Cultural exchange is important, but I just, at that moment, couldn’t see my life play out like this for two years.

What changed? Mainly my attitude from a good talking to from the mom’s and pop’s, support from other PCVs, and my buddies back home. ALSO…..

Two things.

1. I was outside reading and a boy from the English course approached me to chat. He is around 9 and his parents are doctors here. I chat with him often and I am embarrassed to admit I don’t remember his name. We were chatting about random things and he was telling me he has saved up 300,000 (30 bucks) rupiah to buy a new game. I asked him “What would you buy if you had all the money in the world?!”. He looked at me and said “I don’t think about things like that. I just think about the things I have”.


2. There is an article floating around about jams on sale in the grocery store and that if we are given more than 6 choices, we often don’t buy any because the more choices we are given the harder it is for us to decide on the best one. This is my life. I’ve got more than 6 jams to choose from and I chose one, and now I’m questioning if I’ve purchased the right one.

The problem with thinking about the “what if’s” is they are what they imply. They are a possible outcome given the variables and conditions are conducive to producing the desired outcome. How do we even go through life when there is so much uncertainty? Some things seem predictable, but nothing is ever certain. But, we successfully make decisions every day despite this. It’s only when we obsess over these decisions does it cause us agony. I think the key is to just be happy with your decision. Lean into it. I decided to do this with good intention and I believe in the Peace Corps and more importantly, I believe in myself. I need to think about the things I have and not the things I could have. Ma Jian, an expat from China, writes in his novel Red Dust, “the more freedom you have to choose your path, the harder the journey is” and I believe he is right. Freedom, though, is something I’m learning more and more to appreciate.

So, yeah, I’ve had a tough couple of months. I guess this really will be the toughest job I’ll ever love. Oh, and can we end this Government shut down? Still not sure how shutting it down was possible in the first place. I guess the GOP was having a case of buyer’s agony, thinking too much about the jelly people have the option to buy. Fortunately, Obama’s jam is good for you and you don’t have to buy it if you don’t want it. Don’t think about it too much.


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