Happy Anniversary, Indonesia (Baby) XOXO

Today marks the one year anniversary of being in Indonesia. It is hard to believe I have been here this long already and equally hard to believe I have a year and 3 months to go. I remember in PST thinking once I got to the one year mark, it would be smooth sailing from there on- I would have already completed a year, so I can surely do another one. I expected to feel elated. No. I was wrong. Sure, I am happy I made it to this point. Elated? Excited? Ehhh. It’s not that simple.

It is hard to describe how I am feeling. So much has happened in this year alone that thinking about a year to come brings mixed emotions of happiness, anxiety, fear, and anticipation; all in all, overwhelming. One thing I can say with certainty, though, is that there is no such thing as smooth sailing in the Peace Corps.

Service in the Peace Corps is bi-polar and inconsistent. Of this school semester alone, I have probably gone to school in total for about 30 days due to holidays, cancellations, testing, illness, and rain. I have felt the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Service in the Peace Corps is exciting and fulfilling. I love hearing my host niece count in English. When she runs up to give me a hug after not seeing me for a while it moves me in ways I never thought could. My host dad and mom call me their daughter, and invite me to look at old family photos; inviting me to share the laughter and warm memories and create some of our own. Having a counterpart plan some really awesome projects for the year ahead and another incorporating some of my teaching methods in his class, makes it all worth it.

Some days, I can be really busy. I might have class from 9-12, then I might hang around the school until 2 to teach a remedial class (which is no longer happening because of testing) and then I might get home at 3:30 and go play soccer. The very next day, school might not be in session, I might sleep in until 10, read a book, and then watch the entire season 3 of GIRLS while binge eating oreos with peanut butter.

I have gotten good at staring at walls; sitting on the back porch daydreaming; sitting in the dark while the rain pours down; and sitting in the teachers’ lounge sweating.

I sweat more here in one week than I have in my whole life time.

I have gotten good a being patient. I have spent a lot of time sitting in non-places (airports, bus terminals, train stations, hospital waiting rooms) waiting for my X mode of transportation/appointment for hours. There is nothing lonelier than being in a hospital alone.

Nothing is simple, despite the “simple” life that I seem to be leading.

Operating in a different language every day is exhausting. While, my language skills have greatly improved, there are times where I shut down and I’m like, “I just can’t deal.”

Operating in a different culture is exhausting.There are things I can appreciate about the culture, things I don’t yet understand, and things that now bother me. I’ve reached a point where I just can’t deal with people saying I have gotten fatter. I have been told this is to signify my look of content and not the lbs.; however, they say the same thing to a person who is indeed large, so what am I supposed to believe? Despite the fact I have lost weight, and explained it is rude to comment on body weight, without fail someone will say, “Wow, Miss, so fat!”. Do I seriously look fat to you? Don’t answer that.

It’s also hard to remain culturally sensitive to wildly inappropriate questions from strangers on public transport such as, “Are you still a Virgin?”. How is that appropriate small talk?


To the kids down the street I see every day and the people in the market I see at least once a week: I have told you my name is Courtney. Difficult to pronounce, I know, but please stop calling me ‘bule’. I have been here for 10 months now, please.

To the solicitors asking me for money or donations at the mall: I know I look like I might have money because 1. I am in an affluent mall and 2. I am white. Unfortunately, I am only in this mall because it was within walking distance from the hospital, where I just came from, and believe it or not I cannot spare 100,000 rupiah (10 dollars) because this is the only money I brought with me and I am currently in a wildly inconvenient situation. So please do not be upset or RUDE to me because I cannot afford to help you.

I mean, I only moved across the world to make a marginal salary and to not see my parents for 2 years to “help”, isn’t that enough?

Opposite to my job description, Indonesia is helping me the most.

Some days I love everything. Some days I am like, “I hate all the days.”

Everything here is a process. A very long complicated process.

Having an ear infection requires you to travel 3 hours into the city for the doctor to tell you to stay overnight for observation, *only you didn’t bring any clothes and all your money is so nicely tucked away in your room. And despite the doctor not speaking any English, you immediately trust him because you have no choice and he seems excited to treat you. After he speaks to the Peace Corps doctor who is 16 hours away at the headquarters in Surabaya, and his diagnosis is translated, you feel proud for understanding most of it and exhausted emotionally.

*Who would expect to stay overnight in this situation? Why carry a bunch of cash? Here, you have no choice but to take all your money out of the ATM because 1. You have to ride your bike to go retrieve it in 99 degree heat 2. The ATM is frequently closed so you may as well take it all out at once.

So, as you sit alone at a Wendy’s woozy from pain killers, decongestants and antibiotics, awaiting for the phone call from your savior (in this case, Dewi from Peace Corps) to tell you that you have a place to stay, you are left with existential questions like, “How (the fuck) did I get here?”.

And after you have missed your first train back home because the doctor kept you longer in the morning than you thought he would and you are sitting in the station staring at the ticket screen that has 0 displayed for the number of tickets for the next and last train home, you wonder more literally, “How (the fuck) am I going to get home?” for it is already noon and an angkot/min-bus home would get you to Subang at 4, which at that point the last angkot for home would have already left.

Although, I also know that life back in America has its long, unavoidable, complicated processes as well.

I knew before I joined the Peace Corps, that much of this journey would be done alone. I just never anticipated how alone it would make me feel.

I am not alone though. I have some awesome friends, mostly students and ibus from school and senam (aerobics) class. We jog together, swim together, watch Men In Black together, and I almost feel like I’m in high school again.

I also have the other volunteers who have provided me with the most support. We are one in the same, trying to figure it all out together.

While I have so much fun with my friends here, I still feel the distance. I am always going to be the foreigner.

My biggest high has come from making the “Happy” video for my school. This song transcends who its author is (Pharrell Williams) (757 represent) and now is completely an anthem for happiness for everyone. I asked the students and staff to just be happy. They did not hear the song until after the video was made and when they heard it, they were… happy.

I was happy that from this our school has been given recognition. That people know SMA 1 Negeri Haurgeulis is amazing. These kids deserve to be recognized.

I both love and hate Indonesia at the same time. I love how convenient purchasing fresh food and produce is. I hate how traveling here makes you feel like you are in the devil’s ass crack on your way to hell. I love how warm most people can be and how eager they are to help. I love the views from the mountains to the shores. I hate the trash everywhere. I hate how sometimes I am taken advantage of because of the color of my skin. I love my students, school and host family. I don’t like leaving the bubble I’ve created here in this community.

So, Indonesia, if I were to leave now, I would feel incomplete. As much as you frustrate me, I love you at the same time. As much as I feel the heart pings for my country and family, I am starting to feel a kinship with you. We may not see eye to eye, but we said we would make this work. My friends may not understand what we are doing together, but you are my something to figure out.You may not be the one I end up with, but we are good for each other right now. We’ve got some big projects coming up together and I can’t wait to see the results.


One response to “Happy Anniversary, Indonesia (Baby) XOXO

  1. What a great post! And yes, a year in some place is always an accomplishment, especially given the obstacles you’ve had in the year. I enjoyed how you highlighted the good and the bad, because the assumption from the outside is that everything goes swimmingly, when that’s often far from the truth.

    My month in Guatemala (which was my first non- “first world” country) FELT like a year and, while it was amazing and life-changing in many ways, was totally exhausting.

    But also – I’m moving to Singapore and, if you’re able, you should come visit if they let you take a break. Or maybe I can visit you 🙂

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