It has been a decade since I’ve actually spent time in my hometown.  Sure, I’ve been back for a few days or a week or so every so often, but nothing more.  Now I’ve been visiting …

Source: Homecoming

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It has been a decade since I’ve actually spent time in my hometown.  Sure, I’ve been back for a few days or a week or so every so often, but nothing more.  Now I’ve been visiting for a month, and it’s crazy how little I know.  Many things have changed, or at least everything looks different.

Most people know their hometown like the back of their hand, having roads, people, and memories on the tip of their brain upon returning.  I, however, feel like I’m learning things for the first time.  I’ve had almost no connection to this place in so long, that it feels like a new foreign land to me.

So, what are things my mind wanders towards now that I’m back in the US?

There are many things, but I find myself feeling extremely grateful.  I’m grateful for clean drinking water, hot showers whenever I want them, produce that won’t give me food poisoning.  I’m so happy to see beautifully paved roads with no traffic (after living in Jakarta, I’ll never complain about traffic…and traffic here will NEVER compare!)  I love that my favorite foods are reasonably priced, considering they are made or produced locally.  I’m grateful for fast, reliable internet 24/7 and clear connections when I want to call someone on the phone.

And, what have I leaned from being away for 2 years and then returning?

I’ve learned that I can be happy with very little (if I didn’t know that already.)  I’ve learned that every country and every person has room for improvement.  I’ve learned that most people have fears about things that are foreign or far away, no matter where they live.  And…most importantly, I’ve learned that although I may not have much, I have a rich spirit, fruitful experiences, abundant relationships on many continents and the satisfaction of achieving my personal goals.  There is no way I would ever permit myself to look back on my life and feel anything less than successful.

“There will be a time when you believe everything is finished.

That will be the beginning.”

-Louis L’Amour



“Firsts” are always something to get excited about.  They are markers of time and of life: first kiss, first car, first boyfriend, first job.

Usually, they are special memories surrounded in puffy white clouds and sparkles when we think back on them.

“Lasts” are more bittersweet, at least most times, for me.  Every so often I will do something for the last time and think, “YES! Thank You! Never Again!”  But those moments are few and far between, thank goodness.

I recently finished up my stint as an expat in Indonesia.  Although two years abroad isn’t an incredibly long period of time, it is interesting how easy it was to get into routines and life schedules.  Daily life was very different compared to the USA, but for the time in which I called Indonesia my home, that life became usual, common, natural.  Saying goodbye was difficult because I had grown accustomed to certain things I was sure to miss from time to time once I returned to northern North America.

As the weeks counted down, I was cognizant of every “last” that came up.  I was happy to submit my last grade…considering I had to enter 5 scores for each of my 1,100 students.  I paid my last months rent.  I scheduled my last dentist and spa appointments (two extremely cheap things that I had to take advantage of while I still had the opportunity).  I acquired my last souvenir.  I said goodbye to my last student.  I gave some belongings away to make room for my most important items and memories, and then packed my suitcase for the last time.

There will be no more student greetings or farewells, no more high-fives, no more belly laughs over the ridiculously funny things these kids said.  There will be no more birthday serenades, no more seas of beautiful brown skin, hair and eyes attentively waiting for my tongue twister warm-ups and group games.

No more thick pollution, but no more extremely cheap cost of living.  No more traffic, but no more roadside food stalls every five feet.

I am happy to be back in the West, with family, appreciating the beauty of Winter, but there are many things about the East that I will miss.  The people were very friendly and incredibly hospitable, the shopping was cheap and the weather was always tropical.

Maybe one day I’ll get to go back and revisit some of my close friends and continue traveling around the country.  I’d love to check in on my kids to see how much they have grown and learned in my absence.  That will be a treat.

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A Link to the Past

Around 40,000 years ago, when modern humans were reaching as far as Australia and Europe, a few in a cave, just outside Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia, decided to get creative.

Besides pictures of animals, which cropped up in a few other countries at about the same time, these people in the shallow cave outside Makassar did something different.  They put their hands on a high rock and spread natural red dye over them to leave very clear hand prints…the first time (to the world’s current knowledge) a modern human had done so.


I’ve always been an avid museum goer and love to experience things that seem “otherworldly.”  I’ve seen fossils, dinosaur bones and space rocks, but this was a different kind of “otherworldly.”  Maybe there was a reason and purpose at that moment for marking the rocks.  Or, maybe as we made the switch from a hunter/gatherer lifestyle to a lifestyle rich in cultivation, time for creativity could actually be afforded.

Maybe it was a bunch of kids sneaking away from their family responsibilities and totally freaked out when they realized the dye they used on the cafe graffiti wouldn’t wash off!

In any case, I’m glad they left a marker, a message, a connection to another time.

The rest of my short trip to Makassar was much more modern…except the drive to and from the caves…that was still peaceful and untouched.



The city of Makassar is very nice, albeit extremely hot.  It had an interesting feel to it, considering it’s a major city.  It was busy but not crowded, highly-traveled but not expensive.  The location was interesting as well.  Makassar is perched on the west coast of one of the peninsulas in the south of the island.  City and tropical beach are strikingly close to each other, which is why you don’t see many foreigners in the city itself.  Apparently after exiting the airport, many head straight to the beach or one of the well-known diving spots.

This worked out really well for me, as I was there for cultural experiences, not time on the beach.  Besides the cave paintings, I was able to tour Fort Rotterdam at the edge of the city.  It happened to be really close to the hostel I stayed in and I was the only white person…so I was naturally swarmed with photos, opportunities with locals to practice their English and even had a request for an impromptu greeting, to address an English class being held on the lawn.  After two years of living here, these are things I’ve grown accustomed to and am ok dealing with those situations.  Everyone in Makassar was so nice and their English was very good…so it was easy to accept the attention with a smile.

Meanwhile, I was actually able to see the beautiful Dutch fort in between speaking engagements. The complex is quite large, including two buildings that are museums with the royal history shown in paintings around the inside.

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After the museum and statues, it was time for driving around and shopping.  The city has nice wide streets with plenty of places to park, so I could get a great picture of their central monument (much like MONAS in Jakarta) and grab some beautiful wood carvings at an artisan gift shop.

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As usual, this was a quick getaway, but I had a great time exploring a new area of Indonesia for two days.

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Lost in Translation…or just communication

My walk to work every morning takes about 15 minutes.  It’s about a mile of walking through the neighborhood and includes passing no less than four security checkpoints.  These areas are for neighborhood safety patrols because everyone basically lives in “gated” communities…although they are not glamorous like what you would normally picture in the hills of California or other prestigious areas.

Anyway, since I walk every day (which is extremely unusual here), all the security guards know who I am and where I work.  They are very nice guys who I always say hello and goodbye to along my journey.

The oldest security guard and I have a special bond.  He has gentle eyes that squint against the sun and pretty white hair that shows beneath his cap.  In all the times I’ve run into him, I’ve never seen him without a big smile across his face.

This is the only guard who I let give me a ride to the school, if he happens to be going that way on his rounds.  On the back of a motorbike, the journey takes only about 2-3 minutes, so it is a nice gesture when he offers.  But in those 2-3 minutes, an interesting situation occurs.

While on the back of his bike, this guard just talks and talks and talks…in Indonesian.  I clearly only know enough Indonesian to get by in basic situations, so the nuances of chummy banter are absolutely lost on me.  After about nine months of living in this particular neighborhood, all the security dudes should know my extremely basic Indonesian vocabulary, but this special guard loves to talk and talk and talk.  I usually respond by nodding my head, saying yes or sometimes just giggling, knowing full well that this guy is having a conversation completely by himself.

Over the course of two years, this has happened a few times to me where the other person just wants to chat whether I can contribute or not.  It used to pressure me a bit because I wanted very badly to join in, ask a question or add something of value.  I don’t want to say I’ve given up necessarily, but I think I got to a point where I recognized my language ability wouldn’t develop fast enough for that to happen.  Since that moment of realization, I started to enjoy just listening to how beautiful the language can be and how sometimes a smile can communicate everything you need.

The older security guard will still give me a ride every now and again, he will still smile and talk away, and I’ll still giggle in ignorance.

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What I won’t miss…seriously

I’ve already set the record straight by telling everyone that although I live in a country that has numerous places that are classified as “tropical paradises,” I still live in a city.  A big, polluted, still-developing, over-populated, traffic-jammed city.  My classes are not conducted on pristine beaches, my offices are not located in palm tree tree houses and I do not sip from a freshly opened coconut in my leisure time.  Ok, that last one I admit to doing…but very rarely.  :-)

I am, however, going to miss many things about my time here.  Two years was a great amount of time to really feel like a local, which is exactly the experience I wanted.  This country, this job, this life experience has left so many positive impressions on me, that there may be too many to describe.  So instead of gushing about tropical corners, kind attention (or even special treatment), I thought I’d make a list of some things I won’t miss.  It’s not incredibly long, but it’s humorous and satisfying.  Life in paradise isn’t always a beach.

-Eyelid sweat (a daily occurence).

-Being asked if parts of my body are real (Nose, eyelashes, eye color, hair color).

-The annual floods.

-The need to take a shower the second I walk into my room after returning from my walk home from work.

-Being called “Mister.” It’s strange to me that if you only know one or two words in English, you should make sure you don’t call a woman the wrong word.

-People yelling and sneezing at the top of their lungs…the concept of “noise pollution” hasn’t yet made it to this country.

-Constant congestion from the mix of pollution and humidity.

-Watching laziness…everywhere.

-The treat of Malaria or Dengue Fever every time I get a mosquito bite.

-The threat of food poisoning every time I eat vegetables.

-Being followed around stores by attendants who feel it is necessary to stand 8 inches away and watch you as you try to shop…how they can think this is NOT rude is beyond me.

-How lots of people like to gossip, but important information and details are apparently deemed not worthy of sharing.

-The depression I feel after seeing a 10 year old smoking on the back of a motorcycle being driven by a 12 year old.

-The general lack of good, quality parenting.

-The overwhelming number of men who were NOT taught how to be respectful or how to conduct themselves appropriately in public…(see the above notation).

-90 degree Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

-Being stared at…ALL the time.


As the adage goes, I’ve become more appreciative of various things after experiencing their absence in my new/current environment.  And I’m grateful for the recognition.  The US is FAR from perfect.  In some cases, we are far behind other developed countries in a few key areas.  But I appreciate my rights, freedoms, and progressions.  I appreciate the improvements constantly being made or worked on.  Most of all, I’ve been away long enough to be happy and excited to return.

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I Never Want to be Famous….

Let me just say that being famous is the worst thing in the world in my opinion.  Having complete strangers stalk you, take your picture when you don’t want them to, making every piece of your life public, would be a death sentence in my eyes.  Yet strangely, that’s basically what happens to me here in Indonesia, which is why it’s a constant struggle.

Perhaps I can deal with it for the time being because I know it’s temporary.  I’m approaching the two-year mark in this place, and after that amount of time enduring such abuses, I will soon be able to hold my head up high as I walk into a crowd of people and happily disappear into anonymity.  Oh…how I dream of that.  Not to be stared at.  Not to be stopped five times by pedestrians asking for a photo.  Not to be in the middle of something and having men a few yards away TRYING to stealthily take my photo…and FAILING HORRIBLY….

My knowledge of being famous basically comes from the little I know about Hollywood stars.  Yes, those people are glamorous and rich and all of that…which I care nothing about…but they use their wealth to buy or build things to keep them protected and isolated.  Private jets get them where they want to go and their houses are more like compounds.  They have walls and guards and gates.  They serve as houses, resorts, gyms, studios and parks, so their isn’t much reason to ever leave.  They have people to do their shopping and cooking, which can further limit their interaction with everyday people, if they so choose.

None of that ever interested me, until I moved to a place where I was on display…by just being me.  And right now, that notion of isolation does sound appealing.  After enduring the harassment, the stares, kissing babies and posing for pictures at every moment when only solitude was desired, I relate to wanting nothing more than a compound to hide in for a while.  The weight of a stare, in a country where I’m the opposite from the locals on many levels, can crush my confidence and resolve and reduce me to wanting to hide in a corner for a respite.  And forget underwear shopping!! Anything remotely private gets put under a microscope and can easily become uncomfortable, especially with an audience wherever I go.  It’s these moments when I want to throw my hands up and say, “why not find someone ACTUALLY famous?”

I had a conversation with a coworker the other day about foreigners at the beach.  I couldn’t get my coworker to understand how inappropriate and uncomfortable it is to stalk people at the beach and take endless photos of someone in a swim suit (without asking) just because they have a different skin color.  I had to explain that even though people are choosing to be sunning themselves near the ocean, it’s still a private action, a matter of personal space that deserves respect.  But, it was like telling a small child “Look, but don’t touch,” only to have their grimy little hands crap up your polished silver.  Needless to say, my coworker didn’t learn the lesson I was trying to teach…which means her friends or children won’t learn a lesson in cultural sensitivity either.  Apparently anywhere I go, I will be treated as an object of personal amusement to the locals because I’m caucasian and won’t get a say in the matter.  Hence…I need a private compound for breathing room….

I suppose the experience might be different for a man, considering many come here and enjoy and even seek out the attention from the local women.  And I suppose it’s easier for a woman to get exhausted by the multifarious harassment, but a female perspective is the only point of view I can truly comment on, for obvious reasons.

I just can’t help but think of how crazy this would be back home.  I grew up in a small town that was pretty homogenous, but a person of a different cultural background would be part of the community from time to time.  But those individuals would be slightly avoided, as to not offend them with stares, not be stalked!  I wouldn’t run up to someone and yell out “Asian” or “African,” take their picture and then secretly (not so secretly…) follow them through a mall to watch where they were going.  I get that in Indonesia these things happen out of a fascination with white people and it’s thrilling to see one, but geez…I’m still a human, and kind of a boring one at that!  I’m not a supermodel, singer or actress, in which fan fare would be expected.  I’m just a teacher who happens to be a fair Westerner.

I suppose this is one area I may never truly understand.  All I know is that for the next 4 months, I’ll pose for about 100 more photos, be followed around shopping plazas and be called “Bule” (the Indonesian word for a light Western foreigner) multiple times.

Ahhh, that’s Indonesia.

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