Looking Back

It has been eight months since I left my expat existence.  It’s strange to be in flux again, (for a large chunk of time), starting over, but this time in my home country.  This adjustment is just as challenging as moving to a developing nation…minus the language barrier and traffic.

When someone asks me “How was it over there?” I never quite know what to say.  Too many thoughts and emotions jam together and I can’t seem to fully explain how it was…much like my dilemma with describing how it feels to be back home.

Saying my time abroad was “challenging” is a complete understatement.  A range of emotions gets conjured up as I think back to iconic moments and interesting lessons learned.

I remember walking out of the airport in Jakarta for the first time and being smacked in the face with thick humidity while about 50 taxi drivers berated me for business.  That set the tone for most of my experience.  It’s always hot and humid, and I was never left alone.

I remember my first Christmas out of the country.  It was the first time I wasn’t able to decorate or send out cards.  That is my favorite time of year, so it almost felt as if Christmas didn’t come, which was sad.

I remember my first VISA trip to Singapore and feeling so thankful that I was able to travel with a coworker.  After not really gathering my bearings in one country, I have to navigate another?? Having a travel buddy really helped to make sure we met our agent and got our documents processed in the ridiculously short window of time we were given.  Panic and stress are always terrible, but especially on an early morning international mission.

I remember being a little nervous on my first day of teaching.  After that, it was a breeze, but not knowing what to expect from each age group that first day was a little scary.

I remember when my shyest five-year-old student finally started speaking in English.  Elation, relief…a little of both is probably what I was feeling at that moment.  It was proof that my little guys were comfortable with me and that they really were absorbing the material.

I remember when the Indonesian government kept changing VISA requirements and out of 17 western teachers, I was only one of two that were legally allowed to work.  Lots of other teachers got a paid, extended vacation, but I still had a full schedule…that was frustrating.

I remember getting to travel around the country, and nearby countries, which was amazing.  Yes it was still hot and locals were WAY too excited by my light skin, hair and eyes, but I’ve gotten to see a bunch of awe-inspiring places.

I remember saying goodbye to my favorite class that first year.  It was so emotional.  I cried for most of the class period as the students showered me with cake and gifts.  I was incredibly sad, but also grateful and humbled at the same time.

I remember on numerous occasions being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour and only moving 20 feet.  That was aggravating, but it will teach you patience.

I remember getting marriage proposals and serenades from my high school boys.  I had a handful of hilarious guys who always made me laugh.

I remember having to communicate with the Super of my building mostly through sign language because he spoke no English, and I never knew the Indonesian words for the things I needed to tell him.  I will never forget how he mimed “explosion” when I asked him what happened to the internet after a big storm passed through. LOL

I remember people stealthily (not so stealthily) taking my photo when I was out at a mall or restaurant, as if I was a unicorn; a strange creature outside its natural habitat, and therefore proof of its existence needed to be captured! Sigh….

I remember my excitement and curiosity when getting to try all the new and interesting foods available.  I still miss the amazing fruit selection.

I remember having to constantly haggle, for everything, which was extremely tiring, when all you want is to pay a fair price and walk away.  I especially didn’t like paying a higher price at times, just because I was western.  But, I did get good at haggling and looking back, I recognize that a lesson in discrimination was very educational.

Basically, my emotions and my experiences ran the gamut…but I think that’s a good thing.  I wanted to be challenged and immersed, and these experiences delivered.

So what was it like over there?  It was…a very unique experience.  Let’s leave it at that🙂

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Wood of the West…and some other stuff.

On my recent trip out to Utah and Arizona, I was ready to see lots of rocks in all the warm hues I could think of.  (I wasn’t disappointed either!)  What I didn’t plan on, was seeing so many dead trees.  Going through the parks, I heard a lot about the constant lightning storms that tend to hit, and then it all made sense.

But dead trees, no matter how beautiful they are, were only part of the beauty.  I happily ran into some desert flowers, critters and unique moments I wasn’t expecting.

I hope you enjoy these few gems.

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Red Rock Road Trip 2016!

Since returning to the states a few months ago, I’ve been very excited to start exploring my own country once again.  After almost three years of not seeing any new US areas, it was time to have an adventure.

I’ve wanted to explore the western states for quite a while now.  I’ve even had quasi-plans that were scrapped twice…much to my chagrin.  So in early June, I was finally off to Utah!

Day 1

The journey began in Salt Lake City.  Overlooking a hiccough or two with the rental car, the first stop turned out to be amazing.

The altitude change, combined with pretty high temperatures equaled slow and steady movements.  But hey, I was on a nice long vacation, so I was in no mindset to be rushed anyway.

The first order of business was to go visit the capital.  The visitor’s center and gift shop was just across the street from the capital building.  It provided a place to park as well as a great spot to capture a beautiful picture.

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The capital was really neat and there were many things to read which discussed the state history, its founders and cultural icons like the infamous beehives you tend to see everywhere.

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After lunch at the amazing French bistro “Gourmandise,” (which I highly recommend, if you are in the neighborhood!) it was time to leave the car at the hotel and set out walking.  There was talk of seeing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse, so I couldn’t pass that up.  The world-famous choir group was about to go on tour and they just happened to rehearse on Thursdays.  I took that as a moment of serendipity and sought them out.  Naturally, they sounded amazing, especially with the accompaniment of the orchestra.

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After briefly seeing the choir, I was able to look around the amazing Temple Square.  It encompasses 35 acres, which contains beautiful buildings, museums and libraries, including the Family History Library, which houses the largest genealogical collection in the world.

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Temple

Assembly Hall

Assembly Hall

Day 2

This was a big day for me.  Having only been to the rocky west for a very brief trip to the Grand Canyon years ago, I was itching to see some larger-than life rocky formations once again.

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The drive to Bryce Canyon National Park was really pretty.  It was cool to see the terrain start to change from the city to the outskirts to red rocks as I traveled south.  At one point the road takes you through an arch on your way to the park.

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Once inside, the trails are easily marked and many beautiful sights are just outside the parking areas and turnoffs.  After a few minutes of hiking, the amazing hoodoos emerge, leaving you breathless for a few minutes.

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Hoodoo

Many countries were represented, zillions of photos were being taken, but everyone seemed to briefly sand in awe before the cameras came out, because no matter how amazing technology becomes, it can never replace the sensation of standing before the majestic view in person.

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Day 3

Instead of taking the interstate east across Utah, toward Moab, scenic byway Rt. 12 was used instead…and that was an amazing choice.  Did it add a little time to the day’s journey?  Yes.  But did it offer breathtaking mountain views and multiple areas to pull off for photos?  Um…most definitely!

With the purpose of the day being the arrival in Moab, the scenic byway was the most beautiful way to get there.

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The unexpected enjoyment of seeing Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park was a wonderful addition to an already beautiful trip.

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After arriving in the town and setting up the campsite, it was time to explore on foot.  Moab feels like a beach town without the beach.  It’s super cute, walkable, with more than enough shops, restaurants and cafes of every kind, not to mention every kind of adventure activity available.  It was great to get some ideas for what to include for the following day.

Day 4

In the morning I went to the northern part of Canyonlands National Park.  Once again, it was easy to drive around the park and pull off to explore great vistas and trails.  Each sweeping view was better than the one before with pull-offs every few minutes.

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With much of Canyonlands being inaccessible by car, I was content with touring the northern part and then heading back to town for another adventure.

Raven’s Rim zip line adventure was next on the list for the afternoon.  I met up with a handful of other people scheduled for the same tour.  The guides took us on a 30-minute off-roading excursion to get to the first line.  (I think I screamed more during that part than during the zip lining part!  It was awesome!)

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Once at the top of the rocks, the lines extended out over huge cliffs and valleys.  Of the six lines, two of them ran for over a quarter-mile, and in the middle of the trek, we had to cross a very flexible swinging bridge.

It was a great day of scenic beauty and adrenaline.

Day 5

This was the day to see Arches National Park.  This park is very close to the town of Moab and easy to travel around.  There’s about 40 miles of scenic roadway that takes you through the park.  Many arches and beautiful formations can be seen well from the road or pull-off areas.  For the more adventurous, hiking trails can be used to get as close as possible to the structures, including some little ones that are hidden from the road.

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I was able to get some great shots, but a word of caution: the iconic “Delicate Arch” takes over 1.5 hours to hike to…each way.  Seeing it from far away was just fine, considering I was able to see so many other amazing arches close up, with only a minor hike instead.  With the altitude and very high temperatures, I had to make choices on how to exert my energy.

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

Pine Tree Arch

Pine Tree Arch

On the way back to Moab, you’ll pass a road with sheer rock cliffs that many try rock climbing on.  Just past the rock climbers is a long section of rock with a bunch of petroglyphs.  It’s amazing to see the work of people about 10,000 years before our time, but the writing is faint and could be easily overlooked.

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Day 6

A big day of travel!

The goal was to leave Moab, Utah and arrive in Page, Arizona, with a stop in 4 Corners.

On the way out of town, there is a small detour you can take to Newspaper Rock.  It’s another petroglyph area.  These are a little easier to see, and you can get closer to the writing, making for some cool photos.  I’ll never get tired of looking at things that are frozen in time.

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About an hour south, near the town of Blanding, UT, I made a pit-stop at a really cool dinosaur museum.  I was a bit surprised to see this caliber of museum in such a sleepy town, but there were lots of displays, fossils, replicas and other cool things to see.

This museum had 3 of the 6 known North American Permian logs, and the only ones on display! Not bad for something 275 million years old.

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Another hour down the road I was dipping into Colorado and then New Mexico to swing by 4 Corners.

The Monument really is in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a pretty cute tourist trap.  The line was very long and the day was very hot (about 100 F) but signs leading up to the seal requested that everyone limit themselves to three pictures to ensure that the line will keep moving.

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The center seal reads “Four states here meet in freedom under God.”  Radiating out from the center is each states seal, name, overlook ramp, info plaque and flag, as well as booths of Navajo folk art around the perimeter.

After getting my photos, customary travel art and a much-needed snow cone, it was time to keep going.  I had another three hours of driving before arriving in Page.

This was pretty much a straight shot to Page, with no additional turn offs.  But once in Page and checked into the hotel, I still had lots of time to do something else.  I had wanted to see Horseshoe Bend anyway, so when the hotel attendant said it was really close and easy to see, my mind was made up.

Ten minutes down the road was the sign and parking area.  From there was a few yards of an uphill hike, followed by a 10 minute walk to the cliff edge.  No safety features were in place, so caution was necessary, but the view was out of this world.

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The pictures are great, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the scale that the eye absorbs in person.

 

Day 7

Touring Antelope Canyon was a highlight of this journey.  This iconic canyon, just a few minutes drive away from downtown Page, has a few different parts, and stretches below the surface for quite a distance.

I went to the “Lower” part for my tour.  I paid extra for a photography tour, because we were allowed to bring nice photo equipment and tripods along.  We were also given lots of extra time to really set up our shots.  (The regular tour is great too, but they really move people through quickly.)

It was pretty tight getting down into the canyon, but once you squeeze your way through the opening, it opens up a bit so movement is a little easier.

Once at the bottom, we followed the path to some wider spots to set up our gear.  In about two hours we were able to take some great shots without the other tour groups in our way.

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It was an extremely hot day, but worth the hot sun and the sand blowing in our faces for this experience.

Day 8

This was my last full day of vacation.

Leaving Page, I headed south on my way to Phoenix.  After an hour or so, I pulled into the Cameron Trading Post.  This is an awesome gift shop if you want anything to do with the 4 Corners area, Navajo art, desert home decor, local jewelry, pottery, Kokopelli images, etc.  Some of the art was insanely beautiful and intricate.  I walked away with a beautiful set of metal etched earrings and some sand art.

Continuing on, I noticed the first signs of cacti began about 50 miles north of Phoenix.  The terrain changed and soon they were everywhere.

Getting into the city was a little crazy, as I didn’t understand how the city signs were labeled.  But, after stopping to ask a few questions, I was on my way to the State Capital in no time.

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The day was so hot…about 105 F to be exact.  So I was happy to take refuge inside the capital building for a nice long time.

The main building is a museum now, due to newer wings that were added for legislative purposes.  You guide yourself through the floors and take in all the unique things that Arizona has to offer about its history.

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After an extremely hot day, it was nice to head to the hotel and enjoy some much-needed AC.  I was hoping to go to a mall and hang out for a few hours, but I found out that Phoenix doesn’t have a mall!  I guess there is a shopping area, but it’s all outside, like a strip-mall.  So back to the hotel it was! I enjoyed pizza delivery in my cool room for the rest of the night🙂

This trip only confirmed that the western states are so big, with so much to see, that I have no choice but to return one day and continue my exploration.

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The Blue and the Grey

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About 10 years ago I went to the National Civil War Museum.  Like any historical museum, it was filled with exhibits that made you think, made you sad and sometimes made you angry with regards to how people justified backward and unjust ways of living years ago.

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Today, the museum still offers all those necessary elements but the exhibits have been updated.  They do a great job conveying the power, fear and culture surrounding slavery, complete with weapons and devices of submission along with excerpts of slave owner’s worry over losing their way of life, depending on the war’s outcome.

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As expected, Abraham Lincoln was highly featured.  His elegant words still resonate today.

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Near the end of the museum’s self-guided tour, there was a wall which had a collection of plaques featuring a “War of Firsts.”

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This war was unique in so many ways.  Yes, in some ways each war seems to only create new ways of killing each other.  But this war had many things at stake.  It not only divided the country’s interests, but also families and the culture.  North and South, black and white, harvesters and manufacturers all were split and torn on many levels.  And from great turmoil comes great lessons…ones we should never forget, or need to learn again.

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Homecoming

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 …

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Homecoming

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

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Lasts

“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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