Bondowoso / Daily Life / Indonesia / Peace Corps / People / Travel

One Year in Peace Corps Indonesia: Things I’ve Learned

My last blog post was primarily about exchanging time for money (i.e. jobs), or in my case as a PCV, exchanging time for experiences. However, there’s another element to this thought and that is how time is best spent.

I’m generally content with all that I have accomplished in a year in Peace Corps. One could always do more, but I did what I could in the time given. Aside from the variety of activities that have made my life here fulfilling, there are certain personal outlooks that I’ve clarified and abstract things I’ve learned about myself. This newfound clarity has made my time spent here even more valuable and all this knowledge will be applied post PC.

Here are the some things I’ve learned in a year in Indonesia:

I am not an island.

In spite of loving my alone time, there’s a huge difference between being alone because you want to be, and being alone because you have no other choice. I was completely mentally prepared to enter Peace Corps. I truly believed that being away from friends and family was not going to be a big deal. While I do appreciate having time and no distractions to do activities that are difficult to do with others around (read, write, play guitar), I miss having the opportunity to hang with people I enjoy for longer than just a few days each month. I may be on an island, but I am not an island, and thus, I will never isolate myself from those I’m close to again.

Relationships are important.

I can’t decide if this lesson is primarily a consequence of getting older or if this experience drove me to the realization, but familial relationships and friendships are important. On some level we all know this, but as I get older, I can really understand how true friends are harder and harder to come by and that there is no replacement for family. In reality, all the people close to you are irreplaceable and it’s worth attempting to live close to them. Differently from what I thought before, there’s no shame in altering your life a little bit for the people that are truly important. (Now, if only my close friends weren’t scattered all over the world…can we all just move back to Ecuador?)

Time goes by quickly and a lot can change in a moment.

I knew this, but it’s still worth remembering to keep your priorities in check. How time is spent is so valuable that no one should ever do anything that isn’t worth his or her time or that takes away from something more valuable. Any person/activity/job, including a Peace Corps Volunteering job, should enhance your life and not feel like a great sacrifice. One should be thriving in the time spent and making the most of it – not simply enduring it.

This may be a little idealistic. Some people must endure awful activities/jobs to live and/or support their families, but if there’s a choice, it should be the most fulfilling one. Life is on a linear timeline and time is a finite resource. Once it’s gone—it’s gone—never to return again. Determining how to spend your time well, and who to spend it with—and recognizing when you should leave one path for another—is true wisdom. (Thanks, Sophie!)

Adventures are great, but thrills are short lived.

I came to Indonesia partly because it was an opportunity for an adventure—and it has been. But after a year, the thrill has worn off. Once the dust of excitement and newness settles, life in any location will have a feeling of redundancy. It grows from familiarity. What was once a huge thrilling adventure has become the daily life of another place – no matter how foreign or distant it was at beginning.

With good reason, this is a cliché: all of life is an adventure. It all depends on our attitude towards it. No one place is perfect, and it takes lifetimes to get to know it. Even in the seemingly mundane daily routines, there are beautiful things to admire and contemplate (which is why I love this blog post by Joe S.), and I’ve realized that I don’t always need a big igniting thrill to stimulate or sustain this outlook.

The concept of home is important…and people make better homes than places.

In Bahasa Indonesia, home is usually translated to rumah, which means “house.” Sometimes, it’s painfully difficult to explain the difference between house and home, and it has made me realize the importance of the concept. Because my life has been fragmented throughout various places, home is a difficult location to pinpoint. It’s not a house. It’s certain people. It’s not a country, because if those people weren’t there, it would just be any other place, no matter how familiar it may be. But that said, I am older, and though I love my family, my idea of home is based on a reality I lived when I was 16. Now, it’s almost ten years later, and I can’t just “go home” and live with my parents in the same way. So after the Peace Corps, I will have to build a new version of “home” with my own people…and that will be a challenge. But at least I do know that this home will not be here. (Sorry, Indonesia.)

Life is one constant readjustment.

It’s true that things are in constant transience, but some changes are much more abrupt, palpable and intrusive than others. This is especially so in the Peace Corps, when certain changes can greatly disturb the delicate balance/comfort of your life. Participating in Indonesian daily life does not help you deal with this.

Sometimes, I even feel slightly envious of how most Indonesians (and many other people all over the world) build their entire life in one place—their families and friends are a priority and seemingly, a constant presence. In a way, this redundant environment is really soothing. I can leave site for weeks and return to exactly the same thing. But this is deceiving.

During weeks of mirrored days, littered with class cancellations and gray clouds, time still passes incredibly fast. Though no clear season or change in the weather gives it much ceremony, my second “spring” in Indonesia is beginning. This marks students graduating and 11th graders becoming 12th graders. This means losing some of my favorite students. New 10th graders that have never met me will soon arrive.

Also, new Peace Corps trainees are entering and old PCVs are leaving, which means gaining, but also, losing, good friends. At the end of the day, we are people from many different cities of one big country, and though we’ve grown close here, after this, we may never see each other again, and that’s sad to think about. Readjusting to new people and being without old ones is hard, and it’s just another concentrated, bittersweet incidence of what I can expect for the rest of my life.

Making a difference is a subtle act.

Most of us are in the Peace Corps because we wanted to help people and to make a difference in their lives. Once we spend enough time here though, it becomes clear that these changes may not be appropriate in this context or would take more than two years to achieve. Most of the time, this “change” or “difference” is not something that can be seen or measured.

Yet, it’s there. We may be making a big impression on the life of someone we hardly even speak to and in ways we can’t even imagine. Likewise, people are making an impression on our lives. I can already name those than have left their impression on me. Back in Peace Corps Training, one of our training managers projected a quote that said: “You will plant trees in whose shade you will never sit under.” Now, I really do believe that to be true.

Never walk under construction sites.

This isn’t exactly philosophical, but once I was walking in the Bondowoso bus terminal and the roof was under construction. I did not notice this until a sledgehammer fell from the roof right before the feet of my friend. Thank God nothing serious happened. Watching where you are going and not walking under construction sites should be common knowledge, I know, but I suppose dangerous areas are blocked off in places like the U.S! But this is Indonesia. Barefoot construction workers with non-professional experience are suspended on wooden or iron beams holding very dangerous tools. They get hurt often. And if you walk under them, you could get hurt or worse. Taking the time to walk around such sites in any location is important.

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There’s a lot of construction going on at my site. I definitely take the long way around these paths.

“A single thread in a tapestry, though its color brightly shines, can never see its purpose in the pattern of the grand design.” – Prince of Egypt

Though it seems like I’m totally successful and got everything under control (right!?), I’m often reflecting on my purpose in Peace Corps, life in general and whether I’m truly spending this time well. We can’t see the big picture from our limited perspective, but I do believe everything has a purpose. This can be hard to remember on bad days.

Tapestry image donated by Google.

Finally, thank you, mother, for your infinite wisdom and for quoting songs from animated films. You saved me—yet again—from feeling completely defeated in my electricity-less room as I tormented over my purpose as a PCV in Indonesia, losing friends, feeling homeless and having no idea what to do post-PC. Families—particularly parents—are truly irreplaceable

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2 thoughts on “One Year in Peace Corps Indonesia: Things I’ve Learned

  1. Pingback: Suasana Hati II | in the land of dragons

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