It started somewhere between reading Life of Pi and my in-depth explanation of the line ‘Life is but a dream’ to a classroom full of Indonesians singing “Row Your Boat.” Two events sketched an image in my mind that now I can’t stop seeing: Life is a calm or tumultuous sea, while each person is a boat with an anchor.
I can see it so clearly. I am a boat anchored in East Java, Indonesia, and everyone else I know is spread out all over the world—anchored in Quito, in Sydney, in New York, in Paris, in Brussels, in San Francisco, in New Orleans, in Chicago…the list goes on. All these anchors composed of a hundred reasons to stay in their place. It’s beautiful, really, to have something that grounds you and keeps you somewhere, even if it’s only temporary.
As I begin to reel in my anchor from this place, that act of pulling away—that tension—draws me closer, and all the reasons that have made up my anchor for the past two years vividly materialize. In other words, I find myself getting sentimental at the most arbitrary moments.
A few weeks ago I almost cried at my weekly school meeting while discreetly observing a sweet old teacher wrapping up his food with supreme tenderness and care—the same attentiveness he displays when he copies hundreds of worksheets for me.
Last weekend, I lured teachers to an IGLOW planning meeting by promising Ecuadorian chocolate cake. As they sat around complementing the treat, they began speaking amongst themselves about how I should extend my time here, and how they want to take me to the airport in June, which involves borrowing cars, taking time off work and driving several hours to Surabaya. And it didn’t stop there. The following week, my counterpart called me out of class so I could pick out batik, not only for myself, but for my family in Ecuador as well. When you leave, Pak Warai and Bu Endang explained, we will give you this so you and your family can remember us in Indonesia. No matter what I do to show my appreciation for them, I could never surpass their level of generosity and kindness.
Today, I sat with a small group of Indonesian girls in English club. I’ve been so busy with IGLOW, I didn’t have time to plan anything grand, and so we just talked. Eventually the conversation steered to when I will leave and if I ever plan to come back. I hope so, I said. Inshallah! they said. God-willing.
This past week, one of my favorite students, Adhit, excitedly sought me out to show me his newly published book of poems about our former headmaster, Pak Imam. With usual brilliance and dedication, Adhit, and my other favorite student, Karisma, took on this project, collecting, writing and editing thoughtful words and beautiful sentiments from our school community during last semester. I had completely forgotten, but I was honored to find my own words in the book. Students that include me, see beyond my foreignness, and can be real and normal around me so we can really connect—that’s what keeps me here, more than anything else.
And so, leaving Indonesia will be hard. I feel it already. I always start out so aloof and removed. Unattached and unreachable. Then, it’s me who falls in love with the smallest details of a place, the irreplaceable characteristics of certain people, and—though I should be used to it by now—it will always be hard to leave, especially when an experience has been this good to me.