Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Indonesian Birthday

Ever since I can remember, I've had a little thing that I like to call the birthday curse. Dating back to kindergarten, when I was sick and couldn't bring my special cupcakes to share with my class on my special day, some small mishap would always happen on my birthday. Last year, for my 17th birthday, I had the pleasure of going to the hospital with a throat that made talking feel like human torture, only to find that I had strep throat. But this birthday was different. This birthday just may have been the best birthday of all.

Around 5:30 am, there was an outrageous amount of banging on my door. I jumped out of bed, dazzled and half asleep, and opened my door to find my host family bearing a birthday cake with candles. Still half asleep, but nonetheless surprised, I blew out my birthday candles and made my birthday wish for the first time that day. The first person to wish me happy birthday aside from my family, was of course Charis Ramsing. I'm sure everyone by now knows that Charis and I are the two coolest vloggers on planet Earth. But maybe you don't know how insanely amazing of a friend she is. Exhibit A can be found here.

The second I entered the gate to my school, everybody and their mother came rushing up to me just to wish me a happy birthday. By this point, I was smiling uncontrollably. Our morning break rolled around, and it was time for cake. This cake was delicious! Well, what little bit of cake that I did eat, was delicious. We ended up having an epic cake fight where we all ended up wearing more cake than we did eating it. After school, a few school friends and I went and got a few more birthday treats and then I headed home.

Wednesday nights are always reserved for Bahasa Indonesia lessons at the ITB campus with the other AFS chapter Bandung students. Today was no exception, and I made my way to campus with angkot a little bit early. When I arrived to campus, I looked at the driver and said, "Ba, hari ini ulang tahunku. Gratis, ya?" Or, "Sir, today is my birthday. Can I have my ride for free?" And GUESS WHAT. It worked. I found my partner in crime, Baya, where I got cake for the third time that day. But here's the best part. I found popcorn! Before I left the States, I was eating popcorn everyday, twice a day. So coming to Indonesia and having to quit cold turkey was not an easy task. I devoured the buttery goodness, and was on cloud nine throwing pieces up in the air and trying to catch them in my mouth.

My fellow AFS kids and I took a unanimous vote to move our Bahasa lesson to a neat little place called Ayam Madu. It's debatably my favorite place in Bandung. Ayam Madu is a small, outdoor, street restaurant where they make the best chicken in all of Indonesia. It's one of those places that holds a very special place in my heart, so it was an excellent place to end my birthday.

I got to blow out candles twice on my birthday this year. And both times, people told me to make a wish. And out of all of the wishes I could have made, you know what I wished for? I wished to beat my Temple Run high score. That's the best thing I could wish for, guys. That's how good my life is. And guess what. I did beat my Temple Run high score. (14 million. No big deal.) Good food. Good company. Good life. Great day. Simple as that.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

From the Mixed Up Files of Mallory's Mind

In the words of Tina Turner, “Big wheels keep on turning.” Why this song came to mind as I sat down to write this post? I’m not sure. But... It seems semi-fitting so just let it happen. Wow. Where to start? The past few hours have been filled with nothing but complex thoughts sprouting from every hidden corner of my brain. But now as I sit behind this brightly lit, computer screen trying to put these thoughts on paper, I’m at a loss for words. 

My exchange year is now 27% complete. I cringe when I hear the word “exchange year” because really, this time in Indonesia is so much more than that. It’s so much more than I ever expected. Life changing experience is an easy term to look at and say, “Hey, I want that!” But it’s a completely different story when you’re living it. I am simultaneously the strongest and weakest that I have EVER been. This experience has challenged me in ways that I never would have imagined. My personal strength, my ego, my beliefs, my self confidence. All have been completely pushed to the brink and back. And I’m sure this will be a continuous cycle. I HOPE this will be a continuous cycle. 

I’m at the point where I can’t imagine my life before coming to this country. I love Indonesia. My heart and soul are in Indonesia. I knew I was lucky to have been given such a unique opportunity but, I never really quite understood what that meant until now. I have been given the chance to completely reinvent myself as a person. Everyday, I am put into situations where I have to question my values and beliefs and everything that I used to consider, dare I say it, “normal.” There is a new force and drive within me like never before. I’m realizing how weak I am. How little I know about our world. How much fear is actually inside of me. And yet, I’m addicted. It’s SO BEAUTIFUL. And I never want to leave. I can’t imagine living a stagnant lifestyle with a 9-5 job in the same town my whole life. There of course, is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s just not for me.

I have been put on this Earth to explore. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, boy. Another little, teeny bopper that thinks she wants to travel the world.” Well, that is and that isn’t the case. I don’t just want to travel the world. I want to serve the world. I don’t always write about the... shocking parts of Indonesia. There’s extreme poverty. Street children that work instead of going to school. Disabled beggars on the street. Sex trafficking. Being an outsider, adjusting to these conditions was not easy. I often felt out of my comfort zone, and in way over my head. But then, I realized. America has the same exact issues. These issues just a look a bit different. And it takes living somewhere else to recognize our own problems. We live in a broken world. Every country, every PERSON, is fighting their own battles. My new life purpose has become to make these battles a little bit easier. 

The world is broken. But on the flip side, the world is infinitely beautiful. And I see that now
I see that each day in the people and places and smells that have become a part of my daily routine. I see beauty in the security guards in my neighborhood that say, “Selamat pagi.” each morning. I see beauty in the smiles of the school children that follow me home from school. I see beauty in the rainstorms that engulf Bandung like a warm, needed, blanket. In the friends that have quickly become like family. In my hands that I now use to eat with. In people’s faith, and dedication to their religion. In my host brother’s giggle that often will turn into a full out roar. In the butterflies that pass me on my way home from school. In the sound of a new language rolling off of my tongue. In the many smells of food. In food itself. It’s all. So. Beautiful. And that, is a very, very cool realization.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mallory the Explorer


Mallory the Explorer. Since coming to this country that’s the nickname I have been given. I’ve also been given the nickname of Barney Stinson but, that’s another story. Over the course of the last few days, I’ve had some experiences that really allowed me to live up to that title. 

Last Saturday I skipped school and crashed an Indonesian wedding. How many people do you know that can say that? Early in the morning I met up with Agung, (My Bahasa teacher/Adventure partner,) Bre, and one of Agung’s friends, Fiko. The day started on a high note, with the sun shining and a clear sky you could see through for miles. 
A quick lesson on Indonesian weddings: Typically, there are two types of ceremonies. In the morning, there is an event for close family members in which the couple will become married by law and by religion (Apparently these are two separate things.) 
Because the first portion of the wedding is reserved for family members, my three friends and I weren’t allowed into the mosque where the ceremony was being held. Luckily for us, the mosque was built of windows and we could see the whole ceremony as we stalked around outside. There are a few special rituals where the husband makes a promise to the wife’s father, (talk about intimidating,) and everyone prays together. Once all is said and done, the bride finally enters the mosque. My BREATH WAS TAKEN AWAY. Completely. She was the MOST beautiful bride I had ever seen. She was dressed in an all white gown that made her look like a real-life princess. Bre and I joked that we were at the Royal Family’s wedding. After she entered, the couple signed some papers to become married by law. The two then stood, joined hands, and the husband kissed his new bride on the forehead. It. Was. Precious. So precious in fact, Bre cried. The first portion of the wedding ended, and we offered our congrats to the new family, where we were then invited to the second portion of the wedding. Officially.
With the bride and groom! Just stunning.
The adventure squad and I headed over to the wedding reception which was to take place at a Butterfly Garden. We arrived to the sound of traditional, Sundanese music and a large herd of guests. I’m not entirely sure what was happening but at one point people were throwing candy and money at everyone, so that was fun. Next thing I knew, there were traditional dancers, and more music, and we were escorted into the actual venue. For the second time that day, my breath was taken away. The decor was flawless, boasting shades of red and gold. I don’t know who their wedding planner was but, someday they will plan my wedding, too. The next few hours were spent eating. Like, actually. We ate for hours. There was a never ending supply of food at stations located around the venue. And let me tell ya, it was alllll delicious. Now, I’m not confirming or denying anything but... I may or may not have eaten six cups of ice cream in less than a two hour time period. After taking lots of pictures, and having many people take pictures with US, the adventure squad decided to move on to our next adventure: The Butterfly Garden.

Kupu-kupu cantik (Beautiful butterfly)
Adventure squad in awesome hats!
So in short, our Butterfly Garden Adventure consisted of frolicking through super hot greenhouses with beautiful, little butterflies. We had a tour guide that was the doppelgänger of Nelson Mandela. And I was brave enough to touch lots of strange caterpillars. We also go to wear some stellar hats.

Myself and students!
Moving on to Sunday, Baya and I had an early morning church service. Following that, we made our way to an orphanage/school where the ITB chemical engineering students were doing community service there. We were a little bit late, so when I arrived late, I had to go in front of 100 or so students to introduce myself. The rest of the morning was spent talking to kids, and making different foods. The highlight of my day? One girl looked to me with a shy smile and said, “Your Bahasa is very good!” Let’s just say I almost cried and I wanted to write that girl a thank you card and name my first born child after her. Though my Bahasa is nowhere near where I want it to be, it was a much needed confidence boost.

Found some cute kids in the caves!
Some of the coolest kids you'll ever find
Tuesday was the Muslim new year, so my school wasn’t in session. I was very much looking forward to a day off so I could explore my little heart out. However, the night before, I woke up around twelve to some lovely, stomach pain. Let’s just say that my evening wasn’t too great. Agung had planned yet another adventure for the holiday, and I was invited. Even after a sleepless, sick night, I couldn’t resist. What I didn’t know about our day’s agenda, is that we would be hiking/climbing. We arrived at the mountain and were greeted by a herd of monkeys. It took all of my willpower to not pet them all because APPARENTLY that’s not hygienic. Or safe. We spent six hours climbing, hiking, and scaling through limestone caves, stone gardens, and a few peaks. Even though I was out of breath for the majority of the day, even though a few hours before the thought of leaving my bed seemed impossible, and even though it was 1,452 degrees with 157% humidity, I couldn’t have felt any happier. In the infinite beauty that is Indonesia, I was gently reminded of just how incredible/adventure filled/literally breathtaking my life can be. As I sat with the adventure squad in a small, satay restaurant later that evening, I couldn’t help but think just how great of a reminder that is.