Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What 2014 Taught Me

It's weird, really. Looking back to where I was this exact time last year, and attempting to make sense of where I find myself now. Thinking about the differences between who I was then and who I am today make me feel slightly awkward yet simultaneously ever so proud. Hell, I actually just LOLd. 

Last New Year's Eve was spent in Jakarta, Indonesia. That particular evening I had ultimately found myself at my lowest point on Allen Evan's famed "Exchange Chart of Sadness" and coping was not coming easy. I was homesick - questioning why I had decided to ever step foot in the chaotic archipelago and tossing around the idea of cutting my program six months short. As a few fireworks lit up the sky at midnight, the thermometer read 98 degrees. One of those ginormous cries that takes hold of your entire body stopped by for a while, but it was hard to distinguish between my tears and the drops of sweat that seemed to sprint down my face.

And just like that, the earth had completed one additional orbit around the sun, and my 2014 self was set in motion.

2014 taught me countless things in countless places. January hit me like a train with its hard lesson that sometimes what I want, and what I need are two completely different realties. And sometimes if I'm lucky, what I don't know I need can actually turn out to be infinitely times better than what I originally thought that I wanted. I had wanted to go to Sulawesi, and had so been looking forward to the adventure-filled trip during the three months leading up to it. We were to go hiking, get back out into nature, and feast on fish that we would catch ourselves. But two days before I was about to board my flight to the famous, green-tipped island, my trip was cancelled, and the excitement that I had held onto for so long was ripped right out of my hands. I. Was. Devastated. So devastated that my host mom resorted to letting me stay home from school the following day where I cured myself by eating obscene amounts of fried bananas and sweet tea. I was in the mood for some quiet time, and plucked the only book written in English from my host-dad's bookshelf. The Land of Five Towers. Long story short, I had found the most influential novel of 2014. The story's humble lessons of adversity, passion, courage, and love were exactly what I needed to hear. And as a bonus, through a strange string of events and the power of Twitter, I became pals with the author of that special novel - which really set my year into motion and inspired me to volunteer more, try harder, travel further, and understand greater. Had I gone to Sulawesi, I wouldn't have found that novel. And alas, what I wanted and what I needed were two completely different things. (Side note, if you would like to read The Land of Five Towers, you can purchase it on Amazon for heaps cheap!)  

But January was only the beginning. With each month came more steps, more tribulations, and thus, more lessons learned. March taught me what a gift my education has been and will be as I spoke with the families who were struggling to settle their kids' school fees. May taught me to stay curious about the world, to relish in its marvels as I frolicked with elephants and orangutans. June reminded me of the power of perseverance as I successfully completed my finals in a second language and graduated from high school on the other side of the world. July gently whispered that goodbyes are never final as I packed up a year's worth of new friends, family, and all of the beautiful memories that came with. August came, and I was awkwardly reunited with my American life - but was pleased to realize that family never changes. I packed up life once again to move to Australia in September, and immediately understood the importance of walking the most untraditional path possible. October knocked me off feet and suddenly I grasped the fact that no matter how many times I live abroad, every experience comes with its own set of challenges. And December? December was perhaps the best month of all. December taught me that this life is meant to be lived, and for me, sometimes that means going places I've never been before. Making an effort to cross things off of my bucket list, instead of simply adding to it. Learning to spread love, and not just desire it. Being present always, instead of daydreaming about the future or reminiscing of the past. Living for the kinds of love that are a result of friendship setting on fire. Simply being alive in the most beautiful way that I am capable of. 

Yes, 2014 has certainly been one hell of a ride with plenty of smacks in the head by reality, and today, I wouldn't have it any other way. Cheers to all that is coming our way in 2015! I am unimaginably stoked to see what it holds. Woot WOOT.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Indonesia: Round 2

The last time I left Indonesia, people asked me, “Mal, kapan kamu akan balik ke Bandung?” And last time, I had an answer. This time around however? This time I don’t know when I’ll be returning to my country of islands, my home. And that’s heartbreaking. I don’t know when I’m coming back. I don’t know when I’ll see my closest friends. Or when I’ll be able to devour es kelapa muda and ayam madu. I don’t know when I’ll again return to the life that I love so much - the place where I stand as my best self. Like I said. It’s heartbreaking

I knew that my return to my favorite archipelago would bring a wave of emotions. I anticipated  weirdness - perhaps a bit of unease. In the time that I had been away, questions ran rampant in my homesick heart. Had things changed? Would my host family treat me differently when we reunited? Had the angkot routes been modified? Would my favorite martabak sellers still remember me? Could I still handle heaping amounts of the spicy sambal that my school friends devoured? I was worried, to say the least.

But the moment that the wheels of my plane dropped and touched down in Bali on the 1st of December, I abandoned every single concern I had, and relished in knowing that I was finally home. 

On my flight from Sydney to Denpasar I was fortunate enough to meet another girl my age who was traveling to Indonesia for the first time where her “schoolies” friends were patiently waiting. When we touched down at the airport she had an Indonesian driver ready to take her to where her friends were staying. Me on the other hand? I had no idea of where I was going, how I was getting there, or what to make of the humidity that I so foolishly had forgotten about. When I accompanied her to her driver and began conversing in Bahasa, he was clearly stunned, and an enormous smile took to his face. He offered me, a random bule with no plans, a ride to my hostel, and I was once again reminded of the generosity of the Indonesian people.

Whitewater rafting for the first time with a crazy doctor from Perth
I checked into my hostel bedroom - a private all-girl dorm with two bunk-beds and about two extra square feet of walking space. Two minutes later, a platinum blonde girl from Finland checked into the same room. “So, are you traveling alone, too?” And from then on, Mari and I were attached at the hip for the entirety of my ten days on the island. 

Precious encounters like these are the ones I love most
Over the course of ten short days, us two girls had made extraordinary memories. From our first night of dancing until 3:00 am, trekking to Ubud and prancing through the monkey forest, tea tasting, and surfing well past the sunset. We did it all, and then some. And not a moment was wasted. 

My time in Bali reaffirmed a few things for me. The first, and debatably most important, is that everyone should stay in a hostel at least once in there lifetime. The sense of international community that is bred behind those walls is unmatchable, and I’ve gained lifelong friends. Rather they be crazy doctors from Perth, or sassy girls from China, friends are awaiting. You just have to go find them.

Me and my soul sister from Finland
At 8:00 am on December 9th, (after approximately fifteen minutes of sleep,) I managed to make my flight to Bandung. I had only 16 days, and I planned to embrace every one. My first day was spent adventuring with Agung in the green mountains of Lembang (surprise, surprise.) And then going home to my host family’s house in the evening. As the warm teh tarik hit my lips at home that night, I embraced the paradoxical feelings that came with. Everything was the same. Everything was different. But I was happy.

Over the course of the next few days I reunited with many old friends. Baya. Pandu. Hilfi. Lidya. Nabila. With each reunion, came more and more smiles. My being quickly succumbed to happiness. Pure, unadulterated, authentic happiness. And to be honest, it had been a while since I had felt that way.

On Tuesday evening, I took off on a trip to Yogyakarta. Baya joined me, and together we took a seven hour night train to the heart of Indonesia’s culture. Our first day we decided to go to my favorite beach; Pantai Kukup. We frolicked in the sand and splashed in the powerful ocean waves, basking in the joy that came from good company and strawberry-flavored Oreos. Just as we were preparing to leave, a ginormous wave came and swept up our bags containing both of our cameras, wallets, iPhones, clothes, shoes. Everything we had that was supposed to be of “value” had quickly been destroyed. But for once in my life, those things didn’t matter. “It’s okay. It’s just stuff.” 

So we lost our ability to take photos for the rest of our time in Jogja, and for the rest of my time in Bandung. But it was okay. Because the memories we created were far too priceless to attempt to capture in a simple photograph. 

Turns out I can't handle spicy foods anymore
After a return to Bandung, the rest of my limited days were spent eating way too much street food, having random jam sessions, exploring Bandung a bit, and getting heaps of Global Politics work done. 

And just as quickly as it had come, my homecoming trip to Indonesia was complete. On Christmas Eve, I made my way to Jakarta for one last final pitstop to meet with Fuadi to deliver raised funds for Komunitas Menara, and then went out for a final dinner with my two closest friends. 

I'll see you soon, beautiful
And now I’m here. Sitting in the airport in Kuala Lumpur. It’s Christmas. And the closest thing I have to family is the Sri Lankan man sitting next to me in this poorly lit Starbuck’s lounge. The tears want to come at the thought of being so close to Indonesia, yet now knowing that it is a thing of the past. But I think there’s a beauty in that. In loving a place so much that you’re moved to tears at the thought of not knowing that there’s an imminent return. That’s love. 

So although this Christmas season may not have been traditional, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Merry Christmas to everyone back home, everyone I’ve met along the way, and everyone that has yet to come. Much love from across the world!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Brotha from anotha motha
It's not everyday that I blog. And it's certainly not everyday that I dedicate an entire post to one person. But this one? This one is special. This one had to come out because only once in my lifetime will someone like Brandon Lucante walk into my life and completely tear things up in the most wonderfully exquisite way.

My fellow exchange students and I have often said that that the best part of living abroad is the food. And the majority of the time, I would without hesitation nod in agreement. (Martabak manis, anyone?) Perhaps some would argue that witnessing new traditions first hand is the most stimulating part of living in a foreign land. That feeling completely at home halfway around the world is most rewarding. Or the satisfaction that follows after rewiring your brain with new language pathways. Exchange websites like to highlight the selfie phenomenon and present the multitude of photo ops as the key to living abroad. And all of these things, well, they're all integral. I have experienced all of these wonderful factors of living abroad, and about twenty pages more. I had checked all of the boxes on the proper exchange student checklist. I was complete. I was satisfied. Then I met Brandon. And only then did I realize that I was truly wrong. I had been missing something.

As I stood at the foot of the train station watching from a distance as he wiped a tear before it could fall to the escalator below him, the reality of our goodbye overtook me. My mind took off on a race, trying to grasp how absolute goodbyes can be, while simultaneously clinging to the hope of a tomorrow and forever with Brandon in it. My heart couldn't fathom it, nor could my head to write the proper words. 

So for now I guess I'll just do what we do best. Write. And pray to the author gods that this will suffice. 

"So you're from here, huh?" I beamed as a fellow American had mistaken me for a local and immediately let his remark go straight to my head. I smiled once more with his acceptance of being called Princess, and the smiles haven't stopped since. From eating dinner at tiny, vegan food kitchens, to breaking into the Opera House, or gazing at sexual art in Contemporary Art Museums, I'm grateful for every moment we together have shared. Though they be few in quantity, they are standouts in quality. Even more than the list of memorial moments we have shared in this country, I'm grateful for his laughter, and for my own. It exudes out of me in twenty second increments whenever I find myself in his presence. I'm grateful for the tears that were shed on train station benches as we talked about the big moments of our pasts, and embraced the beautiful ones that have surrounded us over the course of the last few months. I appreciate his heart. His wit. His snappy comebacks that usually top my own. His optimism and resilience. His willingness to be vulnerable while concurrently standing tall. His imagination and passion for written word. I appreciate the combustion of all qualities that make up his being, and it's my hope that I embody a few of them myself. (We often joke that I'm am the female version of him, and vice versa, so I mean, I guess I might have that going for me.)

I marvel at the strange way the universe works, constantly pulling me in directions that I don't quite understand. Events and experiences stacking upon each other, building up to the grand finale. It took crossing an ocean to find each other, but boy, I sure am glad I took that leap. Brandon makes it all so worth it. 

I'll see you on the next leg of the adventure, asshole. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Real Talk

I'm lost. Completely. Utterly. Thoroughly. Lost. I'm unsure of what way is up, what way is down, and what direction my life is trying to point me in. I laugh at the paradox that has become my life- The mingling sense of pride I have for getting this far sitting beside the lurking feeling of doubt about whether or not I've really done anything meaningful.

Often times I have found myself in situations in which people will say, 

"You are so lucky."

"You have SUCH a good life!"
"Tell me your secret. I want your lifestyle."

The phrases repeat themselves, over and over and over again, getting wrapped and twisted within the hidden corners of my brain and soul. Because the truth is, what no one is able to see is, I don't have my life together. Let me repeat that again: I. Don't. Have. My life together.

Despite what the Instagram posts and tweets allude to, never in my years on this Earth have I been faced with so much uncertainty. One day my mind is in Indonesia, reminiscing on the simple, glory days of mangos and positive company. The next I'm planning my adventures to come and vowing to never look back. To keep moving in fear of what will happen if I stop. What will happen if I "settle down."

I set my heart on seeing the world but crave being a stone's throw away from my family. I relish in packing my suitcase but despise having to unpack the memories when I get home. I have about fifty college majors looming over my head but can't settle on just one. I want to have the "college experience" but I also want the "real-world" experience of sharing stories and cultures. One day I want to study. And graduate. And make my way to the top and become the next Secretary of State. The next I just want to sleep. Cry. And let myself be completely engulfed by the lack of control I have over where I will end up. I continue to push myself to be as uncomfortable as possible, while simultaneously begging for normality. There are days when I feel like I can conquer all peaks, and days when I feel like I can't pick up my feet. 

This current path I'm walking, (more like crawling down,) is hard. Harder than I thought it would be. It's dark. It's windy. And it's ruthless. I am lost. But I think that I'm lost in the right direction. And for now, that's enough for me. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Story

I had a good weekend.

Not just a good weekend. But rather, the kind of weekend where when I returned home late Sunday evening and quietly pressed my bedroom door closed, I felt obliged to take to my journal to write about the unexpected joys that I had experienced over the course of the short three days in fear of letting any of the fresh memories fade. I had a good weekend.

Sand-boarding over Australia's renowned wandering dunes. Climbing sandy peaks that produce seemingly infinite views of "the bush." Eating sand by the mouth full and still bearing a wide, gritty smile. Prancing on the beach as a morning storm rolls overhead. Trekking into the ocean waters in pursuit of mother whales and their babies. Being enchanted by the boundless openness of rolling waves while simultaneously attempting to dance to Taylor Swift. Hearing first-hand accounts of World War Two stories on Australian turf. Flirting with baby koalas and inquiring about their habitats. Patting kangaroos as I would my own puppy back home. Passing a football on the shore at sunset while children raced towards the last sunlit waves. Falling in love with this world and every human, animal, plant, and water source in it. All of this, and so much more.

I had a good weekend. And the goodness, the simpleness, the absolute best parts- those can't be captured in a photo collage. Those can't be put into words in a short blog post. The quiet conversations that were shared as we drove from place to place. The way the sun warmed the top of my head under my new hat. The gentle reminders of why I'm here, of why I am right where I am supposed to be. The lightbulb that went off in my head when I connected real life events to what I'm studying in Elemental Geosystems and Global Politics. My new thirst to learn. None of these things can be captured quite right, but I sure am a lucky gal to have experienced them.

I had a good weekend.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Struttin' Unda the Sydney Sun

"All I know for sure is that I'm ready. I'm ready for this adventure and I'm ready for my life to change." These were the last words of my first blogpost prior to my first solo extravaganza to the other side of the world.

And these were the words I wrote in my journal just days ago before departing once again. "A new journey is starting has started. And boy, things are so great. Nothing is close to how I imagined it would be this time last year but, now that I'm here, I wouldn't have it any other way. And you know, before I went to my little country of islands, I wasn't this way. I was always dreaming, hoping, wishing for better. I craved leaving and being on my own and taking cool selfies in cool places. But now? Now I'm content STOKED to be right where I am, wherever that may be. Because it turns out, no matter where in this world I may find myself, I am still SO LOVED. I am loved by the most empowering, uplifting, beautiful, humbling people this life has to offer. And it's for that reason that I'm not a bit fearful to leave again for a year. Love is powerful. It spans oceans, suburbs, Indonesian macet, jungles, and multiple plot lines all the way to ME. Life is good STUPENDOUS."

For those of you who had thought that my days of crazy, sporadic adventuring were over, I have BIG news. They're not. In fact, they are far, far from it. As my time in Indonesia was winding down, I couldn't help but dread the impending days of college lecture halls, tasteless cafeteria food, and unengaged learning. If there is one thing I realized in Indonesia, it's that I thrive in an environment where I am constantly stimulated by new and exciting, constantly surrounded by an abundance interesting humans to learn from. And that, ladies and gentlemen is what brings me here today... To Sydney Australia. The Land down unda.

THIS is my lecture hall.
Two weeks ago I stepped foot on the continent that to be honest, I never pictured I would be standing on. I was fortunate enough to have found a fantastic family to au pair for right in the heart of Sydney (the term au pair essentially means "international nanny.) I live with them in their fabulous home and have access to my own bedroom AND bathroom in exchange for helping out with their two little girls- both of whom have quickly stolen my heart. The girls go to school during the day, so I have an abundance of free time to explore, make friends, surf, and get my course work done. Don't worry, folks. I am keeping up with the college grind and getting my core credits out of the way through BYU's unmatchable online program. 

I found this piece of art in one of my textbooks. Then I went
and found it in Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art.
This is how learning is supposed to be done.

My first sixteen days in Sydney have ironically been a quiet whirlwind. I moved in with a new family I had never met before with values and habits different from my own. I have had to make friends, this time without an exchange school or group of other exchange students to tackle the challenge with. I have had to navigate my way around a city boasting a population of 4.5 million people and figure out trains, busses, ferries, and light rails. And the craziest part isn't the fact that I have had to do any of these things. The craziest part is that this all feels normal. After a year in Indonesia, anything is seemingly possible. And I no longer fear the unknown. I'm not sure what this round of adventure has in store for me, and I'm not sure where I'll be this time next year. My naive, pre-Indonesia self said it best. "All I know for sure is that I'm ready. I'm ready for this adventure and I'm ready for my life to change."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Some Parting Words

"The end of a journey is the beginning of another."
Elementary school teachers stressed that all stories must be composed of three parts: A beginning, a middle, and best of all, an end. For my 10-year-old self, writing the endings of stories was the most satisfying component of the writing process. I mean, the work was finally over and the story could be shared and enjoyed in its entirety. All stories finished. All characters ceased to exist. And all plot lines commenced. 

So perhaps it’s for these reasons that I have procrastinated the last two months in writing the end of my Indonesian story. 

I graduated from high school in a language that just last year, I couldn’t speak a word of. I performed a mashup of American cheerleading and traditional Jaipong all while rocking traditional, purple kebaya. Empowerment washed over me as I surfed on some of the most famous waves in the world and witnessed the melting pot of culture in Bali. I fasted with my host family and observed the holy month of Ramadan. I volunteered with an English teaching language initiative. I awoke before dawn to catch the world cup games with my host father. I created my own fireworks show with my friends on a mountain top and celebrated my last night in Bandung. I fed bananas to the vacuum-like trunks of elephants. I frolicked in tea plantations and tried to keep a smile through the 347 goodbyes I faced. I paraded on Capital Hill with my exchange comrades and shared our stories with US Senators and Evan Ryan. 

With a story this good, how could I possibly wrap it up? 

The truth is... I can’t. I simply can’t wrap up a years worth of smiles and compassion and adventure and lessons into a few short paragraphs. And for now, I don’t think that I want to. Indonesia has left an imprint. The story will continue. And I will return sooner than later. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey, and encouraged me to keep the adventure alive. I couldn’t do it without you all! Sampai juga lagi! 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Street Food For Da Win

If one was to Google the most popular foods of Indonesia, the usual list to come up would have to be:
  1. Nasi Goreng: Indonesian fried rice. This varies from city to city, but I can promise that it’s nothing like the greasy fried rice you can pick up from your local Panda Express. Nasi goreng from Indonesia is rich in spices, chiles, and can also include different options of protein such as chicken, fried egg, Indonesian sausage, seafood, or even rabbit. 
    Typical Nasi Goreng
  2. Rendang: Rendang hails from the island of Sumatra which fortunately for me, is the island that my host dad is from. This dish is comprised of coconut milk, garlice, lemon grass, tender beef, and a slew of chiles depending on who’s cooking. The cook time for this dish can take up to twelve hours, but the effort pays off. CNN has named it the best food in the world.
  3. Sambal: Samabl, in short, is a dish of ground chiles, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and whatever other spices the chef is in the mood for throwing in, but emphasis on the chiles. Indonesians slather the spicy sambal onto nearly every dish they eat, and no two sambal concoctions are ever the same. Beware. A little bit goes a long way.
While all of these foods are staples in the diets of many Indonesians, what the Google lists of Indonesian foods often fail to mention are the uncommon local street food inventions that the common people have created. Without trying some of these delicacies, the list of popular Indonesian foods wouldn’t be complete. So without further ado, here are some of my personal favorites that can be found on the streets of Bandung. 

Lumpia Basah
 Number one on the list of favorite street foods is my all time favorite, lumpia basah. Lumpia basah is essentially the Indonesian equivalent of a burrito, except it’s fifty million times better. The chef will first throw some baby bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and a whole egg into a wok and drown it in oil. They’ll ask if you want it spicy, but I don’t usually say yes unless I want my mouth to cry for a few hours. While that’s cooking in the wok, the chef will then make a crepe-like shell on a piping hot plate. I always find myself impressed with the precision and perfection of the chef’s skilled hands that never fails to make a perfectly circular shell, browned, but still soft on the outside. After just a few seconds on the hot plate, the chef slathers the shell in a sweet, peanuty-tasting sauce whose ingredients, despite my attempt to get them out of the street vendor, won’t be revealed to me. After a little more than a minute, the ingredients from the wok are dumped onto the sauce-drenched shell and rolled up into a banana leaf like a burrito.You can get lumpia basah for US $0.60.

Soto Ayam
My next favorite street food in Bandung would have to be soto ayam. Soto ayam is made from time to time in my home, but I have found that it tastes best when slurped under a tarp in the torrential rain. Soto ayam is essentially soup. For those that know me well, you know that I don’t do soup under any circumstances. But the Indonesians have a special flare with coconut milk, chicken, chilies, cabbage, stringy vegetables, and lime. Best served hot and, of course, with a bowl of rice on the side. This one will cost no more than $1. 

Martabak Manis

My final absolute favorite is martabak manis. Martabak has been compared to American pancakes but I think the only thing they have in common is their fat content and sugar. Martabak hails in the street food world, and only few are able to execute it well. Cooks start with a few cups of batter made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and plenty of eggs to make the end result nice and fluffy. The reason that martabak isn’t made in the home is because it requires a special pan and a source of high heat. Most vendors cook their martabak right over hot coals. After cooking in the special pan, you’re left with a large, circular slab of “Indonesian pancake” which is then drenched in condensed milk and whatever other toppings you choose. My personal favorite is shredded, white, cheddar cheese. (Side note: Indonesians have this strange obsession with canned, condensed milk and it’s literally put on every desert or sweet food in this country, whether it be banana cheese or a glass of chocolate Milo.) You can get a box of martabak enough for three people for no more than $2.50. 

Bonus Round:

1. Makaroni Basah: Super spicy macaroni thrown in a wok and fried with egg $0.50
2. Keju Aroma: Literally translates to “cheese smell” but it’s actually thin strips of cheese fried in a sweet batter 5 pieces/$0.50
3. Es Kelapa Jeruk: Fresh coconut water and fresh orange juice swirled together. BEst if sipped directly from the coconut $0.75
4. Mie Ayam: Shredded chicken, noodles, a sweet sauce, assorted green vegetables, and some spicy broth $0.80
5. Kolgo: I don’t like cabbage but, I devour it when it’s fried 1 plate/$0.10 
6. Buah Segar: Fresh fruit straight from the fields and trees. My favorites are melon, mangos, papaya, oranges, baby bananas and snake fruit.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Mangos are Back in Season

SIDE NOTE: Forgive me for my lack of blogging/vlogging. Life in Indonesia has been moving incomprehensibly fast and it doesn't seem real that my countdown says I only have 49 days left. I have a feeling the stories will be easier to write once I'm back home in Bozeman and things start making a bit more sense. On another note, this is the last call to donate to KM! Do so here!!!!
This woman is my rock. And so is her juice and Milo.
The mangos are back. I've come full circle. The seasons have changed, and nearly nine months later, I'm back to my beginning. In my first weeks of arriving and adjusting and being completely terrified about my impending life abroad in the bizarre country that is Indonesia, I found solace in the simplicity of a glass of street mango juice. Granted that it was probably the instigator of an ongoing case of traveler's stomach, its smooth, tangy chill comforted me on the days when the daunting rain clouds poured torrential rains for my homesick tears that had forgotten how to fall. Or the time when I had spent my day in silence too afraid to speak my five words of Bahasa, so I instead resorted to sipping my mango juice on the curb and sharing smiles with the juice seller. In my early days, I found comfort in the simple beauty that my city held. Whether it be the towering sea-blue home next door or the way the sun kissed the battered alleyway on my morning walks to school. And it was these things that kept me going. It was these things that fueled my courage to live up to YES Abroad's standards. It was those $0.50 cups of mango juice that reminded me to embrace the beauty of the adventure that had so quickly engulfed my life.

Then the mangos went out of season, and the face of my friendly juice seller fell flat as she told me that mangos were not going to be back for a long, long time. As the mango season came to a close, so did my fear of getting lost in angkot, or lost in conversation, or lost in the thoughts that had constructed mazes in the inner fixtures of the person I was transforming into. I was growing. I was changing. I was loving. And just as quickly as I had fallen in love with mangos, I had forgotten about them and the obstacles that had been thrown in my face when they had been in season. Life became a bit more normal. I journeyed from city to city of Java with my host family. I spoke in front of large crowds. I met a collection of inspiring, uplifting people. I was busy, trying to finish an online class, make friends, learn how to cook, practice my Bahasa, volunteer. Each day quietly slipped by and suddenly the second half of my exchange was nearing its finale.

So yesterday, when I got word that the mangos had returned, of course, excitement ensued. My hands couldn't refrain from meandering over the rough, green peels, bringing me back to those first moments that just months before had quickly become foggy memories. My beloved fruit had grown, just as I had. But this time when sour mango juice hung on my lips, something had changed. The familiar comfort that had accompanied my mangos in the early months was replaced with something else entirely. Heartache. Grief. Straight up sadness. The juice woman's promise of "a long, long time" had passed in strikingly fast moments. The mangos are back. I've come full circle. And while the return of the mangos symbolizes the near end of this journey I've come to love so much, they also symbolize the start of a new one. The mangos are back. And boy, they are the sweetest they've ever been. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

For My Boys

"The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we'd done were less real and important than they had been hours before."

Rewind to this time last year. My YES Abroad Finalist status to Indonesia had brought a wave of boundless happiness and excitement at the future to come. I had been surprised with a proposal to Prom that brought tears to my eyes because of its perfection, and I had even found the perfect emerald colored dress with my mom. We had booked plane tickets for a family vacation to California, the first trip to Disneyland in my life. Everything was perfect. After five years of hardship, things were starting to feel normal. Better than normal.

On the evening of April twelfth 2013, my kitchen was flooded with she smell of popcorn popping in my beloved popper. That evening my parents and I were settling down to listen to the first YES Abroad conference call. My heart leapt with excitement while simultaneously feeling heavy with nerves as I watched the green-lit clock on the oven waiting for the hour to strike. As the clock hit 5:30 pm, I dialed the number to connect. I paused for a moment. Overcome by the joy that we together were feeling as a family, I looked to each of my parents with a grin. "Let's get this show on the road." My dad was just as ready as I was. 

Minute by minute flew by, my anticipation for Indonesia growing with every word spoken about the upcoming journey. My cell-phone in my hand shrieked at 5:38, signaling that an unknown someone was awaiting on the other end. "Should I answer it?" I looked to my dad, whose head gave me a nod. 

"Helllllllo!?" My enthusiasm came to a puzzled halt as soft sobs greeted me on the other end. 

"Hello?" I whispered again. Something wasn't right. 


"Yeah?" My brain ferociously searched itself for ideas of what could be happening. 

"Cody is gone." Everything stopped. My stomach dropped. Surely she couldn't mean my Cody. And what did she mean, gone? Cody was supposed to leave for deployment that morning to Japan. Obviously he was surely gone from Bozeman by now. My silence posed the question that I couldn't speak. And her returning silence was the answer my heart couldn't fathom.

I have lost two crucial pieces of my puzzle over the past three years. Pieces that no matter how I hard try, I will never be able to replace. There are countless days when my body's entirety feels like its drowning in grief- as though to carry on with grace without my two best friends is less probable than the eight planets coming into perfect alignment. There are days, weeks, months, where every corner of my brain is flooded with their memories, voices, and stories. There are seconds where I question my strength, my momentum, my courage... Because those two boys provided both. 

But then there are days at the beach. Days where the sun's rays radiate a little bit of their spirits into my own. There are days when I meet a newborn boy named Luke or Cody, and their small smile reminds me that for every life taken, a new one is born, and what a beautiful truth that is. I live for the days when shared stories unify the people that have been touched by the souls of these two outrageous, courageous, young men.

Through their lives, and through their deaths, Cody and Luke left me with boundless knowledge and grace that my heart alone wouldn't have been able to find. It's because of these two that I strive. Everything that I do, the person that I want to become, I do it for my friends whose time was cut far, far too short. I loved them yesterday. I love them today. And I will love them forever, just as they have relentlessly done for me. That's all that my heavy heart has for now. Don't forget to tell your friends and family that you love them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Indonesia is Weird

“Silakhan, Kak Mal. Take a seat!” It was my second night in the home of the strangers that were supposed to become my family, and I was still very much in my anxious, exchange-rookie stage. Cautiously I took my place at the table, fearing the food spread that was going to be presented for dinner that evening. My beaming mother placed a plate in front me.
“Why did she give me a heaping pile of burnt cheese?” I thought to myself.  
“It’s pisang keju coklat! You can only find it here in Indonesia!” My puzzled face and limited vocabulary encouraged her to continue. “Banana cheese chocolate!” Bananas? Did she mean the mushy, fruit nemesis that I had battled my whole life refusing to eat... Slathered in... Cheese?
“What is this country on?” I thought to myself. 

Flash forward to my first Monday at SMA Kartika. I was instructed to be at school fifteen minutes before usual sporting my school hat. “6:45 am at school? This country is absurd.” I grumbled to my host-mom.  After sluggishly making my way through the towering, steel gate, my faithful classmates grabbed my hand and started shouting the four words of English they knew. 
“Come on, Mal! Let’s go!” Before my eyes, students began falling into perfectly harmonized lines, segregated by class and gender. Reminding me of civilian soldiers, these students began saluting their elder students and teachers. And shouting. An abundance of shouting in their mother tongue that I knew a whopping five words of ensued. The fun didn’t stop there and next thing I knew, we were marching. My clumsy, bule feet attempted to march in sync with my perfectly practiced peers, without success. The girls behind me were lucky enough to witness the show I had made of myself and didn’t make an effort to cover there laughter.  After 45 minutes of standing, marching and reciting, my mind began to wander. I feared the long year ahead and attempted to count the number of bizarre, Monday flag ceremonies I would have to endure.

On my first day in my new home, I was exceptionally curious about the bathroom situation. I had heard the horror stories of squat toilets and bucket showers so when I saw the western-style bathroom and toilet paper supply, relief washed over me. My excitement was quickly taken down a few notches when I came to the realization that I had not a single clue of how to flush the toilet. I locked eyes with my white, porcelain foe. I decided to search for a lever on the side in hopes that it would be like my trusted toilet back home in the states. In my search, I found a knob on the side that seemed like it should do the trick. I rotated the knob. With the force of a firehose, water began spouting from an unknown source, drenching my entire front. This toilet was not in fact a conventional toilet. This toilet was a baffling, bizarre bidet.

I’m proud to report that I’ve come a long way since those initial days. In my early stages of living in Indonesia, this place seemed straight up weird. But here’s the cool part. These things, and so many others, they can no longer be classified with that word because these things are now my ordinary. Pisang keju is one of my most favorite treats.  And I can now actively participate in school flag ceremonies. Rising with the sun is no longer a battle, and I appreciate the extra hours of the day I can spend enjoying my country. I’m unfazed by toilets that make pig-sties look like palaces. Motorcycles frantically weaving between each other no longer put me on edge, but instead leave me smiling at the harmonious flow that is Bandung. I’m thankful for the school uniforms that were once a drag, and relish in not having to pick outfits for school each day. In the eyes of many, Indonesia is weird. But it’s these quirks and idiosyncrasies that I’ve come to love most.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm Homesick

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” 

I'm an email addict. I crave the anticipation and excitement that builds with each special phone buzz that signifies a new message waiting. My fingers fiercely punch in my passcode to unlock my phone and open the email as though my life depends on it. Today however, is different. "AFS Travel Notification- Return" reads the subject line. My heart beats fast. I suddenly am unable to keep up with the rate at which my chest seems to want to rise and fall. 219 days worth of memories flood from every hidden corner of my mind. I put both hands to my eyes like magical shields, hoping they can somehow stop the tears that want to fall. I let the email sit, and still, it remains unopened. I'm homesick. With those few words, I'm homesick for this new home that I stumbled upon, and haven't even left yet.

Last July, I faced this same problem. As I drove through my mountains listening to Bon Iver, I silently shed tears as I thought of the imminent departure from my home. I was homesick. In my own home. And now, eight months later, I find myself facing a similar reality. 

I know it's been said many times, many ways... But I think the world of this place. I traveled far, far away from my home, only to feel like I never really left. My life has become one enormous paradox. I'm leaving home, to return home. I'm returning to the place where everything is simultaneously invariable, and yet downright foreign. The past 219 days have slipped through my fingers the same way the sand does at seashore. I so desperately want to scoop up my last 106 days, and lock them tight in a mason jar for me to hold forever. But of course, that's just not an option for me. As I stand on the brink of turning the page and writing a new chapter, I'm ready to go to war with this homesickness, and face it head on. I'm ready to embrace the pain as a gentle reminder of just how in love with my host country I've fallen, and just how much progress I've made thus far. As for the email, I'll let it sit for a few more days. No need to rush, ehh? 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Komunitas Menara- Giving Back

Bump, bump, bump. Our shiny, silver, Nissan Xtrail steadily progressed down the narrow, unkept, dirt road seeming strikingly out of place in the rural community. To my right was a small, open grass field with young children hanging from the remains of an old bus. To my left, sat an even smaller line of street stands selling a few basic necessities. Out the front window, was a semicircle of one-room, one-story homes that resembled the pictures of early houses I had seen in my history books. We had arrived. My four friends and I were greeted by a petite woman wearing a purple print dress, with her daughter shying away by her side. We were welcomed into their  home. One twin bed mattress on the floor. A child’s size lap desk. Walls decorated by the young girl’s Sharpie artworks. A small gas stove. And a pint-size bathroom in the back corner. In the ten by ten foot home, these were the things that first caught my eye. 

The young girl’s name was Annisa, and we had come to discuss the importance of her school. “Aku mau menjadi dokter.” I want to become a doctor, the young girl proclaimed without a hint of fear or hesitation. I smiled, because I knew that this girl was a powerhouse. Annisa’s mother began to give her testimony regarding the power of her daughter’s education within her family that under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be able to fund it. She contended that in result of Annisa attending school, her daughter had become more confident, self assured, and ready to chase her dreams. Her pint-sized daughter was excelling in English, Arabic, math, reading, writing, art, as well as effective social skills. Every word she softly spoke, left me feeling proud, inspired, and wanting to make a difference. What started as a YES Abroad project, quickly turned into much more than that.

Annisa’s school is a fully funded kindergarten created by the Komunitas Menara organization, or KM for short. KM was founded by one of Indonesia’s most prominent authors, Ahmad Fuadi. With the only goal of giving Indonesia’s impoverished children the opportunity to obtain a quality early childhood education, Fuadi built his first three KM schools. There are currently 30 million children in Indonesia aged 0-6, and less than half of these children have access to kindergartens. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s twenty times the population of my entire home state of Montana! 20 million children will never enter a school. 20 million children will never have the groundwork needed to establish a love of learning. 20 million children will never learn how to read, write, or obtain basic skills in math and science. 20 million children in the country that I now call home.

Indonesia has been nothing but welcoming and kind towards me. After being welcomed into the homes of strangers, offered free angkot rides, and given guidance as I attempt navigating this big city, I feel compelled to give back. I can donate my time, but Komunitas Menara needs so much more than that. With the ultimate goal of building 1,000 kindergartens, KM needs the financial support from you all. Nelson Mandela said it best when he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We are not only investing in the future of Indonesia’s children. We are investing in the future of our world. As technology advances, and travel becomes more attainable, many are realizing that our family is not limited to our own state or our own country. Our family is expanding far beyond country borders, and we are flourishing as an international community. Komunitas Menara can create an entire generation of doctors, engineers, writers, artists, researchers, and teachers. We can, and we will. It’s only a matter of time. Man jadda wajada.

*If you have been moved by the Komunitas Menara organization the way that I have, I encourage you to donate today! The campaign is now live here! Terima kasih banget, semua! Thank you so much, everyone!*

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Biggest Fear

“I fear oblivion. I fear it like the proverbial blind man who’s afraid of the dark.” Much like Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars, I too, find myself fearing oblivion. I fear living in a world where the thoughts and concerns of the earth’s inhabitants lack depth, experience, and information. This puzzles me. If the 21st century boasts being the era of innovation, technology, and communication, then why despite all that, are the thoughts of many of my peers so similar? Why is the fight to reach each of society’s life milestones the sole focus of so many? We’re taught to graduate high school, do the minimal in college to obtain a degree, find a spouse from a homologous socioeconomic background, have children, and work a singular position for the rest of our life until our bodies are too frail to continue. Our vision becomes foggy. We can see where we want ourselves to be, but we fail to acknowledge the happenings in the lives of others. Today we lack experience, because society predetermines our experiences for us. We lack a desire to grow, because our growth is quantified by standardized test scores. We lack courage, because we are drilled that taking alternative paths is treacherous. And in result of that, we’re faced with oblivion.

Before this year, I too was oblivious. My world view stretched as far as Western Europe and my sole focus was to survive the monotony of high school. I knew there had to be more, I just wasn't sure where to look. Then I came to Indonesia. From being thrown into an alternative language, a peculiar climate, and a family who shares a religion and customs contrasting significantly from my own, this experience has opened my eyes in ways that I never would have imagined. My personal resilience, my ego, my beliefs, all have been completely pushed to the brink and back. And yet, I’m hooked. Each day as I hold conversations with women running food stalls or play with the children that flock to me, I realize just how aware of myself, and more importantly, the world around me, that I have become. 

Empathy. Compassion. Love. Knowledge. So many of these things are lacking in today's world. I urge the young people, and the old people, the engineers, the doctors, the teachers, the students, the men, the women, and everyone in between- explore more. Explore across the ocean in Namibia or New Zealand. Explore in your own neighborhood, and talk to the single father across the street. Explore science text books, classic literature, and Time magazine. Explore with language, with spirituality, with food, with nature. Break free from the wrath of oblivion, and explore. I promise it's worth it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What I Learned in Dance Class

Traditional Jaipong Dance
Four years of dance instruction. Six years of competitive cheerleading. Seven years of living in Montana hiking and skiing. With those experiences in my back pocket, I thought that my first traditional, Indonesian dance class would be a breeze. Boy was I mistaken. I entered the room to find a delightful, petite woman who I presumed to be the teacher. I introduced myself with the phrase I had practiced in my head ten times over. “Halo, Ibu! Nama saya Mallory dan saya mau belajar tari Jaipong.” Without any introduction from herself and with a smiling face, (smiling is a stretch, I’m pretty sure she was smirking) she commanded me in Sundanese to start doing bizarre squat motions. It’s funny, really. The second I start thinking about how much my Bahasa Indonesia has improved, someone starts yelling in Sundanese. As my awkward American stature performed my uncomfortable squats in front of this menacing woman, I knew it was going to be a long two hours.

Strange hand movements that resembled flailing butterflies. Uncomfortable squatting positions that went against the laws of gravity. Ominous stares and scoldings from the petite master. Repetitive toe taps. Countless chest thrusts. And plenty of puzzled faces from myself. Two hours of this nonsense had passed at a glacial pace, and as my legs were uncontrollably quivering, I was feeling defeated and worn. When the clock struck six, my new teacher finally gave in and spoke normal Bahasa Indonesia. “Kamu bisa belajar tari jaipong dan kamu sudah jago! Semangat!” (You can learn jaipong and you are already very good.) With the biggest smile I was capable of giving, my confidence went soaring the roof.

I’ve returned to dance class three times since that first day. In the six hours I’ve spent with the pint-sized woman,  I’ve been taught lessons that cannot be sought elsewhere. Her language of choice, I’ve realized, is not Bahasa Sundanese. Her language of choice is the way her body moves- The way her high eyebrows skyrocket, and her face tightens when I’m just not understanding. The way her eyes beam when I finally do. The way her body glides across the floor as she relishes in the fact that she’s alive and well. The way her compact frame pulls me into a bear hug with the conclusion of each class, expressing her satisfaction with the unexpected bule. I may not know the complex language of Sundanese, but I do know the language of human interaction. And when you’re an exchange student, that can make all of the difference.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Media Vs. Muslims

Trench warfare. Machine guns. Atom bombs. When it comes to weaponry, the world has made significant gains in the way we fight wars. However, within the past 20 years, a new weapon has emerged- Mass media. In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, Muslims from every corner of the Earth have been unjustly used as scapegoats for many of the world’s conflicts and tragedies through media. How many news broadcasts have you heard begin with, “Muslim Fundamentalists responsible for bombing,” or “President Barack Obama suspected of being Muslim?” as if being a Muslim could be the worst possible offense?  Mass media has attacked the religion as a whole- providing fuel for people’s misguided fear and hate of this “unknown and strange” faith. Doesn’t this all seem a bit ironic? In the era of communication, people are still struggling to understand and respect each other.

“In terms of stereotypes, I think Muslims are like any other religion on this earth. We have religious, not-so-religious, extremist, and something in the middle. Just because the media likes to spice things up, people keep swirling around the extremist and the terrorist. While in truth, there are many good, fun, humorous Muslims out there, just like there are a lot of many good, fun, humorous Christians, Buddhists, etc.”  -Age 22

“Islam is not a religion of violence and all of the bad things people think it is. It is a religion of peace and submission to God. And nothing, not a single verse in Quran states that we should kill innocent, non-believers. The terrorists are just people that are misguided and use the name of faith to justify their deeds. They are criminals like all other criminals of any other religion. Nothing in Islam states that they will go to heaven or be rewarded for their act.”  -Age 21

Hear that? There is not a single verse in the Quran that says innocent people should ever be killed. What it does say however, is that Muslims are allowed to fight back against those who attack them. “Fight in the cause of the  God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.” (Quran 2:190) HOWEVER, it is also clearly stated that if the other party is not using aggression, then it is absolutely unacceptable to use aggression towards them. “But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (Quran 2:193) The truth is, many Muslims are accepting of other practicing religions. Every human life is scared, no matter what religion they practice- And all must be free to worship God in whatever setting suits them best. “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Quran 2:256) 
I have also often heard the phrase “Holy War” thrown around on TV, in movies, and in books. I’ll let you in on a little secret... There is no such thing as a “Holy War” in Islam, nor are such words ever written in the Quran. What many people often get confused about, is the word jihad, which literally means to struggle in the name of God. Jihad does not solely apply to war! We all struggle- Whether that’s with resisting temptation, or not saying unkind words, or doing things selfishly. In hindsight, even making the decision to study in university could be considered jihad, because though it’s a struggle, it’s the right thing to do in the pursuit of a better life. All the while, keeping in mind that God is the one who graciously allowed you to do that.

The problem goes beyond just the news. Muslims are also often depicted negatively in Hollywood movies. In over 900 American films, the vast majority of Arab/Muslims characters have been completely twisted (Jack Shaheen survey.) Depictions of daily life include reciting Quran all day long, telling children to die in the name of Allah, and treating women as second class citizens. I live with a Muslim family, and I can promise you that none of these things happen. My family is most commonly found engulfing Domino’s pizza, taking selfies, or perhaps watching a soccer game on TV. 

Media is great, and it is powerful. But with its great power, and nearly unlimited access to information, critical thinking is a must. If we are to make strides towards peace in the era of media, it is with this ideal that we must run with to the future. 

"America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." -Barack Obama

Monday, January 27, 2014

Man Jadda Wajada!

Man Jadda Wajada
He who gives all will surely succeed.

Speaking at the Man Jadda Wajada Training
Two weeks ago, I picked up a book from my host dad’s bookshelf titled, The Land of Five Towers. I read the brief description on the back, not completely convinced of if my need for a good read would be satisfied. But as it was the only book in English that I hadn’t yet read, I dove in. What I didn’t know then, is just how much this book would shake up my world. 

For two days, I had my nose stuck in the yellow paperback. I was along for the adventure of Alif- A high school, aged boy from the island of Sumatra who had taken on the journey of attending a pesantren (Indonesian Islamic boarding school,) instead of his ultimate dream of attending public high school.  His journey was not an easy one. He left the meager village he had lived in his whole life, leaving behind everything familiar, and made the voyage to the island of Java. He didn’t know a single thing about the school he would be attending. He didn’t know a single person who would be there. And he had no idea, just how big of an impact his new environment would have on him. Sound familiar? As I was reading this novel, I couldn’t help but feel like I was reading MY story. The lessons Alif was learning at MP, were the same lessons I had been learning here in Indonesia. Lessons such as valuing my education, pushing every limit I ever thought I had, the importance of excelling in languages, and the realization that a little spirituality can go a long way. (Side note- The story is actually based on the author’s real experiences!)

After finishing the novel- shaken up and moved in ways I had never experienced before- I ambitiously decided to try to contact the author, Ahmad Fuadi. It all started with a tweet, sending my praise for The Land of Five Towers, in a similar way that a preteen girl would fangirl over One Direction. Even though I wasn’t expecting a response, I at the very least had to try to share my appreciation. But, here’s the cool part- He responded! I insisted that if he was ever in Bandung, he had to let me know so we could perhaps meet and share stories. As fate would have it, he was scheduled to give the first ever Man Jadda Wajada training here in Bandung, and graciously offered me a free ticket. But the fun doesn’t stop there! I was also invited to speak in front of the crowd of 400 people!

Fuadi and I
After a sleepless night, I rolled out of bed ready for the long day ahead. I checked into the event, got my snazzy name tag, and took a seat among 400 others. The event started with luminous lights, a wonderful playlist, and a dash of dancing. The first speaker of the day was Harri Firmansyah- One of Indonesia's top 10 inspiring trainers. His ideas shook up the entire crowd- myself included. I was feeling so exhilarated I almost forgot that I also had to get up and speak. Next thing I know, I’m standing in front of 400 people beside one of the raddest humans I’ve ever encountered. Shaking in my shoes, I spoke of how I had always dreamt of living abroad, my journey of getting to where I am today, and everything I have learned thus far.
Signing a few autographs
After the first session, we broke for lunch. People from all kinds of different backgrounds approached me and thanked me for my speech! I went to the event prepared to be inspired, but I wasn’t expecting to inspire others! It was an incredibly gratifying experience to know that I had encouraged others to chase after their biggest dreams, as well.

“Man jadda wajada!” the audience roared. Voices boomed. The room rumbled. And a spark inside me was ignited. After countless photos, smiles, and happy vibes, the event came to a close.

The day was nothing short of a success. People from different organizations approached me with offers of joining their organizations, attending their events, and I even had an offer to speak again! I met countless outliers who have big plans for their futures, and even bigger hearts. In the end, I left the event on cloud nine. I’m ready to go full force at all of my crazy dreams, and am fully equipped to help others achieve theirs. Man jadda wajada, my friends. 

A big terima kasih to Bang Fuadi! If you would like to read his book, (And yes, you ALL should.) You can find it here on Amazon! Selamat baca!