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!