The Art of Saying Goodbye

Some words simply have no direct translation to English, but in Indonesia, the ‘goodbye’ often  becomes a unique idiom reflecting the inquisitive, open nature of the culture and individual, and is articulated not as a single word, ‘bye’ or ‘goodbye’, but rather as a memorable sentiment like the gems of expressions below:

  1. I hope that you go home and get fat. In Indonesia, the word ‘fat’ is used synonymously with ‘happy’. Given my recent excessively slender figure (forget Weighwatchers, typhoid is the way to go in terms of diet plans), many Indonesians bestowed upon me sincere wishes for morbid obesity as I returned home.
  2. Goodbye, Miss Kelsey! Apparently all white girls look the same, so despite the fact that I have worked at my school for 6 months , am roughly 5 inches taller than ‘Miss Kelsey’, and quite noticeably do not have blue eyes, a majority of teachers managed to confuse me with Kelsey, the English teacher who served in my position last year.
  3. Okay, but can we take a picture together first? Welcome to Indonesia, where even rushed goodbyes posed before last minute medical evacuations can serve as the opportunity for a photo shoot *cue pale and clammy foreigner hunched over a gaggle of smiling students*.
  4. Happy fake birthday. Since my birthday is coming up in a week, my students decided to throw me a premature surprise birthday party before my departure. My very merry unbirthday involved a soft-spoken serenade while simultaneously being handfed scrumptious chocolate cake by my students, so essentially, I was a spoiled princess for a span of 5 minutes. No complaints on my end.
  5. I hope that your diarrhea goes away. This one is pretty self explanatory as all of Indonesia seemed to be privy to information regarding my bowel movements but I rather hope that this becomes a greeting or Valentine’s Day card in the immediate to near future, because, hey, who doesn’t need this genuine sentiment in their life?

Akin to a mathematical formula, the art of the goodbye dictates that memorable farewells should  include at least one reference to the person’s weight and/or bowel movements, so next time you issue a statement of departure, remember the Indonesian art of farewell greetings, and ensure that your unique goodbye is memorable for years to come.


Great Expectations and Subsequent Realities

Expectations are the Swiss Army knives of cognitive functioning- one tool serving myriad and occasionally useless purposes (just what exactly are those flimsy tweezers for?). Expectations serve as preparatory devices, allowing the user to create a mental check list of “What to do in the case of [squat toilet/persistent diarrhea while on said squat toilet/cow sacrifice/other Indonesian right of passage] encounter”. They can motivate a person to perform based on the predicted outcome/reward, and prove useful for an a priori transformation of an individual into a novel setting or culture, allowing for a seamless transition. But expectations, by nature, are inherently damaging. Expectations are no more than wishful predictions, and as any mediocre statistician can verify, predictions are far from guarantees.

I had high expectations for this year. Rich cherry blossoms of anticipation rooted and bloomed in my mind, their soft pink tendrils creating a frosty rose mist of excitement in my entire being as I pondered the prestigious grant which I was awarded. I could pursue my passion for teaching, engaging with my students and fellow teachers as I immersed myself in a new culture and community. I could reflect on the influences of my own culture through meaningful dialogue with individuals of an upbringing different from my own. I could use what little expertise and unrestrainable enthusiasm that I had to make a difference in my host school, enticing a generation of young learners to pursue their studies in English, opening up a world of opportunities in scientific and mathematic fields. Due to the renowned nature of the Fulbright program, I had high expectations of my school, I had high expectations of my fellow teachers, and I had high expectations of myself. And I ultimately failed in regard to every single expectation that I formed for this year, and that remains no one’s fault but my own, for expectations are not meant to take the place of reality. My school did not meet my own expectations, and I did not meet my schools expectations. We were both unwilling to alter our own expectations, and thus behavior, in order to accommodate the needs/desires of the other, leaving us both ultimately dissatisfied. Indonesia will forever remain the land of ‘What if?’ What if my school and myself had been able to voice our needs from each other to work in a spirit of cooperation, rather than frustration? Considering the measurable changes that we made despite endless arguments, what obstacles could we have tackled if only we were more flexible in altering our own expectations in favor of the less-desirable, but more present and veritable reality? Expectations undeniably have their value, but it is only with the acknowledgement of reality and the subsequent ability to remain flexible with the veracities of everyday existence that expectations can truly prove beneficial.

A Whole New World

As I prepare to depart for America within a matter of days, visions of shimmering flurries and clearly defined boundaries of personal space consume my dreams.  But with the expectations that I am forming of my familiar and once-again home country comes the stark reality of how remarkably different America and Indonesia are. Medan has been a whole new world, full of unique challenges and perceptions, and as I pack up the uncountable pairs of aquamarine floral leggings and other obscure clothing items that I have accumulated during my months here, my excitement for the comfort of American life steadily grows.

  1. I will no longer be targeted by the ‘Barney and Friends’ aged Indonesia mafia.

Young students here are vicious.  Often not intentionally, but brutal nonetheless. They are often so excited to practice their English with a foreigner that they end up swarming/mobbing/overwhelming said bule, shouting at the top of their lungs, desperate to be heard over the pleas of their friends, retreating only when the bule pulls an unexpected turtle move  in the middle of their mob (aka, sudden fetal position intended for self-preservation/If-I-manage-to-pull-my-knees-up-close-to-my-ears-it-may-be-able-to-block-out-the-shrieking-war-cries-of-the-twenty-overzealous-students-attacking-me-with-their-well-intentioned-English).

  1. I can get from one end of town to the other without wondering who (or what) will be sitting on my lap for the journey.

In Indonesia, personal space boundaries do not exist. Remotely. I have ridden an angkot (the local form of transportation) with a stranger’s two fighting toddlers resting on my lap- one screaming child for each knee. I have had natives pull the ‘Here. Hold this.’ card and pass me sleeping babies, shopping bags filled with freshly butchered fish and other odorous market goodies, and the occasional live farm animal as they burrow their way into the back of the cavernous vehicle, leaving me to ponder when I am to return said item/child/miniature baby pig.

  1. I will deserve every single stare that I draw.

I yearn for the day where I am stared at not because I am white, but because I am doing something entirely ridiculous and embarrassing. Proposing to random strangers in the middle of the mall? Being the only person above age 10 on the swing-set? Dancing awkwardly in the car with my sister? Sure, go ahead and stare.  But I want to earn  my stares, and not just be the center of attention because I am the novel white girl.

  1. I can officially retire my medical degree.

In Indonesia, diagnosis by medical professionals simply does not exist. Rather, it follows the fast-food method of ordering- you choose what you want and get nothing more, nothing less, but they sometimes will mix up your order anyway.  If you are sick with some unknown illness you must ask which diseases you would like to be tested for, which renders the patient, often uneducated in the field of medicine, to essentially diagnose themselves. I had untreated typhoid for 2 ½ months and it was only when my friend/typhoid-twin specifically asked for me to be tested for typhoid that I was successfully diagnosed. I long for the moment when I can sit back, relax, and let the doctor do the diagnosing, because let’s face it, WebMD-ing every symptom that I have often gives me psychological distress when I have to decide whether I am more excited about having a potential diagnosis of cancer or the bubonic plague.

Despite the humor and jesting attitude in which this post was written, I truly will miss Indonesia. Yes, I will have my personal space back. Yes, I can eat a burrito whenever I want. But with the dreams of swirling silver snowflakes and the yearning to be surrounded by the familiar, there also settles a heaviness in my heart as the parades of memories from the past 6 months triumphantly storm my mind, demanding to be heard lest they be casually filed away into the conveniently labeled “Indonesia” section of my brain. The old woman gently tying a jilbab around my head as she openly welcomed me into her mosque, her inner sanctuary of worship. The rush of water running through my chlorine-tangled hair as I taught my Indonesian sisters to swim at a local pool. The raucous laughter and guiding arm of a neighbor as she escorted me home when I got lost two blocks away from my own house.  The endless squeals of delight from my students when I speak my rudimentary caveman Indonesian to them. Sunshine, smiles, and hot-silver flashes of memories. These are the precious items that I carry with me as I return home a more inquisitive, more understanding, and soon-to-be less typhoid-ridden woman.

Tell Me a Story

Usually I receive the same mildly inappropriate questions in the classroom when I open the floor for discussion. How old are you? 22- too young to be taken seriously, and just old enough to know it. Miss, are you single? Yes. Perpetually. *Cheers and high-fives emanating from the male population in my classroom* As a shimmery-eyed student bashfully raised her hand, I mentally prepared for the next round of Generic Introduction Jeopardy. No, I am not married. Yes, I can speak a little Indonesian. My favorite food in Indonesia is sate. No, I am not friends with Obama or One Direction. But these words, these rehearsed and re-rehearsed and re-re-re-rehearsed statements that my students are so comfortable asking did not fall from her lips. Rather, they were replaced with the soft request of, “Miss, can you tell us a story…..” Wait, wait, wait. Pause, rewind, stop, hammertime. Was this a new  question?! Something that was not rehearsed or practiced over and over and over until it becomes no longer a question designed to quench a freshly discovered curiosity but a statement spewed out with the repetitious dread that can only be found in a language classroom? “…..about your mom?” Definitely something new- a question or a statement about my mom that was not uttered with grotesque curiosity/blatant insensitivity, or delivered in the form of an awkward condolence expressed while the speaker openly picked his/her nose, but rather, a simple, innocent request for a story, for connection.

‘Sure, I can tell you a story about my mom, but I might be a little sad, if that’s okay.’

‘It’s okay, miss. I know your heart. My dad is the same as your mom. I miss him, but they live on through stories, so I want to know what she [your mom] was like.’

They live on through stories. For the past few months I had avoided talking about my mom because I didn’t want to have an emotional meltdown, and when I had worked up the emotional strength to talk about her, I had often been met with insensitive responses that even furthered my grief and silence. But this student was right. They do live on through stories, and sometimes those stories hurt to tell, but it is a way to keep that person around, to share their spirit with others, and to keep a piece of them in your own life. By not talking about my mom, I was shutting her away in a mental vault where I could contain and harness my sadness in an efficient little solitary compartment. But if this vault is never opened by the power of stories, the sadness will forever remain there, locked away, becoming a part of myself and my actions. However, if I can release this sadness, piece by piece, through telling stories about my mom, slowly the sadness will dissipate and all I will be left with are the shining memories of the time we shared together. And so I told a story. My students giggled as I explained to them how my mom could, and would, talk to anyone. And everyone. And I don’t just mean detached ‘How’s the weather today, buddy?’ babble, but by the time she left a conversation, she would recount in vivid detail the soap-opera worthy life/drama of the complete stranger she just chatted up for 4 hours.

We swapped stories, me about my mom’s magical/infuriating ability to talk nonstop, and my student about how her dad was (and still is) her personal superhero. And for those brief moments, our parents were there with us, smiling as we shared our happy, but painful memories with each other, because as a 14 year old so wisely reminded me today, ‘they live on through stories’.

A Reason to Stare

Indonesia- the land of blunt remarks and open stares- both of which are generally attributed to the fact that I have blindingly white skin and possess the size and grace of an adolescent giraffe. In America, my generic brown hair, brown eyes, and skin tone allow me to blend into the background, to hide in the comfort of the majority, but in Indonesia, the same commercial features often cause ‘the gawk’- the open-mouthed, dead-eyed, unabashed stare that is typically reserved only for the vacant minds of nursing home patients or inebriated college students binging on reality television while they greedily consume McDonald’s french-fries and chicken nuggets.  I receive the ‘I am about to drool all over myself if I don’t close my mouth in approximately 5 seconds’ stares on a daily basis, wholly undeserved, accredited only to the color of my skin. I am white, I know. I will not magically change color during the 1 minute of your existence that you waste by gaping at me. *BAM* Tan skin *PEW PEW PEW * White skin. Introducing Laurian Della, the one and only chameleon bule. No. No, no, no. Doesn’t happen. Won’t happen. Stop staring and waiting for it to do so.

While I generally feel that staring should be reserved only for improbable events, roadside accidents, and circus clowns, I must admit that sometimes I am entirely deserving of the looks of disbelief that I receive.

My attire

In America, I dressed fairly fashionably, making an effort to appear immaculate and well-polished at all moments. My pristine eye for detail has since been neglected in Indonesia, instead replaced with any articles of clothing that are comfortable and will provide a degree of relief from the stifling Medan heat while still respecting the conservative culture. Often, this means that I sport a uniform of floral-patterned hammer pants, a rainbow polka-dot Barbie shirt, and neon flats. If I came across a foreigner who looked like she was dressed by a pack of colorblind preschoolers caught in the thralls of a serious Ritalin addiction, I would probably stare too.

My behavior

I have toted an aquarium full of live fish on an angkot across Medan. (For the blissfully ignorant Westerners who are not familiar with Indonesian public transportation, an angkot is basically a hollowed-out minivan whose comfortable plush seats have been removed and replaced with metal church pews, haphazardly welded to the sides of the ‘Mystery Machine’ shaped vehicle. Comfortably seating 8-12 people, but usually seating 16-24, angkots are simultaneously filthy death traps/tetanus vaccines waiting to happen, and conveniently fabulous modes of transport.)

I rarely know what I am doing, or where I am going, or anything at all really. There was that time that I drank the water that was intended to rinse my hands, and that other time where I fell in a gutter full of watery garbage, complete with a few sewer rats thrown in for extra kicks, and oh yeah, that other other time where it took me 4 months to finally master the art of unlocking my front gate. Everything is foreign and new, with each object and experience serving as a learning opportunity. While this sounds pleasant and optimistic and oh-my-gosh-magical-sparkles-of-curiosity-are-dancing-around-my-head, it’s not, trust me. The one thing that people don’t tell you about learning is that it’s stupid. Or rather, you are stupid. You have to start out stupid to learn- if you already capable and aware, it’s not learning, it’s practice and repetition. When you are thrown into an environment where everything is fresh, you are overwhelmed with novel items to explore and experience and while it is exhilarating to challenge your brain, you cannot learn everything at once, and so you stay stupid for a very long time. I learn something new every day, so I become less dense in one specific area, but I am also challenged by dozens of fresh questions as I continue to explore the culture and environment around me.

So here I sit, 4 months later, perpetually curious, forever learning, and increasingly stupid- the stare-worthy bule on an angkot full of fish.

The Watchmen

By day they stalk the shores of Bali, ribbons of forgettable goods adorning their bronzed arms sway to and fro, matching the rhythm of the waves, creating a personal symphony as their sun-weary gait carries them from one victim to the next. The sharp snap of glass beads rubbing together, the heavy, warm scent of recently fried food, and the detached, rehearsed calls of “Darling, do you want to buy?” announce their presence. Their eyes, narrowed from the vindictive, self-assured sun, pursue any willing glance, equating the slightest resemblance of eye-contact as interest in their product. They are invasive, they are persistent, they are hunters.

By night they haunt the streets of Bali, the limp bodies of their sleeping children cradled in their fatigued arms. The midnight moon illuminates their desperate eyes, the eyes which so predatory by day, now reveal an anxious, protective alertness as they guard their families from the potential hazards of the street. They have no shelter, they have no food- they did not sell enough that day. Tomorrow they will be more aggressive, they will call out ‘Darling’ more loudly as you pretend that you don’t hear, they will stand at the foot of your beach towel as you persist to look through them, they will demand your eye contact and attention. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. But for tonight, they must remain awake, alert, protective.

For by day they are predators, but by night they are prey.

Kotor Tapi Cantik

Confession: I do not know how to clean my tub. The seemingly 500 gallon water basin that humbly resides in the corner of my bathroom delivers daily mocks and taunts with its tainted crimson, mosquito infested water and rust-colored ring of what can only be described as perpetually-moist-muck-that-must-somehow-be-imported-from-the-gator-infested-shores-of-Louisiana-because-the-texture-and-the-smell-both-scream-swamp. My enemy of a tub has no apparent plug in its massive underbelly, leaving me perplexed as to how to empty the darn thing to clean it out. Tactic one- dump the whole tub over. While quick and efficient, I could not bring myself to utilize this strategy due to my fear of initiating a Shining-esque bloodbath-flooding-my-halls-and-oh-goodness-creepy-twins scene, or, in a (slightly) less melodramatic version, creating a Noah’s Ark worthy deluge, and alas, I have not yet found an ark big enough to securely hold my myself, my neighbors, or their three cats while I merely attempt to clean my own bathroom fixtures. Tactic two, using the minuscule measuring cup of a bucket that serves as my tub’s companion, empty the villainous tub and its murky contents one tablespoon at a time. Picturing myself hovered over my tub for days, weary from the exhaustion of scooping droplet after droplet out of the basin, I quickly ruled out Tactic 2 and began to accept my fate of perpetually filthy water. I mean, it’s totally cool to take a bucket shower with mosquito’s, right? They make killer accessories when they get trapped in my humidity-mangled hair. And I have heard swamp smell is like the new Chanel No 5, so no worries on the odor front.

Regretting my creature-from-the-swamp look/smell, I begrudgingly asked my counterpart at school how to clean the tub and was informed that Tactic 2, while odious, is the favored basin-cleaning strategy of Indonesia. Saving the task for a day when I had more courage to face my rival (aka, procrastinating), I went off in favor of exploring my site and the nearby attractions. Infused with more energy, I returned, measuring cup in hand, ready to face my foe head-on only to find that, surprisingly,  my tub, my villainous antagonist, was already clean. After pushing away mystified thoughts that perhaps I had a self-cleaning tub, I contacted my counterpart, thanking her for contacting someone to clean my apartment for me and delivering profuse apologies for my messiness.  Finding amusement in my ‘naïve-bule-who-doesn’t-know-how-to-clean-her-own-tub’ ways, she issued a gentle, dancing laugh of ‘kotor tapi cantik’- ‘messy but beautiful’. My lifestyle, my apartment, my time in Indonesia- all are messy, yet beautiful. Three simple words issued as a joke between friends have somehow managed to reflect the entire spectrum of experiences that I have encountered in Indonesia. From the intrinsic factors such as culture shock, family emergencies, and cross-cultural relationships to the more superficial, external variables such as my cleaning abilities and the crumbling appearance of Medan itself, all are messy and flawed, yet all are beautiful. Beauty is not found in perfection, but rather, is found in originality, in the flaws and difficulties which give our lives and surroundings character and meaning, that serve as a bridge of connection with the world around us. Without messiness, we fail to appreciate beauty, and without beauty, we contain no hope to pull ourselves out of the mess and darkness that surrounds us. Beauty and chaos, intertwined and interdependent- ‘kotor tapi cantik’.

Through the Eyes of a Tourist

I am usually a happy person. Not a confident person, nor a trusting person, or even an outgoing person, but usually a happy person all the same. Usually. Usually. Usually. I say this word because this champagne sparkle of a trait, this glimmering, defining characteristic of my entire being, has been noticeably absent for the past months. The illusory little voice that lives inside my head (or as normal people call it, my brain) was able to convince myself that this lack of my usual optimism was attributed to  the grief that I felt at my mother’s passing, but if I am being honest with myself (Muahaha- take that brain. Don’t try to fool me, sucker!) I was unhappy even before that event which has so strongly defined these recent weeks. Confession: I never fully settled into Medan. Yes, I established a routine. Yes, I built relationships with fellow teachers and students from my school, and yes, I was a successful, passionate teacher in the classroom. And yet none of these accomplishments have rooted me to the city, my city. The sudden 2-ton crimson brick wall of awareness hit me today as I was taking a 4 hour stroll through Medan- I have never allowed myself to be a tourist in my own city. I came to Medan with the intention to be a professional teacher, to make this bustling, less-than-verdant city my home. So I skipped the typical Stage 1 of re-rooting your life- the sense of absolute wonder and amazement that one feels upon exploring a new place, and upon realizing that this magical heaven will be their new home. I relocated to Medan with the logic that I would be living here for 9 months, so I must try as quickly as possible to integrate myself into my school and community, to set up consistency and a routine. I did not allow myself time to explore, time to grow awestruck with my surroundings (and to be fair, the surroundings themselves may have contributed to my failure to feel inspired. Cars, trash, buildings, motorcycles. Not exactly the exotic Indonesia I was hoping for…)  Enter this weekend: Forgoing all logic and rational thought, I decided to go on a series of 4 hour strolls through the city, looking at Medan through the eyes of a tourist, photographing every little thing, (garbage/stray cats/cemeteries/bananas/more garbage/ mosques/temples/churches/random object that I have no idea what purpose it serves but it looks awesome so I am going to take a photo anyway) I perceived to be beautiful or unique. And simply put, I found my happiness again, my sense of wonder, little stray bubbles of excitement. Exploring my city as a tourist has allowed me to feel the charm of its native citizens, the distinctive culture of each neighborhood, and to understand and feel connected with my home in Indonesia. Part of this newfound connection is the result of the city itself, but a fraction of this novel enthrallment with Medan is the process of capturing life. Photography has always given me a sense of control. I have power over what I photograph, how to portray it, how to let the image serve as (or fail to serve as) a reflection of myself. Photography gives me choice, it gives me control, it gives me power, while reminding me to be inspired by the beautiful chaos of the world spinning wildly around me. Photography is my happiness, and to explore this happiness, to root myself to my city, I am starting a photography project, “Through the Eyes of a Tourist”, where I catalog my city as a tourist would, with anticipation, with enamor, and with joy- with the intention of discovering my own happiness through art and exploration. In “Through the Eyes of a Tourist”, it is my goal to capture the distinctive life, voice, and culture of Medan by walking through the city for at least 5 hours each week, using photography to portray the street life and scenery of my freshly discovered city of happiness.

The Slump

I understood when I booked my ticket that returning to Indonesia would be a challenge, that having my family halfway across the world would take its toll psychologically and spiritually, that expressing an uncomfortable state of grief in a culture not my own would prove difficult. What I did not expect, however, is that these challenges would result in such irrepressible frustration on my end. I find annoyance in every little interruption to my day, in any potential deviation from the lesson or event that I had planned out. I become aggravated to the point of tears when my co-teachers fail to show up to class, despite the fact that since my very first day at school, they were about as present in the lesson as water-buffalo on Mars. I grow enraged in a tantrum-esque battle with my water-pump as my faucet once again fails to manufacture any indication of a liquid substance, producing instead only a taunting gurgling sound. I immaturely huff a sigh of nuisance and restrain myself from revealing one-specific finger in a particularly American gesture as the men on my street perform their usual jeers and signals as I walk home. In examining my anger, however, I have realized that all of these sources of frustration, whether it be my relationships at school, the crowded angkot rides home, or even general irritation with the hot weather itself, are consistent. They were present when I left Medan, and they are present when I arrived back- they remain unwavering. It is I that have changed. It is I that have let my negative ‘My-mom-died-and-then-my-dog-died-and-I-feel-like-I-am-losing-everything-I-love-and-now-I-am-halfway-across-the-world-What-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-myself-Now-I-am-questioning-the-meaning-of-life-and-existence-and-am-angry-with-whoever-is-creating-these-challenges-for-me-and-all-I-want-to-do-is-curl-up-in-a-ball-and-cry-and-eat-and-sleep-except-minus-the-eating-because-I-have-no-appetite’ attitude consume my identity. I have become enveloped in a dense cloud of gray and have let my challenges define my outlook on life. I have failed to remember that I have control, that I can choose to look for the positive, that I can find the glimmer in life despite the grayness that surrounds me. So, to remind myself that I am capable of finding the beauty and sparkle in my existence, and simply to spite the grimness that has consumed me this past month, I have decided to end this blog post with 5 things that I found special about today:

1) The blue sky. I know that for those living in America this may not seem like anything special, but for those of us residing in the smog-infested urban cities of overpopulated Indonesia, blue skies are a rare treat.

2)  Coffee. I do not typically define myself as one who needs caffeine to get the ball rolling in the mornings, mostly because I generally wake up with more energy than the Tasmanian Devil, but the creamy little coffee-juice-boxes here have grown to become the highlight of my morning routine.

3) Friendship. Despite my tendency to erratically burst into tears at any given moment this past month, my friends have still decided that I am worth keeping around (or else, are doing a stellar job of stealthily, gradually purging my neurotic self from their lives. The trick is on you, suckers, ‘cause this frenetic gal is around to stay *crazy eyes*).

4) Ice cream. I have decided that if ice-cream cannot make me feel better, momentarily, at least, then nothing can. No matter how lacking my appetite has grown, I can always manage to scarf down some of this creamy deliciousness.

5) Writing. When I began this blog post, I was consumed with all of the frustrations of the day. ‘Oh my gosh, my water is not working AGAIN, and now my computer is broken, and why is this woman sitting on my lap in this angkot? Can’t she see that it’s full? And just where-oh-where-have-my-coteachers-gone-oh-where-oh-where-can-they-beeeeee? And no, I cannot lead this lesson by myself because I haven’t been here for a month and don’t even know what topic my students are on, and no, I will not, instead of giving a lesson, talk about my dead mom and her funeral in America, and no, I do not want you to ask the students if they have any questions about my loss, and why can you not see that my grief is not the opportune moment for an English lesson? And I wonder if this is what going crazy feels like, this acute sensation that the heavy feelings in your gut and the whirling thoughts in your mind are not your own, that someone much darker than you has temporarily misplaced them there, but now here they are, rooting, reaching, festering, and these mislaid thoughts of another slowly turn into your own actions and your own emotions, and you are left wondering where you stop and the other takes over. And now I am frustrated and I feel sick and I am crying in the front of my class and I look like an idiot and I feel like an idiot and I am an idiot because teaching is the only thing that brings me happiness and I can’t even do that correctly right now and the universe is conspiring against me and I am overwhelmed and I am still crying,  and I want to go home,  not to America home, but to my house in Medan home, because America is too far and I really just need some chocolate and a nap and WHY AM I STILL CRYING?, or, in the wise words of my best friend, WHY IS THERE FLUID LEAKING FROM MY EYES?’ But now that I have channeled all of these frustrations into a cohesive (but perhaps not-too-articulate-or-sane) source and they no longer exist as a mind-clutter akin to space junk, I feel more at peace. I have the regrettable belief that I will find these frustrations again, but I also have the not-so-regrettable sense of calm in knowing that I can overcome these aggravations to find the beauty in my life.


I once believed weight to be an objective measurement of the mass of an object or being, but given recent weeks, I have redefined weight as anything but objective. Weight is a fluid and changing dance, dependent on complex balances of variables such as environment, time, emotion, and past experience. When I am alone and clouded by thoughts of the loss of my mom followed by the loss of my dog, and my difficulties in having my emotions understood and validated by a culture so different from my own, I seemingly weigh 500 pounds. This hollow, nauseating weight rests deeply within the core of my gut like a stone, growing larger and larger as its contagion spreads throughout the entirety of my body and mind. My limbs drag as they attempt to accomplish the most menial of tasks. Even my eyelids feel heavy as they wearily scan the bleak environment around me. But when I am in the classroom surrounded by beaming students, the stone in my gut shrivels into a gleaming glass pebble, and I am as weightless and as free as a balloon gliding against the backdrop of crisp azure summer skies. My spirit and soul bounce with joy and excitement. A ping-pong match of smiles scatters across the room- my students making me smile, and then my goofy smile, in return, sparking amusement on the faces of my precious little jesters. My weight varies from day to day, from minute to minute. Within one body exists the possibility of unbearable heaviness, but also the potential for a lightness which knows no bounds- it remains up to me to choose my dominant weight.