I awoke at 2am with some urgent notion which escaped me moments later. I had dreamt about my family and high school friends reunited and everyone was the same as always. Karma led me around, Adam stayed in the basement, Chaslyn was laughing in full sprint. I tried to fall back asleep but my mind was already too alert. I turned over and saw a small green light floating in the darkness and I thought, ‘you’ll have no luck finding your mate in this place but I’m grateful for the glow.’ Then I decided to write.
I’ve been a very negligent blogger over the past year. I got distracted, re-focused and busy again. In the fall, my sister had her first child – my mother’s first grand-baby. This was the capstone on the course of her 2 Great Years of Change which happened to coincide with my Peace Corps term. First the engagement, then the house, then the wedding and finally my beautiful niece. I was feeling some stress; homesickness and guilt about not being home with my family and my sister during all of these changes – especially the wedding and the baby. Upon entering the Peace Corps I had no intention of going home early or visiting a place so distant. I had the idea that to do so would be sort of a sign of weakness and that the really committed volunteers stuck it out for the full two years. Plus, there was the great expense of the flight and time away from work and life in this place. I was concerned about a trip home having a negative impact on my focus, connectedness and dedication to the community here.
As it turns out, my decision to go home over the holidays was, I think, one of the best choices I’ve ever made. The trip itself was absolute bliss – I spent quality time with friends and family, ate some really good food and got just enough of winter to make me start to miss the heat of the tropics. The time at home gave me some unexpected gifts too. The very act of my decision-making to go home helped me to more clearly see my priorities in life – my family and close friends over my ambition, pride, wander-lust and even my concept of social justice. The idea that my going home would have a negative impact on the natural environment (the unnecessary pollution from travel) and that it would be a frivolous waste of my time and money which could be spent on higher causes like building my school a language lab, plagued my mind. How could I spend seventeen hundred American dollars on a trip home while the people in my community live on just a couple bucks a day, their backs sweating and burned by the sun as they bend and toil in fields of rice? (Welcome to my mind.)
The kick that sent me over the edge was my sister’s complications in her delivery. I got so scared and homesick that I considered terminating my service early so that I could be with them. I felt that I simply could not stand not being there anymore. I cried and fretted about it and felt like a zombie at work for a couple of days before finally giving up the fight and buying my ticket home.
I feel very fortunate to have realized fairly early in life that good, strong relationships are a top priority for me. Being at home over the holidays with this newly strengthened affirmation was remarkably sweet.
There were obvious changes to the world I had left – mom got a new boyfriend, my little brother got engaged, others got new jobs, new homes, projects, new pets, new stuff. I noticed that everyone was more connected to technology than they seemed to be before I had left – all my friends and family now have fancy smart phones and tablets and they’re always at play. I noticed that TV or movies in general didn’t draw me at all when I was home – perhaps because that’s what I use here when I’m desperate for escape. I also couldn’t get used to the new HD television monitors and didn’t want to watch them because they made me a bit dizzy. I felt a little like Red from the Shawshank Redemption saying, “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” (okay not quite as extreme as his experience, but you get it)
My friends and family noticed some more subtle changes in each other too. A big thing for me was that I was pleasantly surprised by my newfound strength in communication. I figure that because I’ve been spending so much time and energy on good, effective communication in my life here in Indonesia (using foreign languages, working with foreign counterparts, trying to communicate my foreign needs), my brain must have re-wired itself in that dimension. Perhaps it also has to do with my great realization of the value of investing in my relationships – something which I think stemmed from a combination of my own personal social/emotional/spiritual process and also from the impact of Indo-Javanese culture on me (more on that another time). I had conversations with some people that I never had the courage to have before and oftentimes, shockingly, it didn’t even feel very difficult. Perhaps at times I was even a little too honest and blunt (Mama Z might recall one or two amusing commentaries). I’m so grateful for having been able to get to know my loved ones better, to break down some barriers that we didn’t even fully realize or acknowledge before and so that we can understand and support one another more fully.
I didn’t realize how much that homesickness and guilt was affecting my life here in Indo until after I got back from the States and felt the lightness of life without it. Of course I still miss my friends and family and especially my sweet baby niece, but after my reinvestment back home the dissonance in my mind is finally put to rest and I can focus so much better on my work and life here.
It’s remarkable to me how time is flying now – just three months left! My days lately are full and sometimes a bit hectic – teaching, writing materials for the new curriculum and putting together a girls’ empowerment camp to be held in April. Now it’s 5am and the sun is coming so I’m going to go catch it with a run.
Thanks for reading. Salam – Ellen