Tuesday, October 30, 2012

3-2-1-Blast off?

Still here!  Still doing well!  Feeling much better actually, vertigo was about as much fun as being intensely dizzy and nauseous all the time....

To explain a little bit, it came on inexplicably one morning when I sat up in bed (as one does...).  Immediately it was as though the room tilted jauntily to the left and began to spin like we were all having a great time at the circus.  Except we weren't at the circus.  Long story short, it lasted from Wednesday til Saturday at which point I grew fed up enough to head to the hospital where the doctor listened intently to my description of my symptoms and agreed with me that it sounded like vertigo.  I have been taking medication since and haven't had a dizzy spell so it looks like I'm (back) off to the races.

It's a good thing too, because I'm expected to land in Ende two days from now.  The three weeks of in-country training here in Bali passed in a flash.  I won't bore you with the details suffice to say it was intense but useful, and that I would now self-rate my Indonesian at approximately a "yep, still pretty lousy" out of ten.

Some pictorial highlights in no particular order included:

The beautiful beach in Sanur, a fifteen minute ride from our rooms in Renon.

Officials briefly considered changing the name of the "Red Zone" to the much more fun "Splash Zone" but Sea World threatened legal action
The Tsunami Evacuation map at the beach made me sleep a little better at night knowing we were situated outside the red zone should things go bad in a hurry (there "what to do in case of a natural disaster like a volcanic eruption or a tsunami" session in one of our orientation workshops)

Not to be confused with it's cousin, the white sand beach
Visiting this ridiculously beautiful black sand beach on a whim on the way home from a field trip with our language teacher.

The driver had been honking for fifteen minutes but the monkeys were nonplussed
Monkeys hanging out by cars in a parking lot in Ubud
The amazingly beautiful coastline by Tanah Lot temple
Tanah Lot temple itself (left), which is cut off from the mainland at high tide and has a natural spring welling up from inside it.  It was really crowded with tourists but we lined up with everyone else to splash fresh water from the spring on our faces and receive a blessing for safe travels from the priest there.

It took everything I had to pause momentarily to snap this picture before continuing to voraciously devouring my corn
Amazing spicy-salty-sweet BBQ corn in the park after dark

say cheese!...seriously though this was delicious and I'd get it again.

Food-wise I have been pretty adventurous since I arrived. I am known as the member of our volunteer group who is the least discerning about what he puts in his mouth and that has led me down some interesting paths here so far. After a morning dip in the ocean I was looking for a cheap breakfast spot (the trick is to see where the Indonesians are eating) and ended up at a tiny beach-side restaurant with no menu and a few plates on display, none of which contained food I could easily identify. After some verbal muddling around I was told they serve fish soup, and ordered some, with some of the stuff on one of the plates (I pointed at random), along with rice. I sat down to wait and before long I was brought a plate of rice topped with what I later found out to be fried octopus and what appeared to be the toothiest bowl of soup I had ever laid eyes on. He looked at me, I looked at him, he sized up me, I sized up him. Then I took out my spoon and took a bite of his face. The fish was fatty, but there was a decent amount of meat on it, and the broth it was in was spicy and salty and delicious! I got them to tell me the name of the fish in my soup in Indonesian and then immediately forgot it. If anyone can figure it out from the impressive specimen photo above I’d be obliged if you let me know. Despite my food adventures I am still without a food-related belly-ache! My Malaria meds (doxycycline) make my stomach feel terrible though. I am hoping my GI tract gets accustomed to being a bacterial wasteland before too much longer.

It’s strange, my stress levels are definitely elevated and I’m finding that that is wearing on me in ways I wouldn’t expect. It isn’t as though I am constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode or anything, it’s a much sneakier feeling than that, like an underlying sense of discomfort that you can’t shake. You know how after a long day at the office or in the lab you just want to come home, take a load off and relax? I don’t have a place like that here to come home to and as a result of feeling a little bit out of my element at all times (except while sleeping) I feel like my fuse is shorter, I’m moodier and I get agitated with people or situations more easily. I’m not usually like that at all so when I catch myself being really negative about something really pretty mundane and unimportant it can come as kind of a shock. I am sure things will improve with time.

The last two days here in Bali have been spent meeting and working with representatives from our partner organization at a nice hotel in downtown Denpasar. It feels a lot like a retreat in the sense that our days are packed with ice breakers and team-building exercises, as well as quite a few helpful presentations and activities designed to help you get to know your partner organization (in my case, the university in Ende). It has been great to finally meet someone who I will be working with directly but it has also been a pretty sobering reality check. The other 3 volunteers have partner organizations where they will be able to operate in English (or get a translation if needed) while they are making the transition and picking up Bahasa Indonesia. Not so, at the university. My partner rep was a lovely woman who was very warm and friendly, but we couldn’t speak English to each other and thus ended up spending the entire day speaking Indonesian. She was occasionally able to translate a word or two when needed and I think she could likely understand a reasonable amount of what I was saying if I absolutely refused to speak Indonesian but why would I do that? At this point it is far more valuable for me to suck it up and smile while struggling to understand when we talk to each other. My major issue is that I have a limited vocabulary which really makes it difficult to discuss such beginner topics as expected volunteer placement challenges or expectations as far as my roles and responsibilities. I was happy that this initial meeting took place in Denpasar because the orientation facilitators were really helpful with translations, but then it hit me. On Thursday I get on a plane to fly to a place where this becomes my every-day reality and I am still feeling oh so unprepared. I allowed myself the luxury a minor breakdown alone in my room after lunch (I thought I had earned it) and it helped quite a bit actually. I’m telling you folks, a good hard cry does the body good every once in a while. This is just one of the many tools in my stress-relief arsenal that I will be taking with me to Ende on Thursday.

In closing I am feeling a mixture of excitement and dread in anticipation for Thursday’s departure. Although I am becoming a pro at living out of a duffel bag (which I will continue to do upon my arrival until I have found a more permanent living arrangement) I am really looking forward to finding a place to actually call home for the next two years. Taking things one day at a time helps, as does keeping in mind the fact that the thoughts and feelings and anxieties I’m experiencing are all perfectly normal parts of the transition process, however uncomfortable it may be at times.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Good grief, Charlie Brown

Training is exhausting!  I’ll likely write this post over a few days as usually don’t have the energy or the desire after a day of training or language classes to sit down and draft a blog post.


Overall, things are going really well!  Today marks the end of our first week (5 days) of language classes, and it has proven itself to be the most intensive structured language learning experience I’ve ever had.  I specify ‘structured’ because getting dropped in rural Costa Rica for 2 months of Master’s research last summer with little more than my wits and my laughably basic Spanish skills presented it’s own unique set linguistic challenges.  Whereas there I was left to pick up what I could ‘on the streets’, here we’ve got 3-8 hours of language class per day, which is great for picking up a language quickly but it is EXHAUSTING.  I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sign up for free semi-private Bahasa Indonesia classes offered by the Indonesian Consulate in Toronto which I attended diligently throughout the summer, which are paying off like crazy in terms of the speed a which I am building up my skills but there’s so much to learn.


I can thankfully report that the rumours that Bahasa Indonesia is a pretty straightforward language to pick up are true (Note, the language is called Bahasa Indonesia, and not Bahasa as some told me.  Bahasa actually means “language” in Indonesian, although I did hear an Indonesian staff member refer to the language as Bahasa in conversation today so maybe (probably) you can use either?) 


Phonetic pronunciation, no tones, no tenses and the simplest pluralisation structure ever (repeat the noun twice) mean that it’s easy to pick up the basics  of the language quite quickly but then the real work begins.  I began language classes in pretty good stead as I already had the basics mostly under control but within this first week the difficulty has been ratcheted up daily and now the playing field has been levelled significantly and we’re all in unfamiliar territory.  Fortunately we also happen to have a fantastically patient language teacher who’s approach to language teaching has made this language learning experience different than any other I’d had before.  He is very much against direct translation of words, and tends to teach using as little English as possible, usually opting to act out the meaning of a word or explain it using Indonesian words we already know.  We’ve also been taught to sing a few simple Indonesian songs and have field trips which forces me to use my language skills (read: make a fool of myself, but more about that later) outside the classroom in real world situations.  Overall, although tiring I am really enjoying the process.  Homework tonight is to write 3 or 4 paragraphs about what we do each day as part of our daily routine which we are presenting in class for discussion (again, in Indonesian) tomorrow.  In the afternoon, we are also going out to interview people who grew up in our respective placement locations (for me, Ende which is on the island of Flores).  I have been in contact with the previous volunteer who’s job I am going to be assuming fully at the end of November when he leaves the placement and his advice was to really work on my language skills because there is practically no one who speaks English in Ende, and that no one at the University is fluent (I have brought some agricultural reference textbooks as well, but have been informed that I will have translate them into Indonesian before they will be useful to anyone, a task I plan to use as an excuse to really work on my language skills and which I can work at pretty independently as I work on finding my feet in Ende).  I anticipate the integration process is going to be pretty intense in that regard and I’m doing my best to prepare.


A few weeks ago, our morning language class covered numbers and bargaining.  Phrases like “Boleh kurang?”: Can you lower the price? Definitely come in handy in a place where haggling is a way of life.  As a fresh faced volunteer from North America, I have never been particularly good at the art of the hard bargain, and the next day, the women at the office were shocked and appalled when I told them I paid the equivalent of 2.50/kilo for the aptly named “snake fruit”.

Tastes kind of like apple...but not really

The trouble with bargaining is I`m still somewhat unsteady on my feet when it comes to numbers.  Thus, although I know the appropriate response to “25,000 Rupiah/kilo!” is “No! That’s ridiculously expensive! How about 11,000 Rupiah?”  I instead choose to stand there like a jackass and try to figure out what number “Dua puluh lima ribu sekilo” is, especially when she fires it at you so fast it sounds like “DUPULULIMSKILO!!!”


By the time I had figured out how much she was asking for, the old lady at the stall had scoffed, chuckled something to the woman at the next stall over and shovelled TWO kilos of fruit into a bag, tied it up and placed it firmly into my hand, at which point I was too embarrassed at my poor grasp of the language to argue the point further,  and walked away.


I have to stop writing now, I have been dealing with vertigo intermittently for the past two days and another bout has come on. I end up feeling very dizzy and nauseous for a while, while trying not to throw up or pass out.  Will explain/continue this later.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The journey has begun...

Selamat datang!

Hello and welcome to my Indonesian travel blog.  I meant to begin posting prior to my departure for Indonesia but departure preparation certainly got the best of me so I have ended up arriving before finding the time to sit down and write anything.  I have finally managed to find an internet connection strong enough to download a program that lets me edit blog posts from my room and save them to my computer to upload later, so it’s finally off to the races…now where do I begin?
The trip here was a long and arduous one, but Bali has definitely been worth the journey so far.  My itinerary saw me flying from Toronto to London (7 hours), followed by a 12 hour stopover during which I was able to catch up with two friends from Toronto who had recently moved there from Toronto.  Camden Market, Big Ben and an impromptu lesson on navigating "the tubes" were all crammed into a fun filled afternoon.  One of the highlights of the day was a bronze bust, supposedly in the likeness of Nelson Mandela.  I'm not exactly on a first name basis with the man but obviously neither was the sculptor given that they appeared to have taken some artistic liberties with the likeness.
Needless to say I was somewhat skeptical
Laughter and fun-times in foggy London-town were over all to soon and it was back to the airport for the 12.5 hour hop-skip over to Singapore, arriving just in time to sit through another 3 hour stop-over, though I had the good fortune to come across some immaculately clean washrooms.  I think having an photograph of the actual person who has to clean the toilets when you’ve finished with them is a fantastic way to ensure washrooms stay cleaner for longer.  Take a note, North America.
Mr. Rozall had outdone himself that day

I was travelling with two other Canadian volunteers but we had only corresponded by email prior to the trip so I was on the lookout for keen looking types that looked like they were headed the same place I was.  People-watching and eavesdropping are skills I have spent years honing to perfection and I was able to identify both other volunteers by the time we all got on the plane for the final 2 hour leg of the trip from Singapore to Bali.

I remember thinking as we landed and I changed my watch for the third time in 2 days that I would happily do terrible things in exchange for a warm, soft, preferably horizontal bed to sleep in for 3 or 4 days straight, Rip Van Winkle style.  For some reason I never anticipate just how much energy travelling takes out of you and would speculate that this trip was actually made much harder by being stretched over 2 days instead of taking a more direct route.  In any event, I was happy and excited to have arrived.

I vividly remember my first thought upon leaving the plane being “Holy heat and humidity, Batman!”, which I think summed up the situation pretty aptly.  It was 10 PM and we were picked up from the airport and whisked away to our kost, a motel-y place with four one bed one bath type rooms where we all happily peeled off our respective sweat-stained shirts and collapsed in our respective (hopefully) not-so-sweat-stained beds.
What has two thumbs and hasn't showered in 2 days?
I had hoped to avoid jet lag by forcing myself to stay awake through various legs of the plane journey but it looks like my plan failed miserably.  My attempts to tell my body that it was NOT in fact the middle of the day but actually the middle of the night were of no use, and I ended up laying awake a good portion of that first night.  Awaking the following day and taking stock of things I would definitely say my expectations had been exceeded.  A private room with hot water, A/C, a bicycle and a fridge stocked with the essentials did much to lift my spirits that first morning.  I was even able to get my first taste of Indonesian soap operas on TV.
Think "The Young and the Restless" but with sing-along karoke numbers!

The rest of the first day went by pretty quickly, we took a bike ride around the neighborhood with two of the other volunteers and stumbled on this ornately decorated temple in the middle of the city (one of many) And stuck my feet in the Indian Ocean (we’re talking bathtub/hotspring temperatures) and ended off with dinner at a tasty spot in town.  Thus far, the verdict on Indonesian food is three thumbs way up.
Or tepid soup?


Example: this morning we began our first day of in-country training at the country program office in town with banana leaf wrapped yellow rice with chicken, noodles, dried shrimp and fried potato cake. Delicious!

I have been working hard at making friends and already have a veritable army of cute housemates.  Lots of little spiders that seem to have taken up residence in the corner of my showers which I have no problem with and so long as they pay their rent by eating the mosquitos that like to fly through my windows at night and make me itch.  No roaches yet but plenty of tiny ants that will leave you alone as long as you take care not to rudely try to kill them with your back by lying on them with your shirt off while working out on your floor, in which case all bets are off (I found this one out the hard way).  This grasshopper was also doing his thing on a flower stamen just outside our front gate.
Scooter-splosion!I am also happy to report that the cheap AA battery operated point-and-shoot camera I bought appears to take great pictures if you’re gentle and patient with it, which is useful because although I have a nicer one, it’s bulkier and harder to whip out to capture moments like the explosion of scooters and motorcycles that happens every time a light changes.


Indonesia has been every bit as wonderful (and sometimes weird) as I expected so far, everyone I have met has been incredibly warm and welcoming and it has me really looking forward to getting through training and language lessons to get out to my actual placement location which has me in Flores, an island about 300 km east of Bali.  We keep being told that our placement locations will be very different from the tourist paradise that is Denpassar, Bali but more on that later, my grumbling belly tells me I’ve got some dinner to find.

Written while Listening to: the album The Flying Club Cup by Beirut.