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:
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.