Day 4 here in Ende now, and it has been busy but really really enjoyable so far. I don't think I can upload pictures yet but let me paint you a mind picture of where I am living now.
Ende is a town of about 80,000 give or take, on the southern coast of the island of Flores, about equidistant from either end of the island. It is backed by mountains and fronted by the Sawa sea. Of those 80,000 permanent inhabitants there are currently 5 foreigners living in Ende. 3 of said foreigners (a PhD student from Argentina and two other volunteers working for the same organization as I am) are leaving in the next 3 weeks. Flores itself is far bigger than I expected, driving from the Eastern to Western tip would take upwards of 18 hours I'm told. It's stunningly beautiful here, with rice paddies, mountains, rivers and lush tropical forests all clinging tenuously to the steep slopes of mountains and valleys. The relatively slow pace of life here can make one forget that Flores is located on the southern edge of the aptly known Ring of Fire, one of the most geologically and tectonically active areas on the planet.
Seemingly as a testament to this, there was a mild Earthquake here my first day at the office (Day 1 in Ende). I was sitting in a meeting and didn`t really notice anything until I was asked if I felt the Earthquake.
"When?" I asked.
"Now." was the response.
I was the only one who seemed alarmed, which leads me to believe these things are pretty commonplace here. As a general rule of thumb I have decided I am going to save my running and screaming for when others begin to run and scream.
There are at least 16 volcanoes on the island as far as I know, though I'm not sure how many of them are active. There are two that can be seen from town, and I was told that the black sand beaches in town are black as a result of a violent eruption in the late 60s.
People here are absolutely lovely and although I am still having considerable difficulty getting around completely in Indonesian, I really like talking to people. It is frustrating that my vocabulary is still so limited, because it makes both speaking and understanding difficult (and it makes me feel like an imbecile a lot of the time). I can always pick out the words in a sentence, but I often find that although I can understand that I am being asked something, I often can't understand or can't quickly remember the meaning of a key word in a sentence. Words like "but" or" "because" or "if" are far more common and thus easier to learn than words like "sunset" and "lake" and "garbage" but the latter are so much more integral to understanding when people speak to you. I will get this, but it's going to take time. I expect my life to get significantly more difficult when the other volunteers leave because they have been incredibly helpful so far in showing me the ropes and translating when necessary (which is still frustratingly often).
Case in point: I have a meeting with the dean and vice dean of the department this morning to set up a work plan for the time that I am here.
The dean approached me this morning and said "Later we will meet along with the vice dean to talk"
"That sounds good, what will we be talking about?" I asked.
"We need to discuss your _______"
"I don't understand..."
"Sorry, I don't understand (I'm embarassed at this point and would be blushing furiously if I were capable of blushing at all)"
"What you will do"
"Here? For work?"
"Sounds good, I will see you later!"
This was fortunately a situation in which the words could be put into simpler terms, but I often find I still can't understand said "simpler terms" if they include words I haven't picked up yet. I was hoping that the volunteer I am replacing would be able to be there but I think he may have to teach, so it looks like I'm going to be doing this TRIAL BY FIRE style. This has become my signature style of late, and I am working on perfecting my technique.
Patience and humour are going to be so key in not getting frustrated at the slowness with which things happen here, and at a much more basic level, at my own inability to converse. Everyone here seems to be constantly laughing and joking with each other here, no matter who they are, or where you are. It makes for a light atmosphere at all times, but it doesn't help that humour is often one of the most difficult things to translate cross-culturally. I spend a lot of my time smiling or trying to look genuine while laughing at jokes I didn't understand the punchline too, or even worse, being that guy who laughs hysterically 30 seconds later when someone kindly translates the joke to English. I think I am going to have to get used to being that guy for the next little while.
As I took a bucket shower this morning, dousing myself in cold water from the cistern in my hotel bathroom, I reflected on the fact that my ecological footprint has dropped significantly and abruptly. Over the next two years, my lifestyle will likely have a lower impact on the environment than it ever has (and perhaps ever will? depending on how things go...). Things like not having hot water or air conditioning or a flush toilet at home, driving a motorcycle instead of a car and simply living in a place where the so many of the of energy consumptive comforts and luxuries of life back home are simply not available. These will go a long way to reduce the amount of water, energy and resources required to sustain my lifestyle and should be kept in mind when I feel like things are getting too tough. I don't want to seem arrogant or as though I am holding this up as a badge of honour because I fully realize that at the end of the day my actual situation is completely different in that I'm doing this all by choice and could technically "call it quits and go home" any time I feel I can't do it anymore.
Perhaps having that choice is the ultimate luxury?