Thursday, March 12, 2009

6.5 months in (Borneo)

I've been looking around this house I'm living in and the familiarity of the place definitely has worn on me. I see things up that I've collected during my travels around like the wooden wayang kulit (shadow puppet), and the cards on the wall that people have sent me while I'm here. (Thank you!) Although I consciously refuse to call this house “home”, I think I've done my best to make it homey.

The familiarity means that I finally put up with things, but I don't necessarily have to like it. For instance the coffee table being about 3 inches shorter due to termites or that I need to avoid the little linoleum 'pocket' where the shoddily overlapped sheets don't quite seal... a perfect place to catch bits that I'm trying to sweep up from the floor. And to always remember to put on mosquito repellent on my ankles otherwise they get nibbled on during the dawn and dusk hours while I sit at the desk.

I can shut my eyes and tell you all these little inconsistencies in the house where my subconscious critical eye has strolled through daily over the months.... The gap between the kitchen floor and the wall near the refrigerator where at about 2 pm you can see light reflecting in the water below the house. I also hop around areas where the green as astro-turf carpet is beginning to curl from my chair or my footsteps wearing on it's haphazard layout... after all Americans love carpet.
Or sometimes duck in my one air conditioned room to avoid the pungent smell of burning trash tainted on occasion with whiffs of melted plastic special thanks to the modern packaging for anything you buy in this developing country,

There are things I like too, the group of chi chaks (geckos) hanging out on the screen above my stove every night catching bugs attracted to the one lonely compact fluorescent bulb, and there's a naughty ferel cat on my front porch catching the chi chaks who chose that unfortunate area as their bug catching domain, just like being in an episode of Animal Planet. All of this has become normal.

Of course nothing is perfect anywhere, but when you miss your home, things become even a lesser form of imperfection. So what keeps me here and keeps me going? Sometimes the genuine care for other people that is present in my colleagues and students is enough. Other times it's my projects that I've committed to that keep things fun and interesting. And some days none of this is really enough as it is hard to feel like an outsider with a duty that seems to be barely understood at times by anyone receiving my intentions. It's the little successes though that I try to regularly recognize. At my host institution I've pushed and finally succeeded in setting up teaching development workshops and convinced them that my energies for this place are better spent on helping the department to grow rather than merely taking on English department classes or doing regional workshops where our department doesn't get the benefit of attending.

One of my greatest pieces of pride is that I've helped to develop a radio show, Smart Up Your Life, and am one of the hosts and I created many of the materials and lessons for the show. Weekly we go on air, play an original and sometimes silly dialogue with a focus on a few key features in English and invite callers to call in to answer questions or just practice using some of the phrases we taught. It's been a BIG job. Through February, me and two other teachers put out 22 lessons and I have two more to put out by the end of this week. That makes a 24 episode show that will extend beyond my time here.

Remembering another perk is traveling to other locations to do workshops make a difference.. I just spent a weekend in Jakarta doing a workshop at UI (Universitas Indonesia), a beautiful campus. The workshop was for team building where I got to bring in every little fun activity from improv acting classes and tried them out on the locals. It went really well and I had a lot of fun doing it.

Keeping busy, keeping time steadily passing, keeping my sanity one day at a time until I can return to my HOME.