The “3 Month Slump” is a phenomenon that I have been observing in the blogs kept by other ETAs. From loneliness to injuries to outright culture shock, my fellow Fulbrighters have had the grace and gumption to share their stories online with the world. We have all had our own challenges, a fact that I knew and was able to confirm during our recent reunion in Jakarta.
I have felt a bit of the “3 Month Slump” that seems to be going around, though to be quite honest my low point hit somewhere around the two month range. I still have downer moments; an example occurred just yesterday when I was summoned to school on my day off to meet with various headmasters from Palembang who were gathered at our school for who knows what purpose. I went and dutifully sat in on their meeting and took endless selfies afterward. This I don’t mind, though please Ibu-Ibu don’t grab my arm or try to drag me anywhere. I then had to field inquiries about my lack of marital status from some overly-interested bapaks and when I was answering a question about my aspirations for the future, all people responded with was how big my nose is. The Indonesian obsession with my nose can be funny sometimes, but when the only thing people seem to appreciate about me is the size of my nose or the shade of my skin, I do feel a bit frustrated.
But not everyone is like that, and I don’t let moments like this keep me from being my usual buoyant self. So I excused myself and sat at my counterpart’s desk (he was busy administering tests to students) and prepared a practice exam for students. After looking at the students’ English exam, I felt that the material was too hard but there was nothing I could do to change it. So last week I went into every class in grade 10 and personally invited students to come study at my house on Tuesday, December 1, from 3 to 6 p.m. I gave them my address and assured them that ALL of them were welcome to come and study for their test.
So I spent all of Tuesday (yesterday) preparing material for my students to practice taking their test. I even bought extra refreshments including tons of apples, to encourage them to eat healthy food on test day. I cleaned the house and starting at 2:45 I waited. And waited. And waited some more. I figured maybe they were running on jam karet and would show up later, but an hour passed and then another. It turns out only mosquitoes came to my study party. I am a bit bummed as this is not the first time I have organized something for my students and then no one showed up, but maybe it is because I come up with these ideas without their input. Maybe if I asked them first if they wanted a study party before going through all of these efforts things would have been better. Lessons for the future; I have a lot of passion and energy and I want to direct them toward something that is actually productive.
But Caitlin–my sitemate and partner-in-crime in PKP–knows what I say to situations like this and many others: …. whatever. No one shows up to the study group you worked hard to prepare for on your day off? Whatever. No electricity for indefinite periods of time? Whatever. The restaurant is out of literally everything you try to order? Whatever. Your brand new white t-shirt just got kecap manis (a dark brown sauce that is a staple in our house) all over it? Whatever. There are some things that you just can’t do anything about and it is no use spending too much energy getting worked up over it.
Plus, all in all, my life is good here in PKP. The 3 Month Slump may be real and there are definitely challenges, but I would say that I have settled quite well into life here. There are new surprises every day, and those things that may seem annoying/confusing sometimes turn out to be amazing when you pause and give them a chance. A prime example of what I mean is the random people who show up at our house on the regular. Just this morning I was busy working on Indonesiaful stuff at the kitchen table when I heard children calling my name from the front gate. There is little use in pretending I’m not home; the doors where open and my shoes were outside. I waited a few minutes to see if they would go away since I didn’t feel like interacting with anyone, but the calls of “Miss Kel-LYY” continued.
So I went outside and there were four little munchkins, still in school uniforms on their way home. The biggest one said something to me, but I did not understand so I went closer. It turns out they were eating berries and wanted me to try one. They then invited me to some book show (?) and informed me that the other day there was a snake in front of my house but they chased it away. I invited them to sit on the front porch, where I fed them some of the fruit that was intended for the students that never showed up yesterday. They asked me questions about where I lived before Bangka and I brought them a blow-up globe that has proved to be invaluable for explaining the world. We did some geography about the U.S. and Indonesia, I showed them pictures of Chicago on my tablet, and when it started to drizzle they excused themselves and went home. My sweet children, I’m sorry I was grumpy when you showed up at first!
Last week, another person showed up at our house unannounced. Caitlin and I were waiting for friends to pick us up, and at first we thought the young man on the motorcycle was one of our posse. He introduced himself as Moses and explained that he is the brother of a friend of a cousin of a teacher at Caitlin’s school, or something like that. He wanted to invite us to go to a KOPAL meeting and maybe go to the forest sometime, which seemed a bit sketchy at first. But Caitlin gave him her brick phone (i.e. not smart phone) number and he left. She asked around about KOPAL at school the next day and it turns out KOPAL is an adventure group; the acronym stands for Komunitas Penjelajah Alam, which means Nature Explorers Community. We went to a KOPAL meeting on Monday night (held at a warung) and have a whole new group of friends who want to take us hiking and snorkeling and traveling around Bangka.
I’ll end this ramble/reflection with a Tolkein quote that seems appropriate: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to…”