—By Anna-Sophia Katomski—
Indonesia kicked my butt this week.
Let me start off by listing the terrible things that happened to me during my first full week at site:
- A 48-hour power outage last weekend (which resulted in me not having water during day 2). Have I mentioned that it’s really REALLY hot here?
- My room flooded. When the power came back on, my shower turned on and flooded my entire room. I came back late from a communion party to this lovely surprise!
- The next day, my skirt got stuck in a motorbike wheel and I stopped traffic in a very busy intersection. It was humiliating! Within moments I was surround by about 10 different Indonesians trying to help me (I’ve never met kinder people).
- That night, I found out that I would have to cancel my travel plans for the following week due to extremely strict immigration and AMINEF (American Indonesian Exchange Foundation: the Fulbright commission in Indonesia) rules.
- The following day, I woke up to a frantic call from my counterpart asking me why I wasn’t at school. My schedule stated that I was to teach at 11:30am, but in reality class started at 7:15am. By the time I would have gotten to school, only 10 minutes would be left in class. Mind you, this past week was my first “real” week of teaching. Although this error wasn’t my fault, I still feel badly about it. First impressions are so important, and I don’t want my co-teachers to think I’m irresponsible.
- To top it all off, that same night I was electrocuted. LOL!!!! It was torrentially down pouring when I heard a sudden bang, and then WHAM! I was shocked through both hands on my computer, thus leaving them numb. What a week!
If you ask my dear friend Mary Toro, she will attest to the fact that terrible things happen to me all the time. At this point I find it hilarious. But most importantly, I’ve come to terms with it. While reflecting on my week, my sitemate*, Sam, said to me “It’s pretty incredible how the littlest things can really set you off in Indonesia.” I lost my mind a few times during the power outage, but quickly came to terms with everything that was happening. As my mom said, “This is what happens when you live in a developing country.”
On the one hand, I feel incredibly guilty complaining about these occurrences. My time here in Indonesia is short (only 8 months left holy wow!), but my community has to deal with these challenges on a regular basis. This is their life, whereas I’m a visiting teacher in their home. How dare I complain when I have a very comfortable life awaiting me back in the states? As a bule (white foreigner) living in Indonesia, I will never be able to truly understand these people’s plight. That is okay, that is proper, that is life (????).
On the other hand, I believe it’s incredibly important to acknowledge personal challenges. In one of the mandatory pre-departure materials, we watched a Ted Talk titled “We’re all hiding something. Let’s find the courage to open up” by Ash Beckham (watch video here). In the video, Beckham states, “Hard is hard.” I think that this is so important!!!!! This is what connects humanity!!!!! Beckham argues that people shouldn’t compare people’s hardships. Because honestly what is the point? I certainly don’t know. One person’s pain is no less or greater than another person’s pain, no matter the situation.
I try to live my life with this mentality. I thought about it constantly during my job as a case manager in NYC before coming here. All of patients had severe mental illnesses; some were heroin addicts, some were homeless, and all of them were suffering. That job was one of the most challenging yet rewarding positions I’ve ever held (although there have not been many). This was not only because of the nature of the work, but because my beloved Aunt Metta was dying of cancer throughout it. I spent my weekends traveling home to Rhinebeck to help take care of my aunt, my cousins, my grandmother, my mom, my dad, and my brother. The first 5 months of 2016 were the hardest months of my life thus far.
I realized that in order to succeed at my job as a case manager, I would need to compartmentalise my life, but in a healthy way. If I needed to take a break at work and go for a walk, that was okay. If I was particularly upset, but had a scheduled appointment with a patient, I would pull my act together and work with that person. My patients could see through the nonsense. They always knew when something was up, and always offered to help console me. They recognized that although our lives were different, I was still suffering. They recognized that hard is hard.
I hope to be able to continue this reciprocal relationship of compassion not only during my time in Indonesia, but throughout my life. I want to be there for people, just as so many people have been there for me. Maybe living in Indonesia will help me accomplish this. Maybe it won’t. But the intention is there, and I think that’s what really matters.
* Sitemate = another Fulbright ETA living and teaching in the same region or city
Anna Katomski is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at SMK Negeri 1 Labuan Bajo in Lauban Bajo, Flores, NTT. She graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo in 2015 with a double major in Psychology and Spanish, and a minor in Latin American Studies. Anna’s favorite new hobbies include snorkeling and attempting to not crash her motor bike. She also enjoys eating endless amounts of pisang goreng!