It’s all worth it…

A co-worker here said it best when he said that teaching is a real gamble with your mood. A student can single handedly ruin or brighten a teacher’s day. This wonderful student who I had in class last cycle really brightened my day…


Being ‘Cousin Mary’ is Awesome

My cousins have been having kids and our already big family is growing! This is awesome because the children that my cousins are producing are gorgeous, hilarious, well-behaved, brilliant little ones whom I adore… and I’m not a kid person.

Having a ton of fun at the beach with Grandma

So to these guys, I’m ‘Cousin Mary’ and I love it.

My mom is Crazy Aunt Diane, which, as you can see, is also a very fun role!

I have family in Indonesia who live in Jakarta. We’re related by marriage, but refer to each other as cousins and I feel so lucky that they are in Indonesia. I spent Thanksgiving with them and some other expat families and it was a great weekend to be Cousin Mary with these two.


Lot’s of playing, drawing, and nail painting was done this weekend and it was very fun. Sarah Maria was scoring major points by noticing that all my new outfits were perfectly color coordinated. “Mary, you look so beautiful in your new work outfit. Even your shoes match your shirt!” Sarah Maria also taught me a new word in Bahasa: panjir, flood. Every time it rained, we had to go on panjir watch because Jakarta, especially their neighborhood  of Kemang, floods like nothing else I’ve ever seen!

I get especially homesick over the holidays when I think about all the delicious food that my family is eating and all the time they are spending together. I also wish that I could be in the States more to watch my cousins’ gorgeous children grow up, because it really happens fast. This Thanksgiving, I had a lot to be thankful for, but a big one was that I had John, Kati, Sarah Maria, and Sofia to spend Thanksgiving with and that whenever I want I can head over there for a few days of being ‘Cousin Mary.’

Say What?! – The reason behind my blog’s new name.

In anthropology school — can I say that the same way people say ‘art school’ or ‘med school’? — we were taught to interpret what we observe systematically, objectively, and completely. So I signed a contract to teach in Indonesia for a year, packed my bags, and set off for the Far East confident that this would be the best year of my life and full of victories.

What anthropology school didn’t stress enough was that trying to navigate a foreign culture, learn a language, and get job done is equal parts shocking, amazing, confusing, and frustrating. As an American twentysomething, kitten mom, ESL teacher, anthropologist, Bahasa Indonesia student, Atheist, and environmentalist trying to fully experience culture, learn, fit in, and make a difference — whatever that means — in a Muslim country and in a city with less than 10 expat residents, I find myself crinkling my forehead, raising my eyebrows, and saying “say what?!” more than I ever have in my entire life. I say it here much more than I did in Latin America. Maybe I just don’t remember my confusion… or maybe I was just more prepared to live there… or maybe I spent too much time in the discotecas with my buddies rum and cerveza to let myself reach the level of confusion that I operate under in Indonesia.

I’ve shared bits of confusion so far, such as in my posts about basa basi and how to use toilets, but I really haven’t given it justice. And there’s a ton of blogging material that comes from my daily “say what?!” moments. Don’t worry, I’m not turning by blog into an arena where I complain about being confused abroad and how frustrating that is. Amazing and heartwarming experiences can leave one dumbfounded and speechless too. I think that our “say what?!” experiences are the ones that challenge us and give our life flavor (in Sumatra, that flavor happens to be spicy), and this blog is my place where I try to make sense of my shocking, amazing, and confusing experiences and let you get a taste of them too.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

This is an exciting time for everyone and every plant because the rainy season is in full force! YAY! My yard, that used to be dry patches of grass here and there and lots of dusty dirt is now thick with grass. The weather is also a lot (well, relatively) cooler now that we have daily showers. I am also loving watching the lightning shows over the mountains and the ocean from our balcony.

Dry Season

Rainy season. Much more life than before…

You could say that all people are feeling fresh and renewed and the land could not be happier! Finally, our fruit trees are starting to produce fruit and soon we will have fresh durian, starfruit, and papaya. YUM!

Our durian is getting bigger and bigger! A rain cloud rolls in… 

There are few things that I relish more than laying in bed and listening to rain pour down and thunder boom and I love walking outside right after a downpour and smelling the freshness that comes right after it rains. Yes, I am feeling renewed in body and spirit… and much less sweaty.


On Settling In

It has been nearly four months since I started my job in Indonesia. It has been challenging, rewarding, and much different than anything I could have prepared myself for. I guess at this point, you could say that I’m settling in. The culture shock is easing, though there is plenty that still irritates me. I’m getting tired of the food, but I do love rendang and anything with peanut chili sauce. Bahasa spills out of my mouth naturally, and though I’m sure I sound like a toddler, everyone tells me that I’m “pintar bahasa Indonesia!” – “very good at Indonesian!”  It warms my heart every time I hear one of my students use English that I taught them. And my slum-cat millionaire gets bigger and more hilarious every day. Yep. You could say that I’m settled in to Bandar Lampung.

Gado-Gado: rice and steamed veggies smothered in peanut chili sauce.

People tell me all the time that they are envious about how much more interesting my life is than theirs. This comment often confuses me because our conversations are mostly like this:

Friend/family member in the US: What have you been doing lately?
Me: Just been busy with work.
Friend/ family member in the US: Wow. Your life is so much more interesting than mine! All I do is get up, go to work, and come home. Same old thing every day.

Indonesian internet is pretty slow, so reception on Skype is usually fuzzy. Maybe they aren’t hearing me clearly when I say that I do the same thing that they do. . Monday – Friday. Get up. Go to work. Come home. But I wake up, go to work, and come home in Indonesia.

It’s like that Girls episode when Hannah goes back to Michigan for the weekend. Nervous to meet up with friends from high school, she gives herself this pep talk: “You are from New York, therefore you are naturally interesting.”

I guess it really is all relative. We settle into our cities, houses, and jobs and everything becomes mundane. We forget how hard we worked to achieve our routines. We forget the rush that we felt when everything was new. And it’s impossible to imagine that anyone would look at our routines and say “you are so lucky.”  But someone always does. So here’s to remembering that no matter where we live or what our jobs are, someone else is certain that our lives are more awesome than theirs.  Also, let’s never forget that being alive is endlessly interesting.