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Friday, September 24, 2010


There’s a reason it’s called an Island Paradise. It is!

Living as a Peace Corps volunteer in a little town as the only “bule” (foreign – white person) has a charming set of adventures built into every day, but I have to tell you, that it feels like heaven to be in a place where you can talk to almost everyone and understand a large percentage of what is going on around you. I know why Peace Corps Volunteers bond so much with the people in their group. It’s like waking up from a dream to discover that you really do have a family and a place where who you are makes sense.

16 of the 18 volunteers in Indonesia met for our fist vacation to spend 4 days together in Bali.

Here are just some of my random thoughts, highlights from that trip:

Andy and I left our training village together after spending the day visiting our first families and asking them for forgiveness for the wrongs that we had done. We got an overnight bus and then negotiated for a bemo (mini van with no side door) ride to get to our hotel at 4:30 am. The hotel had a swimming pool and we fell asleep in the lounge chairs beside the pool for about a half hour until it was light enough to see and then the desk clerk let us check into our room early and didn’t charge us for the night that we didn’t sleep there, so it felt like getting 2 days for the price of 1. Yea! When we were wandering around the town we ate breakfast with bacon. Our island, Java, is mostly Muslim and so there is no pork. Bali is mostly Hindu, so cows are sacred. And we had pizza too.

The plan Andy and I had was to spend the first day in Ubud, and do some shopping away from the big tourist areas. We went to the Sacred Monkey Forest. I had a banana inside a plastic bag in my purse. When I took it out a little monkey jumped on my neck. My first thought was, “Please don’t bite me, I don’t want to take the rest of the rabies shots.” And my second thought was, “I hope Andy is getting a picture of this monkey attacking me.” When I talked to Andy he told me his reaction was, “Oh no, I have to think of a way to get that monkey off Colleen.” As it turns out, I dropped the banana and the monkey jumped off, didn’t bite me, but didn’t get the banana either, because a bigger monkey came and scared him away. The Sacred Monkey Forest is an awesome place with carved dragon bridges and steep canyons with streams at the bottom and rock temples carved into cliffs. And Monkeys. Lots of monkeys. It started raining and we walked under a little shelter with some other tourists and some monkeys. One man had a stick and shook it at a slightly aggressive big monkey and the monkey came over and bit his finger. Yikes, Andy and I figured it was safer to just get wet than hang out with that group of monkeys!

We joined the other Peace Corps volunteers at a charming little hotel where Sarah had rented 4 bungalows for the 16 of us to share. Almost every morning I got up before dawn and walked to the beach, just 5 minutes away and sat on the sand and watched the waves and walked along the tops of the cliffs overlooking the ocean and one day I followed the Google earth map in my brain to try to find the McDonalds, After a while I got hungry and bought some ice cream and decided I’d better head back to meet the group for breakfast. On the way I found an abandoned McDonalds French fry wrapper. So I figure I was close!

The Flowerbud Bungalows didn’t have electric lights. Every night there would be 3 kerosene lanterns on the porch and we would hang them in our little cottage. The bathroom was outside. It had steep walls, so no one could look in, and a great little shower to rinse off the salty sand from the beach. And fresh fluffy towels rolled up with flowers stuck in the end. Sarah and I slept upstairs in a room with no glass windows, but wooden panels that you could close if it started to storm. Our beds all had mosquito nets and it felt like a secure little nest with a view of the ocean and the cliffs below.

I got an impressive amount of sea shells. When I took them to give away as little gifts to the other teachers in my school, someone suggested that I just give them to the biology teacher. So I did. Oh well, people at home, never appreciated all my shell collection efforts either. Sometimes we went swimming in the ocean and a few times I walked and swam past the big cliffs to the secret beach where I laid in the shade and let the waves just roll me around on the sandy shore.

One night I went clubbing till 3:00 am. I danced my heart out, mostly with Gio and Sarah at a Reggae bar, where I was really glad that I didn’t drink alcohol because that left me with more money to buy presents. It was fun bringing back 20 presents and just letting whoever wanted one, take it. I kept out a few to share with my Indonesian family and the co-teachers and a few special teachers, but once you make up your mind that the things are no longer yours, it’s fun to see who wants what. Now this clubbing thing is a little out of character for me. I’m 62 now, officially that’s old enough for social security and I can’t remember going clubbing “ever.” It wasn’t called clubbing when I was younger. But I had a blast. It was great to just hang with my buddies and sing karaoke and wander from place to place and dance like nobody cares. I really liked the dancing part. At one point Bart told me I sure was polite to the guy who just offered me drugs. I said, “Drugs? I thought he was offering me a motorcycle ride.” Oh well. It was strange to be with so many white people and I was with the first group of 6 who were ready to call it quits for the night and riding home with Scott and Maggie and reviewing how far our lives had come in the 6 months since we started this Indonesian adventure.

I was the first one to leave the group and the taxi driver spent about an hour telling me why the trees are our brothers and if we cut them down there will be mudslides and people will die. And if we respect the trees and the animals like our family, then we create harmony in the world. If we try to dominate them then we invite in the anger and that is why Bali is so peaceful. Because almost everyone knows that stealing and being angry are not good for your spirit.

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