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Monday, April 18, 2011

I miss my family

My family is circulating an update email where each one of us checks in and talks about what is going on in our lives. I have 6 brothers and sisters and a zillion nieces and nephews and a whole new crop of children in the generation beyond that. I’m including some of my family conversation so that other people who follow this blog can grasp what it means when I say, “I miss my family.”

If I could capture the essence of "missing my family" and put it in my water bottle it would be overflowing with my tears. These 27 months are so much harder than I imagined. I just never thought I would be homesick. That's something kids do. I mean I've lived on my own so much and my kids have left home and I've left many homes. It's hard to even say where my "home" is. Is it the home in the forest in New Mexico where I lived 13 years ago and have been renting out ever since? Is it the little apartment in Salt Lake City that I rented for 2 years to be close to my daughter and grandchildren? I have 2 Rubbermaid bins with all my worldly belongs stored at her house, but the idea of “home” is hard to define. But “missing home” is perhaps the hardest part of living here. Yesterday was my youngest son, Peter's birthday and this week is the "due date" for David, my oldest son and his wife Anna to have their first child. I will have a new grandson living in Boston very soon.

When my first grandchild, Talon, was born I was at Hurricane Katrina and volunteered to drive a big truck to Cody Wyoming. When I stopped in Boulder to spend the night with my daughter, Katrina, she was in labor when I left. I dropped off the truck in Wyoming, flew to New Mexico and drove up to Boulder so that I was there within 24 hours of when he was born. When my second grandchild, Kira, was born I was living 2 blocks away and took care of Talon when she and her husband, Matt went to the hospital and then Talon and I got to see little Kira when she was just a few hours old. The thought that I will not be able to hold this grandbaby until he is over a year old is just painful!

This morning I got up at 4am, like I usually do and went for a 2 hour walk. I love the relative cool in the morning. Of course I'm sweating by the time the sun comes up at 5:15 or so but I love the quiet and the stillness of the early mornings. I live on the most densely populated island in the world! (At least that's what they say - I would think Manhattan would be more densely populated but maybe not.) My ibu-mama is already up when I leave the house, cooking rice and boiling water in a wood burning fireplace outside. The first person I usually say good morning to is an elderly lady leaving the little mosque where she has gone to say her morning prayers. Today I picked up several bunches of sprouts that had fallen off the motorcycle delivery cart that the vegetable seller, Dewi, drives. She was appreciative of me returning them to her.

Then I walk for about 1/2 hour to a place where the houses end and the rice and corn fields begin. For about 20 minutes I can sing my heart out because it's still dark so the farmers have not yet come to the fields. Then I'm in another little village. I follow a winding road down to a big river, cross a bridge and go past a graveyard build into a steep hillside. All the graves are the same direction so that the people can be placed in them lying on their sides with their faces west - toward Mecca. Then I walk past a slightly rural area to another village where there are a lot of dogs - I counted five! (Yes, 5 dogs in a village is a LOT of dogs.) Muslims are generally not allowed to have dogs so there must be some Christians living there. Then I walk past the place where they make bricks by hand out of concrete and past the little ditch where I always see villagers squatting and pooping.

Things I have seen in streams and ditches: People washing their goats, people giving their cows a drink of water, people herding their ducks to get a drink, people washing their clothes, people cleaning out the canisters of pesticide that they spray on the fields, people brushing their teeth, people washing their children, little boys peeing as far as they can, and of course people squatting and pooping. Before I came, I had read that most rural homes in Indonesia do not have toilets, that people use the streams.

There is no school this week because it is the National Exam for seniors. I went back to my Pre Service Training Village – where I lived for the first 3 months and visited with the family and spent a few hours with the new Peace Corps volunteer who is now living in my house. There are 30 new ones who are learning the language and culture and in 3 months will graduate and join the existing 17 of us from the first group. I’m still the oldest.

It’s been really hot lately, as opposed to just regularly hot. Two other volunteers have said that they will come on Friday and we will go swimming at the new pool just 2 blocks from my home. I’m looking forward to that.

At my new house, where I’ve been living for the past 6 weeks we eat a lot more tofu and tempe and a lot less fish heads and tails. The wonderful thing is that they have figured out that I like fruit – I brought some apples home from a trip I took – and so we have fruit almost all the time: bananas; pineapples; papaya; apples; Asian pears; selak which looks like snake skin on egg size balls and it sort of tastes like pears; hairy fruit which looks weird but tastes good; & oranges!

I miss you guys! Love and hugs from ½ way around the world, Colleen

And a response from my sister, who is a nurse-

We miss you too. It will be wonderful to have you back home - when will you be coming home? I think it is in May of next year is that right? You can almost start the count down. Just think off all the stories and adventures you will be able to tell for the rest of your life about your being a Peace Corps volunteer in Indonesia! Are you more glad than not glad you did it? I hope so. I'm sure there are days you wish you never did it though. I just hope the more glad over all out weighs the not glad.
All those things happening in the streams and ditches is enough to make me seriously cringe. I am bringing toilet paper with me no matter what and even though I hate to use the stuff normally I think I will bring a gallon of hand sanitizer with me! Actually, now that I'm thinking of bringing Calvie wipes (not sure of the spelling) but the kind they use in hospitals that kill all kinds of big bad bugs. How is your health? How do you wash your hands? Do you wash them often? My god the sanitation conditions sound bacterially awful! Okay, I'm not freaking out - well, maybe a little - I still want to come but I will definitely listen to every bit of advice Matt our doctor gives on how to stay healthy while there!
Stay healthy - stay away from those ditches and streams!
Your sis Pinky

(My daughter, Katrina and her husband Matt, the doctor, will visit me in June of this year and Pinky is planning to come in March of next year.)

My response to my sister-

It's not as bad as it sounds, Pinky. I have been wiping my butt with my hand for the past 13 months and I'm still alive! I used to get diarrhea pretty often, but now I sometimes go several months without it. Water is so cheap - you just keep washing your hands with soap when you are finished, over and over until you can't smell poop any more. Actually sometimes I can still smell poop - I'm careful not to floss my teeth after that because when you floss you really do wind up putting your hands in your mouth.

People are very careful about only using their right hand to give you things - the left hand is the butt washing hand. But sometimes I forget - oh well, the students still love me even if I pass out papers with the wrong hand and the shop keepers still keep the money even if I reach in my purse with the wrong hand.

Of all the things I deal with in life - the hardest is missing my family, the 2nd hardest is not understanding what is happening (language and cultural differences). Heat, mosquitoes, transportation difficulties, incredibly loud prayers, the smell of burning trash, sanitation issues and strange food are really just minor annoyances.

Easter Sunday is day 405 in Indonesia - exactly half way, only 405 more to go. I really am glad I came. I have so many grandma stories to tell, but I better tell them fast. I can already tell that my memory is going...

Love you guys, Colleen
(My due date for going back to America – close of service - is June 2, 2012.)

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