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Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Walk Inside My Soul

It’s Easter. I am exactly halfway through my Peace Corps service here in Indonesia. 405 days complete – 405 days to go till “Close of Service.”

My first born child will have his first born child any day.

I think it is a good time to examine “Why am I here?” “What is wanting to be born from the tomb/womb of my own life?”

The questions flow freely from my fingertips. The answers are a lot harder.

This morning when I was walking I was watching the moon. There was only one star in the sky – the Eastern star, Venus.

Unexpected, spontaneous joy. I’ll begin with that. My “work” here: I think up creative ways to teach English to students in an Islamic High School. My room, board, health insurance & vacation pay are a result of my “job” playing with cardboard, colored pencils, pieces of paper, songs and stories. All my physical needs are met because I make students smile and think.

This yearning to be creative inspires something that satisfies deep inside. It’s what I give, but it’s also the atmosphere in which I receive. When the students (and my co-teachers) are actively involved in this imaginative endeavor it’s like I’m the midwife.

My job description according to my supervisor, the Vice Principal at my school is to be a Model and an Inspiration.

Of what? I sometimes ask myself. Much as I try to be a “Good Indonesian Teacher” I know parts of my hair poke out of the jilbab, my ankles sometimes show, sometimes I yawn and forget to cover my mouth and my classes are much louder and chaotic that other classes. Ultimately I model “me.” I expose the students to this one life –so different and so similar to their own.

Then there is silence. I simply cannot express many things – sometimes it would be culturally inappropriate, sometimes I don’t know the words, other times I am watching and listening so intently that I almost dissolve.

I walk an average of 2 ½ hours a day. I have a substantial amount of reflective time. It’s not always quiet. Right now there are several lively conversations in the local language in the teacher room. Because I don’t understand this language, I pay more attention to the body language, the intonation, the laughter, “how” they are speaking rather than “what” they are speaking.

Not understanding so many things is sometimes difficult. We humans generally live like we know what is going on. There is a certain numbness that’s almost peaceful when I am just believing the story that is running through my head. And then in an instant it all unravels – where I saw clarity before, I now see ambiguity. My certainty become a watchful curiosity.

My English co-teacher just asked to borrow my computer mouse. I asked her if it is better now and she said “No,” but she is smiling. I think the mouse is working for her computer – what did she mean when she said “No?” It may be that people don’t understand me or that I don’t understand them. The way we say “No” here is by saying “Thank you.” It that really what she means?

Even giving examples reduces it further into something that seems manageable. It’s challenging to “embrace the ambiguity” rather than searching for the reasonable.

It’s like always being in an earthquake. If feels as if the world is just a little off balance all the time. At some point I just give up and go with the flow. Living with the uncertainty becomes the standard.

There are some hard parts. Not being in my grandchildren’s lives. It’s been how I define myself. I am a grandma. My Indonesian name is “Oma.” If I let go of that definition of who I am what will be left? Why am I clutching it so tightly? I’m afraid to let that crack in my heart find the end of it’s journey. Maybe this is just another area where I’m being invited to surrender the things that have seemed so clear and so dear.

The lesson I taught on “Embarrassment” was instructive. I gave examples to the grade 11 students of times when I was embarrassed, shy and ashamed.

The things I am ashamed of –

I often forget people’s names. I know I can’t remember all the words I want to, but it feels especially awful when I can’t remember names. I think if only I tried harder, I would remember. But I can’t. It’s humbling.

Secret eating – I have kept a stash of snacks in my room (in Tupperware so the ants won’t get them) and I hide in there and eat my cookies and candy by myself. In an ideal world I would just eat the food I am served and feel satisfied.

I can already hear the voices of the people who read this blog. “It’s okay. You don’t need to feel ashamed.” Maybe I do. Maybe it’s time to let go of this yearning for satisfaction. Maybe the “me” who is yearning to be born needs to feel dissatisfied and not numb out.

It’s only when I pull the secrets into the daylight that I can see their shadows.

The current journey is labeled Peace Corps but the real journey is so much more.

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