Today marks exactly 6 months since I arrived in Indonesia. It seems so long ago, but also like it was just yesterday.
During my first few months here, I was definitely not qualified to be the president of the Fan Club of Indonesia. Thankfully, I got over my culture shock and finally started seeing the beauty of the people and the place; I finally began enjoying where I am and what I’m doing. However, even as much as I wasted 4 months not appreciating my circumstance, the time I have already spent living here has been invaluable to me. So much has happened and I’ve learned so much – about myself, the world, and others.
Let’s get this out of the way. One of the first things I’ve learned is what I’m not willing to put up with, which verbalises some previously unspoken minimum standards by which I must live. I cannot abide by a dirty environment, rats and roaches, sharing a bedroom with someone who isn’t my husband (love you, A, but I think you know by now that you were the exception, not the rule), and not having a Western bathroom. Not to be trite, but I’m too old for that stuff. Bad bosses are a fact of life but I’m praying and hoping that there are no more of those in my future. Same goes for nightmare colleagues. (Hmmm, I’m seeing where I maybe would have come out of my culture shock quicker if my living conditions and working conditions were halfway good.)
Now that we’ve covered the negative lessons, lets move on to the positive ones.
One of the first things I’ve learned here is humility. God already had me in that class but Indonesia has significantly sped up my learning process. Those very same negative lessons I just talked about have helped with that. I can’t be uppity and full of pride when the roof is literally falling in on me, or when I’m living in a dump and battling roaches on a daily basis. I had to come down from off that high horse quick and fast.
My living conditions have also taught me a new level of empathy for those who have it worse than me. As bad as I think my daily surroundings are, they’re bad in comparison to what I’m used to. I already knew that in my head but now I’ve learned it in my heart. Many people have it far worse than I do and I will never take a solid roof over my head or a clean, pest-free environment for granted again.
And while I’ve been getting down off that high horse, I’ve also been learning to be flexible. I have to move to a different city in 2 days? Alright, I’m packed and ready to go. When I get there, I have to share a room? Sure, I can do that. Oh, now I have to actually move out of my room and move into another 1 with someone else? Alright, give me a minute to get my stuff together. The teacher for the class that starts in 10 minutes just let us know they’re not showing up today? No problem, I’ll come up with something quick and take the class instead. I can’t have a salad? OK, I’ll eat whatever is provided. Hey, God, I really wanna leave, can I leave? No, Kristine, stay where you are, I’m not ready to move you yet.
So much flexibility I’m learning.
When I arrived in Indonesia, I didn’t expect teaching to be something that I actually enjoyed, since I’ve never seen myself as a teacher. I always thought I was too impatient and intolerant for that job. Yet, here I am, learning that I love to impart knowledge to people (translation: I love telling people what to do) and learning how to do it effectively. This is teaching me to shut up and listen to what people are saying, and to see beneath the surface to what may be happening underneath. I have to grow in these ways because that’s what my students need from me. Yes, when I got here, I expected teaching to be part of my job that I just got through but God switched it up on me again; in Indonesia I’m becoming a real teacher instead of playing at being one. I’m still working on being a great teacher but I’m not worried because I know I’ll get there.
On an external level, living in Indonesia has taught me the wisdom of being on my guard against culture shock, and not arrogantly assuming that I’m above being a victim of it. Hopefully, I’ve learned to begin appreciating differences early in my experience of a new culture instead of being disdainful about those same differences.
A shining jewel among the many lessons I’ve learned here so far is the basic kindness and generosity of people. It may seem to go without saying that people are basically kind and generous, but examine your life and see if you really believe that. Don’t focus on what you say; check what your actions are telling you. My actions were telling me that I cynically believed that people always had an ulterior motive, that they were only out for their own good and that there was really no such thing as a stranger with a truly kind heart. I was so wrong! From the start of this journey, I have been inundated with the kindness, generosity and friendliness of people: Elly, A (literally from day 1 this girl started giving of herself to me), B (who bought me a birthday cake after knowing me for 2 weeks) my volunteer language tutor in Aceh, A’s friend who gave me my 1 and only bike-riding lesson, the girl who lives here who helped me with my mountain toes, The Jamaican, my volunteer language tutor in Jakarta, Toto, Tugi, and my Mt. Rinjani trek companions.
These are just the people you know about. I haven’t written about the myriad other kind and friendly people with whom I’ve been blessed to interact, like the local volunteers here in Jakarta and in Aceh, the cashier at our neighbourhood convenience store back in Aceh, the guy who has the fruit cart around the corner, the other guy from whom I buy mie aceh, and our neighbours to the right. I’m so glad that my faith in humanity, which I never realised was tainted, is being restored. This doesn’t mean that I’m going around blindly trusting people to have my best interests at heart, but now I don’t automatically assume that they don’t.
I won’t even get into the details of the changes in my relationship with God that have come about in these short/long 6 months. I’m more dependent on Him, more conversant with Him, more in awe of Him than ever before. He’s gifted me with not 1, but 2 new friendships, neither of which I was looking for. And He’s opened up my eyes and my heart in so many ways. He’s truly the God of unexpected blessings.
I already feel so different from when I arrived here 6 months ago. I feel like the same person but somehow different…better…new.
What will unfold in the next 6 months?
Now listen to me, you that say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.” You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears. What you should say is this: “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 (GNT)