holmes sweet holmes

sucking marrow and seeking more

50 Shades of Blue

The Maldives is the quintessential honeymoon destination, but it’s also the perfect place to go when you are single and in love with life.

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The gal pals and I stayed at a guesthouse on a local island during October break, where we befriended long-term residents (hi, Ali!) and walked around the small atoll. During our meanderings we watched young girls playing badminton, families shopping, boys on the football pitch, friends gathering in front of homes. As the sun set, our fivesome was joined by local dive guides, families on holiday, families on a normal nightly stroll, and canoodling lovebirds. A beautiful combination of many walks of life. 

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I always wonder why I bother taking photos of sunsets — and then this happens. 

When we landed on the tarmac in the middle of the Indian Ocean, we exited the airport and were immediately greeted by the sea. We ran through the pouring rain, hopped on the ferry, and crossed the ocean to Male. I haven’t yet wandered the streets of Cuba, but Male matched my imagined ideas of Havana, minus the 1950s vehicles. The buildings were brightly colored, all slightly different in shade and shape, and young attractive men idled under awnings waiting for the storm to pass. I could feel the bumping beats of a Cubano groove in my blood. 

The ease of transport was a welcome surprise. It was simple enough to find the public ferry to Maafushi, our island paradise for the week, and we were never once bombarded by taxi drivers, or sarong-peddlers, or excursion guides. People in the Maldives are super friendly and helpful, but also super chill. And — have I mentioned — good looking? 

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Maldivian airport on our way home. Photo by Brydie McMullan

All of our activities, of course, centered on the water. That blue-green-aquamarine water, with layer upon layer of color. Diving, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, glamour shooting, cocktail sipping — all of it on or around the ocean. 

Our penultimate dive finds itself among my tops dives ever. Hanging onto the reef so the current won’t pull us away, 30m deep, with reef sharks, eagle rays, and fishes galore circling around us — oh so good. 

Snorkeling, admittedly one of my least favorite water activities, was glorious. This trip brought us glimpses of a pod of spinner dolphins. We couldn’t get as close to these beauties as my School Without Walls trip did in Marsa Allam, but what adrenaline as we chased them through the blue, following their squeaks and whistles, watching them rise up from the deep to crest the surface of the sea. Our own squeals of delight as we followed these beauties for over an hour drowned out that nagging suspicion that we would regret jumping straight into the sea as soon as we saw the fins without reapplying sunscreen. No regrets, of course, though my sunburned legs begged to differ. 

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It doesn’t matter how many times I see these creatures in the wild; I still cannot contain myself. 

One night, Ali, our guesthouse’s excursion guide and general good soul, offered to bring us to the beach to search out bioluminescence and baby sharks. Um, yes. While we watched young reef sharks and stingrays glide through the shallow surf, we learned a little more about our host island. About the devastation caused by the 2004 tsunami. About the changing attitudes of many Maafushians, who have started to appreciate and even welcome the bikini-clad tourists (as long as the borders of Bikini Beach are honored, of course). About his own experiences in the tourist industry as the island develops. About the six cars present on the entire island. 

(To be fair, I could stand in the middle of the white-sand road and see the Indian Ocean whether I was looking right or left. Cars are definitely unnecessary, except when schlepping dive tanks.)

I don’t think I know enough synonyms for the color blue to accurately describe the distinct and varied hues we saw. All I know is that the ocean is a language I would like to learn. 

 

 

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Adventure Woman: Spring Break I

Indonesia is comprised of some 18,000 islands, and until last month, I’d only visited a grand total of two. I added a third during my first week of spring break when Katelyn and I headed to Central Java for a little art and culture.

Jogjakarta is a lovely city. It has a funky vibe, with its street art and brightly colored buildings and bumping arts and music scene, mixed with some modern Islam (I gotta admit, I loved hearing the call to prayer five times a day again) and throwback traditions from the Sultan era.

We took a tour of the Kraton to learn the history of the nine sultans (quick version: lots of wives, lots of babies), took rides around the city in a becak, drank some java in Java, bought some batik, made some batik, etc etc.

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The becak, which is powered by cyclists

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Katelyn and I in the becak

 

 

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Learning how to batik from Mbok Lusi, who was featured in magazines and newspapers for being one of Jogja’s greatest

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Our driver, Bima, knows Lusi from art school

Of course, we also saw the two temples that make Jogja such a famous place.

Prambanan is the oldest Hindu temple in Java. Legend has it, a beautiful princess lived in Jogja a millennia ago. A prince came to take her hand in marriage after he killed her father and took over her kingdom, and she was forced to agree. However, she provided a caveat: he needed to construct 1000 temples by morning. As he and his underground demon friends completed the 999th temple of her impossible task, she and her palace maids desperately set a temple on fire to trick him into thinking it was morning. The demons fled back underground at the first light, and the prince, furious, turned her into stone, thus completing the 1000th temple (but ruining his chances at marrying her once and for all — as if he had a chance before).

In reality, there are about 240 temples. The largest three are shrines to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.

2015-03-29 08.59.02Borobodur Temple is Jogja’s other main draw, for good reason. This 9th-century monument is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and again, after its rediscovery, an active pilgrimage site. Katelyn and I stayed at a hotel within the grounds of Borobodur, so when we left our room before 5 am, it was just a five minute walk to the temple stairs.

The sun rose slowly, revealing a foggy expanse below and stupas galore above. Seventy-two stupas ring the top levels of the temple, each housing a Buddha statue. (Which, according to the documentary we watched the night before, “will bring you a husband if you reach through the stupa and touch Buddha’s hand. Unless that’s not your problem.” This film was full of questionable advice.)

We spent hours walking around the temple, looking at the reliefs telling the story of the Buddha’s life. Even though this is the most visited attraction in all of Indonesia, we often felt like we were the only ones on the temple.

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Katelyn and I spent a lot of time with this particular Buddha statue. Between the two of us, we probably have 100 photos from all possible angles.

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Borobodur from below

We hired a friend-of-a-friend, Bima, as our driver for two days of the trip. He took us to see Mount Merapi, which is apparently the most dangerous volcano in the Ring of Fire. We couldn’t hike it, unfortunately, as it was still too slippery at the end of the rainy season. But we were privy to a poorly translated documentary about its destruction, learning…well, that “both will coexist and harmoniously if only humans will also take care.” Right. Hmm.

Merapi wasn’t available to us, but we did climb an inactive volcano in its stead. A pretty quick hike, we were at the summit in just about an hour and a half.
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Katelyn and Bima taking a rest

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Rough translation: You’re cool for getting this far!

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Mountaintop selfie

After the hike, we floated through a cave and down a river on a “bun” — the term they use for an inner tube. Near the end of the river ride, we found ourselves in line to leap from 8 meters into the river. Because it was Katelyn’s birthday, and because Bima had already admiringly dubbed us “the two adventure woman,” I clearly had to live up to such a title. 

Bima transformed as we got to know him. When he first introduced himself, he was very formal, with his shirt buttoned all the way up to his chin. By the end, we were jumping off cliffs together and climbing mountains and learning slang Indonesian words. Our final night, he asked if we would like to come to his home and see a traditional Javanese house.

He showed us the center of his neighborhood, with a common house and a Javanese version of a gong. Different codes send different messages; there’s a fire, there’s a burglar, there’s a pressing reason to meet. Hit the gong and all of the men coming running. (We both tried it, and no one came running. Must have been the wrong codes.)

Then he asked if we would like to visit his friend’s home. He wanted to show us how welcoming and hospitable all Javanese are. Even though we felt super awkward walking into a random stranger’s house, his excitement convinced us. Miss Tutu graciously served tea, and she and her children conversed with us in nearly 100% Bahasa Indonesia. (My vocabulary grew immensely on this trip — it was awesome.) When we left, our new stranger-friend and her family stood at the end of their driveway, waving goodbye, Javanese (and Minnesota) style.

I feel like I got a good taste of Jogjakarta in our four day visit. Katelyn and I then returned to Bali for a wedding of epic proportions, before this adventure woman headed off to India for spring break, round dua.

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Santai, bro!

Party Like It’s 1937

Which it is, in the Balinese calendar. This weekend we put on our party pants (er, sarongs) and joined in the festivities to celebrate the new year.

Friday night, after stocking up the villa for the weekend, we attended a local ogoh-ogoh procession. The banjar (neighborhoods) in each village parade their giant monsters through the streets, along with representatives from the banjar: some dressed as Hindu characters from traditional stories, some carrying torches, some drumming and singing. The men in the banjar carry the bamboo platform that holds the monstrous ogoh on their shoulders,  spinning it around three times at each junction, with the intention of scaring and confusing the evil spirits so they leave the island.

The Balinese have been working on these effigies for months, and some are truly frightening. We saw skeletons with drool dripping down their jaws, beasts with thick claws and bared teeth, giants with a crown of snake heads. Most of the ogoh-ogoh are based on traditional Hindu stories, and all are incredibly detailed. Many added extra bells and whistles: flashing lights, spinning shields, even fog machines. They were terrifyingly meticulous.

In many ways, the parade felt like any festival in the States. Each banjar was represented. A group of heavily made up and dressed up young women carried a sign stating which banjar they belonged to, followed by a vast array of men, women and children. Then youth came, carrying torches and wearing matching t-shirts and sarongs. Young boys carried a practice bamboo base, much smaller in scale than the ones bearing an ogoh-ogoh, preparing for the day when they will be in charge of the monster. Next a band came through, banging on drums, clanging cymbals, ringing bells. Finally, the men arrived with the monster, sweating from the heat of the night and the weight of the ogoh-ogoh, moving in unison.

At the end of the parade route, the monsters were deposited into a field, where they remain until they are burned. Food vendors and carnivalesque toys lined the edges of the field, and families gathered late into the night. When we left, it was just like leaving fireworks on the 4th of July. Parts of the main road were closed, and we were redirected down back roads, at one point driving through an alleyway barely as wide as my wingspan, with a steady stream of motorbikes sputtering by in both directions.

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Photo by Katelyn

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Practicing for the future

 

 

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Photo by Katelyn

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Photo by Katelyn

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Photo by Brydie

 

 

Saturday was Nyepi, or the Day of Silence. It is a day of reflection, meditation, and, for some, fasting (which, besides being a spiritual practice for the individual, will also confuse any rogue evil spirits still lingering around, making the island appear deserted). Certain protocol is followed, even by the non-Hindus in Bali. Everyone stays inside, and traditionally, there is no fire, little to no electricity, no work, no travel, and no entertainment. The streets are abandoned, the houses are silent, even the airport is closed.

As bule, or foreigners, we are exempt from very few aspects of Nyepi. We could not leave the villa all day, could not speak loudly enough for voices to carry, could not play loud music, and needed to keep the lights off or low once the sun set. We did not get a visit from the pecalang telling us to quiet down or blow out candles, but many others did.

So what do you do on a day of silence? We kept ourselves occupied with 108 sweaty, sweaty sun salutations, a (mostly) silent swim, some reading and writing and game playing, loads of cooking (it takes so much time to feed 7 people!), and a late-night film. The star gazing was the most incredible part, though. With little to no light pollution, every single inch of the sky was twinkling. It was similar to the kind of sky I’ve only seen in the desert in Egypt.

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Photo by Katelyn

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No work in the rice fields on Nyepi

 

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Photo by Katelyn

The 24 hours passed quite quickly, because even Days of Silence are easy-peasy with great friends.

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Photo by Tyler

 

 

Aloha nui loa

I hadn’t seen my sister for 860 days. So when I got my job in Bali, I knew I wanted to fly from my corner of the Pacific to hers. (Admittedly, I was ignorant at just exactly how far apart our islands are. It is just as far from Bali to Hawai’i as it is from Egypt to Minnesota.)

She greeted me at the airport with hazelnut coffee, a beautiful lei, and my two favorite boys in the whole entire world. She knows the way to my heart.IMG_20150111_225615

I am so lucky that my holiday break allowed for 18 days of family time. Days watching scooter and skateboard tricks. Days solving puzzle after puzzle (and after awhile, only the same Scooby puzzle). Days building Legos, learning about Minecraft, snuggling. Days smothering these boys with love.

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Christmas morning. Riley’s pumped because he can Skype on his new tablet

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2014-12-26 13.20.25We also spent some time checking out Oahu’s finest locales. A few hikes, a few waterfalls, a few orders of shaved ice. I’m a convert — Hawaiians serve shaved ice with a scoop of ice cream in the bottom. Yum yum.

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Andy, Ellen, Riley, and Alex, heading to Waimea Falls

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Just the boys

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Andy and the boys swimming to the falls

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Beautiful sissa

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Contrary to the looks on their faces, they did actually enjoy checking out Pearl Harbor. Here they are standing where the peace treaty was signed on the USS Missouri.

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Loving the submarine

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We missed Ellie when she was at work, and I am so grateful Andy was willing to go on adventures.

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More hiking, more waterfalls

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Monkey boy

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We stopped to watch the migrating humpback whales here for awhile. It was insanely cool.

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I left with my heart bursting. I loved watching Ellen and Andy parent, loved random hugs from the boys, loved my time with my sister. It was a merry Christmas indeed.

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Kampuchea

My soul has been drawn to, beckoned by, yearning for Cambodia for years. Sometimes when you answer such a call, it can be disappointing; my week in Siem Reap was anything but. 

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The poverty in Cambodia is pretty in-your-face, and seeing as Siem Reap is a major tourist destination, the competition for tourism dollars is fierce. Beggars, peddlers, everyone hawking something: fried spiders, knock-off North Face jackets, books on Cambodia’s genocide, lotus flowers.

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It’s easy to turn down the knock-off North Face, but this face? Impossible. 

Our first day in town, Katelyn and I walked past tuk-tuk driver after tuk-tuk driver asking if we needed a ride right now, or maybe to the temples tomorrow. After politely turning down about 20 drivers, I finally elaborated on that “no” to the most recent man trying to make a living, telling him we had a driver with our hotel.

It was the wrong thing to say. It launched this man onto his soapbox: that’s one of the problems, see, because if you know the right people you can work for a hotel and then you get all of the jobs, and the rich just keep getting richer while the poor get poorer. If you are coming from the countryside to the city, you don’t know any of the hotel owners, so you need to beg for riders on the streets, and people just say no. Plus, drivers connected to a hotel will charge $15, and the hotel gets $5 and the driver only gets $10. I will only charge you $10, no commission to the hotel at all, and also many hotels make drivers pay them first to be associated with the hotel so very few drivers can do it. And you see how many tuk-tuks are out here; it’s so difficult to get a job.

And on and on he went while a mini-parade of schoolchildren passed by, not quite complaining, but more monologuing his daily battle to earn his daily bread.

So I told him that we hadn’t yet agreed to use our hotel’s driver; maybe I could get his phone number and call him?

He did a double take, blinked his eyes a few times, like he was waking up from a conversation with himself, and then a giant grin overtook his face. With copious thank you’s, he gave me his name and number.

Of course, we called him. Sarath was thrilled to pick us up at 5 am, suggest the best places to see the sunrise (which was anti-climactic, as it was far too cloudy), and cart us around the large circuit of temples for 10 hours. And he did only charge us $10 for the entire day.

We called him multiple times throughout the week, and while his motorcycle’s unreliable engine meant we sometimes had to use someone else, he was our absolute favorite. We bartered with random drivers to bring us back to our hotel for $1, but we willingly threw $3 at Sarath for bringing us the same distance. Partly because he shared his tragic story with us, partly because he was so knowledgable, mostly because he was genuine. When he brought us home our last night in Siem Reap, he thanked us profusely and said, “I knew from the first day I saw you — I felt it in my heart –” and he didn’t need to finish his sentence, because we knew in our hearts too. 

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Sarath may have been the highlight of the trip, but he had some steep competition. The temples, of course, were beyond what I imagined. Some were impressive for their sheer magnitude, others for the way the light danced between stones, still others for the views of the park from their tallest peaks. We walked among many, dodging large tour groups as best we could, and a few are worth singling out. 

Like Phnom Philay, which we reached by walking through the deserted woods behind Angkor Thom, across a miniature river, and beneath a canopy of tree branches. The temple is tiny, with a stone wall surrounding it, and lichen and moss crawling up its rubble. The soft early afternoon light melted on it, and the silence muted everything, imbuing it with a palpable magic. 

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And Ta Prohm, arguably the most stunning display of nature’s power, with giant roots growing into (out of?) the ruins. I kept seeing images of how deep my roots go, how connected we all are. Closing my eyes, I could feel the stones, the trees, the moss, the memories. I am yet again reminded of something I read by Jonathan Safran Foer, how an experience is beyond our five senses. We don’t just ask how something tastes or looks. We also ask how it remembers. At Ta Prohm, I could understand how it remembers, how the depth of my own roots help me to remember, to continue to draw energy from things I cannot see but only feel as they sustain me. 

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Centuries ago, Preah Neak Prean was used as healing pools for pilgrims visiting Angkor. A long wooden boardwalk stretches across the water, and it was believed that the mere act of walking over the water to the holy pools cleansed you of sins. Modern-day travelers walked while local kids took turns diving off and pushing each other into the lake, the joy of playing just as cleansing.

2014-10-15 13.58.22The journey to the far-away temple, Banteay Srey, took us through local neighborhoods. We witnessed people going through the motions of every day life: bathing in a sarong, eating in the kitchen area underneath the rest of the house lifted by stilts, playing volleyball, working in the rice fields or the pastures or the small corner store. By the time we arrived at the temple known as the Citadel of Women, the pinkish sandstone nearly glowed gold under the late afternoon sun. 

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We frolicked through other temples too, greeting monkeys and monks alike, reading stories on the walls from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, climbing countless stairs. 

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Monks at Angkor Wat

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View from inside Angkor Wat

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Siem Reap River, outside of the East entrance to Angkor Tom

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One of many Buddha faces at Bayon

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Contemplation abounds

 

 

 

 

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Afternoon light at Tommanon

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Breathing Room buddies at Bayon

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We spent a few days enjoying what the rest of Siem Reap has to offer as well. My saffron-stained fingers offer evidence of our two hours in a cooking class with Chef Si Noun. Prior to cooking, we ventured through the market to purchase our fare. Markets are lively and beautiful and interesting places, until you walk through the meats. Then it turns into a brutal visual and olfactory assault.

Fish being filleted on short wooden tables, with live fish desperately trying to swim in trays of water that just barely fit them and their unlucky brethren and definitely did not leave room for splashing around. Crabs making a break for it, crawling across shrimp towards freedom. Skinned frogs in a pile, with organs shining through translucent skin. Chicken livers in one pile, dark and loamy, with feet in another and beaks in a third.

After that walk, the zen-like act of chopping up banana flowers and turmeric and lemongrass was necessary. 

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Final dish: Khmer amok with banana leaf flower salad

And the Cambodian circus! The circus is like a small-scale Cirque du Soleil, with insanely talented folks performing feats that defy gravity. A non-profit arts school in the countryside of Cambodia trains young people — some orphans, some former street children, some recovering from awful abuses and crimes committed against them, all learning a skill or a trade they market in order to support themselves and their families — and puts on a nightly show to raise more money for the school.

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We were blown away by their talent, and equally smitten with Pholla, the fabulous boutique manager who offered to be our “wing” after we shared giggles about the cutest of the performers. He convinced us to return a second night, and really did try to be our wing, running backstage three times. Their meeting with their teachers lasted beyond our agreed upon time to meet Sarath for our ride home, so we bid our new friend (and our dreams of running away with a Cambodian circus performer) farewell.

One week in Siem Reap was not enough to quench my thirst for Cambodia. Some places feel like a perfect fit, and for so many reasons, this is one of them. 

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Hati-Hati

Only a small number of things in life truly scare me now.

Moving across the world to live with people I don’t know? Exhilarating.

Hanging out 30m underwater, possibly with sharks? Bring it.

Riding on the back of a motorbike? Petrifying.

Driving my own? Ha! Never.

Except…in Bali, that’s the most common form of transport. And while driving a car isn’t impossible, it is nearly guaranteed to double your drive time. So, I put my big-girl pants on and sucked it up. No time like the present to face my largest fear. When in Rome, right?

Our first weekend here — NINE weeks ago now! –, two of the other newbies and I rented motorbikes for the month of August, received a mini-lesson on how to drive the thing, and took off.

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Don’t be fooled by the false bravado. It’s all an act.

It wasn’t pretty. My shoulders were up in my ears the whole time, I practically came to a complete stop around the corners because it was TERRIFYING, and sometimes I would panic and squeeze the break and accelerate simultaneously. Somehow, I made it to the beach in one piece, pleased with myself for not dying.

But I still needed to get myself home.

A shortcut exists here in Canggu, a winding brick road cutting through gorgeous rice paddies. It gets quite narrow at one particular point, and when a car drives on it, it feels teeny tiny.

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On the shortcut, looking at the rice fields

Of course, when I drove on it that night — a mere three hours after I rented the damn thing –, a minivan passed by me at that narrowest of points. I felt like it was all up on my side of the road, but other bikes made it, so there’s a slight chance that I may have overreacted. I panicked, accelerated and braked at the same time, and drove right off the road into the rice field.

It happened in slow motion, and I saw myself going over the edge and jumped ship. A bunch of locals helped me lift the bike out of the mud, checked to make sure it was still working and that I was okay, and then they laughed at me. I had to sheepishly drive by the traffic I caused to back up, covered in mud.

Don’t worry, folks, I had nothing but a bruised ego. And, unfortunately, an even greater fear of that bike for days to come. I dreaded getting on it. Now, two months later, I am more competent and confident. I can zip around on the highway, weaving in and out of traffic, at a speed I would have thought impossible when I first crawled along. (Don’t worry, I always wear my helmet. Because literally YOLO.)

And that shortcut is now my favorite part of my commute. Watching the sun kiss the rice fields each morning is absolutely breath-taking. But more importantly, I know now that I can drive into a rice field, get a little shaken and muddy, and everything will be okay. At least it wasn’t a concrete wall. 

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Returned the rental bike and purchased this baby

Jalan Jalan

Somehow I have been in Bali for two months now without writing a single blogpost. Instead I’ve been out observing and absorbing my new surroundings, trying to replace my mind’s default-foreign-language of Arabic with Bahasa.

My language lessons help, and I am slowly remembering the new vocabulary. In particular, I really like the phrase jalan jalan. Jalan means street, and jalan jalan is a multipurpose word, depending on the context. My favorite definition? To wander. 

The last nine weeks I’ve been wandering down strange streets, attempting to find my place amongst the Bintangs and villas and rice fields. 

Settling into Bali is an entirely different experience than Cairo. Besides the obvious differences – tropical island, drastically lower population, traditions and religion – I am finding smaller, more nuanced changes. Like differences in my mental math (that costs ONE MILLION RUPIAHS?!), the variety of fruits and veggies (dragon fruit and edamame, yum yum), and my life’s new soundscape (cocking crows in place of calls to prayer).

I am the biggest change, though.

My naivety has lessened, and I know that arriving in a place does not actually mean I have arrived at all. There are still so many steps to take after the first one that brings me off of the plane. 

And my comparisons have increased. I am no old hat at teaching abroad, but because this isn’t my first international job, I hear myself saying, “When I was in Cairo…” far too many (annoying) times. This is a rougher transition. I still feel unsettled, in both the place and in my job.

Plus, I find myself longing for Cairo. And we all know how impossible it is to embrace something new when you are grasping for what you left behind.

This is not to say I am having a poor experience. On the contrary, I am literally living in paradise. Many Sunday nights, I eat fish barbecue while watching the sunset over the ocean, and then walk down the beach to dance in the sand to live reggae music. I am forging friendships with beautiful souls, and I have nothing but love for the kiddos who fill my classroom and my heart. I explore new corners of this island on a regular basis, across land and under the sea. It’s been a wild adventure.

My soul is still wandering these new streets, working through the growing pains of a new situation, searching for the words to articulate it all. Until I find them, I’ll share pictures: 

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Rice fields

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Tanah Lot Temple

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Sunday night sunset

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An evening’s walk on the beach 

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Nyang Nyang Beach, off the beaten path

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Explorers

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Contemplative monkey

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Uluwatu Temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paradise

 

 

 

 

Blessings

I can’t help but marvel at how lucky I am. 

I won the lottery of birth (have you met my parents and siblings??), and I consistently receive undue privileges based on my race, class, and nationality. I travel the world with relative ease, simply because of my name and my passport, and I was able to move abroad because of my class.

What I am good at and what I love to do are the exact same thing, and I get the best kids in the world every single year. I even get to continue watching them grow once I set them loose, as many stay in contact with me after they leave my classroom or I leave their country.

I am enriched by so many relationships around the world, and technology makes it possible to text someone 9000 miles away when I’m having a bad day. It is so comforting to be known by people, and to be able to reconnect with friends in a seamless way.

And, I get to live here for the next two years:

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Maasalama, Cairo

“Boy, I bet it feels good to be done with Egypt.”

Many a well-intentioned friend or family member made this statement during my trip home. And while I will not miss the hours I spent wallowing in my own sweat, waiting for the AC to kick back on during nightly power outages, I have to disagree with them.

It is heart-breaking to be done with Egypt.

Cairo is easy to hate, with the Ring Road traffic and the constant catcalls and the burning refuse. It’s also easy to love, even though I find myself in complicated love with Cairo.

I hate how my movements throughout the country and even some of my experiences were limited, simply because I am a woman. Yet I love the depth of relationship between women in Egypt, and the fact that I was privy to those relationships, simply because I am a woman.

I love the architecture in the City of a Thousand Minarets, even though most buildings look the exact same color of dust, without much uniqueness or fanfare. I was dismayed by the architecture when I first arrived in Cairo, but now it is comforting. And finding a gorgeous building among the rows and rows of boring ones? The best. 

I love the welcoming nature of Egyptians, the friendliness, the genuine interest in each other. Except when that interest bordered on gossip (which I did not experience too often, thankfully). Or when it was not genuine interest in me, but in my perceived bank account simply because I’m foreign.

Even the pace of the country, which is slooooooooooow compared to the hustle and bustle of the US, eventually felt good. Can’t get all of your errands done today? No worries, it will happen tomorrow, insha’Allah. Plus, I now have an endless reserve of patience.

And even though I felt incompetent at my job every single day my first year (only every third day during my second year), I also felt valued and appreciated and cherished. Full of warm fuzzies. I was seeking a challenge, and I found it, which was both frustrating and empowering.

Mostly, I had a beautiful experience. I left with a heavy heart. My kiddos were amazing – funny, smart, kind, open young people, who shared their souls with me. I love all of my students every year, but I have never felt so much love from students before. Such a gift. I count myself among the luckiest for getting an incredible group of kids every single year.

So yes, it is a relief to be leaving the perpetual sheen of dust, and I am looking forward to what awaits me in Bali. But I also find myself very defensive of Egypt. The swirling sand of the last two years has shaped me, molded me, left me simultaneously less and more. Extraneous pieces have eroded away, and what is left behind is stronger, sturdier, and smoother. More complete. I am taking with me friendships that have sustained me through major challenges and changes, experiences that have turned my previous perspectives upside down, and loads of new skills that will benefit my next group of students.

I became an international teacher because I felt compelled to go into the world. I was not drawn to Egypt, but it beckoned me just the same. And thank God for that.

In all its ridiculousness, its complications, its brutifulness, Cairo is a place I will always consider home.  

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 A student told me on the last day of school, “I didn’t always like you, but I always loved you.” That’s it exactly. I didn’t always like Cairo, but I sure do love it.

Things Cairo Gave Me

Life-long friends

Parasites

An ability to sweat without noticing

Another place in this world to call home

Two of my most challenging years as a teacher

140 kiddos who will forever be my students

A chronic cold

An opportunity to discover the core of myself

Soul sisters

Hand signals, vocabulary, shifting perspectives that mark me “Egyptian” (yanni, at least in heart)

New fashion choices: jeans under dresses, Friday bants, sweaters in 60* weather

An understanding that just because something isn’t done my way, doesn’t mean it’s wrong

 

 

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