The beginning of the rest of my life

Or at least the next two years of it

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Biking through the mountains that surround my new home in Panawangan.

I am a sworn in and official Peace Corps Volunteer. I live in Panawangan, Ciamis, West Java, Indonesia. I am a teacher at SMAN1 Panawangan.

Let that sink in.

Right now, power is getting put in my room because, weirdly enough, there were no outlets or power lines in my room until now. Peace Corps enough?

Leaving Kediri and my family Wednesday was ridiculously hard. Then, leaving the rest of the West Java Volunteers to venture off on my own Friday was almost harder. I feel like I’ve had a chronic headache all week and I can’t tell if it’s from all the crying, dehydration, dehydration from crying or the new elevation.

I live in the lower mountains surrounding Mount Ciremai, at the crossroads between three regencies: Kuningan, Majalengka, and Ciamis.

My home and school are in Ciamis, the nearest market is in Majalengka, and the nearest hospital is in Kuningan.

I’m in a glass case of emotions, but it’s getting better.

Wednesday, June 1, was the day it all became real. I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but first I had to say good bye to my host family. My bags were picked up by Peace Corps staff the night before, which only made my leaving more sad and real. Monica cried when she saw my room empty for the first time. Then, I cried when giving my family the good bye gifts I had bought them and attempting to tell them how much they mean to me. Then, my Ibu cried receiving the gifts and we ended up sitting on the floor hugging and transforming into a mother-daughter puddle of tears.

I’m going to miss this woman more than anything else in East Java. She sent me on my way with a packed dinner (with enough food to last me an entire day), two jars of homemade pecel sauce, and what seems like a lifetime supply of coffee packets (of which she has made me two a day, every day since I’ve lived with her. There was always one waiting for me in the morning with my breakfast, and one waiting outside for me when I came home, ready to tell the family about my day.)

I’m pretty sure she thinks I can’t survive without her, and I’m also pretty sure she’s right.

Wednesday morning, my Rafa would barely say good bye to me because he’s a tough guy and didn’t want me to see him cry, but I cried giving him a hug before he ran away and I went next door to say good bye to Nenek.

That beautiful soul cried more than anyone, which made me bawl even harder and then I salimed her (pressing her hand to my forehead as I bowed, the Islamic symbol of respect for ones elders, adopted by the country despite religious beliefs) and we hugged and cried and now my headaches make sense.

My family stood on the porch waving goodbye to me as I left, in exactly the same spots as when I first met them. Back when it was awkward and uncomfortable and I didn’t know what I was doing. Now, it’s my safe-haven, my family, my home.

And I’ve left. And I’ve started over with more awkward encounters, a new family, and new social situations in which I don’t know how to act.

When I arrived at my new family’s house it was late, but my Ibu and Bapak were waiting up for me, and we sat in the living room chatting and getting to know each other for a little while and then the power went out and I was sent off to bed with a candlestick and a box of cookies. Oddly comforting after the emotional roller coaster of the week.

My room is huge, with a king-sized bed, armoire, and desk. I sleep on Australia-themed sheets with kangaroos on them and have decorated my walls with them maps and photos I brought with me from America along with my ever-trusty Spanish tapestry from the one and only, Sarah Rosselet. It’s almost concerning how quickly it’s started feeling like home.

My Ibu woke me up the following day at an impossible hour to put a loaf of bread in my room. I immediately went back to sleep. Then she woke me up an hour later for breakfast and I learned I’ll [probably] never sleep past 7 am as long as I live here.

We spent the afternoon shopping at the pasar where I was easily the tallest person and had to duck everywhere I went as people yelled out “tourist!” and I responded with “tidak, saya tinggal di sini” and blew their minds because why would a 5’8” white girl be living here?

It’s a santai life in Panawangan. I wake up early for breakfast and mandi. Then, usually read or write while my family watches TV. Around noon everyone retires for a nap which I am extremely grateful for, and then wakes up again for more TV watching and cooking dinner.

School won’t begin until after Ramadan. For now, this is my life. Cheers to new beginnings and the adventure I’ve been waiting my whole life for.

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