Snapshots: Old San Juan

28 Oct

A fortunate series of events led me to unexpectedly spend last week in Puerto Rico. Much of the time was spent near the beach in Rio Mar. However, an excursion or two was taken to Old San Juan. After being in a city growing drearier by the day with cold, shorter days and an onslaught of dark jackets and mute layers head to toe, the burst of color and warmth Puerto Rico extended was much appreciated.

For today’s photo series we’ve got three things going on:

1. Beautiful landscapes and worn edifices at El Castillo de San Cristóbal

2. Colors in Old San Juan

3. An adorable girl feeding pigeons

A nice tie-in:

“Everyone seems to have a cousin there.”

This from one of the staff members at El Castillo de San Cristóbal  while commenting on the rich history and connection Puerto Ricans have with New York City. Oddly enough upon returning and attempting to catch up on news, right smack in the middle of NPR’s homepage was this article describing a nearby exhibit featuring photos of Puerto Rican life in New York City in the 1970s —something I’ll make a point of visiting this week.

Snapshots: Finding Fall

11 Oct

Last week I learned the meaning of “Indian Summer” which I had only heard referenced once before in an early episode of Mad Men. After a chilly start to fall, it suddenly warmed back up to the high 80s.  I was happy to wear shorts in what was likely the the last time I’ll be able to do so sans tights this year. This week we’re back to the 60s and high 50s and fall seems a little more present than it was. Being from Phoenix and spending the last two years in Java I’m excited to experience my first full-fledged fall (and just seasons in general again.) So I took advantage of afternoon and went searching for the signs of it with a stroll through Central Park and nearby areas. While most of the park was green, I was able to spot some of those autumn colors coming through.

Post-Peace Corps pondering and telling stories

27 Sep

Let’s get right back into it, shall we?

I’ve officially been done with my service for almost four months. That means for nearly four months I’ve been using the line, “Oh, I just got back from finishing my Peace Corps service in Indonesia” when new people I’m meeting or old acquaintances ask what I’m doing. I began thinking more about this question and that reply this last week. More so, I began thinking about how long I can continue to use that line before it becomes obsolete.

Despite it being so long, I have no shame in using it. Though I said my goodbyes in June, it’s fresh. I still feel like “I just finished.”

Some people follow that question with “How long have you been back?” and then “What have you been doing between then and now?” The answer I want to say is “It’s been a blur, non-alcohol induced.” Elbow nudge. Ha. Ha… More often than not I simply say “I’ve been traveling.” And it’s true. I’ve taken more trips between June and August than I had during any other three-month period.

It feels fresh because I’ve gotten to a point where me and my belongings (for the most part) are in one place, and we’re not leaving. I’m excited about that. I’m excited to be able to completely immerse myself in one place again. Fortunately for me this one place is New York City.

Another reason it feels so fresh is because time has escaped me. Volunteers must sometimes grow accustomed to a slower pace of living in their country of service coupled with limited options of what to do with much more free time.  This often leads to volunteers starting projects. And when those don’t work they pick up seemingly random hobbies like gardening, learning a new instrument, cooking or in my case spending three hours with a mortar and pestle to make one handsome jar of homemade peanut butter. To each their own.

On the reverse side, well, it’s the reverse.

So as a returned volunteer with sudden endless ways to fill my time and surrounded with the go-go-go mentality that is particularly palpable while transferring subway lines during rush hour at Time Square, it’s quite easy to wake up and realize September is almost over when you swore yesterday you were planning Labor Day weekend and sending out those first few resumes.

Back in spring, when my Close of Service was in grasp, I began to think more heavily about my return. I thought about the habits I had created and aspects of Indonesian culture and my Peace Corps experience that I would want to retain when I got back to the U.S.  I knew it’d be all too easy to leap back into old patterns without much intention to purposefully do so or resist doing so. During service all that time to kill actually became important as it provided ample opportunity for reflection, journaling or enjoying some sort of stimulating reading, podcast, documentary or movie that I might not ordinarily set time aside to read/listen/watch and digest. That’s a habit I’m trying to make stick—not just quickly consuming everything that’s out there—but rather spending time to fully explore something. I’ve been trying to set aside an hour or two before I go to bed to do this. That’s how I happened upon this podcast: TED Radio Hour: The Next Great Generation?  Which in turn inspired this blog post, the remainder of which was adapted from my journal.

What’s your story?

We’ve been hearing about it for years now, about this emerging adulthood where 20-somethings are lost and living unconventional lives. We’re underemployed and living with our parents. We’re idealists and optimistic. We’ve grown up with social media that has morphed us into narcissists taking any opportunity to post, tweet and squawk about ourselves.


What is it with 20 Somethings? via New York Times Oct. 8, 2010

The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright via New York Magazine Oct. 2011

Educated and Jobless: What’s Next for Millennials? via NPR Nov. 12, 2011

Many ’emerging adults’ are not there yet via USA Today July 7, 2012

A few years back, it fascinated me to see these topics, experiences and attitudes enter the public conscious. Being the “narcissistic” millennial that I am, I thought these were thoughts and feelings exclusive to me and my friends. It was interesting to see that this wasn’t unique to me, but it was part of a larger social trend. It was a generational thing, and it validated a lot. I wasn’t alone in the ambiguity of early 20s, and it was OK to have a quarter-life crisis.

It’s a conversation that doesn’t seem to be going away. Just yesterday I got into yet another conversation about my generation. I’m less enthused to hear about it all now, as it seems there’s nothing to add that hasn’t been said or that doesn’t just state the obvious observations. Regardless I’m still intrigued by what is being said about my generation.

I liked this podcast because it put a positive spin on it all. Instead of focusing on our search for jobs and meaningWe’re creative, innovative… the next greatest generation! We’re changing things up, creating new norms and emanating innovative ideas and energy.

Yet one idea we still abide by, perhaps you’ve encountered it, is the whole “What do you do?” This question has an implicit meaning. It’s an abbreviated version of “What do you do… for a living?” Or more specifically “What do you do from 9-5?” It can appear that the answer to this question is inseparable from our identities. Perhaps for some it is or was. Perhaps it’s the easiest way to sum ourselves up in brief encounters.  It does provide information of value, but does this common question have to be the first one outside of “What is your name?” when meeting someone new. It’s appropriate in an office, but why do we carry it to less formal settings as well?

In Indonesia this was not the case, at least in the area where I lived. I can’t speak to the culture of a big business-centric city or other islands with their differing local cultures. However, with the people I regularly came into contact with, the information they shared about themselves in introductions included 1.) What town, village or region they were from, 2.) Their religion, 3.) Their birth order within their family, 4.) If they were married or single, and 5.) If they had children of their own. I don’t recall getting around to what a person did for a living until a while later into a conversation. In fact sometimes when I asked, it seemed aside from the point.

As I was preparing to leave and considering those elements I appreciated in East Javanese culture… the warmness, hospitality, the focus on working together and supporting one another… this way of identifying ourselves outside of what we do for a living did not occur to me as something I might want to hold onto.

Now it’s in my thoughts after having answered this question frequently upon returning and not having a set title (aside from my former one.)

What if we took this cultural idiosyncrasy and applied it here? What if we broke the U.S. norm derived from a time when “what you do” from 9 to 5, more or less was the same for the duration of your career and perhaps rightfully so displayed something telling about you?

We are finding new ways to identify ourselves outside of that. It’s in the clever quips in the bio sections of personal websites and social media, and it’s perpetuated through the curated images we portray of our lives online. It shows there’s more to us than a title on a business card. Yet why face-to-face does the question “What do you do?” remain one of the first we ask?

Before putting all this thought into it, I noticed a little while back I had started to ask new people I met at social gatherings, “What’s your story?” It’s candid, a good opener to get someone to talk about something. Sometimes it’s a little unclear. We all have multiple stories after all. If the person needed further prompts, I’d provide: “Who are you? What are you interested in? How’d you get here tonight? Tell me something about yourself!”

I’d like to think it opens the door for that person to tell me about whatever he or she feels is important about himself or herself. I hadn’t thought too deeply about my choice in asking this, other than noticing that once I threw it out there, I liked it and continued to use it. Now it’s more conscious and an interesting experiment in seeing how people define themselves through how they respond. When meeting someone new I put effort into avoiding the obvious question because I don’t want the obvious answer. Give me something better to go off of.

This podcast got me brewing as I noticed that the millennials featured had great stories that told who they were without a title. They weren’t defined by a typical job but through what they weren’t getting paid to do whether it was volunteering, pursuing unpaid work, or blogging.

Being that I’m in a transition phase, I can take liberties with my story telling. I can stick with the tried and true whole living in Indonesia/Peace Corps/new to New York/exploring my options story or I can dive right in to any one of the other things I’m currently interested in and pursuing. I dance around these questions. That’s probably why I even started using the whole “What’s your story thing?” My story varies from person to person because I don’t have one single thing I’m doing or have been doing that I can default to as I could if I currently possessed a business card with some cool title on it.  In the interim, as it seems a business card with a title is an important thing to have to answer the question “What do you do?” and because people are less interested in your birth order, religion or marital status, I’m considering something in the likeness of Oskar Schell’s business card which plays to not one single story, but to the variety of stories I have to tell.


29 Jul


As I find myself in a transition, so does this blog. Thank you to everyone who has followed along so far. I plan to continue blogging but the content shall shift and change as I do. Not only do I have a lot of great travel and summer photos to share, thoughts on completing my Peace Corps service and readjustment in the U.S., but I shall also embark on my next adventure in this upcoming month…

One week left!

27 May

How does it feel to wake up with only one week left in my Peace Corps service?

Click here to find out

I can hardly contain myself. I’m absolutely giddy, and at any moment I could be on the brink of tears.

Suddenly I feel so free, nothing matters. All of the little things that concern me, stress me, bother me…in a week they’ll all be gone.
Yet at the same time EVERYTHING matters. The time is so limited.  Because of that, all of the things that I have come to appreciate and love about this experience —the people, my village, all of the day in and day out stuff I’ve become comfortable and familiar with — all of the good stuff, equally will be gone in a week. Every moment is precious.

I find myself in an odd dance with everyone around me. Living our lives as usual, yet with the acute awareness of my imminent departure. It’s hard to leave, yes, but to reiterate Erin’s post and something I’ve now felt from the both sides—  it’s harder for the one that’s being left, than the one doing the leaving…

I’m a reflective person. It’s often easier for me to make sense of something in hindsight when I can piece it all together. So for now, I won’t try any further to explain what all is happening in my head. I’d rather focus on a few highlights from last week.

Gelar Seni and an official goodbye

Last Sunday was our school’s Gelar Seni. It is a combination between a graduation ceremony and an arts showcase. If video didn’t take so long to upload and I had software to edit it with, I’d consider posting a few pieces from it. It’s one of my favorite events because it allows me to see my students’ in such a different light where their creativity isn’t limited by the walls of their classroom. (See last year’s Gelar Seni post for some examples.) There were a variety of performances including student bands, dance routines, dramas, the school choir and more. It also gave me the opportunity to officially thank my school community and ask for forgiveness. (Asking for forgiveness is very common here. During special holidays or events or even something as simple as speaking up at a teacher’s meeting, people will often say they are sorry and ask for forgiveness for any mistakes they have made. This includes mistakes that they are unaware they have made.)

Teacher’s Workshop in Bondowoso

After weeks of on and off frustrations with class cancellations, counterparts’ dwindling motivation, and the other typical inconsistencies at my school, we ended on a good note. At our Sustainability Conference  back in March my principal, counterpart and I discussed having a workshop in our district to share our best practices. With some pushing from me and help from the wonderful English teachers at the local MGMP (English teacher’s professional group), we had the workshop last week. It was a hit! Sixty teachers from junior and senior high schools in Bondowoso and English teachers from local tutoring centers attended. They learned a little bit about me, the U.S. (Arizona to be more specific), Peace Corps and a lot about activities and techniques to use in their classrooms to engage their students more and set them up for success in learning English as a Foreign Language. I’ve been receiving emails and texts from teacher’s who’ve already tried out some of the new activities in their classes. They said their students loved it! Hooray for sustainability and spreading best practices!

One last weekend trip

A while back I got the idea to go paragliding in Batu from a few other volunteers who had attempted it. The weather wasn’t right, so they weren’t actually able to do it. Then I kept hearing about it and seeing it. I quickly added it to my “Before I leave Peace Corps Indonesia Bucket List.” It wasn’t too difficult to recruit a fellow volunteer up for jumping off a mountain with essentially a glorified kite.

Here we go! Attempt #1:

Mike had a little more luck with the wind than I did.

Here we go again! Attempt #2

We did it!

Snapshots from THE Indonesian Wedding (part two)

14 May

My last post focused on the first part of wedding celebrations for my host sister. It featured photos from the Ijab which is the actual wedding ceremony. It is custom here for there to be two wedding receptions or pesta pernikahan. One is hosted by the groom’s parent’s and one is hosted by the bride’s parents. Sometimes these parties immediately follow the ceremony or are combined. In the case of my host sister and her now-husband, they chose to have the wedding receptions two months after the ceremony. So the festivities officially concluded this weekend. This post includes photos from the day of reception my host parents (the parents of the bride) held. Instead of holding the reception at our home, they choose to hold it at a local hall, likely because of the sheer number of guests they invited. The above photo of my host father is probably one of my favorite. He just looks like a boss donning his suit, which Indonesians rarely wear in the village. He also is kind of the man around town, well respected and a local RW (sub-division village leader.) So it’s kind of a big deal that he is giving away his second and youngest daughter to be married.

The party was a hit, albeit hot and way more crowded, at times, than the picture above shows. My host brother-in-law (not the newlywed one) later commented that they should have had a bigger place for the 1,200 plus guests that ended up showing up. The crazy thing was even after the party was over and we returned home, more people showed up at our house to give their congratulations. This once again sent everyone around in a frenzy to cater to the guests offering them food and entertaining them. (I’m not sure if you can beat Indonesian hospitality, or at least that of my host family’s.) After it all, the rambunctious place that my home had become was silent again. Everyone had passed out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as tired as I did between the events of this weekend and the event back in March.

All in all it was a great weekend. I was happy that I got to be part of the wedding celebrations, including the wedding party with my matching seragam (uniform).

Photo of the whole wedding party taken by a member of the wedding photography crew. I’m second from the end on the right.

Snapshots from THE Indonesian Wedding (part one)

13 May

The bride and groomAs I approach the finish line of my service, it was fitting that this weekend was spent basked in celebration with my host family and community members for my host sister’s wedding party. Weddings are typically a business matter for my host family rather than a personal matter.  My host mother is a stylist and my host brother-in-law is a wedding decorator and coordinator. They work together and partner up with local caterers and photographers to meet the matrimonial and celebrational needs in the community. I’ve been to quite a few weddings and have even posted about it before. Though, this was a different ordeal because it was personal.

All the stops were pulled out to make it a memorable event. It started with the wedding ceremony back in March, known as Ijab, which this post focuses on. My next post will include the photos from the wedding reception held this weekend.  I’ve written a little bit about the ceremony in between photos, and as usual you can also mouse over the photos for captions. To learn more about Muslim wedding practices you can look here. Though, from my experience, the many Islamic practices carried out here seems to always be masterfully blended with the long-running traditional Javanese/Madurese/Indonesian culture to form a completely unique to Java practice.

Our front yard was transformed overnight into a wedding hall with tents, tarps, carpets and draped cloth. A band comprising of mostly percussion instruments is ready to get it started. The crew, composed of neighbors who’ve been working around the clock, takes a quick break before guests arrive.

When guests do arrive, as is custom the men and women occupy different areas. The men sit outside under the tent. The women sit inside lining the walls of the room. Celebratory flowers, cakes and gifts sprawl across the floor.

The bride and groom take their positions beside each other with the bride’s veil draped over both of them. Both the bride and groom are adorned in jasmine which smells incredible. They wear a splendid mash-up of Javanese, Muslim and modern formal attire.

After the vows and signing the documents, the groom gives the bride a ring and gifts. From what I understand of how my family practices there was no dowry or bride price. Yet the gifts to the bride may have been a modern interpretation or custom along those lines. The gifts included practical items like nice toiletries, new undergarments (Oh la la!) as well as jewelry and they were given from the groom and his family to the bride. Afterwards the newlywed couple goes around and individually greets everyone of their respective sex.

Following that everyone prays for the success, health and happiness of the new couple.

No Indonesian occasion would be complete without eating together.

And per custom, once everyone eats, they grab their snack boxes and head out.

Once most of the guests have left the photo shoot begins. Shortly thereafter everyone changes back into their house clothes and gets right back to work taking down decorations and cleaning up.

Snapshots from Tanjung Puting National Park

19 Apr

I just got back from a short trip I had been fantasizing about for a while. It was essentially the Disneyland Jungle Boat Cruise— but the real life version of it. My friends ElleJohn and I spent a few days voyaging down the Kumai and Sekonyer Rivers in Kalimantan, better known to most as Borneo. This is part of  the Tanjung Puting National Park, a conservation for the jungle and it’s inhabitants which includes orangutans. Through talking to a local guide we got wind that unfortunately bits of this area are still being sold off little by little to make room for more palm plantations. This is especially maddening?  saddening news after having the opportunity to visit a place like this.

Despite that if you’re into ecotourism it’s a worthwhile little adventure.  Here’s a few snippets:

(Mouse over for captions.)

Snapshots from iGLOW

3 Apr

iGLOW. I believe I’ve mentioned this in a post or two. It’s by far been the most exciting, stressful and encouraging thing I have worked on here, and last weekend it happened. I’ll give you more details in another post. But, for now I wanted to give you a little taste with my favorite pictures from that extended weekend camp. Enjoy (and mouse over for captions!)

Registration time!

Lined up and ready to go for the blindfolded obstacle course

One team member guides another through the blindfoldeded obstacle course

Bidding at the values auction

Twenty-five and feelin’ alive

25 Mar

Last Sunday was my birthday. I spent most of it on a bus returning to my site after an amazing two weeks that included conferences and some traveling around Central Java and Bali once more.

That doesn’t mean it was a dull one or went without celebration. The night before a dream of mine was realized…


…to have Mexican food and margaritas!

And after returning, since my birthday is exactly 20 years and three days before this little one…


…my host family being as adorable and awesome as they are, decided to have a birthday party for us.


So attending my birthday party was a gaggle of pre-schoolers and neighbors that endearingly call me “Tanta Nicole” or “Aunty Nicole.”


My birthday was splendid on all accounts.

I still have roughly 10 weeks before I am officially done. I know it’s going to be difficult to leave this experience behind because of the amazing people here both in my Indonesian community and among the PCV community. However, I’m truly excited for the possibilities as I prepare for the next chapter in my life. Essentially as I enter twenty-five I feel fortunate and enthused.

I just wanted to give a quick update being that this has been my longest absence without a post (nearly two months) since I started this blog. The reason for that is simply there’s a lot going on.

In addition to preparations to leave here and plans following that, a few other things that have been occupying my time and mental energy were/are:

My host sister’s wedding

The sustainability conference and the closing of service conference. (It’s an essential piece to ensuring my work is continued once I’m gone. Also one of the last opportunities to be with the complete group of volunteers I arrived with.)

and iGLOW, iGLOW, iGLOW!

Glow logo

iGLOW stands for Indonesian Girls Leading Our World, and it’s a leadership camp for young women. We’ve been preparing for it for months now, and just yesterday we had our training of trainers workshop. It was a success, and I’m delighted to see all of this hard work come to fruition in just a few days.

So you can expect more updates soon thereafter with more on that. Thanks for staying tuned!