Tag Archives: Peace Corps


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…

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!

Simultaneously speeding up and winding down

15 Jan

It seems about that time… for an update. A real one.

In the beginning there was so much I wanted to share, but not enough time to be writing blogs all day. I had to experience it!

Likewise, I found it hard to keep up with all the places my overstimulated mind was racing. So I tried for a post once a week.  Then things slowed and starting sinking in a little deeper. The things I wanted to share were more complex, difficult to summarize. Blog posts didn’t seem as appropriate of a format.  So despite a few exceptions I tried to keep you entertained with more pretty photos and short bits and pieces here and there. So now where are we in the life of this blog? I’m trying to keep it alive because if nothing else it forces me to continue documenting this experience. It forces me to continue writing and taking photos. It forces me to continue evaluating what’s interesting and worth sharing here, and what’s going on in my world.

So what’s going on in my world?

Well weather-wise we’re in the midst of rainy season, where nearly everyday we are blessed with a shower that varies both in duration and strength. Being from Arizona, where rain is infrequent, I absolutely love it. It reminds me of the monsoon season but pretty much every day. This also means I feel a bit more “PC” in my day to day life as power outages are much more frequent. This causes me to always be on guard for the next blackout with my headlamp in position and ready-to-go, much to my host family’s amusement.

And because Oscar Wilde once said “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” I’m not going to linger there…


The second semester of school started last Monday after an official two-week break. (Which was basically an unofficial month-long break.) And I have to say, the seven days following it have probably been my most productive in terms of work. Every day I’ve come home with a true sense of accomplishment and also fairly tired. This sort of productivity was not fathomable to me last year. To give you an idea of what an “accomplishment” is at this point:

  • It’s my counterparts taking turns to write down our weekly lesson plans that are being saved, printed and stored in a binder to be used again or adapted next year. (Yes, it took a year and a half for this to happen. Previous documentation of what happened every day in class was spotty.)
  • It’s a counterpart showing up to school with a worksheet she created herself and not some shoddy thing found online.
  • It’s my counterparts writing the daily agenda on the board so students know what they can expect to do that day in class, and there is no confusion over whether or not there was homework.
  • It’s my counterparts more frequently stepping up and out of their comfort zones with methods and activities that both they and the students desire, but that was previously left up to me to implement.

Overall it’s me letting go of the reins and consequentially not feeling as needed. It’s a sort of bittersweet moment in sustainability. It’s not over, but it’s currently leading me to feeling much more fulfilled.  It’s also motivating me to really follow through with this and finish what I’ve started. I’m now a little more freed up to focus more attention to other projects. One of which that I’m extremely excited about, is a girl’s leadership camp to be held in March. It’s dubbed iGlow (Indonesian Girls Leading Our World), and it’s an expansion of what a few volunteers started last year. More on that later.


I think some were slightly concerned after I posted this little bit about some dental issues. After several sporadic, cancelled and re-scheduled appointments it has all been resolved. The grand total of my cavities came to four. It was a hell of a lot better than nearly all of my teeth having cavities. Even better news was that they were relatively small. So small in fact, that the dentist didn’t use any anesthetics. (To tell you the truth I didn’t even know people needed that for fillings. I also didn’t know they actually drilled into your teeth, and I’m glad I didn’t know that beforehand.)


I mentioned earlier last month that I was contemplating going off Facebook. Whether this is unthinkable for you, or you could really care less, I did it. I’m off Facebook, minimally for a month. I figured it’d be a fresh way to start off the new year. I’ve also gone back and forth about the pros and cons of social media for quite some time. (See links below) It really is a love-hate relationship. That’s why for the time being I am OK with our separation, but I know we’ll inevitably be together again.


  • The IRL Fetish by Nathan Jurgenson of The New Inquiry
  • An  interview with the author of a new book on how we expect more from technology and less from each other

Vacations and travel

Due to those dentist appointments, iGlow meetings and other semi-official business I’ve spent a lot of time in Surabaya recently. It sufficed as a home base as I bounced all around East Java between trips, and it was a destination in and of itself for Christmas.

All that bouncing around led me to some familiar places and slightly beyond to some new ones.

For the second year in a row I accompanied teachers and the twelfth grade class on a study tour to Jogja. I spent 35 hours on a bus within a 65 hour period. If that doesn’t deserve some sort of badge or ribbon I don’t know what does. This especially considering five of those hours were spent stationary, on the side of the road, in the wee hours of the morning, holding my bladder and dozing in and out of uncomfortable sleep while a small group of teachers backtracked to retrieve a student who had accidentally been left behind.

Other trips went more smoothly.

I did a rafting trip in Probolinggo, spent Christmas at the Sheraton in Surabaya (a vacation in and of itself), made my way to the isolated Meru Betiri National Park in Banyuwangi to see sea turtles, then ventured on over to Lombok and the infamous Gili islands for New Years.

I had equal parts adventure and luxury. I walked barefoot in the pouring rain for five kilometers through the jungle. (Yes, I now have one of those stories to tell my grandchildren.) We were drenched, my sandals had broken (hence the bare feet), my cell phone died due to the downpour, and we even got snarled at by a wild boar.

The luxury end of that spectrum was just days prior when I indulged to an uncomfortable level at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on Christmas Eve at the Sheraton. It was a splurge at $14 U.S. It may have been steep enough to deter others from the group I was staying with not to ikut,  but I couldn’t pass up toast with butter (real butter) and marmalade;  cornflakes with honey and topped with toasted almonds; blueberry yogurt with granola; french toast; mini-waffles with all those golden nooks and crevices; a cheese platter with feta, cheese, cheese, cheesecheesecheese!freshfruitplattersaladbarham and… shall I go on?  That morning I had awoken in the comfiest bed I’ve laid in in nearly two years, complete with a down comforter. The night before I had taken a hot shower. It was preceded by a hot bath. Because I COULD. Luxury indeed.

I realized two things during these travels: 1.) I am now more enthused and baffled by what once was normal (See the paragraph above) than anything that once was exotic when I arrived. 2.) I sometimes forget how lucky I am.

This first point I realized during that buffet and also when I arrived in the Gilis where it was confirmed that variations in cuisine do exist.  One day a burger and fries, the next day Indian food, the next day Italian… I was a very, very happy girl.

I have yet, though, to get some good Mexican food in me.

The second part I realized on my last day as I was riding a boat back to Lombok from the Gilis with several Australians, other Americans and mostly Indonesians. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country with endless travel opportunities and adventure if you’ve got the time and money. Which fortunately I have one of those things. (Guess which one it is based off my comments on the $14 U.S. buffet)

Beyond PC

Ah yes. The question everyone wants to know. “What are you doing after this?” I’ve had this conversation with probably almost every person I’ve been in touch with in the last month. The answer… to be determined. I have several more solid ideas now than I did a few months back. It’s become evident to me that I’m ready for a new challenge, yet what that entails is not entirely clear yet.


I’ve slacked off in the photo department more recently. I’ve been relying much more frequently on my point-and-shoot and photos from friends, which you can enjoy below. (They’re in no particular order and you can roll over for captions.)

In conclusion of this hodge-podge post…

… as time is running out, things are simultaneously speeding up and winding down. I’ve got about five months left, a lot of work to keep me busy, but also a determination to enjoy it.

Confession Sunday 1.13.2013

13 Jan

It’s not even over yet and I’m already reminiscing. Meaning… I watch this video way too much:

This video was made earlier last year to welcome the new group of volunteers to Peace Corps Indonesia. It’s a nice little peek into what our lives are like here, and I can’t help but get warm fuzzies every time I watch it.

The video is a compilation of short snippets shot by PCVs around East Java and masterfully combined by a Miss Elle Chang.

This is a video I for some reason still haven’t gotten around to posting yet either. It shows a day in the life of an Indonesian village. It was created by a group of volunteers and edited by Mr. Timothy Curtin during our group’s pre-service training nearly two years ago!

Maaf! for the delay but hopefully that gives you some idea of what this experience has been like. Additionally, I will post an actual update here real, real soon. So sit tight folks!

A different kind of celebrity

18 Sep

Note: Some may be wondering what the response has been here to the YouTube film that has sparked protests around the Muslim world. While there have been protests in major cities, so far the protests have been relatively peaceful. Police have had to use tear gas and water cannons to control the crowd and there has been burning of American flags. This is obviously unsettling, but I just want everyone to know that where I am I have been largely unaffected. So far I have not felt any adverse reaction to this being an American living in East Java. All of the Muslim people I know are peaceful and life has been going on as usual. Additionally, Peace Corps does an excellent job of keeping volunteers updated on developments as volunteer safety is a priority. If you are curious to see where protests have been happening The Atlantic Wire has a map of where protests are taking place. I think it’s also important to remember that words said or actions taken by some do not represent everyone or even the majority in any given group. It saddens me that individuals can incite so much anger and hate, especially as someone who works towards breaking down stereotypes and barriers everyday between Muslims and Americans. That’s all I will say about that, and now to our regularly scheduled programming…


It’s not a word that’s meant to be derogatory, but it still gets under my skin.

It means foreigner. Typically it refers to Caucasian people, but it can suffice for any foreigner.

There’s also Tourist and Mister. The latter of which I believe is actually intended to be polite.

Regardless, to me it says, you and I? We’re not the same.

You’re different.

Continue reading

A trip to the dentist

25 Jul

I was going to make this a Confession Sunday post, but I can’t wait. I need to get this out in the open…

My mouth is forever tainted.

It is cavity-ridden.

I’m not talking like one or two cavities which might be standard for some five-year old in the U.S. after blowing through his Halloween stash. I’m not talking four or five, which might be particularly unpleasant news from the dentist. I’m talking like almost every tooth in my mouth now has a cavity of some sort whereas a little over a year ago I did not have one.

Let that sink in.

I know. I was in disbelief too—dentist had to show me. Though I wasn’t sure what I was looking at since I’d never gotten one before. With a mirror tilted at just the right angle he pointed out each tooth and said “cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity…this one is ok, cavity, this is ok too, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity…”

Peace Corps volunteers’ health and dental care is put in the hands of Peace Corps itself. Each post has a medical staff that minimally consists of a Peace Corps approved doctor and a medical assistant or nurse. The dental work, at least in the case of Indonesia, is outsourced to a facility deemed to meet U.S. standards in the host country. ← a note on this later

Aside from any medical or dental issues that may arise during service, all volunteers are given an annual physical, as well as, a dental check-up and cleaning. Fortunately I haven’t suffered a whole lot physically in this country.[i]
While other volunteers here have had their bouts of giardia, dengue, e. coli, fungal infections and who knows what else, I had always felt fortunate to have only had a cold or flu. And it wasn’t even as bad as the annual cold or flu I’d get back in the U.S. Other than that I have suffered from the occasional food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea. Sakit perut or “sick stomach” is what the Indonesians call it. I doubt anyone could refute that that is not part of Peace Corps. In fact, loose bowel movements aren’t that unordinary and I’m fairly sure that talking about it and other shitastrophies are running jokes in almost any Peace Corps country. The other day I read an online story and in the comments section someone had said something to the effect of “You must have been a Peace Corps volunteer. We always considered shitting your pants initiation into Peace Corps Turkmenistan….” Don’t ask me what I was reading.

Seriously. I can’t remember.

Fortunately, I have not had that experience, nor this one. It’s a good thing too because I can really be a baby about any brush with illness or injury.[ii] So luckily no one has had to put up with that side of me yet.

As it turns out, I couldn’t get off that easily.

Let’s go back a bit, shall we…

My pristine teeth were once a point of pride. Prior to Peace Corps I had never had a cavity.[iii] I had also gone to the same dentist my entire life. Dr. Kline is one of the most gentle, kind-hearted men I’ve ever met. As a kid it was easy to assume he had a double life as a superhero. He was just that great of a person. As the years wore on his deepening wrinkles portrayed nothing but a lifetime of smiling. This was very apt for a dentist.  His staff was devoted. They remained consistent figures in my life. Every six months I would see them. We would catch up. Not only did they know me by name, but they knew more about me than your average dental staff should know or would care to know. It gave the growing city of Chandler and the sprawling suburb of Phoenix a hometown feel.

This led me to be one of the only people I knew who would proclaim “I love going to the dentist!” How could you not when you were in the hands of Dr. Kline and his tender staff? They knew me. They knew my teeth.

More dental history

I had braces for a year and a half in high school and a palette expander. My mother had a hard time justifying the cost of orthodontics just to give me a bigger mouth. Nevertheless she conceded. So even my few feral teeth shaped up. A year or two later I had my wisdom teeth out. Two of which were becoming impacted and thus threatening their newly arranged peers. Tragedy was avoided.

And so yes. My teeth were a point of pride. I felt fortunate to have what many people told me were “good genes” and access to great dental care throughout my life. People often commented, “They’re so white”[iv] and “They’re so straight. Did you have braces?” Why, yes. Yes I did. Please continue to adorn me with praise of my gorgeous smile and the gems that make it so winning.

As a direct result of this kind of attention that my teeth frequently got me, as well as the self-confidence instilled in me from Dr. Kline and his staff from a young age, I enjoyed my dental hygiene practices. I was always excited by the fact that a visit to the dentist meant walking away with a bag filled with goodies—new toothbrush in the color of my choice, travel floss and toothpaste from a selection of flavors, coupons for more dental products. Score. I swear by Oral-B® Glide floss[v], which I stocked up on before I came to Indonesia. It’s like flossing with silk ribbons for heaven’s sake! I also am a big fan of Sensodyne®  Pronamel® toothpaste which had the stamp of approval from pre-dental school friends. They were just about the only people outside of the dental office who’d humor me in discussions of the horrors of acid wear on your enamel and brushing too hard.

And so poor David, I feel ya bud. I find myself wondering the same thing: “Is this real life?”

Could this be happening to me?

And how can it be?

You can ask most anyone back home. I’m not a sweets person. I don’t mind them of course. But I would take a garlicy hummus over chocolate cake almost any day, and I rarely eat candy. I don’t buy the stuff. So I only eat it when it happens to be around. We just can’t let it go to waste.

Indonesia changed things. When the only accessible comfort and taste of home is something sweet (Oreos and Snickers), it’s what you go to in times of need. So yes, I’m guilty of indulging in much more candy and sweets than any other time in my life. I’ve undergone emotional and mental stresses that have pushed me over the edge. They’ve transformed me into a monster who considers two Snickers bars (or was it three?) a dinner when I don’t have the heart to eat another plate of rice and tofu.  That only happened once. Don’t judge me. I’ve become something that makes up reasons why I must immediately consume an eight-piece pack of fun-sized Snickers and half a cinema-sized box of Sprees upon receiving a care package filled with nothing but candy. On a particularly rough day I wallowed in my room hunched over a full-sized Butterfinger.  It wasn’t until I was licking the chocolate smeared wrapper clean that I realized how pathetic I would look to anyone who could have seen behind my closed bedroom door at that moment. Oh, the despair.

And now I pay for it.

Earlier this month we went to the dentist in groups of five, scheduled every evening following our mid-service training activities. I was the first in our group to have my checkup and cleaning. It lasted all of 10 minutes and the quality of care was questionable. Our Peace Corps doctor admits this and has agreed that we will get a second opinion.

I walked out into the lobby. The four others looked up. We played a guessing game.

“Guess how many cavities I have.”

“None” was the first response because every PCV in Indonesia knows how surprising that would be after a year on the desa diet of the overly fried and sweetened.

After thirty seconds or so of way-too low guesses, with composure masking a tinge of rage, I informed them that, no. In fact, almost every tooth in my mouth had a cavity.

To which the responses were consolation followed by fear for the results of their imminent visits.

I came close to crying as the next volunteer made her way to the dentist’s chair. But I held it together, partly so because I was just in shock. I’ve never heard of someone having almost all of their teeth have cavities. Or at least anyone I know. It doesn’t make sense. I mentally reviewed my dental history. Then I blamed some greater being or outside force. What have I done to deserve this? Didn’t I do everything right? I use Glide® floss and brush twice a day with a soft-bristled brush!  I even swish water around in my mouth after having a sugary drink or snack. Why me?

As selfish as it is, it didn’t help that one by one they came back clean. No cavities. Only one other volunteer had a good number, but it was nothing to compete with mine.

And so upon returning to the hotel the guessing game continued, and we joked that I won the cavity contest to mask my inner pain.

I felt my mortality. So I am not immune to everything. Huh.

Then came the shame. How can I ever go back to Dr. Kline? And what of my now-dental school friends? What will they say? A series of familiar faces shaking their heads in disappointment rotated through my mind.

Now that I have returned to site I’ve been compelled to up my dental hygiene game. I’m still not completely convinced this can be as I wait to hear back from PCMO Dr. Leonard. Will there be another dentist’s appointment? Will I have cavities filled here? And if I don’t how much worse will my teeth deteriorate in this next year?

In a way it’s melodramatic. (I told you I was a baby about injury and illness.) And what’s worse is, secretly, the one thing that makes me feel better is walking down the main street to school and seeing the toothless grins of the elderly and the children skipping to the elementary school with teeth rotting out of their heads.

First world/Whitegirlproblems#? Maybe. It’s devastating to me. Look what I have sacrificed to be here!

Look what I had to sacrifice in the first place, something as meaningful and miniscule as a bit of pride and my perfect dental record in a land where people only go to the dentist to get their aching teeth yanked out.

Photo credit: The fantastical Elle Chang.


[ii] I once got a black eye and a hairline fracture in my orbital bone. I was fairly certain my face would never go back to normal.back

[iii] It is possible I once had a cavity in one of my baby teeth that has since fallen out. So it doesn’t count.back

[iv] Full disclosure, I did have my stint with Crest Whitestrips post-braces in high school. It was a thing. Everyone did it, but didn’t like to admit it. I must say though, I started out at a pretty good place not being a coffee, tea or soda drinker.back

[v] Formerly Crest® Glide floss.back

[vi] Thank you Jay for the footnote idea.back

Snapshots from the past six months (And a few things I’m learning about photography)

22 Jun

This post is a bit random but I was looking through pictures from the last six months and here are my favorites: (Mouse over for captions and context. You can also click the photo to see it larger.)

The photos don’t have much to do with each other, other than they give a small glimpse into my life here. But also I noticed a few things in going through my photos.

1. My favorite photos almost always include people. For whatever reason I find them much more engaging.

2. They are always my best, technically-speaking. The above photos have little to no editing. (Part of that is because I finally learned how to set a custom white balance. If you’re learning to use a DSLR like me and you haven’t tried this feature yet, I highly suggest messing with it—it makes such a difference in getting the right colors.)

3. Good photos are few and far between. I’ve taken many more pictures in the last six months than any other period in the past. A few thousand. Many were deleted because they just didn’t turn out, and I fear I’m becoming a bit of a snob when it comes photos. So out of all those, these nine were my favorites (excluding those I’ve posted for other special events or from my travels.)

4. It’s more difficult to photograph every day life than it is to take good photos while traveling. It’s easy to be inspired by new sights and experiences so that you can’t help but start snapping away. It’s much more difficult to see every day life with fresh eyes and a sense of wonder.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder” – E.B. White

Look Ma, I made the news!

29 Apr

And of course I would make this face …..

I want a dog!

10 Mar

I may or may not have already been secretly planning/hoping I could adopt a dog when I went into the Peace Corps.

I have wanted a dog pretty much since my sophomore year of college when I moved out of my parent’s house and had my own place. I even went looking for a dog several times. I would visit the pound, pick one out and say to myself if it was still there in a few days then it was meant to be. And then I wouldn’t go back because I knew it was not practical.

The funny thing is, on one trip when my roommate and I went to the pound for me to get a dog, she somehow left with a cat. So I kind of failed. But I keep telling myself eventually I will get a dog.

Well the reason I bring this up today of all days is because three things happened that reminded me how much I want a dog.

  1. First off, one of the shows I was helping with today (I work at a local TV station) featured a super adorable and sweet chihuahua that was up for adoption.  Even though I know I can’t bring one with me to Indonesia, a part of my was scheming about how I could have that dog.
  2. Secondly, I read this article that talks about the bond between a soldier and the bomb-sniffing dog he worked with and how the two both died recently. This is embarrassing to say, but it made me tear up a little — in fact I couldn’t read it all at once. I had to regain my composure and come back to it so it wouldn’t be noticeable that I was crying.
  3. Then I came home, checked my Facebook and this appeared before my very eyes and in my feed. It basically talks about how awesome it is to adopt a dog in the Peace Corps.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is all a sign.

P.S. This is also kind of embarassing, but my sister and I like to watch videos of puppies and dogs on YouTube in our spare time. So now I will leave you with one such video:

Ok, just one more. . . this is one of my favorites!

UPDATE (3.11.2011): I’ve just been informed via a current Peace Corps volunteer in Indonesia that there is a policy against keeping pets there. Booo!

Oh well,  someday. . .