"Turn and face the strange” - David Bowie
Recently I’ve dealt with lots of change (and strange). As of April 12, 2017 I have:
- Moved to a new continent (Asia)
- Moved in with a partner (first time for both of us)
- Quit my job (my first ‘real’ one post-grad)
- Left my hometown (and subsequently everything/everyone I know)
Essentially, I’m conducting one giant experiment on my life and seeing how I react.
All these big changes happening simultaneously have created a loud, nagging voice in my head telling me all the things I ‘should’ do here. I should be meditating in the middle of a rice paddy, becoming one with myself. I should be teaching myself how to ride a scooter, zipping down streets I’ve never seen. I should be making new international friends with fun accents at a beachfront bar. I should be eating foreign food at a local warung where the owner speaks zero English. There’s so much I feel like I ‘should’ do here, but focusing on that only leads to the negative parts of my mind.
When people go to exotic places in this day and age, Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/whatever becomes a constant flowing update of what an amazingly fantastic time they’re having. If you have social media, you know what I’m talking about. By day, they’re most likely swimming in pristine turquoise water whilst developing a perfect caramel-colored tan and drinking bright cocktails, exotic fruits lining the rim. By night, they’re likely to be found dancing barefoot in the sand under twinkling lights in some makeshift beach shack. Once the party is over they head back to their resort, the sound of waves lapping against the sand lulling them into slumber in a plush white bed directly overlooking the ocean, only to awake the next morning to begin yet another perfect day.
I’m doing none of that here.
I usually start my day by slathering on mosquito repellant, creating a slightly fruity (but mostly DEET-y) scent that lingers on me throughout the morning. Once my repellant has dried, I’ll cover up with sunscreen (minimum SPF 50). I haven’t been sunburned here, but also haven’t gotten my perfect tan just yet. Trying to pick out an outfit each day is pretty standard; I wear one of the 4 pairs of shorts I brought with me and pick out either a white or black top due to the fact that I’m perspiring constantly. I wish I could spend all day laying on the beach, but even thirty minutes in the sun leaves me short of breath, dripping with sweat in very uncomfortable places, and desperately seeking shelter.
Change is jarring.
The first room we rented was in a very loud, dense neighborhood, and my boyfriend and I were the only non-Indonesian residents. The house was brand new, yet somehow our toilet refused to flush and we went several days without a working shower. If you took a right turn out our front door, you’d find yourself in an alley with poop on the walls. Bali as an island practices Hinduism, but Indonesia as a whole and this neighborhood are predominantly Muslim. That being said, I was constantly stared at (mostly by children) for walking around in shorts and a tank top. It amazes me how those women wear Hijabs in this heat. We decided to hunt for other accommodation and we’ve since moved to a nearby part of town with a few more Westerners and less fecal matter on the buildings. Bali is gorgeous and I really do love being here, but the shit-smeared streets around our first place weren’t exactly Instagram-friendly.
While I have taken a few picturesque shots for social media, getting used to Bali isn’t always sunshine and rice fields. It’s hard adjusting to a new life in a foreign country. I took so much for granted in the States because life is so easy back home in my comfort zone. I’m able to read every posted street sign. I can look at a piece of food and know what it tastes like. I know the social norms, like how to greet people in passing or how much to tip a server at a cafe. In Indonesia, I feel weirdly left out if signs aren’t written in English because I want to understand everything. I feel dumb asking what specific dishes are from a menu, but want to try new food. I’m embarrassed to be overly excited saying hello to someone I know, and I assume anyone speaking a foreign language around me must be talking about how much of a dumb American I am. It’s amazing that I can make myself feel this shitty in a place this beautiful.
When I have my insecure thoughts, I become anxious about what my life must look like to people outside it. I feel uneasy that I don’t have my daily routine down yet. I worry that I’m just going through the motions. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing here.
I feel the need to portray my new life in Bali as some sort of magical wonderland where nothing bad ever happens.
It’s my twenty-ninth day here, and today, just like every other day, I’m trying to find normalcy and adjust to this new life I’ve created for myself. There’s a lot of things I want to do while I’m living here. I want to learn how to ride a scooter. I want to learn how to meditate. I want to get some freelance gigs. I want to work on being more mindful. I want to learn to accept things as they are, especially my uncomfortable emotions. This past month of extreme change has taught me that you can never truly run away from your problems. You can’t get rid of what’s already part of you. Depression, anxiety, past experiences- they’re all there, whether you live in your childhood home or on a tiny island in a Muslim archipelago. I guess that’s how it works on this weird adventure.