I always have mixed feelings about leaving the country for an extended period of time. On one hand, it’s extremely exciting to go somewhere new (or go back to somewhere old) and experience cultures far different from ours in America. There are new languages to learn, foods to try, places to go, friends to meet and reunite with, and research projects to be done. On the other hand, I feel guilty leaving friends and family back home because I know that there are fun and exciting things going on there as well. Plus, it’s challenging to try to keep up friendships when you can’t just drop by someone’s place for a visit, or when you don’t have internet or phone access for weeks at a time. It’s hard keep up with the everyday details of people’s lives, which is a lot of what friendships are based on, and that can be stressful! Luckily I’ve learned that real friends don’t forget you when you leave and that when you come home everything goes back to normal. Unfortunately when you go away for a long time, you also risk missing big events- for example, I’ve been invited to multiple weddings that I couldn’t go to because I was out of the country, including one this fall that I am bummed to miss.
I’m in no way complaining about my life; I love doing field work, and I think everyone knows that I’ve been itching to get back out there since pretty much the minute I came back from Indonesia last year (I am in no way cut out for an office/city-bound life!), but I am also cognizant of the fact that it kind of sucks for my friends and family that I’m not around all the time. Of course, I try to mitigate this by incessantly reminding people that they can always come visit ME- who doesn’t want to take a vacation to Bali?- but alas, it’s too expensive. Hell, there’s no way I could afford it if I weren’t doing this job!
Re: missing things, I constantly miss people while I’m away but rarely do I find myself actively wishing for material things. However, I somehow managed to carve out a bit of time from my busy plane schedule of watching movies, sleeping, and playing Bejeweled to think about my top 5 list of things from Western culture that I’ll miss. Without further ado, here it is:
- Cheese- there is no cheese aside from something pretending to be Kraft singles in Indonesia, which is complete torture for a Midwesterner such as myself
- Wine- goes without explanation, I think
- Wearing tank tops in public- out of respect for the local culture we wear sleeves all of the time when outside of camp, but it’s so hot that sometimes this is a super drag!
- My (stuffed animal) dog- sorry Pongo, but there was no room in the suitcase for you buddy
- Having clean feet and no bug bites- again goes without explanation
On the flip side, there are some awesome things that can only be experienced in Indonesia… so to even things out, here’s the top 5 list of those:
- Wildlife and the forest in general-the obvious choice for #1! Orangutans, gibbons, sun bears, tarsiers, hairy caterpillars, birds big and small, and the list goes on, not to mention the trees and pitcher plants and other vegetation…
- Avocado juice- along with every other kind of juice that you can get from little warungs (little food places on the street that will sell you rice and veggies for about $1 a meal), this is a mix of fruit, ice, and sweetened condensed milk. I know it sounds gross but it’s delicious, especially when chocolate syrup is involved
- Motorbike rides to remote field sites- SO FUN
- Fiercely competitive badminton games
- A cold mandi (Indo version of a shower) after a long sweaty day in the field- I’m convinced this is one of the best feelings ever, hands down. Nothing like dumping buckets of water on yourself to re-energize for the rest of the day. The trick is to timing your mandi correctly. If you do it too early, you start sweating again, but if you do it too late you risk actually being cold when the sun goes down. It’s really a delicate balance!
Anyway, travel update: posting this from the Hong Kong airport- only about 7 hours of traveling to go! I feel like I stepped into a time warp since I crossed the date line from the west, but all is good.