Re-building from rubble.

A lot has changed for me since I last wrote. In March last year, my father died.

I’ve lost a parent before, but this was different. This was final.  No longer was there a foundation of the kind of love, support, and hope that was the relationship I had with my Mom and Dad. Suddenly, I was 24 with no where to stand. I say sudden because that’s what it was (another reason it was different from my mom’s death). His death was painful for him, I know that. I had it described to me. It was sudden, swift and , in my opinion, violent. No one wants that.

I am thankful and saddened that I wasn’t there when he passed. I was on the 0ther side of the world, planning my next project as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Indonesia. I was nearing my second year, and I was only shy of 2 months when everything happened.

When my sister told me quietly over Skype that our Dad had just died, I immediately began grabbing things and throwing them into bags. It didn’t matter what is was that I grabbed, as long as my hands were busy and my mind was occupied. I used packing as a excuse to avoid my host family through that entire day. I knew the moment my sister told me about Daddy that I wouldn’t be returning to Indonesia.

The good-bye to my host-mom was painful and short…I made sure to time it that way. I didn’t want to see her cry or hear her ask when I was coming back. She did both in that small window of time. She hugged me tighter than I knew she was capable and cried for her own loss and for mine. I think she knew I wasn’t coming back either, but she asked any way. I answered in a small voice over and over again “Saya tidak tahu” (I don’t know) and then I was gone.

Now, a little over a year later, I can say the pain of losing my Dad and the experience surrounding it runs deeper than I’ve ever experienced. When my mother died when I was 20, I still had my father. I still had him and he was there. He promised to be here when I came back. His hugs meant the world to me…they always have. His smell. His laugh. His smile. 

My mother’s death left a void that never healed and losing my father widened the gap. The pain of her death echoes inside me, but my Dad’s absence screams. It wracks my body at night and leaves me exhausted through the day. Not only did I lose my best friend and strongest source of affirmation, but I was ripped away from a family I’d built in Indonesia. I could go back (& I will) but the pain of that night will always be with me in some form or another.

I am 25 with no parents. Though my parents are no longer here, I can still find joy in the family I left behind. My 2 sisters, brother, and I lean on each other for support. We hold each other up. We are each other’s foundation.  We’ll take road trips with my father’s urn in the back seat, blasting his favorite music with the window’s down. We’ll scream the lyrics till the sun sets. We’ll find joy with each other and the people who love us.

I decided that life is decidedly short & I will fill this void with as much happiness that I can find. This past year, I’ve been scrambling for a sense of self and I’ve found it by embracing every single part of me. I am a living memory of Quentin and Tovoia. Those are the parts of me and they are beautiful. I leaned on my father’s foundation of affirmation to help me navigate a world that told me I wasn’t enough. I still lean on that foundation and I embrace it. This life I’m living is mine and I choose to live it the way I see it.

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Hitam Manis

“Hitam manis” (Indonesian for sweet black) is not a compliment. When you first hear it, it may feel like one, but after the 100th reminder that you are the “black” exception to a long-held standard ideal of beauty, it is a slap to the face. And the sting resonates long after the words are spoken.
It’s the same as hearing “oh you’re pretty for a dark skinned girl”. Sometimes it’s said like the words are a gift of light I’ve been searching for in a dark room of insecurity and uncertainty. Quite the opposite. It is not a confirmation of beauty; it feels like words urging me to hold tighter to the foundation of what I consider beautiful: An all encompassing, infinite beauty. An all-color, all-shape beauty. I am not “Hitam manis”. I will not claim something that negates someone else, my history and the history of others.
I am beautiful. Plain and simple.

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60 pounds of self-preservation gone

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It is so easy to lie to yourself. I’ve been taking the easy way out for years. I call it “self-preservation through denial”.

After 8 years, it stopped working. Life slapped me hard and I didn’t recover fast enough. The lies I told myself for years were exposed and they couldn’t hide from my scrutiny.

Rather than facing a hard truth about myself and then deciding to re-bury it like I’ve done hundreds of times, I pushed it to the forefront. I acknowledged it as a truth. It was a brand new feeling: knowing exactly who I am at the moment and what I do not know and what I want to know.
It was a huge relief. I was tired of treading lightly in my head.

I write this to say that it is so very,very important to be honest with yourself. Feel what you feel in that moment in its entirety.

It was in these moments of honesty that I formed a new kind of preservation that was all about becoming a better version of myself. It was through this process of honesty that I changed my lifestyle. I ate more (I hardly ate food before) and when I ate food it was good, good food. Real food. I exercised often despite every excuse I made for myself. I walked, dance, kick-boxed and moved more than I had than I had in my 22 years of life. Nothing that happened in my life, I decided, would get in my way. I let go of placing blame on the people I’d blamed for my choices. This time, even with team-support from family, I did not stop when they stopped for whatever reason. I didn’t want to look in the mirror and see all of the empty promises I made myself. It was never easy, it still isn’t, but I think it gets easier. The difference between me now in 2013 and 2012 isn’t just the 60 pound weight loss:(1) I have a much stronger, more urgent need to pursue my goals, (2) I am much more grateful for everything in my life (3) I am happier because I was honest about the things that made me unhappy.

I was waiting for a magnificent change in my life. It took honesty for me to realize that I’m waiting on borrowed time.if there’s something you want, go get it. If you think you can’t get it, try to get it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? Now that you know all of the things that could possibly happen: do it anyway. Feel the fear and go.

Authenticity in Angkots

I like to write notes in my phone. Sometimes I write what I think of people, quotes I hear, and basically any random thing that comes to mind. A week before I left for my permanent site, I wrote how I felt about the amazing PCV’s, Indonesians, and people I have met on my journey so far. I read it to a few PCV friends as my gift on the Angkot (a form of public transportation in Indonesia) on our way to the Swearing-in ceremony. Here it is:
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I learned how important it is to receive validation. To not just know you exist, but that you Live and live with a purpose. To hear that You’re here and you more than matter. Receiving encouragement gives you permission to break free from your self-doubts and allows you to move forward. Today I learned the power of words and how they can either build you up or tear you down.

I met genuine people today. Today I met people with stars in their eyes, and hearts wide open. I saw them, and any walls I’d put up at the moment crumbled. Have you ever met someone so authentic, and so open that you are just drawn to them? You want to be the very best of yourself and you know that they will accept you in any form of who you are. That’s who Met today.

I want to heal the damaged parts of me and move towards living authentically. Thank you for leading by example by being you. I feel brave, I feel loved. I feel genuine joy. I hear echoes of laughter. For the first time in five years, I am genuinely happy. You’ve left a far deeper impact than you know.

Love always.

Five Point Update! An emotional rollercoaster

Sorry, My brain’s been mush for the past month! Here’s a 5 point update:

  1. I learned where I was gonna live 2 weeks ago. It was very, very emotional. I cried…. ALOT.
  2. For the last two weeks, I have been itching with anticipation, anxiety, nervousness, excitement and a surprisingly overwhelming feeling of not wanting to leave my training site. I didn’t want to leave my fellow volunteers and my host family. Over the past 3 months I have become unashamedly attached to my training host family and fellow volunteers in my cluster. (Not in a creepy way, but definitely borderline). When I first met them (and the volunteers before) I was incredibly intimidated and I automtically shrunk within myself.IMG_0534There were SO MANY strong personalities and I felt kind of on the outskirts a little, and a little NOT good enough. But, it was ALL in my head. I had to learn to step outside of myself and breathe a little. When I finally breathed and got out of my own head, things were a whole lot easier and I formed connections I never thought I would.
  3. More crying. I was sworn in 3 days ago. It was emotional, AGAIN. It was Up and Down and Down and Up.
  4. The Next day, I met the Vice Principal/Counter-part at my school. I spent all day with them and felt guilty for feeling so incredibly excited to leave
  5. Now, I have been in my permanent site for 3 days, and right now I love it! The Peace Corps already told me that I will experience many highs and lows in my 2 years and right now I am embracing this emotional High, It feels fantastic. I am here, living my dream and finally moving towards what will be a memorable experience.

Until Next time,

Mani

 

***BONUS POINT*** 6. I’ve lost another 10 to 15 pounds since I’ve arrived in Indonesia, very surprising considering all the fried things I’ve taken in over the past 2 months. I’ll say more about it next time (:

Ch-ch-changes

So much has happened since I’ve posted LAST WEEK. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m on my phone and I have fat thumbs so I’m just going to give a brief update and expand later. Here are the basics:

1. I’ve taken a 21 hour flight from Dc to Indonesia. Well, not directly. A lot of hopping around, stiff backs, soft apologies,and then eventually not caring because sitting for HOURS has broken all of my manners (I lied I mean, come on, I’m me. I have this fear of inconveniencing people so I always try to accommodate others needs above my own. I’m definitely a people pleaser. I should most definitely take care of that….but wouldn’t that be an inconvenience for my therapist? The cycle never ends!)
2.I’ve been in Indonesia since Monday! It’s amazing, it’s beautiful, and it’s humid as hell. Of course there are setbacks but what doesn’t have it’s setbacks? I seriously can’t complain. Everyone has been so kind, courteous, open, and thoughtful. Here people GREET one another!!it is so refreshing to say “Selemat Pagi” (good morning) and have a genuine reply.
3. I’ve been in a continuous daze. I feel as if I’ve been shoved in front of a tv with my lids forced open being fed an overwhelming amount of information at one time. From the language learning, to meeting staff, learning about health, and learning about safety. It has been a lot to take in, but I’m confident that I’m retaining at least half of it.
4. My fellow volunteers are well educated, well-traveled people. I feel like I have so much to learn from them alone. It is hard to meet other people who share your passions, similar dreams, and similar intentions in our goals. It can be intimidating sometimes, because of how much I admire each and everyone of them. Sometimes I’ll talk to a fellow volunteer and they’ll speak of things they’ve already done and seen and I have so much respect for them

5.I’ll be meeting my host family at the end of the week!

Till next time,

Mani