One of the mantras of overseas living that has resurfaced is the concept that when we are out of our ‘normal’ element at home, the highs of these new experiences are really high and the lows are really low. This has proven to be true here in Bali among other places, so I’m beginning to assume it is simply part of the process of living in a foreign land. When things work out they are magical. The newness of some of the experiences can be so uplifting…but at the same time the tough times can be so isolating and unforgiving.
Examples? Hmm…How about an exemplary day at Green School, which occurred two weeks ago, Wednesday. It all started early in the morning when I woke up to the chanting at the local temple (5:50am daily). Shortly after, Tari (a local Balinese woman who comes over in the a.m. so Chad and I can workout together) arrived promptly at 6am. Chad and I popped out of bed, into our swimsuits and onto our mountain bikes to pedal the mile or so to the local public swimming pool, which is quite a nice place. We paid our $1.20 entry fee, swam a light workout and re-mounted our steeds back to the bamboo village to wake up the kids for a quick breakfast of warm homemade granola, scrambled eggs and mango smoothies (Thank you, Tari!) before I was off to work. I walked down the footpath to the bamboo bridge that crosses the river on my 5-minute jungle trek to school, marveling at the scenery while simultaneously scowling a bit that I had to start my day with a teacher’s duty.
I had duty on the soccer field / playground for the first time, so I arrived at my duty post only to realize that no kids are hanging out at that spot 1st thing in the morning, so I wandered over to the new coffee shop on campus, right next to the playground. Asher (my neighbor and owner of the new coffee shop) made me the perfect latte with his hand-roasted organic Bali-grown coffee beans and I settled into my duty with a big smile on my face, sipping the marvelous concoction. The smile only grew as I watched families arrive at Green School. Chinese, Indonesian, Australian, Dutch, Canadian, American, German, etc…wandered down the gravel paths, greeting each other, kids hugging parents goodbye and scampering across the field to their classrooms. Everyone seemed so happy to be at school, it was quite dreamy.
My teaching day was fun, engaging, fulfilling (insert all the correct adjectives here for a good day at school) and it ended with me retracing my steps over the bridge to my humble new home in the bamboo village. The kids were there to greet me at the door. We played with puzzles, visited the neighbors, played inside, played outside (really, it is all the same here…we’re referring to our home as a 4-star camping experience). The kids ran free among the bamboo village houses (9 in all), visiting neighboring kids (9 kids between age 2 and 11 from India, USA, and Canada), playing with neighboring pets, taking the time to notice the movement of the palm-sized spiders and their webs, trying to catch geckos, etc… It felt very much like we were at a large private campground with friends – the kids packing together barefoot and dirty, playing imaginative games and running from house to house for a quick check-in, water stop or bathroom break before they are off to the next best place. We had a fantastic light dinner of vegetable soup from the Green School garden and a huge salad as well. (Our first Green School CSA drop had occurred earlier that day and it was full of goodies, many of which are grown right around our house.) Come evening time, Ari the massage therapist showed up and put us through the paces of a fantastic Balinese massage one by one, which prepped us for a great night’s sleep. Ahh, Bali.
Then there’s the rougher moments…biking through packs of street dogs hoping not to be bit (they aren’t aggressive, there are just a lot of them…), no longer feeling the freedom to go for a run because of all the street dogs, wanting to care for some of the pooches (saw a really truly awfully pathetic one today and just felt so helpless), walking through spider webs on the trail to school, hoping all the snakes have buried their heads for the moment, wanting a cup of coffee from the coffee shop within sniffing distance but having so much work to do that there isn’t even a moment to visit the bathroom let alone drink something that might inspire increased bathroom visits, cleaning the gecko poop off of a myriad of objects around the house, hoping kinky the rat doesn’t show his face again (he stopped coming by once we started storing our bar soap in the fridge?!?), taking a cold shower because the hot water isn’t running, climbing into a damp lumpy bed with damp sheets and wet feeling pillows (and this is the dry season – we haven’t hit the wet season yet…), finding mold on some of our stuff already… wishing…really, really wishing for a glass of red wine or a margarita. Mosquito-eaten legs, gnat-eaten legs…bug bites galore, especially on the kids. Tales of lice already in the school (last year the lice won, the parents eventually gave up. Hmm…) Asher (coffee roasting neighbor) firing up his flugelhorn right around the time we’re trying to put kids to bed…hoping this practice round doesn’t include him playing along with himself on his recording/playback device that takes one flugelhorn and increases it to two…never would I have imagined having a neighbor in the jungle with a passion for the flugelhorn…being a new ‘bule’ – Indonesian for foreigner (I heard it translated to mutant – should I believe everything I hear?)…feeling like a mutant at times, wanting to understand and get into the local culture but not knowing where to start with a full-time job at a start-up school and a family with two toddlers…wondering who these happy green school families are who NEVER leave. Parents drop their kids off for school, have coffee at the coffee shop, head across the path (5 feet) to the warung (snack bar) for lunch, head into the heart of school for the free wi-fi…(there’s a restaurant opening soon on campus – imagine the possibilities!) On any given day you can wander the school and see somewhere between five and thirty parents just ‘hanging out’, really truly ‘hanging out’. Wishing these parents would stand still because each time they walk up and down the gravel path below my classroom with no walls it is like wearing a bucket on my head and having rocks thrown at it. The kids feel it, too. They lean in, trying to hear each other speak but it is helpless….work to be done on the learning environment for effective teaching and learning to occur. Thank goodness there’s an incredible science lab.
Which takes me right back to the highs. Loving the science lab. Loving having a lab technician (Thank you, Puri) whose sole purpose is to get supplies, manage supplies, set up and break down labs and assist students with lab equipment or questions during lab. Loving having the only ‘closed’ classroom on campus next to the river with sinks and a projector. Loving ending the work day and getting back to the other reason I’m here: to spend time as a family. We had a magical family day today. The days that weekends are meant to be. Sleeping in, reading books in bed, wrestling, a brunch-style breakfast followed by an adventure into the southern part of the island that everyone enjoyed. …out and about until everyone was full of sun, treats, playtime, and happily exhausted, only to return to our amazing quiet bamboo village at night.... The kites are flying high over our heads, some lit up (aah, technology), the insects and frogs are at an all-time high and the neighbors are either out or asleep so the ‘campground’ is quiet. Critters immediately scampering into the shadows as we turned on the lights to reclaim our space. A gecko got caught in the fridge while we were unpacking groceries. Stunned, he survived when Chad noticed him on the final opening of the fridge to put away one more thing. Ethan finally got to hold a gecko. After weeks of careful stalking, success! He was so excited! While the highs are amazing and the lows are requisite but to be avoided, the simple things are quite simply the best and the primary reason we are here – to slow down, be a family, be in a place where we are accessing new experiences that bring joy and wonder to us and our kids and to become better people as we work through the challenges and humbling moments, laughing along the way or preparing to thread it into a story if it is not a good time... stay tuned…