Sunday, August 30, 2009

Something Tells Me I'm into Something Good...

Aug. 30, 2009

This is it. I’m here. It hardly seems real. For months there has been this vague idea that I’d be going to Indonesia, but it never seemed real to me. And now I am actually here, and it still doesn’t seem real.

It’s been an intense couple of days. I left my house in cozy, little Brooklet on Friday morning. Mom and Paul threw balloons on the car and on the driveway for us to pop as we drove over them. The tears overwhelmed me.

Just as I was breathing again, Dad and I arrived at Savannah airport in time for me to start sobbing again. Somehow my feet took me through security to my gate. Later, after I remembered to breathe again, I was looking at my boarding passes. And I realized disaster was upon me. I had forgotten the ticket for the last leg of my flight from Singapore to Jakarta. I had every other boarding pass but not that one because it was Garuda not United and I remember them saying something about them sending that one separately and to bring it because that’s how that airline did it or something and now that I don’t have it I’m going to have to buy another ticket in Singapore and maybe I won’t be flying with the rest of the group because they’ll have to bump me to the next flight and I have no idea when that is and –

In my fever of forgetful wretchedness I went to a pay phone (50 cents for a local call, isn’t that ridiculous?) and called my dad to let him know. He was full of everything will be fine’s and call the travel agency when you get to D.C. And I tried to breathe and let him persuade me to a happier place, even though I knew deep down everything was poised for disaster.

I flew to D.C.

And called the travel agency.

I mean, the travel agency’s answering machine.

Then Dad. And even while he was teaching class, he answered his phone and said that judging from the websites, it looked like everything would be fine.

And moments later I met up with some of the other ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) and discovered that in fact no one else had their ticket from Singapore to Jakarta and it hadn’t been sent in the mail and that everything was okay.

Everyone has that “I know I forgot something” feeling when traveling. I suppose I just needed somewhere to focus all of that energy.

Later I did realize what I had forgotten, which was a few Theatre of the Oppressed books that might have been useful for class. Kind of important, but not nearly as important as a forgotten ticket.

So, now we’re flying from D.C. to Tokyo. Up high over Canada and Alaska before dipping down south again. And I must admit there is a part of me that feels kind of proud for remembering about Great Circle Routes in middle school or whenever, so that I can explain that why we’re traveling so far north is because of the curvature of the earth.

I suppose that does make me a touch smug.

But only temporarily.

No one’s perfect.

The flight was long (about 13 hours), which was to be expected. And the movie Ghosts of Girlfriends Past was incredibly predictable, cheesy, and bad.

Also to be expected.

We then flew from Tokyo to Singapore, another 6 and half hours or so.

I must say that part of me really missed Air India, which I flew on for my study abroad. Just stepping on an Air India plane made you feel closer to being in India. The cheesy cartoon India man welcoming you on the door of the plane. The silly, but useful exercises for keeping your circulation going. Air India made you feel like you were somewhere. United felt like no man’s land.

Of course, I may feel very differently on the return flight.

Once we arrived in Singapore around midnight local time, there was some confusion about whether we were supposed to pick up our checked baggage or not. We had about an 8 hour layover and were leaving to stay at a hotel for the night. No one was seeing their bags at the baggage claim, and everyone official-seeming said that the bags would be fine overnight.

So, we went through the passport stamping and saw a sign for AMINEF (American Indonesian Exchange Foundation) and were greeted by the mass of people who had flown in from Hong Kong. Immediately there was name-greeting and hand-shaking and name-forgetting.

Our mass of very American selves walked to a large purple bus, which took us to a very swanky hotel. I was surprised to learn that we each had our own hotel room. Some people wanted to go downtown and have some nightlife, but many of us wanted to just get some good sleep. Driving there, we had seen a big group of people outside watching TV and a few stalls open still. Five or six other girls and I walked around there for a bit. The huge group of people were watching a soccer or futbol game. As we walked around the area every now and then we’d hear a big, “OHHHHH.” It reminded me of football season back in Athens when people would set up big screen TVs on campus to watch the game that was happening in the stadium nearby. I never did understand that really. But distance can make you think of things a lot more fondly.

After walking around a bit, we went back to the hotel. And I slept. Very well.

Interesting tidbit: there was a large window from the shower into the sleeping area. Maybe it’s best that we each had a room to ourselves.

In the morning we had breakfast and headed off to the airport. Excitement built about finally reaching Indonesia. We got in line anticipating our boarding passes and – found out they didn’t know where our luggage was. It was in a room… somewhere. Maybe. They just had to find it. And they couldn’t board us until they had our bags. So we waited. And then they could board us without our bags because they lied on the forms saying we did have our bags… or something. At any rate we were all good little sheep – or lemmings – and did what we were told and went to our gate and hoped that everything would work itself out, while I worked through my head what the best way to wash two alternating pairs of underwear would be.

The take-off from Singapore was a little nerve-racking. It was raining at the time and we hit some of the worst turbulence I’ve experienced. Lots of ups, downs, shaking, and nervous laughter from the third of the plane that was our group. But we made it through.

They showed a version of candid camera muted on the plane.

Laughter is international.

We arrived in Jakarta, where Nellie (our contact in Indonesia and lovely logistical lady) met us and scooted us to our own section. Eventually we gathered around the baggage claim, and amazingly every single person’s luggage made it to Jakarta.


We’re in Jakarta?

We’re in Jakarta!

This moment that was always a few months away is finally happening right this very second. Isn’t it strange how sometimes you just realize how real everything is?

We all loaded up onto a yellow and blue interior bus and were quickly greeted by Bee Gees karaoke. Not just their big hits though… lots of big love ballads. I actually couldn’t remember who it was until “Stayin’ Alive” came on. This is Jakarta.

At the hotel is an AMINEF table, where we’re handed packets of information. A waitress is passing out fruit drinks in martini glasses to everyone, and I know she wants to give me a drink, but I’m just too encumbered with baggage. So, she follows me to where I sit down. It doesn’t sound even remotely humorous now that I write it, but it made me smile and laugh a little at the time.

We fill out forms, go to our rooms, and even though I don’t think I’m tired, 4 p.m. comes around (about 5 a.m. east coast time) and I’m exhausted. I sleep. I write. I post.

Did I mention I’m in Jakarta?

Oh, and as mentioned in my packet, I ought to mention that the views posted in this blog are mine and only mine. This is not an official Department of State website (I’d be astonished if you thought it was), and the views and information presented are in fact mine and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

See Kelly Go... to Indonesia!

Wednesday night at 10:35 p.m. Approximately one and a half days from now, I will be on a plane, ultimately bound for Jakarta, Indonesia.

Yes, I'm excited.

Yes, I'm nervous.

Yes, I'm mourning the agonizing good-byes that have been crammed into this week.

There is honestly no real way for me to know what the coming year will have in store for me. But what I do know, I'll share with you.

For the next year I'll be teaching English to high schoolers in a vocational school in the town of Majene, West Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here's a map:

(See the sort of bump that juts out on the western side of the island? I'll be on the southern tip of that, somewhere in the midst of the mountains and ocean...)

The reality of this journey is still quite blurry in my mind. How do you comprehend the amount of contact solution you use in 10 months? How do you comprehend your first holiday season away from your family? How do you know what gifts to buy for people you've never met?

This note is scattered, but I will try to make order of it as I am doing in all aspects of my life within the next day and a half.

Regarding staying in touch, there should be a number of ways for me to keep contact. However, I'm not sure which methods will work best until I get there. I will be getting a new phone once I am there. I should have some internet access, but am unsure of its reliability. And of course there is the wonderful world of snail mail. I believe the address where you can send mail is:

Kelly Nielsen
SMKN 1 Majene.
Jl. K.H. Muh. Saleh No 41,
Majene, West Sulawesi

Please note, that this is the address of my school, not the home address. (It sounds like mailing here will be more reliable.) Also, I will be spending the first two weeks in Bandung and Jakarta for my training (and birthday!), so, it may be best to hold off on letters until I'm at my site and have confirmed the address.

While I'm abroad, I'll be keeping a blog about my adventures. The address is:

Put it in your bookmarks. Check it when you think of me. If you go now, it will look excruciatingly boring, but I will do my best to post soon. It may be that I have to post-date a lot of my entries... that may not be the right verb, but I'll do my best to be detailed.

You can e-mail me at No promises on when I'll be able to get back to you, but I'd love to hear from you.

Also, if you want a postcard, please e-mail me your mailing address at I'll be happy to oblige... and make you jealous. ; )

I know there are a good number of things I'm forgetting and leaving out. But thankfully that's why we'll be staying in touch.

I love you all. And miss you all dearly. Please send me your thoughts, prayers, good vibrations, karmic loveness, and anything else you might be keeping there in your soul.

Selamat malam.

Good night.