Yes, it is the week after Thanksgiving, but it’s never too late for a post about what you’re thankful for, right? Gratitude has been a big theme for me this year. I have been practicing gratitude by trying to intentionally name the things I am thankful for as I experience them each day. It helps that I’m in a place where I feel very blessed and fulfilled. Here’s a list of a few of the things – in no particular order – that color my days and brighten my life:
1. I am thankful for the children that greet me on my way home from school every day. If I’ve had a bad day and I’m feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, these kids always lift my spirits. It’s hard to stay angry when a gaggle of adorable elementary school children gleefully yell, “MISS SARAH!” as I ride by. I’m also grateful for the old man who sits on his porch next to the little mosque on my street. Every day we nod and monggo at each other. Even though I don’t know his name and we’ve never actually talked I’m grateful for this routine and daily reminder that I’m in a community where people sit on their porches and greet passersby.
2. I am grateful for my students, especially those mentioned in the previous post, and I’m especially grateful that they’ve opened up to me. It’s not all serious stuff either. They can be sassy and they don’t mind making fun of me. We can share a sense of humor and have inside jokes. They’re a hoot.
3. I am extremely grateful for my host family. I really think I was placed with the perfect host family (for me). I honestly can’t think of anything I would want to change about this situation. One thing I really appreciate about my host family is how supportive they are of each other (and me) even if they/I don’t follow the traditional path. For example, a common line of questioning here is, “Are you married? Will you get married when you go home? What is your plan for getting married? You don’t have a boyfriend? Really?” My host family never asks questions like that. They have, in recent months, asked me once or twice about the whole “do I want to get married” thing. But on many more occasions they have said I should go to graduate school and work and think about those things before marriage. What Indonesian family says things like that?! They also told me I shouldn’t worry about not having a boyfriend because any guy in America would be lucky to marry me and there’s plenty of time for that later. And it’s not only me – I have several unmarried host siblings/other relatives in their late 20s and 30s (male and female!) and I have never heard anyone in my host family pressure them to get married or even talk about it all. To be honest I’m really curious about what the situation is but I think it’s AWESOME that my host family acts atypically from the average Indonesian family. That’s just one reason that they are wonderful and while I could continue on for a few thousand more words, I will leave it at that.
4. I’m SO grateful for my counterparts. I seriously lucked out in the counterpart department. I’ve had my ups and downs working with CPs but every single one of my counterparts (especially in my second year) is motivated and hard-working. They are always game to try new things and they have great ideas, too. For some volunteers, counterparts can be obstacles. Maybe they don’t want to try something different or they won’t lesson plan with the volunteer or they frequently skip class*. My CPs don’t do these things and so we’re able to work together and support each other. We’re truly stronger together. One of my CPs said that she no longer likes teaching alone because it’s better when there are two teachers. I was touched by that but I don’t think it’s due to my influence – I think it’s a testimony to how great these English teachers are.
5. I’m grateful for my school community. My school is really big. There’s more than a thousand students and about one hundred teachers and staff. That’s larger than the high school I attended! You would think that it would be easy to be lost in the crowd but I really think that SMAN 1 Ngunut lives up to its claim of being a keluarga besar (big family). The teachers aren’t just colleagues; they’re also friends. If someone is sick or a family member passes away the teachers will pile into cars to go visit. If a teacher/family member of one of the teachers gets married that teacher frequently invites the entire staff to the wedding. During Ramadan the teachers frequently break fast together. We also do different activities like playing gamelan or acting ketoprak (Javanese drama) throughout the year. On a personal level, almost all the teachers talk with me in the teachers’ room. I feel quite comfortable hanging out with all the non-English teachers. It probably helps that I’ve gone on trips (student trip to Bali) and done activities (ketoprak) in which no other English teachers join. So it’s normal now for those other teachers to talk and joke with me even though we don’t lesson plan or teach together. I love this big family at SMAN 1 Ngunut.
I wouldn’t feel that this post was complete without mentioning how thankful I am for my family and friends back home. I may be far, far away but the support of my family and friends sustains me and makes me a better volunteer here. I am loving my Peace Corps experience but that doesn’t change the fact that I am SO excited to be home next year with my loved ones. Six more months!
*It helps that my school is huge and we have 6 English teachers. There are a couple teachers who will not be named who frequently skip class and don’t lesson plan and are not motivated or hard-working. Luckily I don’t have to work with these teachers because there’s a wide enough pool to choose from. Most PCVs don’t have this luxury because their schools are smaller than mine.