The loss of my office.

>> 24 August 2015

I have been crying a lot in the last few weeks, because for all my travel fortitude and unreasonable love of sitting on planes, I don't actually handle transition well. The blog has been quiet because I made an early and unannounced exit from Dili under happy but rushed circumstances. I've been back in the US for just over a month, and I miss Timor every single moment of every single day. I don't want to be here. I want to go home.

But that's another story. Today's story is about the worst blow I've suffered since I've been 'back'. People in Dili asked me, "Melody, what are you looking forward to when you get home?" and I usually said "my office!". Most people say things like: hamburgers! traffic laws! white people! streaming internet! my family/friends! Mexican food!, but not me. I felt like I had enough of all of that in my modest life in Timor already. With enough preparation, I could and did make any of my favorite dishes: chili, carnitas, gumbo, biscuits and gravy, all my favorite curries, pot roast, king ranch chicken, anything! My friends and coworkers became as close and complicated as family. I felt like I knew where I was and who I was and what I was doing. For possibly the first time in my life, everything was exactly the way I wanted it and I was happy.

Fast forward to the last couple of weeks. I've been in Honolulu, the bad manners and racist capital of what has come to be my world, attending a two-week orientation to a school I have already been attending for 4 years. My friends and my partner have left- I am alone. I live in a 4ft x 7ft x 14ft container, sharing a bathroom and kitchen with 50 other people. I have no transportation, and everything is even more expensive than I remember it. But, I knew it was going to be this way. I was prepared for all these things, and they didn't matter, because I still had one safe haven to come 'home' to. One constant in the back of my mind upon which I pinned my hopes for a productive and calm semester. I had my office.

My office is perfect. It has a perfect L-shaped desk, full of perfect office supplies (left over from a retired faculty and painstakingly organized by me), with a perfect chair, and a perfect window, and two perfect bookshelves on either side, and a perfect filing cabinet behind. All of my things have sat neatly organized for the last year, awaiting my return. And when Dili was too much for me, I thought of that bright, quiet, clean little place and that was all I needed to find my own refuge and to be ok. "Soon," I thought, "I'll be back in my perfect office and no matter what else is wrong in my life, I'll have my calm center of the universe."

It is perfect.

And it is no longer mine.

The details of the circumstances frustrate me too much to articulate, but I cried for a solid, inconsolable hour when I found out. And then I cried two or three more times for good measure, once in front of the office staff when they took my keys, and once in front of a faculty member for no reason other than that I was still upset about it. I hate this place, I hate this university, I hate being in grad school, and I never, ever feel better.


30 before 30!

>> 22 June 2015

It's the last year of my 20s! Because I love lists, I have decided to do a '30 before 30' list, which is basically a list of things I thing would be cool to do before I turn 30 next year :) This took FOREVER to finish, and I've actually been working on it for a couple of months.

Melody's 30 Before 30
1. Extract remaining wisdom teeth.
2. Get another tattoo.
3. Become ABD and leave Hawaii forever.
4. Publish something.
5. Visit Kauai or Maui.
6. Take a Chinese class.
7. Get a real teaching job.
8. Sing with James in front of people.
9. Fly first class.
10. Fly a kite on a beach.
11. Try veganism again (at least one month).
12. Take the FSO exam.
13. Go SCUBA diving.
14. Spend an entire day at a spa. (DONE!)
15. Visit 30 different countries.
16. Host a proper, fancy dinner for 20+ people (for a charity maybe?)
17. Read a book set in every country.
18. Take a German class.
19. Own a tailor-made dress.
20. Go on vacation alone. (DONE!)
21. Get a bikini wax without dying.
22. Order a lobster (DONE!)
23. Take a cooking class.
24. Take a painting class.
25. Sell a painting. (oh I cannot express the grief in this one)
26. Invest some money in... something.
27. Participate in some sort of race.
28. Organize some sort of charity event (or as part of a team).
29. Learn to make a perfect cocktail.
30. private

31. Give blood (can you believe I've never done this? shameful)
32. Take a road trip.



>> 20 June 2015

I'm in Bali right now for what has turned into an early and extended weekend. I was only going to go for a couple of nights, but while booking, I noticed that the government-issued calendar hanging on my office wall indicated that last week marked the beginning of Eid al Fitri- while Bali is not a majority Muslim island (80% Hindu, actually), it still promised to be an interesting and different experience. Plus, I'd already have the time off work for the holiday, so I should just do it up in Bali, right?? Wrong. As in, the government calendar was wrong. So I scheduled a vacation during a regular work week. Oops.

Bali has been... interesting. I am certainly enjoying myself, but I think this has been enough to put me off of Southeast Asia for a good long time. Everything just feels fake and scammy. I scheduled a tour of the city for Friday morning, and a tour of some temples and cliffs or something and more rural areas for the afternoon and ended up begging to be taken back to the hotel within 2 hours. The tour guide rushed me through the Bali Museum (which I actually could have enjoyed) in about 20 minutes, seemed really irritated by my wanting to stop and read signs and take pictures, and kept walking into the frame (intentionally?).

After this, he took me to a "traditional batik market", which was actually just a high-end and high-pressure batik shop. I asked the "traditional women making traditional batik" why they were using brushes to apply the wax instead of cantings (just being conversational) and they scowled and acted like I was invisible. After being pressured into buying expensive scarves I didn't want, my guide repeated the same exercise, this time at a "traditional silver shop", but I had already caught on (I wonder what percent his commission is on these sales). The silver shop was so much worse. And then he brought me to a "traditional coffee plantation." I declared that I was very sick, far too sick to possibly continue, and kept repeating "please take me back to the hotel" until he finally caved, and then didn't talk to me for the entire hour's drive back. I didn't give him a second glance as I stormed up the stairs and out of sight. I am an adult and I will assert myself when I am uncomfortable.

This is not to say that customer service here is not superb. I have since complained to my hotel about this experience and been refunded a good portion of it (there is so, so much more to this tour guide story, but it depresses me too much). I spent an entire day in the spa, where I paid another human being to knead my muscles, put goop on my face, scrub my naked body with cocoa powder and peppermint sea salt and then paint me with chocolate, which sounds awful but was actually heavenly. The women here fawn over my fair skin, dark and shiny hair, and golden eyes, and their delight is not forced. One of them botched my eyebrow waxing so badly that I cried, and she hugged me and nearly cried too. The hotel band invited me onstage to sing simply because they thought it was awesome that I was mouthing along to a Whitney Houston song. Everyone stopped to watch and half the staff have greeted me by name ever since. Bali has definitely nailed the concept of 'customer service', but what they haven't yet grasped is the concept of 'harassment'. Warning: my Southern Sensibilities are about to show.

Street vendors are aggressive and unpleasant. There's no other way to say it. They see a white person walking on a public beach trail to try and work of some of her enchiladas and beer from the night before and they light up in a chorus of YES PLEASE YOU BUY SOMETHING and YES PLEASE YOU LIKE MASSAGE (from the women) and DARLING YES PLEASE TAXI and DARLING HELLO THIS FOR YOU DARLING (from the men). There are so very, very few people who are allowed to call me darling, and opportunistic strangers are not among them. The real pity is that I actually love street markets and have come to find a certain joy in a well-executed haggle session. There's a thrill in talking someone down to half their asking price, and I'm perfectly willing to engage in it, but the behavior of the vendors here is exhausting and off-putting. One guy followed me for a full minute just saying MISS, MISS, YES PLEASE MISS, YES, MISS until I threw up my hands and stomped out of the market empty-handed.

These are all the normal perils of being a woman who travels alone. And as a part of that, there is the constant lying: no, I'm not alone; yes, I am going to meet my friend; yes, she's a Balinese, from Nusa Dua; yes, I am married; yes, I have children; no, it isn't my first time in Bali; maybe I'll want a massage later. It can get really exhausting.

But the thing that dismays me the most is how similar it all is to Timor in aspects ranging from the obvious to the extremely subtle. The signs, the food, the traffic, the sidewalk bricks, the arrangement of items in a shop. I have been living in a place that is more like Indonesia than I had ever imagined. I have predicated a large part of my identity and my work in Timor on the assertion that Timorese have a distinct cultural identity from Indonesia, but I'm no longer sure how true that is. They look the same, talk the same, act the same, treat their education the same fold their napkins the same, everything. The line between what defined the difference between Timorese and Indonesian has been obliterated. My existence feels superfluous, my advocacy empty and forced. So now who is the fake?

Thank goodness for the spectacular sunsets, which are unfakeable. I need to think on these things some more.