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.


The relief of clean

>> 08 June 2015

One of the best decisions I have made in Timor was to hire a maid. I went back and forth about it for a long time, but ultimately, it had to be done.

I love my house in Dili so much. It has three bedrooms, a nice kitchen and bathroom, and a huge sitting area. But because this is the developing world, the concept of 'inside' and 'outside' are very fluid- the windows are always open, and the front door has a screen. My life is eternally on display for anyone who happens to walk by. During the rainy season, the floor is always slightly wet *somewhere* and the mud gets tracked all over the floors. During the dry season, everything in the house is dusty and dirty. Add anywhere from 2-4 residents to this mix, and you also get food crumbs, trash, and clutter.

There are cracks and holes everywhere, and anything that lives outside has a standing invitation to come in whenever it likes. The geckos become beloved little pets- currently there are two tiny ones that live in the kitchen, and one medium-sized one (that I have watched grow from a tiny guy) in my bedroom. I even have a colony of ants that I look after- they walk from one hole in the wall to another hole in the wall, never ever venturing into the house apart from that journey. This is the extent of my tolerance for non-human residents.

Before I had a maid, I tried to sweep and mop about once a week, but I didn't always get around to it. When this happens, the bad things come. It starts with roaches, which I cannot abide, but am really good at disposing of these days. Then come the spiders. As soon as one spider gets a foothold, everything is spiders. I once got physically trapped inside my house by a fat, hairy, spider the size of my hand. He was holed up in the doorjam of the front door, and I didn't dare go near it to escape. I called through the back window to my neighbor, asking her to please come and help me. She took one look at the spider and ran off to go get her husband. It took all three of us and most of a can of bugspray to kill it. (It was a Huntsman spider- if you are brave, look it up).

And after the spiders and roaches move in, there are the mice. Few things make me feel more heartless than killing mice, but they can't live in the house with me. The first one met his fate at the hands of my former housemate and a well-timed squeegee hit. The second one was found (sniffed out, literally) poisoned and rotting under another housemate's wardrobe. The third one was caught in a glue trap. Do you know what happens to mice in glue traps? They don't die. They just exhaust themselves, making pitiful noises, getting more and more trapped in the glue, until eventually ants come and sting them to death or eat them alive. That is a horrific fate for a living creature. Rather than let it get to that point, I picked up the entire glue trap, put it face down in a bucket, and drowned the poor thing. Then I threw it outside into the inverted tire that serves as my trash bin. That was a bad day.

I had been at a party at a neighbor's house when we ran out of plates. I offered to go to my house and get my plates, and on the way a gang of boys ran up to me. One of them pulled his penis out of his pants and started waggling it at me, and I backhanded him. Hard. It was an instinctual reaction and I was momentarily horrified at myself, but then I remembered that a preteen had just run up and waggled his penis at me and then I didn't feel so bad. I walked into my house, sick and shaking with fury, and discovered that the mouse had been trapped. I stared at him a while, gathered my dishes into a bag, and thought about what to do. I looked around, feeling overwhelmed by inescapable filth. Filthy house, filthy vermin, filthy person, filthy inside, filthy outside, and utterly powerless. I did what I had to do, and reflected on the last 15 minutes of my life. I had gone from happily enjoying the company of friends, to being sexually harassed, to hitting a stranger, to drowning a mouse, all within 15 minutes.

So yes. I have a maid. She comes twice a week to sweep, mop, dust, and tidy. I can't truly express what a relief it is to know that no matter what else happens, twice a week I can rely on another human to help me keep the wild at bay.