Hello friends, followers, and foes. I am writing to you from the recovery stages of a weeklong illness. To be completely honest, things have continued to be quite challenging since I posted my last entry. My neighborhood is loud, I haven’t been able to sleep, and as a result I went from sick to sicker. Friday night was spent in the hospital with a fever of 103, but I do not have dengue or malaria! HALLELUJAH!
Before I get started, I want to thank those of you who reached out to me after my last post. Writing it was challenging for me, for I am not one to disclose a lot of personal information. Having people agree with my thoughts instilled within me a lot of hope for the year that lies ahead. It also confirmed that I’ve been surrounding myself with the right kind of people. Thank you friends, thank you thank you thank you!
Despite all of the challenges so far, there have been many many rewards thrown my way. Some of them are small daily gratitudes I’ve been slowly discovering, others are exciting new projects I’m working on.
- I live in a beautiful tropical paradise. (For more pictures, please check out my Instagram @akatomski). As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop (Bajo Bakery), overlooking the harbor, and listening to evening prayer. There are three mosques in Labuan Bajo, one of which is located very close to my house. Surprisingly enough, I’m now able to sleep through the 4:30am morning prayer.
- The residents of Labuan Bajo whom I’ve met so far are overwhelming kind. I’ve never felt so at home so quickly. For example, last weekend when I went to pick up my laundry, the owner of the laundromat introduced me to his entire family and then insisted that his son drive me into town so that I wouldn’t have to take an ojek (motorcycle taxi thing). I know I know, I shouldn’t have gotten in a car with a stranger. Sorry mom!!! But living here feels safe and welcoming, and I’m not one to turn down hospitality.
- This might seem like a minor progressive step, but my room is finally coming together! I am able to make coffee in my French press every morning. And they even have peanut butter here! What I really need though are new sheets. I currently slumber in a red jaguar safari scene, but for some reason I can’t find white sheets anywhere.
- Last week I finally started teaching! For real!!! I’m still struggling to finalize my teaching schedule, but I am hopeful that things will start to fall into place once time progresses.
- I’m already in the beginning stages of a multitude of community engagement projects. All English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), no matter the country, are expected to complete at least one community engagement project (CEP) during their grant period. However, considering how Fulbrighters are a bunch of over-achievers, most people complete more than one.
- I’ve finally begun Bahasa Indonesia tutoring with a well-known tour guide in Labuan Bajo named, Pak Ari (Bapak, or just Pak, means father in Indonesian but is also used as mister). Pak Ari has taught other foreigners Bahasa before and used to work for the Nature Conservancy, so our lessons are going really well so far. Learning a new language is a tedious and challenging process, but after only 1.5 months here I can communicate with ease when I go into town to buy things. I can also talk with the 5 year olds in my neighborhood, which is always nice.
- Just like every other “alternative” white girl in the world, I’ve started a meditation practice. I’m taking very small steps because man, this shit is HARD, but I can already see its effects taking place. I’m able to find gratitude in small things and am working on complaining less (yes friends, I know that this is a real issue of mine).
- Every day I am grateful for: Spotify premium (currently bumpin’ Solange’s A Seat at the Table; Glass Animals’ How to Be A Human Being; and Bon Iver’s 22, A Million non-stop), afternoon showers after a sweaty day at school, my students, my counterpart (God bless his patient soul), and the ability to FaceTime with my friends and family at home.
To further discuss the topic of progress, I want to elaborate on all of the projects Ima brewin…
- At school I run English clubs and help with debate club. About 75 students showed up for the first English club meeting, thus forcing me to split the club into 10th and 11th grades. I intend for English club to be a less-structured setting than the classroom. We’ll be playing a lot of games, celebrating American holidays, and incorporating other things that the students want to do. The debate club is much more structured and run by another English teacher, so I will most likely act as his support. Learning about formal debate structures is new for me, but that’s why I love teaching: there’s never a dull day.
- I’m working on two different Community Engagement Projects (CEPs) with my fellow Fulbrighters. I’m especially excited for these because they incorporate cultures and customs from all across the archipelago.
- Unity in Diversity: This project is based off of Humans of New York (so you already know it’s near and dear to my heart). Nineteen ETAs all over Indonesia will be interviewing students, teachers, school staff, and community members about their lives in Indonesia. All stories will be recorded in English and posted to the Facebook page, website, and Instagram. I’m especially stoked about this project because I’m on the admin team, so be ready for a whole lot of promo posts. If you’re interested, you can head to the Facebook page now and like it. We’re just waiting on AMINEF approval to get really up and running.
- The Bahasa Project: Similarly to Unity in Diversity, a past ETA started this project. Students from schools across Indonesia will record and post videos teaching native English speakers Bahasa Indonesia, and other regional languages. For example, my students might create a video about body parts to teach ya’ll in Indonesian. This project was initially started because there is a real lack of Bahasa Indonesia teaching materials. If you’re interested, please follow The Bahasa Project here.
- While at immigration, I ran into a Dutch woman who runs a NGO in Labuan Bajo called Eco Flores. I may or may not work with her (still doing more research about the ethics of her work), but she connected me to the head of English education for West Manggarai (the western part of Flores, the island I live on). My sitemate Sam and I are currently working with Pak Stef to develop a regional English Teacher’s Club. We hope to build a sustainable club that will meet on a monthly basis to discuss successful lessons, challenges, and provide professional development for teachers in the area. During our time in Labuan Bajo, Sam and I will spend the first hour of each meeting training teachers in topics of their choice. If asked, we will also travel to schools in Labuan Bajo to observe English teachers and provide them with feedback. I’m really excited about this project because I think it will be a highly effective way to reach a lot of teachers and schools in the region.
- A few weekends ago, Sam and I were walking to different dive shops in town to find out the cheapest ways to dive. By coincidence, we met the owner of a company called Wicked Diving. In classic small-city Labuan Bajo fashion, the owner Paul, happened to be an American ex-pat living in LBJ. Paul’s company is also involved at my school. A sub-set of his company is called Wicked Good, which has been providing free tour guide training, diving lessons, and other professional development programs for my students. Wicked Good is run by an Indonesian woman (who is currently in Australia), but I look forward to working with her more in the future! I was also told that I might even be able to get diving certified with some of my students 🙂
- In addition to the aforementioned projects, I was asked by the immigration office in Labuan Bajo to help teach them English. I’m going to wait to see if this actually happens, but I think it could be very beneficial for them because foreigners come in and out of their office every day. My counterpart’s brother-in-law also asked me to do some work at an orphanage in Labuan Bajo. In order for me to get funding from AMINEF, my CEPs have to be English related. I’m thinking that some sort of English Camp at the orphanage could be really fun and beneficial, but we shall see!
My apologies for this extremely long post of lists. I am hoping that my next post will be a bit more introspective and/or informative. Stay tuned!