Tuesday, June 3, 2008

June 3, 2008

Well, we’re in our last week of living in Makassar. This chapter in our lives is coming to a close finally.

Hello. Peter here. It’s been a while. I realize I haven’t contributed to this blog for quite sometime now. But that’s only because, honestly, I’ve gotten really tired of analyzing how I feel in Indonesia.

My feelings are a mixed bag. A really mixed bag, which will take a long time to sort out. Yes, in many ways it’s been a rough year, and this country has left me beat up and bloody more than once. Because of this, I feel like I can hear some of you out there giving warning to another person interested in teaching English as a foreign language. “I don’t know,” I hear you say. “Jim and Lois Roth have a boy who did that, and he had nothing but trouble. It was a terrible experience.”

And though we’ve dealt with more than our share of shady characters and liars and impossible situations, it’s been one of the best educations I could get. But first, here’s my own word of warning: If you want to be an EFL teacher and want to find a place to work that will be like Starbucks or office work in the States, then don’t do it. A fair employer who treats you like he/she is afraid of a lawsuit doesn’t exist in this line of work. Sometimes it felt like every time I left our apartment I had to fight and fight for the simplest things. We had to buy our own colored pencils and scissors for class. And I never had a reliable CD player at school.

I came here to see how the majority of the world lives, and the truth is it’s much rougher than what most of us are used to in America. Sarah and I had to learn to be truly flexible. We had to learn to find shelter and safe places. These are not seen as rights in a 10-year-old democracy. As an American I was used to our system of rights and liberties. And I really do believe in human and civil rights – they’re for everyone. But the test in Indonesia was this: Do I still believe in them when they’re not granted to me?

Searching for the answer is far from simple. I mean, I know what the answer should be. Yes, of course I do. I can say yes, but what do I really do when it comes down to it? What would you do if you had no running water for two days? I’ll tell you honestly, I lost it. And there was no one within earshot who was to blame.

Indonesia, like everything, is extremely complex. And that’s what I’ve come away with during this time. I feel America’s greatest fault is that we simplify things way too much. Too many pat answers. Bush is either a demented war monger who dances at people’s suffering, or he is a man dressed in white weeping before God on a cross each morning to understand the way of salvation. Whatever is what I say to each of those statements.

The American definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” do not exist over here. They’re kind of jokes outside the U.S., in fact. People are judged only by their leadership. Over here, I realize Bush to me is just a guy who’s not very bright who made a series of pretty poor decisions – though not every single one was bad, I must admit. And I’ve realized some people are like that. They just can’t take hold in life. Granted, Bush’s decisions affect a lot more people and his lack of insight doesn’t justify what he’s done or hasn’t done.

We as Americans – as humans – need to learn to be more sensitive and understanding. We need to be more sensitive to those who believe different than we do. I just read an interview with Salman Rushdie, and he said that believing in freedom of expression is only real if you grant it to someone you don’t agree with. That’s a challenge. It means nothing if we don’t acknowledge that the world is so complex that someone might not believe the same way or even want the same things we do.

The great Kurt Vonnegut said it best in his introduction to Slapstick. He tells what we need is “a little less love and a little more common decency.”

True, there are those people who are just plain ass-clowns, who want to say or do things just to test their “rights” and push our buttons. And if there’s no substance or conviction to their beliefs, then they ought to be slapped. But we need to listen first.

I’m not saying this in a bleeding heart/America sucks sort of way. I’ve come to love something very much about the USA. But I feel like it’s real now and not what a political party or news commentator has told me to think. It’s far deeper than Fox News flag waving pseudo-patriotism, but it’s not left-wing Michael Moore manipulative cynicism either. I feel like I disagree with both the “Right” and the “Left.” America has done a lot for the world. We’re an example of democracy and the benefits of capitalism. It’s hard to argue that things aren’t kind of nice in America. But we are not a beacon of freedom and altruism either. America wants more than her share. There’s no doubt about that.

Living in a place that is not as safe as growing up in the Indiana suburbs has been one of the best decisions of my life. True learning is a difficult and dark process. It’s hard work and full of unknowns. For everything I come to understand, there’s something new I don’t have an answer for. But to me that makes life worth living.

We need to have more conversations and fewer mini-trials to prove who’s right and wrong all the time. Whatever the subject. If we’d withhold judgment, we could possibly resolve a lot more of our differences. Why are we so concerned with proving the truth? If it’s truth, I wonder if it’s a little bigger than reason. I wonder if it shouldn’t just make itself apparent? No one owns truth. It’s not ours to use.

Living as an expat, you have to find what you have in common with those you come in contact with. You cannot focus on your differences. If you do you become isolated. Then you’re in trouble. And Sarah and I have found we have much more in common than not with the vast majority of people. (Minus the self-destructing alcoholic honkies we worked with.) That knowledge is a great thing to have received while in Indonesia.

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