This one really snuck up on me. Although the first month of my Watson year was filled with many highlights, it also sort of plodded along. Things were so different that it felt like months and months had flown by since I had left the United States, although in reality, it had only been four weeks.
In contrast, my second month has flown by. My last few weeks in Indonesia were crammed with meeting contacts I finally had learned enough Indonesian to speak with and who I found because I got to know Ubud as a temporary home. I had friends to visit and errands to run and all of the other daily basics to take care of; daily basics that make you realize you’re not a tourist any longer. I loved that I had people to call to eat meals with me, I loved that the guys yelling, “Taxi? Transport?” on the street recognized me and would only shout that chorus as a joke, knowing I would turn them down. I felt like I was living there and as a result, the time flew by. And now I can’t believe I’ve been in India almost a week already.
I am still figuring out how to do this year. I probably will be figuring that out until next July. I’m always wondering how much I should be planning ahead and how much I should just be open to possibility. I’m finding that the hidden dull part of a Watson year is that actually you spend many hours scouring Lonely Planet guide books or in front of a computer screen trying to figure out where in the world you are, how to spend your time, and who might give you a bed to sleep in. Similarly, I’m still figuring out exactly how to research names and what I want the end result of all of this to be, and how I should be proceeding. There is the constant question of if I should be doing more.
Despite these questions, I think in the last month I have begun to hit my Watson year stride. I am feeling so so so happy to be doing this. I’ll have to remember this feeling for the days I feel more dubious about what on earth I am doing. I’ve been traveling on my own long enough now that I think my brain has finally gotten used to the fact that there is actually a permanence to this year of impermanence; in other words, the back of my mind that used to be waiting to go home has now accepted that this is it.
Today I was walking back from visiting a nearby ashram and I successfully navigated my way through Mysore and back to the Natarajan house on my own. I took a minute and stood at the top of their road and looked at Chammundi Hills and the sun going down and the cows eating grass on the side of the road and the auto rickshaws going by, and it hit me once again how very lucky I am. This year I am learning that it is actually so easy, so much easier than I ever thought it would be, to create a home.
In the last month I have:
-Seen the sunrise from the top of an active volcano.
-Swam in the Indian ocean (slight amendment from last month’s “seen the Indian ocean”).
-Been blessed with holy water from a 15th century shrine.
-Had the privilege of speaking with a village Sipu (guru/master) about names, culture and religion.
-Met with a Balian (psychic).
-Dealt with a bizarre tropical bacterial infection and a fever of 103 in a foreign country, gave praise to antibiotics and bilingual doctors, and now never want to have any blood drawn ever again. Also:
-Ridden on a motorcycle with a 103 fever.
-Received a Balinese angel.
-Been the first non-local to stay at one particular hostel in Padang Kerta, Bali.
-Become closer to being 23 years old than 22 years old.
-Been trusting people more (which is sort of a necessity if you want to cross the street in many East or South Asian cities…you basically start walking and have to keep repeating in your mind, “They will stop, They will stop…)
-Made friends I can call on for the rest of my life.
-Navigated my way through various Asian-style toilets.
-Become less analytical. A favorite Swarthmore professor once said that Swarthmore students tend to be really good at being critical and really good at being analytical, but they sometimes get too caught up in this approach and they forget to also have curiosity and wonder. Perhaps above all else, this year has given me many occasions for curiosity and wonder.
-Found a new home and then learned to walk away from it.
-Been more and more amazed by airlines that aren’t American. I had no idea that on most international airlines, they’ll serve you meals on any flight over 2 hours, and, most importantly, those meals can come with red wine (!)
-Set foot on two new countries (Malaysia and India).
-Learned the names and ingredients for countless South Indian dishes. (I have been enjoying Indian food so much that sometimes I can’t believe my good fortune that I get to eat THREE meals a day).
-Become a strategic traveler and realized there are times when I need to sacrifice what I actually want to do in the name of my own safety. I’ve learned to wear a head scarf when appropriate, slap on a fake wedding ring, and when to stay indoors even when I might prefer to be out adventuring. I’ve learned that, despite a tight budget, sometimes spending extra money on transportation or accommodation is worth it to feel protected.
-Learned more Hindu myths, gods, goddesses, and stories than I ever thought I would.
-Found immense strength in adaptation and flexibility.
-Ridden in an auto rickshaw.
-Again been overwhelmed by the love and support pouring in from home, and every bit of it that I receive, I am (again) reminded that there is no way I could be doing this without it. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sending me well wishes when I was sick, for putting up with my shoddy Indonesian internet connections during skype dates, for sending e-mails and articles and facebook posts and blog comments, for keeping me updated on the current Swarthmore gossip, and for the exceptional gmail music attachments. The Watson Foundation doesn’t want us to be too tethered to home while we’re away, (to the extent that it distracts us from our present environments), so I’m trying to enjoy these things without being dependent on them. I can safely say that whether I need them or not, it sure makes the journey a lot more enjoyable (and gives it a much better soundtrack).
Happy Watsoversary. 2 months down, 10 to go, though at the moment, I’m not in any hurry for them to pass.
Do not mistake that "2" for a peace sign.