Gili Air, Indonesia
Less than a week left here in paradise. It’s like a roll of toilet paper: the closer I get to the end, the faster it’s going. We all feel like I just got my new visa extension a few days ago. Alas, like mom said, all good things must come to an end (but why must they?) I’m trying every day to keep positive and enjoy every last moment I have here. See, it’s not only my time on this incredible island that’s wrapping up – it’s my whole trip. When all is said and done I’ll have been away for 7 months and 2 days. I never imagined I’d survive for this long, or more accurately, be able to keep track of my passport and credit cards for this long. Many seasoned travelers I’ve met have warned me that the biggest culture shock I will experience on this trip will occur when I return to my very own country. I never quite got that – after all, it’s my culture, isn’t it? – (the perfect cultural description of my life is in the poem “Raised on Kraft Dinner and Gold Stars” by Nancy Dene)….but it’s quickly dawning on me what they meant. Of course, the cost of living will be a huge shocker. No more $1.00 heaping plates of nasi campur, no more three-bbq’d-prawns-the-size-of-my-hand- plus-baked-potato-and-veg for $5.00 (seriously! $5.00!), no more 75-cent perfect pad thai or 90-cent mojitos. I can’t even discuss Starbucks (remember back to my Thailand entries and how excited I was to find a Starbucks? Pi-shaw. Fifty-cent Lombok coffee rocks.) No more no-tax, no-tipping restos. Hmm…now that I think of it, “no tipping” might not actually be a rule here….I should probably make the rounds and toss a few rupiah at some people before I go…. No more more-or-less-rules-free living. And then of course there’s the culture shock of that whole “work” concept. I haven’t worked a single day since May 1, 2008, and it shows in my bank account (love that overdraft protection feature!). I can’t even fathom not wearing flip flops and a crumply tee every day, let alone having to pull myself together enough to step into – gasp, wheeze – an office? I can barely say the word (and truly, truly won’t go back to one unless I absolutely have to). My body will go into its own culture shock when it’s suddenly reminded by me, it’s stern and hard-driving master, that 7 months have gone by with nary a stitch of physical activity. Yes, it will be gym shock. And Dri-fit and running shoe shock. etc etc. The shock list could go on forever, but it’s not that much fun to think about. So I’m done. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of really great stuff to look forward to back in Canada as well. I think it’s good that we have dairy products, garbage collection, whole grain bread and manhole covers. I like that we make construction workers wear steel-toed boots and hard hats instead of shorts and flip flops. Health care is pretty cool, too. Our poverty line cuts off at more money annually than these people (and most people in SEA) will probably ever see in their entire lifetimes. But…honestly, who cares what side of the road (or sidewalk) I drive on, as long as there’s nobody coming? (and in India, not even that matters!) Do I really need to fill out 3 forms to rent a scooter or a bike, or can you just hand me the keys and say, “Have it back before sunset”? I see 7-year-old children here hacking up coconuts with machetes half the size of their bodies. Maybe we don’t need to go quite that far, but I’ve seen kids that age back home who aren’t even allowed to use real cutlery all the time (present company excluded. When I was that age, my ultra-cool parents were building stilts for us and letting us fashion ninja stars out of Campbell’s soup can lids.) (We are all fine, thank you.) Something – something – over here (SEA) just works. There might be very few traffic rules (none on Gili Air, as there are no motorized vehicles anyway), but magically there are also very, very few accidents ( I’ve seen one big one in Bangkok and one minor one in Delhi. That was it.) There is NO road rage. People leave their bicycles and their homes unlocked. If you need something, you ask your neighbour, because your neighbour is your friend. I am especially awed by the village mentality that exists here on Gili Air (and all the Gilis). All for one and one for all, no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you don’t have. If someone on the island dies, the island goes to pay their respects. The standard term of endearment used by my local male peers when they address me is “sister”, and “brother” when addressing each other, even when meeting for the very first time. Unless things have changed somewhat in the last seven months, I’m thinking that’s probably not what I’ll be experiencing back home. So yeah, those travellers were right (and Lis, you were the first one to tell me!). I really AM in for a big bunch of shocks when I get back to Maple Leaf country (ooohhhh…..that must made me think of maple syrup! Haven’t tasted that for 7 months!). Heck, I barely remember how to drive (and – which side of the road is it, again?) I totally get how some people, once they start travelling, just never really stop. They go back home just long enough to see loved ones and squirrel away (haven’t seen a squirrel for 7 months, either!) enough cash to be able to hit the road again, and they’re gone. It’s not that I don’t appreciate all that I have back in Canada. I know, especially now, how incredibly privileged and fortunate I am and have always been. But I’ve seen how it all works in other parts of the world now too, and, well…..there’s a lot we could learn from them if we’d open our minds and look up from our computer screens now and then (you can wait ’til you’ve finished reading this). There is just so much world out there. My heart has changed shape forever. I’ve lopped off tiny pieces and left them in every bungalow, village, city, market, night train, forest and mountain top along the way. I’ve traded piece of my heart with some absolutely amazing, amazing people I’ve had the great fortune to meet. This heart has swelled at a million sights and events (sunrise at the Taj Mahal with my best friend!) and broken a little at some tough goodbyes (Shauna, still miss you every day!)….. But no person, place or thing on this whole journey has affected my heart so much, in so many ways, as my life here on tiny little Gili Air, Indonesia. My friends on the island are not saying “goodbye” ; only “see you soon”. Yeah, sisters and brothers. See you. Sampai jumpa nanti. I’ll be home on April 12th.