Archive for July, 2013

July 31, 2013

One Too Many Things

by Tabitha Kidwell

I have this problem where I try to do one too many things. Like, I’ll wake up on time for church, be ready to head out the door with plenty of time, then think “I have time to unload the dishwasher” and then roll in halfway through the offering. Come on, Tabitha, the dishes can wait! Going to El Salvador this year was that one thing too many. I’m sure it would have been great, but it would have meant scrambling around the next 2 months to try to visit and apply to grad school programs, take the GRE, and do a giant pile of Peace Corps paperwork. I would have ended up not doing anything well. In addition, I had this lingering guilt about not being able to go to my cousin’s wedding in October. I know my family would understand, but I realized it wasn’t about that one event. It was about all the little events that happen everyday: football Saturdays, meeting friends for a run, watching TV with my grandma. I just want to be here for all that. So I will be – I am NOT going to El Salvador! Sorry, Keeping-Tabs fans, you will have to live vicariously through someone else.

Actually, most of you appear to be on my side. Seriously, just write a few self-pitying, panicky blogs, and you guys really step up. I got messages of support on nearly every communication platform: e-mails, texts, calls, facebook messages, wall posts, blog comments… (I’m still waiting for the carrier pigeon, but I hear those take longer). My uncle Link even invited me to dinner for a pep talk/intervention. I am reminded yet again of what amazing friends and family I have… and that I cannot possibly leave them again. At least for now…

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July 29, 2013

Funemployment Fail

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I came home, I had lots of plans about how I would spend the next 6-12 months before starting grad school. I want to end up in the right program, so the visiting/choosing/applying phase was easily going to require 3 months. Then I thought I would cast about for work in the manner of a 22-year-old recent grad. My friends all had this experience right out of college, but I had always had the next step planned, so I missed out. I thought I would live with my parents or grandmother, do some translation or test grading online, bartend or work at starbucks, travel around to visit friends. I even had elaborate fantasies, like editing this blog into a book and getting it published, or opening an Indonesian food truck, or going on The Amazing Race. Fantasies aside, I thought it would be good for me to have a year of uncertainty, a year where my self worth wasn’t determined by my career, a year when I would step back and sort through the news feed of my life.

So, two weeks in, that sucked. The reason I have never put myself in such an uncertain situation is that I HATE UNCERTAINTY. I am a fairly type A, hyper-oprganized person, and all these lingering possibilities were just stressing me out. With nothing planned, it felt like everything was possible, like finding a secret passageway to France in my closet, or inventing a tele-porter that would send me to Bali, or entering a time-traveling wormhole and re-joining the Peace Corps.

So I just did that last one. I accepted a position in El Salvador with Peace Corps Response, which is like Peace Corps for grown-ups. Like how attractive contestants on The Bachelor get automatic acceptance on Bachelor Pad. It’s a special program for returned Peace Corps volunteers that requires more technical expereince and is shorter term. So I’d be working with the Ministry of Education, writing a curriculum guide and training teachers to help them teach the national curriculum. I had always thought about doing a Response position, but had never had the time before. This placement is only from October to May, so it fits in just perfectly before starting grad school in the fall. I wasn’t really intending to go abroad again, but it was so perfect for me that I thought “I wonder how easy it is to apply.” It turns out, really easy. It was a matter of uploading my resume and writing a paragraph. I got to the submit button and though “Oops… I guess I’ll apply after all.” I had interviewed and been sent an invitation within a week of being home.

So I accepted it, and was so excited! NOT. I accepted it, but feel pretty lukewarm. I really just want to live in America. I want to be near my friends and family, be in my own culture, actually live in one place for an extended period of time. It’s a strange life I am leading where moving to El Salvador is the safe option, the easy way out. I would be really good at the job there, I would have enough money, everything would be taken care of. I’d improve (remember?) my Spanish and would get great career experience. But I might also feel like I was in self-imposed exile. People keep saying stuff like “Wow! Living abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Well, not the fifth time! It would definitely be an adventure, but I’m feeling a little tired of adventures at the moment. Part of me wants to go, but part of me wants to tackle the adventure of sleeping on a friend’s couch and working in retail.

So, friends, family, faithful readers, what should I do? I have barely started the final approval process for the Peace Corps, so I could easily just un-accept their invitation. Should I stay? Should I go? Should I move to DC, New York, Seattle, San Fransisco, LA…? Should I move to Denver, live with my sister and her soon-to-be-husband, and be their dog-walker? Should go on a reality TV show? Is this what it feels like to be 22?

July 18, 2013

Handle with Care

by Tabitha Kidwell

I am not doing so great with this “return to America thing.” It’s rough. I’ve never before been at a point in my life where I didn’t have “the next step” planned. I think, ultimately, this will be a good opportunity for me to grow as a person, but at the moment I pretty much just want to lie in bed and watch reruns of How I Met your Mother.

Luckily, whenever I hit a particularly low point, one of my friends seems to call. I was talking to my friend Michelle last night and she pointed out that our friend Tess’ newborn son Everett and I have basically started life in America at the same time. Turns out, Everett and I actually have a lot in common. We are both unemployed and live with our parents. We can’t feed ourselves – except for when my stepdad cooks something and puts it in front of me, I’ve basically been subsisting on greek yogurt. I hear Everett has an equally bland, unchanging diet. We both cry for extended periods of time for no apparent reason. We have trouble making decisions. We can’t dress ourselves – I keep looking at my 2-year-out-of-date clothing and end up re-wearing the hand-me-down outfit I acquired from the goodwill pile in a friend’s trunk. Actually, I hear Everett has some pretty sweet new clothing, so we do diverge a bit here. But neither of us has any idea who Honey Boo Boo or Robin Thicke are. We both need to develop self-soothing techniques. We have both been drinking a lot of beverages from bottles. And neither of us are ready to make any kind of major plans for the future. So, until Everett starts sleeping through the night, I’m just going to keep on hoping that this one will finally be the one where that guy meets their mother.

July 15, 2013

Transitions

by Tabitha Kidwell

Most triathletes will tell you that the trickiest parts of a race are the transitions. If I’m in good shape and well trained, I can kinda go on auto-pilot during the swimming, biking, or running. But the switching from one to the other is stressful. You have to change clothes, eat and drink, find your way in and out of the transition area, maybe try to pee without anyone noticing. Even if you think you’re prepared, it is really easy for things to go wrong or for unforeseen challenges to arise. I’m in the middle of a huge transition now, moving from life in Indonesia to life in America. I’ve been home 4 days, and it was been a little rough.

The first two days were difficult because I was just so tired. I always thought I was good at dealing with jet lag, but this time the 12-hour time difference hit me like a truck. I’m sure it didn’t help that I’ve spent a month traveling, so was run down going into the trip home. To make matters worse, I don’t think I slept more than 4 or 5 hours between waking up in Singapore on Wednesday morning (Tuesday evening, Ohio time) and arriving at CMH on Thursday evening. Friday and Saturday, I woke up feeling refreshed, but totally ran out of steam by noon. I felt like I couldn’t imagine ever having energy again. I think I went to bed while it was still light out both evenings.

At the moment, I feel less tired, but I feel totally socially awkward. Routine questions like “what’s your phone number?” or “what do you do?” leave me stumped. The cashier at CVS asked if I had an extra care card and I stammered for about a minute before asking for a new one. Part of the issue is that these questions are not so simple for me at the moment, but the people asking them don’t want to hear a 5-minute explanation. They don’t want “well, I was a French and Spanish teacher, but then I moved to Indonesia to teach English but actually got really involved with teacher training and really enjoyed that, so now I want to apply to Ph.D. programs so I can do that in the States, but I won’t start until next year, so for now I’m going to start applying to and visiting programs but in the meantime I might score tests online or do some freelance translation or maybe do a short-term volunteer position abroad.” They want “I’m a teacher.”

Another issue is that people ask these big questions like “How was Indonesia?” that I cannot possibly sum up in one sentence or one minute. I was out with friends last night, and was talking to this very nice woman who knew a lot about Indonesia. “Wow, Indonesia,” she said. “We do some business there, that must have been so interesting.” For my friends’ benefit, she continued: “You know, it’s a country of 200 million, but we don’t hear much about it…” (My inner monologue: two hundred FORTY million) “… and it’s the world’s largest Muslim country…” (largest Muslim MAJORITY country) “…so what was the hardest thing to adjust to, culturally?” I just stood there for a good 30 seconds with my mouth open. I looked at her, I looked at my two friends, I looked back at her, and still couldn’t say anything. (Say food, say clothing, say religion, say weather, say whatever, just say words, Tabitha. Say any word. Come on. Anytime now.) It’s been almost two years since I was really thinking about adjusting to the culture, and I totally drew a blank. I think what makes these kinds of questions difficult is the amount of time involved. In most of our daily interactions, we ask about small amounts of time: “What did you do last night?” and “How was work today?”. We don’t often ask things like “How have you been since 2011?” or “What emotions were you experiencing 18 months ago?”. I think this is why I’ve found it easier to talk about my 2.5 weeks in Vietnam – I have enough distance from a 20 day trip. I’m not sure how much distance I’ll need from a 2 year-long experience, but it’s definitely more than 4 days.

There are answers to all these questions, but I don’t have them ready yet. I’m still figuring out what I gained and learned from my 2 years in Indonesia. Once I figure out the answer for myself, I’ll be ready to talk to my friends and family about it, and after that I’ll be ready to boil it down to a sound byte for the person I just met. Until then, I’m just going to work my way through this transition and hope I don’t pee myself.

July 13, 2013

Lessons Learned: Travels with Debbie in Bali and Vietnam

by Tabitha Kidwell

On our month-long journey through southeast Asia, Debbie and I met one young backpacker who said that he had dropped out of college and used the money he would have spent on tuition to travel around the world. He said he could learn more traveling than he ever could in a classroom. While I’m not about to pawn my diplomas for bus fare, the kid is on to something. My varied experiences in countries around the globe have helped me grow as a person and gain incredible lessons about compassion, justice, and human nature. Also, it’s helped me get really good at trivia.

In any case, Debbie and I definitely learned a lot on our adventures. Here are some of the lessons we will take home:

Be decisive.
Ho Chi Minh City is known for its crazy traffic. There are apparently more motorbikes than residents! With minimal traffic regulations, this means you need to be daring if you want to cross the street. What seemed to work best was to start walking when you saw any tiny break in the traffic and to continue at a steady pace. Hesitation can lead to catastrophe – the vehicle darting around you will end up careening directly into you.

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Take a rest.
This a phrase that Indonesian people say all the time. (It’s a close translation of a common Indonesian verb). I had assimilated it into English without realizing that it was awkward English, until Debbie pointed it out to me. Nevertheless, after spending way too many days on this trip walking around in blinding sun and 100 degree heat, we came to see the brilliance of this advice. We would walk a bit, then have some fruit…

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…then walk some more, have some beer and donuts…

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…walk a little more, have some more beer…

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You get the idea. Days we didn’t follow this advice and tried to have more ambitious plans, we typically ended up like this:

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Pay Attention.
Walking was a difficult task in Vietnam – what sidewalks do exist are encroached upon from one side by shopkeeepers plying their wares, and on the other side by motorcycles looking for parking spots. So we spent a lot of time looking down. We had to remind ourselves to take the time and make the effort to look up and notice the many wonderful things going on all around us.  If we weren’t noticing it in exotic Vietnam, we realized we must just walk by magical sights at home all the time.

Like these sweet motobikes…

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… this sidewalk barber shop…

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… and this street-side hang out.

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Also this transcendental advice…

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…these cats sleeping in a basin…

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… and these bird cages hanging at the park.

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This ambitious motorbike…

 

 

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… and this guy.

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Don’t be afraid.
Growing up, I was kinda a weenie. I mean, I was in the marching band and national honor society. I didn’t exactly live on the edge. I was never one to look before I leapt. But we did lots of scary things on the vacation, and the more we did, the easier they seemed to be!

Like riding a motorbike on terrible Vietnamese roads…

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and drinking whatever is in this plastic bag.

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Holding this snake…

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… and crossing this bridge.

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Jumping off this boat…

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… and playing with this alligator.

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Be attractive
Debbie and I kicked off out travels by meeting up with 9 other ladies from the English Language Fellow program. For our last hoorah in Bali, we were ready for full-on-sleepover-girl-talk-style-fun. The best day of vacation may have been when Debbie shared her American junk food and People magazines and we caught up on all the celebrity gossip and high fructose corn syrup we had been missing. Poolside.

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And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, I pulled out the “Angel romance cards” my mom had sent me for Christmas. They were like tarot cards – they were supposed to give you messages from the angels about your love life. I don’t remember most of the advice we got, except for Deirdre’s card that told her to “just be attractive.” This was memorable for its apparent absurdity: “Oh, the reason I don’t have a boyfriend is because I’m not attractive. Let me just change that real quick.” As the advice sunk in, though, we realized its brilliance. We spent the rest of the trip trying to be attractive, and look how well we did:

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Okay, this was mostly just a shameless excuse to put up of pictures of us looking hot, but it did become our catchphrase. “Just be attractive!” We attracted lots of vacationing fun, at least!

As you can see, the Bali/Vietnam trip was a blast!  Most important lesson learned:  Tabitha and Debbie are great travel partners!