Archive for ‘Getting Ready’

January 6, 2014

Visa Woes

by Tabitha Kidwell

There are many things that have kept me from blogging the past few weeks, but one major distraction has been trying to get my visa to go to India. Turns out, it’s a stressful process. And in my case, more stressful than anything should ever be.

I will take full responsibility for this whole snafu because I’ve been fairly certain I was going to India since I got home in July. I could have sent my application in then, but I didn’t even consider the possibility of needing a visa until the end of November, when an someone who had been to India asked me if I had one yet. I’ve been flitting all over Southeast Asia for the past two years getting visas on arrival or online a week before. I just didn’t even think about it.

So, I started working on it all at the end of November. I had to get a new drivers license that showed my new address, new id photos taken that showed my ears, a cashiers check, and a return mailing envelope. That may not sound like that much, but I was spending most of my time at Christmisc. at that point, and it took me like a week to get it all together. I mailed everything on December 6, and they got it on December 9. At this point, I wasn’t worried at all, given that they said on their website that it would take 7-11 business days, and there were still 18 business days before I had to depart for Indonesia/India/etc.

Well, I should have been worried. Ironically, the Indian consulate outsources their visa processing to a company called BLS. BLS is apparently grossly incompetent. I imagined they were hard at work, checking my travel details and making sure my ears were visible in my picture, but they didn’t even “accept the package” and enter my application into their system until December 17, a week and a half after the post office says they delivered it.

At that point, I started to panic a little. I spent $90 to send a new UPS envelope with overnight delivery in case we ran tight on time at the end (unfortunately, they didn’t end up using it). I called and called and no one answered the phones. I considered sending a muffin basket. I got a new number by calling their Indian citizen services line. I called that number and e-mailed and they “escalated” the processing. Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, I continued calling and e-mailing and “escalating” steps in the process until finally it was “dispatched” on Monday, December 30. Plenty of time, I thought. Except that it didn’t show up in the post office tracking for over three days. I called to “escalate” on that third day, was informed that they didn’t know where my passport was, and ended up collapsed on the floor crying and flailing my limbs not unlike a toddler having a temper tantrum. My med student brother suggested I take one of the Percocet from my root canal last summer. Very helpful. Happily, the envelope showed up in the tracking system that night. On Friday morning, I went and talked to some very kind people at the post office and they said it could very possibly arrive on Saturday and I could even come in and pick it up if it arrived Saturday afternoon after the carriers had gone out.

Well, it did not. It is now Monday and I am anxiously waiting for the mail. The tracking system says “out for delivery,” so I feel confident, but wouldn’t be surprised if something else went wrong. I had to cancel last night’s ticket and buy a new one for tomorrow. Here’s the silver lining to this whole saga: I ended up being able to book a one way ticket to Jakarta using frequent flyer miles, and now have a credit on American Airlines. I still have to buy a return ticket, but I should be left with some extra traveling money. And the best news of all: I should be in Jakarta, far away from the “Polar Vortex” currently seizing the midwest, by Thursday afternoon, in plenty of time to do the work I am being paid to do. If my passport comes this afternoon, that is. And if it does not come, I’m probably going to need more Percocet.

September 15, 2012

English Language Fellow Orientation 2012

by Tabitha Kidwell

17 of the other English Language Fellows (which can be shortened to “fellow” or the adorable but vaguely demeaning “ELF”) and I just spent 2 weeks together for In-Country Orientation. With 20 fellows (2 arrive later), we are the largest ELF group in any country in the world, ever! As such, we got a more extensive orientation than many of our fellow fellows around the world, some of whom are the only ELF in their entire country. Eran, our Regional English Language Officer (RELO – our boss in terms of approving and reporting our work, but who will rarely explicitly tell us what we should be doing) and his hard-working colleagues Dian and Ayunda planned a great orientation for us! We spent a few hours every day learning Bahasa Indonesia (or remembering all the Bahasa we forgot over the summer), and spent most of the rest of most days sharing practical information about how to be an ELF in Indonesia: set-up of university classes, the educational system, cultural information, partners we could work with, scholarships we could recommend, etc. We also got out “into the field” a few times to try our hands at school visits, teacher training, and group presentations. We assisted with the Shaping the Way We Teach English teacher training at the @America cultural center in Jakarta. We visited the Access Microscholarship program, which provides English classes to talented high school students who couldn’t afford it themselves. We visited a lab school at the National Education University:

We also did a teacher training after working with the kids

We helped with the monthly RELO round table discussion for Indonesian Educators:

We also overlapped with the tail end of the orientation for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), who will teach in high schools in a similar teacher exchange program. We did a very little bit of teacher training with them, but also networked and started thinking of possible regional collaborations between the two groups…

…and we performed an Indonesian-Themed version of “Call Me Maybe” in the ETA talent show:

Second place! (though that may have been a mercy vote)

We also attended two formal dinners for us and friends of RELO to meet each other and network. They were planned by these lovely ladies:

Dian and Ayunda, perhaps the hardest-working women in Indonesia!

So they kept us fairly busy during the days… but we still found time for fun at night. We were in Jakarta and Bandung, arguably the two most cosmopolitan cities in Indonesia, and there was no shortage of places to go! We ate some delicious typical Indonesian food:

And some less-typical Indonesian food:

Look how crowded it is! An international phenomenon… from Columbus, Ohio!

We went to a beautiful restaurant overlooking Bandung to celebrate my birthday:

Liz, Tabitha, Jackie, Deidre & Kate

We visited Barack Obama’s elementary school:

There’s little Barry!

We hung out in our luxurious hotel rooms:

Playing “Cards Against Humanity”

We went out clubbing:

Maybe we should switch…

And we sang Karaoke:

In short, we had a blast. We have an incredible group this year – everyone is laid-back, friendly, fun. We get along great and have a really good support system for when things might get rough this year. We had an awesome two weeks together, but by the end, I think everyone was ready to get to site and get to work. Fancy hotels, fine dining, night life, and American fast food are part of Indonesian culture, particularly in big cities like Jakarta and Bandung, but most of us didn’t come to Indonesia to continue doing the things we used to do in Brooklyn, Baltimore, or Boulder. Our last evening, in the pinnacle of Bule-ness, we hung out by the hotel’s rooftop pool and ordered delivery pizza. The club next door was pumping house music, but you could just barely make out the hum of the evening call to prayer coming from the hundreds of Mosques down on the ground. Even if we were living the high life at the moment, real Indonesia was calling us – and we were thrilled to meet the call! Now my 17 friends and I are scattered across the archipelago, from Aceh in the Northwest, to Lombok in the Southeast. We’re moving in, learning to get around our towns, meeting our students, and getting ready to start teaching next week. Now the real fun begins!

August 26, 2012

Selamat Datang Lagi!

by Tabitha Kidwell

Coming back to Indonesia, I honestly didn’t know how I would feel. Would I be sad? Happy? Lonely? Overwhelmed? Miss the friends and family I spent the summer with? Excited to start a new year here? When I got on the plane in Ohio, I really didn’t know how it would go.

But the minute I got off the fifth and final plane of my 40-hour journey, I felt like I had come home. Even the familiar sights of the Semarang airport and the congested, 1.5-hour drive to Salatiga brought me joy! My Bahasa Indonesia started to come right back as I was chatting with my counterpart (my go-to person at the university) Bu Rini. It seemed like I had been gone for two weeks, not for over two months!

And once I got to Salatiga, it was even better! I was so happy to open the door to my house and unpack all of my new goodies from America. It was awesome to ride my scooter and my road bike, re-enroll as a member at the fancy hotel so I could use their pool, and make a pot of tea and drink it while I sat on the couch and read the New Yorker. I haven’t done too much since I got back, but that’s okay – I needed a vacation from my action-packed vacation! I’ve had to report at the immigration and police offices, but otherwise, I’ve just exercised, read, and settled in. Life is as peaceful and as joyful as I remember – actually, it’s even better. The American coffee shop down the street re-opened in a new location, and they now serve staples like burgers, pizza, and chicken wings! And the organic grocery store (I like to think of it as Pedagang Joe’s) now serves homemade bread! The sun seems brighter and Mt. Merbabu, always towering over town, seems bigger.

Ohio will always be my home – it’s where my friends and family are, and I will always go back there. But Salatiga is a pretty close substitute for the next 10 months!

August 18, 2012

Hi, my name is Tabitha, and I’m an Ameriholic.

by Tabitha Kidwell

You know how they say you have to hit rock bottom to accept an addiction and begin to heal? When I wrote my last post, I was somewhere near rock bottom, and America was my drug. I had been overindulging on all the wonderful parts of life here: baseball games, fresh summer berries, fast food, happy hour, pizza delivery, Target stores, friends and family, fried cheese, etc. This summer has basically been an America binge, and it has been awesome! Like any addict, I thought I couldn’t live without it. I was so sad at the thought of cutting off my supply of American amazingness and returning to Indonesia, cold turkey. It was so tempting to imagine a life here where I just had a steady stream of the good stuff. But I realized I was stronger if I could live without it, and my life would be better if I could just cut the habit. And, I started to remember all the good things about life in Indonesia: cheap massages, delicious peanut sauces, my students, my road bike, my quiet, peaceful house. In short, I feel ready to go back to Indonesia and work off the metaphorical hangover from my summer of fun in America. To be honest, I’m exhausted – and I’m really looking forward to having some time to myself again. I loved being around all the people I love here, but my life this summer has been skewed out of balance towards time with other people. The shift back to solitude will be welcome… at least for a little while.

So I’m excited to go back to Indonesia, especially after the last week of orientation in DC. As a renewing fellow, I didn’t have to go, but I wanted to meet the new fellows and help answer the many questions anyone moving halfway across the world will have. Also, it was nice that I got a $400 allowance for food, got to stay in the Omni Shoreham, and got to see all the people I know in DC! Though the orientation was basically the same as last year, I found it really useful. Whereas last year I was just totally inundated with information, this year I could sort through it all and get inspiration and new ideas. It really got my creative juices flowing about possible projects for the upcoming year. And it was great to meet the 14 new fellows coming to Indonesia! They are mostly in their late 20s (like me, for another 2 weeks at least!) and a fun and interesting bunch. Last year, many of the fellows were older and tended to be happy doing their own thing, but it seems like next year’s are a more intrepid bunch, and we’ll have a good community. So, while the summer of fun was great, the binge is over. It’s time to roll out of bed, have some coffee, and get back to work!

August 6, 2012

Summer of Fun

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’ve been home since July 2, and it has been a whirlwind of activity! Almost everyday, I’ve met friends for lunch and dinner, or maybe coffee, drinks, or a run. I went to a bunch of doctor’s appointments and took care of all my visa paperwork. I went to visit my Aunt Leslie & Uncle Tom in Tennessee, my Aunt Erin in West Virginia, and my Dad and step-mom in East Lansing. I hung out with my sister when she was home visiting. I got together with some of my former KMS students. I went up to Kelley’s Island last weekend with my college roommates and we attempted to re-live our college partying days. I went to a Columbus Clippers game, the Ohio State fair, Gallery Hop, Grandview Café Trivia, the UA 4th of July parade AND the Doo Dah Parade. I’ve spent time with my mom and my grandma. It’s been an amazing summer, and I’m so lucky to have a few weeks where all I really need to do is spend time with the people I love.

But now it’s August, and reality is sinking in. All my plans for the summer have happened now. I only have this week here, then I go to DC for a week of orientation, then I’m back just for one weekend, and then I leave. I just got my plane ticket for my departure on August 20th. I’ve started putting stuff in piles to get ready to pack. The Summer of Fun is coming to an end, and at the moment, I’m really sad that I have to leave my friends and family to go back to the other side of the world. When I was leaving her in Greece, my friend Libby said “I hate the way time works, how you look forward to something for so long, and then it happens so quickly.” That’s what I’m feeling now. I spent all year looking forward to coming home and thinking about all the things I wanted to do while I was home, and now it has all flown by.

Of course, the past month has basically been limbo – I’m between things, and just here for a visit. People are thrilled to see me because we haven’t seen each other all year, but if I lived here, it would be no big deal. The summer of fun isn’t exactly real life. I know that I want to go back to Indonesia, and I know I’ll be happy once I get there, meet the new people in my program, and start working on the projects that I have planned for the year. And then I’ll have something else to look forward to. And it will end, too… and that’s how life works. I guess I’m lucky to have to many exciting experiences and wonderful people in my life. I just wish time would slow down so I could enjoy it all a little bit longer.

At MCL with my brother Mark and my Nana Bets

Out for drinks with Maggie, Ann, and Debbie

Kelley’s Island with my college roommates: Erin, Tess, Michelle, Ashley, and me

At the Columbus Clipper’s Game

On the ledge at Graeters with some former students

The chocolate farm at the Ohio State Fair

At Dolly Sods Wilderness with my Nana Bets

August 19, 2011

First Impressions & Peace Corps Flashbacks

by Tabitha Kidwell

I apologize for the delay, but I have obviously been in transit. It is so great to finally be here after months of waiting and getting ready and saying good-bye. I’ve been at the end of things for so long, that it is really refreshing to be at the beginning. I was in Washington for an orientation from August 8-12, then traveling until Monday, August 14, and then visiting my town until yesterday. Now I’m in Jakarta for an orientation and will head southeast to Bandung for three weeks of language training!

Maybe it is the fact of being at the beginning of something that makes me think so often of my two years in Madagascar. That was the last time I really took the plunge like this, in a totally unfamiliar place for such an extended amount of time. In preparing, I’ve been comforted by the fact that life here should be so much more comfortable than my life for two years in Madagascar, where I had no plumbing, intermittent electricity, and only one computer in town with internet (which moved at glacial speed). I imagined going in that the two experiences (both generously sponsored by the American government) would have a lot of similarities, and that is absolutely accurate! I’m being flooded with memories from my time in the Peace Corps: training in a freezing town in the highlands, moving into my house in a boiling town on the coast, beer- and sun-soaked volunteer reunions for the holidays, teaching classes of 80 students in their blue smocks… These memories seem more tangible now than they have for the past five years!

While it’s definitely simplistic to say that Indonesia is like Madagascar, they have their similarities! Both countries are, of course, tropical. Both abound with beaches, palm trees and tropical fruits. The people themselves look like Malagasy people, and for good reason: rather than hop right over from Africa, the original inhabitants of Madagascar paddled their canoes all the way across the Indian Ocean from – you guessed it – Indonesia! Malagasy shares much of its core vocabulary with Ma’anyan, a language spoken in southern Borneo. Wikipedia remarks: “it is not clear precisely when or why such colonization took place.” But it did, and they brought along their Malayo-Polynesian language and a general cultural mania for rice. Malagasy people eat more rice per capita than any other country on the earth, but the Indonesians are really giving them a run for their money. My counterpart already took me to the store specifically “to buy rice” and would not leave my house until he had (1) shown me how to use the rice cooker and (2) secured a promise that I would cook rice for lunch, if not breakfast, the next day. In both countries, when said rice is consumed, the utensil of choice is not a fork but a large spoon not unlike a shovel.

Of course, Madagascar and Indonesia have some remarkable differences! For one, the population of Indonesia is about 20 times as big as that of Madagascar, and they are light years more developed. I’m typing this in a posh hotel in downtown Jakarta, and outside the window I can see no less than 26 high rise buildings. I can think of precisely one in the entire country of Madagascar. To get back and forth from all those buildings, they have lots of well-maintained roads clogged with lots of cars and busses and taxis and more motorcycles than I ever could have imagined. Even outside of Jakarta, the traffic is incredible! I had to drive back and forth from Salatiga to the regional capital a few times last week to go to the immigration office. Even though it’s only 50 kilometers, the drive takes two hours because you hardly ever get above 30 mph. It’s just town after town and traffic jam after traffic jam! I knew that Java was the most densely populated island in the world, but I wasn’t prepared for what that would actually look like. In Madagascar, I would have killed for roads like this. Given how many motorcycles they seem to come with, I may have been better off with the pot-holes and the mud.

Similarities and differences aside, I’m still thinking about Madagascar a lot. Life will be significantly easier here (Hot water! Window panes! Wi-fi at home! American fast food!), but I’d forgotten the parts of life in Madagascar that made it fun despite the lack of modern conveniences: the relationships, cultural knowledge, and support I had there. I’m comparing the Indonesia of day three with the Madagascar of month 24, and it has no chance of stacking up. Yet. It took a long time to figure things out in Madagascar, but then I knew how to negotiate gracefully through society. I feel clumsy and clueless right now. But I guess that is what happens when you are at the beginning of things. So for now, I’m going to enjoy my beginning, and let the rest fall into place.

August 8, 2011


by Tabitha Kidwell

I only have one recurring dream: I am leaving on a trip and have to go to the airport in 20 minutes, and I realize I have forgotten to pack! So I run around the house trying to get together everything I need, while the person who is driving me to the airport keeps telling me it is time to go. I keep thinking of more things I need and more things to pack while time is ticking away.

I don’t know what this dream says about the state of my subconscious, or if it is just a reflection of how often I travel. In real life, this would never happen. I actually love to pack, and usually start packing for trips far too early. When I have a trip coming up, I will always be thinking about packing at the back of my head. While I’m on runs, I’ll think about what books to bring and what clothes to wear and how I will fit them in the suitcase. This comes as part of a greater love of organization – when other people put pictures of their children on facebook, I put picture of my newly-cleaned-out closets. I may be a little obsessed. Maybe it is my type A personality, maybe it is to stave off the threat that my recurring dream will come true. I don’t know. I just love to pack.

So, preparing for a trip to Indonesia was one of the most exciting things to happen all summer. The English Language Fellows who are returning for next year sent out a list of what to bring, and I went out and bought almost everything they recommended. I spent a significant amount of money buying everything I could think of that I might need for the next 10 months, which turns out to be a lot of stuff! I was intending to pack my bags as full as I could then just pay the baggage fees (Georgetown Univeristy, the sponsor of the program, had given us money to do so). But that was until I looked at the fees! Just to bring two bags of 50 pounds each was $60 – fine. But then overweight fees were $200 up to 70 pounds, and $400 up to 100 pounds! So I was determined to bring everything I needed with only my two 50 pound bags, a carry-on, and a laptop bag.

My first step was to divide everything into piles:

Athletic Gear. If things go well I’ll train for two marathons while I’m over there. I should probably have purchased another pair of shoes, but I’m taking 3 as it is!

Pharmaceuticals: I tell you, vitamins for 10 months are very heavy! I also bought every OTC medication I could imagine taking: Robitussin, Pepto Bisbol, Excedrin, Chloraseptic, Benadryl, Sudafed, Aleve, Immodium, Ibuprofen, Tylenol cold, Zyrtec, etc. I think the lady at the checkout thought I was crazy.

Clothes – this is the only thing I didn’t buy any more of, except for one rain jacket. I think back to my clothing in Madagascar when I was in the peace corps, and I really didn’t take that much. I was fine then, and I think I’ll be fine now. Plus, during training, it was fun to get to know the entire contents of each other’s suitcases. I’ll never forget Meghan’s purple skirt or Stacey’s green sweater!

Gifts/teaching stuff. This includes the best bargain I found – I was looking for something small I could use for gifts, and I came across boxes of 20 football & baseball silly bandz for only 49 cents! What is more American than football, baseball, and stupid fads!? I see those going over very well.

Shoes. I felt like this was a little excessive. I’m not a shoe freak. But all of these seemed necessary – I like to at least match!

Non-essential food. I don't really eat a lot of junk food, but there is something about not being able to find oreos or sour patch kids that will just make you crave them like nothing else. And when you are homesick, twizzlers and goldfish really help a lot. I once came home from the Peace Corps for a weekend (I escorted a friend on med-evac) and returned with two suitcases full of food. I just planned to fit as much of this as I could, and leave the rest for my mom to ship to me.

Essential food. Thanksgiving fixin’s. I guess Mexican thanksgiving. I just have a soft spot for Tequila.

Electronics. I do feel like this is a little excessive. My tech-addicted father and step-father have insisted on hooking me as well, and bought me, respectively, a new kindle and an iPad. What could I do, turn them down? But add to that a MacBook, iPod touch, iPod shuffle, 2 cameras (one of which my dad also gave me), and a bunch of adapters, and it just gets a little crazy. Look at all those cords!

Books. This is where I think I will get a lot of weight savings – I took probably 30 books with me to Madagascar, but I’ll read them on my kindle now. I also had people send me magazines monthly, and now I’ll read them on the iPad. I’m only taking very small or very essential books.

Kitchen stuff. American measuring cups are key, and I think the vegetable peeler, good knives, and spatulas will be put to good use! Sometimes it is hard to find good kitchen tools.

Fun stuff. If you think this is excessive, you should hear what I thought about bringing but had the will power to leave behind: a slip n’ slide, my full smurfette costume, a cheesehead, and my sequin tiara are just a few. Those elf shoes are going to be a hit this December!

Once things were in piles, I started with each pile and put the absolute most essential items in my bags, then weighed them. Still more room. So I put more stuff in. STILL MORE ROOM! So I ended up being able to fit just about everything I wanted/needed and still sneak in under the weight limit. In the end, I have bringing almost exactly my own body weight in luggage. That’s a lot of vitamins, sour patch kids, and power cords!