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29 April 2002 @ 10:01 am
stories from Ems - "Flight from hell...or Entrance into Indo..."  
So Ems seems like she is doing well.. *smiles* tis good to hear from her...


Subject: Flight from hell...or Entrance into Indo...

Hey again everybody,

I guess I ll get on to the story of how things have been since I left the States. Most has been fine, but it was off to a rough start. I won t give too much detail about the boring parts (not that there are that many, but I'll save the less eventful relfections for another time), and just skip to the story of getting to and arriving in Indonesia. It was the longest 40-some odd hours I think I have ever experienced, and I hope to never experience anything else remotely similar to it again. I also hope that none of you ever experience anything like it either&so, contained within, are some hints on how NOT to travel. Read it when you're in a cynical mood and ready to laugh at the world and the ridiculousness of what can go through someone's mind if they've been thinking too much without enough sleep, and it might make more sense. Take it as you will, but maybe keep it in mind as a reminder to stay on your toes, no matter how comfortable you feel. Some of you may have heard it, and if so, sorry about the repeat, but I think you may get a chuckle from it all the same. It s one of those stories, that no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to forget (no matter how much I may want to). And at least I can laugh about it now.

So, in Morocco, I still had e.mail, and I was pretty centered, considering the circumstances of my dream-state mind and the new Amanizing philosophies coming at me. I was trying to stay connected with some of you to the best of my ability, but I was also trying to figure out all the ins and outs of the job and the world I was entering into. And what a strange world it is. Wow, is it strange. And very disorienting, since living in such a nice place (and living in a hotel, period, I think) has a bubble effect that kind of engulfs you and separates you from the rest of the world; it's easy to forget [well, not forget, but maybe gloss over the fact that] there is a world out there sometimes, since it's such a sheltered place. But that s another story and another letter.

Three days before I was to leave for Indonesia, a state of emergency was declared. The president was ousted, though he wouldn t leave the palace, people were fairly vehement on both sides, and I had heard rumors of violence throughout the country. All I knew of Indonesia at this time was from the Suharto (2nd president/dictator) era, where people couldn t speak openly without disappearing or being sent to prison, and the riots that forced ex-pats to flee the country. Hmm. I thought I had been joking when I said I might fly into a war zone. Guess not, and I do not recommend anyone doing this unless they know the country they are flying into very, very well.

So, my nerves were a bit on edge. And, after some assurance from many people (yet I was still seeing the energy or whatever it was behind their eyes), I packed my bags and was ready to leave. All the most important things, I put in a carry on (a local Moroccan plastic market bag that was non-descript and plain funny enough, of the same material as the blue plastic tarp). Quick run down of the contents: specially requested gifts from the manager of the hotel I was going to in Indonesia who I d heard was a bit eccentric, and had a tendency to go a bit 'left field' if he started drinking and his children; all my teaching supplies books, lesson plans, schedules, correspondence about the program; the explanation of my visa, in case immigration asked for it (evidently, there were several questions they should have asked, one of which was for the paper, and one of which was about a ticket out of the country which I did not have nor know I needed to have); gifts for a lot of you to say sorry about the quick departure and about not saying goodbye and that I love you and was thinking about you; and the last thing in the bag was all of my underwear. I got on a train from Marrakech to Casablanca, and life was settled. Nervous, but under control. Now, nervousness breeds exhaustion. It also breeds mistakes. And this evening was no exception.

Having felt completely safe and at home with no problems in the two months I d been there, I didn t fight too hard when my eyes closed. NEVER DO THIS. When I woke up, at the train station in Casa, my bag was gone. Fate has a funny way of dealing you exactly what you need least (and on some ironic level, also what you need the most). I want to believe in the good of people, and so I choose to think that it was a case of a mistaken identity (there were, after all, hundreds of these bags around the train)&but there s always that little bit of doubt (pessimism or realism? call it what you will) that can creep into your mind at the most unlikely times. I wound up spending about five hours at the train station, trying to track it down at the next stops it made. Of course, no luck, so, defeated, exhausted, a bit bewildered, and trying to figure out what the game plan was going to be to remedy the situation, I went back to a hotel I d stored my bags in at some point during the five hour wait. Only, at 4.30 in the morning, at a closed train station, there aren t very many taxis around. The only people I saw in cars were looking a bit sketchy, so I decided that since it wasn t that far to walk, I would.

I wanted to get a bit out of my system anyways, and walking has always helped me think. Again, NEVER DO THIS. The only women out at this time are the prostitutes. And while they pose no unmanagable threat, and in fact are pretty friendly (I had a cigarette with one of them when I was try to figure out how to get back to my hotel, since it wasn t where I thought it was), the men, however, that are out and around at this time DO pose a bit of a threat. And they re so sweet as they walk around with you looking for your hotel (still no cars or taxis), offering alternatives of their house, which, of course, is just around the corner. Standing your ground (while completely exhausted and simply wanting to lie down) that you don t want to go home with them is an unquestionable necessity, though so is being polite, since you don t know how they re going to react to whatever a loose American girl, walking around the streets, alone at night may deny them. And as soon as I finally and tactfully got the message across to one that what they were looking for was not going to happen, another one would come up. Finally, I just gave up and let one walk with me for a while, talking about my situation at hand and different cultures (trying, not always successfully, to stay away from politics) and blahblahblah&After an hour and a half of wandering, I now know a fairly large portion of Casablanca fairly well. After repeatedly turning down my suggestion that he just go home ( no, I can t do that, you don t know what kind of men are out here at night &>smirk< I love irony), he began getting a bit aggressive, and so, on a remarkable chance that a car happened to drive by, I signaled for him to stop and he did (never mind that it was just a private car). I got in, and drove to the hotel, which turned out to be pretty close.

An hour of sleep and a quick shower later, I was back at the train station to go to the airport. I hate that train station. I managed to slip down a flight of stairs on my shins with my 40-pound bag on my back, making sure to keep hold of my other two bags as I went down. Barely able to walk, though you do because you have no choice, I got up and finally made it to the train deck. In a daze, I got to the airport (taking care NOT to sleep on the train), where I had to pay an airport tax and an excess baggage tax that I wasn t fully aware of and didn t have enough money for, and no, they didn t take credit cards, and no, sorry, there s no ATM close by. Once that was sorted, I went to wait (only 2 hrs) to fly (still refusing to sleep) and trying to figure out a solution to the conundrum I d gotten myself into.

(Quick overview of the lessons I learned from Morocco on this last day: Don t fall asleep on trains, no matter how nice the people close to you are. Don t walk around late at night in Casablanca as a single woman from America. Be careful walking down a flight of stairs with a heavy bag on your back when you ve only gotten one hour of sleep. Check the amount you have to pay to leave a country, and check to make sure the particular flight you are on will accept all of your baggage, no matter if the flight you were on before it, did without incident. Have enough local currency on you at all times you can either go back to the country or exchange it later. And please don't ask me how or why I forgot these lessons, maybe it has to do with feeling a bit too relaxed.)

So, I flew to Abu Dhabi (still with out sleeping, trying the entire time to remember and write down all that was in the lesson plans), where Mr. Bin Laden was supposed to be at that time, avoiding arrest from a previous bombing (thanks for letting me know about that one, Ama), to look around the airport for some gifts for the GM and his children. I ve never been too interested in airport shopping, and I have to say that it is with good reason. There s not much with character in any of the stuff, though all of it is very useful. But fairly generic. Certainly not comparable with snakeskin Moroccan slippers in a 7 yr old boy s size, or a pill box necklace inlayed with stones. I got three CDs, and headed to the gate to wait to board again to go the 12 hours to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Now, standing at the gate was a group of about 15 men waiting who had on long white robes, and red and white turbans on their heads, just like the ones I d just seen all over the news. Hehe. Smile pretty, and watch your back; but don't smile too nice, since I m one of about 5 white people on the plane waiting to get on, and of course the only one with blond hair. Now, as most of you know, I try not to look at stereotypes, and just see people as people with different takes on life. I figure most of the problems that arise can usually be solved through talking things out. However, I have to admit, I was scared. For I m also aware that other people also have stereotypes, which they re working from, that may be directed at me. I m pretty sure this was the case, as all of them kept trying to avoid looking at me, and when they did, their faces were not wearing the most pleasant of expressions (I was deeply engrossed in a book at this point, and had no clue what it was about, but knew that I didn t really want to be making eye contact). Ah, well, at least my mind was so blitzed from stress and sleep deprivation at this point that whatever happened wouldn t hurt too much. It s funny watching how your mind changes with various levels of stress and sleep dep my cynicism comes out in full form, and at least I m smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Hehe.

As I walked down the aisle to my seat, I realized someone was in it. So, I went to talk to the stewardess (as I was aware that I was a little out of my senses, and didn t particularly feel like being all that polite or patient, and thought it best to let someone else handle it). Now, I m not exactly sure what was on the stewardess mind as she took me back to my seat, checked the number, moved on, and said please come this way, but it was all done with a smile. We walked around the back of the plane (passing several empty seats), and halfway back up the other side to the men with the white robes and red and white turbans, who had been glaring at me earlier. She stopped, and asked one with a window seat to kindly get up and give it to me. A bit of a squabble ensued, in which I simply stood back, a small distance away, and pondered what kind of karma I had racked up in the past for this entire experience to be happening. When a large amount of shuffling was over, she smiled sweetly at me, and said, Here you are. Enjoy your flight. And I looked around, and all of them were glowering at me. Two rows in front of me, two rows behind me, two people across the aisle all along the five rows, and the man sitting next to me. Hehe. Smile pretty and watch your back. I didn t sleep on that flight either. About ¾ of the way through, after watching me fairly intently, and seeing that I just did my thing and didn t pay much attention to them, they began relaxing and so did I (the cynicism had simply shut off at this point and I was just watching movies. Actually, come to think of it, just about everything had shut off in my brain by then). At one point, I was even joking with two of them a bit about an Indian Bollywood movie that I was watching. That lightened the mood somewhat, but I still didn t sleep. The flight was fine, but the energy was out of control. (As a side note, I found out two months later that there had been an Al Quaeda meeting in KL around that time&things that make you go HMMMMMM&so is that bad karma that got me into the situation, or good karma that helped me stay safe through it? Maybe a bit of both.)

(Don't ask me about the lessons I should have learned on this leg of it. Maybe, smile pretty, but not too pretty. Watch Bollywood movies when you have the chance. Shut up and do your own thing. Try to make friends with the person sitting next to you on a plane, no matter what your preconceptions are. Take people for people, instead of what's on the outside, and maybe - though only maybe - they'll do the same for you. Remember that in public, it's a lot more difficult to have a problem. And don't ever completely relax; if you close your eyes, make sure you can wake up at the slightest movement next to or around you while travelling. I don't know how overboard some of these may be, but I don't necessarily want to test the waters of relaxing while travelling anytime soon.)

So, almost to Indonesia, where I would be able to relax and enjoy a peaceful night before starting the job. One more flight to Jakarta, which was uneventful (thank God! But I was too wired on fear, adrenaline, and whatever other chemicals you brain puts out in a situation like that, to be able to get much sleep). I was also considering the lost imigration paper, and how I was going to explain it tactfully and concisely to the official, who I was warned might ask for a bribe upon entering the country. I had a bit of money and some candy in my pocket, just in case. We landed peacefully, and I passed through immigration without incident (which I have since heard is a fairly remarkable occurance - had I exhausted the bad karma by this point? Perhaps things were going to start looking up again) - He didn't question me about my visa, the lost paper, or my ticket out. Deciding to take a smoke break, I went outside. I didn't know what to expect. My mind was on fogged overdrive and I was half expecting riots and flames and maltov coctails to be flying overhead. But it was fine. Warm, sunny, friendly people, curious to talk and find out where I was born, where I was coming from, and where I was going. Hmm. I started to relax. I had the 3 CDs for the GM, had remembered a large portion of my lesson plans, figured I could buy more things for all of you once I got settled a bit, and knew that I could call Mom to send me some more books and underwear. Things were as sorted as possible, and I had to get a bit of rest (1 hr) before I met anyone at the hotel.

Again, it was a peaceful flight. The worst was over. Now, there is yet another dimension to my arrival in Jogjakarta and to the hotel that I must mention. The previous English teacher, who'd been there for a year (97-98) was also arriving the same day as I. (So was the wife of the GM, I found out later.) We communicated a bit before I had left Morocco, and had tried to coordinate being on the same flight into Jogja. It hadn't worked out, though; she was coming in on the flight after me, so I figured we would meet the next day, after a bit of rest. At this point, that was fine with me. I wanted to collect my thoughts a bit.

I arrived in the airport (thank God I'm finally off the planes!) to meet the children of the GM (ages 6 and 9, I believe) and the drivers. After a bit of a scuffle deciding who was going to wait and who was going to go with me, I set off on the drive to the hotel with the young boy and a driver without much English. This boy has got to be one of the sweetest I have ever met, explaining Indonesia, the hotel, some of the things to see on the way there (even though it was dark, so we couldn't actually see any of it). He was a regular tour guide and a spectacular host, and was a joy to be with (though I was still thinking of the gifts that were still somewhere in Moroco, and there was a bit of guilt over it, especially now that I was meeting him). I was trying to balance the conversation with him, however, with the driver, as I was assuming that he was going to be one of my students, and wanted to know what kind of English levels I was going to be dealing with. So as I tried talking to him, I realized he understood zilch, and even if he did know anything in English, my young tour guide wouldn't give him much opportunity to respond to anything I asked. Ah, well. I'll figure it all out in the morning. I'll be much more rested and relaxed then, anyways.

So in the course of the 45 minute drive, the young boy got things a bit mixed up. He began calling me by the previous English teacher's name, no matter how many times I reminded him of my real name and that it was my first time in Indonesia. Hmmm. Well, no worries, things would be sorted out in the hotel, as I obviously wasn't saying things in a such a way that he was understanding. Hmmm. Then he insisted to the driver, in Indonesian, that I was supposed to stay with them at their home. Calmly, patiently, asking if he's sure about that, considering that I'm the NEW English teacher, and NOT the one from before, I aquiessed as he continued to tell the driver where to take me. Now, from what I know about the company, plans can change in an instant, so I wasn't 100% sure that the boy wasn't correct in what he was saying about me staying with them. Yes, it was unlikely, but you never know; perhaps the hotel had filled up; perhaps there had been a major problem that happened in the previous 40 some odd hours I'd been in transit; perhaps...ugh. At this point, beginning to realize that my karma still hadn't worked itself out, I didn't know what else might have happened or what might happen once I arrived. (Is it just me this is happening to, or is this some sort of cosmic catacalism?) >sigh< A phone call to the GM, placed from their house upon arrival, should clear the air, answer all questions, and life would begin to get back to normal (optimistimism? or just dreading where it might be going? hoping against hope that I was not in AS bad a situation as it felt at that point?...'it probably just feels like this since I haven't gotten much sleep'). "Hello. How are you? This is Emily. I believe there's been a bit of a mix up. I'm now in your house and your son is insisting this is where I belong." Perhaps I said it the wrong way; I tried to be polite and not insulting of his son, though I was still unsure of what might be happening (always give the benefit of a doubt, right?). "What? What are you doing in my house?" he said, not in the most friendly of tones. "Give the phone to my son. I'll see you in the hotel." I proceeded to watch the boy's face drop from a beam of sunshine to a monsoon thunderhead, thinking all the while 'what the hell am i doing here? what am i getting into? so, yes, i've heard he's a bit eccentric, but fine as long as he doesn't drink; but i figured he might be a bit friendlier and understanding that mistakes can happen. what am i getting into? what is going on? shit. what if this doesn't work out? what am i fearing, loss of dignity? loss of a job? loss of ...? what are my back up plans? am i going to be on my own again, outside the hotel? (I just didn't know WHAT might happen at that point) what exactly does it mean when the country says it is in a state of emergency? how close to rioting is the country? (loss of life?) is this supposed to make sense? will sleep help this situation?'

Suitcases, people, and fears, back in the car we all piled. Five minutes later, we were at the hotel. Stunning. Serene. Paradise. A complete contradiction to everything I was feeling. Still on my toes, it was hard to take in that initial imprint. I honestly can't remember meeting him, what was said, first impressions, anything, except that he sauntered in a very distinct manner I'd never seen anywhere before. Flash forward about a half an hour (I'm guessing) to the terrace, where I immediately met about 20 people with names I'd never heard pronounced, and was told "you WILL feel guilty about staying here and recieving all the benefits of this hotel. It is the best in the world, you know, and you are going to be living it everyday. I know you can't help BUT feel guilty about it all. I've ordered you a massage once you get to your room. Try to relax a bit and enjoy it, despite the INEVITABLE guilt." Then he promptly ordered a shot of something. Hmmm.

Alright. So, I guess I'm going to be having the full experience of sureality and unlikelyhood. Yes, I do feel a bit guilty (though more, now, since you mentioned it). I wonder how long he's been drinking? how 'out there' might he get? how am i going to tell him about the gifts? i hope i can explain it all in the morning, when my head's a bit clearer. i just need to try to relax a bit and take in as much of the atmosphere as possible.

Pause.

"So, I believe you have some gifts for my children."

shit.

"Well, about that....there was a small incident on the train in Morocco, involving the bag they were in, and actually, I no longer have them. I can't tell you how sorry I am. I made the mistake of closing my eyes, and the bag is no longer with me. I got a couple of things in Abu Dhabi, though I know they can't replace what you wanted. I'm sorry."

silence. (honesty is the key? i was praying so.)

Another shot.

each second seemed like a century.

what was going to happen?

"You have GOT to be the stupidest girl I have ever met."

hhhhhhhh.....

the wind was knocked out of me. with words. that's a first. at least a first as far as being THAT physically noticable. But no, it didn't stop there. He went on for several minutes about HOW i was the stupidest girl to walk the planet; the stupidest thing on two legs. and on. and on. and on. or so it felt. "Fine. You must be tired. Go to your room and enjoy your massage."

wow.

life is strange. (always look for the ridiculousness and humor of it all, and then no matter how strange it gets, at least you'll be in a good mood. this was not completely apparent to me at the time, however.)

I have very little recollection about the next hour (though I know I didn't relax much in the massage), or about the next several days, other than that I met him on one more occasion in which he told me to throw away all the lesson plans I'd frantically remembered, because I couldn't POSSIBLY begin to teach until I knew about the culture I was now in (yes, a valid point, but...), so here, read these books (a stack from fingertips to elbow), and someone will take you out this weekend to show you around the town. Class starts on Monday. (and remember, don't feel guilty, you have to relax, and absorb the culture.) How do you accept and react to the most generous offers (a massage, interesting books, a free night out, and luxuries beyond contemplation...can life get any better?) from the person who (mostly because of circumstance and current view of the world) has had the biggest part in nearly stopping your heart? It was this contradiction that was the most difficult to handle.

I didn't see him again for several months (currently, we're living at the same hotel, and he has wound up being one of my favorite people in the company), as a week later, on my birthday, the same day we had a wedding at the hotel, a lot of people from head office arrived, and (three days after they showed up) I was told that he would be leaving, since he'd had overstepped his bounds, and that time had been the last warning. hmm. He and the woman who got me the job were actually the only ones in the company who wanted me to be there and had agreed to have me. one down. one left. and I still didn't know what was going on except that I heard his 'resignation' letter had to be 'doctored,' since he had said a couple of things that several people might not want to hear. was paranoia creeping in? YUP, you bet. In full force. Especially since everyone was telling me that he had dabbled in black magic (it's amusing how easily stories spin out of hand when you're dealing with imprecise translations and a very superstitious group of people), and every time I tried to talk about it on the phone to Mom, the line cut out; and was it because of the operators, or the magic, or simply chance; and I wondered if they had that program installed on their computers that records everything that's written, too?; and again, what the hell had I gotten myself into?

So, I stayed pretty low for a while and didn't really talk about too much of what was actually on my mind to anyone. Whether this was because my mind was pretty much void of any 'sorting/dealing/filtering' mechanisms, or because it was simply that I didn't want to deal with it yet, I'm not sure. But it wasn't coming out. Classes had started and perhaps I was just trying to think about them.

A month later, in the first week of September, things started to get normal in the hotel with the staff's reaction to his departure (although I saw a side of him that wasn't his best, he was very loved there, and everyone was shaken when he left). hmm. perhaps some semblance of normality was creeping back in? then the 11th happened. then the sweepings happened (and a funny thing on this...one day, the report was that they were gangsters going into hotels, threatening deportation - though with heavier implications that only came around in gossip - of all foreigners, the next day, 'no, no, they were just government officials who were out of uniform'). I didn't leave the hotel much. then things calmed down a bit. i still didn't leave the hotel much. (and by the way, there were no televisions in the hotel, and so I didn't actually see what happened until February, when I watched a video a friend had taped. and the news was so subjective and contradictory between the two papers I got - if they actually arrived at the hotel or not - that it was difficult to tell what the facts actually were.) then on October 7th, I got a call at 4.30 in the morning from the woman who'd gotten me the job (who was in the hotel at that point), where she said "I don't mean to worry you, but could you pack your bags and be ready to leave in an hour? America just bombed Afghanistan." Damn. So, an hour later, we were on the way to the airport to Bali (not actually having had a ticket, and my passport was up in North Java, 6 hours away because of a necessary visa extension...I got it back a month and a half later)...hehe. We saw several trucks full of soldiers on the road, and were in a bit of a daze about it all (though we contemplated buying all the newspapers that were sold at the traffic lights, just so no one else would read them for a little while). One soldier (with a very large gun) with us in our car. I now appreciate tinted windows more than I can tell you. Saw several diplomats at the airport, but other than that, the island hadn't found out yet. After that, is another story...some other time...
 
 
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