I arrived in Makassar for the ELF/ETA Mid-Year Conference on a cold, wet, rainy Sunday afternoon after having just spent the last 4 days of my vacation in paradise on Bunaken Island. I crash landed back into the world of work, presentations and meetings with a suitcase full of dirty, smelly, wet clothes and the panicked realization that I had not planned a single bit of the three workshops I was scheduled to present at a tourism school and a local high school. Pushing those thoughts aside, I joined a small group of ELFs at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel for a quick bit to eat.
And this is where it happened. Still hungry after a round of fried tofu, I ordered a club sandwich because it was the most appealing item on the menu. When the waiter placed the sandwich of untoasted white bread (sans frilly toothpick) and wilted lettuce in front of me, I looked at it dubiously. When I picked it up and noticed the unidentifiable piece of luncheon meat dangling off the side, all the accumulated stress that had been building inside me reached a breaking point and I burst into tears. I ranted to my somewhat astonished friends that eating food should be a pleasurable, sensual experience and this sandwich was anything but. In fact, all Indonesian food is completely horrible. In a true act of solidarity, Courtney reached over to try a piece of the sandwich and instantly declared it disgusting. Then she buried it under a pile of tissues and garbage, which made me laugh. And then Mark, with a typical male how-bad-can-it-be attitude, proceeded to devour the rest of the sandwich. Go figure.
After this incident, I was reassured to learn that I wasn’t the only one who was tired, headachy and not at all in the mood for a jam-packed week of workshops and random meetings with the teachers, rectors, and Vice Presidents of the schools that we were supposed to visit. None of us, in fact, have been in top form this week as we battle jet-lag, sore-throats, colds, diarrhea, hangovers, exhaustion, holiday flirtations that amounted to nothing, family problems back home and other assorted woes. But we all rallied and managed to pull off our workshops.
However, it is against this backdrop of stress, fatigue, and general unpleasantness of my surroundings that I need to make my final decision about renewing my contract in Indonesia for a second year. I had been leaning towards staying on but to be honest, Indonesia, especially the cities, is not a place I can say I really enjoy living in. For instance, on our way to dinner tonight, we walked by a garbage truck full of such foul smelling garbage that Sarah almost gagged. Then we passed some more burning garbage, begging children and cat-calling men. On the way back to our hotel, I had to roll up my jeans to prevent them from being dragged through filthy garbage and I also coughed up some sort of bug that flew into my mouth. Unpleasantness abounds here. And the food is really and truly awful.
Should I stay or should I go?