An Attitude of Gratitude…
When you live remotely in a country where twelve percent of people live on less than $2 a day, your perspective is bound to change somewhat.
Fairly quickly, first world worries become trivial. What follows is a realisation that the key to emotional survival in a place like this is in reminding (and yes, sometimes forcing) yourself to give thanks for the simple things.
Simple things…you know, like carrots.
Almost every day, for the past month or so, I’ve found myself desperately seeking out the colour orange in our local store. It’s been a long time between beta-carotene hits for our little family…! Carrots are the world’s second most popular vegetable after potatoes and, in a place like this where vegetables are as rare as hen’s teeth at the best of times, when we lose a staple and normally reliable ingredient, we really feel it. So today, wherever you are in the world, be grateful for your plentiful carrot supply and don’t fret about the odd split one (or mouldy one!) here and there…it’s all good!
We gave up on reliable fresh green vegetable supply long ago (zucchini, broccoli, beans, spinach etc) and started growing our own. After establishing a robust herb garden, a successful lettuce crop and a reasonable supply of beans, we somehow managed an unexpected bumper crop of highly coveted broccoli. While I was anxiously awaiting our broccoli harvest and planning all sorts of nutritious dishes filled with the stuff, a bunch of wandering Papuans came and relieved me of my stash. Oh, the heartbreak! They didn’t even leave me one!
Now I’ll be honest. It’s been hard to exercise gratitude in this particular instance. There may or may not have been some serious name-calling going on. However, as I refer back to my opening sentence and the abject poverty faced by much of the population here, I manage to tell myself, “Oh well, there’s always potatoes!” (All the while hoping that whoever helped themselves to my crop actually ate every darn scrap of it!)
Life here regularly reminds me of the many freedoms we take for granted back home. It would come as no surprise that reliable high-speed internet is a pipe dream for us, right up there with access to fresh food. Another idiosyncrasy is the fact that our access to transport on and off the mountain is controlled by our employer and the government. If, for whatever reason, our buses, choppers or planes were prevented from operating (and it’s happened before), we would in turn be prevented from leaving the island. Now, Aussies are accustomed to life in somewhat of a ‘Nanny State’, but even we were surprised when asked to prove our marital status before gaining permission to live here. Unmarried cohabitation is prohibited in Indonesia (as is interfaith marriage and atheism) and can even be punished by imprisonment. In our little town, it would more likely result in instant dismissal for an expat, but still! Completely inconceivable in modern-day society back home and just another freedom to be grateful for.
On the flip side, life here strips away lots of unnecessary clutter, uncovering the benefits of a simpler existence. It is enlightening to discover how much ‘stuff’ you really need and to realise what you can live without. It’s less about relishing this new way of life (because sometimes it’s just plain tough), and more about discovering our true capabilities and resourcefulness. I am capable of much more than I knew, especially in the kitchen where absolutely everything is made from scratch and feeding the family is a time-consuming occupation. Indeed there are days when I liken parts of my life to that of my Grandmothers’ daily grind in the ‘olden days’ – admittedly with much less housework thanks to our local maid service! In this back-to-basics existence, I have found much gratitude in learning new skills and improved levels of patience and tolerance.
Like any small town, the solid friendships that blossom within our little expat community between people from all over the world are cherished and life long. I can’t tell you how much sanity preservation occurs on a daily basis as a direct result of these relationships (and the wine they share) and I am certainly grateful for that!
And then there are those times when we simply stop and take the time to look around. We are repeatedly rewarded with the most spectacular views that money literally can’t buy – there’s no getting in or out of this place without having a job here. It really is a stunning and serenely beautiful place. So, we’re grateful that even though we live with our challenges in the middle of nowhere, at least it’s easy on the eye.
As a Mum, I also find much to be grateful for here in the jungle. Yes, there are things that our girls miss out on living so remotely, but it’s a fairly low-stress family life and one which allows me to spend precious time with them. Indeed just the simple fact that I’m unable to drive here saves me hours every single day…I just try not to think about the fact that there’s nowhere to go even if I could drive! The school is a seven minute walk from home and I can be at the shops in less than five. Oh, and my groceries are home-delivered within a matter of hours. It’s the little things!
Speaking of school, the girls recently participated in the traditional end-of-year school performance – something they had been hard at work rehearsing for many weeks and that many school Mums helped bring to fruition. They had a fabulous time singing, dancing and acting their way through the Mt Zaagkam School production of Alice in Wonderland in a room chock full of super-proud parents.
I have heard many, many renditions of the songs from the performance at home over the past couple of months – I even caught myself humming one over and over again today. This is one of their favourites:
As the last school term of the year draws to a close, our family has spoken often about all that we have to be grateful for, both in our new life and our old. For now though, we are looking forward to returning home for much-anticipated visits with family and friends. We’re very grateful for the fabulous travel experiences coming our way this break – winter and skiing in the southern hemisphere for the little kids and summer and cruising in the northern hemisphere for the big kids – Spain, Portugal and the Baltics, here we come!
While we eagerly await the excesses of school holidays, our Muslim friends here in Tembagapura are carrying out their own period of self-reflection by settling into Ramadan, a month-long religious observance where they fast from dawn till dusk every day. Ramadan culminates in a mass exodus where workers return to their villages and hometowns to celebrate the holy holiday of Idul Fitri by practicing forgiveness and feasting with their families.
Self-reflection for us means looking back over the past 18 months of Our Indo Adventure and embracing the unique experiences thrown at us by this self-imposed tree change. And, carrot famine aside, jungle life as we know it is pretty good…just as long as our attitude of gratitude prevails! Now, bring on the feast…
Until next time,
(See you later)