by Emily, Co-Director, IHF Banda Aceh
I was goofy this week. I found myself singing, “All By Myself” in my best Celine Dion impression to the amusement of the SD 2 and 3 children. The things that happen when you suddenly switch from 2 roommates to none. Our wonderful co-Director, Timea, has fulfilled her commitment with IHF and left Banda Aceh to travel around Southeast Asia. She is missed. After all this time together, I consider her a sister and sincerely wish her the best on her next journey.
Coincidentally, Dustin left soon thereafter for a visa run, leaving me quite suddenly alone at the center. After 7 months of not spending a single night by myself, it was shockingly silent in the evening. I found myself locking the doors a little earlier than usual, listening to the bumps in the night with a little more intensity. I messaged Anggara, one of our local math teachers, at 2 in the morning to report that I had heard rustling in the trees outside my window.
“Just go to sleep,” he wrote. “Nothing bad can happen in Banda Aceh.”
Sure, sure. Tell that to the violently rustling leaves, I thought. In retrospect, it might have just been the wind. Maybe.
The next morning in classes, my students eagerly enquired after Dustin’s location (they have come to terms with Timea’s absence, although they don’t like it). I explained where Dustin was. Eventually, everyone realized that all this information meant one thing and one thing only: I was alone at the center.
And thereafter came an immense flood of invitations, from our local volunteers, parents, and some terribly concerned eight year olds. They could stay with me, I could stay with them, we could all stay somewhere else together. Indonesian culture is incredibly communal. Individuals rarely seek alone time, and some of my kind rescuers had trouble understanding my polite refusals. I value my alone time, and I wanted to take advantage of my first and possibly last opportunity in Indonesia.
“But aren’t you scared in the night?” One of our math teachers asked.
“Pffff.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “Of course not!”
I think somewhere in the background, Anggara was laughing at me.
My time alone did a lot for me, actually, other than get my adrenaline irrationally pumping. I got to sing and play guitar louder at night, as I wasn’t disturbing anyone by doing so. I taught a lot, which I always enjoy immensely. But mostly, I was immeasurably touched by the concern for my wellbeing expressed by all the wonderful people in my life here. I was reminded that bad things really don’t happen in Banda Aceh that often because most people are caring and considerate above and beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. These parents and university students and children offering to change their schedules for me weren’t doing so out of concern for my safety–of course I was safe! They wanted me to be comfortable, to feel looked after, to not be lonely even for a few nights in the city they want me to call home. I was hit with this wave of affection for Banda Aceh, and I think it will last the rest of my life.
When Dustin finally returned, the children were happy to see him and so was I. It was a nice recharge to have some alone time, but it felt right for him to be there too. I’m now off for my 2 week annual leave–it’s Dustin’s turn for alone time–and it seems strange to go right after being drastically reaffirmed in my happiness. But I will return refreshed, and the return will feel like a real home-coming. There’s something very special in that, something I treasure.
I want to express my appreciation for the all people who’ve made that feeling real for me. The people who’ve left: our short-term volunteers and Timea, who taught me everything I know about this job and was a constant support system. The person I live with, Dustin, who cooks me amazing dinners and always thinks of a rational point I haven’t considered yet. Our housemother and the local volunteers, who comfort me at 2 in the morning and are an inspiration, with their patience and kindness toward the children. The parents, some of whom drive far distances twice a week so that their children can be part of our program and have more opportunities in life, and who will always bring me food when they have it and give me advice if they think I need it (I usually do). And my IHF family–The co-Directors at other centers and on other continents who send me encouraging emails and impress me with their dedication and competence.