by Emily, Co-Director, IHF Banda Aceh
I’m sitting in the Medan airport, my flight delayed and bags overstuffed with the little sentimental items I couldn’t bare to leave behind. And it still hasn’t hit me. I’m gone. Aceh is behind and I’m not coming back any time soon. It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Indonesia. My time with IHF is fulfilled and I’m moving on, leaving the center with Nazma and Dustin. Just writing that sentence feels fake, like I’m only imagining my departure instead of living it. I’m off for a short holiday in Thailand on my own, then a longer one in Kenya to give an unexpected romance a chance and then an NGO advising position with the Peace Corps in Armenia come March 2016. Lots ahea
d, and yet I still haven’t wrapped my head around what I’m leaving behind.
This year has been the craziest, most challenging and most rewarding of my life. I learned a language, ate more rice than I thought any one human could consume and made friends whom I will count dear for the rest of my life. I feel so blessed to have been welcomed into the IHF Banda Aceh family and I thank all the people who made this year so special – my fellow co-directors, the short-term volunteers, the local volunteers and especially the kiddos and their families. It was an honor to be a part of the lives of these children and saying goodbye was physically painful. I didn’t want to stop hugging some of little ones (despite their squirming and insisting it’s time to go home, miiiiiiiissssss). I almost made it through my farewell shindig without tearing up, until Bunda – our house mum – leaned over, kissed my cheek and told me I had a mother in Aceh forever. Cue loss of control over my emotions.
I’d like to give a special thank you to the two men whom I spent the most time with in Aceh – my co-Director Dustin and our local volunteer Anggara. I wouldn’t have been half as decent at my job or even moderately as sane without their guidance, advice and late-night trips to the store to get me sprite when I was too lazy to go. It was fun to learn about the differences between American guys and Indonesian ones – what I really learned is that there’s no difference at all, at the end of the day. And teaching you two about the world of American women was always a blast in cultural/gender comparison. Yes, there’s over 27 ways to style short hair. In fact, there’s more. I’ll send you pictures when I get my hair cut in Thailand.
At ends, I think most people are keen to reflect back on beginnings. I recently read an article about a study into false memory creation – the way our brains reform neural networks every time we recall a long-term memory, thereby rewriting the memory as us remembering it, rather than the event itself. In short, every time you remember a moment, you really only remember the last time you remembered it. And so, our memories are edited. Unreliable. They’re constantly reformed by our changing emotions and maturity levels. I think back to my first day at IHF Aceh and vividly remember spilling coffee all over my computer. I remember which cup I was using, because I never used it again – I avoided it, blaming its shape for the tragedy rather than my own clumsiness. I remember Anggara driving me around to various computer repair shops. I remember watching Timea, my co-director at the time, working diligently on her computer and feeling that I had really messed up right away. I remember a few kids whose names I learned later but have rewritten into my knowledge at the time. I remember being very hot. I remember being optimistic, despite totalling my computer, that this year was going to be good. And finally, I remember wondering what I what I would be thinking at the end. Everything else from that day is rewritten into blurry half-images. And those moments that I do carry in detail feel like good memories, because I look back on them fondly; I rewrite them in my neural networks with happiness.
That’s what I take I take from Aceh – more a feeling than detailed or even accurate memories (as those don’t exist, because our brains are crazy and everything we think we know is a lie – I’ve been reading too much about this stuff lately). I take love from Aceh, positivity, confidence and a sense of completion. Mostly, I have gratitude that I was welcomed fully into this amazing community. Thank you Aceh, thank you IHF, thank you nassi goreng! Saya cinta kamu!