Sunday, July 03, 2011

How long is too long? Or too short?

I’m at the midpoint of my summer internship and I’m having mixed feeling about…well, everything. It’s been a month and I’ve accomplished a lot, in terms of interviewing women, collecting research and visiting several different sites, but I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing in terms of integrating and adapting to Indonesia. There are definitely some reasons I can identify as to why I feel unaccomplished, but I’m sure there are other reasons that aren’t making themselves too evident:

  • I had assumptions and expectations – someone once told me that making assumptions was the dumbest thing you could do (maybe not in those words, but that’s what she meant). Ever since then, I cringe when I’m talking to someone and I say, “Well, I assume it was because….” because I wonder if they’re thinking, “wow, she’s making assumptions – not smart.” But then I remember that everyone makes assumptions. I didn’t realize that Indonesia was as developed as it is and I didn’t really grasp that there were 200 million people here. I mean, how can you really know what 200 million people feels like, when the largest population you’ve lived amongst was 500,000?

  • I also expected things would be a little different than they are. I don’t really feel like I’m doing a ton of physical work, since I’m not doing the interviewing, but rather listening to 12-15 interviews a day in Indonesian and then circling the women’s responses on my questionnaire. I suppose interviewer fatigue has set in. I know I’ll have a ton of work to do analyzing the data and writing my report when all is said and done, I just wish I was a little bit more involved in the day to day. I also thought (though I don’t know why) that I’d be involved in coordinating things, and since I’m not and have really no control over the coordination of our day to days, it gets annoying when things don’t go right. Everyone seems very laid back about the research I’m doing, but I feel very protective of making sure that everything’s perfect since I’m planning on using the data for my master’s paper and hoping to publish or possibly submit for Global Health Council. It’s frustrating to think that you’re on the same page with someone and constantly get questions like, “So, what do you want to do?”

  • I constantly compare everything to Mali – I love Mali, we all know that. My heart is there, my life is there, and I will be there (soon). During my first year at UNC, I focused on Indonesia in a variety of classes or for papers. I wrote about Islamic Feminism in the context of Indonesia and studied the data from the DHS on family planning until I was sick of it. I was intrigued by the idea of Indonesia and how so many public health programs had been successful here. I thought it would be a great idea to see them in action and see how they could be transplanted or adapted to Mali/West Africa. I also kind of fell in love with the idea of Indonesia – the largest Muslim population, the sight of hundreds of beautifully decorated mosques, a country made up of thousands of islands, Bali – what wasn’t to fall in love with? I even talked to Baba about the possibility of moving to Indonesia and working here for awhile. He definitely didn’t love the idea, but I thought I needed to come see it to decide if the romantic idea of Indonesia in my mind matched the reality. It doesn’t for me, and no matter what happens here, I’m really happy that I know that. I miss the simplicity of Mali: the deserted highway from Bamako to Sevare with the exception of villages popping up here and there; the dusty roads traveling out to villages, the freedom to ride my bike anywhere and everywhere I want, and more than anything, the ability to connect and communicate with everyone and the openness and friendliness of – most – Malians. I don’t speak Bahasa Indonesian, and to be honest I really have no desire to. This pains me to say, as a devout Peace Corps volunteer, whose goal was to integrate into the community. Instead of listening to my Learning Indonesian podcasts and faithfully carrying around my Lonely Planet Phrasebook, I speak to most people in French and Bambara because in my mind, that’s what I should be doing in a foreign country. I don’t anyone here, with the exception of Anne, the woman I’m living with, a few staff at Jhpiego and my translator. And maybe it’s easier not to know anyone? Since I don’t have long term plans here, maybe it’s better not to get attached to anyone, I don’t know.
I'm definitely at a midpoint slump, and have marked every activity and deadline on my calendar until vacation in Bali and until I leave at August 2nd to return to Chapel Hill. So I ask, how long it too long or too short to be in a place? Obviously our internships couldn't be longer than 2 or 3 months, that's the nature of the academic schedule. But for me, without having more time invested in a place, and knowing that things will continue here status quo after I leave, and that my life is waiting for me in Chapel Hill, I don't feel motivated to invest in integrating here. Maybe it's the question of time, or maybe it's the question of where I am. I feel strongly that I would be motivated to integrate if I were in another West African country. I'm happy I'm in Indonesia right now, but I'll be happy to leave and continue my journey as a public health practitioner and advocate for women and children's health in West Africa.