Finally, some news
Am I homesick? Not in the sense of the word that one would imagine. I have gotten used to my life here and I like the work so much that it makes up for all the difficulties. But I miss my life in Switzerland, most of all of course Sasa. If he were here with me, life would be absolutely perfect. But although I have travelled quite a bit in my life and have been exposed to different cultures, I still deal with some severe culture shock here from time to time. It's just really different and as a Western woman living in a Sharia-law environment, there are limitations which are not always evident.
You get used to always wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt. You get used to never seeing other women with their hair down, as it is always covered with the customary jilbab. You even learn to accept that when you go swimming (which is frequent here in Lhokseumawe because I live on the beach), you have to wear full clothing. What I haven't gotten used to and probably never will, is being the focus of so much attention wherever I go. Here in Lhokseumawe, there aren't as many international organizations as in Banda Aceh (tsunami did not affect this city), and the people are less used to the bule (foreigners).
As a consequence, our habits and customs are closely scrutinized and the locals are fascinated, even at times annoyed, by us. Case in point: when I go swimming with my colleagues on the beach just across the street from our house, all the local children gather and just watch amazed. All these "ghosts" carelessly frolicking in the water – although we are living on an island, the locals don't really go swimming much at the beach and the beach never has people on it. Of course it used to be a place where young lovers would come for a stroll or to find some privacy, but since Sharia, this is no longer an option. Those who try frequently get stopped by the Sharia police and get duly warned, if not even fined. But that's life here, I guess people have accepted it even if not all agree with it.
But there are also good moments. Yesterday my colleague and I (both female) went to play badminton with some of our local colleagues from the office (my colleagues here had paid to rehabilitate the badminton court behind our office, out of private funds). Within 30 minutes, there were at least 30 spectators, both men and women. I think for them it is somewhat of a novelty seeing women and men playing sports together, I have not really ever seen it here. I think even some of our local colleagues, men, have had to get used to the bule women and how freely we behave. Still, the atmosphere was fantastic. All were cheering and yelling and clapping. I felt self-conscious at first but in the end it was really fun. Of course it was again one of those moments where I could have kicked myself for not learning more Indonesian, because those are the best times to meet with locals and to get to know the culture. But I just haven't been successful and given that I am trying to memorize Serbian vocabulary, this just isn't going to happen.
I have been in Indonesia now for almost 6 months, hard to believe. Contrary to my initial thoughts, time has flown by. I am already forced to think about what it is I want to do next, I think the human resource department will expect some kind of answer from me in about 3 months. And then the last 3 months will be filled with trying to make sure everything is in order for the next one to take over.
At the same time, 6 months is a long time, especially when looking at it from the angle of being separated from your loved ones. Their lives go on, with or without you. So much happens which we miss. And I think for me one of the hardest things is having these experiences and not being able to properly share them, despite writing about them and sending photos. I would love it more than anything to have Sasa come here for a week or two to just show him what it is all about and what my reality is on a daily basis. Alas, it's not possible and that's the reality, so I try to write about my good and bad moments, to take many photos (as far as it's allowed, we have strict rules regarding this) and to tell those I talk to on the phone what I am living on a daily basis.
I have been in Lhokseumawe now for 2 weeks, trying to find a new structure for our office. At the same time, the sub-delegation in Banda Aceh is decreasing on a daily basis, as some have their last day and others leave at the spur of the moment because they have found a new job. I don't think I realized that when I go back in a week to 10 days, many of my colleagues from my last 6 months will have moved on to another job. It's starting to sink in and that's really sad. I have grown fond of so many of them and now it somehow feels like I am starting a new mission, despite the fact that I have been working here for a week at a time once every 5-6 weeks. But here I still have to learn some names, in Banda Aceh I had finally learned all the names of the 69 local colleagues, from cook and maid to guards and field officers. I am glad that 13 of our colleagues from Banda Aceh will be transferring to Lhokseumawe.
Other than that, I really like being in Lhokseumawe. It's of course a much smaller city, there are not expat restaurants here like in Banda (unless you count Kentucky Fried Chicken), no expat shops either. But at the same time, that means there aren't that many annoying expats either. Some really think they own the world and I get really irritated at those that completely disregard any respect to the local custom, either by dressing inappropriately or behaving rudely toward the locals. It's one of the reasons I love the ICRC – respect for the local customs and traditions is stressed for us, disregard of local laws and regulations can be cause for dismissal from the mission or even the job.
Anyway, to get back to Lhokseumawe: there aren't really any big earthquakes here which of course makes me sleep better. And I am living in a small house with 2 other expats, right on the beach. It actually feels like a home, unlike the residences I lived in previously. I admit that I get nervous sometimes when there is a big storm or hear a funny loud noise – after all we are right on the beach and even though the tsunami hit on the southern coast, you always wonder "what if". But despite that, I am very comfortable here. The expat team here is growing now that Lhokseumawe is becoming the sub-delegation (from 4 to 7, 9 in the region), which makes it all a bit different but I like it nonetheless. We are 4 Swiss, 1 Belgian, 1 Serbian, 1 Central African, 1 French, 1 New Zealander and 1 from the Ivory Coast on the way. It makes for interesting discussions, especially since many of us have been in the places the others come from, either on missions, plain travelling or some other connections (such as my connection to Serbia). My poor Serbian colleague is suffering from my constant requests to talk in Serbian to me or to teach me some new words, I am quite a pest!
That brings me back to the ICRC – once again I am impressed by how it works. Given the new crisis in Lebanon, of course there is a growing need for organizations to provide aid to the suffering people there and the ICRC is up to the task. Impressive how fast it moves – my Serbian colleague, who has just arrived 6 weeks ago, has been temporarily removed from this mission and within 3 days notice, took off for Beirut for 6-8 weeks. It makes me a little envious, thinking how he will be in the midst of all this action while I am in Indonesia where nothing much happens. Of course that I also a good thing, I am not in any real danger (except dying of boredom) and can move about freely. Still, I guess it would be nice once to experience the ICRC in real action (be careful what you wish for, isn't that the saying?)
Anyway, in 2 weeks I am leaving for Colombo, Sri Lanka for a course. And then, and this is the best part of it all, I am continuing on to Switzerland for 2 weeks vacation. I am counting days if not the hours. I am so excited, I can't believe I will be with Sasa again and see my family and friends. And then the quick trip to the States, to Bernie's wedding. It's like the icing on the cake because I see everyone one there also, something I did not expect when I left 6 months ago. So in 14 days, I will get to see everyone that I care about, even if only for a short time. I will be exhausted from the travelling but it will be worth it.
So that's all from me for now, Lima Hotel Oscar (LHO – radio code for Lhokseumawe) is signing off, over and out.