Useful

It’s been nice to feel a little appreciated lately. Being needed and useful is hard to come by living overseas. The pervasive feeling most days is that of a child, hardly able to speak much less accomplish things. Dependent on others. So when somebody recognizes something in me, a skill or ability, it’s a HUGE breath of fresh air. I’m reminded that I can in fact DO something, and it’s encouraging.

This childlike feeling sticks with you a long time in Indonesia. It sets on quickly when you first arrive and diminishes only after years of being in country. The process of building confidence in anything is long and slow when you live in a foreign land. Once you get some of the language under your belt, then you have cultural things to figure out. And then when you have some cultural things figured out, you’ll find yourself in a situation you’ve never anticipated before. Sometimes it’s as small as a new word that throws off your whole understanding of a conversation. And many times I understand every word in a sentence, but have no idea the meaning of what is being said. Imagine that. The point is, it takes a long time before you understand what is going on, and even longer before you can contribute.

This week I was able to contribute something- two situations that made me feel useful and appreciated. The first was I taught a few older men how to swim. Well, I didn’t teach them how to swim completely, but I gave them a good first lesson. For the most part Indonesians are afraid of the water. I know it sounds kind of funny to live on an island nation and not be able to swim, but it’s true! Swimming lessons aren’t really available and so people never really learn. So the other day I was swimming laps at a hotel pool and a few guys approached me and asked for a lesson. They were amazed that I could swim all the way to the end and back, and wanted to know how they could do that too. I recalled my swimming lessons and showed them how to do the front crawl. I had them practice holding onto the side wall kicking their feet and putting their face in the water. This was difficult for them and every time their face hit the water they came up sputtering. But they practiced for a while and thanked me for the lesson.

The other encouraging event this week was when a neighbor asked if I could take pictures for her wedding invites. We’re pretty close with this particular family so I felt honored that she wanted me to do that. Kim and I accompanied her and her fiance around town for a couple photo shoots. We took quite a few at the fort and then a few more at the beach. See some of the pictures below.

I mention these two things to illustrate that moving overseas has a humbling effect on you. It strips you of many of the things you used to be good at. In a lot of ways you have to start over from scratch. Learning how to get around town, where to shop for food, and how to ask where the bathroom is are all things you have to relearn. It’s a healthy experience, but it’s hard. And occasionally there are those moments when, like this week, you realize how far you’ve come, you take stock of what you’re really able to do, and the journey to get here doesn’t seem that long after all. And now after four years I finally know how to use the toilet! That’s what I call progress.

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