lost and found in paradise

I think I’ve lost my identity.

Culture Shock. It’s invevitable.

Travel does some weird things to your body, your mind, and your soul. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s kinda like this:

One minute, I am in love with the adventure of finally stepping foot on Bali soil. And the next minute, I’m thinking to myself, “Wait. Why did I come here? Oh, yeah…because of ‘A, B, and C’. That was the plan.”

Except in Bali, there is no such thing as ‘planning’. You just do it. Or you don’t. And that’s okay.

And everything that we have planned for, has been kind of……well……let’s just say we are still in limbo. We haven’t quite found our comfort zone yet. It’s a strange and uneasy feeling, and for the most part, we are ‘okay’ with it, but still I find myself thinking, “Have I always been this much of a control freak? I thought I was always the mellow one…”

Maybe I’m just tripping out.

How do I explain?

To start, just a little FYI, all is not ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ on the lovely island of Bali. In fact, I heard somewhere that someone was selling T-shirts that said, ‘Eat, Pray, Leave’. As for the surf, it’s not exactly like the ‘Drifter’, nor is it anything like the perfect, empty line-ups you may have seen in glossy surf magazines…well, at least some parts of it (wink, wink).

a little peek at the surf by desiree east

a little peek at the surf

Not that we were expecting all of that glam. (Of course, anyone can have the glam and glitter, but it always comes with a price). We’ve been warned. And yet we come. Along with the other ex-pats, the tourists, and the business venture-ers.

We came to Bali with high hopes. We did as much research as we could, spending countless hours on internet forums and well-earned money on travel guides and maps. We contacted friends who call Bali their home and asked all of the questions we could possibly think of.

But no matter how much research you do, and no matter how prepared you think you are for long-term travel or moving abroad, I am learning that you will always go through some sort of culture shock – especially when you know for a fact that you are not going back to the comfort of your home after a short two-week vacation.

The culture shock that I am experiencing have been coming in little waves throughout the past several weeks. I have adjusted to some things quite easily. And then there are other things that have taken me several days to accept as cultural norms. As an ex-pat friend said over dinner one night, “Give yourselves AT LEAST two to three months to adjust.” (That’s not the first time I’ve heard that).

Here’s the kicker: one moment I might be completely fine, doing happy-food-dances in my mind, because of the delectable local cuisine; another moment I might feel a sense of helplessness, because of the poverty and the state of the environment (in the photo below, local seaweed harvesters are barely hanging on by a thread, while tourism and development continues to raise environmental and sustainable issues on an already small island busting at the seams); and then, there are many moments where I simply long for the comforts of home – where I can brush my teeth using regular tap water without suffering the consquences of dysentery…and yes, I would love to pet the neighborhood dog, without fear that it may be rabid. But that ain’t happening.

Am I paranoid? Or am I suffering a  case of ethnocentrism?

I hope not. I don’t want to be that person. So, how do I deal?

I’ve accepted the fact that I am not visiting for a short two-week vacation, sipping pina-coladas by the poolside (although, I am totally guilty of that). We have committed to immerse ourselves in the culture, and we are taking each day as it comes, accepting the good moments with the bad. Hopefully, we can learn from the beliefs of the Balinese, of the duality of nature – good and evil, male and female, light and dark, life and death. It’s been a huge learning curve, having first-world expectations in a third-world country, however the richness in the culture and the daily lessons learned is more than making up for any adversities that come our way.

seaweed harvester by desiree east

seaweed cultivation and self reliance vs development and environmental degradation

the day with no electricity by desiree east

an entire day with no electricity equals no A/C, so do what the locals do: escape to the beach

Yes, it might be two to three months – or more – until we find our comfort zone. Or, it might be two or three months when we decide to come back. Or, we might just completely fall in love with Bali and figure out a way to stay. Who knows? The ‘plan’ is, is that we are willing to stick it out the best we can…or at least until we run out of money…which ever comes first.

I count my blessings everyday…every moment, in fact. Our Indonesian and ex-pat friends have graciously welcomed us with open arms and open hearts, giving us great advice (and some hard-core driving lessons, at that).  And the warmth of the Balinese people have made it that much easier to settle into our new environment.

Whatever you want to call it – culture shock or ethnocentrism – I am ready and willing to accept all of Bali and its dynamic culture, as well as, its little idiosyncrasies.

The best that can happen is that I come home more humble and a little wiser.

bali driving 101 by desiree east

my husband: from student driver to stellar driver in 0-60 seconds

i love bali by desiree east

exiting the honeymoon phase and on to the next. a little bracelet bought from a little girl on the beach...anything helps, right?

warm smiles, new friendships by desiree east

warm smiles and new friendships make all the difference