Letter of Appreciation (Random Guy!)

This post is for the man that gave me the encouragement to be better, to do better, and to be the best version of myself.

It was at LAX Airport when I encountered this man. I do not remember what he looks like nor got to know his name. But his action left a lifetime impression on me. For some his action may be small, but to me it was the beginning of my journey as a Peace Corps volunteer. 

Before we departed LAX, myself and other volunteers were in seek of “cheap” alcoholic beverages that isn’t wine or beer. We ended up at a bar upstairs of the food court.

“I cannot believe we’re doing this.”

“Tomorrow we’ll be in Indonesia to start our service.” 

“This is it.”

Those were just some of the words that left our lips as we waited for our Jack Daniels. When our drinks arrived, we eagerly took a shot each. Our excitement–not just because of the drinks–but because we’re leaving soon echoed in the bar. 

When we were ready to pay with the money Peace Corps budgeted us ($140 for Staging), the bartender informed us that our drinks has been paid for by an anonymous generous person. Even though the bartender would not tell us, we knew exactly who it was.; it was the man sitting next to us. A complete stranger paid for our drinks. A small gesture it may seem, but really had an impact on me like wha I’ve said. Something about his action stayed with me until now. For me I think it’s the willingness to share what you have, to celebrate each other’s victories, and lastly to show that you are never alone in life. What he did back there at the airport is what I am trying to do here in Indonesia–why I decided to join Peace Corps, especially do my service here in Indonesia. 

To that anonymous generous man, thank you. Because your small gesture has made a very positive impact on myself. And I know for sure that I will carry this throughout my service and after.

*PS: I wrote this post halfway through PST and just now posting it.


Sukabumi Part One!

On 15 April 2017 I left Kediri to visit my permanent site for three days. A Site Visit will allow each trainees to assess their future site (community and school) with the help of the host families and school counterparts. My site is in West Java, far far far away from Kediri. When I received my site placement the day before, I was not very thrilled to find out that I will be in West Jawa. It’s far from the friends that I’ve made–everyone is my friend, but my close ones are all going to be in East Java. I’ve heard so much about the west that I didn’t really want to be placed there. All these conceptions (later I found out were all wrong) scared me about being in the west.

I rode a “kereta api” (fire train) to the city of Bandung along with other relawan (volunteers) that got places in West Java too. Once we got there, we were welcomed with warm SELAMAT DATANG and “American” food by current volunteers who live nearby. It is always nice to see current volunteers, catching up with them, and hearing the ins/outs and dos/donts of being a volunteer! Their presence at the train station really made an impact on me and really got me hyped for my site.

After a late breakfast with everyone, four trainees (I myself included) rode a bus to our future site. My site is in the region of Sukabumi. It’s a mountainous region with an amazing view and cool (well, as cool as it can get here in Indonesia) air. My bus ride from Bandung to Sukabumi was about 4-5 hours. Honestly it’s not that far, it’s just really traffic in every corner of this country! Throughout my whole travel my future host family and counterparts were texting me, making sure that I am okay and comfortable as much as I can get. When I got to Sukabumi Bus Station, I was picked up by three of my counterparts. They welcomed me with warm smile and Sundanese greetings. My counterparts then took me to a restaurant where I’d meet my host family too. After dinner, my counterparts drove me to my house so that I can rest. My counterparts dropped me off, helped me settled, and then left me with my new host family. 

My host family consist of my Pak Sudrajat, Ibu Devi, adik (younger brother) Dafa and Arkan. They’re all nice. I was already playing with Arkan (10yrs old) during my first night! My Bapak is funny and wouldn’t stop talking to me in broken English, my mom too! I met some other family too like my uncles who loves English! They are all really eager to learn English! It’s funny. My first night, I also met the head of the village, Pak RT and Pak RW. I had coffee with them while they smoke. I just felt right at home! I slept so well that night thanks to my nice hotelesque bed and pillow, and of course cool air temperature.

The next day I walked to my school (about 7mins walk) to meet with my counterparts and look at my future school. My counterparts introduced me to the student body (a total of about 1100 students) during an “upacara bendera” (flag ceremony.)

“Selamat pagi semua!” I said while my voice shakes on the microphone. I never liked talking on a microphone.

I was greeted with scream and Indonesian hellos. I introduced myself in English because my counterparts wanted me to speak in English to the students. I was probably babbling about myself in front of the students for about seven minutes. When I said “I will be in school all day today. If you see me, please say hi to me.” The girls (I SWEAR) started screaming. I definitely felt like a member of One Direction. LOL. After introducing myself to the students, I went to a faculty meeting where I introduced myself to the teachers. The teachers were all excited to have me over. they had a lot of questions for me and plans for me. I am really excited to start working with this school, community, faculty and staff, and of course the students. I also met with different heads of the six vocational programs the school has. While walking around the school, the school would say “I love you mister” or “Mister you’re so handsome” which made me laugh, because in America this would never ever happen! They would also “salim” (grab the back of my hand and touch their cheeks) me when I walk past them.

​***Part 2 soon***


A Month to Remember! 

I cannot believe that it has been a month since I have left my beloved Pacific Northwest crisp cool air in exchange for hot humid tropical weather. Though I have only been here for a month I feel like 744 hours was already a lot! 31 days here in Indonesia (as a Peace Corps Trainee) felt like getting hit with a nerf gun on your face; it’s fun but it hurts. It hurts emotionally. It hurts physically. It hurts mentally. 

Okay, so I said that it hurts emotionally. You are probably wondering how. Well, during Pre-Service Training (PST) us trainees are kept busy EV. VERY. SING. GLE. DAY. We are kept busy with our language class, workshops (LINK and HUB), and other family related obligations that we really barely have any time for ourselves to kind of reflect and process everything. Ever since I have gotten here, I have not cried once. Yes I have been sad, but I’ve not cried. At this point (honestly though!) I feel like I have all of these bottled up emotions that I want to let out but I have no one to really talk to. Yes, there are 55 of us trainees but I am sure we all have things to worry about, so why share mine? I wouldn’t want to burden anyone with that! However, this isn’t all bad! You see, I learned that I am strong (even though it hurts) for even coming here knowing the circumstance that I’d face. STRONG: “of great moral power, firmness, or courage.”

Secondly, I am still hurting physically. I mean it’s not bad BUT this whole squatting business, not the business! My knees be crying for help whenever I’d stand up from doo-dooing. Also did I tell you that I bike almost everyday? Riding my bike hurts because my seat is so low that I’m hella hunched. I need to get a massage, but I cannot because we are not allowed by the Peace Corps Medical Office. I don’t know why though. I am physically hurting because I haven’t done routined exercise! We lack of sleep here too. What I learned from this though is PERSEVERANCE. It is steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. 

Lastly, mentally. Peace Corps gives us a very extraneous daily schedule. The only time we get to be free is Sunday, and sometimes that can be taken away from us too! So far we probably have had around more than 100 hours of Indonesian language class. That is a lot I feel like. Fortunately it’s a bit easy for me because of its similarity with Tagalog. It hurts mentally because we have been attending workshops and has been given many many materials to read. We are to retain these information so that we can use them when time comes. What I learned from this about myself is that I am a sponge. SPONGE: a person or thing that absorbs something freely. That is me! I take all these information. Try to squeeze me and I’ll give you information.

My stay in Surabaya and here in Kediri has already taught me so much about myself–and that’s only one month! I still have about 25 months to go. They say that 27 months will come fast, days will be long but that our service will be fast. In Indonesia where being wet is the only constant thing, I’m going to add “learning” on that constant thing. Living in Indonesia to Learn. Learning in Indonesia to Live. Here’s to Indonesia, a place where I’m constricted yet given with so much freedom.

*PS: I don’t know where this post was going, but here it is! LOL. I just need to jibber-jabber I guess.  

Me enjoying the warm rain!


Meet my host family! (Well sorta)

As a Peace Corps Trainee, I am required to stay with a host family to help me integrate in the community, practice my bahasa Indonesian, and get accustomed to both culture and religion here in Indonesia. This isn’t the first time I am staying with a host family; I stayed with a host family during my study abroad in French Polynesia back in 2014. So I kind of had an expectation of what it would be like. Of course living with host family will always be scary at first, then you get used to it and love it. Well in some cases maybe hate it.

I am not the first Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) that have stayed with my host family. Last year another PCV, ID10, stayed with my family and he said that he enjoyed it. My host family here in Kediri, our site for our Pre-Service Training (PST), is nothing alike to my family back in the States. It’s very interesting to see the similarities and differences between my Indonesian family and my family back home. 

Both of my host parents here are retired. My Bapak (dad) used to be a driver before retiring four years ago while my Ibu (mom) is a house wife. Although both of my parents do not speak English, I really do not have trouble communicating with them. They use a lot of hand gestures and basic household bahasa Indonesia verbs, so I can understand them (for the most part.) The trouble comes when I have to reply because I am still having trouble with my sentence structure when it comes to bahasa Indonesia even though the language is SO similar to Tagalog. My Ibu however do not speak bahasa Indonesia. She speaks Javanese, a different dialect. She understands my bahasa Indonesia but when she replies it’s in Javanese and I’m always dumb founded. Haha. I honestly think that the main source of her happiness is to see me really full. She loves cooking for me and 90% of my interaction with her is her asking me if I’ve eaten, if I want to eat, or what I want to eat. The 10% is her asking me if I want to shower. 

Another member of my family that I have a daily interaction with, and whom I talk to regularly, is my host sister-in-law Nunuk. Nunuk works as a pharmacist at a police hospital here in Kediri. She lives with Bapak and Ibu. I eat breakfast and dinner with her most days. Nunuk helps me practice my bahasa Indonesia since most of our conversion is in bahasa Indonesian. She speaks English too! She’s not fluent but it’s enough that I can understand her when she speaks it. Nunuk’s husband, my host brother is only home during the weekends because he works in Surabaya (about 4hours drive from Kediri) at a factory. It’s nice to have him home because he’s another person I can talk to in English and he’s funny. He cooks too! I also have a younger sister who also lives in Surabaya because that’s where she attends college. She comes home every other weekend. Although she attends college, her English is very limited so my interaction with her are mostly in bahasa Indonesian. 

So that’s my Bapak, Ibu, sister-in-law, brother, and sister. I have two kaponakan (nephews) that are always in my house. Firman is two years old while Azam is five years old. Obviously they do not speak bahasa Indonesian. Firman is still scared of me, but Azam says hi to me whenever he sees me. Oh and laugh at me whenever he’s with his friends. Honestly I could not ask for a better host family. They make sure I am always fed even though since I got here, two weeks ago, all that they’ve been feeding me is fried tempe, fried tofu, sautéed vegetables, and krupuk. And when I say “all they’ve been feeding me” I meant every word of that. EVERY. MEAL. EVERY. DAY.  I told them I don’t really eat rice too so they thought that was very bizarre. Apparently over here, you have not eaten unless you’ve eaten rice. So according to them, I never eat! 

I cannot wait to get to know them more! Tomorrow, Sunday 2 April 2017, my Ibu is going to teach me how to make peye! My favorite Indonesian snack! I can’t wait!


Sweet Desire

I moved in with my host family last Saturday after saying goodbye to the friends I made during the staging and hotel days. It’s definitely weird to be alone after being with our group 24/7 for a week then suddenly left alone in a stranger’s home that is supposed to be my home for the next three months of Peace Corps Training (PCT.) Each volunteers are staying with a host family to help us engage in the culture, integrate in the Indonesian community, and practice our bahasa Indonesian. I have had host family before so this is nothing new, but still it’s a new different world. I did have some reservations staying with my host family because I wasn’t sure how they’d react to an American that is not Tall-White-Blond-and-Blue-Eyed. But all of those reservations went away the very first night I stayed with my family. 

My family consist of my Bapak (dad) Yon, Ibu (mom) Sri, my kakak (older sibling) Arii, his istri (wife) Nunuk, and little kids. They are really nice. The life they have here is nowhere close to how my life in the US is, but that’s okay because Peace Corps is what you make out of this kind of situation. I see this not as a challenge, but rather an opportunity to learn, grow, and be more compassionate. 

I have my own room here y’all. My bed is not the most comfortable thing BUT it’s big. I have to use a mosquito net every night as one of the Peace Corps policies, because mosquito yenno. My house does not have a western toilet, hence I must squat. This is one thing I am still trying to get used to. I still haven’t tried using a gayung, a “water scooper”, because it still grosses me out. The other volunteers have told me that it’s really not a big deal, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. Ever since I have gotten here in Indonesia I have been using wipes to wipe my butt. By the end of my PST, I hope to be comfortable using the gayung. I am also running out of flushable wipes. 

During PST, we volunteers have a very rigorous and busy days. From meeting people in our villages to learning bahasa Indonesian. Mondays would be the longest because we have Indonesian language class from 7am until 5pm. THAT IS SO LONG QURL. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays our language class is from 7am until 11:30am. We have an hour break then we have to bike to our LINK, training consisting of different workshops, and get there by 1pm. The LINK session goes on from 1pm until 5pm. After LINK we bike home and rest for a bit. Fridays are our HUB day. It’s a full day of workshops with the whole volunteers. ***Today’s our first HUB day and it was definitely really nice to see other volunteers and hear what they have been up to.*** Usually when I get home I hangout with the other volunteers, I live nearby three other volunteers. We usually walk around our desa (village) attracting all sorts of attention. I come home from my jalan-jalan (walk) and eat dinner with my host sister, take a shower, study for a little bit, then I sleep. I often wake up around 3:30am or 4am. My day starts when I start working out around 4:30am. After that I take a mandi (bucket shower), eat breakfast, then get ready for the day. We also have language class on Saturdays from 7am until 11:30am then a one-on-one with our Cultural Liasons (CLs) from 1pm until 2:30. Sundays are our only “free time” throughout our PCT. 

This is what my first week looked like and most likely what the rest of my training weeks would look like. Well, let’s make a toast to Manisrenggo! The village of sweet desires. 

*Manisrenggo is the name of the village where I am staying and it means Sweet Desires. 

**Written March 25, 2017


Cheesus Christ! 

And just like that, my first week of Pre-Service Training (PST) is done. There were so many events that has happened during my first week here. It’s actually kind of overwhelming, I am surprise that I haven’t had a meltdown…yet. As fun as this whole week is, it is also physically draining. Since I have arrived here in Indonesia, I haven’t had a good sleep and it sucks because I like sleeping! Everyone who knows me know that. But I already anticipated this so I am not surprised. Anyways, here’s a breakdown of what my first week looked like!

Sunday March 12

We arrived in Surabaya around 9:30 in the morning. After hours and hours of traveling, we were expected to be dressed up by the time we get off the plane. Everyone looked tired but at the same time everyone managed to looked business casual. After all first impression is important! When we got off the plane, we were greeted by Peace Corps Indonesia staff, literally the moment we got off. It was definitely overwhelming because they were so nice and definitely excited to see us! The weather in Indonesia is very similar to the Philippines so it wasn’t that bad. Nevertheless it is still very hot here! And I will complain a lot! When we got to our hotel we were greeted by delicious selections of food for lunch. I have three words for you my friend, Carbs; Carbs; and Carbs! After lunch we briefly met (yes, even after a long travel we still had to meet) for some logistics and expectations. It wasn’t bad because we got to know our Peace Corps Indonesia support system, but I was definitely sleepy! What’s funny is that even after that meeting I didn’t sleep right away. Instead I jumped into the pool! What can I say, I love swimming! After swimming I ate dinner THEN got a massage! That was a good deep tissue massage, and it cost me 250,000 rupiahs for an hour and half. So about twenty US dollars. I went back to my room, showered, and passed out ready to for the next day! (Time of sleep: 10:30pm)

Monday March 13

FIRST FULL DAY IN INDONESIA! Unfortunately I didn’t have a nice sleep. I woke up around 2:30 in the morning and was up until it was time for me to get ready. I wish I can say that we went sight seeing, but nope. This is Peace Corps (PC) after all, so we did what we do. More training! Although we’re packed with trainings, I must say that the PC staff made sure each session is fun and engaging. So that really helped! There’s nothing really I can tell you about this day because all we did was training after training! I don’t want to bore you with diarrhea and squatting toilet conversations we had–and there were a lot of them. What I did like about this day is that I got to see my friend Natasha! She lives close by so after work she came to the hotel and took me to a restaurant that specializes in East Java dish. YUM! Of course I asked her to check out the mall with me. I got two batik button up shirts for 300,000 rupiahs (score!) and my favorite donuts, J.Co (a bigger score!) 

Tuesday March 14

Why can’t I get a good sleep?! I slept at ten at night and woke up at three in the morning. SO LIKE WHY. Anyways, we traveled from Surabaya to Kediri where we would be spending the rest of our PST. On our way to Kediri, we stopped in one of the biggest muslim boarding school here in Indonesia where one current Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is teaching. I must say that that was the best part of the trip so far. When we arrived at the school, each volunteer were partnered with a student. My partner was Luthfan–what a cool name! He’s really cool and was very excited to have his school host us even it’s just for lunch. The school literally put on a show for us. There were singing, dancing, and some sort of mime act on the stage. I don’t know, I was very confused about that whole mime thing. I left that school with a smile on my face and determination. We arrived in Kediri around 4:30 in the afternoon. Again, we met more welcoming PC staff at the hotel. EVERYONE WAS SO NICE! We got a tour of the hotel (very nice hotel btw!) and ate dinner. There was nothing to do and I was pretty tired so I just went back to my room after dinner. (Time of sleep 10:00pm)

Wednesday March 15 – Friday March 17

Two words: Bahasa Indonesian. From Wednesday to Friday that’s all we did. Intro to Bahasa Indonesia. From 7:30 am to 5:00pm. All day er’day. I don’t know what I would tell you about this one. Nothing really special. So I’ll keep this part short I suppose. Before the class started, we were grouped into fours and each trainee (we’re actually called PC Trainee, not quiet a volunteer yet) had to take an oral test. This is to see how well we’ll improve over the course of the next couple of days. Since Bahasa Indonesian is very similar to my native tongue, Tagalog, I didn’t have trouble during the pre-test. There were a lot of words that are similar and reading Bahasa Indonesian is just like reading Tagalog. Our guru, Johan, was more than excited to have us and is really funny! When he introduced us to the word “keju”, which is cheese, he went “Cheesus Christ”. At first I was confused but I literally busted out laughing because that was the funniest thing ever! The way he delivered it. Oh Johan. My guru. Anyways, on Friday, we took an oral post test. I have been studying for this. This test will determine which language cluster we’ll be put in. Each cluster is different level of the language class. I was not really worried about the language class because I have taken French, Tahitian, and Tagalog so learning a new language is not new to me. What I was really worried about is getting put on a cluster that’s different than my friends or that I’ll be far away from them. Hopefully I’ll be put in a cluster with my friends. Continuing on, the night of Friday surprised us with a heavy down pour of tropical rain. It literally was pouring, the type of rain that pounds the roof. It was during dinner when it started. After eating dinner, one of my friends walked me to my hotel room–my room is not connected to the meeting hall–because she has an umbrella and I really wasn’t trying to get wet. BUT for someone reason she and I ended up jumping into the pool! I guess I didn’t need the umbrella after all. It was so nice to swim and just relax in the pool. Enjoying the last night at the hotel. Enjoying the tropical rainfall. It reminded me of the Philippines. After swimming I walked back to my room, took a shower, packed my belongings, and then I slept. (Time of sleep 10:00pm)

Saturday March 18

Today is the day! I woke up at 2:30am today and I went straight to the meeting hall where there is wifi. Around this time the wifi is pretty strong because no one else is connected but me. I called some people letting them know that today I am moving with my host family. I am very excited to see them. I do not know anything about them yet because they haven’t told us what cluster or village we will be in. I am also nervous because what if my host family doesn’t like me? I am sitting here in the hall right now (3:20am) enjoying the quietness of it all. Soaking it in. This is it. Today, Indonesia will be my home for the next couple of year.
*Finished writing this post on Saturday March 18 4:30am.

It’s a still from a video. On our way to our next destination, Kediri.


Leap of Faith

With warm hugs, sad goodbyes, swollen eyes, and some pixie dust (it’s Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s), I said goodbye to Washington (my home) to depart for Indonesia (soon-to-be-home) to live there for the next 2 years of my life. Saying goodbye was/is never easy.  

Seeing my mom swollen eyes from crying the night before I left, hearing her shaky voice every time she would talk to me, and the fear of the unknown for her son ALMOST made not want to go continue in this new journey. Although my mom was never really happy with my decision to join Peace Corps, I know that she’s very proud of me. I know that she admires my courage and bravery for doing something that many would not do. I know that in time she will support my decision for such move. 

When I arrived in Los Angeles for our staging–a day when all of the volunteers get to meet each other and learn about expectations, missions, and goals–I kept thinking to myself “This is it Geo. Once you signed the papers, there’s no more turning back.” Then I saw the eagerness in the eyes and excitement from the voices of my fellow volunteers. That moment made me realize that this is exactly what I want. To be part of something bigger than myself. To give myself wholly with no expectations of returns.

During our staging, we talked about our anxiety coming to this trip. Some of the anxiety I had is being homesick, missing big events back home, having little to no access to internet, and bugs. But the biggest anxiety I have is the a part of my identity that I must now hide for safety reasons. I took me quite some time to get comfortable with who I am. It took a village to make me feel comfortable to be who I am. That it is okay to be who I am. Now, coming into a new land, new community, and new family, I have to put back the walls I’ve spent years breaking down. 

Although I have all of these anxieties, I have much more aspirations as to why I am doing this trip. Some of these aspirations includes getting to travel, experiencing and living a different culture than what is my norm, sharing my skills, learning new language, working with students again, having this experience on my resume, loan deferment, having this on my application for graduate school application, making new friends and family, and the list goes on and on. But like what Queen Bey said, “my aspiration in life is to be happy.” TO BE HAPPY is the biggest aspiration I have and overweights all of the anxieties I have coming to this trip. In the end of this whole adventure, I will ask myself “Are you happy with yourself?” And just like Queen Beyonce, I would say “Yeeehhs.” 

I know that if I didn’t go to this trip that I will forever regret it. Being with other volunteers who shares the same missions as I am already makes me happy. Leaving the familiar and welcoming the unfamiliar has to be the bravest thing I could do, and I am glad that I’m almost there! With lots of faith and some Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter (sorry, I just can’t shut up about this butter…) I am one step to becoming a better and happy person.

*This was written on March 10th 2017*

This is part of a video, but here’s a peace sign from me!