As could be expected on the world’s largest archipelago, my life in Indonesia has involved a reliance upon water. Clean drinking water, of course, out of the big jug on the counter, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean water to immerse myself in. I swim laps nearly every day and escape to the ocean at any opportunity. In effect, my experience here has been a persistent struggle to find my neutral buoyancy.
When you’re scuba diving, the first thing you do is equalize your ears as you descend, then find your neutral buoyancy. That means you are not floating up or sinking down, but suspended in perfect equilibrium, gently flowing up and down slightly as you fill and empty your lungs with air. Finding it is not always easy, and can involve a long trial and error process of puffing air into your BCD then releasing it out into a stream of bubbles, back and forth until you no longer rise or sink. It is when you are in this place, when you have landed in the zone of neutral buoyancy, that you can relax and feel at peace in the underwater world around you.
Landing in Indonesia was initially such a rush that it sent me floating high as a kite. Everything was new and wild and wonderful. Then the realities of fending for myself in a city as crazy and impenetrable as Jakarta set in. The chaotic roads filled with families of five precariously balanced on a motorbike at first were fascinating, but now the insanity of traveling from point A to point B can really pull me down. Taxi rides in and out of the city can cost anywhere from $7-$20 and take from 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the severity of the traffic jam, and there’s little do do out here BSD.
I have also had a persistent, chronic foot injury throughout, for what is now 15 months. This has sent me straight away forging my way through the uncertain world of Indonesian health care. What began over a year ago as an inflamed ligament caused by a strain in my plantar fascia while running, eventually turned into a 5mm tear that withstood the efforts of practitioners of every variety in hospitals and clinics in every corner of this sprawling metropolis. My brief reprieve from April to July came as a result of a cortisone injection by an esteemed orthopedic surgeon who I flew to Singapore to consult with. He assured me, having examined my MRI results, that this treatment would “reboot” my system and allow the injury to heal. What it healed, by giving me a break from pain, was my sanity. What it did for my foot was to mask the symptoms but do nothing to address the condition. When the pain returned, I shook the trees in Jakarta and uncovered the second of two podiatrists practicing in the city. This Australian doctor now has sentenced me to potentially 8 weeks in a knee-high inflatable plastic boot. While it does feel better to get around in, things it doesn’t let me do are: yoga, take a walk, run, dance, ride my bike, stand comfortably for long, go up and down stairs easily, blend into any environment except possibly a hospital. This, too, is a force that pulls me down.
Recently, I saw the movie Gravity, which I fell in love with. There is a point in the movie where Sandra Bullock’s character has detached from her spaceship and is spinning out of control into the black emptiness of Space. Feeling connected here has not always been easy. At times, I have felt like her floating, spinning past spaceships, reaching out for a foothold, but soaring past, forever out of reach.
Things that fill my BCD with air and my heart with joy are many and usually found during the trips I’ve been able to take. I just returned from a week on a live aboard dive boat in Komodo National Park that was one of the most profound experiences of my life. My 5 dive companions and I fell into a blissful rhythm of dive-eat-sleep that quickly washed away the stresses of my school, my foot, and Jakarta. The marine life we found was staggering. Sharks menacing in “the blue”, darting back and forth, manta rays flipping and soaring like dancers, napoleans and mola mola coasting by like lone submarines, octopus squishing into tiny holes in coral, turtles gracefully soaring by, eels poking their hungry mouths out from between rocks, waves of tiny fusiliers, baby sharks nestled under fan coral, it took my breath away. Time on the boat was punctuated by delicious meals, sublime pink sunrises and sunsets, and naps on beanbags. Truly, I was in the heart of one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Up, up up I rose.
And truly I am in one of the most fascinating countries on the planet. Currently, I see it as a 7 week countdown until I am potentially free from “the boot” and on a plane home for the holidays. During that time, I resolve to stay vigilant to the boot, the laps in the pool, pursuit of a job for next year, and relishing the connections I do have here. And as always, to continue uncovering more of the beauty and magic of this phenomenal country.