Every girl likes to think of herself as a tough girl. Before coming to Indonesia, my toughness was pretty specific: Moving to California, teaching in New Jersey, going back to school in Michigan. As far as being tough physically, either on a sports field or situations that involved blood or other bodily fluids, not tough.
Since moving away, which was the familiar tough part, I’ve discovered that being tough, like courage, can be tested and earned by circumstances. For example:
- Crossing the street in heavy traffic. With a hand in the palm out position, many Indonesian people step off the curb into oncoming motorbikes, Avanzas, trucks carrying carts and carts of chickens, buses, angkots . . . with impunity, relaxed, unhurried. I’m doing my best to adopt that same vibe. I usually shadow an unsuspecting Indonesian person who has also decided to cross the street at the same time (translate: human shield). It’s cliché to say, but it’s a game of Frogger, but with sharks. Keep moving or you’ll die.
- Trekking through the jungle. A love of hiking was instilled in me from when I was quite young with my parents who are avid campers of National Parks. The quiet intrusion on nature as a respectful guest, careful observation of plants and animals, the unexpected rain that feels like an amusing prank, the hard-earned snacks or bottled water, the camaraderie. My toughness ends with limited bathroom facilities. I have tolerated pit toilets in the US—usually a port-a-pot with hand sanitizer. But a rain forest with soggy toilet paper due to torrential rain = tough points. Jumping off a slippery rock cliff into murky water in the rain? Also points. However, others told me later of sky diving and bungee jumping over Victoria Falls. Hmmm . . . Baby steps
- Traveling alone: While I have traveled alone to visit people, I truly have never taken a vacation on my own. International colleagues and friends present it as plausible . . . places like VietNam are spoken of as “tourism 101.” Discussions about recent trips to India, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore and a thirst to visit Myanmar or Burma abound. My dad predicted this. He is the dad (and mom) who traveled Southeast Asia and the Soviet Union with 2 kids.
This doesn’t address some of the biggest challenges facing a girl striving to be tough in a new country, flexibility in cultural differences, new friendships, disappointment over a dropped iPhone, facing another day of working out transportation, resolving that even though you could get that thing at Bed Bath and Beyond just down the street from your home in the US–in Indonesia, plan at least 3 hours per shopping trip.
But tough girls don’t whine.
I’ve met so many tough girls since I’ve been in Indonesia. After a 5 hour hike in the jungle, Mel was out kayaking with 7th graders in the Pacific. Before (and I suspect after) she was pregnant, Sam, ran home just about every day and also liked hiking in Nepal. Hani white water rafted and hiked a mountain with 10th graders, all the while giving comfort to several students and colleagues who fell ill after drinking contaminated stream water. I could go on . . .
Am I ready to have my tough card punched at any time?