Message from the camp grounds. 

I have been here a little over a week, but it feels like it has been much longer. Which is probably why I have been feeling bad that I haven’t written anything about it yet. It’s not that I didn’t have the time, but just that I have not yet figured out what to tell you. I don’t know how I feel about this whole experience just yet and not everything that I could tell is suitable to discuss with the world wide web. So I decided to just give you a glimpse into my day-to-day life, and we can go from there.

It’s just been a little weird. When I went to Indonesia, there was so much to tell. Everything was new. Here… it’s ‘just’ France. And I’m at a Dutch campsite, so basically it feels like I’m still in The Netherlands (except for those wonderful but rare occasions on which I can actually practice – and hopefully improve – my French). It’s a language I want to learn to speak so badly, but to get better at it I need to do it, and so far… I haven’t had to do it a lot.

This past week and a half has been a learning experience. I have gotten to know a lot about the business that is this camping site and I have learned how to operate within their procedures and rules.

My domain here is the reception area and the shop. I keep everything organized and neat, which is a task that can easily be trusted to me. I get to print a lot of things, create program booklets and menus (the layout, not the content), I make the schedules and I gained a new hobby: laminating stuff.

Besides the kitchen I help out with a lot of other different tasks, like cleaning, working in the kitchimg_0205-1en, doing a whole bunch of dishes, restocking the tea carousel, filling up cups with mayonaise. I get a bunch of fun tasks (that will probably only be fun the first time) and I enjoy doing it all.

So a bit about the living conditions. I’m staying in a trailer, where I have my own bedroom with a big bed. I share it with another girl, but we hardly see each other there because we work different hours (meaning, I get to go home at 17.30 – although I usually offer my help in the kitchen and hang out there for two hours) and she rolls in at 23.0img_02030 or 0.00.

The next morning, I probably wake her up at 6.30 when I get out of bed to do some yoga or go running, but every time I ask she says it’s okay and that I’m not bothering her.

It is freaking cold. I always sort of thought I was an outdoorsy type, but I guess I only am when the sun is shining. I hate the cold. And I’m cold all the time. Except when I work in the kitchen, so that’s… something.

The internet here is worse than in the secluded places in Asia that I have visited, so that’s too bad. But the upside is fresh mountain air every time I go outside, a great view to start and end my day with and living for free. Because that is basically what I’m doing. I get paid, but I also work for food and housing. The cook here makes great vegan meals for me every day and he really knows how to cook! I eat delicious french bread and I drink lots of water and tea. In the morning, I can even get fruit and make a smoothie. So that is arranged really well animg_0230d that is great.

My goal was, sort of, to not spend any money while I am here. And now that I have decided that I want to see a bunch around the area, I will have to spend some money on gasoline, but other than that, I will be able to live here without any costs. So I’m going to keep track and write down all the expenses I have. But it will not be much, because I really have everything I need here.

So, even though I still have my ups and downs, my certainties and my doubts and my good moments and my bad moments, I’m liking it here more and more, and by now I feel confident that I can make this a great summer.

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The amazing view
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#trailertrashcentral

 

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Extra anecdotes from the retreat

During the chanting class, the woman was guiding us again. But I really started to appreciate her ways and she also tried to give us some insights into Buddhist teachings. Such as with the following example:

‘It is breakfast time and you are standing in line with maybe ten people in front of you. And you notice… there are bananas today! And you love bananas (her story was very applicable to me so far). So you crave the fruit. But you are afraid that by the time you will arrive at the front of the queue, they will be finished. So you keep looking and watching if people take bananas and you make yourself crazy. Maybe you annoy people behind you because you keep moving around. You are suffering. And you can’t just tell your friend in the front to take a banana for you. Because you may not speak. You are already in line and cannot do anything. Maybe you will get a banana. Maybe not. And that is not a big deal. But you think it is, because nowadays every wish we have has to be fulfilled. Dukkha.’


Do you guys also have a lot of random possible scenarios passing through your thoughts? How things could go if you meet someone (again or for the first time), how things will turn out when you start a new job, see a friend, do something new, something old, anything? I’m constantly imagining, which I guess really helps my writing, but right now, it feels quite useless.


Sometimes I think of a perfect sentence, and then I forget. Hello frustration, my old friend.


I hate walking on sand. I just don’t get the excitement. It makes you slip and you constantly have to stabilize yourself, which is not fun for someone with lower back trouble. During the running course I did they also made us run on a small sandy road sometimes. Supposedly it’s easier to walk on? For whom? Not me. I hate it. Why anyone would ever go running on the beach is beyond me.


To make things more bearable for myself I have decided to skip one of the sitting meditation sessions, to copy the chants from the chanting book. It will be nice to take these words home. Some of them have real insights in them. I will do this at the end of the afternoon, at the apex of my boredom. I still don’t know why I’m staying. Well, yes, I do, but when is it going to be day 11 already?!


During one of the talks, this is where my mind went:
“So, we have to find the middle…-“
I’m caught up in the middle, jumping through the riddle…
“Not caught…-”
What?
“ – in extremes”.


The line in front of the place to do dishes is progressing slower every day. I guess people are now mindfully washing their dishes, which means they are super slow. I’m still more of a fast-and-efficient kind of girl myself.


During the chanting practice, the monk kept trying to trick us into sitting in a lotus position (which is really hard. You need to be very flexible. I am not).
‘Just close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out. Stretch your legs in front of you. Put one foot against your stomach. Now, just place the other on top of your lap and flip the first one, whoppa, like this’. Everybody laughs, because it is not as easy as he makes it sound. And then he reasons, that there is no I, no me, no self, no ego (which is a principle in Buddhism). It’s just a body, and there is a mind. So who feels pain?
Also: ‘When you feel pain, you are not sleepy.’


I feel like my mind is out of control. Even now, the pen is moving over the paper so fast, because my thoughts are going a million miles a minute. I’ve never noticed before how extremely quickly my thoughts go from one place to another, in the matter of seconds. And it is all so random. Also, I have a lot of repetitive thoughts (which is why I always need to write stuff down). The good thing is: I can entertain myself with my mind really well. The bad thing is: It is really, really hard to turn off.
Which is exactly what I should be doing.


I’ve noticed now that I have started writing, I cannot seem to stop. I guess the rules are there for a reason then. Oh, bells… Gotta go sit still and pretend to meditate! Bye!

Random things that didn’t fit into one specific blog

  • Sometimes, when I was on the motorbike, it could happen that the drivetumblr_nmvck83Hn41tlakrlo1_1280r was hitting the brakes rather suddenly, which caused me to jolt forward and hit my helmet against their helmet. This made me feel immensely stupid and a little bit like I was in a cartoon.
  • You get really good at rejecting people. I have been proposed to a lot, have gotten a lot of offers from guys who offered to be my boyfriend within the first five minutes of meeting me. You learn to say no.
  • You also learn to say yes. You need to, in order to get friends, join activities and do things that you maybe wouldn’t do otherwise.
  • During my time in Jakarta, I went to see the Star Wars movie in the cinema. It was a very interesting film to see in an Asian country. In the end of the movie, a lightsaber is being offered with a left hand, and the whole scene is supposed to be very respectful. But in Indonesia, it is very disrespectful to hand somebody something with your left hand, because it is seen as unclean. It was interesting to see the movie from their perspective like that.
  • There are a lot of unwritten rules in Indonesia, which is why you should totally connect to the locals to find out where things are and how you should behave in certain situations (buying a bus ticket is not the easy process it once was when you were in a western country)
  • Musicians in Indonesia don’t get paid for their musical talents. They get paid to leave. After giving them money they move on, which is what most people want. It is really a different world out there.
  • Smiling is like second nature to the Indonesian people and after a while it will become yours too.

Appreciations

Now that I have lived abroad for a longer period of time, there are some things that I have taken for granted in The Netherlands, that I now see in a new light.

  • Being able to ride your bike everywhere. Isn’t that just great? You are not dependent on public transportation, you won’t get stuck in a traffic jam and you can go wherever you want.
  • Knowing exactly what to get where. I guess this is true for everyone’s hometown or country. You know which stores to go to for certain items and you know about fair prices.
  • There is fresh air in The Netherlands, which allows you to breathe. In Jakarta, there are no parks and smog is everywhere. I mostly noticed this if I got back from being in a natural setting outside of the city, and I felt like I was choking when I got back to Jakarta, but it usually just took me a day to get used to it again. But still, I prefer a place with at least the illusion of oxygen.
  • You don’t have to go far for the actual oxygen. A lot of the Netherlands consists of land, and it is easy to go out of the city to go there, be it by car or even on these amazing bicycles I missed so much (although riding a motorbike was tons of fun too).
  • You can drink water out of the tap. Isn’t that just great? Not having to buy a bottle, drinking some water while in the shower… I’m always drinking water, so this is something I really missed, a lot!
  • Having personal space and room to live. In Jakarta, everything is packed pretty tightly, be it the people on the street or the buildings that are so close together. There are no open spaces except for the roads, and even those are always packed. Sometimes I just want to extend both my arms and spin around. I cannot do that there without hitting an Indonesian.
  • Having all my stuff. Actually, this is weirdly not something that I missed, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for it nonetheless.

This is one of the things I love about travel. It makes you realize what you do and do not have, and most importantly, what you do and do not need. And I’ve come to learn that I don’t need a lot, and that I already have the world.

 

On a local bus

I have written this blog a while ago, back in December when I visited the Toba lake. But I hadn’t gotten around to typing it out and actually publishing it, so today is the day you get to enjoy it and picture yourself on a local bus in Indonesia.

“The tourist bus leaves now, come,” a random guy at the busstation told me. But I had a local guy drop me off who said this bus would be much more expensive. I’m always up for saving some money, but the difference was only about a euro or two. Normally, I would have chosen a more comfortable option for this price difference, but my newest friend told me the other bus would have ac and would be fine as well. I should have known that wasn’t true.

But, I ended up on a local bus from Medan to the Toba Lake. A trip that would take two to three hours according to Google Maps, but took six hours with this lovely, non-ac, smoking allowed, all the windows open bus that not only had people in the seats, but also crammed people into the aisle like stacking Tetris blocks. I was very, very happy with my seat in the back where I could not move my legs, as it was better than not being able to move my whole body at all.

And off we were. Perhaps you didn’t know, but busses in Indonesia generally don’t do the whole busstop thing. You just stand along the side of the road that the bus passes and it will stop for you. And I noticed they had a very clever system of doing this.

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My Kindle provided more than enough entertainment

There were three people working on the bus. The bus driver, who did nothing but drive, and two boys who took care of everything else, like helping people on and off (and they needed the help, trust me) and letting the driver know when to stop and go. The boys were all the way in the back, so to let the driver know they tapped a small rock on the side of the bus, a sound that apparently travels.

So as people get on and off at random places all along the road, we head to Parapat. It took long, because of the many stops, of course, but people were not all that was being transported on this bus. Along the way there were also folks who handed the two guys packages of God know what, that they proceeded to dump outside of the bus in the middle of nowhere. Nobody was there to collect them, they were just tossed there, although I’m sure someone would come for it later. Gotta love the Indonesian system.

I really respected the guys for the work they did, because it was really hard. They constantly hopped on and off the – sometimes still moving – bus and they were sweating like pigs in the Indonesian heat. They hauled people’s luggage and children around like it weighed nothing and never seemed to complain. Their speed also didn’t decrease. Amazing. And during the few moments they had, they were either drinking some well-deserved water or collecting and counting the money from the many, many passengers they got from A to B,C,D,E,F till Z that day.

 

 

 

 

 

The weirdness of normalcy

I’ve been back in The Netherlands for a few weeks now (and in fact leaving again in less than two weeks from now), and I find it has been surprisingly normal. I know I have been totally neglecting you with my blog posts and seeing as how I have recently discovered people actually read them, I almost feel bad about this. But I have plenty of ideas and still some unpublished blogs from way earlier that I will publish sometime soon.

 

Do you know that moment, when you walk off a plane and pass customs and you see all these people waiting for their loved ones? Every time I pass this area, I look around for a familiar face. I never expect them to be there, but it is an automaticity. I always look. And when I arrived back home from being away for 6,5 months, I didn’t even have to search for a familiar face, because they were at the front of the crowd, right there in my face, unmistakably, my friends.

Even though I didn’t want to expect somebody to be there sometime, I’m the kind of person that remembers… a lot. So I kept it locked away in my mind somewhere that one of my friends had asked for details on my return flight when I left, so I had my suspicions. But what I did not see coming, was the banner. They made a freaking banner. Mind. Blown.

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“Welcome back, dear Sanne”

After I got past the fact that it felt so weirdly normal to be with two of my best friends whilst not having seen them for so long, it was like I had never left. I also experienced this when another friend came to visit me in Jakarta. I was looking through the stream of people coming into the arrival hall at the airport and occasionally you will see someone and wonder ‘is this my friend?’ But it is never them, because when it is actually the person you are waiting for you will know it instantly and you don’t even have to ask yourself.

I felt like everybody expected me to have changed when I came back. Maybe they expected me to have become Buddhist, or maybe they would wonder if my native language skills have decreased a bit, or if I would now be this sophisticated, well traveled, young woman who feels like she has ‘seen the world’ (which, I have to admit, is a little true). And yeah, maybe I have changed in some ways. I have seen more, I have learned more, I have more knowledge and experiences, maybe some new ambitions or insights, but my personality has not changed. I’m still the same person as I was before I left. We’re just at a different point in time, at a different location, but it is weird how you find yourself wondering if you will still have something to talk about, and, oh my god, what will we talk about? But you never wondered about this before, so why start now?

And I found myself wondering why people would expect this. Maybe it is the fact that when you don’t see someone for a long time they always seem to look slightly different and they have many new things to tell, new topics to discuss and new insights to share. But you have read all of my stories and know a lot of what I have experienced. So when I see the people I have been away from for so long they ask me to tell them all about it, as they seem to think I have many stories to tell. And yeah, I could tell a few, but I notice I’m more interested in what they have to tell. After all, I already know how my stories end, but I have been kind of out of the loop where the lives of my friends are concerned.

 

Of course, as any returning traveler, there are some things that I miss, some things that I’m very happy to have again and some interesting moments, created by a new set of eyes.

Euros felt like foreign money, but I’d gotten used to it quite quickly. Speaking to people in my native language felt like I had mastered a foreign one and I was actually proud at the well structured sentences that left my mouth. Doing laundry and dishes again is not something I had missed, and could have done without for the rest of my life. Cooking all my favorite meals has been a joy and sharing a meal with my loved ones has been even better.

Walking into a Dutch supermarket felt like walking into a foreign one at first. Different products, prices, people… Maybe they renovated during my time away, they changed their assortment… But there were also some items I had missed and it felt really nice walking into a familiar supermarket and knowing exactly what to get and where to find everything.

Coming back to Groningen, I had expected them to have made huge progress on the mall-like building they were busy with when I left, but I found it in the exact same state as when I left, while two other buildings just seemed to pop up out of nowhere.

You know how they say ‘it is like riding a bicycle’? With this saying, one tries to say that you will never forget how to do it. And while this may be true, and I still knew how to ride a bicycle, muscles do weaken and make it harder for you to do so. The first time I got on a bicycle was completely embarrassing and made me realize I had neglected some of my muscles. It’s going much better now, thankfully.

When I went out to dinner to spend some quality-time with one of my besties, I saw the huge white walls and I kept looking up expecting gecko’s to appear out of nowhere. And I noticed that we have so much less bugs here. I guess it’s too cold for them, which brings me to my next point: the cold.

I got off the plane in flip flops and a thin sweater, as I didn’t have anything warmer. So when I arrived at my brothers house, I took a hot shower and dressed in many, many layers, drank a bunch of tea and went to bed cold anyway (and I had to get out in the middle of the night because the tea decided they couldn’t wait until morning to make an exit).

When I went back to my mothers house where all the crap I call my possessions is stored I got to open all the boxes that I had packed away seven months ago. Let me tell you, it was like shopping for free. I was so grateful for my collection of warm sweaters and my ginormous winter coat. I also gained a new appreciation for gloves. I forgot many of the clothes I had, which made me realize how unimportant stuff is. Clothes are replaceable, as are all the other items I stacked away.

So, I’m getting used to the cold again, I guess. And I liked dressing up again, putting on some make-up, trying on all my old clothes. And the past few weeks have been filled with fun dates and events. The jet lag was less severe than I expected, which was great. I was quite tired in the evenings, but all that did was ensure I would go to bed early and get up at a reasonable hour, and even after three weeks, I’m already back to my lazy old self that cannot get out of bed in the morning. I had so many people to see and most of them I have already seen, my schedule was crazy (also, because I picked up some work at the university, which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is). The next week I am completely free and I will spend it doing more of the things  I love, seeing the people I love and packing my bags for the next adventure: working at a campsite in the south of France.

And I’m already so excited about it!