Day 4 of evacuation: We were supposed to be going home today, but instead of the smoke getting better in Palangkaraya, it’s only gotten worse since we left.
I’m feeling more and more transient as we tack on additional days to our stay in Benjarmasin. I’ve been in this country for almost five weeks now and haven’t been at my site for more than 6 consecutive days. I have a growing list of things I want/need to do at home – find a laundromat and actually get to wear clean clothes (I’m pretty certain swishing my clothes around in soapy water isn’t doing the job), take my batik to a tailor to have it made into clothes, start the immigration process to get my visa converted into a limited stay visa (at the moment, I’ll be deported in a month), hopefully buy a motorbike and learn to ride it (!!!!), and of course… start this whole teaching thing. I’m five weeks in and I have yet to actually do what I’m being paid to do…
But here I sit, yet again, in a comfortable hotel room. I’m loving the hot showers, the fact that the bottom of my feet aren’t black, the shopping I’ve been able to do here (I found shoes in my size!), and the fun times we’ve been able to have exploring this city and meeting new friends. It’s also exhausting. This is far from “home” – we’re constantly on edge for news of Palangkaraya from our friends still there, we’ve run through our clean clothes as we only thought we’d be here for a few days (sticky, smelly, sweaty clothes it is)… Joel’s teachers are wonderful but we are constantly being introduced to new people, taken to new places, eating way too much or people forgetting we never had lunch and then it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and I’m dehydrated and feel like I could faint but we’re at a market an hour away in a tiny little packed gem store and I’m not quite sure how to tell them I need something to eat and drink… It’s making me miss Palangkaraya and the comfort I feel there – even though I’ve hardly been there. But Palangkaraya is home. I’m comfortable around my wonderful counterpart Tisia, and my coteachers at the school. They take such good care of me – taking me places, helping me buy whatever I need, taking me to new places to eat, introducing me to new people, but they also give me my space, and my time to rest. They have become my close friends and second family here <3.
It’s so, so hard being here when everyone I know is living in extremely hazardous conditions back there… Yesterday, the air pollution index in Palangkaraya hit 1, 990 more than 5 times the cap of “hazardous” air on the scale (Straits Times). How is it possible that the government is doing so little?! 200,000 people live in this city and it has the worst air pollution index in the world right now! I hate knowing that it’s the color of my passport and the organization sponsoring me that makes my life so different from theirs. I didn’t have a choice whether I stayed in Palangkaraya or not, I don’t have a choice when I go back… I don’t even have to pay for this! I get a free “vacation,” or as one of my fellow ETAs termed it, “evacucation…”
But… there’s not much I can do to change the immediate situation. I can’t will rain to come or send more firefighters into the jungle, so for now, Carlie and I are guiltily enjoying our stay here. We’re happy to meet new people, let them show us around, introduce ourselves to 10th grade classes… we’re thankful for the hospitality and grateful to AMINEF for the opportunity to get out of the hazardous smog areas but we haven’t stopped thinking for a moment of our friends, students, and communities who have no choice but to breathe in the hazardous air and live in a place where visibility is reduced to 10 meters. 10 METERS!
Maybe we’ll get to go back on Friday. At least, that’s the current plan for now. But with the smog only getting worse and no respite in sight, it may be Saturday or even Sunday before we go back. Needless to say, I can’t wait.