When my wife suggested we volunteer around the world for a year, I had no idea what we were getting into. When I look back at my experience in Bali now that it is nearly complete and look forward to Sumatra where we continue our work, I think I underestimated some of the challenges and drastically underestimated the meaningful connections I would form with others.
There are always challenges in life and working as a "global citizen"is no different. I think my specific circumstances and path to Bali and this life pivot engendered some specific challenges.
First, I am not in charge. This is a big challenge. I may think I know the "best way" to do something or how to fix a process that I consider broken, but I have no authority to do anything about it. In my old gig, there was a chain of command, and I had the ability to change things, albeit slower than I would often like. Here there is none of that. In fact, there have been situations where young kids have flouted there equality with me. The other day, a few young ladies from Europe were smoking in a common area which had multiple signs specifically saying "No Smoking." I told them twice sternly not to smoke. They didn't listen. They lit up again and said: "This is not your country. Besides the Coordinators are smoking here too." They were right on both counts. I wanted to scream and yell 1000 different ways (Those who worked with me in years past know what that might have looked like,) but I said nothing and left the common area.
Second, this is not my culture nor history. There were things I saw here in Bali that I simply could not believe. There is trash everywhere. I mean everywhere. And if it is not covering up much of the beauty of the country, it is being burned and polluting the air of all these villages housing the elderly and small children. Nearly Everyone smokes here and many kids start at 10 years old. There is cockfighting that takes place every couple of weeks in different temples all over Bali. It is hard not to want to grab the Balinese and shake them and say: "Don't you see what you are doing to your country? To your people? To your future?" But the reality is, who the hell am I to tell them what to do? An white American who never lived anywhere near a poverty level, nor lived anywhere overseas. The acceptance of that frustration and the limits it puts on someone who has a healthy hero complex like myself is a challenge.
Those challenges are hard, but there is a flip side to that coin. An upside surprise I did not expect to find here: A connection with the people of Bali and my fellow volunteers. I saw the difference we can make for local citizens and their ecosystem. The wonderful man who owned the homestay we stayed in is now using bamboo straws instead of plastic after we discussed the importance of eliminating plastic. I blogged about the little girl who joined us as we picked up trash on the streets (seen in the picture below). We saw sea turtles we helped raise in captivity be released into the ocean. And god only knows the trophic effect we may realize from an endangered species thriving again.
The biggest reward has been the connections I have made with other volunteers. I am old enough to be their father, although my maturity level would dictate otherwise as many who know me can attest. In just a handful of weeks, I have met young kids from all over Europe, Pakistan, China, Canada, the United Kingdom and the good old United States. They were open and honest with Kelly and me about their aspirations and their challenges . They were funny and driven in their own ways. I had the fun and the drive in my own way when I was 20. The openness and honesty and maturity I did not. And I can say with 100% confidence we have a whole bunch of places around the world we can stay if we decide to extend this adventure. It was tough saying goodbye to all my new friends and connections.
But in Bali, they have two forms of goodbye.
One is "Goodbye and I will never see you again" and one is "See you Later."
I chose the latter and it was an easy choice.