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My life can easily be compared to a Control Flow Graph. Ebbs, flows and the need for external artificial injections. These artificial injections come in the form of entertainment, food, political commentary and anything else that crosses the mind from time to time. No matter the ebbs and flows there are some genuine components of my life which act as grounding rods. This includes my family and friends and that is what has led me to today’s post.

My circle of friends, whom you have heard about in previous posts, is tight. I love them to bits and feel as though I live my life and large parts of theirs. Today I got up and I felt a sadness and it is a sadness with a bit of soul searching. Once again I am looking for that spiritual awakening, that feeling of belief in something so deep, comfort in an idea/concept that will serve to anchor me through any storm. But I digress. So I got up and I felt somewhat sad because my friend Maya is on my mind and I am sad because I am thousands of miles away while she soldiers through a difficult time in her life. According to Google we are actually 10454 miles apart.

I shed a few tears and then I thought, “Natalie why are you crying?” Maya will be fine. She has the strength of a believer, she has put her trust in God and is resolute that he is the captain of her ship. I felt a little better when I remembered this but it made me pause for a minute because Maya stands as an example of someone with faith. This faith that was built over years and which is now the glue holding everything together.

I asked myself how does one get to that point if one does not truly believe? Can you make yourself believe or will life just bring it your way one day? Should I go hunting for my own spiritual awakening?

As part of her journey, Maya is now sharing her story at http://www.pinkbowdiaries.wordpress.com. Check her out.

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Word has it that if all expats in the world were pooled together in one territory, we would form the 5th most populous country in the world. When I first saw this data I was amazed. Are there truly that many people living outside the borders of their home country?

When we moved from Jamaica to the United States I didn’t feel like an expatriate; I felt more like an immigrant. This feeling stems from the fact that, for Jamaicans, living in the USA is what people do. Everyone in Jamaica has a friend and/or family member living in the US. The fact that we relocated specifically for hubby’s job did not change that feeling of immigrant vs expatriate.

The move from the US to Indonesia has, however, now placed me squarely in the expatriate box. There are tons of articles written on the expatriate lifestyle. Many create fantasies while others try to understand the emotional and realistic lives of all age groups within the expatriate community. The expat life isn’t always a bed of roses. For example, as a Jamaican, it kills me to not have the rhythm of my music, of my people and of the life on a small island. Say what you will about the problems in my home country, it is and forever will be home.

Photos below of a beautiful spot in Portland, Jamaica and of Red Stripe beer (the most refreshing beer in the world).

Portland

Real Jamaican Beer

Personally, I love the expatriate life. I like seeing the world as a tourist and as a resident. I feel as though the world is my own cocoon. My family and I are now champions at figuring out which countries have safe enough to eat street food (well hubby and I do as the kids are anti street food). We are also masters at figuring out in which cities hunger is a more viable option than touching anything cooked in a restaurant with less than 4 stars. We have seen so many World Heritage Sites and have felt the warmth of so many cultures that anything other than gratitude for our lives is thankless.

Among the many things I truly love about expatriate life is the hunt. The hunt for the next place to live. For me, the hunt starts long before we are scheduled to leave the current post. It is when the mind tells me I need to learn a little more about living as an expat in a particular country. It is when a newly made friend is re-posted and is moving to a country that holds a fascination. It is when I meet someone who, over dinner, revels in the memories of their last posting. That city in which they regularly had monkeys in their backyards or where Friday nights in the high-end clubs are free Cosmopolitans (the drink) for women until 11 pm. The funny part about the Friday free cosmopolitans is that the country in question is a religious state. That discussion is for another day and time.

When I hunt, I hunt well. I go detailed. I look at houses and compounds. I learn details about schools: is there a British school or an American school or both? Do the students at the British school study for A’level exams or the International Baccalaureatette (am I the only one who finds it difficult to spell that word)? Is City X a family duty station or not? Ah, fun fact on family duty stations: Iran and Pakistan are family duty stations but Haiti isn’t. Hmmm, not sure I get the logic of that one. Other fun fact: everyone I have ever met who has served as an expatriate in Zimbabwe wants to go back. One such friend describes Zimbabwe as the secret duty station. It is that place we hear about and assume it is awful but in reality it offers a wonderful life for expatriates, or so my friends proclaim.

Where to next, we have no clue. Catch me after a trip to the Caribbean and I may say any Caribbean island. Catch me after watching a documentary on life in Buenos Aires and I may nag hubby to move us to Latin America. Let me see Africans dancing on my tv screen or hear the roar of lions and nothing can rattle my conviction I am destined to reside in a country somewhere on the African continent.

The reality is we know not when or where we will next have an address. What we do know though is that we still have much to see and do in Indonesia. Right here on the Ring of Fire in the country with the most volcanoes in the world.

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2014 is well on its way and like many others I am in high gear trying to live up to my New Year’s resolutions. Today is the 12th day and so far so good on all fronts except for a little diversion on the 8th involving a Junior Whopper, a slice of carrot cake, french fries and a Coca Cola. On the day itself I felt a little dirty and disappointed but the good news is that I continued with my efforts. What, you may ask, are these resolutions I hold so dear? To be honest I prefer to think of it as trying to build systems that will lead to the best possible Natalie. The laundry list is long so to avoid boring you let me share only a few.

1. Be systematic and consistent with my gym workout. I do not have a weight loss goal but instead would like to get into a rhythm and form the habit of working out a minimum of three days per week. My routine now involves cardio (treadmill and Zumba), yoga, Body Balance and weights.

2. Learn to swim. This is the point where I must remind some of you that it is impolite to laugh at others. My being from an island and now having a pool at home does not give you the right to laugh or make fun of me. ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!!

3. Learn Spanish. Arabic I think would be better for me career-wise but would be more difficult to learn and I have no one with whom I could practise.

4. Increase my spoken vocabulary and recheck all social media postings. My vocabulary is quite wide but I tend to use less than 30% of all the words I know. (I checked so I know). Having children does not help as I have now found myself using words such as ‘thingy’, ‘like’ and many others way too often. We have now instituted speak properly days at home when we are all expected to speak without the use of slangs and with proper grammar. I would suggest you not try this at home unless you are ready for a permanent fight with your kids. There have been times when I reread some of my posts on Twitter and Facebook and I am embarrassed – my spelling is off and at times my grammar is crap. This is the situation not because of ignorance but due to the fact that I do not spend the requisite time to recheck what I have written. Do I want my great-grandchildren in years to come to think my use of the English language was less than stellar? Nopes.

5. Focus on wealth creation. Consume less, earn more. Push to create life experiences instead of owning a new bag, shoe or piece of furniture.

6. Be consistent with my blogging.

Why am I sharing this? I am doing so because that is the world in which we now live. We share more than any other previous  generations. In addition, it is my hope that sharing this information will provide me with support from you to keep going strong with what I need to accomplish for 2014. Thanks to everyone who spared time in 2013 to read ExpatOnTheGo and to comment at different times. I appreciate your support and look forward to even more interaction in 2014 and beyond. All the best….

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Family Vacation in the Sumatran Jungle

oldmanoftheforest

I decided to take my family on an unusual vacation

The big question when our kids have an extended school break is always, “what are we going to do?” Often times the first response is to think of where to go outside Indonesia. This time I was determined that we try an Indonesian adventure. For most expats here, the easy go-to place is Bali but we have never fallen in love with Bali  so that was not going to be an option for the picky Rodriques bunch.

Hubby has been speaking about a trip to Banka Belitung. The place is said to have nice beaches and rock formations but without the overrun of tourists. I am also curious about Banka Belitung but felt we needed something different. My mind churned for days until it hit me: how about a vacation outside of our usual norm?

I felt devious. I started to scheme a plan for a vacation. I love planning surprises and so the family (except the youngest) was kept in the dark about my plans for our jungle trekking trip.

My friend Charlie had already visited the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra and raved about the awesomeness of the experience. I mirrored Charlie’s experience and we had a fantastic time.

Really hating early morning flights we leisurely got up and caught a 10:20 am flight to Medan. Up until then my beloved husband, our first born and her friend who was tagging along had no clue where we were heading. The flight from Jakarta is a quick two-hour hop over to the 3rd largest city in Indonesia. Surprise surprise when we got to Medan: the airport is actually quite nice having only been opened two and a half months prior to our visit.

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On arrival to Medan we began a 4-hour drive to the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang. The National Park is home to orangutans which are a critically endangered species in Indonesia. It also has a rehabilitation center for orangutans that were rescued from captivity or which were being hunted.

When we got to Bukit Lawang I glanced around but could not figure what was happening. Firstly, this did not look like a rain-forest and secondly I did not see a place for us to stay. While I did not expect luxury I certainly expected something decent. I didn’t see any sign of a decent hotel in sight!

Seeing the initial puzzled look on our faces we were told that we had not yet arrived at our lodgings. Cars could not drive into the area and as such we had to walk to the Jungle Inn at which we were booked to stay. How quaint, I thought, still apprehensive about what to expect after the walk.

Parts of the path are steep

Parts of the path are steep

Typical Indonesian style we were asked if we wanted to pay someone to carry our bags. We said no but after walking for 10 minutes on sloped and less than perfect surfaces we regretted the choice of not paying less than Rp 20 000 (US$2) per bag for the much needed help. Seeing our struggle, our guide Yosep gave us a hand and took my suitcase. Once again Yosep proved himself to be very helpful. Since starting to plan the vacation I had been in touch with Yosep who arranged our transport from Medan, all our activities and our lodgings. A more receptive guide we could not have asked for. Given my OCD tendencies while planning trips it was awesome having Yosep respond to my million texts shortly after receiving them.

There are shops along the way - good for souvenirs, water, or a Bob Marley t-shirt

There are shops along the way – good for souvenirs, water, or a Bob Marley t-shirt

It wasn’t a short walk. After a 20 minute walk my confusion and apprehension gave way to a smile. Along the walk to the Inn we saw monkeys traipsing along as though they owned the place; we also caught glimpses of other foreigners relaxing with iced cold beers in their hands.

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Everywhere you looked there were monkeys along the way

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In a couple of local shops we saw t-shirts with picture of Bob Marley and even the Jamaican flag. This was beginning to get interesting. Especially exciting for some in the family was the sight of folks tubing down the river and seeming to enjoy a ride which would not have complied with US safety standards. But it wasn’t too scary. I made a note: yours truly, the biggest coward on land or sea, would go tubing as well. And I would drag the rest of the Rodriqueses with me!

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This is how the tubes get back up

Folks nearing the end of their tubing

Folks nearing the end of their tubing

By the end of our time in the Sumatran jungle I had tubed, seen monkeys, orangutans and other critters, eaten awesome food and yelled like never before when a leech decided he wanted some of my blood. To top it off, I slept like a baby at nights to the sounds of the jungle and the waterfall right outside our bedroom.

Money-wise this was one of our cheapest vacations ever but the memories created will last a lifetime.

For more photos visit hubby’s website at srodriquesphotography.wordpress.com

TIDBITS

* For Rp 20 000 per bag someone will carry your luggage for the 20 minute walk to the Jungle Inn or any other hotels along the way. This is well worth the price as the path is not evenly paved, has puddles of water and has bits that are uphill.

* We used a guide call Yosep for our trip to Bukit Lwang. He works with the Jungle Inn and made all the arrangements for our transport, accommodation, jungle trek, tubing, viewing of the feeding of the orangutans.

Yosep may be reached at +62 821 6596 4000

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Living in Indonesia has been rewarding in many respects but quite difficult for Natalie the career woman. While I have worked on a few projects I have not flourished career wise and have missed my political life like never before. After much thought, soul searching, gabs and listening to motivational videos it has finally dawned on me that:

1. I am brooding over what I think I have lost and not fully appreciating what I currently have.

2. While stuck pining for what I consider as my passion I am not allowing myself to find new passions and to truly enjoy the life I can possible live as an expatriate.

3. I am losing the spunk that has made me Natalie and that is scary.

Even though I am not fully there yet and still have days when I miss home and politics, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I see what has to be done to help me live and have a greater appreciation for my life. Thanks heavens my husband is understanding while I work through this process. My friend Diana who runs the website http://dianaantholis.com/ made a great point when she recently told me that fulfillment comes from within, not from external sources. There is no guarantee I will feel more fulfilled running home to Jamaica to be in the political fray.

As part of this self-journey it also struck me that I live in one of the most amazing countries in the world. Indonesia is a country with not only the most spoken languages but also with amazing cultures and sites to explore. The country is home to 8 World Heritage Sites, 7 of these sites are on the island of Java where we live. Outside of these heritage sites, Indonesia has a fascinating landscape, is diverse in its food, culture and beliefs. To date we have only scratched the surface in our travels around the country and I often complain about not liking this or that about being in Indonesia but what needs to happen is that I need to appreciate my now and smell the roses on the journey.

Many of you reading this blog may say what a spoiled child we have in Natalie and you would be quite right. Feel good knowing though that the non-spoiled Natalie is on the return. Over the next few months I will share stories and photos with you of our journeys and life in Indonesia.

Until next time….walk good!!!

TIDBITS

* World Heritage Sites in Indonesia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_Heritage_Sites_in_Indonesia. We have visited 2 so far: BOROBUDUR and the RAIN-FOREST OF SUMATRA.

* One of the audio books that is helping me along, Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ6Uxd1QY9c&feature=youtu.be Thanks to my fellow expat wife and Jamaican Patricia Haywood of http://www.asianfashionlaw.com/ for introducing me to the concept of my cheese being moved.

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He Loved Me More Than Anyone Else

My grandfather died and it struck me more than I expected. Why? Because he has been senile for more than a decade and a half. His senility, I thought, would have better prepared me for his passing but it hadn’t. Grandfather (as we called him) loved me more than anyone else has in my entire life. His love was pure, forgiving, not demanding and unfiltered. I was his T and he was Grandfather who didn’t care what my mom or grandmother thought about him bringing me sodas, sweety and patties at the most inopportune time (inopportune to them). 

He lived until age 92, an age that many of us can only hope for and he passed away in his sleep without pain or anguish. For this, I am happy and for this I am grateful to the Supreme Being. His death and funeral signified many things for me. It showed me the true colours of many and it proved the strength and awesomeness of my mother. She, being Grandfather’s only child took on his funeral like a tribute to his life. Everything was done the rural traditional way of Jamaica. We had a ‘grave-digging’, a ‘nine-night’ and we had the funeral in the pouring rain. We had the manish water drinking, the curried goat eating and the rum drinking. Having been senile for so long he had been out of the community for a long time; having lived so long, most of his peers were no longer alive. With this in mind I questioned my mother’s judgment on having the funeral in the country and for bothering with all the rural traditions but she maintained that it was the right thing to do and now I can say she was right!!!! The community came out and supported Mr. Forrest, the arrangements were made and executed in true Jamaican spirit. Mr Forrest would have been happy right down to the green paint that adorns his grave.

In preparing to give the eulogy I spent much time reflecting on my grandfather and realized that he had a major influence on my life – more than I ever thought. He is the real influence for my having entered politics and as such I had no choice but to end the eulogy with SHOWER Grandfather, SHOWER Labourite (the JLP political slogan). Grandfather was a simple man, a very simple man in terms of his means but a mighty man in terms of how he loved us. Will I forget him, will my children know about him? Yes they will because if it is the last thing I do they will learn the words to the song “Sly Mongoose” because in my mind he would have been singing it to them all the time had he not been senile. Every time the song crosses their mind they will remember that to make a mark in life one does not need power or wealth. To make a mark in life one needs a good heart and a love for others. That is who Grandfather was and that is what they will know and remember.

Sly Mongoose

Sly Monoose how yu name gone abroad

Sly Mongoose how yu name gone abroad

Mongoose seh him an Bedwood a memba

Bedwood seh him nuh quite remember

Sly Mongoose

Rest in Peace Grandfather (Oct, 1919 – Aug. 2012)