The next adventure 

And so begins my next adventure – becoming a nurse! I am embarking on an accelerated training program to receive a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing at what just so happens to be the number one nursing school in the U.S. – Duke. The draw to Duke was not in the name; I’ve never really been a Blue Devil (but you better believe I’ll be in Cameron Stadium come basketball season!). I chose Duke because it is a very high quality training program. I was blown away by the simulation labs they have. With beaucoup mannequins that mimic real-life patients and multiple rooms that mirror those of a hospital, I didn’t find another nursing school with simulation labs comparable to Duke’s. I also liked the layout of their curriculum, which focuses on caring for individuals across the span of life, from birth to death, using wellness as opposed to illness as the starting point of providing care.

How did I get here? Lots of school and work. I finished a graduate program in public health two years ago and by the time I finished, I knew that I wanted to eventually pursue a nursing degree. I love public health but there is so much policy in it that actually working in public health more often than not means spending a lot of time at a desk in an office. Maybe one day I will sit at a desk to do my job, but I am not ready for that yet! A public health education gives you a deep understanding of how to build and run programs that benefit communities, states, nations, and the world, but it does not give you any clinical skills. As an example of the difference, public health focuses on developing and running programs that vaccinate populations of people to prevent disease; nursing focuses on administering those vaccines to individuals and making sure patients receive the right vaccines and the right times.

After graduate school, I spent a year-and-a-half researching nursing programs and taking prerequisite courses required to apply. One remarkable thing about nursing training programs is how asynchronous they all are. There is no standard nursing curriculum across the nation to churn out Registered Nurses. It seems that it is up to the institutions to choose how to prepare their students to become nurses and, perhaps most importantly for the school, to pass the national board exam to be come a Registered Nurse. While shopping around for nursing schools, I kept an extensive spreadsheet of all the schools in which I was interested that soon became an unruly spreadsheet because each school requires different prerequisite courses, has different deadlines for applications throughout the year, as well as varying matriculation dates. Some schools require that your prerequisites are finished before you apply, others do not. Some schools require that you have xx hours of clinical experience before you apply, others do not. Some programs accept non-nurses into and train them all the way through a Master’s degree to become Nurse Practitioners with no previous clinical experience, others only train non-nursing students to the Bachelor’s level to become a Registered Nurse.

I went the route of becoming a Registered Nurse first and will later work on a higher degree to become an advanced practice nurse. Duke is all about training nurse leaders so I expect to be poised to serve as a leader once I’m done with this program.

Starting School 

I recently FaceTimed my nieces (5- and 7- years old) and asked how they felt about starting school next week,

“I feel excited and also nervous!” says the five-year old.

“Sometimes I feel excited, like this, [imagine a very happy, smiling face], and sometimes I feel like curling up into a very small ball.” says the seven-year old.

Their feelings reflect mine after wrapping up my first week of nursing classes. I don’t have any assignments due yet, but I have a stack of books to read, a million videos to watch, and a whole lot of lab and clinical hours ahead of me. It makes me excited and nervous. Mostly I feel enthusiastic about gaining new nursing skills but I have also felt the daily desire to curl up into a small ball over how the heck I am going to get from where I am today to an employable nurse in 16 months time.

The nursing faculty have recommended taking small daily bites of the material. For my four classes (Nursing Assessment, Wellness, Homeostasis/Pharmacological Principles, and Professionalism in Nursing) and my lab work in how to assess patients and carry out basic nursing tasks, I am to review a little bit of that material each day, six to seven days per week and prepare for the next day’s lecture or lab. That’s a lot of studying! But it seems like a good approach to stay on top of the learning so that when an exam rolls around, I won’t feel like cramming or pulling an all-nighter are necessary.

The nursing faculty also shared a quote about how Michaelangelo created his masterpiece Statue of David, something to the effect of, ‘every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is up to the sculptor to chip away at it until the sculpture is revealed.’

So here I am after week one, a big ol’ block of stone. For now, I will hold on to the image of being chipped away at and smoothed out, with each passing week of this program, until a competent nurse emerges.

Perhaps the Statue of David is also an opportunity to brush up on my anatomy prowess?

The year is coming to a close and a lot of the media outlets I pay attention to are chatting about how terrible of a year 2016 was, highlighting how much we’re all looking forward to saying au revoir forever to the year of electing Trump, Brexit, the very pressing refugee crisis and deaths of some of our the western world’s favorite famous people.

I agree. 2016 sucked globally. As I reflect on this year though, I have many fond memories that all have the same theme – music. My favorite 2016 memories revolve around music. From music festivals to awaited albums dropped, my choice of rounding up 2016 is to do so through my favorite songs and albums.In today’s music world, there is way too much to consume. My main music avenue is Spotify, a platform where I have too many options I could sort through by myself and yet one that serves as a great launching pad into many genres of music. I don’t think my classic rock-lovng father will ever understand the very different music scape that exists now versus what music-listening was like when your only option was the Ed Sullivan show and radio.

Yet even with the plethora of artists and albums I could discover, I was able to hone in on a select few favorites of 2016. If music fuels your world as much as it does mine, I hope you also feel compelled to share you favorite jams of 2016, because in the current age of seemingly infinite streaming options, it’s hard for me to find greatness in the sea of sound. Here are my own picks (songs and albums) of 2016.

1. Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being (entire album)

The Glass Animals released their sophomore album in August. It was very different from their first album, Zaba, but the entire album is a good listen from start to finish. The concept of the album is enough to draw you in – based on conversations from various walks of life, their lyrics bring to life the sundry way our narratives play out. My favorite song on this album is the final track, ‘Agnes‘. The fact that they have been my favorite live performances for the past two years certainly contributes to why they’re at the top of my list.

2. Beyonce – Lemonade (entire video album)

After initially writing this list, I almost forgot about this album. Not because it’s not memorable, but mainly because this album transcends what one may think of as your average album.  Lemonade is Beyonce’s artistic vision brought to sound, color, and feeling. Indeed, I would be remiss to not recognize Beyonce’s second video album as one of the most magical, indescribable musical feats of the year. Lemonade is everything the first Beyonce video album, Beyonce, was, as well as everything it wanted to be. As a woman, there is nothing more empowering than listening to a very influential female voice sing about her feelings without shame. Cue Beyonce spitting the first line of the album’s third track, ‘Don’t hurt yourself (feat Jack White)’ where she tells, presumably, Jay-Z and any other guy thinking themselves worthy of a woman’s affection, “Who the fuck do’ya think I am? You Ain’t married to no average bitch boy. You can watch my fat ass twist boy. As I bounce to the next dick boy.’  While the rest of the album doesn’t come off that edgy, its lyrics flawlessly (pun intended) present rhetoric usually characteristic of male artists’ tracks. The poetry and visuals of this album are enough to make it a highlight of 2016.

In fact, Beyonce for president 2020.

3. Polica – United Crushers (entire album)

Very much in tune with the current trend of mixing and using recordings to loop and layer instrumental, vocal, and other sounds into full blown songs, Polica’s album this year was heightened and prolonged for me by seeing them live. Their show was simply a female vocal, a male musician, and a light show that was ever so enticingly synched up with their tracks. Everything about their show brought to life the electricity of their recorded album. On this album, I particularly loved ‘Lose You’, ‘Kind’, and ‘Lately’, but listening to the album from start to finish offers an elegant transition from one soundscape to another for a good 40 minutes. Polica’s approach can be likened to the Chainsmokers, Flume, Odesza, etc.’s work that has transformed house music into a somewhat nameless genre with attempted descriptions of ‘atmospheric dance music’, ‘indie dance pop’, and ‘indie electronica’. Regardless, this ever-morphing genre can translate across the board into one common descriptor of ‘great stage sound for live shows’.

4. Banks – ‘Mother Earth‘, ‘Fuck With Myself‘, & ‘Gemini Feed

Banks also came out with a sophomore album, The Alter,  this year that rocked my world. Banks joins the ranks of song writers and female lyricists that say things normally equated with lyrics written by men. Her fearless endeavor into music takes us into a woman’s mind that portrays a reality just as lustful and selfish as those portrayed by male artists. I can’t help but feeling anything other than a vendetta to be my own empowered, badass single self after listening to ‘Gemini Feed’. Banks has been an artist most her life but by waiting until 2012 to release her own music means that listeners experience a clear artistic vision, which really pans out in these songs on The Alter. 

5. Manatee Commune – ‘What We’ve Got

My dear musical friend Melanie introduced to me this song and group via Cymbal, a go-to music-sharing phone app. This song creates for me an environment consisting of the perfect balance of reggae, vocals, and complex mixes to create a world I want to live in. They (he?) are a gig I’d jump at the opportunity to see live if they ever toured beyond the Pacific northwest. Manatee Commune‘s entire debut album is worth a listen if you want to step into an ethereal alternate reality.

6. Leon Bridges – ‘River’

Leon Bridges revived for me a genre that was left quite vacant in my generation since…? Well perhaps since the 60s. You can liken his sound to Sam Cooke’s or Ray Charles’. And despite his vintage sound in the world of the Chainsmokers (the two-guy-whatever-the-hell-they-are gig that swept ALL the radio waves in 2016), Leon Bridges connected me more deeply with the R&B sound than I ever could have known by simply listening to the passe tunes of Ray or Ottis Redding. His entire 2016 Coming Home album is worth a listen. ‘River‘ was one of my favorites when listening to the album but solidified itself as Coming Home‘s top track after seeing him perform it live. Nothing I write can truly deliver justice to how great of an artist Leon Bridges is, so I will simply implore you to listen to ‘River’ and/or his album Coming Home.

7. Sia – ‘Bird Set Free‘, ‘Unstoppable‘, ‘Reaper

These songs were also on the same album as Sia’s more well-known hits of the year, ‘Alive’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’, yet these three songs drew me into this album well before the singles drew the rest of the world onto the dance floor. Sia has such a strong female voice (see Beyonce and Banks above) that it’s hard not to dive headfirst into her world where women set their own goals, make their own decisions, and dwell, not on their beau’s, but, their own desires.

6. Panic! at the Disco – Hallelujah!

Panic! at the Disco haven’t been on my radar since 2005, when belting to I Write Sins Not Tragedies. But frontman Bendon Urie preforming ‘Halleluhah!‘ live was enough to convert me to a modern day Panic! fan. I had never heard this song from their 2016 album, Death of a Bachelor, before I heard it live, but Urie’s performance and the seemingly timeless talent of this band made it one of my favorite tracks of the year. If you’re looking for any iota of motivation in your day today, this is the track to get you going. The album it exists on is great listen from start to finish as well.

8. Lady Gaga – Joanne (entire album)

This album is everything I thought I hated about country music yet still embodies the rock-ballad-style Gaga is so good at. What I mean is, it’s a damn good album. From start to finish Joanne offers a political-pop narrative to this fucked-up year that was 2016. My favorite track of this album is ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ but all the tracks are indisputably good.

9. Rihanna -‘Consideration’

This is the first track of her most current album, ANTI. I saw a lot of Rihanna on others’ best of 2016 music, but this is the track that did it for me. While it’s worth listening to all of ANTI at least one time through, I particularly love ‘Consideration‘ because it embodies not only Rihanna’s badass female disposition but also that of SZA, the fearless female vocal featured on the track. SZA is actually an artist who helped embody my 2014 with her debut album Z. SZA is an alternative R&B artist worth checking out and the fact that she’s featured on the first track of ANTI is the main reason Rihanna’s 2016 album caught my attention in the first place.

Highlights beyond this list:

Solange’s A Seat at the Table,

Flume’s Skin,

James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, 

Frank Ocean’s Blonde,

Yuna’s single ‘Pulang feat. SonaOne’,

RHCP’s The Getaway, 

The xx’s single ‘On Hold’,

Tame Impala’s ‘Cause I’m a Man (HAIM remix)

Laura Marling’s single ‘Soothing’,

James Vincent McMarrow’s We Move



Living and traveling alone as a woman is a very different experience from that of a lone male doing the same. I would like to believe that traveling and doing as I please while abroad merit the same intereactions and treatment for females as they do for males. However, my years of traveling in places that aren’t wealthy Western nations have taught me that, in fact, the world has a gender lens and my experiences will not be the same as a man’s. There are a number of dangers and risks associated with travel in general, regardless of gender. As a foreigner to a new place, you may not know your way around, the local language, or how day-to-day transactions should work (when buying water, how much should it cost? Is there a price tag? Must I barter? When hailing a cab, are they licesnced? What colors are they? Are there meters? When crossing the street , what are the rules? Does traffic or do pedestrians yield first? Are there crosswalks?). Because travelers or expats are usually not ‘in-the-know’ about the intricacies of the city or town that they’re in, they become more vulnerable to being ripped off, pick-pocketed, or taken advantage of in some other way. This risk increases when you physically stand out as ‘foreign’. No matter how good a blonde white female’s Arabic language skills may be while she lives in, say, Cairo, even the most fluent Amayan will not shield her from local Cairienes spotting her blonde locks from a mile away and immediately thinking, “foreigner.” The same would go for a the lone Asian-looking person walking around in predominately white regions of the U.S., etc.

And while all visitors deal with being the foreign ‘other’ when in the corners of the world that aren’t theirs, women face a certain breed of treatment from which men are generally exempt. My evidence for this is merely a collection of my own expereinces and narratives from fellow female travelers compared to the compilation of narratives from males who travel and live aboard. Women face more aggressive behavior, almost always from men, and are more vulnerable when navigating public spaces than men are. The examples from personal and other women’s experience are countless and varied, but they mostly involve instances of being followed, harassed, touched, groped, stalked, flashed, cat-called, and any other fill-in-the-blank form of harassment by men. These occurences happen most commonly in public spaces when women are alone but the power of two or four women doesn’t equate to much of any power at all and groups of females do not necessarily deter male harassment. What does seem to diminish male harrassment in public like magic is the presence of another male or males. Navigating the streets of Indonesia is so much more pleasant when walking with a man. The jeers, leers, and risk of harassment magically dissapate when in public with male company. I first realized this when living aboard in Morocco for a semester as an undergraduate. I will never forget the week my father visited me and the normal harassement on the streets I endured each day as a lone woman dissapeared with dad by my side. It felt like I was experiencing a whole new side of Morocco, one where I didn’t feel the need to keep my eyes on the ground and my steps quickened. This liberation was all thanks to being accompnanied by a male.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many beautiful aspects about the societies and cultures I have had the pleasure getting to know. Women are almost always treated with the utmost respect in private spaces – the home, places of worship, and places of work – and one doesn’t need to leave their home country to risk getting cat-called, at the least, and sexually assaulted, at the worst. But being a foreigner in general puts you in a headspace telling you that you are vulnerable and perhaps more likely to be a victim of such harassment.

The concept of women in the public sphere is always one that I’ve pondered while traveling, namely in Indonesia and north Africa, where society is highly patriarchal and there is some kind of underlying expectation that women in public spaces should have male accompaniment. This is extremely inconvenient for women who have to work and wish to venture out as they please. My current stint in Jakarta for the summer has introduced to me one new remedy for females to exist in a world dominated by men and that remedy is the concept of ‘women friendly spaces’. Women friendly spaces are exactly what their name implies – areas designated to only women (and small children if the woman seeking the space is a mother).

Jakarta may have a public transportation system that fails miserably at reducing its traffic, but it succeeds in making it safe for women to use for their work and daily commutes. Trains are equipped with ‘women-only cars’ and women only buses roll down the streets. While visiting Kuala Lumpur the other week, two female friends and I parked our car on the ‘women-only floor’. These two examples of women friendly spaces in public are pure genius in cities like Jakarta and Kulala Lumpur. Women friendly spaces are liberating for those who get to use them. I don’t mind at all commuting to work each day in the over-crowded Jakarta train cars because I know that on every train, there are women-only cars. These train cars are a safe haven. I like boarding the train each day knowing that I won’t have to worry about some sorry, misbehaving male taking advantage of the overcrowdedness of the train and groping me from behind. In Kuala Lumpur, when my two girlfriend and I walked back to the car late at night, we had no worries about males lurking about in the parking deck, knowing our risk of assault was virtually diminished.

UNFPA, where I am interning, and other humanitarian aid organizations are exploring women friendly spaces particularly for crisis situations. The idea here is that when there is an emergency situation, be it a violent conflict, an earthquake, or a flood, and uprooted populations are residing in refugee camps or disaster relief shelters, women are at an increased risk for sexual assault. Creating women friendly spaces for them reduces their risks of being assaulted. This concept of the women friendly space that originated from their use in emergency situations has translated well into general, non-crisis public spaces.

As awful as it is to feel that I will never be able to trek the world as freely and safely as a man could, women friendly spaces are an intermediary solution that allow women to be free. Until the risk of harm to women in public is completely gone in all societies, adding more women friendly spaces in cities like Jakarta can help give women the rights they deserve to exist and function in public spaces.

The Midwife Association of Indonesia had its 64th Anniversary in Jakarta this month. Because UNFPA supports the association of over 40,000 midwives in the country, I went along with the reproductive health team staff to show support for the midwives and the work their association does.

The celebration was set up outside of the midwife Association’s office in Central Jakarta. A large tent covered the road with midwives and other local health officials attending in matching batik uniforms. On the day of their anniversary, the association’s office, based in a community health clinic, decided to open its doors wide open to provide free contraceptive and cervical cancer screening services.

The Midwife Association anniversary celebration in Jakarta

The Midwife Association anniversary celebration in Jakarta

Providing compulsory screenings for free when women go to a health clinic for family planning services is one way to ensure that they are getting checked for cervical cancer. Particularly in low- and middle-income countries, bundling maternal health services and providing multiple services in one visit is on strategy to ensure that women get the care they need.

On the day of their anniversary celebration in Jakarta, the midwife association had planned for around 200 women to come in for contraceptives and cervical cancer screenings. By 10am, almost 800 women had already registered to receive the services. When we arrived, the midwives were boisterous in the spirit of their celebration, regardless of the lines out their doors of women waiting their turn to be seen by a midwife. One of the head midwives of the association showed us into the clinic where injectable contraceptives and cancer screenings were being conducted. The room was filled with women waiting, small children, and even a husband or two.

“We had so many people sign-up. Much more than the 200 we planned for. We don’t have enough supplies today so we had to turn many away,” this midwife explained about the large crowd.

Regardless of the supply shortage, the leadership of the association seemed pleased with the huge turnout. Servicing hundreds of women in one neighborhood in Jakarta for a day, however, is a mere dent in the total maternal population of Indonesia’s capital city. A major challenge in Indonesia’s health system for women and family planning is supply shortage, rooted in fractured supply-chain management. Often, large orders of contraceptives will be made once or twice a year in a given region. If the supplies are not enough, there is not yet a means to quickly order and receive more.

Outside of the health clinic, a community health van was parked in the middle of the street. The head of the midwife association eagerly invited us to take a look inside. “We have inserted four IUDs (intrauterine devices) and one implant already today,” one of the head midwives said when I asked how many people their mobile health clinic had serviced so far that day. The patient in the van was receiving an implant. Implants are one of the more effective contraceptives. Their effectiveness lasts for years and are good for women who know they do not want to become pregnant anytime soon. For women who know they are done having children, IUDs or sterilization are the best options. IUDs are long-lasting, reversible, and effective. Sterilization is permanent. IUDs have not yet taken off in Indonesia as the most popular form of birth control, as they have in many other countries.

The family planning community health van

The family planning community health van

Organizations like UNFPA are trying to increase the uptake of IUDs for a number of reasons. Unlike other forms of contraceptives that require frequent or multiple visits to a health professional, IUDs are inserted once and last for a period of up to 10 years. Different cultures have various opinions about certain contraceptives, however, making the most logical choice not always the most common choice. Just look at the U.S. The U.S. has an unplanned pregnancy rate of 51 percent. That means that over half of pregnancies in the U.S. are not planned. The Pill is the most common form of birth control currently in the U.S., but it’s also one of the lease effective contraceptives. It is not long-lasting and requires continuous effort from the user in order to work effectively.

Luckily in Indonesia, more women use longer lasting methods of contraception. And their longer lasting contraceptive choices means more success in planning pregnancies and births. Indonesia, along with the rest of the globe, outshine the U.S. with lower rates of unintended pregnancy. Longer-lasting contraceptive methods means more effective family planning, more control over choosing when to become pregnant, and better health for women and their families. The midwife association in Indonesia contributes greatly to helping women control their fertility – 74 years-worth of their work is certainly a reason to celebrate!

The reason I have found myself living in Jakarta for the summer is to fulfill a grad school requirement where I complete some kind of eight-week internship in the field of maternal and child health. Because I’m into global public health and I can’t help but travel every chance I get, I sought to leave the U.S. for the summer. I was lucky enough to be connected with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) by an Indonesian peer. After considering a few placements in other countries, I decided on returning to Indonesia for two reasons. First, Indonesia is an exciting place for initiatives in my most favorite sector of maternal health – family planning. Second, it takes a while to learn about other cultures and language and my logic was this – had I ended up in say, Zambia, I would have spent my entire summer learning the ropes of the Zambian culture and health system. By the time I would have begun to understand an inkling of what the heck was going on and how things work, it would have been time for me to leave. With my past stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer here, contributing to work in Indonesia means I can dive right in.

One of the main lessons I’ve learned so far while working on a public health Master’s is that not a lot of people know what public health is or what it does. Put simply (albeit ambiguously), public health is everything that prevents bad health and everything that promotes good health for everyone. And it’s everywhere. Public health is the seat belt law in your state in the U.S. Public health is making condoms available to youth in Tanzania to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Public health is the mass immunization campaign that recently eradicated polio in India.
What public health isn’t, is medical care. If you are at a doctor’s office because you’re ill or you’re waiting in an urgent care unit because of an injury, you have stepped into the realm of medical care, not public health. Public health work is all about facilitating safe and healthful living so that your risk for illness and injury is low.

My focus in public health while in Indonesia is family planning. Family planning encompasses anything that helps individuals and families decide if, when, and how often they reproduce. Family planning is important because it affects the health of mothers, which affects the health of children and families, which in turn influences the health of communities, regions, and the world. If a woman doesn’t want to get pregnant, family planning programs provide what that woman needs to prevent having a child. I love this work because it’s all about empowering people to control a very important feature of life (reproducing) so that they can pursue what is best for them. It’s estimated that family planning alone reduces maternal deaths by a third. That is powerful and a large part of what makes family planning so awesome. In Indonesia, for example, the average woman had more than five children during her lifetime in the early 70s. Today, she will have around two children. The decline is made possible by family planning services, mainly in the form of contraceptives.

What's driving UNFPA in Indonesia

What’s driving UNFPA in Indonesia

While in the Peace Corps, my host mom was our village’s midwife. I saw how powerful and important her work was in our village. Women who knew they couldn’t afford to have any (more) children or simply didn’t want to would come to her to prevent another pregnancy. Family planning services empowered these women to support their children and husbands as healthy, thriving individuals. It’s a bit surreal to be back in Indonesia working on country-level initiatives delivering family planning services to those who need it, regardless of their income or education status when just a year ago I was witnessing the family planning services in my small Javanese village. For the summer, I will gladly endure the gridlock traffic and layered pollution in Jakarta to collaborate with a stellar UNFPA Indonesia staff on how to best provide reproductive health services.

After delaying my actual move to Jakarta by spending a week in the fabulously hilly West Javanese town of Bandung with a fellow RPCV who lives in a great breezy spot, I have finally made my move to Jakarta. Thus far, it’s everything I thought it was going to be – a hot, crowded, intriguing labyrinth of diversity, skyscrapers, and slums. My previous stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Java painted a picture of Indonesia that looks not much at all like life in Jakarta. The poverty divide, like in most large cities, is much bigger here in Jakarta than it ever could be in my East Javanese Peace Corps Village. The haves have a lot, from their penthouse-like apartment views, luxury vehicles, and trendy bars while the have-nots have just as little as the poor everywhere, but their lean-to residences appears much more starkly when juxtaposed against a city skyline with BMWs and well air-conditioned malls in the forefront or background than it ever could in the more modest areas of Java. Also, traffic and pollution are unfortunate distinguishing features of the city. Luckily, I mostly walk and take a city train, a kind of above ground subway that chugs through the streets. The train seems to contribute to the gridlock, but I don’t mind when I’m the one riding through the traffic and not the one stuck in it.

I appreciate some movement and physical activity in my weekly schedule and I decided right away that Jakarta’s concrete jungle and heat would not be conducive to my normal weekly jogs. I found a remedy when wandering through a mall after my first day of work in the heart of the city.

Jakarta, along with much of Southeast Asia, is home to a mall culture. Malls serve as a sort of epicenter for socializing, relaxing, and entertainment for many Jakartans. Visit a mall on a Friday or Saturday evening and you will see people fabulously dressed, perusing stores, dining, and patronizing mall theaters. I seem to be serially underdressed when walking through skyscraper malls in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian cities.

My physical activity remedy appeared when I recently ran across, of all things, a gym on the fourth floor of an I-don’t-know-how-many-stories-high mall a block away from my work building. On a whim, I ended up signing up as a two-month member. I have never been a member of a private gym in the U.S., only ever patronizing university or residential gyms. I enjoy working out but my experience in the Peace Corps taught me the value of a good homegrown workout and as a graduate student in the States, I don’t mind sweating it out with buffed-up undergrads at the school’s gym.

That being said, I found the ‘sale’ of this gym membership in Jakarta to be quite the show. I sat down with what could be none other than a gym sales associate as she took me through the gym’s offerings and gave me a tour. It was by far the most posh gym I had ever seen. After hearing about its bells and whistles, the sugary sweet sales associate allowed me to barter the price of the gym membership down to what I thought was reasonable. I’m not sure if membership price is negotiable in private U.S. gyms, but I wasn’t surprised to be able to sign a two-month contract for a fraction of the starting price in Jakarta. Unless one can see a price tag slapped on something, bartering is fair game in Indonesia and that proved to be the case for this private gym membership as well.

With my membership in hand, I was introduced to one of the personal trainers, Mas Rusdi, who specialized in TRX, one of my favorite gym toys. The next day, I joined Rusdi for a complete TRX butt-whooping session. I was impressed with Rusdi’s knowledge of fitness, evidence that Indonesia’s elite gym rats have embraced modern fitness models. The culture at this gym is one of complete encouragement. I see people of all shapes and sizes working with smiling personal trainers and group fitness instructors. By day two, I was greeted by my first name at the front desk and from other PTs I met there on my first visit.

And the ladies locker room. I can only try to express how immaculate the ladies locker room is. With shower water pressure of the stuff dreams are made of and salon-worthy hair dryers, I will likely end up bathing and getting ready in the ladies locker room more than in my own apartment. With access to fitness nerds, a Pilates room, and an overall stellar fitness culture, I have found a little oasis in Jakarta’s urban jungle.

Very tall building, very posh mall with my fitness oasis inside.

Very tall building, very posh mall with my fitness oasis inside.

Front desk of the gym within a mall.

Front desk of the gym within a mall.

(Back to blogging! This is the start of a summer series on my experiences in Indonesia interning for the United Nations Population Fund as part of my Master’s of Public Health program in Maternal and Child Health. Apart from this introduction piece, I plan to focus on topics related to maternal and child populations in Indonesia and globally.)

Arriving in Indonesia not even 11 months after moving on from my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer here felt a lot like coming to a home of sorts. I would have laughed wildly if this time last year someone had told me that I would find myself returning to Indonesia within the year, but life has an awesome way of taking you down unforeseen paths. Granted, I was arriving in the capital of Jakarta, a place I had never actually set foot in beyond its airport, but even as I rode in a taxi from the airport to the city, I felt at ease. The taxi driver and I chatted about the city and our families, why I was here, and how nice Jakarta is in the middle of the night sans its infamous traffic gridlock.

The concept of home is an ever-morphing one for me, as I have yet to feel ‘at home’ in any particular place be it in the United States or elsewhere. Home can be defined as where your things are, in a house, apartment, or storage unit. Home could be the place where the people you love are or where you work. In my twenties, home has proven to be the places where I laugh with friends and family.

Relative to most, I am a bit of a wanderer and, having moved no less than four times in the past 12 months, the concept of home crosses my mind from time to time. For me, home can be anywhere. I find it amazing that I can travel from place to place to visit with friends I have made along the way and, even in a short amount of time, feel at home. Thanks to the kindness and breathtaking generosity of the people that I know and love, home is wherever I am spending quality time with others. A week in California with my grad school roommate and returned Peace Corps friends is home when we are hiking through the Redwood Forests singing songs. A few nights at my sister’s house in Philadelphia is home when I am snuggled up on the couch reading books to my nieces. Setting foot in a foreign country where I spent the better part of my early twenties as a Peace Corps Volunteer feels like home when I arrive and can navigate the streets speaking the language.

I think a more malleable definition of home like mine is becoming more and more normal. Families move often and younger adults wait longer to ‘settle down’. Career changes are the norm and never having a ‘normal job’ is no longer reserved for the vagabonds and Kerouac’s of the world. I have many friends who are truly citizens of the world – their families live in different countries, they have more than one native tongue, and their citizenship is a map their family’s journey. I was born and raised in one place by parents with similar backgrounds yet my idea of home has grown to encompass many things beyond where I am from and my nationality. I know how lucky I am as a U.S. citizen and native English speaker to pursue moving about the world as I have and I find it exhilarating to live as an American in a world where, if you have the desire and means, you can pick up go explore, start anew, or pursue dreams.

For the next three months, Jakarta and thereabouts will be my home. I will keep my things in this sprawling city and l hope to laugh a lot with old friends and unknown new ones.