Sunday, August 28, 2011

One Month Watsoversary

It is absolutely unbelievable to me that exactly one month ago at my parents and I were having a tearful goodbye at the Burlington airport. While I want to say that the time has gone quickly, it actually feels like I’ve been gone much longer. So much has happened since then. The thought of eleven more months of this is exciting, but, to be completely honest, exhausting more than anything else.

Sara, the other Watson Fellow in my language class in Ubud (I’m still not over the random events or alignment of stars that had to happen for us to meet), and I went out last night to celebrate both of our “one month into our Watson” days (hers is on the 24th, mine on the 28th); a celebration I have termed a “Watsoversary.” While we celebrated last night with drinks and a dangerously delicious banana dessert at Bar Luna in Ubud, we decided that it’s a monthly tradition that we will both have to continue as we move on to our other project countries. A lot can happen in a month, and although I’m having a pretty fantastic (and surprisingly easy) time and I’m not exactly counting down the weeks until this adventure of a year is over, every step of the way truly feels like a triumph. Because, let’s face it, I’m 22 and alone and all over the world and can’t go home for a year. And I know I know I know it’s an amazing opportunity, but it’s also a little scary sometimes.

I want to also use my Watsoversary as an opportunity to slow down for a day and check in with myself each month. Here goes. In the last month I have:

-Set foot on three new countries (Japan, Singapore and Indonesia) and set foot on one new continent (Asia).

-Learned more of the Indonesian language than I ever thought I would. The other night I wrote a three paragraph essay on “keluarga saya” (my family) for my teacher and was positively beaming because this was a skill I never predicted I would pick up in my life.

-Watched eleven teenagers have their teeth filed, a King’s mother be cremated, and a priest perform a Balinese wedding ceremony for a young couple.

-Become used to drinking drinks I thought at first were way too sweet, and become used to eating food I thought at first was way too spicy. Also accidentally eaten a dish with fresh pig’s blood in it. (I didn’t find out until later).

-Seen colors I have never seen before. Seen an active volcano. Seen the Indian ocean.

-Ridden a motorcycle for the first time (although I have yet to ride one by myself).

-Made a Balinese mask and attended many cultural events that have broadened my definitions of performance.

-Gotten used to a simpler lifestyle: no makeup, no hair product and my leg hair has never been longer (Ironically, I’ve also received more marriage proposals in the past month than I’d ever had in the twenty-two years and five months leading up to it).

-Developed creative (and pathetic) traveling strategies like washing my clothes by showering with them.

-No longer think twice about going places on my own, eating in restaurants by myself, and making my own schedule.

-Been more in touch with my body. I know that this is an extremely cliché to be writing from Ubud, Bali where every westerner here seems to take classes in at least four different yoga studios and frequents raw food cafes, but I think this is more a product of traveling on my own than Ubud itself. I’ve found that because I’m setting my own schedule, I pay more attention to what I want and need. If I’m not hungry, I won’t eat until 9pm. Alternatively, if I’m exhausted, I’ll go to bed at 8. This means I am constantly checking in with myself to figure out what in the world I’m doing; I need to pay attention to myself in order to figure out which local restaurants have inexpensive food that also sits well with my stomach, whether I am sick or injured enough to go see a doctor or I should deal with it on my own, and how to wisely spend my money.
I’m finding when you’re traveling by yourself, you have to be your own first AND second (and third and fourth) opinion and as a result I have to pay more attention to my basic bodily needs like food and sleep and sickness and hygiene when I’m setting my own schedule in a new place.

-Heard new stories, learned new names. I’m still struggling to figure out what exactly “working on my project” entails on a daily basis because my conversations and subsequent writing so far have been so informal. It’s challenging for me not to feel a little aimless at times, or like I should be doing more. But I feel confident in saying I’ve been enjoying my conversations with people and learning a lot about how names and processes of naming reveal an immense amount about a particular place. I’m discovering more and more that perhaps my study of names is a way into a place, rather than an end in itself.

-On that note, I’ve also stopped planning ahead.

-Learned how to talk to strangers.

-Said yes more than no.

-Tried take all of this with humor.

-Discovered how to get a new ATM card internationally shipped to you.

-Learned how to battle the Denpasar visa extension office. (Fingers are still crossed).

-Been constantly reminded that most things are out of my control and learned to have a more relaxed attitude.

-Learned more about Hinduism and Buddhism and visited some incredible sacred spaces.

-Made new friends and redefined my definitions of friendship. When you’re traveling on your own, you real
ize you don’t really have to know people to get a meal with them, or hold their baby, or ask for help or share a taxi ride or talk about personal details of your life soon after you’ve met.

-Been treasuring my communications from home. It’s absolutely true that traveling from home makes you understand home better than you ever did when you were there. Every seemingly trivial thing—every blog post comment I get, every e-mail, every facebook photo shared from my friends—has come to mean so much more to me. (And hey guys, you mean a lot to me, please figure out this hurricane thing). I’ve said it before that I think that the only reason I can go through this crazy year with confidence is because there is so much support love emanating from home to me. My grandmother said before I left that she wished she believed in angels because if she did, she would hire one to follow me all around the world this year. Not to be too sentimental, but the truth is, I feel like I do have one, she’s just made up of the voices and faces and skype dates and e-mails of all of you. I love home. I would go there in a second if I could, but I am glad, in many ways, for this imposed timeline of a year. I know I’m lucky in that way. I have met many westerners in Bali who, Eat Pray Love style, seem like they are here because they are running from something. This realization has made me even more grateful that I am not. Instead, I like to think that I am not running from something, but genuinely, and tentatively, taking more and more steps towards

Happy one month Watsoversary. Thanks for reading.


  1. Nell,

    You write so beautifully and articulately about this experience. Thank you for sharing your eyes and mind with us.

    Sending so much love your way -- and I'm so excited for you and your continuing adventures!!


  2. My Nellabella,

    As always, such beautiful, heartfelt, and evocative writing about an experience that so few of us can really understand! Fortunately, this blog always helps me feel a little closer to you and your adventures.
    Looking forward to all your Wastoversaries to come.


  3. Dearest Nell,

    What a beautiful post. You have already learned so many life lessons that it takes most of us years to acquire. I will wait anxiously for more news of your adventures. We love you and are looking forward to seeing you at the end of your journey. Keep writing!


    Elena. John, Gracie and Tater

  4. Happy Watsoverary! Thank you for your beautiful posts and letting us share your journey through your open eyes, open mind and open heart. Adventure on!

  5. Thanks to all of you so very much. I already know these are comments I'll keep rereading throughout the year. Sending love!

  6. This truly warmed my heart! I'm sitting in my motel room in Metairie, LA reading this. I was feeling a bit sad when I got back from rehearsal today, but this absolutely lifted my spirits.
    Looking forward to following you on your journey! Miss you tons.
    Lots of Love,