Sunday, December 20, 2015

Visiting my "hometown"

I wanted to write out some thoughts on visiting Sentani before they are all swept aside in the busyness of life. I think I had underestimated how emotional it would be to arrive back. I'd been back before, I live in Indonesia now, and I was just focused more on seeing friends than on “going home”.

But then in the first two days I was overwhelmed by the constant sense of the past. Arriving at the airport (which is all new and fancy) but internally remembering myself there in my last week, saying  goodbyes at that airport and then running away down that road alone, overwhelmed by grief. I even remember those vague first memories of arriving at that old airport in fourth grade. There's the soccer field, now taken up with Pak Tes's tomb, where I watched Jared and John play soccer. Missy and Kars, the dear friends we stayed with, live in Pos 7 with the roof of my high school home visible from their front yard. That area is so the same, and it was so surreal to remember myself walking past their front gate on the afternoon walks when I prayed and savored the beauty and all around me. Within hours of arrival Missy took me up to the international school to see a nurse about my very infected finger, and I stood with her in front of the nurse's office watching Mr. B and Mr. Lott walk past, and Uncle Wally bring a sick grandkid in, dorm kids walk home for lunch break and …. it's just the same. Except not.

Standing in that place, where I can look up at the highschool or over at the gym or off to grade school playground and classrooms, it's all almost exactly the same as when I left 15 years ago. And since I have only been back here once in 15 years and my high school memories are strong, it was as if Nathan might fly by on his motorcycle, or Julie and Kathryn walk out of the gym, or Ken walk up from the dorm. Right there, right there Randall and Jennie and Linda and Rob and Ben and I took our yearbook class photo. It's the same, and yet 15 years have passed of others living our their lives there and all of us growing up and moving on.

And so I kept swallowing tears those first days, for the feelings that overwhelmed me and the memories of those times but perhaps more of those people, who I still love, even the ones who I have no contact with or some that have cut me out of their lives. And, as the days passed and I kept pondering, I am just so grateful for the way God grabbed my heart and spoke to me in those days. Yes, they were beautiful times, but more importantly I grew to know Him, and then as I left and grew and wrestled and struggled, He kept at my heart. In the grand scheme of things, the beauty of my childhood there in Sentani was no more important or better than the harder times elsewhere, because in each God has led me through His purpose. For that I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Sentani has changed. The old high school complex I spent my time is nearly the same (just a few new classrooms on the far left that look identical to the others) but the part where construction was beginning when I left continues to expand out towards the front gates, where they have also just completed a futsal stadium that will be used by the public too. So, the front has changed but the view of the lake and city and the hills is still just as stunning in the golden hour. The city and the main street is nearly unrecognizable. Storefronts and the mall and new everything. The only thing I recognized the first time through town was Mickeys, which may as well be frozen in time. It took multiple days there for me to grow to recognize the entrance to Pos 7 and Hillcrest Hill. It's been so long that I can no longer identify places by “the so-and-so's house” because like four families have lived in each home since then. However, the top of Pos 7 looks the same and Cyclops in all its glory rises above the city untouched and mighty still. Oh and Tanah Merah is built up and visited by Indonesian tourists, which I say is fair enough because Indonesians should treasure and take advantage of the beauty of their own country. I think I was privileged to have those pristine untouched beaches growing up, and they are still beautiful now, despite the changes.

It also made me smile and shake my head in amazement that at the game night we went to – the first in the new futsal stadium, I watched Barry J., Tim Cr., Jared, and Dan W. put their heads together with Tammy (the girls team coach) during intense times in the game. How crazy is that, 15 years later, that I know all of them? After dramatic overtime and penalty kicks, Tammy's team won the tournament for the first time, and I tearily flashed back to 15 years ago when the last HIS game I watched was “my” guys basketball team winning their tournament with great joy.

The drive to Jayapura is surreal, because I lived in Abepura from 4th-7th grade and it is utterly changed, far more so than Sentani even. Given how vague my early memories are, it was odd to find that I did remember curves in the road, the geography, the old location and names of stores and landmarks, from 20+ years ago! It took multiple tries to find my old street and house because it's entirely changed. Topaz and Mega are somehow still there, but in new places. There are big malls and supermarkets and a Pizza Hut and KFC and … well... it's just changed.

Jayapura was changing last I was here and it was actually fun to go and spend a day and a night there as a family on our own. My memory of Jayapura as a kid was that of hot and tiring days shopping, but with a fancy mall, movie theater, restaurants, and Swiss-bel hotel, it can actually be a relaxing and luxurious day with a beautiful view of growing Jayapura. Until night, that is, when Elly had a diaper explosion all over our bed and then Judah proceeded to have five vomiting episodes through the night, and Isaac came down with what we now know is Dengue Fever. So. You know. Life. No such thing as vacation! And by the time we were flying home Isaac was also spiking high fevers and nearly passed out while checking in, so... fun fun.

Perhaps the most precious thing to me was gathering at the beach and then at the Kronemans house with them and the Wileys/Basingers. To laugh, talk, and just be together with people from my past AND present is beautiful. We have unique connections all entertwined from childhood, college, and now all working in Papua and building adult friendships . Kars and I met as kids before arriving in Indonesia. Jared is a childhood friend but he also came to visit me the very week I met Isaac and Missy and could be credited with helping Isaac and I get together. Isaac and I helped introduce Missy and Kars. It's just so unique, to have many ways we are connected to each other and now to be united in purpose in working here in Papua and having our spouses and kids all getting together and being friends too – it's unique and a gift. That's why I wanted to visit and I treasure it.

I also walked away really thankful for where I live. Sentani is surreal after Manokwari, the expat community is so huge and the international school is such an all-consuming factor in the life of the community. It's amazing for kids who need to be in touch with Western culture, there is a lot of fun and love and beauty there. But as an adult who is here to work IN PAPUA, I am so thankful to be in Manokwari. I love this city and it is also beautiful. Manokwari is about as developed as Sentani was when I was growing up there. I love being here, in a city of immigrants but still so soaked in the tribal cultures of the Arfak tribes. I love that we are forced through this lonely stage of being utterly foreign and painstakingly getting to know people and building cross-cultural friendships step by step.If we were surrounded by expatriates, I don't know that we would ever actually adjust to being in Papuan culture.

I suppose the first time I went back to Sentani I felt like I was going home. I was also in perhaps the most disoriented time of my life. Going back this time was going back as an adult with a vision and purpose and family and place of my own, looking back and seeing my childhood and my journey with emotion and gratefulness. It is my place, it is much of where I was formed. But there is no part of me that wants to live there now. I find that now I want to be where purpose leads us, and that.... is right where we are.

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