December 15, 2017

Preface: Portugal, Spain, Pessoa, and Hope

Sebenarnya udah lama saya enggak sabar pengen cerita tentang perjalanan saya dan Bunda ke Portugal dan Spanyol di awal tahun ini. Tapi saya tahan karena belum selesai membahas semua kota ketika melakukan trip bersama adik saya. Maklum, saya tipe orang yang kalau udah memulai harus mengakhiri juga. Jadi rasanya gregetan memulai cerita tentang perjalanan ini tanpa membereskan kota - kota sebelumnya. Padahal setiap kali mengingat akan membahas trip ini, ada bagian dari hati saya yang sedikit melompat, sama seperti yang saya rasakan ketika naik wahana kora - kora di Dufan, sambil duduk paling atas dengan kondisi perahu sedang turun ke bawah. Sebuah perasaan yang selalu saya rasakan ketika mengingat perjalanan yang saya lakukan di saat saya berada dalam kondisi yang lebih vulnerable. Kali itu, saya sedang rentan karena sedang di tengah kondisi pemulihan dari depresi yang sempat saya alami sejak beberapa bulan sebelumnya. Dan entah bagaimana caranya, melakukan perjalanan ke tempat yang baru hampir selalu bisa menguatkan diri saya. Mungkin dengan menyadarkan saya akan hal - hal tertentu yang mungkin telah saya lupakan dengan cara sesederhana melihat dan merasakan sesuatu yang belum pernah saya dapatkan sebelumnya. Biasanya saya bisa menikmati perjalanan 'pemulihan' ini seorang diri. Tapi kali itu, saya benar - benar enggak bisa membayangkan diri saya untuk menghabiskan waktu seorang diri di belahan bumi yang sepenuhnya baru bagi saya selama berhari - hari. Dan saya bersyukur melakukan perjalanan ini bersama Bunda; yang ternyata memang menjadi langkah yang paling tepat. Karena yang saya ingat setelah itu hanyalah hari - hari saya yang semakin membaik.


Oh iya, membicarakan trip ke Portugal dan Spanyol belum lengkap tanpa Fernando Pessoa. Ketika sedang menyortir foto - foto yang saya ambil selama perjalanan, ada beberapa foto yang menjadi favorit saya. Setiap dari mereka memiliki kesamaan, yaitu kurang lebih menunjukkan hubungan antara individual dengan kota mereka; baik Porto, Lisbon, Seville maupun Cordoba. Meski terdapat berbagai macam suasana dan ekspresi, serta persepsi berbeda yang muncul; melihat semua foto tersebut langsung mengingatkan saya akan puisi dan prosa oleh Pessoa yang ia tulis di The Book of Disquiet. Entah karena setengah perjalanan ini saya ditemani dengan buku yang setiap tulisannya melibatkan perasaan yang sangat mendalam. Entah karena buku ini sebagian besar temanya terkait dengan depression dan anxiety, yang di kala itu membuat saya seperti merasa ada teman seperjuangan yang bisa memahami apa yang saya rasakan; namun dalam waktu yang bersamaan, Pessoa juga mengungkapkan adanya harapan - harapan baru dalam setiap kondisi yang kelam. Entah karena di buku ini begitu banyak perasaan yang diungkapkan melalui hal - hal yang ada di dalam suatu kota; jalan, tram, pakaian yang menggantung di beranda; yang semuanya itu menjadi salah satu objek foto paling menarik bagi saya. Untuk itu, di setiap foto dalam postingan ini saya cantumkan potongan puisi yang saya ambil dari buku Pessoa tersebut.

Everything that was ours, simply because it was once ours, even those things we merely chanced to live with or see on a daily basis, becomes part of us. It was not the office boy who left today for some place in Galicia unknown to me, it was a part, vital because both visual and human, of the very substance of my life.

The morning unfurls itself upon the city, interleaving light and shade amongst the houses. it does not seem to come from the sun but from the city itself, for the light issues forth from the city's walls and roofs, not from them physically but from the simple fact of their being there. As I fell that, I feel full of hope, at the same time recognising that hope is a purely literary feeling.  

Some say there's no life without hope, others that hope makes life meaningless. For me, bereft of both hope and despair, life is just a picture in which I am included but that I watch as if it were a play with no plot, performed merely to please the eye; an incoherent ballet, the stirring of leaves on a tree, clouds that change colour with the changing light, random networks of old streets in odd parts of the city.

I think what creates in me the deep sense I have of living out of step with others is the fact that most people think with their feelings whereas I feel with my thoughts. For the average man, to feel is to live, and to think is to know that one lives. for me, to think is to live, and to feel just provides food for thought. 

It was a time to be happy, yet something weighed on me, an obscure longing, an undefined but not entirely despicable desire. Perhaps it just took me time to accustom myself to the sensation of being alive. And, when I leaned out of the high window over the street I looked down at without seeing. I suddenly felt like one of those damp cloths used to clean grimy objects the house that get taken to the window to dry but instead are left there, screwed up on the sill that they slowly stain.

Be pure, not in order to be noble or strong, but to be oneself. If you give love, you lose love.

I'm riding a tram and, as is my habit, slowly absorbing every detail of the people around me. By 'detail' I mean things, voices, words. In the dress of the girl directly in front of me, for example... I sense the loves, the secrets, the souls of all those who worked just so that this woman in front of me on the tram should wear around her mortal neck... I leave the tram exhausted, like a sleepwalker, having lived a whole life.

May I always be blessed with the monotony, the dull sameness of identical days, my indistinguishable todays and yesterdays, so that I may enjoy with an open heart the fly that distracts me, drifting randomly past my eyes, the gust of laughter that wafts volubly up from the street somewhere down below, the sense of vast freedom when the office closes for the night, and the infinite rest of my days off.

Everything is absurd. One spends his life earning money which then he saves even though he has no children to leave it to nor any hope that a heaven somewhere will offer him a divine reward. Another puts all his efforts into becoming famous so that he will be remembered once he dead, yet he does not believe in a survival of the soul that would give him knowledge of that fame. Yet another wears himself out looking for things he doesn't even like.

I come to, look around at everything, full of life and ordinary humanity now, and I see that, apart from the patches of imperfect blue where it still lingers, the mist has cleared completely from the sky and seeped instead into my soul and into all things, into that part of them that touches my soul.

 Today, suddenly, I reached an absurd but unerring conclusion. in a moment of enlightenment, I realised that I'm nobody, absolutely nobody. I'm the outskirts of some non-existent town, the long-winded prologue to an unwritten book. I'm nobody, nobody. I don't know how to feel or think or love. I'm a character in a novel as yet unwritten, hovering in the air and undone before I've even existed, amongst the dreams of someone who never quiet managed to breathe into my life.

I had great ambitions and extravagant dreams, but so did the errand boy and the seamstress, for everyone has dreams; the only difference is whether or not we have the strength to fulfil them or a destiny that will fulfil them through us. When it comes to dreams, I'm no different from the errand boy and the seamstress. The only thing that distinguishes me from them is that I can write.

One should abandon all duties, even those not demanded of us, reject all cosy hearts, even those that are not our own, live on what is vague and vestigial, amongst the extravagant purples of madness and the false lace of imagined majesties... To be something that does not feel the weight of the rain outside, or the pain of inner emptiness.


If there is one thing that life gives us, apart from life itself, and for which we must thank the gods, it is the gift of not knowing ourselves; of not knowing ourselves and of not knowing one another. 

December 12, 2017

Conversation with People #3

It was one fine evening when I decided to go back home a bit earlier than usual from collecting data for my research in one kampung in Bandung. My sister texted me to join her and my two aunties who came to town earlier in the morning. We met at the newly relocated Kopi Armor, still around the corner though no longer in THR Juanda. This new place was more spacious, yet I prefer the old one with its more intimate and homey feel. By the time I arrived, my seven-year-old nephew was there, standing in front of the cashier. When I snuck behind him and put my hands on his eyes, he noticeably shrugged means that he was surprised. Then a few seconds later I took my hands off his face and he smiled, knowing that it was me. I ordered Cold Drip Coffee, one of the coffee shop's signature, while my nephew ordered ice chocolate as always. Afterwards, he led me to where my sister and aunties were sitting. They were sitting on a wooden bench under the shade of trees, clearly in the middle of a conversation, when they saw me and stood up in excitement. We hugged, and although I am not that close with them, it still feels good to see them, especially my other aunt who I rarely meet since she lives in the USA. They then continued their conversation while I was trying to catch up.



"We have been talking about starting a social enterprise, Zu... I already told your sister that there are so many opportunities for developing this kind of venture in Indonesia, and I am very willing to help her with her plans if she has any", said one of my aunts"It doesn't have to be big from the beginning. Indeed, you can start the project from small things... For example, there are still plenty of people living in remote areas who do not use any sandals or shoes. So we can help distribute footwear for them", she continued while I was still trying to catch up with the whole point of the conversation.

Then I saw my sister smile, as if she wanted to add to what my aunt told us. 

"Actually I have read somewhere that some of these people are barefoot out of their own volition, in that they believe that our feet are meant to be bare because the earth is good for our health and help us feel more connected with nature. They don't wear shoes or sandals because they can't afford them, but because they believe it is not necessary"

All of us just stared at each other and couldn't help laughing. 

"We, people, just tend to be like that, huh? Always thinking about other person the way we think about ourselves. We barely ever put ourselves in their shoes. What is even worse is that sometimes we do a particular thing in order to help them but ended up not helping at all because it doesn't fit their needs", my other aunt stated something which had actually been on my mind as I listened to the conversation.


To me, my aunt’s case is understandable as she doesn’t really know about those people and that it’s an uncommon practice in global culture. But what intrigues me the most is that this kind of situation, where we tend to have difficulties in trying to understand something from someone else’s shoes, happens quite often in our everyday lives with people who share the same culture with us, and of course some of which we consider closest to us. So often do misunderstandings happen becase we acted and said things without really thinking about the other person’s needs and feelings. What makes it even worse is that we tend to have assume and think about each other without really attempting to communicate in the first place. More often than not, we find ourselves in situations when our good intentions only worsened the problem and as a result we are left regretting our actions because we don’t know and don’t try to know what the other person is feeling. Even more of a common occurence is as a result of our lack of empathy towards other people, even those closest to us, we indirectly play a part in slowly deteriorating our relationship with them. Or worse, make them feel even more lonely because they fail to do an act that is small yet important like expressing their feelings out loud.

Just recently I found this article that precisely represent my perception towards this.

"Plants need to be watered. But they don’t need water all of the time. Trying to be helpful because you think you know what it needs, you over-water the plant. You think you’re doing a good thing, but the plant doesn’t actually need more water. Sometimes plants need water, but at other times they just need some sun. Sometimes people need advice, but at other times all that they really need is for you to listen and show that you are trying to understand. So instead of “over-watering your plant”, place it under the sun to give it the nourishment it needs."


Like when we do not realise how sometimes trying to start real conversation is better than only giving superficial answers like the same prayers and positive statements to other people who put effort in showing their concern to us by asking about our lives; or how the way we rarely respond to other people's text and calls but still continue posting our status on Facebook or updating our Instagram stories would irritate those people more than we thought we would; or when we confide in other people about the rough days we just went through, expecting them to listen and understand, but instead get into a fight because they attempted to give solutions at every corner when we just wanted our problems to be heard, not solved; or when we do not realise the significant improvement we could make in our relationship with other people if only we had put more effort to listen to other people's lives and not talking about the same stories and complaints as if the world only revolves around us; or when we do not realise how our habits of interrupting other people in the midst of their effort to express their feelings and thoughts is the reason why they cannot have much conversations with us. Until one day we might no longer share stories and continue our relationship without knowing about each other’s personal lives. 

In this case, there is no right and wrong. There is just how two people can understand each other better. And while it's true that we don't need to constantly satisfy other people's feelings, sometimes we just need to try to position ourselves in someone else's shoes or even simply ask them what they need. 

December 10, 2017

#ROH 74: Heavy Snowfall

Saya enggak pernah menyangka bahwa kadar dan waktu salju turun bisa menentukan seberapa besar kebahagiaan yang diberikannya kepada para penikmat salju, termasuk saya. Salju tahun ini datang lebih cepat dari tahun lalu, yang baru turun di Januari. Bukan hanya di Rotterdam, tetapi juga di beberapa kota lainnya di Belanda. Bahkan yang saya dengar, hal ini berlaku bagi beberapa kota di Eropa. Dan kata mereka yang sudah lama tinggal disini, hampir delapan tahun lamanya kadar salju yang turun di Rotterdam enggak pernah setebal sekarang. Bagi saya pun, ini pertama kalinya melihat salju yang turun dalam jumlah sebanyak ini dalam kurun waktu yang paling lama juga. Sebelumnya, baik ketika di UK maupun di Belanda, salju berlangsung paling lama pasti enggak sampai lima jam. Kalau pun pernah, itu berlangsung di malam hari. Makanya kali ini ketika salju turun selama berjam - jam di siang hari, suatu hal yang luar biasa!







Mungkin karena itu, ada perasaan berbeda yang enggak bisa diungkapkan ketika saya melihat butiran - butiran salju yang turun tanpa henti selama hampir seharian. Perasaan yang lebih dari sekedar bahagia hingga setiap beberapa menit sekali saya melihat pemandangan salju turun di luar kaca jendela kamar saya. Bahkan sesekali saya ke beranda dan duduk sejenak untuk hanya sekedar menatapnya. Perasaan yang membuat saya seperti kembali menjadi anak kecil karena kegirangan hanya dengan menginjak tumpukan salju yang sudah mencapai lebih dari mata kaki saya. Perasaan yang mengalahkan dinginnya udara di luar, karena berhasil membuat saya keluar apartemen hanya untuk berjalan menikmati pemandangan yang berbeda dari biasanya hanya karena segalanya berubah menjadi putih tertutupi salju. Tapi juga sebuah perasaan yang membuat saya enggak ingin beranjak dari atas tempat tidur dan yang ingin saya lakukan haya menyelesaikan buku Molly and Pim and the Million of Stars, atau menonton beberapa winter movies, atau mengedit foto - foto yang saya ambil ketika jalan - jalan keliling komplek dengan tangan dan muka yang udah hampir mati rasa (btw, salut banget sih sama yang bisa ambil foto bagus di saat salju turun! karena kebanyakan foto saya pasti blurry antara karena kena saljunya dan tangan gemeteran karena kedinginan) dan mempostingnya disini.





Dan tentunya perasaan yang membuat Desember sebagai bulan favorit saya, terasa jauh lebih magical... karena salju turun di bulan ini. 

November 10, 2017

Conversation with People #2

I always believe that at any point of our lives, there will always be good people, be it someone we have known for the longest of time or recently acquainted, whose act of kindness will impact us in the most unexpected ways. But these people will only come to us if and only if we allow them the chance to enter our lives and help us. And by 'allow them the chance', I am referring to any form of action. It can be in a way that they come to our lives as people who intentionally help us or it can be the other way around, meaning that they come to ask for help first. And by 'help', it can be anything given to us that we never knew we needed. 

As I am typing this I was reminded of this one particular person, who had helped me in the most unusual way, and whose help would not have occurred if I had not given her the chance. A friend from college in England five years ago, we have done fun things together but we were not too close to share lots of personal stories. Although we had been maintaining contact ever since I left England, it was never more than a reaction to each other's Instagram post. Then sometime in August, she sent me a message that inevitably changed the way we perceive and communicate to each other. 



"Zuu. Do you have any time for a phone call? I just read your blog post about depression. I really want to chat to you about that Zu, cause I'm going through the same thing that you did and I was as confused as you were until I read your blog post"

I was a bit dumbfounded when I read the message for the first time. Not that it's because about depression, but because it came from her, this  energetic, cheerful, and passionate girl whose I am secretly envious of when I knew she got a chance to climb the Himalayas. 

"Of course! How about this evening? I'm still collecting data for my research now and only finish in the evening".  
I replied her message, gave my Whatsapp number, and set the time to make a call. 

At that time, my feelings was mixed. On the one hand, I felt sorry for her and wanted to help her any way I can, but on the other I was a bit nervous. First, we had not talked each other for quiet a while and this one time that we did, it was about a very difficult subject. Second, I have never been a fan of phone call, having always preferred meeting in person or texting. To me, any phone call except from my parents, my younger sister, and my boyfriend, is most likely to get me nervous before I pick it up. Third, I was afraid that I would disappoint by not being able to do much about her problems. And it seems as if the universe responded to my anxiety on the situation, it was rather difficult to match our schedules. Either my phone running out of battery, she was still on the way to her home, or me falling asleep while I wait for her to come home. Indeed, we postponed our call until two days later when she finally texted me again.

"Zu, can I call you now? I really need to talk with you, even only for fifteen minutes"

And after her message at that time we finally made the call which lasted for almost an hour. 


The conversation went well. I didn't feel awkward about talking with her, even when we delved into her depression story. To this day we still chat once in a while, though most of the time we tend to send voice notes, one of the best inventions ever I might say, due to its convenience. To me, it feels like exchanging letter in that we do not need to reply each other's voice notes in a rush. Not only does it get me more excited whenever I receive new notes, bit it has also made our communication more lasting than if we meet for just couple of hours in a day. So far, we have lots of interesting conversations, some of which have inspired me and are worth remembering. I might write about these in the future, but now I want to share some conversation that led to many others since.   



"Zuuu, halo! Umm, I want to ask something... so, I'm feeling better now and happy more regularly... but at the back of my mind I still feel the burden.. b-but it's weird cause I'm only happy on the surface. But when I'm alone, all the negative thoughts come back. Did this happen to you, o-o-r am I becoming better? What's happening to me? Ooooh my god". It was her first voice note. There was the sound of undulating ocean waves in the background of her "half worried and half confused laugh" voice. 

I was in the train as I replied, the sound of its wheels bumping against the real tracks in the background. I told her I felt relieved to hear that she was happy and agreed that she should avoid being alone in her room as it easily brings negative thoughts. She replied back, saying that she was felling good at that moment because some of her good friends came to visit and they went to this beautiful remote island for a weekend getaway.She continued that she was afraid of being left alone again once all of this is over. I could relate as I had had been there last year when my sister and good friends left Rotterdam. But only then I had an epiphany. 

"Oh, it's good to have friends accompanying you there. In my experience, it's important to have people alongside you in this kind of situation... they don't have to be the people closest to you, indeed, they can be anyone as long you can hold on to them to continue living. It's like trying to cross a deep river by stepping from one stone to another. They might come in all shapes and sizes, but as long as you have them, you will be safe from drowning"

Two days later she replied me. This time it was quiet, her soft voice was the only sound before it trembled slightly in the last minute of the recording. 

"I agree... it's so easy to get caught in our thoughts that we don't have anyone. I mean even though physically I'm literally alone here, but I do have lots of friends and some of them are even helping me a lot at the moment. Like you... even though you're not here physically, but just by listening to me and giving advice, it does mean a lot to me. I think you're right that sometimes our thoughts can really mess us up and it's really dangerous... but when there's emotional support, no matter how small, it does help.... thanks a lot, Zu.. seriously, I'm really really really grateful.. even though I know you're busy with your research at the moment, you still make the time to listen to me and help.. it's a journey, and I'll still need your help. I can say that I'm in a better place than I was last week"

And everything was going well until she sent me a voice note in the next two days. There was a long, deep sigh before she started to say something. 

"Oh my God... I'm so tired of this ups and downs... I thought I was getting better..." 

She took another long and deep sigh before continuing.

"So yesterday I went to psychiatrist.. I just wanna get checked like am I okay, or am I not okay. If I'm okay then great, I have nothing to worry about.. I can, you know, keep continuing on myself as I did for the past couple of days... but.... it turns out that I need to go for a therapy. She said I have mental depression, and I need to fix myself with this... and it crushed me because just a moment when I thought I was okay, then there's another step back.. I don't know what to do, Zu.. I'm so tired of all of this..."

The pain in her trembling voice was palpable. It was obvious that she almost, if not cried. I couldn't help remembering my own experience in the situation last year. The moment that I was so tired of life because I was so confused of what stage I was in it. Those moments where I convinced myself I was okay but suddenly feel down again by the slightest gust of wind.

"If you think that going to the therapy would just make you more depressed because of the burden, then don't do it. I also used to think about going to a psychiatrist here but I realised it would only complicate my life because of the long procedure. So I decided to hold on. And even though it's a long process, I have reached a point where I can safely say that I can (still) handle this on my own" 

But the day after I sent her the voice note, she replied and informed me that she decided to take the therapy. 


And it's been a week since she gave me her last voice note about her decision to go on for a therapy and I just realised it today that I haven't replied her message. Things got bit more hectic than before as I was busy with my preparation for another data collection in Semarang. 

"Hi youuu, how's the therapy been going so far? I'm really sorry I just replied your message as things got busier and also I was sick the last time you contacted me. I hope the therapy makes you feel better"

We started chatting again, catching up on the latest news about each other. While she said the therapy had made her slightly relaxed, she still felt anxious and panicked from time to time. In return, I told her that lately I was also started getting anxious and panic more often, but I always try to find distraction.

"Yup, that's what I also found... but have you ever felt like when you get panic and try to do something else, but it apparently makes you feel more anxious because you feel like you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing. But when you try to do it, you just cannot because you're panic. So it becomes a vicious cycle"

"As you said, sometimes I also feel that way and when I do, I try to do things that could calm me down without making me feel guilty afterwards... something productive like doing exercise, walking, or trying to do the less stressful part of my work... but if all else fails, I would stop doing anything, and usually end up crying... but I think there's nothing wrong with that, because I tend to feel completely relieved afterwards and ready for work"

"To me, the hardest thing from my depression is my own thoughts... whenever there is a problem, I will always think about it till I reach a point where I cannot see any way out. Is it the same to you?"

"When I get depressed, I also thought that there was no way out... but I try to trick my mind, ensuring myself that there will always be a solution. Even though the results won't be according to my expectation, I see it as another challenge for me to convince myself that imperfection is a part of life, and that it's completely fine if sometimes reality doesn't meet our plan or expectation". After saying this, I realised that advising someone else is always easier than doing it to myself.


Being alone in an unfamiliar city with almost no familiar faces around me, plus the fact that I started to get more tired each day because of the field work I had done for almost three months now was surely taking lot of my energy, both physically and mentally. This condition opened up some negative thoughts again in my mind.

"To me, one of the reason why I fell into depression was when I found out the fact that to live is to suffer. Sometimes when I'm alone and too sentimental, I feel so tired to live my life because we always have to fight for living and to hold different kind of pain when we enter different phase of our lives"

I was aware when I was writing the sentences that it seems so pathetic and rather childish which made me feeling guilty afterwards.

"Sorry I know I should give you more positive messages but instead I wrote something that sounds so pathetic and pessimistic" 

But her answers were making me so peaceful to the point that I would read it whenever I feel down. 

"Honestly, I also feel the same way sometimes, so in this case you're not alone. I found myself asking to God quiet often lately, 'Why it has to be me who go through all of this?' Like yesterday my motorcycle fell down and my mom who was sitting in the back was having a light short term memory loss because her head hit the road. Before it happened I was happy because we actually just got back from a trip, and the bad thing happened again. Then all those inner voices started and I had to battle with it. It got to the point when I said to God that I'm so tired and ready to go. But he said not yet, keep pushing through. It's not time for you to go. I'm preparing you for something greater and to everything there's a process. I can't tell you what my plans for you yet, but you will see"

"The thing is, for people like us who are perfectionists, this is tiring, I mean living life which is full of uncertainty. But just how you can trick your mind that there's a way out to every problem, maybe do the same when you feel that this life is all about keep fighting. Tell your brain to shuddup and tell your hear that this is a process that you're getting to something greater"

"Now I can tell all of this wise things just because I'm in a good mood, but when I'm down, I feel like falling down from Himalaya and find myself hard to climb up again. If anything, we are going through this together. I share things to you, and you can do the same to me. It makes me feel happy, indeed. And don't feel like you only need to share positive stuff. Only McDonald's who always can make us happy so he can produce happy meal. Real people have struggles and we can't do life alone"

By the time I reach this sentence, I just couldn't help myself smiling and laughing. She was really in a good mood that she could make a joke out of depression. But what made me feel much better was that since then I found the person I can talk and fight together with. Not everyone can handle negative thoughts and anxious voices, but with her, through our occasional exchanged voice notes, I can do something that I hardly do to other people, just because I'm always afraid that I will be judged or be a burden to them, especially those who haven't really experienced what I have been through. Then I realised it isn't actually me who has helped her, but indeed, she has been a much helper to me to this day.