I have always had a strong desire to travel to places unknown, to see sights unseen and go outside of what I find commonplace. Although I am fortunate enough to travel through Europe during the bobsled season, Europe has never been at the top of my list for travel destinations. It's true that it has its charm and beauty and although it is rather different from the US, the culture, architecture, ecology still seem so familiar to me. There are pine trees and deciduous forests, migratory birds, Adidas, H&M, snow! To be fair, there is really no time to really explore Europe because I'm there to compete and train and learn new tracks.
So this spring before off season training went into full swing, my rather adventurous boyfriend (Chris Mazdzer, USA luge athlete) and myself, compiled frequent flier miles and decided to head out to... somewhere in southeast Asia. After approximately a week and a half of considering really doing this, we decided upon Indonesia and booked tickets.
Indonesia was incredibly easy to budget- after the miles went into effect the price of airline tickets dramatically plummeted, and one U.S. dollar is equivalent to about 9,700 Indonesian Rupiah. That can sound a little deceptive; if you have $103 you are not actually a millionaire to our standards (unfortunately). I would say that $1 acts as $12-22 in Indonesia depending upon the good purchased and the location. There is no exact science to this, just an estimation based on my experience. Thankfully my athlete/waitress lifestyle made just enough to cover expenses.
What I expected to find was adventure, culture, and excitement -and I did! There were mountains of rainforest jungle, massive Hindu temples, rafting rivers, monitor lizards, orangutangs, sketchy side streets and night time markets, snorkeling with sea turtles! What I didn't expect to find was a new found sense of determination and humility.
While walking on the streets on Jakarta we met a young looking man (although I think he was about 32 when he looked 20) who was trying to make a little bit of money by marketing his knowledge of the city and ability to speak English (pretty well). He offered to take us around and we agreed. We were an easy target as we were clearly the tallest and palest people we could see ("bulè") for 97% of our time in Jarkarta -but we were approached by a single beggar only once, even though we walked through the poorest of the poor.
As our guide maneuvered us through the slums, homeless, foul smelling markets, and the saddest stray cats I've ever seen -nearly every individual smiled at us, especially if you smiled first. I never felt uncomfortable (though a touch out of place) once, during my entire time in the city. Whether it was night or during the day, in the poorest areas with rats and dimly lit streets or brightly lit "expensive" areas -I always felt at ease. It is very sad to see poverty, but the feelings I pull away from walking in it are inspiring and humbling, not pity. Despite their daily struggle, the people continue to smile. Despite their poverty they don't beg or steal for money, instead they work or search through trash to find bottles to turn in for deposit money.
As an athlete trying to make my way up the ladder of success and rank, it is often easy to feel neglected, overlooked or even abandoned at times. You don't always have housing in the locations you want to train, you often are supporting all of your own funding and/or finding someone to help support you. There is a hierarchy and it's very easy to become so involved in it that it seems to dictate your self worth and the worth others may deem you -but its not truly valid in the grand scheme of things. When I look at the people of Jakarta I can't help but shake my head and roll my eyes thinking sarcastically, woe is me and my first world problems.
If these people can be happy, and continue on through their lives the way that they do, I can most certainly deal with not having housing at the OTC whenever I want it, or having to work an extra day to pay for facility use for a couple weeks. I have been blessed beyond compare, but it's not until you realize the relativity of your situation, that you see what people are truly capable of, and realize that you may have been underestimating yourself all along.