Peace Corps does not allow volunteers to ride motorbikes because they’re generally the most dangerous mode of transport. Naturally, I broke my arm on my bicycle.
I was biking down to the nearest ATM on a Monday afternoon. I didn’t need to bike–I could have taken the public transit van–but I thought to myself, it’ll be good for me to get some exercise. Ha. Making my way down the mountain, I was aware of how fast I was going but only in that it was going to suck to bike back up. I came to the end of my usual running route and approached a very steep section I knew well: steep, uneven, and full of potholes. I was going a bit too fast and got distracted by a car or motorbike at my rear; I checked behind me and when I looked back, I couldn’t avoid the pothole. I was pretty aware of the fact that I was going to crash and that it was very, very good to be wearing my helmet just before I went sailing over my handlebars.
The accident is pretty murky in my head but I believe I held on tight to the handlebars, bringing the bike tumbling over me as I ate it. Completely, embarrassingly wrecked myself. I lied on the pavement for a few seconds and started to get up in a daze while traffic stopped in both directions to help me. I was more embarrassed than in pain to be honest. A guy from one of the transit vans walked my bike back up the hill to a kiosk. I told him the people were my friends but really they’re just folks I say hi to every day when I run past; I didn’t even know their names at the time but I knew they’d let me keep my bike there while I went to the hospital. At this point I had no idea my arm was broken. It hurt, but I could move it. I limped up the hill myself and as people crowded around me to ask if they should bring me to the hospital, the adrenaline caught up with me and I started hyperventilating. In my dazed confusion, I almost agreed to go to the local clinic (bad) until I remembered “Wait…I have to call the Peace Corps doctor!” It turns out pre-service training sessions were good for something.
Dr. Leo later told me that he thought the accident was much worse than it was because of how I sounded on the phone. “You never call me. So I knew it was bad.” Dr. Leo had an ambulance on the way so the owners of the kiosk, a woman and her younger sister, helped me to the back room where they laid me down on a mattress to rest and wait. Within minutes my host sister arrived–the kiosk owners called her because it turns out they knew her. (Of course they did. Very Indonesian.) Not long after that and much to my surprise, several teachers walked in to keep me company as well. My sister had called my dad who called my principal who called any teachers in the area to make sure I was okay. Meanwhile, the ladies at the kiosk were wiping sweat, blood, dirt, and tears from my face and getting me to laugh.
I waited for an hour at that kiosk with people who I’d only said “good afternoon” to previously. Foreigners often say Indonesians are “friendly” but I don’t really think that’s the case. Often my interactions with Indonesians are not friendly. Either they want something from me like money or a picture or they want to harass or catcall me. That’s not what friends do. What Indonesians are is helpful. Whenever I’m in a tough spot, some Indonesian helps me out. Always. I’ve seen other accidents besides my own and almost everyone in the street will stop to help whoever’s been hurt. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me on the street that day. In Indonesia, if you’re in need, you’re almost always in good hands.
Once the ambulance arrived, my x-rays proved that my elbow was indeed broken which meant surgery in Thailand as soon as possible. I was met by a doctor Peace Corps had assigned as a sort of assistant for us in Kupang, Dr. Ivy. She and her husband were immensely helpful, from arguing that yes, I really did need a CT scan even though I was wearing a helmet to helping take out a very stubborn piercing to driving me all the way back to my house to pack my things as soon as I knew I’d be medevac’d. My fellow PCV Nafisah stopped by to bring me some food since I’d not eaten since breakfast. Dr. Leo was on his way from Java to accompany me to Bali, where I would meet with Sandra, a medical assistant who accompanied me to Bangkok. At my house, all of my host siblings piled into my room to quickly help me pack. My host mom, principal, and counterpart all stopped by the hotel to check on me and wish me well. An Aussie friend I had only just met stayed the night with me in the hotel to keep me company.
In Bangkok, I was met by a lovely Peace Corps regional medical officer who made sure I had everything I needed. I was operated on by one of the best surgeons in the world. I was visited by another PCV on medevac (My darling Robert made my medevac the grand old time it was and continues to oblige me by sending photos of delicious food he eats and his adorable dog at home). I was invited to dinner with ten other PCVs currently serving in Thailand. I was hosted for Canadian Thanksgiving by my childhood penpal. I was pushed and stretched during physical therapy by an amazing PT. Breaking my arm wasn’t ideal, but I honestly had fun on my medevac and I’m blown away by the kindness I was shown.
When I finally returned to Indonesia, my host family greeted me with nose kisses and a prayer to God in thanks for my safe return. I ended up with seven screws and a plate in my elbow, several new friends, and a deep sense of gratitude to the people who live on my mountain, Peace Corps for once again giving me exceptional health care on this, my second medevac, and all the people I’ve met here in Kupang.