Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Volunteer Orientation

Back in Bangkok, when I was frantically searching for information on how to find a reasonably priced bungalow, flat, or villa in Ubud for a month, I stumbled over this:

There is an annual writers festival in Ubud, and it was happening during my second week in Bali.

Well, howaboutthat.

I went to the website and nosed around.

Huh. They have some money.

They were flying in Alexander McCall Smith, Junot Diaz, and Paul Kelly (Australian folk-rocker famous in Oz—he just published a memoir).

But there were also a lot of people I had never heard of, and workshops along the lines of "turn your blog into a book contract" (Ha!). So I dashed off an email saying I'd be in town then and would be happy to be on some of the festivals panels if they needed people who can talk about comic books/graphic novels, blogging, travel writing, or parts of Africa and the Gulf.

Or New Jersey. Though seldom does my expertise in tent camping in New Jersey come in handy outside of my adopted home state.

I didn't hear back for a few days, so I went back to the festival website, did some searching, then dug up the director of programming's work email (okay, her personal one wasn't hard to find but that seems obnoxious), and sent the email directly to her.


Hmmph. (I later learned they'd had a meltdown with the programming director and couldn't even get into her email until the last minute.)

But I'm still here during the festival, even if they didn't write back, so I decided to just volunteer the normal way, for door work or box office work. Maybe I'd get to meet some people, I figured.

I filled out the form on the website and the volunteer coordinator got back to me immediately, rostering me without even completing the volunteering process. She was really friendly, efficient, and highly amused by my "Kuwaiti cartoon" job.

Well, that was nice of her. She rostered me onto some special lunches—offered to get me to an Alexander McCall Smith cocktail event an hour away (I declined as I have no transport)—and gave me two "posh alerts." As in don't wear anything skanky since two of these are high-end hotels.

I did look around for something suitable and even went to the big mall in Kuta on Monday, but I didn't see anything any nicer than my black cotton skirt if I just get it ironed and buy a nice shirt. Plus, I don't want to spend a lot of money to volunteer.

The "frock" hunt is on hold for the moment, but today I went to volunteer orientation, which was at 3 p.m. near the supermarket down the hill from where I am staying.

I felt a little awkward, all alone in a big room full of people, but that's normal. I chatted a bit with the woman behind me in line, and then I got to the front of the line where I was to identify myself to Nina, the volunteer coordinator.

Nina is about sixty years old, with a full head of gray hair pulled into pigtails with bangs. She's adorable.

"You're Marie! We must have coffee! Let's be friends!"

I laughed. "Okay." And then I was whisked away, so she could keep registering the line of volunteers.

Nina and her Indonesian counterpart made speeches, and then we were sent off into small groups with our supervisors to learn our duties. My group was really small—me and one young German woman. Our supervisor, Louise*, is a 56-year-old American woman who lives in Ubud.

"You two will meet at Casa Luna on Thursday. The panel starts at 9 in the morning—what time did they tell you to be there?"

"7:30," said Eva, the German volunteer.

I laughed. "They told me 7:15."

"They told me 8," said Louise. "We'll make it 7:30 then. But I'm not meeting you at Casa Luna. I'll meet you at the venue at 8. You have to walk to it from Casa Luna." She showed us the map. The venue is near where I am staying, down the hill about 10 minutes.

Well, then I wasn't going to walk 25 minutes from my house to Casa Luna to just turn around and walk back.

"Oh, well, I'm not meeting at Casa Luna either then. I'm staying near the venue. I'll meet you at the venue at 8 too," I said.

Louise didn't like this so much.


Hmm. I'm not that good with edicts. But I wasn't here to argue with people. Good thing I didn't too, as I later learned the whole point of the event was that we were walking through the rice paddies to the venue.

"Um, if you're not there, is someone else going to be there who knows the way?" I changed the subject.

"The writer knows the way. HELLO? It's HIS PANEL." She wasn't really winning me over.

"But isn't he the guest?"

"Yes. That's why he knows where the venue is." She looked at me like I was a complete moron.

"Fine. We'll follow the guest to the villa."

You can probably see where this is all going to go eventually. So could I, but I didn't want to argue on every point.

"Now, you both have to be at Alila on Friday. Do you have transportation? It's far away."

What? I had to get myself somewhere far?

The German woman answered this time.

"I'll take a motorbike taxi." "Okay, yeah, me too." This is one of the "posh alert" places, so this could get interesting.

"Uh, Louise?" I had realized there was no point in being her enemy. Maybe I could get the tone down a notch.


"Look, here, in my roster. It says I'm MC of this event."

"What? No one told me that." She looked worried.

"Maybe it's a typo." "Maybe...I'll ask." She started looking for a phone number, couldn't find it, then looked through papers until she found a document about the MC. It was Hassan, the guy I'd spoken to last Thursday, the guy who had lived in Cairo in 2006, taught an adjunct class at AUC, and written a book about the City of the Dead.


"That's fine with me," I said, laughing. "I don't really want to cram for the next two days to learn about these two guys and their books."

The German woman only had two assignments and was dismissed. I had one more, something at the Four Seasons with some famous guy.

Louise told me volunteers weren't getting to eat at the regular luncheon at the Four Seasons and had to eat in the pantry or something.

"That's obnoxious."

"Yes, I agree."

Good, we were bonding a bit now.

"So I'll see you on Thursday?"

"Yes, see you on Thursday morning."

I went upstairs to get my white T-shirt (I am NOT also buying a white bra in addition to the taxi fare and frock) and bag of okay-eys (goodies). I looked around, feeling awkward again. Shouldn't I try to talk to someone? But people were still in their groups. So I left for the supermarket, then home.

And when I got there, I looked up Louise on Facebook.

And suddenly it all made sense.

She's from New Jersey.

*Louise isn't her real name. I changed it because later on she learned to trust me and we got on quite well.

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