Photo by Rubin Danny
I disappeared for a few months at the end of last year — perhaps you noticed. I re-emerged in January, and while I wasn’t ready to share my story then, I promised that when I was ready, I would. But, I needed time. Time to be at home with my family and friends; to just exist without having to explain or understand or analyze what had happened. Or perhaps I needed to do just that, but from the privacy of my own home, inside my own brain; to try to make some sense of it all before I was ready to talk about it out in the open. So I’ve taken my time, slowly reacquainting myself with my life and my music and my work and the online world. I’ve started feeling like myself again. However, with life finally inching its way back to normalcy, the thought of reliving the experience just as it’s starting to loosen its grip on me hasn’t felt entirely appealing. I’ve debated quietly moving on and putting it behind me, but as much as part of me has felt compelled to do just that, there is another, bigger part of me that feels like in order to really move past it, I need to share it first. Maybe because I feel like there is something to be learned here. Or maybe because I hope that with sharing it will come some healing, too. Maybe I’m afraid that if I just let it fade away as if it never happened, it will all have been for nothing — as if I’d simply been robbed of those months of my life. In any case, I’m ready to share my story now, or at least the parts of it I'm comfortable disclosing at this time. So here it is, the Cliff’s Notes version of my 100 days in Jakarta.
En route to the hotel after arriving in Jakarta
On September 14th, 2015, my band and I head to Jakarta, Indonesia to kick off a 6-city tour in Southeast Asia. I’ve been trying to will this tour into reality for quite a while, and now it’s finally happening. I’m excited. It’s especially meaningful because it’s the last leg of my Elements World Tour. It’s been an incredible run and we’re ending things on a high note.
The Jakarta show is great. I meet lots of lovely people at the meet and greet afterwards. I’m feeling good. Then, out of nowhere, a group of Immigration officials walk onto the stage and confiscate our passports. They send us back to our hotel, no explanation given.
We manage a troubled sleep that night, with no idea what’s going on. The next day, the tour promoters (the people that invited us out to Asia and are in charge of the tour) assure us that the issue is nearly resolved and that we’ll be flying out to our next stop in Taiwan that night. But that night passes, and so does the next, and the next.
After a few excruciating days of waiting, we’re brought in to the Immigration Office for one-on-one questioning. During my interrogation, I learn that our tour promoters failed to get us work visas, and that as a result of playing our concert we have committed visa fraud — a crime, they inform me, that is punishable by a $35,000 fine per person and 5 years in prison. These are shocking words to hear, but since this alleged crime had been committed with neither intent nor any knowledge of it on our part, it seems too outlandish to be an actual threat, and I am convinced once I've cleared up this misunderstanding everything will be okay. I explain that our tour promoters had ensured us we did have the correct visas, and in the event that was not true, our contract with them clearly states it was their responsibility to secure the visas--not ours. The officials don't seem to care. Our names are on the documents, so they are holding us accountable. They lock away our passports and open a criminal investigation.
Waiting at the Immigration Office
We leave the Immigration Office and the tour promoters again reassure us that everything will be fine. “Things are being resolved. We’ll be flying out soon.” Day after day we are told to pack our bags, and day after day our freshly inflated hopes are crushed beneath the weight of another sunset. One day we’re told we’ll be flying out between 4 and 7am, they’ll call our room when our passports are delivered, get sleep while we can. When I wake up at 9am to no news I am shattered. Another day we wait with our luggage in the hotel lobby for our passports to arrive, but they never come. The heartbreaking realization that I need to start canceling tour dates sets in. As the days pass, I announce the cancellation of my shows one by one, each time hoping it will be the last. Eventually the entire tour is scrapped. I am completely devastated. Not only because the tour has ended before it’s begun, robbing me of the joy of sharing my music with the people who have made my career possible, but also because I am letting people down. I hear about fans who have bought flights from Australia and Japan to come see the shows and are frustrated and confused by the sudden and unexplained cancellation. I feel sick and scared and powerless.
More time passes and the panic has transitioned from threat level orange to very, very red. We’ve gone to the US Embassy. We’ve hired lawyers. No one can help. They don’t understand why we haven’t simply been deported. They say it doesn't make sense. Every day we’re faced with impossible decisions that could impact the rest of our lives, and the only people who can make them are the five of us. We feel overwhelmed and under-qualified. I desperately want to reach out and tell the world what has happened and seek help from the masses, but our lawyers tell us not to go public or reach out to the press. They say that if people get worked up and the story spreads around the Internet, we risk worsening an already precarious situation and putting ourselves in danger. They say that since we are now suspects in a criminal case, the government could detain us and place us in jail at any moment. They inform us that if our case goes to court, which is seeming more likely by the day, the process could take up to 9 months and, despite the seeming impossibility of it all, could actually end with us being convicted and imprisoned.
We’re told we can’t engage in work of any kind, as that would be a further breach of the law and could get us detained. Unable to make money and unsure how long this will last, we start to feel a financial strain, with growing legal fees and bills back home still needing to be paid. It’s also getting increasingly harder to handle the stress, and our emotions often get the better of us. I write in my journal that if we don’t go home soon I’m not sure I’ll ever feel happy again. That I’m scared I might have a mental breakdown if it goes on much longer. It feels insane and unjust and no one here seems to grasp the weight of our situation. We came to play one show and now we are facing possible jail time, unable to work, unable to leave. How is this possible? “How?” is a question we eventually learn to stop asking.
Maintaining our sanity in the face of this situation is challenging. My bandmates and I do what we can to stay healthy and happy(ish) and mentally stable amidst the not knowing how or why or even if we are going home. We stick together. We are there for each other through our tears, fear, and anger. We are a family, and not a day goes by that I'm not filled with intense gratitude for having them in my life. Chris, tour manager and sound engineer, leads us with the fierceness of a papa bear and the cool calm of a monk. Jon, keys, our comic relief, manages to make me smile even on the hardest days. Darla, drums and back up vocals, my health and wellness partner in crime, keeps me accountable for taking care of myself and makes it fun, too. And of course Jesse, guitarist, my husband, my support, my rock, carries me through the moments I can't navigate alone. Together, we try to fill our days and give ourselves some distraction while we await the unknown. Darla and I learn to crochet. The boys find a weekly basketball game. We swim laps in the hotel pool, we eat, we have movie nights in our hotel rooms. We try to laugh. I cling to exercise and meditation and gratitude journals. I start every day with a list of 10 things I am grateful for. It helps. We have the great fortune of meeting some wonderful Indonesians. They show us around, take us out to eat, make us feel less alone, help us pass the days.
Being creative has been the last thing on my mind, but about two months in I stumble upon a magic window of time where making music feels possible again. Two little songs pour out of me and help turn some of my pain into something good. I sing about the ache of missing home and the people that come with it. I realize that above all, I am grateful just to be alive, and I sing about that, too. These songs become my lullabies when I’m feeling low. They comfort me.
Time continues to float by with no progress, save for the occasional false news from the promoters that we’re going home. Our hopes are lifted and dashed over and over again. We meet with our lawyers regularly and each time the news is the same — there is no news. Our case is being shuttled between offices and no one can tell us what is happening or how much longer we might be here. Months have passed and we’re still stuck in Jakarta, still stuck in the same hotel room, still trying to keep it together. Our legal fees have become astronomical. We wonder how we’ll manage, what we’ll have to sell, if the process drags on for the full nine months (or more). We call our friends and family back home daily and this gives us some life. Each person, in their own way, does what they can to help, to show us love, to lift us up. We don’t fully tell them how hard it’s been for us, and they don’t fully tell us how hard it’s been for them either. We all do what we can to protect each other.
Meanwhile, it feels like our lives are happening without us back home. I miss my cousin’s wedding, at which I was supposed to sing, and break down in the middle of a shopping mall when the song I was going to sing starts playing. My sister gets in a bike accident back home. She's taken to the hospital and I'm scared and angry that I can't go see her and make sure she's alright. We spend Thanksgiving away from our families, the five of us huddled around a table at a chain restaurant in a mall. We take turns talking about our favorite Thanksgiving dishes and we feel a little better. On one of the harder days, I lie alone next to the hotel pool and close my eyes and try to imagine my sisters lounging on the chairs across from me, smiling back, and my parents playing cards at a nearby table. I hold a plumeria flower up to my face and take a deep breath and tell myself I’m in Hawaii with them. I cling desperately to the world I've fabricated in my mind and for a moment I feel okay, though I know it's only a matter of time before I'll have to open my eyes again and the moment will be gone. I squeeze my eyes shut a little tighter.
A week before Christmas, we receive an unexpected summons to appear in court for a trial. We sit together beneath three judges who loom above us in giant wooden thrones. It's the closest we've been to any real resolution, but any ounce of excitement at the possibility of going home is stifled by the knowledge that this could also end in imprisonment. This moment will determine our fates. The weight of it hits me like a ton of bricks. I mull over the reality of a jail sentence. I tell myself that if it comes to that, I can be strong. I will survive.
The trial begins. The judges ask questions and we give honest answers. It continues for a second day. They bring in witnesses. They deliberate. I am asked to make a personal plea. I stand before them and apologize for any offense we have caused. I say that we meant no disrespect to their government or their country. That we had no intention, no knowledge. I add that we would very much like to return home and be with our families for Christmas, and I do my best to choke back my tears. Then, a verdict is reached.
Guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
Sentenced to eight months’ probation and a fine.
Eight months. The words sink in.
But wait — our translator explains that we will serve our probation from home in America.
Home. We’re going home.
The gavel slams against the wooden table and I feel 3 months of sadness and fear and uncertainty clench in my chest and then, finally, release. We walk outside and call our families with the news, tears and relief and disbelief painting our faces. It's over.
At midnight on December 23rd, after being escorted through the airport by immigration officials, our passports are returned to us at our gate. We board a plane and hold hands as it takes off. We make a toast. We cry happy tears and sad ones, too. None of us can believe it’s actually over. After exactly 100 days in Jakarta, we’re going home.
The moment our passports were returned to us
25 Things I Learned From Being Trapped in Jakarta for 100 Days
1. If you’re still breathing, you have something to be grateful for. Gratitude is the key to everything.
2. Stop resisting what is. Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance.
3. You can find joy in the most unexpected places. Like homemade chia seed pudding every day forever.
4. Activated charcoal tablets can be your best friend. (Or — foreign bacteria will crush your spirit as well as your digestive well-being.)
5. Spend 30 minutes a day on Duolingo studying Spanish for 3 months straight and hot damn you can really learn a lot of Spanish. (Spend a month back at home struggling with mild PTSD and reveling in your newfound freedom and you can forget absolutely everything you learned.)
6. Sop Buntut. Mie Dok Dok Jawa. Ayam Goreng. (Let’s hear it for Indonesian food.)
7. You really do burst into tears when a judge slams a gavel and you find out you’re not going to jail.
8. Cakalang Bakar is a fun phrase to work into your everyday conversation. (Who cares that it means Skipjack Tuna.)
9. The perfect time to grow out your pixie cut so no one in the world can see all the awkward stages is when you’re held against your will for 100 days and aren’t allowed to post videos on YouTube and also have nothing better to do.
10. Your friends and family and health is all that matters. Never take these things for granted.
11. Getting to exist at all is something to be grateful for, and being alive is the greatest adventure.
12. Mash a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter and then die a million deaths because tell me that isn’t the best thing you’ve ever tasted.
13. You don’t know traffic until you’ve sat in a cab in Jakarta for 3 hours to travel all of 5 miles.
14. Do one thing that makes you proud each day and you’re setting yourself up to feel pretty darn ok with yourself.
15. Meditation can do a lot for a heavy heart.
16. The first granny square you ever crochet looks a lot different from what a granny square is supposed to look like.
17. There are real life angels in the world.
18. Start every day with an hour-long walk and you’ve already won.
19. When your whole world exists within the walls of a hotel room, reading can be a beautiful escape.
20. A healthy body begets a healthy mind begets a healthy body begets… you get it. It’s all connected. You need to take care of yourself.
21. Appreciate every second with the people you love because you never know when or how they could be taken from you.
22. Water is life. Drink it all.
23. If you live in a hotel with a buffet, at some point you have to stop treating meal-time like you’ll never eat again or you might die. Or gain a bazillion pounds. (Or both.)
24. Never mind the threat of being imprisoned in a foreign land, if you put a bird in my hand, I’m good. (I’m talking about an actual bird, not the expression — shout out to the bird park at Mini Indonesia!)
25. You have to choose happiness. Every day. Over and over again. Don’t wait for it to find you.
26. (I know I said 25 things, but this is one takeaway I can’t risk not being hammered in.) If you are a touring performer, please, I beg of you, check, double check, triple check that you have a proper work visa in your passport before you step foot on stage.
|Watch the video for "California" below||Watch the video for "For Now" below|