Official Peace Corps Disclaimer

"The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why do Americans have spots?

I was sitting on the steps of the masjid (mosque) with the girls who were excused from prayers because of menstruation. The 50 or so girls were gathered around and the religion teacher who always smiles was letting the girls speak quietly with me. Usually they need to be silent while the others are praying. Linda knows a lot of English so she was helping her friends who were shy. A girl named Happy was sitting next to me, gently stroking my arm and asked me:

Why do Americans have spots?

I looked at my arm and sure enough, there were spots all over. I explained that not all Americans have spots, but that I did because I was old. Now I am wondering. Was she asking about freckles?

I’m trying to retrain my brain to distinguish faces. All the girls at my school are covered from head to foot, no ankles showing. And they are all dressed the same with identical uniforms and jilbabs, all you see are their faces and hands. They are all short with sweet round faces and big brown eyes and smooth creamy latte colored skin. And there are about 600 girls and 150 boys. They boys look and behave different. I can see their ears and necks and hair. There are a lot more visual clues to distinguish them. I have to concentrate harder with the girls. And people in Indonesia have multiple names: their legal name on the school roster, the name they usually use, which is often a few syllables out of their long name, and the nickname that the other kids give them. There are no last names, but often people have 2 or 3 multi syllable names (5-10 sounds to remember for each person.)

The girls have started coming up to me and taking my hand and pressing it to their cheek or forehead as a sign of respect. As I’m walking around town kids on motorcycles will call out “Oma!” That’s my name here. At my training village, my family called me that and it just fits. It’s the Dutch word for “grandma.” All the Indonesians and lots of the Americans call me that now. I introduce myself as “Oma Colleen. Please call me Oma.” I like being a grandma and it’s an easy name for people to remember.

In my village which has about 4000 high school kids enrolled in several high schools there are no other foreigners. I asked. There was a man who used to come from an hour away and visit occasionally but he left a year ago. One word that people ask me all the time is: Sendiri? Alone? I get offered rides on motor bikes every day. It’s difficult for Indonesians to understand that Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to even sit on a motorcycle. I explain that if I sit down on one and someone takes a photo that I will be sent home to America. The idea that I walk alone is so strange to them.

My family is wonderful. Their daughter spent some time in America and she gave her mom some Coke Zero so every lunch I get 3 ounces of Coke Zero with ice! For breakfast this morning I had sardines in tomato sauce, white rice, cassava leaves and carrot soup, fried shrimp (I think – they have lots of legs and antennas and little bodies, maybe they are some kind of crawdad/shrimp) and 2 kinds of bananas..

It rains almost every day. Just before it pours it gets really hot and humid. My body is readjusting to this new level of heat. Three months ago the initial heat rash went away without much intervention. These new spots on my back, neck and legs are just wave two. I read the Peace Corps medical manual and it recommends keeping the skin cool and dry, bathing with mild soap, wearing light weight loose fitting cotton clothing and avoiding sitting on plastic or vinyl and drinking plenty of water and don’t scratch. Okay, Dr. Lyn, I’m doing all the appropriate things.

Why do Americans have spots? Why do people sweat and get old? Why are the children in Indonesia so charming? Why would a little teenage girl sit next to met and think I know the answers to life's questions?

1 comment:

  1. Colleen...dear heart...I cant believe that just today I have seen at the bottom of your blog, in teeny, tiny pale print, that says...comment. Does that mean that what I am typing now is gonna be read by you? That I can sit here and read what you just wrote and I can write back just now and feel like I am really commnicating with you? If so then WOW!

    Before I get to responding to your blog, I wish to know what is your mailing address. Who knows when I will get out to a store, but if I ever see a riotiously funny card that is just perfect for you, then I would wish to send it to you. And speaking of mailing, is there anything you need that I could send, and hope for that it would not get stolen? An american comic Magazine? Readers Digest? Hey, what about a subscription to the Readers Digest? They send them all over the world. I'd be happy to do that and its not costing very much...honest...or any other magazine, or the newspaper. Please, dear good friend, let me do something. That is not too much for one ole bud to ask of another. And, that brings to mind, you are not so old! I know that right now it sure does seem that way and with good reason. But you need to stop concentrating on that. After all, just look back at what you wrote about how many awesome things you have learned (in a very short time, I might add) about modern technologies that you just could not fanthom back in the time when we met at 2 by 2. Yes you are an older person, but the world is full of us elders. LOL What you have chosen to do with this time in your life is remarkable, and I am so proud of you I about burst with pride at what you are doing and that I have a friend who is doing what you are doing. Your blogs are a wonder! My gosh, what a writer you are, Colleen. I would enjoy reading anything you send, but your stuff is the kind of stuff that makes my heart sing. Everything is so interesting, exciting and heart warming. You have told me that I helped you to see many things thru different eyes. Well that is what you are doing for me, and whoever all gets your blog. You not only show us a different land, and culture, but you tell us through eyes and heart that saw little, tiny bugs flying around and around in a sun shaft and it filled your being with wonder. That is what you share with all of us. Your sense of wonder, even when things get really tough is always present.

    I will tell you all about me, I am fine...and give my comments on your blog writtings of late. I will say this, they were particularly meaningful to me. I love you, so much.