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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ramadan 12 - Things I Like and Don't Like

Many volunteer have written their list of the top 100 things they love about Indonesia. You can read all about the fascinating adventures of my friends here by going to Peace Corps Journals and look under Indonesia. I thought I would make a list of things which have been on 2 of my lists: Things I DON’T like about Indonesia and Things I LIKE about Indonesia. For something to qualify for this summary it had to personally drive me nuts and also at some point come to be something that I enjoy.

Things that have made both lists: LIKE and DON’T LIKE

1. Shrimp tails. When I was in Pre Service Training Maggie would always let me eat her shrimp shells. They’re cooked and crunchy and really yummy and because we had no access to vitamins for the first 5 months or so, I thought they were a really good source of calcium. Now, I sit at the table and look at their little beady eyes and antennas and all those legs and I have to close my eyes and think happy thoughts in order to get them down.
2. Firecrackers. I didn’t like it the first time I was out walking and someone drove by on a motorcycle and threw a lit firecracker at my feet. At first I thought it was a cigarette butt. Then it exploded. When I looked at the faces of the people around me they were watching to see how I would react. I started laughing. They started laughing. Now I don’t mind the little pranksters.
3. I love you. As I’m out strolling in my village, often 20 and 30 year old males will yell out, “I love you.” after I have walked past. I really don’t like being yelled at and being the object of affection of someone who is showing off to his friends and it used to feel kind of creepy. Now when ever I hear it, I turn and smile and yell back, “Thank you, Good English!”
4. Worms in the mandi bath water. They are about ½ inch long and look like threads. Maybe they’re pin worms. The mandi water is the clean water that I bathe with and use to clean myself with after going to the bathroom. Then I remembered, “What’s worse than biting into an apple and seeing a worm?” Answer, “Seeing half a worm.” Every worm outside is not a worm inside of me and I now brush my teeth in bottled water and keep my mouth closed when I take a splash bath.
5. Text messages. Oh my gosh! Sometimes I would just hand my phone over to one of my Peace Corps buddies to text back a response. It just took me so long to hunt and peck out an answer and the printing on the phone is so small I can hardly see it. Now, it’s like, okay, no problem. It’s hard to remember the resentment I had about all the technology, it’s just so handy.
6. Long meetings with Indonesian speakers. Because I still understand so little, it can be painful, but now I play a little game I really like. I try to listen to the meaning beyond the words. Is he just talking to himself? Does he care about the audience? How is the audience responding to him? What about the body language of the people around me? And sometimes I have my dictionary and look up a word every now and then.
7. Horns honking. My usual pattern is that I walk for 2 and a half hours a day. That’s a lot of time on the streets and alleys and path ways of Indonesia. Cars and motorcycles honk when they pass you. It used to scare me. Why are they honking at me? Good grief, you can see me from far away. I’m like a giant flag pole dressed in orange with white hair, why do you have to honk at me? Now, it’s often accompanied with a, “Hello, Oma!” And even it it’s not, I know they’re just warning me they’re going past so I don’t accidentally step in front of them at the wrong moment.
8. Mosquito nets. They’re hot. They limit the amount of air that can flow around your body. They’re a pain when you have to get up and pee a lot because during thefasting month, the only time you can drink water is when it’s dark. Then I looked up and saw some brown spots on top of my mosquito net. It’s keeping all the little house lizard poop off of me!
9. Loudspeaker prayers. Sometimes they are really loud. Like it’s hard to sleep or even read a book – loud! But at 5:32 pm I listen for that melody – Al … Lah…Ak Bar – I don’t know what they really are singing it sounds like, “Thanks be to God, it’s time to eat.” to my hungry ears. I love that music!
10. Walking with my 84 year old friend. She’s really slow. When she sees me she grabs on to my arm and for the next 20 – 30 minutes we’re arm in arm going where ever she’s going. I like to walk fast. But those 20 – 30 minutes are pure joy. She knows about the same limited vocabulary in Indonesian as I do. (Her first language is Javanese.) So I can often understand what she is saying and she loves to talk. And she doesn’t ask questions. That’s a big plus. We usually visit her friends and she tells all of them that I’m Dutch!
11. When my host father calls me “Baby.” He absolutely doesn’t understand the slightly sexual overtone. He’s just beaming from ear to ear because he remembered English and used in the way he thinks is right. I just smile back at him.
12. Forgetting things. After I practice saying something 20 or 30 times you’d think I’d remember it. This used to drive me nuts. Now I think, “Oh well, maybe those brain cells need to be dedicated to something else that’s helping me survive.” I just giggle.
13. Not being smart. This is along the same lines, but slightly different. When I was a student I was the smart kid in class. By the time I reached college, I no longer got any thrill out of being Class President, but I still liked the role, “smart kid.” We all chose different roles for ourselves. I was the good, smart girl. In Pre Service Training I found out that I’m no longer the smart kid in class. Now I think, “Hee, hee, I don’t have to be smart. I can be anything I want to be.” Sometimes I’m wise. Sometimes I’m just plain clueless. It’s kind of fun to try out different options.
14. Kids cheating on tests. At first I thought, “This is wrong.” for a zillion different reasons. Now I look at it like, “Oh, look at how people in this culture help their neighbors.” I wrote an article for our “volunteers only” blog site. I may post it so people can see where they fall on this issue.
15. The smell of the cow poop next door when it rains. For obvious reasons, most being that it often rains in the afternoon when I’m sitting on the porch waiting to hear the call to prayer / dinner and I’m really hungry. Now it brings back memories of when I would drive buses cross country and just before I got to the terminal in Corona, California, the freeway went past the stockyards in Norco. And I think, “I’m almost home, in 10 minutes I can get out of this bus and stretch my legs and sit in an air conditioned office.” It’s strange. The smells are intense here and so are the flashbacks.
16. Oh my God! Very religious people say this all the time. The first time I heard it I considered correcting the sweet teenager who said it and telling her that’s it’s not really a polite social thing to say. Now I know people are just acknowledging God’s presence in their lives. When they hear this saying in an American movie, they think we are making a spiritual connection!
17. Malaria medicine dreams. I had one where I was eating my dead grandmother’s brain! Okay, all dreams are weird, but I swear there is something in this medicine that makes you tons more emotional and it comes out in your dreams. My daughter thinks it’s just the regular Peace Corps stress I’m under. (Katrina, I really do value your opinions even if we disagree. Smile.) I used to dread the wake up in the middle of the night, holy cow, what’s just happened to me feeling. My current attitude is, “Wow, I sure am gagging down a lot of stuff I don’t want to eat, or maybe I’m connecting to my grandmother in some beyond visceral way. Whatever.” And I don’t want to take the other medicine which requires a daily dose rather than the weekly mefloquine pills. And its okay, we all got tested to make sure our livers are good, because at the end of Peace Corps we all need to take some other medicine which flushes out all the stuff that we’re now taking. Or maybe it kills the malaria that this medicine is just suppressing. I forgot. (Oops, I forgot. Giggle!)

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