After witnessing my Ibu hand feed my 15 year-old niece, I knew it was time to get out of the house.
It was about a month ago. It was a Saturday. And no I didn’t meet up with work friends to discuss the long week, or go out and grab dinner in the city with a Groupon. I sat on my neighbor’s porch and watched the rain.
I rarely if ever sit on my front porch. My Ibu doesn’t like it. Whether I’m sipping on tea, reading a book, or watching the Bakso (meatball soup) vendor cheerfully pass by as he taps on his woodblock, she never fails to ruin the moment by asking that I come inside. This particular Saturday, I arrived home just before a cloud burst. I grabbed my raincoat and cast up the street. I was amazed at how much I learned about my neighbors. Not to mention the new details that I learned about myself.
They churned out some elaborate stories and I’m sure they only revealed half of the many. Sitting back, I listened to these stories as the water fall gracefully from the sky.
Apparently, I have a boyfriend—news to me. I’m in my mid-20s so why would I not be tied down–was the express I read between their scrunched together eyebrows and slightly flared nostrils. They even had details. He came to visit me from a different country (never mentioned which once, guess they hadn’t decided) and we spent two weeks in Bali…I wasn’t even in Bali that long. Aside from this creation of a boyfriend, one of my neighbor’s, without hesitation asked if I would be interested in meeting her son who currently lives in Kalimantan.
As they continued questions, the rain picked up speed and violently smacked the cement road and overflowed the ridged and numerous cracks int he street. “You have AC in your room, right?” I have AC in my room??? When I told them I don’t own a fan they were in total shock. Then I asked how many of them had fans or AC. They slapped their legs and shouted, “Begito!” (like an oh yeah or so) and laughed.
Many motorcycles glided by, riders fully suited in their waterproof apparel, and one neighbor repeatedly joked that I was tempted to ride the motorcycle. They insisted that I try it, and they would keep it a secret from PC. The subject for whatever reason never gets tiresome for them. However, no one shoved food or sweeter than sweet tea insistent that I eat or drink (typical Javanese gesture), so I couldn’t complain about repeated questions.
I have cable—also not true. Although my school wanted to provide me with a TV and satellite, I declined which they also thought was strange. Unfortunately TV is frequently if not constantly enjoyed in my community. Recently, my host sister’s television broke. Instead of wasting time eyes peeled to the screen, we engage in conversation and talk about school or make plans for the weekend. There are some shows that are somewhat informational, but going a day without an Indonesian soap opera, I’m sad to tell them, has been a relief.
The guy who lives next door ran onto the porch to join the conversation. He brought along a set of nail clippers and began to clip and pick at his toes and fingers and never said a word.
I never eat rice—they know I cook by myself, which I also had to clear up and explain that I love Indonesian food and prepare it, but I just don’t fry everything and go easy on the oil. I assured them that most recently I’m on the rice-wagon and eat rice once if not twice a day. Not sure if they were too convinced. In all seriousness, I somewhat crave rice. After a few weeks in the beginning, I reached for the elastic band waistline pants and I could hardly look at rice without feeling full. I was bloated, ready to be thrown into the Indian Ocean afloat like a buoy. After a few months of cutting down the portions and adding a little more variety to my makanan-ing, rice slowly re-entered my meals.
Crouched in a comfortable squat position, she pulled down the material that gathered in the middle to lengthen her dress to the ground, she pinched at the skin of her own nose and said, “Yours is…natural?” The question about my nose no longer phrases me. One neighbor just had to be sure if my nose was natural and when she asked the other neighbors positioned their slanted pointer fingers to their foreheads, as a sign of “crazy”. I tried to reassure her that many people here ask me the same question. One day, even a bus attendant, without my permission, touched my nose just to make sure. To make sure of what exactly I’m not positive—fall off, deflate, osmosis, who knows….
I’m sure they know what’s in my garbage and how often I bathe, but I think we’ve moved passed that.
As the fat rain droplets dripped off the leaves of the mango tree leaves, and I got up to return home, they left me with one condition. I have to either marry here (preferably to an Indonesian, but it isn’t necessary), just a reception in the village. Or I must return and visit with non-PCV status and ride on their motorcycle around the village.
Questions and comments have continued to circulate my small village. Some from the past few weeks:
I have magazines of my “friends” aka actors and models in my room.
I’m from India—which the guy is pretty ancient so he might have had a historical mix-up or someone told him I’ve been there and he got something confused.
Indonesia has turned my hair red. Which is somewhat true. The amount of sun I receive on a daily basis has really done a number on drying out and coloring my hair.
I walk really fast—this was just a statement, which usually means I should probably change it. I wasn’t sure what to say. I apologized and explained that even to friends and family in America I’m a fast walker.
My favorite to date was asked by my host niece. We were on a bike ride and we stopped to take a rest. She sat down and scratched at her arm and then her underarm. She sheepishly giggled and said “Tante Ellen (aunt)….do you have armpit hair?” I couldn’t keep a straight face. When I regained my composer I explained that I am a particularly hairy individual, “Emmooh!” and I joined in on her incredulous laughter.