Thursday, November 7, 2013


Some of my earliest and happiest memories are skipping behind my mother as she ran errands in the city. I'd grab onto one of her braided scarves, as we'd weave through traffic and slanted sidewalks. She'd glance back at me with a big smile as I yelled about what I saw that day, what I did, what I wanted to be. I'd whisper to her to walk a little ahead of me so I could feel what it felt like to be independent. I didn't want people to think I was a child. She'd laugh, turn and walk as far as her scarf stretched, until I let go. Wow, I remember. This is what freedom feels like. 

I'm towering above my family explaining why I want to go on a day trip to the city. It's not making sense. 'So you want to go alone?' my ibu asks. 'Yes. I do.' I reply. 'It's dangerous' everyone agrees as my aunt repositions my bag to the front of me. 'what exactly are you going to do there?' my sister asks. Well, I don't know yet.' They frown.  'I mean I'm going to site see maybe.' I stutter. My uncle's face clears a bit. 'well be careful' he says reluctantly. 

It's different here. The freedom I was taught I was entitled to doesn't seem to exist. Independence and self-sufficiency are heralded in the states. Those who venture outside of the box are praised. Here, it's odd to want to leave and even odder for a young unmarried women to leave alone. The Independent women I was taught to become is encouraged to be undone. Yesterday I went bike riding and it so happened that a student saw me, told another and my neighbor outlined all the activities I had done the previous day. It's a society of sharing with very little to no privacy. It's a place you may never get lost in because the community you happened upon knew you were coming before you did. While there's comfort in that security, the little version of me keeps kicking, asking when we can let go again. Isn't independence our right she screams. 

In the angkot, bumping along, pulling further away from my desa, I feel a release. But there's a guilt that binds me to my town. Am I wrong for wanting distance? Just for a day, the ability to come and go seems a luxury. A luxury I never considered luxurious. To leave is something I've yet to see my neighbors do. Something time, money and a desire seems to only afford. I can be free because I was taught to be, have the privilege to be. I rest my chin on the back of the drivers seat. He zooms in between trucks and cyclists, one hand out of our ride balancing a cigarette, fingers dancing on the wheel. We're speeding as if escaping. I wish I could bring them along to feel this feeling. It probably wouldn't be the same. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Boyfriend

The boyfriend topic is popular here. But it's not the late night slumber party gossip you'd think. It's the nail biting worrisome kind, that at the end of the conversation leaves you, if single, feeling like you need to jump the nearest man. On arrival to most places, there are a series of questions that go as such; 1. What is your name? 2. Where are you from? 3. Do you have a boyfriend? If you answer the latter with a 'Yes', the investigation stays somewhat closed, but dare answer with a 'No' and you might find a man waiting in your living room the very next day. 

We were introduced late into the night. I initially thought nothing of it. I knew many women my age were already married, but didn't see how it applied to me. I've understood the alter rush here was to procure a partner at what is believed to be a desirable age and avoid temptation. I've also, however, known the boyfriend to interrupt this very process. It was only after a few weeks when I was nudged every time he visited, that I started to realize it was a set-up. His name is Eman, he's my height and brown too. How sweet. I guess that's all I need for a match made in heaven! No, I remain unconvinced. I am and was in no mood for blind dinner dates and errand runs together. It's a trend I'm not yet ready to sport. 

I don't see a place for the Boyfriend in the society I live in. There are a set of rules for the unmarried female. Firstly, she has a curfew. She, who stays out after seven is a girl of loose morales. She must cover the majority of her body and can often only touch the tips of a man's fingers in a greeting. She will never be seen in a house alone with a boy and if her family doesn't know him, there's no chance he'll be stopping by. At first glance, it's a society that appears rigid. I've had to stop my inner rebel teen from screaming 'F the rules!' hopping on a bike and roaring off half naked into the night. But then on further notice, there's this dating trend that seems contradictory. 

At night, I see strings of young lovers embrace on motorcycles gliding through city lights. Warung stands shelter couples sipping Ginger tea in the dim. They nuzzle in theatre seats and link fingers on strolls all unaccompanied by parental supervision. Boys and girls tease, pinch and poke without any damage to her reputation. Men and women can flirt, bat eyes and produce blushes openly. Are the rules bent when it comes to love? Or perhaps the displays of affection still fit into the appropriate rules of conduct.

We used to call him suitor. He was the one who pursued with the promise of a ring. Today he goes by boyfriend. We have all sorts of  them in the states. Those for one week, those for one year, those who we marry and those we never do. The suitor is never the husband, whereas the boyfriend can very well be. I've known the boyfriend to be the lover, financially obligated and father of many.  As much as we've condemned societies with more 'rigid' tendencies, our flexibility has sometimes become, in the words of Facebook statuses, 'complicated.' 

There's this security here. Security in belief and way of life. They've had the fortune of sharing ideals. The girls don't seem to have that teenage angst I so harbored in my youth. Perhaps because I had rules that weren't in accordance to the era I was living. I was in a Victorian household in the middle of 21st century, Bronx New York. Dating was never an option. Now, as an adult, having dated, the boyfriend topic is still a confusing one. Who is he? What is his role? If no longer the suitor, than what? Who my ibu introduces me to each time like it's my coming out party is not a potential boyfriend, but the gentlemen caller, the wooer, the admirer, the suitor. Our intimacy will come after marriage. Our children will come to similar understandings and I will know him as husband. Hm. I think Facebook should update their relationship options. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I'm becoming more American.  Or maybe just more of the stereotype. In the states, I was the 'lets get Indian food tonight or oooo there's a new French bakery kind a gal. Only under the cover of a late night out, would I wind up at a fast food joint. Here, America is packaged into a neat box labeled KFCMickeyBK. The more pressure I feel to assimilate, the more I drown myself in the greasy eats. It's the burgers, the botoxed fries, the lifeless lettuce thats got me cheesing. I latch onto anything that reminds me of home and somehow here, it's all better than gold. 

I want this experience to be an exchange. I haven't found the balance yet. I've had to adapt to so much so quickly, that I forget what it's like to be American. What does that even mean? American. I can talk about Indonesian culture more easily. I'm envious that they're so proud. So united. I don't think I've ever felt either back home. Their culture is so rich and they're so set on protecting it. To mask my jealousy, I guess I'm hyping up fast food chains…(really mani) I've got to find a better representation than pizzahut. It's hard to be an example of my culture, when I am mimicking another but I guess thats what I do. My mother calls me the chameleon. I love to absorb new things. But a chameleon has no place. It just moves and transforms it's skin to blend, but it's never the tree or leaf it clings to. I might've come to Indonesia thinking I'd find a home. That who I was would make more sense. I don't know. I'm afraid if I let go and just change skin again, I'll never know. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Just Say Yes

I've never really applied the philosophy before, but right now it seems applicable. 
I found myself yet again, holding my breath, faking confusion as a relative asks me to join in yet another event where I must introduce myself. It's 9:30pm. I'm beginning to nod off. Knock Knock. Yesss. ibu wants you to go see a relative because his daughter went to America. Hm. If this were America, I know I could give a quick hey nice to meet cha, feign some other obligation and be on my way. But this is not America. After assuming various facial expressions of discomfort, I reluctantly produce a smile and just say yes. 

I arrive to a houseful anxiously awaiting my arrival. There are around 30 people, all relatives, lining the interior of the house. After greeting each member, I'm lead to the group of English Speakers. The room falls silent and the examination begins. 

"When did you study in America?"
"Last April." 
"How long did you stay?"
" Since I was born."
"Oh sorry. I meant how long did you stay in America?"
"Oh yeah!... last April."
 "Oh. Okay." 

The conversation goes back and forth like we have rehearsed the script. Both parties trained in pretending to understand the other. Lots of smiling, everyone in the room hanging onto each word. And the 2013 Academy Award goes to.....Training hit the nail on the head. I'd practiced this scenario before. The unplanned beckoning to this house or that was what I signed up for. There must be something in between sips of tea, broken English and gum filled smiles. The tea was delicious. They were nice. She was sweet. An hour later, everyone wanted to practice their English. You like it here? Where you live? How long You stay here? Later Come back here again. We take you to the waterfalls and gardens. Thank You Thank you Hatur Nuhun. End Scene. 

I'm glowing. The night was quite nice. My desa looks different at night under the glow of street lamps. It's peaceful. Every time I say yes, Indonesia unwraps itself. I used to shake it like a Christmas present, waiting for it's contents. Now holding it in my hands, I know that only time will bring me closer to the reward. I stayed up even later to watch a live Badminton match next door. I'm scheduled to play tomorrow night. I really do like Badminton. Wish me luck. 

Symphony No. Nol

I woke up in a funk today. Indonesian households usually go to sleep with the lights on. Some believe the cultural difference is to keep the ghosts from seeping in. I believe I will not get used to this. I suddenly awoke this morning to the sound of roosters screaming and my ibu managing bahasa in the same pitch right outside my door. I can't even really call it a door. There's a door, but with an opening above it that brings in more light and sound than if I were to have the door open. Being a mostly muslim country, the call to prayer is always the first to wake me up. I can hear the chants blaring through speakers around the desa around 4:20 every morning, which also lets the ibus, naneks, bibs, wanita's and perempuans know that it's time to wake up. So thus the orchestra of sounds commences and ' oh! I have front row seats. 

The call to prayer starts strong, harmonized by the echo of another call to prayer signaling the first half. The crackle of the radio and screech of the faucets and water stomping the ground lets you know that intermission is now over please return to your seats. Pshhhhhhh the wok goes with grease sparking Pop Pop.BOOM ieeeek the kitchen door crashes and creaks, Clank Clank the pots are at war. ERRRRRRummmARHHHerrrrrr! the low thunderous stream of burps. PitterPatterPitter tiny feet slap the ground. Bink   Bink  Bink   Bink hammers push nails in outside my window. TETEH! NONIS! MISSss! Dum Beep Beeeeep Alladin has entered the building. The electric piano is now the star of the show and "it's a whole new world!" 

I mind as well just burst out laughing. The sounds could not be more ridiculous. I am absolutely powerless. It's 5 minutes to 5 and there is nothing I can do. Before I pop a vein, I close my bloodshot eyes and let out a deep sigh to accompany the sounds. Jasmine said it. It's truly a magic carpet ride…


So… I'm here! Annnnd it's crazy. We were already advised, as a joke, to wear helmets while we walk down the street and maybe throw in a life vest in case it floods… I'm gonna take that absolutely seriously. There is traffic like I've never seen and people for days and days. I did say I wanted to be near a city, but this is 42nd street crowd piled on sewers in BedStuy Brooklyn. Most people speak Sundanese, which I know about none of so I'm sure I seem a bit bougie and slow with my bahasa and baby like pronunciation. 

Take a left, take another, keep straight and my house is tucked in between two houses "under construction." To be fair, the inside is well maintained with a fully furnished bedroom waiting for me. I receive visitors like the queen, sitting perfectly poised, exaggerating my enunciation. It's a new feeling, having so many guests. You have to come up with new ways of introducing yourself so that you don't get bored of yourself. I might've thrown in a British accent a couple of times here and there. Darling You didn't! Oh but yes, yes I did! 

On saturday I went to my principle's house. The 3hr drive there, took around 7. With the traffic, babies running across the street, motorcycles balancing every household item there is, beggers, sellers and random goats, it was a bit longer than expected. They took me site seeing and we had lunch in this gorgeous deer park on the water. I leaned back balancing on my palms, face to the sky, eyes closed, when a shadow crept over me. Photo Miss? There was a circle forming around me of visitors and locals. My principle leaned over like an agent informing me that it was now time for photos and signing. Ah yes, yes of course! 

I'm already tired and it's only 2pm. I hope my celebrity dies down. I haven't been able to absorb all the newness because I have to always be new to everyone I meet. Things already seem old, if that makes sense. Here we go. We got this. Two years. Smile! 

The Wait

What time is it? Better yet what day is it? Is it possible for time to slip by slowly and race by so fast? The other day I woke up and forgot how old I was. I panicked and clawed at the seconds in search of the answer. 

Oh. I remembered. I'm older than I thought. My back aches. I don't know if it's from the mattress or poor diet. I eat rice too much. Everywhere is rice. All I eat is rice. With every stretch, I hear a crack. I wait a couple of minutes before easing out of my mosquito net. I've got one week left here. My adventure is about to begin and yet I feel like it's nearing an end. Am I even physically prepared for this? I can smell the veggies dying in the wok. My Nanek's at it again. I've grown so familiar with the sounds and feel of this house and now it's time to move on. But to where? 

Will the west be like the west in the states? I think of all the stereotypes between the two. People are already warning me about "those people" and "our people" and "their ways" and "our ways" West Coast and East Coast are at war and I'm not pack'n. Boom!

But here it goes, regardless it goes. Time. It keeps pushing me along. It tells me where to go, when and for how long.Time. It needs to wait. It needs to go. This Time it's time for me.