Thursday, August 21, 2014

In which she falls apart

The minivan that transports a city: an angkot
Tuesday, August 19
Language class is intense. W and I get home afterwards as soon as we can. The landlord (Dr A) is meeting the handyman at the house to eradicate the termites. The handyman paints the windowsills; he finally gives up on the lower part of the DR window where it is eaten away. He nails a board over the base and leaves for other jobs. He hasn’t got a ladder tall enough to do the beams and Dr A is still figuring that out. So the droppings continue to land on the DR table and the corner of the kitchen counter. We work (and eat) around them and swipe disinfectant over the area a few times a day.

I point out a black-ant trail across the front step to W, who passes the info to Dr A. I don’t sleep well. It’s K’s birthday across the dateline and we are far away. As far as I know, no bugs drop on me in the night, but I've got a few new mosquito bites by morning.

W finds an angkot app for his phone that shows us which buses to take. Def. angkot: a little van-bus with a driver’s seat and a double flat bench seat beside him. In the back, two benches are scrwed against the sides. The door remains open. We rode with 13 adults and 2 kids this morning. Passengers flag down a van from the side of the street and call “kiri” (left) so the driver pulls over to let us hop out. We pay through the window after getting off; sometimes we get change, sometimes the driver keeps the bule’s money or asks for more (European foreigners are fair game.) How do weknow which bus to take? The names of the start and turn-around points (A-B and back) are written on the front and back of the angkot. We haven’t figured out the paint color-codes for most routes yet.

One angkot takes us to within 2 km of the seminary and we walk the rest of the way. There's heavy traffic so the air is very thick and polluted but neither of us is sensitive. The brisk walk wakes us up.

Our new teacher is new to the school. She’s also new to language teaching, apparently. Both of the guys (profs) shake their heads when the lesson goes in every direction. Even before class starts, W and I ask a question and get long Indonesian explanations. We have no idea what she is saying. I have to excuse myself to use the toilet (that’s the word here) so I can be ready for class at 8am.

By nine, I’m finished. Each simple question unleashes a fountain of long sentences and categories and exceptions. I ask her to slow down a few times but she doesn’t understand our rawness.

I’m drowning in foreign words by break. Overwhelmed. I have a meltdown, seemingly because I can't understand the question. Actually it's because of K’s birthday and health challenges, so far away. And ...

·      Our house is in turmoil between bugs and cleaning and interruptions to cleaning. I love adventure but need tidy surroundings from which to explore.
·      The lizards are ok. The termites prevent us from eating at the table so they have to go before the rafters fall down.
·      Our things are still in suitcases so I wash and wear the same 3 tops and 2 trousers day after day. If I need something like deodorant, I’m rooting through luggage.
·      While I need rest every day, my husband thrives on gogogogogo. He’s got the maps and apps and I’m disoriented as to where we are, trotting along everywhere. I feel like a I’m being spun through a city, blindfolded like a child about to play “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”
·      We have late evenings and poor sleep during our short nights.
·      The hot water doesn’t work and I hate cold showers.
·      We don’t have internet so I can’t phone to run things past my mom or daughter or friends for balance.
·      On top of everything, we’re planning to leave for Jakarta tomorrow, so we’ll have to root through our half-open luggage when we get home and pack for an overnight trip…. Aaaaah!

That’s it. When the tutor calls on me after a rambling explanation, my mind goes blank. The tears start to roll down my face and I dissolve, startled. My heart is hurting, my head is topsy-turvy, and I’m thinking, “Who are you, crazy lady who’s crying now?” I’m SO not a cry-er; I might sob at one thing or another once or twice a year, if that.

For the rest of the morning, every time I try to answer a question, I choke up. The poor tutor. She doesn’t know what to do with me. Sumathi comes over and hugs and hugs me after class, comforting my soul. On the way home, I tell W I need the suitcases unpacked and to quit running around so much.

After class, Sumathi tells the tutor that she is going too fast. “Those two began studying 2 days ago and know nothing. Maybe hello and goodbye.” Oh well, today (day 3) we learned our numbers … “Why are we being given such complicated lessons?”

Our neighbor across the street is a chemical scientist. She has invited us for tea. The landlord comes over again. This time they’re waiting for the servicemen who will give us hot water. W has to stay until everyone leaves.

I cross the street. Dr U and I have tea together and chat. She’s prepared mango slices, cookies, and banana/plantain fritters. Deeeelicious! She’s a “cousin” and longtime resident of our neighborhood and tells me some history. The government owned the hill before selling it cheaply to 40 scientists working at a nearby facility. These people are aging; some have passed away. About 30 remain in this tight-knit community. Dr U says that expats rent the available houses (sold or rented out by younger family members): “No Indonesian could afford the rental!”

She has a certificate as a member of a company that won a Nobel Peace prize. She shows me a picture of her late husband, who was Polish. Oh my, he looks like W! and W’s grandpa. I like her spunk and zest for life.

Meanwhile, back at the house, W has spread anti-ant chalk on the stoop. The ants come pouring out of their nest carrying eggs, etc. They swarm into the living room in thick swaths across the walls, up the drapes, and across the marble floor tiles. They are so quick and deep that the floor and wall disappear under a writhing black mass, 2-3 feet wide.

Dr A and W can’t believe their eyes – thousands upon thousands invade in a panic, trying to rescue the colony as the dead ants have brought chalk into the nest. W runs for the commercial vacuum and sucks up live, dead, and dying ants. He sprays the area with bug killer, puts some inside the vacuum for good measure, and plugs the hose to make sure they’re not coming back out. When Dr A leaves at 7, W stashes the vacuum in the garage before coming across the street for tea. I pluck an ant from his sleeve and squish it.

Before bed, we wipe down the big cabinet in the bedroom and pull our clothes out of the suitcases. When they’re empty, the shelves are unorganized and full. I’ll get to sorting them later – for now, I can FIND THINGS! Hurrah.

I wake a half hour early and have my quiet time, meditating on the Lord’s Prayer. We sing a hymn in Indonesian and English to start the class: “I need thee ev’ry hour.” I guess the tutor knows to encourage us. She has asked someone to preach to us next week for inspiration and encouragement. (Will more foreign words do that? We’ll see.)

A serious introduction. Not.
W and Augustine crack us up.
Augustine’s faculty seminar is over (M-W) so he’s with us from now on, instead of just for a morning hour. W and A (the guys) make us laugh, cracking jokes, making puns, and suggesting funny homonyms between Indonesian and English. It’s much more relaxed today and the tutor is limiting new information to what we can grasp. After class, I have a quick hot shower at Sumathi’s before we head for the train station.

Upon the advice of IES Jakarta staff, we cancel the train tickets for today; there’s potential unrest with an upcoming election announcement by the MK, Indonesia’s Supreme Court. The losing candidate for president has contested last month’s vote; thousands are in the streets protesting for and against. TV warns that 20,000 police and military have been dispatched with instructed to shoot anyone who becomes violent. Many main streets are closed, though we hear that anti-vote para-military trucks drive through barriers in a few places.

However, by evening, local news reporters say many demonstrators faded away after a few hours, accepting gifts of oranges from the police in exchange for dissipating. The election is upheld by the court.

We pray for peace. Please pray with us, that God would help the government transfer of power to go smoothly and the authorities to govern well.

The young train station attendant is an English Lit major and former teacher. He learned English because his dad is a sailor and they meet in ports abroad to stay in touch. He goes through the lines with us, securing a refund and new seats for tomorrow.

I need linens for the new mattresses Dr A brought but the angkot driver takes us in a circle and then points toward the mall we want to go to. W pays him anyway. And off we go, asking directions of teenagers coming from school. Some of them giggle and wave us off while those who know a bit of English help us out.

There’s lots of local fashion shops in the BIP Mall, but no bedding. It’s not as fancy as the tourist malls. Gradually we’ll find suppliers and goods tradesmen. For the first time, a lady asks if she can take her picture with me. She snuggles up close and her husband snaps away. She says thanks with a smile and off she goes. Maybe it will be the reverse of our photos: everything around her may be in full color except for the blond ghostly face beside hers.

Outside the mall, there’s a stage, a few police cars, and a Ford Ranger decked out for military use. There’s a small crowd listening to a man shouting through a mike. We skirt the back of the demonstration and stay out of trouble.

We’re on our way home by 3. As usual, we are the only Caucasians in the angkots on our way home. Hopping off one van and asking how much, the passengers, driver, and I have a bidding contest (we bid for how high it should go, not negotiating for less, just for fun.) W pays an extra amount “just because” and everyone is happy (=total 70c for the two of us – instead of 40c).

We are able to use this week’s language information to answer where we’re from, ask for directions, and figure out some of the conversations. Amazing.

The landlord comes at 4:30 with the hot water technicians. They tramp back and forth and fix one heater and promise to fix the other. Our back door lock (new) sticks in the door; the helper cuts it open and fixes the latch. I’m starting to think there is opposition to us being in this house. Prayers please! We love the place.

While the guys are busy – W and DrA visit as the others work – I pull on rubber gloves, get out the disinfectant tile cleaner, and with a brush in each hand, tackle the LR floor. I get about 1/3 done in 2 hours, scraping years of dirt out of the grooves in the marble. Hey, there is no black in the stone? I guess not, once I’m done. The men leave at 5:15.

We have hot showers! in the evening after walking to Ethnic, a neighborhood restaurant. The hills are steep but walking them is getting easier all the time. We turn right instead of left and end up walking back toward our place. (No problem, it’s mostly downhill on the way home.) I order glorified ramen (labeled mie Malang) while W has stuffed chicken breast. We’ll try something else next time. And I’ll be cooking more once the kitchen is clean.

“We’re in the tropics. And we live here. Isn’t this wonderful?!” W and I marvel as we sit in the restaurant courtyard with palms and “houseplants” around us. We love it and feel privileged to be called here.

W tackles the bottom cabinets in the kitchen (my arms are too short to reach the backs) and I write. It’s another late night, but we’re headed off to Jakarta in the morning. Thanks be to God.


  1. Tiffany and I read this with great interest and compassion. We totally get the difficulties and the hope and confusion and despair and exhaustion.. You are bombarded from every side- and all your normal coping strategies just don't cut it cause the stressors are so different too. Proud of you.. you make this understandable for everyone. BTW the grout thing is recurrent.. within weeks.. the humidity makes mildew grow like those ants! Hint.. always leave the air on.. and get Damp Rid for your closets- so your clothing is not ruined. You are tiny-- but Indonesian clothing will not fit you well and you don't want to loose those 3 shirts and 2 trousers!

    1. You hit it spot on. Everything changes at once - and suddenly there's no hope of coping. I don't mind crying - it's a great stress reliever and expression of frustration. But if I cry other than with joy at a birth or with grief at a loss, it's a surprise. Funny how the brain and body work together to relieve the pressures within and without.

      We don't have air con; it's a well-vented house on the hillside that gets lots of breezes. Once the rainy season starts, we may need to find DampRid. Maybe the local ACE will have it... Thank you!

  2. I'll try this again, I'm learning how to "comment" here sorry. Anyways, I'm very glad to see you realized that you were learning to use if even a little bit the language. As my mentor in the Philippines said to me, " think of it as being a child learning to speak. They listen, catch a few words and start to use those few words. Then, they listen more, use more and build their vocabulary from there. You can do this! Salam

  3. It truly is a process. W remembers everything he hears and uses the words, learning as he goes. For me, it's like tossing things into a big can and hoping something will remain besides mush. Little by little!

  4. Thank you so much for the extra pictures! Mom will love them. I remember one way I remembered words when learning Tagalog, try to think if you can see something similar like the Tagalog word for 10 is "sampu" and I would think oh, that sounds like shampoo. :). Also, any songs at church that may be translated helped me to learn. . Is the student coming to live in your flat To attend NU Sundanese? I'm sure Joseph (also from Jakarta) will be happy to hear that. Although his mother says he has a friend who is a sophomore at University of Washington. Praying for you and your family here.

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