Saturday, December 13, 2014

A garden of delights

Another eventful - and event-filled - week is drawing to a close. The washing machine is whirring, the house is clean (thanks to Ibu A's hard work), and W and I are ready for a rest.

Neighborhood girlfriends
Thursday, December 11
Through the Tuesday network, I'm invited to the neighborhood gathering. They meet once a month at a woman's home. This time, we're saying farewell to someone who has lived here for 41 years. It's the lady who lit up the room with a smile and sat beside me Tuesday.

She and her daughter have cooked up a storm: gado gado (Indonesian "salad" with peanut sauce), meats, rice, noodles, fried bananas, and more. That's just on the main table. A large side table holds many kinds of desserts. She has individual boxes of baked goods ready for each one to take home, too. Wow - when hosting a group, is it always this elaborate? Truly amazing spread.

The women tell her how much she means to them and that they'll miss her. We sit on the porch, breezes stirring the dozen or more wood chimes hung from the ceiling. When the meal is done, she hands out plastic bags and the women divide up the leftovers for their husbands to enjoy. We gather all the women around to take a photo. When she asks if I would like to sit next to her, I guess she would rather have her best friends on either side. Two women immediately position themselves on the right and left.

The neighbor's beautiful garden
"And how about a fun one?" I ask, at which they wave and make faces at the camera. They are young at heart! She grabs my arm and leads me back to the dessert table. She parcels up rujak, a tangy fruit salad, for W. (He loves it.) I'm home before 1 pm, salad and a "mosquito-repellent" plant in hand.

Ibu A starts work at 3 with a younger sister in tow. They tidy up and make rice and scalloped potatoes. By then, I'm almost finished cooking as well: 2 loaves of bread, vegetables in white sauce, 2 pans of quiche, sausage in barbecue sauce, Swedish meatballs, and beef rendang. W lays out his coffee station while I set the table and arrange cookies for desert.

Pastor Dave from IES Jakarta meets us at Miss Bee's at 4. He's driven all the way to attend the evening gathering. We ply him with questions over a light meal before walking home together.

A double hibiscus from the garden
We have no idea who is coming to our Housewarming but there's enough food. The number in my head is 20. And by the time everyone shows up, starting 3/4 hour after the open house begins, we have about 20 neighbors gathered in our living rooms. PD prays a blessing over the house, the guests, and the meal before we eat together.

We feel so honored to have visitors. They ask where we're from, while we find out what they've done and how long they've lived in our neighborhood. The man who designed our house and many others is here. He's a distinguished gentleman; we tell him we're pleased by the way the breezes go through the house and the tall ceilings make air-con unnecessary. I meet another writer. (I can't wait to read her blog.)

At the end of the evening, everyone signs the guestbook, smiling and shaking hands at the door. Some of the women who have seen me three times this week kiss both my cheeks in farewell. We pray God's blessings over them and protection over PD on his way back to Jakarta, before falling into bed exhausted.

Steaming rock and sulphuric fumes
In the morning, I walk next door with a bag of beef scraps for the neighbor's dogs. (She said she has 8 - or did I misunderstand? Oh not understanding the language is awkward!) I also have pictures of yesterday morning's meeting. W's printed out a big photo plus two small ones of the "nice" shot - and one of us laughing and fooling around. (When W and I drop by Saturday, she thanks him for the photo memory. She has already given the 2 extra prints to the women on her left and right, so they really were best friends.)

Ibu W's driver Pak I comes to the house at 9:30. He's driving us up the mountain today. Our friends have planned a day off with us. We've seen almost nothing of the surroundings and keep hearing how many natural attractions lie close by.

Sulphur crystals
Josie arrives early and the others - including their daughter from Singapore - come soon after. First, we drive to the Queen Crater of the local volcano, a half-hour away. Pak I has his own route, backroads so narrow we have to pull over for oncoming traffic. But there are not many other cars along the way, unlike the regular route.

After taking pictures and looking into the steaming volcanic bowl, we drive a few miles away. It's a half-hour hike down the trail. I can't believe how much I've missed the forest. Though there are different trees, the ferns and moss look similar. The air is fresh, clean, and about 75oF (25oC). The guides pluck plants along the walk, explaining which herbs to use for healing, which mushrooms are safe or poisonous, and pointing out a two-hundred-year old tree that has survived several eruptions. They give us a few fluorescing rocks to take home.

About to be mudded
Sumathi and I splurge ($8) for a half-hour's treat. While the others wade in the warm pools, our feet and hands are slathered in volcanic mud and massaged. Even after a rinse, some of the powdery grit remains and dries our skin.

The guides blow into one vent and smoke pours out another. All the tunnels seem connected so fanning the fire in one affects the others. We look into sulphur-rich openings that burp fumes and heat before climbing back up.

"Madam, you are very fit," comments a guide as we hike back with them. (After all our walking, what's one more hillside?)

Our next stop is lunch. We've read great reviews about "the #1 restaurant" in the area: Natural Strawberry, attached to a strawberry farm in the hills. The landscaping includes potted zinnias, impatiens, and hibiscus. Once we sit down, the strawberry-flavored gourami (fish) is very good. The mutton saté is so tough we spit it onto the side of our plates: it's got great flavor but is inedible gristle. Oh well. The minute we quit waving our hands, flies sneak onto the food. That's predictable. It's an open-air restaurant.

First it's down-down-down. But
then we have to walk back up
We're happy to head back up and then down mountain roads to the local hot springs, where admission is $4.50. We sit in one of their four big pools and relax. Sumathi steps in with eyes wide - she's not comfortable in the water. But before long she's floating and even swimming across the pool. Wooohooo! = a lovely personal milestone in this warm bath.

We drive home for a supper of leftovers - oh, so much food! from last night. And then it's movie night in the living room. We've promised our friends an introduction to The Princess Bride, which is a hit. I'm happy to clean up after dinner and listen in. We take a coffee and tea intermission, accompanied by Sumathi's banana bread and Indian chips in addition to Christmas cookies.

It's a late night but everyone is in a comfy bed by midnight. We pray for W's mom on her birthday halfway around the world. She has the flu, rather a miserable way to spend the day. How we wish her health, a great Christmas season, and a wonderful year ahead.

We all sleep in. There's quiche, sausage, and bread for breakfast, followed by around-the-table prayers of thanksgiving and petition. My heart is overwhelmed by God's goodness and faithfulness. How often we sense the prayers of those back home! Thank you, one and all.

Ibu A arrives at 8am for her Saturday routines. Today she doesn't have to cook lunch. We're going to reheat and finish the rice and beef rendang if it kills us. Well, it doesn't kill us, but we put the last of it away in the freezer. She washes dishes while we visit.

Before Josie leaves, she negotiates two tricky conversations in Bahasa Indonesian with the helpers about expectations (theirs and mine). No, we did not agree to give a raise after one trial month. A raise and review happen after a year. Please come every two weeks to trim things. The hedge is cut crooked because the concrete wall is thicker there? Um, to straighten it, perhaps we could let it grow wider to match, rather than cutting this end into a narrow ribbon of twigs? Q to helper: Should someone be sweeping the leaves away from the sliding gate? A: Doesn't it stick because of the metal holder? (Nope, it sticks because of debris in the track.) Etc.

May God BLESS Josie for her ministry to us!

Amaryllis hedges in bloom
The neighbor lady is a wonderful gardener. W and I knock on her gate. She's been resting after a relative's wedding but offers to show us around. There are mangosteen, jambu air, and soft-apple trees on her acreage. We sample a few fruits and smell a fresh clove pod, reddish before drying. Staghorn ferns hang from their perches. Dozens and dozens of pots edge the porch and driveway, while hedges of amaryllis and other flowers line the drainage canal. Bullrushes and water lilies fill two bathtubs removed from the house. (The ikan - guppies - in the troughs keep the mosquitoes at bay.) She introduces us to the gardener who keeps things tidy.

Beside a little house for the driver, there's an office and home for J, a longterm tenant and commercial photographer. He says he used to shoot a lot of photos from his ultralight plane but now he mostly operates drones. The guys get into conversations right away about gear, while his Japanese wife and I smile at each other and shake our heads. It's almost 3pm (when Ibu A leaves) so we have to get back so the house isn't left unlocked.

My eyes are filled up with beauty and my heart is warmed by another plant-lover's passion: oh wow, so many flowers to paint in that garden! How gorgeous.

At 6:30 it's dark. W and I walk to the nearby Ethnic restaurant for noodles at supper. Takeaway is cheaper than cooking. We unpack the meal at home and discuss the week behind and ahead. Christmas is just around the corner. It's good to share life with a dear friend and spouse.

Read more:
*My Lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Genesis 18:3 ESV

*He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. Psalm 91:4 ESV

*...and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:4-6 ESV

*And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 ESV

*Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20 ESV

Moravian Prayer; Immanuel, God with us, we long to be in your presence. Quiet us in the midst of the busyness of this season so that we might recognize and be with you.

Great Protector, shelter us from the storms of life, give us refuge in times of trial, and fill us with the peace which surpasses all understanding. Amen.


  1. You have a lovely blog. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada.

    1. Thank you. I grew up in Winnipeg, so you have my sympathies weather-wise. :-)