Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Indonesian Experience

October 15, 2009

It's only Thursday, but who knows when I'll have time to reflect and tell my story of Indonesia when we return. Just one more day here, one more in Singapore then we return to America.

I am barely able to stay awake on this couch in Amanda's apartment with the mosques trying to sing me to sleep. Five times a day they try to sing me to sleep. They're hard to get used to, but it's a neat reminder that I'm in another culture altogether. Within the guarded walls of a Christian school it can feel comfortable and normal until I look up at the coconut trees and tile roofs. But once we step outside the gates, all the motor bikes, carts full of crops and dark, curious faces make my heart thump with excitement. I am outnumbered. I am lost. Thankfully Amanda is practically fluent in the language and knows these streets in the dark. But "Mari" and "Ma'af" and "Tirama kasi" connect me enough to all the questioning passersby. They nod and smile and come close to touch Oliver's soft, white skin. He's universally irresistible. He makes me seem approachable and safe. He's my free pass to just about anywhere.

My first impression of Indonesia was the crowded streets of staring faces and the amazingly new kind of traffic. It's amazing because there are no rules other than staying on the left, yet the drivers are so aware and in control. I felt very unexpectedly safe.

October 23, 2009

I finished half of an article in the Voices of the Martyrs newsletter and suddenly felt the urge to continue my story of Indonesia. Those 10 days of Asian cultural exposure awakened something in me I don't think I'll ever be able to let go. My stomach flutters at the thought of seeing more of this continually amazing world. And more than that...I long to live dangerously for my faith. I don't mean that in a naive, romantic-missionary way. I mean that this trip opened my perspective of spirituality and what it means to live whole-heartedly for whatever you believe in.

If I could pick out pieces of this trip to show you, it would be the way it looks to walk down the streets on Java island, the constant spiritual awareness of the culture, the simple yet struggling way of life, and the most amazing coffee I have ever tasted.

Perhaps the reason the streets stand out so much to me is because that is how you get anywhere any day and so that is what I saw most of. Almost everyone owns a motor bike. It's apparently the most efficient way to get around, and to transport your goods, believe it or not. Whether you need to move your furniture to a new home, your crops to the market or your family of five to the nearest mosque, the motor bike will do the trick. And if you see someone along the way who needs a lift, pile them on top. A piece of wisdom I picked up from this trip is: You can always fit one more. I experienced this my first day in Salatiga when we took the angkot to the market (a van with bench seats along the windows so that passengers sit in facing each other). The four of us climbed in when there were already five other passengers in the back. I couldn't help but smile the whole ride as we somehow fit more and more in. And I loved the fact that when I was explaining to Amanda that I felt like this was a ride in a circus clown car that possibly no one in the whole van could understand my language. Suddenly I was a foreigner....and I spoke a cool and different language! I became very aware of the sounds my mouth made wondering how they sound to the Indonesians who keep staring at me.

The next thing I noticed was the open commitment to faith. A young man sitting beside me held a pocket version of either the Koran or the Holy Bible. Two other women in the bus wore head coverings and long dresses. And five times a day(often more than that) voices from all the mosques in the community would call the Muslims to prayer. Instead of feeling separate from these others who held tightly to a different belief than mine...I felt somehow closer to them than ever before. I don't have any Muslim friends or ever get to talk to Muslims. I've only heard about the faith from books or radio or television or school or friends who have been to or live in Muslim communities. It was a surprise to feel such a strong connection to these people. And I think it's because I too live by faith. And our two faiths are similar in many ways. The Jewish and Christian faiths are at the roots of Islam. We are like brothers and sisters who are now walking in different directions praying the others will change direction. I am now hoping to learn more about Islam. Maybe take a class or befriend someone who either is Muslim or used to be. I'm thankful to have experienced and understand better this new connection.

Beyond the outward religious appearance of this part of Indonesia, I learned about the spiritual awareness that is a part of every day life. And by that, I mean the cultural traditions and experiences that include praying to spirits, bodily possession of spirits, physical displays and interactions with spirits. It's not ridiculous or dramatic in this culture. It's everywhere. From the spirit trees that no one dares to cut down to entertaining audiences with demonic-possession. It is a very real and interesting aspect of this place that I wish I could have learned more about. I will have to live vicariously through Abbie (a teacher at Amanda's school and my new Facebook friend!) who's similar interest in this spiritual culture is captured with incredible photography and documentation.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to move outside of busy streets to fields and farms. We walked along footpaths through rice fields and small farms. Saying "Mari" to the workers and chidlren at play. "Turan, turan?" (which means sightseeing) they would ask. Yeah...just looking at your fields and yards and homes and children and animals. They seemed to like our interest in their home. What amazed me is that they harvested all their crops by hand or by plow pulled by water buffalo. This raw, dirty labor is an expected and normal way of life. And watching them made me want to get soil under my nails.

November 22, 2009

I suppose the last aspect I want to tell you about is my coffee experience. It was like inviting myself on a National Geographic or PBS documentary. I took the tours of plantations and stood in the forest of coffee trees breathing in the Jasmine scent of their blossoms and picking the little red beans. I saw them roast the beans over the fire. Then they let us sit under a pavilion with the mountains and tree tops to stare at while we sipped the freshly-brewed coffee in little glasses; coffee grounds soaking in the bottom. On the table was a dish holding shiny, black beans and another holding flakes of palm sugar. Our guide told us you eat the two together. I can't blame my excitement on caffeine. It was the whole atmosphere and experience...and the fact that the coffee I was tasting was indeed the best to have ever passed my lips. I was on the island of Java...and the coffee is no myth. The plantation gave us little bags of the powdery grounds to take back, and it disappeared too quickly. Thankfully, I was able to buy green beans at the second plantation to roast myself at home. Two pounds for $2 US. I couldn't stop grinning. I haven't roasted them yet, since my in-laws left a huge can of Folgers sitting regretfully on my coffee bar. But I love the way my 2 bags of green coffee beans remind me of my Indonesian gift of true experience.

I will close this blog with a quote from a book I am reading called Cross Cultural Connections. It refers to a short-term stay in a foreign country and the slight culture shock you might receive upon return to your home country. The author refers to one's background culture as square, and a foreign culture as circle. "You find mild disappointment in your home culture, but in a couple of weeks the busyness of life consumes you and many of your feelings and thoughts become submerged in being square again." It's a bittersweet time as I reflect on my trip. I wish I could have had the opportunity to become more "circle". It was almost too easy to come home to the American society. I know Indonesia left a mark on me. I just don't know exactly what it looks like and I hope it doesn't fade.

To see photos of this trip visit my facebook album #1 and album #2.

PS - The most common question people ask me about this trip is "How did Oliver do?"
He did great. GREAT. We were complimented over and over on how well-behaved and mellow he was. I think he was made for traveling; or at least adapting. The new faces and scenery were really good for him. He thrives on new experiences. It's sort of scary that he's okay with running off in a different direction without looking back once. But it helps my mother heart to know he is NOT comfortable in strangers' arms. The women especially were drawn to Oliver's angelic looks and couldn't help but stroke his cheeks and blond hair. But he didn't necessarily have the same interest in their skin color and hair. He just wanted to run through their streets and fields. Keep it up Oliver, and you will experience more than I could ever imagine for you.

...for those who are still reading....

PPS - Our very last day of vacation we spent in Singapore with a college friend, Mar, who was able to spend the day showing us what makes Singapore strange, unique and...well...Singapore. I have a hard time knowing what to say about it. It happened so fast, and we saw and learned so much. Tall buildings, mega malls, we talked about politics, the crazy strict laws, we saw China town and little India. We ate really great food for really cheap. But the best part was getting to know Mar more than we had the chance to when we all attended JBU. He's got a huge, honest heart and speaks up when necessary for what is right. He has a hardcore belief system yet the patience and contentment to be used by God wherever he is in life. We hope to see you in the states again, Mar. And if not...I'm sure there's more of Singapore we haven't seen. :) I'm up for seeing Bali too!