Friday, September 4, 2009

My Indonesian neighbors

The house I am living in is owned by a man who lives with his family a couple of houses down from me. Neither he nor his wife speak much English, but they have managed to make me feel welcomed here. They both greeted me in the house on the first day and they were here today as well to oversee the delivery of my new refrigerator and washing machine. After the appliances were successfully put in place, Pak Talib left but his wife and little boy lingered behind. We tried our best to make conversation but our interaction consisted mostly of smiles and nods. At one point the little boy scampered off only to return a few minutes later with two plastic containers of mysterious green things and an equally mysterious green beverage with colorful floating bits. My neighbor told me that the mysterious green things were “Gorontalo cakes” and encouraged me to try one. So I did. It tasted vaguely of coconut and wasn’t half bad. I was more wary of the unidentified green beverage. We had been warned countless times not to drink tap water and who knew if this green drink was tap water or something else. Not wanting to appear rude, I cautiously took a few sips and then helped myself to more Gorontalo cakes to make up for the fact that I didn’t want to drink the strange beverage. To put this scenario more in context, I had spent the morning and most of the afternoon with Arzal going to the Immigration Office and getting papers signed, copied and delivered. I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was collapse on my bed for a few hours until Arzal picked me up for dinner. But there I was, in my living room, eating strange green things with people I barely knew and could scarcely converse with. After a few more rounds of smiles and nods, they left and I joyously escaped to my room.

An hour so later, I was jolted out of my contented state by loud firecrackers. Wanting to see what the commotion was about, I wandered into the living room. Night had fallen so the room was completely dark. As I walked closer to the windows I saw that an unfamiliar face was peering through the window looking at me! Startled, I retreated from the window and wondered if I could escape back into my room unnoticed. Unfortunately not. The unfamiliar face started pounding on the door. Feeling trapped but knowing I shouldn’t open the door to strangers, I decided to talk through the door slot instead. I asked him if he spoke English, “Bisa Bahasa Inggris?” But the answer was no. I wished I knew the Indonesian for “Who are you?” But I didn’t, so I asked in English. This caused him to leave. Pleased with the outcome of that encounter, I went back to my room. Not even five minutes later, the pounding at my door resumed. But this time the pounding was accompanied by other voices, including children’s voices. Encouraged by that, I ventured back into the living room once more. This time I recognized my neighbor’s face and her son. Relieved that I knew these people, I opened the door.

It turned out that the first guy knocking on my door had been sent by the family to do something to the fuses in my house. Since I didn’t let him in, they all trooped over instead. And the mother brought her 20 year-old daughter Inka with her this time. Her English was pretty good and we chatted for a bit and exchanged cell phone numbers. Inka seemed alarmed that I came all the way from America alone. She told me to leave the light in the kitchen on at night in case I got scared. I thought that was really sweet. I also found out that she and her mother had stopped by the house at 7 this morning to see if I was ok and had everything I needed. I was taken aback by this but then again, last night Ibu Noni offered to have her 14 year-old daughter sleep over my place to keep me company. This level of care and concern for a virtual stranger astounds me. Fortunately, Ibu Noni, who has lived in Australia, understood that Westerners like their privacy. Got that right!


  1. Oh the privacy issues...Everyone and anyone will want your cell phone number. They might never call you (OR they'll stalk you), but it's more a way of "befriending" someone than anything else. (Cell phone culture, you'll find, is very different from the US. Your students will also want your number.)

    We had people knock on our doors all the time too. Sometimes it freaked me out; other times, I welcomed the smiling faces. The bottom line though one is unsafe; they're probably just VERY curious and want to help you. The generosity and kindness I experienced while living there, as you're already finding, truly blew me away. If you need ANYTHING, people will jump to help you. In the US, people run the other direction. ;)

  2. Hey Julianne,

    This is Peter Meidal (Jonna's husband) and I really have been enjoying your blog postings. They bring back so many memories of the ol' G-town.

    J and I never really got used to the "strangers" who would come to the door just wanting to stare at you for an hour. Sometimes there was one and sometimes there were 10. Obviously as Americans, we enjoy our privacy, so this cultural characteristic is one that's hard to get used to. If you feel uncomfortable, you should tell Arzal or Ibu Nonny and they can help you out.

    Siapa name mu? What's your name?
    Siapa mu? Who are you (informal)
    Siapa anda? Who are you (formal)

    I hope you assimilate quickly and get a routine down. G-town is such a trip. Say "hi" to Santi and Arzal for me and tell them to take you to Exotic Cafe the views and Ikan Bakar are to die for.

  3. Hi there! This is Chris, I was an ETA in Makassar last year. Jonna gave me a link to your blog, as I'm seriously nostalgic and want to go back again as soon as I can. Hope you don't mind. guess is that the green stuff with bits in it was Es Kelapa Muda, which is a really sweet drink based on cocunut, with fruity bits in it. You, somehow, drink it with a spoon. I never got good at it.

    Keep with the stories - I'm enjoying this one, and I'm certain I'd enjoy others as well.

  4. Really enjoying your blog!

    Were the green bits anything like the unidentifiable green chewy bits we had in that dessert/appetizer at the Indonesian restaurant in the city?

  5. Hi everyone! So glad to hear you're enjoying the blog! And Peter and Chris - thanks for identifying yourselves :-). And Peter - thanks for the vocab lesson! I'm checking email at Arzal and Santi's right now. I don't have internet at home yet, but once I do, the blog posts will be more frequent :-).

  6. Hi Julianne,

    Wow! you are really having an experience. What I want to know is have you had your first swim yet?

    Cousin Lisa