Let’s be honest, a lot can happen within a four-day period. Boatloads. Of. Happiness. Because I still feel exceptionally scatterbrained trying to ween myself back to life at site by listening to LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean” on repeat, can I just sum up a static thought from my vacation? “Borobu-FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD”
I think it’s obvious to the world now that food is very important to me. Food dominated this trip like no other. Hanging out by the pool or around the island in the kitchen took precedent over exploring the variety of bars and restaurants nearby. Sleeping in, lazying around took some serious priority over any kind of rushing that usually happens when visiting historically rich places. It was exactly what we all needed (read more on this from Daniel’s insightful perspective).
It had been entirely too long since I had seriously cooked with friends. We cooked up some beautiful dishes, that may not seem so “oh wow” to you readers back in the States who can freely eat these things whenever you please, but my taste buds were quite pleased after months of monotonous meals composed of nasi, tempe, sayur asam, dadar jagung, and kerupuk. Don’t get me wrong, Indonesian food isn’t bad by any means, but I’ve got a palate that’s tasted too much to be satisfied with just one kind of cuisine. When I returned to school yesterday, all of the teachers asked me “Gi mana Jogja, Bu Elle… sudah pernah ke Borobudur?” and looked exceptionally distraught when I told them I didn’t visit get the chance to visit Prambanan Temple because I was too busy cooking/eating/not-doing-shit but hanging out and liking every moment of it. Even though we did visit Borobudur (which I was a tiny bit disappointed with), it got a bit frustrating knowing that I couldn’t even begin to describe how much fun I had NOT seeking out touristy things and just plain old hanging out and cooking with my friends. And when the teachers asked what we cooked, it wouldn’t have been right to answer makanan Amerika because it was really a fusion of cultures and flavors that I had missed and that the teachers could never imagine, even when I shared photos. Everything we cooked looked so bizarre in their opinion (Indonesians think Americans only eat bread).
Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, immersing yourself into a culture that can be overtly friendly, insistent, and sometimes judgmental on top of living in a rural village with a host family for months forces you to appreciate the really simple things in life that you had never thought twice about, like…4 DAYS WITHOUT RICE OR KERUPUK (for me at least)
4 DAYS OF COOKING…HAVING A FAMILIAR FUNCTIONING KITCHEN… WITH GOOD FRIENDS, TALKING FREELY, HAVING DEEP AND INTENSE CONVERSATIONS, SARCASM, OVERALL BONDING
4 DAYS OF WONDERFUL AROMAS, WHETTING MY APPETITE, SMELLING LIKE HOME, SHOWERS AS HOT AS I DAMN PLEASED, AIR CONDITIONING AS COLD AS I DAMN PLEASED (I know, not very environmental of me)
4 DAYS OF FEELING PURELY LIKE MYSELF, BEING GOOFY, BEING AMERICAN….BEING ELLE
4 DAYS OF BEING IN CONTROL OF EVERY ASPECT OF OUR DAY, EVERYTHING aaaaaandddddd….4 DAYS OF PEACHES, OMGSHOES, SPOTTIOTTIDOPALICIOUS ANGELS SWEETER THAN A PLATE OF YAMS, COOKING TO DAFT PUNK, BEING HOSTS, NEVERHAVEIEVER’S, OVERALL HOME AWAY FROM HOME GOODNESS, INDULGING AT THE SUPERMARKET, EGALITARIANISM, INNOVATION IN THE KITCHEN, FREEDOM TO WEAR WHATEVER (walking around in a long shirt and bathing suit, read: Bliss), SEEING TOO MANY BULES BUT NOT SAYING WORD TO ONE
CAPS LOCK BECAUSE I CAN.
We had become professional grocery shoppers, frequenting certain aisles for the perfect ingredients, diverting our eyes and stomach’s cravings for Oreos which could now be rightfully replaced by beer, and overall not questioning or hesitating against “hefty” purchases like olive oil or imported cheeses, as our receipts were split up egalitarian-style. We’d spent too much time at site feeling guilty about many other things (school, host families, life, community integration) that it was time to just let go for a bit. The least we could do was treat ourselves to some high quality, non-deep fried Indonesian foods. As a result of that, I returned to site “kelihatan lebih kurus”, I told my host family and people at school that I had attributed the weight loss to four days without rice, at which they repeated several times, utterly dumbfounded, progressively emphasizing intonations of different syllables “ngak nasi?….ngAK NA-SI??…NGak NA-SSSSI???!” I calmly assured them “Ya, tanpa nasi… sukah sekali…sudah biasa…” I ate too much dairy and drank quite a few beers to have anything else make sense about my bit of weight loss.
Music. Listening to music with friends while cooking and hanging around, another simple life pleasure that I had missed…along with sitting at a table, with spoons, forks, and knives, all coexisting together on one table. Savoring meals slowly with conversation, something calm and pleasing playing in the background, enhancing the overall ambiance of the meal. I couldn’t stop smiling and feeling giddy at the entire situation. Usually I eat in silence (not by choice) either in front of the TV with my family, outside of my house, alone on the floor, in my room, with my flimsy lone spoon that must adopt the many functions that forks and knives usually serve.
Oh and very rarely was a motorcycle heard from the villa, that place won me over so hard.
Creativity. It was a bit impossible to find any liquor, so we settled on beer… in wine glasses. Despite the abundance of cornfields everywhere, couldn’t find any corn flour, but still managed to make excellent tortillas. Despite forgetting to purchase cheese one night, we still whipped up some delectable creamy pasta. Too many mangoes? Throw ’em in the salsa…duh! What should we do with this extra whipping cream?… MAKE WHIPPING CREAM FOR THE CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA PANCAKES! What should we do with all of our leftover ingredients? THROW THEM IN WITH THE EGGS!… obviously friends don’t let friends eat ciplok when you’re on vacation, that’s just cruel.
Playing Host. Living in Indonesia, it feels like you’re constantly a guest, and a very special one at that. People are always putting forth their best to make sure you’re comfortable and satiated, not that I don’t appreciate how generous Indonesians are, but it’s overwhelming (ayo duduk, ayo makan, ayo minum...ayu tidur di sini) I like being able to pay people back somehow and it’s hard to give back in an equal manner. Luckily, Tim unexpectedly ran into his Bahasa Jawa language teacher on the street whom he hadn’t seen since training in Malang, a teacher from Daniel’s school lived in Jogja, along with two other language teachers from training, who we invited over to share a bit of our culture. It was really special and heartwarming, to see them enjoying homemade pico de gallo and mashed potatoes for the first time, and among many other different experiences superti watching us prepare food together bopping around to our own music, showing that males and females coexist in the kitchen together, overall extending a part our real selves with them, in our home away from home. I wish it could happen more often. I wish I could have automatically transported my host sister and counterparts there, to see my friends and I in our [semi]-natural environment, at least mentally (!)
The next vacation has some high expectations to fulfill — and finding a well equipped kitchen again may be quite challenging next time around…