Raise a child. Flip a bedroom.
Who knew that rearranging one’s room would become the perfect opportunity to bond with one’s host family? To bond with community members? That flipping a room would become a collective community effort?
Me. Where else can you go and knock on your neighbor’s door or even your neighbor’s visiting guest’s driver without any prior notice and ask them to help you move this weird foreigner’s dresser and bed? Only in Indonesia [or other PCV rural village]. In areas where Indonesia may lack, they certainly make up for it with their level of enthusiastic collective community endeavors. Building a new house for your extended family members on a small labor budget? Don’t worry, provide some fried noms, kopi (coffee) and some smokes, and you’ve got a group of hardworking men ready to help. Short a set of hands in the rice fields? ‘No worries, I didn’t have any plans anyways’. Need me to front you some money? ‘It’s cool, get it back to me kapan-kapan (whenever’). Need help de-kernelling a mountain (literally) of dried corn? ‘Did somebody say jagung (corn)? I’m there!’ Water in your house stop running and your baby needs a bath? ‘Go ahead, my bathroom is your bathroom! Monggo-monggo (please, please)!’ Need a car to go run errands in the city? ‘No insurance? No license? No problem, just hati-hati, iya (be careful, kay)?’ It’s this sense of solidarity and pride in helping one’s community and fellow neighbor without expecting anything in return, treating everyone as if they’re your brother, your sister, but really like your keluarga (family), that makes living in a village so intimate at times (but can also feel overbearing and stifling). The structure of family and community is so strong that your home doesn’t need an exact address. Your home is identified, defined even, by your village or sub-villages’ name, that’s enough to find someone. People in the village don’t have their faces buried in technological devices with the latest apps that organize one’s day up to the second. You show, you show, you don’t, you don’t. It’s simple. And on the flip side, the American that I am feels somewhat challenged at times because it seems like there’s nowhere to draw the line with privacy, personal boundaries, and what irks the activist in me the most (especially in the academic environment), personal responsibility. Because of this structure, it’s almost like people have this sense of entitlement to everything. They can just waltz into their neighbor’s home, unexpectedly, and stay for an indefinite amount of time. Interruptions are merely an abstract concept. For example, the other night, I was sitting with my family in our living room, an unfamiliar woman (turns out she’s a neighbor) casually strolls in and sits next to me, starts chatting it up with my family, barely acknowledges my presence, no ‘hello’. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, she glances over at me, points to my stomach and calls me fat…conscience, GO:
My American reaction: WTH $%^$#$^ WHO IS THIS WOMAN? WHERE IS SHE COMING FROM WITH THIS INSULT AND WHO IS SHE TO CALL ME FAT?! ON TOP OF THAT SHE HASN’T EVEN SAID HELLO TO ME?!
My Indonesian reaction: she has good intentions, you may not know her but she has good intentions, calm down, by fat, she means beautiful, healthy, and well-adjusted.
All in good humor, I facetiously tell her she’s fat as well (which she isn’t, just like I’m not), to which she giggles and continues her conversation with my family. Sometimes it boggles my mind how Indonesian’s really do abide by the open-door policy. Then again, they welcomed me into their home, so who’s to say I don’t benefit by this sense of ‘humble hospitality-for-all’ attitude? This, people is what cross cultural integration looks like. Sometimes it’s fun and rewarding, sometimes it’s well… awkward and uncomfortable.
A couple of weeks ago, the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) and the Regional MO came to visit my site. It was a little embarrassing to show them my room. Aside from the piles of clothes that had accumulated over the week, the vinyl plastic ‘carpet’ covering the bare concrete floors of my room had taken a hit the past few months thanks to boisterous mice. It was quite ugly. I also have a serious mold problem in my room, I know this, my family was aware of it, but having both PCMO’s visit and vocalize it to my host mother, legitimized the issue. So, this past Saturday we the community flipped my room. When I say the community, I mean my entire host family, some neighbors with muscle, a neighbor’s visiting guests’ driver, and a few children who served as cute bystanders.
Sidenote: I hate the term ‘pack rat’, I’m not a rat or a hoarder, but I do have a problem with throwing things away. I keep most little scribbling’s, receipts and ticket stubs in the hopes that I will one day preserve them in a photo album like my mom did with her travel mementos before I was born. Just like cleaning my room back home, cleaning my room here was just as painful, embarrassing, albeit therapeutic. Especially when when all of my stuff is out there in the open for everyone to see. I ask myself HOW THE HELL HAVE I ACCUMULATED SO MUCH STUFF?! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WHEN I MOVE BACK TO THE STATES?! I NEED TO CONSOLIDATE! BUT HOW!
Joining the group of bystanders outside of my bedroom Offering moral and mental support, I watched as men with muscle took my bed apart. Upon lifting the mattress from the frame, it seems that we had disturbed and startled a rat whom unbeknownst to me had been cohabitating there for quite some time. As I replay the entire episode in my mind, I smile and laugh… at the way my host sisters and I all screamed, at the way the rat swerved in confusion and sprinted away, nearly stumbling over my older host sister, mbak Nur’s, left foot, and at the way we all collapsed onto my mattress (in the hallway) with intense laughter the following ten minutes, and sporadically throughout the day as we recounted the “tekus (rat) episode”.
I know I like to believe I’m capable of anything but I couldn’t have flipped my room by myself. The fact that everyone, especially my host brother-in-law who barely speaks a word to me, was willing to take a couple of hours out of their day to help me flip my entire bedroom, was more appreciated than I’ll ever be able to convey with words of gratitude in Javanese or Indonesian. These moments of togetherness, of sweat, of intense laugher, and of cleaning heaps of collected dust and superfluous amounts of cicak poop, were the highlights of my Saturday.