Rumah Indonesia saya, my Indonesian home
Rumah Indonesia saya means 'my Indonesian home.'
The family I have been living with for pre-service training (PST) has been spectacular. I have been very lucky in that my family and I have gotten along with no problems. Of course, this might be because Indonesians are very hospitable and accommodating, but I’d like to think it’s because we’re just a perfect match for each other. I’ve never been made to feel, or treated, like I was anywhere other than home. That’s not to say my time with my homestay family has always been smooth sailing. All the hospitality and accommodation in the world doesn’t actually make a place home. It takes a little bit more than being comfortable to feel at home somewhere.
My bapak is very stoic, as is the norm for Indonesian men. At first I thought his silence was due in part to my inability to converse beyond very basic topics, but no, he’s just stoic. Nevertheless, he finds ways to show he cares.
When I return home from training each day, I write about what I’ve learned and what has happened. Typically, shortly after I start writing, bapak will bring me coffee and a plate of fried bananas. I have never asked for coffee or bananas, but he continues to bring them to me anyway. The coffee is good, but the fried bananas are amazing. The first day he did this, I did not understand the coffee was for me so I did not drink it until a series of charades and gestures made it clear I was supposed to drink the coffee.
My ibu, despite our inability to understand each other beyond a few words, also finds little ways to show she cares about my comfort while staying in her home. When I write, I generally don’t turn on the overhead lights because the room I write in is usually bright enough. However, when ibu sees me writing in “the dark” she always turns on all the lights for me. Similarly, during one of my first dinners I was served a food called bakwan. I said bakwan was enak, or 'delicious,' and for the next week I was given a side of bakwan with every meal — breakfast, lunch and dinner — until I had to gently explain that a little more variety might be nice.
All these little things really helped make my first few weeks comfortable. But it wasn’t until the end of my first month that I realized home wasn’t only on the other side of the earth anymore.
Finding time to do laundry during PST can be hard. The only day we sometimes have completely free is Sunday. I am lucky enough to have had access to a washing machine at my homestay. So washing isn’t too challenging, but we still have to hang our clothes out to dry and iron anything we would wear to school.
My fourth Sunday at my homestay was particularly hot. Hot enough that all the desa children were napping instead of running around, flying kites and riding bikes. I spent my morning reading and lounging in various parts of the house when I knew I should have been ironing and folding my laundry. After lunch I took my mandi siang — 'noon shower' — and, feeling refreshed and invigorated, decided to finally start working on bringing in my laundry.
Unfortunately for me, the clothesline, as well as the area where we iron our clothes, is on the western side of the house. The equatorial sun seemed to have some vengeance it wanted to exact upon me. I was sweating so much it seemed as if I had just walked out of the mandi. Even though everyone else at this point in the day was immobile, I continued to take my clothes off the line to iron. It became a Sisyphean task as the sweat dripping off of my face made my clothes nearly as wet as when I placed them outside to dry earlier.
I had barely started on my third shirt when I noticed my bapak get out a ladder and lean it up against the roof. I continued ironing as Bapak started hammering on something behind me.
Suddenly, I noticed I'd become much cooler, as if a cloud had come between me and the sun. But there were no clouds on this torrid day. I turned around and realized my bapak had put up an old banner to keep the sun off of me as I ironed. I was deliriously happy. Bapak offered a faint smile and nod to acknowledge my gratitude, and continued on his way.
I didn’t ask for the banner, and thus shade, and I definitely didn’t deserve to have it put up either; after all, I should’ve ironed earlier in the day. I’m sure my bapak had to have thought something along the lines of, “Why is this American trying to iron his clothes at the hottest time of the day when the sun is shining directly on him?” But he also acknowledged my self-imposed suffering and did what he could to lessen it.
It was after this day Indonesia felt like home to me. What my bapak did reminds me so much of something my own father back in America would have done for me: observe me doing some task like an idiot, but decide to help me anyway. It’s this kindness and thoughtfulness that makes Indonesia more than just some place on the map I’ll live for a couple of years.