Monday, September 27, 2010

Tarakan - We are finally here!

As I sit in the guest room in the house of one of our fellow MAF families I am marveling that we only arrived here last Thursday, just 5 days ago-we have done so much that it seems like we have been here for weeks!  When our plane landed at 10:30 am on Thursday we walked down the steps and across the tarmac in the rain-ah, the tropics!  Much of our MAF team came to meet us in the airport terminal, and it was great to see some familiar faces and meet some team members that were away from Tarakan when I was here visiting in November 2008.  The airport terminal here is really funny-a small building with doors propped open wide, security, nope, not so much!  I don't even think they have a working x-ray machine to check bags, although they still make you run your bags through the broken machine just because it's part of the process they were told to follow at some point.  It's such a contrast from American travel that it makes me laugh.

Anyway, I digress (what's new?!), so we left the airport and headed for the house of our teammates Dave and Natalie, who have so kindly hosted us while our house is being finished.  I was itching to get a look at our soon-to-be abode, so after a yummy lunch (Gado-Gado, an Indonesian meal with rice and cooked vegetables, topped with peanut sauce that was so good I could have drank it) we headed down the street and up a hill to our place.  Workers were busy prepping the outside of the house for paint and doing various projects on the inside.  I can't give a great verbal description, but as they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words...

The Front of the House
The Dining Room-Our Bedroom is on the left and two others are straight ahead.  The kitchen is to the right and the living room is around the corner to the left
One of the bedrooms-they all look the same so I just took a picture of one
  The kitchen-No counter top, stove or fridge yet

The bathroom-the shower will have a curtain and the wood beam is just there during construction

Our side yard with the HUGE useless satellite dish-we will be removing it   

The view from our front porch

Our awesome non-working waterfall/fountain that includes 2 delightful stone egrets-what should we call our rocky feathered friends?

Those can be considered the "before" pictures of our place.  Some progress has been made since I took these pictures.  The outside of the house is painted, the kitchen sink and toilet were plumbed in and we borrowed an older kitchen counter from another MAF house that is not being used right now to use until our counter is finished.  The water is still not fully functional though, and there are some problems with the electricity most likely stemming from the fact that our circuit breaker only has 6 amps.  I don't understand the significance of that number, but judging from the fact that other MAF houses have 20 amps, and we aren't able to run one ceiling fan and an air conditioner at the same time without blowing out the power (and that is without any other drain on the system, no other appliances or lights running), the 6 amps seem to be quite a bit less than our electricity needs.  We are waiting for the electric company to come and up our amperage (I think that is a made-up word) and when that and the water issues are settled we hope to move in by midweek.  We actually thought the house might be almost done today, but then there was a random street riot and the deliveries that were supposed to happen and the services that were scheduled were all cancelled.

Yes, you read that right, a random street riot.

Chris came back from buying some furniture in town and said that when he walked into the furniture store the owner told him to come in quickly and bring his motorcycle in with him, and proceeded to close and lock the store door behind him.  The storekeeper explained that there was a conflict going on between the Bugies or Buganese People and the people that are native to Tarakan.  The Buganese people are basically modern-day pirates, and because Tarakan is an island and a place where many things are imported and exported by sea, the Bugies are around here frequently.  Interestingly enough, the phrase "the Boogeyman" actually came from the Bugie people because they were notorious for taking over Dutch ships years ago when the Dutch were in power in Indonesia.  Anyway, so I guess a local Indonesian woman was assaulted by a Bugie person and as a result a fight broke out and a Bugie person was killed.  In retaliation for the murder a house was burned down yesterday, and today an angry mob was "sweeping" the area looking for people who could be involved in the conflict, I suppose to beat them up or something, I don't know.  

And I thought we moved to a quiet little island town.  

According to the other MAF families nothing on this scale has ever happened before, and from what Chris said, since he was practically in the middle of it, he mostly saw a bunch of people lining the streets waiting for something to happen.  He did say he saw people carrying machetes and police with guns, but no real action.  He was able to go home the back way, and when he went out later nothing much was happening, but all the stores were closed and the town had pretty much shut down.  It's usually fairly uneventful here, so I think the locals were kind of soaking up the drama.  I am hoping everything has died down tomorrow and it is business as usual.  It's weird to be living in a place with no local news and an essentially unreadable local paper, so all the goings-on are related by word of mouth or text message.  There's no weather forecast either, but that's no big deal, just plan on it being hot, more humid than you thought possible with rain sometime during the day or night-that pretty much sums it up!

All riots aside, our time has been really good so far.  The ladies of MAF had a women's retreat at a local hotel the day after I arrived, and I was thankful to get to spend time with them and get to know them better.  Different MAF families have been having us over for dinner every night, and everyone is welcoming and helpful-which I appreciate because I have never felt so helpless!  I can't wait to start learning the language because I feel like such a dunce without it.  I know a few basic phrases, but beyond those I am unable to communicate at all.  Unlike many places in the world, people do not know much if any English here, so I can't fall back on my native tongue.  I realize just how ethnocentric I am when I feel shocked that in this little corner of the world so far from America that people wouldn't know enough of my language to help me get by.  People pretty much know the English phrases "Hello mister" and sometimes "How are you?" or if they are really advanced "what is your name?", and they LOVE to yell these phrases whenever they see a westerner.  So when I walk up the hill to our house or down the main road to shop I hear "Hello mister!" repeatedly, often not from people I walk past, but from people driving by on motorcycles and in cars.  They don't quite get that I would be considered a Mrs. or at least a Ms., so they cheerfully yell out to me that special phrase with a huge smile.  It is funny and rather charming at first, but when you are walking alone down the road in the rain (as I was this morning), it can really get a bit annoying.  After awhile I start to try to analyze it "Do they expect me to answer them as they are driving by me?  Are they trying to be friendly or sort of playing a game of 'can I make the weird foreign girl look at me?'  Are they taught in school that Westerners enjoy being yelled at as they go about their daily tasks?  Do they think that's how we communicate in America?"  I have to remind myself being a fish in a bowl is all part of the experience of living here.  I feel like I know what animals at the zoo must feel like all time, or would feel like if they had the capacity to.

There is so much to share about this experience, but hardly the words and the time to write it.  We are so busy trying to buy furniture or have it made and communicate with the workers at our house and getting acclimated (that is going to be a looong process for me) that each day flies by with hardly a moment to soak it all in.  I will keep being faithful to share my experiences with you.  Thanks for tuning in and for your encouraging feedback!  Being a "words of affirmation" gal (See The 5 Love Languages), your comments on the blog and on Facebook mean the world to me.  

Here are a couple of pictures of Tarakan that I took from the window of the hotel we stayed at for the women's retreat.  I can't believe this is home for me now...


  1. I love reading this! You're doing such a good job describing it for all of us here in "Familiar." Keep makes you feel closer!! Love to you and Chris.

  2. Hi Sarah (and Chris:-),

    What an interesting week you have had. It reminds me of some of the city shut downs in Ecuador, but those were more related to the Anti-Iraqi war sentiment, and the volcanoes.
    Do you have volcanoes there?
    Your house looks SOOOO nice, especially the nice, cool tile floors. Who needs beds?

    You are in our prayers here, see you in a year or so!

  3. so i'm now following your blog and its really nice reading what you are doing and how you are coming along. it kinda feels like i'm there with you but not so much huh? :-( Glad you and Chris are okay! prayers are with you! oxox

  4. I think we're a bit least in how much we can write! You'll understand once you get a letter from me. I enjoy reading your blog. It helps me knowing that although we're far apart, we're not so far away. Love you, sis!

  5. wow, sarah! I am learning so much more about you! Believe it or not, we do have some things in common! Anyway, I enjoy reading your posts. You write well. I wish you and Chris as well as the other MAF families the best. You guys will be in my thoughts and prayers.