Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Little Blessings

Just had to give a quick shout out to God for the little blessings He gives just at the perfect time.

I headed out to the grocery stores today feeling pretty deflated-not excited about enduring another shopping trip full of stares, people yelling out to me, confusion about money (on my part, I can't seem to get that everything is in quantities of thousands, it gets frustrating), and looking for items that are usually not to be found.  I am planning to make a roast chicken dinner on Christmas day with mashed potatoes and stuffing.  I need celery for the stuffing, but that is an item that is hardly ever available.  I wrote it on my list with little hope of locating it...but as I walked to the back of the fruit and vegetable store, low and behold, there it was, lovely fresh celery!  A smile spread across my face as I gladly picked the bundle of celery stalks up and put it in my basket.  I couldn't help reflecting that my life sure has changed from this time last year, when I am filled with joy at finding celery at the grocery store!

I moved on to the next store looking for a difficult-to-find gem, American barbecue sauce.  I've looked for this item for weeks without any luck, but there it was, sitting on the shelf smiling at me!  Hooray!  I got one of the last bottles available.

Lastly, and most unexpected, they were selling bags of tiny clementine oranges at the fruit market.  Every year that I can remember my mom would buy clementines at Christmas and put one in the toe of my stocking and my brother's stocking.  I never thought I would find clementines here in Tarakan-I wasn't even going to bother to look.  As I stood in the hot, dusty market I held the mesh bag of clementines up to my face and I could smell the fresh, citrus scent.  I knew this was a special gift for me, a gift of familiarity, of home.

I headed home from shopping, certainly not all better or totally happy (I almost got hit by a huge sand truck, which didn't improve my attitude about living here-although I guess I can count it a BIG blessing that I wasn't hit!), but knowing that in the midst of the frustrations and exhaustion of life so far from home, the Lord gives me small blessings to help me through.

Keep your eyes open for all the little blessings-they are surely there in the midst of whatever circumstances you are facing.

My Darling Clementines

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

Everywhere you go (well, not really, but there are little signs here and there)

There’s a tree in the grand hotel...

The nicest hotel in Tarakan, the Swiss-Bel Hotel, has this lovely, tall and very cone-shaped Christmas tree in their lobby.  It’s made out of some sort of wire with garland wrapped around it.

One in the park as well…

Okay, not exactly the park, but at a Tarakan hot spot, KFC!  This unique pohong Natal (Indonesian for Christmas Tree) is made of drinking straws with delightful paper ornaments.  I certainly wouldn’t characterize it as “The sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow”, but it seems to hold up fairly well in the wilds of KFC.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Another interesting tree-I think it’s made of sticks glued together.  Of course it has the required shiny tinsel and flashing Christmas lights, although I don’t think the lights were turned on yet when I took this picture.

Soon the bells will start...

Well, we don’t hear too many bells here, but lots of calls to prayer over the loud speakers from the Mosques in town, not that their daily prayers have anything to do with Christmas.  We also hear lots of karaoke, belted out loud and proud, from the nearby restaurant bar-but that doesn’t really have to do with Christmas either-mostly it has to do with monster ballads from the 80s and early 90s.

But the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart!

This part of the song is surely true here in the tropics where it truly doesn’t look or feel like Christmas at all.  This morning as we sang Christmas carols at the home church we attend with some of our MAF colleagues, my heart felt full of Christmas.  It’s been hard being away from family and friends and home and yes, the wonderfully commercial American Christmas!!!  I unabashedly love every TV Christmas special, fake holiday wreath, cheesy Christmas song, and the unending ads and commercials urging us to shop, shop, shop.  Mall Santa Claus, Christmas lights on the houses, those crazy inflatable snow globes on people’s lawns, even the crowds of people shopping…I eat it all up joyfully!  In the absence of all that glorious fabricated Christmas I have been trying to capture and linger in the special moments, because even during this difficult first Christmas away from home, there are still moments that make me feel Christmas.  Like singing carols at church this morning, and watching the MAF kids put on a great Christmas program that included a Nativity reenactment just as you would picture (wildly jumping, giggling, goofing around shepherds, a dressed up angel fluttering her wings, a shy Mary with her head covering askew, a sheepish Joseph, a doll standing in for Baby Jesus, adorable sheep, even a camel complete with a hump back), watching “Little Women” with the MAF moms and daughters after drinking tea and eating goodies, and enjoying the lights on our Christmas trees, especially when it is raining and dreary outside so it almost feels like more appropriate December weather.  There have been some great moments, and I pray there will be many more to come during this week leading up to Christmas.  God gives me clearer vision to see all His blessings as I learn to celebrate His Son’s birth in a place so unfamiliar, yet probably much more like Bethlehem than Midwestern American suburbia.

Okay, that was the sentimental portion of the post, here’s the factual lowdown-I like to try to satisfy those who want to know what I’m feeling and thinking and those that mostly just want to know what I (and Chris) are doing.  We have a busy week ahead of us after a busy weekend!  Friday night was the kids’ Christmas program, as I mentioned before.  Saturday we had our MAF Christmas Party with the American and Indonesian staff-it was a really special time, which included a white elephant gift exchange.  I brought a ladies manicure set to add to the mix, and I walked away with these gems…

A Christmas hand fan and a clock in the shape of a person will ensure that I am both on time and not too hot on Christmas day!

Tomorrow the other MAF ladies, their kids and I bring toys and food to the kids in the hospital in Tarakan.  Unlike hospitals in America, the hospital in Tarakan does not provide food or clothing (hospital gowns), so the family of the sick person is expected to feed and clothe their ill loved one.  Tuesday we head to the post office to bring cookies and sing carols to the workers and customs officers that have so quickly and diligently gotten our many Christmas packages to us in good condition.  Wednesday Christmas shopping, Thursday joining a Christmas open house that other MAF families are having for Indonesian friends, neighbors and coworkers, and Friday Christmas Eve dinner with some other friends!  Oh, and I have my usual language tutoring too.  I think I am busier here at Christmas than I was in the States!  It’s a blessing to be able to share the season with so many new friends.  Chris is working Monday-Thursday, but has Friday and the weekend off-yay!  We are planning to celebrate Christmas just the two of us on Christmas morning, talk with family on Skype in the afternoon, and have dinner with some friends in the evening.  Hopefully it’s a really nice day-as good as it could be considering the circumstances.

Enjoy this last crazy week before Christmas!  Soak in some commercialized Christmas for me…and take time to read that familiar Christmas story in all the Gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, (John is sort of a different take, but you know, same theme), and remember, Jesus was sent as a baby for you-what an amazing blessing!!!

Consider this your Christmas card from me…the Tarakan version of the mall Santa Claus-playing the sax and shaking his hips of course!!!

Selamat Hari Natal!!!  Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving, Faulty Christmas Lights, and Bad Belly...Highlights from the Last Week or So

Hello all!  I can’t believe Thanksgiving already came and went and now on to all the hustle and bustle that is Christmas.  Well, maybe for all of you in America, here in Tarakan it’s business as usual with only a few stores with Christmas decorations for sale, and what stimulating decorations!  They are all about the glitz and glam here; tinsel, ornaments saturated with glitter, and many bright flashing lights are a must. I went into a store selling Christmas decorations and nearly had a seizure because of the riot of blinking tree lights.  Not quite the understated white lights and cranberry garlands of so many stores in the U.S., but very fun for sure!  But I am getting ahead of myself, first, Thanksgiving.

I woke up a little blue and missing my family on Thanksgiving, but I soon felt better once I began cooking.  I started on the sweet potato casserole, the more involved of the two dishes I was in charge of preparing.  After finding out that there are in fact sweet potatoes available here, I decided to make one casserole with pumpkin and one with the obi (oh-be), which is what the sweet potatoes are called here, just to see which would taste better.  I quickly discovered that obi are quite different from the sweet potatoes I have used in the U.S.  In the first place, they are much more tough and dry.  In the second place they are a vibrant shade of purple…yes, purple!  I tried to take a picture of one, but it doesn’t quite capture the purple hue.

Half the obi were orange and half were purple, so unfortunately the casserole came out a disconcerting shade of gray.  Luckily the sweet topping covered it up nicely (I had to use cashews instead of pecans for the topping because there aren’t pecans here), and based on what everyone said, it was quite good.  Oh, and for all you taste-test enthusiasts out there, the pumpkin and sweet potato casseroles tasted nearly the same with only subtle differences in texture, so one can definitely be substituted for another.

I also made a spinach, pear and parmesan salad that was well received, so it was a good Thanksgiving, cooking-wise, although our oven still wasn’t working, so I had to walk my casseroles one at a time down our slippery driveway (it had rained quite a bit throughout the day) and down the road to a friend’s house to bake them.  It gave the Indonesian people driving by on their motorcycles something to laugh about.  Sometimes I really feel that one of the major things I accomplish in my life here is amusing the local folks, ah well, at least I’m bringing joy to their lives through my misadventures! 

The Thanksgiving spread was phenomenal!  I have never been to such a huge Thanksgiving feast.  The MAF family in Tarakan had a great time celebrating together.  I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy eating, but here is one that Chris' MAF colleague Dave Forney took of the food-laden table.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I started to put out Christmas decorations.  I tried putting on Christmas music to get in the mood, but I found that it just doesn’t feel “Christmasy” here during the day.  Sweating as I arranged mini snow globes with “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” in the background just wasn’t working for me.  So, I ended up putting decorations up in the evening, when I could at least pretend it is like the Christmas feeling that I am used to!  Oh, yeah, the Christmas lights, that was our latest quest.  So I brought a bagful of Christmas lights with us, which would have been great except that they are 110 voltage/amperage/whatever so they are basically worthless in Indonesia.  I’m not sure what I was thinking even bringing them here, except that I guess I thought we would just get converter boxes for all of them.  That was before I knew converter boxes are like $40-$50 each.  Yeah, not happening.  We went out in search of Christmas lights and ended up at the little store I mentioned before, you know, the one with the seizure-inducing lights.  I just wanted basic white lights.

Not an easy thing to locate, apparently.

There was blinking Christmas bulbs with strange-looking Santas painted on them (that cost $30 might I add), fluorescent flashing lights, even mushroom-shaped lights, because nothing says “Merry Christmas” like flashing mushrooms, but no regular, plain white lights!  Finally we settled on lights with covers that looked like colored pieces of candy and managed to find two sets of tiny bright, clear lights.  We got them home and I started to put them on the little trees.  I brought two mini Christmas trees with us because my big tree was too large to bring all the way over here.  The sets of clear lights worked, but the candy lights were stuck in flashing mode.  Chris worked on them and eventually soldered some wires together, which got them to light without flashing, but also made them smell like they were about to burst into flames, so we had to get rid of them. 

Back to the Christmas-light store.

No more candy lights, so this time I bought lights with iridescent apple-shaped covers.  We got them home, plugged them in, and immediately one of the wires pulled out and they were dead.  Sometimes the quality of the products, or lack-thereof can be a real frustration here.  I was less than pleased-all I wanted was some Christmas lights, good grief!

The next day while I was grocery shopping I randomly found a set of regular-looking colored lights hidden in the back of the store by the pet supplies (what?!) and quickly bought them.  They are now lighting the little Christmas tree in our TV room faithfully.  A happy ending to our Christmas light search, that is, if they continue to work!

The Christmas Light Graveyard

One of Our Little Trees-with working colored lights!

Another happy ending to report, on the saga of the oven…it finally works-praise the Lord!!!  As of Monday of last week the parts came in the mail, Chris installed them, and we have a fully functioning, excellent oven.  It is so great to be able to bake things-fresh bread, cookies, granola, muffins-hooray!

Also, the furniture we ordered about six weeks ago came last week too…here are some pictures of our bookcase and side table.

Our Side Table with the other little tree 
I would also include a picture of our bedside tables, but that leads me to the not-so-happy news that Chris came down with some sort of stomach bug on Saturday afternoon and is still feeling pretty bad (it’s now Sunday night).  He is actually in bed, hopefully sleeping, so I won’t disturb him to take pictures.  He is having a hard time keeping liquids in him and I am worried about him staying hydrated.  He is very tired and weak, so I am watching him to make sure he doesn’t need more intense re-hydration (an IV perhaps).  Please pray that he gets better quickly and that I can avoid getting sick too!   

I am still working on learning the language, word by word.  I have another tutor that I started working with last week and a couple of college-age Indonesian girls that are in school learning to become English teachers that I will meet with weekly to chat in Indonesian and English.  With all that I am now working on language with someone Monday through Friday, which is great, but makes my brain tired!  I hope to continue to see improvement as I work hard.  I am actually going to meet the Indonesian girls on their campus at the University of Borneo on Wednesday and go to class with them.  I have a feeling I am going to be like their show and tell item…their new American friend.  It should be interesting-more adventures to tell you about on this little blog!

I will go look in on poor Chris and see if he is awake and needs anything.  I feel like such a mom lecturing him about drinking liquids and monitoring his bathroom visits-gross.  On that lovely note, have a good day!  Enjoy Christmas decorating and shopping-when you see the hundreds of Christmas lights for sale everywhere from Walgreens to English Gardens remember what a blessing it is to have such quality products in such a large quantity right at your fingertips!