Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Treats from the Jungle

Being a jungle pilot’s wife has its perks-living in a warm climate year-round (so thankful for that as I hear about Michigan being hit with snow storm after snow storm, not to mention the subzero temperatures), a relaxed daily schedule, new experiences and memories that will last for all time, and…pineapple

Fresh pineapple straight from the jungle-picked the same day we eat it.  I never knew that pineapple could taste this good.  It doesn’t have that sharp, acidic bite that pineapple in the States does, just a perfect, sweet pina colada-like flavor.  Even at the market in Tarakan the pineapple isn’t this good-I have to patiently wait for the people of one of the villages that Chris flies into to bless us with one of these delicious, juicy fruits.

The people of the village also give us big bags of short-grain rice harvested from their rice paddies.  The rice has a slightly nutty flavor, so much better than your plain variety white rice.  Chris and I aren’t huge rice-eaters, which can make things difficult in a country where rice is indeed the staple of the diet, so with 2 bags about the size of the one in this picture we probably have enough rice now to last us for at least 6 months!

One day Chris came home from work and pulled this out of his backpack.  It’s a piece of bamboo (I think) stuffed with packets of rice steamed in banana leaves.  I know it doesn’t look that tasty in the picture, but the rice was very good.  I had a little trouble getting the packets out of the tube though-we have the dents on our countertop to prove it!

Just last week Chris brought home these little, light brown eggs from the village.  The eggs are truly “free range” as they are laid by chickens that wander around the village.  I can’t speak for them being organic however, as the chickens that are free range in Tarakan often eat trash, and I fear the chickens in the village may have a similar diet.  I took a picture of a village egg next to one of the eggs we get at the pasar (market) to show the size difference.

One of the villages Chris flies into is known for keeping honeybees-Chris says the bees fly into his airplane every time he lands there!  He has talked to some of the villagers about buying fresh honey and they said the honey would be ready for him to pick up next time he flew in.  I’m looking forward to honey fresh from the comb. 

It’s neat to see how the people of the villages want to thank the pilots for serving them.  Whenever Chris lands in a village there is usually a crowd of people to meet him, both adults and children, and they often have food gifts for him as well as words of thanks.  It’s hard to know who is blessed more, those that Chris serves with the airplane, or us as we receive the smiles, thanks and gifts of appreciation. 

Health updates before I sign off-Chris’s throat is all better and his cough is decreasing by the day.  My knee is healing very well and it does not appear that any serious damage was done, just a big, ugly bruise.  Thank you for your prayers!  The call to prayer from the Mosques nearby tells me it’s noon-time for lunch and then language study-better go!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Walking Tour

As promised, although a bit delayed, I took a walk around our neighborhood and took some shots.   I started in our yard.  We are fortunate that whoever lived here before us created some landscaping, and although that landscaping does involve chunks of concrete made to look like rocks and wood (a VERY Indonesian-style touch), it is still very nice!  Here is our front yard from the porch.  It’s hard to see in the distance in this picture because of the bright sunshine, but we can actually see the ocean from the corner of our porch. 

 A palm tree and some plants in our yard.

Thought I would include a picture of these nasty red ants.  They crawl all over our porch and fence.  They keep to themselves if we don’t get in their way, but if one happens to get on us, look out!  They bury their heads in the skin, chomp down and don’t let go unless they are forcefully pulled or flicked off.  One time when Chris was dirt biking he ran into one of their nests in a tree and they crawled all over his head and neck biting-so bad!  Luckily their bites don’t itch, they are more like stings and they don't hurt too long after the ants are removed from the skin.

This is our side porch.  As you can see, our little dog Zero posed for this shot.  Our porch wraps around the house and we have a door in the front and on the side.  The tree behind Zero is a mango tree, although it has not produced any fruit yet.

Here is the side yard, the most prominent feature of which is the giant and unused satellite dish.  I am acclimated to it now, but as I took this shot it came home to me what an eyesore it is!  We will get it taken out eventually, one of those projects for later.  On either side of the satellite dish are bushes that bloom with vibrant orange flowers.  Butterflies love them, so I enjoy dousing myself in bug spray (well, I actually really don’t enjoy that part of it) and sitting on the side porch watching the butterflies and the birds. 

Beyond out house is a small jungle area and then the neighbor’s house, as you can see in the first picture below.  There are several fruit trees in the jungle area, including a lime tree that drapes over into our yard.  In the lower picture are some of the delicious limes that I often pluck off and use for cooking.  They smell delicious, but they are VERY sour!

In the back of our house is this space, which we don’t use for anything right now.  At the end of it is a door into our storage area that I always call the jail door for two reasons.  1) It looks like the door to a small-town unsophisticated jail and 2) We can’t actually open it because we don’t have the key to the padlock that closes it.  I think this area at the back of our house has potential, but I’m not sure for what.  I have various ideas, maybe making another room or increasing the size of our guest room or TV room, maybe tiling it and making it a patio with a table and chairs.  My personal favorite is putting up curtains and creating a private sunbathing area!  Although sadly it is so hot here that laying in the sun isn’t too appealing.  We will see what develops out here, but for now, it is just another place for Zero to sleep all sprawled out in the sun.

On the other side of our house in a dense, jungle area that personally I would not tromp through if you paid me.  I look at it and think “huge snakes” and that’s enough to keep me well away.  There is a wall, with barbed wire on the top, separating our driveway and yard from the jungle, which makes me feel a little better. 

The first thing I noticed as I got to the other side of our gate is this scary-looking specimen in a tree.  I wonder if she’s big enough to eat small birds-yikes!  She can stay right up there and away from me thank you very much!

A little farther down our driveway is this pohong kelapa, which means coconut tree.  It has continually produced coconuts since we have moved in (and I’m sure before that time as well), but we have yet to try them, mainly because they are so hard to get open that we don’t bother.  Also, people randomly come up our driveway and take the coconuts-I don’t know if they feel like because the tree is on our driveway and not in our yard that it is fair game, or if they just don’t care.  It doesn’t really bother me, especially since we don’t use the coconuts anyway, but it’s still a little weird.

I felt a little like a snooper taking this shot, since it’s looking down into someone else’s yard, but I wanted to show how because our house is up on a hill our driveway overlooks the houses that line the main road our house is off of.

So, here is the first part of our driveway.  On the left is a solid concrete wall and on the right is a wall that I think is hollow behind.  The white things sticking out of the wall on the right are drain pipes that gush water when it rains. 

Here’s Zero peeking through the fence, trying to figure out what I’m up to!

Around the bend is the rest of the driveway.  At the bottom is a road called Peremnas and across the street is an Anglican church that we have attended a couple of times.

This is the view looking down Peremnas road to the right.

This is a street almost across from our driveway that leads to another neighborhood.

Here are some views down Peremnas road to the left.  It’s hard to tell in these pictures, but there are mountains in the distance.  To the right in the lower picture where you can see a sign with red on it is B21, a restaurant we often eat at before our weekly Bible study on Thursdays.  Just before B21 are two houses where other MAF families live.  Across from B21 is a neighborhood up the hill where 4 more MAF family homes are located.  It’s great to be within walking distance of friends.  This road leads out to the main road that the mall, KFC, grocery stores and other shopping are.  Several other MAF families live off that main road in an area called Penenki, which is farther, but also within walking distance.  There is a family that lives in a neighborhood about 3 minutes away and another that lives out past the airport, which is a 10-15 minute drive.  I didn’t walk too much farther down the road because there aren’t many other interesting things to take pictures of and because it was super hot and I was sweating like crazy!

As I walked I realized why I hardly ever take pleasure walks here, this realization came after I was nearly run over twice by people so interested in yelling out “Hello Bule!" (pronounced boo-lay, it means foreigner) "how are you?” that they nearly ran down this Bule!  Sidewalks aren’t common in Tarakan, so walking can be a bit hazardous and always interesting because of the constant yells and sometimes strange comments.  One of my favorites is when people speed by on their motorcycle and shout out “what is your name?”  I’m wondering what response they are looking for-should I yell “Sarah” after them as they leave me in the dust?  I’m never quite sure what to do with that one.  Then there are the guys that work in the sand pits.  There are usually anywhere between 3 and 10 of them riding in the back of a dump truck and they enjoy yelling out “I love you” and then staring and laughing.  It’s a little like walking by some construction sites in the U.S.-I guess the inappropriate behavior of male laborers in groups transcends culture! 

I snagged a quick picture of these flowers that are all around.  They are called paper flowers (I’m sure they have a more official name than that, but I don’t know it) and I love their vibrant magenta color. 

Walking back up our driveway, you can see the big field to the left, which cows (steers? I’m not sure what to call bovines whose main purpose is not to produce milk) often graze in. 

Here are some pretty palm plants at the top of the first part of our driveway.

Zero coming to meet me as I trudge around the bend of our driveway.  It gets slippery on the concrete because of the water from the drainage pipes, which produces a general coating of slime, so I have to be careful not to fall.

And now I’m back at our house-here’s our little white place. You can see the pile of bricks on the right-we are preparing to have our storage area renovated.  Right now it is a damp, moldy rat haven with a drainage ditch running through it.  We are hoping to make it more like a usable room.  Before and after pictures of that project to come in a later post.

I hope that gives you a feel for the area where we live and some of the trees and flowers and bugs that are around.  I wish I could give each of you a personal tour, because I can’t capture the heat and the smells, both good and bad, and the ever-changing sky-often piled with thunderheads foreboding a midnight thunderstorm.  The sounds are unique too, motorcycles speeding by, bugs humming and buzzing, frogs and toads with their various croakings, and the ever-present calls to prayer from the multiple Mosques.  It couldn’t be more different than the Midwest suburb I grew up in, but it’s feeling more and more like my home!

The latest on life in the last few weeks is Chris had what we think was strep throat all last week, but after getting antibiotics on Friday he is recovering, although he has a lingering cough.  I have avoided strep so far, but I fell today coming off a flight of steps onto the slippery ground and landed hard on my left knee.  My knee is swollen up now and it feels wrong when I walk, like something is twisted inside.  I am praying that the twisted feeling is just swelling and once that goes down it will be fine, because a major knee injury would mean care that isn’t available in Tarakan.  Other than those things, no major news, just life as usual.  We have a prayer letter coming out in the next week or so, so you can be looking for  that in your mailbox, or better yet, you can find it on our Desjardine’s Destinations fan page on Facebook-click here for the link.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!  If you have any questions or requests for future blogs, please let me know-I would be happy to oblige!  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Beach Day

Last weekend a couple of Chris’s dirt biking friends invited us to go out to the beach with them.  We headed out on the Scoopy (my motorcycle) and followed Chris’s friend on the 30-minute drive to the beach.  Now, you are probably picturing an expanse of sand, lifeguard towers and foam-tipped ocean waves.  Well, not exactly…

These are actually pictures from a different day that Chris and I visited the beach.  There are 2 beaches on Tarakan.  This is the old beach and there is a new beach farther down the coast.  Both are muddy and the water is anything but clear.  Ships loading and unloading coal, plus all sorts of other pollution, I’m sure including human waste (delightful), make the water a muddy brown and less than appealing to swim in, at least to me.  The waves are decidedly brown scum-topped as opposed to the picturesque foamy ocean swells.  Last Sunday it was high tide, so the water was up to the retaining wall that you can see in the pictures.  No one was swimming that I saw, but it may have been because of the high tide.  I asked one of my language tutors if people often swim and she said for sure yes, but usually when the tide is lower.  Braver souls that I, that’s for sure.

Our beach experience, which from talking to others was quite typical, was mostly eating and talking in a small warung-a café open to the “beach”, sort of, well, more like the little road that runs along the empty lot that is before the beach, which happens to contain packs of roving stray dogs.  That probably shatters any Tahitian-type illusions of our beach-going experience!  Stray dogs have a way of depleting the romance of any situation.  There was an exciting moment when one of the dog packs chased a cat across the lot and the frazzled feline climbed up on the roof of one of the neighboring warungs to avoid being torn to pieces.  It was a big source of entertainment.  Exciting days at the beach in Tarakan!

The warung we ate at & the table full of fresh clams

Okay, back on track, we gathered with Chris’s friends at the café, and sat on plastic chairs at makeshift wooden tables.  Right away we were given yummy reddish-pink drinks made from coconut water and syrup with big peels of fresh coconut floating in them.  They had a strong taste, but were good and refreshing.  Then came pisang goring-fried bananas and another fried starchy item with peanut sambal (hot sauce) to dip them in and they were so good!  I think fried food is synonymous with the beach across the world, which is sort of funny if you think about it.  You are wearing less clothes than usual in most beach situations, why is it suddenly the perfect time to ingest a pile of greasy food?  Are you attempting to immediately increase your size or is it just a hope that the oil will ooze through your pores and react with the sun creating the perfect sizzling tan?  Food for thought, or better yet, food for a comatose condition, which you will surely achieve after eating delectable fried food and then basking in the sun!  May I add I am speaking from a strictly pro-fried food position-the whole thing just strikes me as kind of funny.  Let me say that they sure know how to fry things up herein Indonesia-lightly battered, golden brown and delicious!  Last, but certainly not least, in the front of the warung was a table piled with fresh clams, still wet from the ocean.  Chris’s friend took a couple of handfuls and sent them back to the kitchen to be steamed.  Soon we were eating fresh clams right out of the shell.  They were slimy, but very tasty.  I had to willfully disregard the fact that the clams had just recently resided in the mucky brown ocean water, and said a quiet prayer that we wouldn’t end up spending some up close and personal time with the commode later (which we didn’t at all, praise the Lord), but then enjoyed those ocean morsels very much!  Chris friend was pleased we liked them and was sure to tell us they were full of cholesterol!  Great, more please!

Our yummy beach food

While we ate we chatted with Chris’s friends, well, he chatted and I listened.  I’m getting to the point where I can understand quite a bit of conversation, especially if I have a context, but when I try to speak it usually comes out all wrong and I forget or mix up words that I know-so frustrating.  I tried to say a couple things, but it didn’t go so well, so I resorted to my usual mode, sitting quietly and smiling a lot.  Hopefully his friends think I’m a bit shy and friendly and not dumb as a rock…hmm…. I’m not going to think about that too much.  It’s funny because I took the usual language in high school-French in my case-and then some American Sign Language classes in college, but I didn’t think I had much of either language left in my brain.  It has taken learning Indonesian to realize that there are plenty of words in both French and ASL that are still kicking around in my brain, because they are the only words I can think of when I’m trying to speak in Indonesian!  The ASL can be helpful at times because it’s often a meaningful-looking gesture, but French is absolutely worthless!  Anyway, I digress (surprise, surprise). 

After about an hour and a half of relaxing in the cool ocean breeze, eating and chatting with friends, we parted ways with handshakes and smiles.  It was a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon-just another Tarakan experience to add to my collection.

Things have been going well here for the past couple of weeks, just working on language and keeping up with the house and cooking and stuff, nothing unusual.  What is great is how much better I have been feeling about being here.  I am cautiously optimistic that I am through the first, and I am told the toughest, wave of culture shock.  My longings for home have been less acute and less frequent, and I’m feeling more comfortable here.  I spend decidedly less time fantasizing about trips to Target and American grocery stores, which I have to admit has taken a concerted effort on my part to NOT indulge (wallow?) in.  I have definitely felt the prayers and encouragement as I go through these different stages of adjusting to life over here, so thanks!  I appreciate all of you so much!  Thanks for reading and experiencing these days along with me!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Happy New Year, Chinese-Style!

This past Thursday marked the New Year on the Chinese calendar, meaning that it is now the year of the Rabbit (I’m not totally sure of the significance of that, but I’m sure it’s important).  There is a large population of Chinese people who live in Tarakan, and as the big day drew near I could tell who was celebrating as people adorned their homes with red Chinese lanterns and large paper pineapples.  On the street our house is off of I noticed many Chinese people sprucing up their houses-painting their fences, putting out pots of flowers-to get ready for the holiday.  As is customary at most major holidays in Indonesia, the main event is really visiting people and having people over to your house to eat, talk and celebrate.  A local restaurant owned by Chinese people that we MAFers frequent invited the MAF team to come and watch a traditional dragon dance and stay for lunch afterwards.  Above is a picture of one of the dragons, which were fun, but a little scary for some of the kids.  The dragons get really close to the crowd, wink their eyes, wiggle their ears and open and shut their big mouths!  One person is the front legs of the dragon and controls the head, and another is the back legs.  They did a great job dancing to loud drumbeats and were rewarded by envelopes of money, which they gobbled up with their giant jaws. 

Here He Comes!

Who's Touching My Tail?

Face Off!

Look at Those Colors!

The Musicians  
It was a festive atmosphere and everyone was having fun, especially the brave kids who would run up behind the dragon and pull his tail, then run away before the dragon came after them!  Lunch after was one of my favorite Indonesian meals, Soto Ayam, which is a chicken soup with thin noodles, rice, eggs, and crunchy fried onions.  It is usually flavored with either lemongrass or ginger.  It was delicious!

When Chris came home from work he got a call from one of his Chinese friends inviting us over to celebrate.  We had fun meeting Chris’s friend’s family, including his elderly mother and father who kept telling me to eat more and more!  We also had Soto there, but I didn’t mind a bit because it was even yummier than at the restaurant earlier that day.  As we left, our friend’s mother got me a baggie to fill with cashews that were glazed with something like sweet soy sauce-I didn’t argue because they were so good!  And really, you don't argue with a sweet, insistent senior mama, do you?  Of course you don't!  It was really neat to learn about the some of the New Years customs and traditions of the Chinese culture, and we are blessed to enjoy the hospitality of Chinese friends.

Besides the festivities on Thursday it has been another quiet week.  More posts to come soon about our day at the beach last weekend and about some of the treats Chris is able to bring home from flying to the jungle villages.  Oh yeah, and that walking tour post I promised too…I better get busy writing!  For now, Happy New Year-Chinese New Year that is!