Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Something about Banana Bread and Sin

Several weeks ago I was sitting in the house of a family I had only just met a minute before.  They are friends of Chris’s, although at the time he was having a hard time remembering them.  It was Idul Fitri (also spelled Eid-al-Fitr), one of the biggest celebrations of the year for those of the Islamic faith. This two-day holiday marks the end Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslim people.  Visiting Muslim friends and neighbors was on the agenda for the rainy holiday, and the three houses Chris and I were planning to visit with his friend had already turned into five.  Food appeared yet again at this home and we were urged to eat.  Luckily, it’s okay to just eat a little bit at each house, so I was trying to take a very small portion of everything in the interest of conserving my belly space.

As we ate I assured the lady of the house, Chris’ friend’s wife, robed in her new traditional Muslim clothes and head covering donned specifically for the occasion, that the food was delicious as I tried to eat quite possibly the most spicy meal I have ever ingested in my life and thinking to myself “Oh, I will pay dearly for this later.”

I was trying to follow the conversation that was being delivered way too quickly for my beginning Indonesian and missing almost everything.  The wife of Chris’s friend offered me something that looked like moist bread or cake-a reprieve for my burning mouth, hallelujah!  It turned out to be banana bread, and as I commented on how tasty it was, the lady of the house began to talk about the bread…and then I realized that somehow she had started talking about sin.  Something about how the bread cleanses the sin inside or that the bread is made in celebration of forgiveness of sin or maybe she wasn’t saying anything like that at all.

I was thinking “I am in way over my head here!”  Then the woman was just looking at me and I realized that she had probably asked me a question or was looking for a response to the whole banana bread sin thing.  In my idiocy I tried to smile and nod encouragingly, obviously blowing my (very thin) cover of understanding, and the woman then knew I had no earthly idea what she was talking about, sadly.

Ah, humility…I used to consider myself a pretty good communicator, a good reader of body language, a careful listener…yeah, that’s pretty much out the window now.  Even after almost a year of language study, it’s still a struggle to figure out what is going on!  Thank goodness when I talk to the other Westerners here they say it’s still difficult for them, even after years of communicating.  That makes me feel better.  A little.

After we finished visiting at that house we went to three more places, ate more food, and my brain kept running like a hamster on it’s wheel trying to keep up with the discourse.  At the end of the day we returned home stuffed with food, (thankfully nothing made us sick, which was a miracle), and tired out.  It was interesting to see all the different houses and eat the good, but spicy, food, and drink the strange, but weirdly satisfying yogurt-ish drink with chunks of jelly and fruit floating in it that was served at most homes.  Many of the people we visited assured us they were looking forward to visiting our house for Christmas *gulp* that will be interesting! 

We were so busy trying to eat and be sociable that we only took one picture of joining in the celebration of Idul Fitri with our friends. 

Chris took this picture at the first place we visited, the home of the man who delivers our bottles of drinking water.  I think we had the best food at his house, and he was the one who prepared it, so he was proud to show off his cooking skills.  The tupperware containers on the floor were full of little cookies and crunchy chip-type appetizers, and they invited us to try something from each one!

Although it doesn’t seem quite advisable after the story I just shared about my language skills (or lack there of), but today was my last day of official language study.  My tutors and I have worked though all the books from language school, so I am a free woman-free from school anyway! I’m sure that the language learning has just begun and will continue as I talk to more people and hopefully build some meaningful relationships.  We will see what the future holds.  The sweet MAF ladies here got together and surprised me with a “Congratulations you’re done with language!” party after my last session today-it was so thoughtful!

And now I will celebrate all by myself by taking a nap in the afternoon-yay!!!  Signing off for now!

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Year Ago

One year ago I had tears in my eyes, okay, pretty much running down my face, as I said “good-bye” to family and friends and the U.S. knowing I wouldn’t be back for almost 4 years…

Now I still cry sometimes because I miss friends and family and home and Target (yes, I really have cried over Target…we have a very strong bond Target and I), but by trying to daily choose to see the good and with lots of help from God I am learning little by little how to be content here in this new life.  Luckily I have an excellent Indonesian “family” of MAF friends to give me some of the love and support I miss from home.

One year ago I smelled that spicy, smoky Asia smell as we got off the airplane in Jakarta…

I don’t much notice that smell anymore, although the smell of the trash bins (so disgusting) and the neighbors cooking (yummy garlic and shallots sautéed in oil) always get my attention.  Also, burning plastic is an all-to-familiar scent that often wafts through our living room.

One year ago I had butterflies in my stomach thinking about what our little house would be like and how we would manage without our crate of belongings from the States…

Now I love our friendly house and feel at home here.  It’s been a long road to get to that point through an unwanted guest in our toilet, sewage woes, and the renovation of the rat dungeon AKA our storage area/garage, but now I feel really good about our house.  Although we did have a snake in our storage area last week…but it wasn’t big or poisonous, and it was actually dead since it very intelligently slithered into the fan on the floor and got chopped almost in half, so I’m choosing not to be scared!  And yes, we made it just fine through not having our crate  from the States for a month or so when we got here.  Now that I've mostly run out of the supplies of special American food I packed (just finished my last jar of Jif peanut butter, sniff, sniff) I have learned how to work with the food we have here.  My cooking skills have improved and my ingenuity has increased-necessity is indeed the mother of invention!  Anyway, I digress...yes, our house is a home now...I even put up fall decorations today, although I’m not holding my breath on the arrival of any crisp fall weather!

One year ago I knew how to greet people in Indonesian and introduce myself, but that was about it…

Now I am almost done with formal language study and can carry on a conversation reasonably well as long as the other person talks fairly slowly and doesn’t mind repeating herself pretty often.  I can read basic articles in Indonesian and write basic notes…I still struggle to decipher the shorthand in text messages from Indonesians though-I don’t know if I’ll ever get that down!

One year ago I had hardly ever ridden a motorcycle by myself…

Now I ride my Scoopy motor scooter all over town to get things done and visit people and I love it!  Motorcycles are so much more fun than cars, and I never get motion sickness on them, it’s great!  When we are ready to leave Indonesia one of the things I will miss most is riding my little scooter.

One year ago I would never have had conversations with others about the functions or malfunctions of my or their or their kids’ digestive tracts…

Yeah, I pretty much discourse on this topic on at least a weekly basis with someone.  Oh the joys of life in the third world!

One year ago I thought I would never get used to not drinking water out of the tap…

Now I don’t even think about it.  I think it will be really hard to be comfortable drinking water from the tap again when we are back in the States since I’ve conditioned myself not to.

One year ago I was horrified by the little black ants that are absolutely everywhere whenever I start cooking and constantly stopped my food prep to kill them…

Now I ignore them, mostly flicking them off whatever I need to cook…there are much more scary bugs to worry about, like huge spiders or creepy millipedes or big red fire ants…I just can’t worry about those little ants anymore!

One year ago I despised being hot and sweaty within 1 hour of waking up and feeling gross and sticky all the time…

Yup, I still don’t like that-some days I want to do my hair and make-up and have it actually stay pretty for more than 5 minutes.  I just want to feel cute every once in while gosh darn it!  And the constant sweat that forms on my upper lip, is that really necessary?  It’s like I’ve run a marathon, but really all I did was cook dinner.  I’m trying to embrace the benefits of humidity on my skin…maybe less wrinkles later because of the constant hydration?  Let’s hope so!

One year ago I wasn’t sure if I would make it through my first year in Indonesia…

And I have, and it was hard, but I did it with lots of help from God and those that love me both here and in America.  I am excited (and a little scared, but I’m going to try to focus on the excitement) about what the next year will bring.  It’s sure to continue to be a journey that provides lots of stories to tell!

My Fall Table

More Autumn Decor ( I get excited about decorating for seasons even though we don't have them here!)

Me after 1 year in Indonesia-shiny skin and all...living here has reinforced the importance of being real with people, so this is the real, everyday me in Indonesia

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Yes, yes, I know it was actually over a month ago, but let’s talk about Bali.

Where to start…

Well, at the beginning of the trip I suppose!

It’s hot and stuffy, the line of people is inching along, the guy behind me insists on not only standing with his bag pressed against my back, but also continually coughing into my hair.  The clock reads 5:45am, and there’s a pile of roosters in vented cardboard boxes on my left, crowing in confusion.

The boxes with holes in them had roosters inside, the rest were luggage for a large family
Welcome to the Tarakan airport terminal!

Air travel is always an adventure in Indonesia for various reasons.  Cardboard boxes are often used in place of suitcases, making check-in quite interesting at times.  The lack of respect for the Western idea of waiting in an organized line continually reminds me that I’m in a truly different culture and that patience is a virtue that I must continue to strive for!  And the bathrooms in the airport terminals…let’s just say the cleanest bathroom you are going to find during your air travel experience is on the airplane.  It’s not all bad though-the flights are usually short, which I love, and it’s fun to look down and see the terrain and the many different islands below. 

As the crow flies, it would take about 2 hours to get to Bali from Tarakan, but unfortunately there aren’t direct flights, so we took off early on Saturday morning and flew from Tarakan to a city in the interior of Borneo called Balikpapan (where we had our team conference earlier this year), a 50 minute flight, from Balikpapan to Surabaya, a city on the island of Java, an hour flight, and boarded a smaller plane to fly from Surabaya to Bali, another hour flight.  As we traveled closer to Bali, my happiness increased with the sight of some familiar friends…

Oh Peanut M&Ms, how I love you!

Delicious Starbucks!

Chris relaxing at the Dunkin' Donuts in the Balikpapan Terminal

We arrived in Bali around 1:00pm, and it was beautiful, sunny and breezy.  Right away I noticed it wasn’t as humid as Tarakan, the wind from the ocean made the temperature perfect.

I think Chris was as excited about this plane as he was that we had arrived in Bali!

We got some lunch at the airport and Chris found a cab to drive us the hour to our hotel in Ubud, which is in the interior of Bali.  If you have read the book or watched the movie “Eat, Pray, Love”, Ubud is the area Elizabeth Gilbert stayed in while she was in Bali.  Our hotel was small and friendly with beautiful landscaping and a pretty pool.

Chris chilling on the bed in our room in Ubud

Walking out the doorway of our room in Ubud.  In Tarakan, because of the religious climate, I can't wear shorts or anything sleeveless, but in Bali I don't have to adhere to that-I don't think I wore something with sleeves the whole time we were there!
Bali is one of the few islands in Indonesia where Islam is not the dominant religion.  On Bali, the majority of Indonesians are Hindu, so there were Hindu gods and temples all over the place, and several times a day gifts for the gods were placed on the sidewalk in front of stores and homes.  The gifts usually included incense, flowers, small bits of fruit, rice, and crackers.  We arrived on the last day of the holy Hindu holiday called Kuningan-so many of the Balinese people were dressed in traditional attire-sarongs for men and women and kabaya for women.  I snuck a quick picture of some of the men in their traditional outfits from the café where we ate a yummy light dinner of sandwiches…something we can’t typically get at restaurants in Tarakan.

Balinese men in traditional garb

The next day it was raining, so we slept in and then headed out to find somewhere to get massages.  Bali is known for it’s wonderful and affordable spas.  We quickly found a woman who offered massages in the back portion of her clothing shop.  We settled down on massage tables next to each other and enjoyed relaxing hour-long massages-a wonderful way to begin vacation!

Flowers outside the store/spa where we received our massages

Our time in Ubud was spent relaxing, exploring, and shopping-there was lots of cute shops with all sorts of fun goodies to look at and to buy.  In Tarakan there just aren’t places to enjoy looking at pretty things, so I was soaking it in in Ubud.  There’s also a monkey forest with cute, but rather aggressive monkeys-they are used to tourists feeding them and they were literally climbing on people looking for food.  Luckily they stayed away from me-I only enjoy monkeys from afar!

Do you see the baby?
In the monkey forest 

We also discovered some other animal friends-like this little guy in the garden by our hotel room…

The other thing, probably the most important thing we did in Ubud was eat and eat and EAT!  There are so many delicious restaurants with all varieties of food even pork and ribs and bacon…things we simply can’t get in Tarakan.  Here’s a sampling of the yummy meals we had…

Delicious ribs
Super-yummy salad with prosciutto, olives, fresh mozzarella, grilled zucchini-mmmmm!

Fried banana cream rolls
Tall chocolate cake (okay, this wasn't so good-Indonesian desserts just aren't sweet enough for me, they always look impressive but they don't quite deliver)
Chris at the place we had AWESOME beef shish kabobs

We were pretty much excited for every meal!  We had Mexican and the best beef shish kabob I've ever eaten and deli sandwiches and pizza...it was great!  Although the food in Tarakan isn’t bad at all, there just isn’t much variety, especially not Western food, so eating out in places with variety is a big deal for us!  One of the neatest experiences we had was going to a dinner with a traditional Balinese dance performance.  The food was excellent, the best duck I have ever had, and the dancing was really interesting.  We were able to get pictures with the dancers following the performance.

The kids at our feet were dressed as mischievous monkeys-I could tell they were loving playing the part!
We rented a motorcycle and drove out of town and into the countryside where we saw many rice paddies and experienced the coolness of a higher altitude.  We also passed several fancy looking resorts, and we couldn’t resist going in and looking at the Four Seasons (click on the name for a link to the website for it).  It was one of the most amazing hotels I have ever seen!

Midway through the week we checked out of our hotel in Ubud and traveled to Sanur, a town right on the beach of the Java Sea.  Our hotel on the beach was very nice with the option to lie on the beach or by the pool.  The hotel grounds were beautifully landscaped-it was nice to walk around and look at the plants and flowers.

The entrance to the hotel "lobby" - everything was outside!

Hotel Grounds
Lily pool
Looking into our room

The Pool
The Beach - with floating lounge islands (as long as the tide was high)!

I spent lots of time on the beach and by the pool soaking up the sun and reading.  Chris joined me sometimes, but he and the sun don’t get along too well, so he often watched TV or read in the room or in the shade.  The hotel was so nice that we really could have spent all our time there, but we walked up and down the main street in Sanur, which was filled with many friendly hawkers and lined with tourist shops.  We also rented a motorcycle and went into the very busy cities of Kuta and Denpasar-they both have all sorts of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.  The past terrorist activity in Bali has happened in those congested areas-although nothing of that nature has happened for quite some time as far as I know. We looked around several malls in the cities, hit the Ace Hardware, a store that doesn’t thrill me in the States, but here it’s one of the only places to get good quality home goods and we don’t have one in Tarakan.  Our most exciting purchase was…wait for it…a toilet seat!!!  Since we moved in to our house in Tarakan we have had this awful toilet seat that falls off or slides to the side pretty much every time we use it.  I have nearly ended up in the toilet many times-it was awful.  Now, thankfully we have a sturdy, working toilet seat.  I think we should have gotten shirts made that said, “I went to Bali and All I Got was this Toilet Seat”!  We also went to a couple what I call “real” grocery stores, “real” meaning they are big, have everything I’m looking for, and stock more than 5 of each desired item (our grocery stores in Tarakan don’t fit any of those criteria).

This half of the vacation was about eating too-but not fine dining!  Think Burger King, A&W, Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks, and Coldstone Creamery-some of those yummy places we miss from the U.S.  We also got some good Indian and Italian food-everything tasted delicious.

Chris loving his Whopper with cheese

Chris found a friend!
Our last night in Bali - we had Indian food, yum!  Apparently our server was excited about getting in the picture too!

We also drove over to the Indian Ocean side of the island and watched the sunset over the water.  It was a gorgeous night to walk on the beach.  If we come back to Bali I would definitely stay on the ocean side-the waves are bigger and the beach is more beautiful.

Too soon Sunday came and it was time to head to the airport and make our way back to Tarakan.  I tried to convince Chris to let me live in Bali assuring him he could visit me every weekend, but, alas, he wasn’t quite on board with that.  Our trip home was uneventful with the one highlight being as we were riding in a shuttle on the tarmac to our plane in Bali, we passed an official United States government jet-not Air Force One, but it looked like a smaller version of it.  All the Indonesian people on the shuttle were taking pictures of it with their phones and everyone was staring at us, the only white people on the shuttle.  I was so tempted to be like “Yeah, just drop up off here, this is our ride.”  We found out later that Hilary Clinton was in Bali for the weekend to attend some sort of International Summit.

We arrived home on Sunday evening, tired, relaxed and happy.  Bali was a wonderful break from everyday life, and I hope we are able to get back there again!  If you have the chance to go to Bali, I highly recommend it.  I can see why people go there and decide to make it their home-something about it is so alluring, relaxing, satisfying…I can’t describe it, you are just going to have to visit there someday!

Like I said in a past post, there are lots of hard things about serving overseas, but being able to get away for a week to an island paradise like Bali is not on that list of difficult things! It seems like so often in life when we extend ourselves and put ourselves out there to be used by God, he gives us blessings we never would have experienced if we didn’t.  If we didn't come to Indonesia with MAF, we probably never would have gone to Bali, and even if we did visit Bali, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much because if I were coming from the west I would be used to a huge variety of food and shopping.  In our situation now, everything is a gift, a special treat…the little things mean so much more.

Hope you enjoyed a snippet of our trip to Bali!  We were busy last week celebrating the end of Ramadan with our Muslim friends.  I have commentary (if you’re a Facebook friend, you’ve already heard some of it) and a picture or two to share very soon.  Thanks for reliving Bali with me!