Beep beep honk beep beep beep, move it or lose it, buddy!!!!!!! This is the sound of Indonesia entering my life and wrecking any and all preconceived notions I had about its culture and about myself. I used to think I cared about plucking my eyebrows, it seems that I do not. As a naïve idealist I imagined Indonesia having clean, fresh air and the humidity of a tropical wonderland. It doesn’t. Indonesia has road rage, I tell you, and it does not slow down before T-boning the shit out of your priorities and forcing you to attend physical and mental therapy (in my case, reading comedic memoirs) until you get your shit straight. I’m learning a lot.
You know when you’re thirteen years old and you’re counting down the days until the weekend because that means no school and late-night sleep overs with your friends (or in my case, cousins) where you make up dances and perform séances and cook garlic pasta?? No, just me? Okay. Well, I thought I’d outgrown these shenanigans. Having developed a serious relationship with my own bed, I have come to loathe sharing a couch with a friend where their feet are by your head and vice versa just so we end up smelling each other’s dirty gym socks all night. Don’t get me wrong, I still kind of like all the story telling, bedroom painting, who-would-you-rather playing, but when it comes to the actual sleeping over part, eh, not for me.
Everyone always asks me if I am scared to live alone in a four-bedroom house, by myself, in another hemisphere, with essentially no relations to my neighbors. The answer is YES I SLEEP WITH A KNIFE UNDER MY PILLOW (thanks, Aunt Rosie). I’m just kidding. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I never have to speak to anyone before noon on the weekends if I don’t want to. No one is bossing me around telling me to clean my room. I know that no one else is peeing in my shower. It’s nice. I come home from school every day and know that I have the rest of the evening to myself, and if I don’t want to do jack shit for the next five hours except lay in my bed and watch episodes of Girls, no one can judge me for it.
What I didn’t know about Indonesia, though, is that the women here love sleepovers. Like, forty-five year old women. Like, the headmaster of my school and my counterpart. They love sleepovers. And sharing beds. And guess who is their favorite guest? J
For the past several weeks I have been telling both of my counterparts that I want to learn to cook traditional Indonesian dishes. I don’t have many options for food near my neighborhood, so I make dinner for myself almost every night, and having the ability to utilize ingredients from the local market would be handy. Last Wednesday they decided that this would be the night they teach me to cook. The problem with this is I spent the first half of the week in a sort of culture-shock coma. If culture shock is not something you have ever experienced, let me give you a little run-down of what was happening inside my head.
Culture Shock State of Mind:
Bu Lis: “MMMARRRRRRIIIIAAAAAA, COME COME COME!” (while pulling my arm towards her)
Maria: (If I were on Cartoon Network steam would be coming out of my ears and fire out of my mouth. I hate when she does all the bossy/pulling/poking stuff. Not gonna fly. Also, she makes me hate my name. It doesn’t matter how far away we are from each other physically, she calls my name until I give her my undivided attention. I could be sleeping or reading a book. It does not matter. I pull my arm away.)
Bus Lis: (Looks at me all like, “Who do you think you are, bule?”)
Maria: “I’m coming.” (very straight-faced)
Bu Lis: “HAHAHAH. (slaps me really hard on the shoulder) “as;dfljas;dfja;dfja;sfj;sfja;lsfj;sfjalsfjklajfaj!!! HAHAHA ajfa;lsdfjas;fjka;dfjas;fjs;djf!!!!” (this is a ten second rant in Indonesian where I have no idea what she is saying and she knows that I don’t but continues to yell and rant anyway)…. (She pulls my arm again) “COME!! NOW!!!”
……(meanwhile we go to an Indonesian funeral in the scorching heat where I am sweating profusely and flies are pooping on my face and I don’t even know the man who died or what they are saying because its in Indonesian)…. (Bu Lis is sitting next to me)…..
Bu Lis: (Begins ranting to me in Indonesian. Again, I have no idea what she is saying and she is making no attempt to whisper so I feel uncomfortable because people are staring more than they usually do.)
Maria: (I am staring at her with a look of mild irritation.)
Bu Lis: “HAHAHAHA.” (she slaps me again and then lays her head on my shoulder and puts her hands on both of my knees.)
Maria: (Alright, what the actual shit is going on? Get off me, Bu. It is 100 degrees outside and I have no idea what the hell these people are saying and the last thing I want you to do is smother me with your limbs. I feel a freak out coming.)
(Note: Bu Lis is a co-teacher. We are friends, yes, but at times, we all get need a break from our friends, right?)
Later this evening, after the funeral, I go home, take a shower, and read a funny book until I fall asleep. The next morning when Bu Lis comes up to me ranting in Indonesian again, I am still frustrated even though she really hasn’t done anything wrong and is probably just asking me if I showered that morning. This sort of mind-consuming frustration and out-of-whackness with the world around you because the culture is essentially quite different than your own….is a little case of culture shock. It comes and goes, but earlier this week it was full force.
I digress. So, Bu Yulia (headmaster/counterpart 1) invites me over for a sleep over with her and Bu Erny (my other counterpart). Because they already bought all of the ingredients to whip up a masterpiece that evening, I feel I need to say yes. So I do, and I ride thirty-five minutes on the back of a motorbike until my ass is sore and my tailbone is throbbing all the way to Bu Yulia’s house. When I get there, she advises me to shower. (For Indonesians, it is normal to shower 2-3 times a day. I only shower once a day and they think I’m disgusting. I tell them I am lazy and I am not going to change so they need to accept me for who I am. They think this is funny for a second, then they insist, again, that I shower both morning and night.)
To my dismay, I head to the bathroom. When I turn on the shower, OH MY GOD, hot water comes at my face in a steady stream!!!!! My spirits begin to tingle. I hear music. Is that The Beatles? Magic is in the air. I am elated and outstay my welcome in the shower by more than twenty minutes. Mind you, I hadn’t had a hot shower in a month so this gift was all too precious not to take advantage. Afterwards, both of my Bu’s tell me I am looking fresh and we begin making some Gado-Gado, which is actually easy peasy to make AND it has peanut sauce (my soulmate) so I am once again filled with joy and eat three full plates. Next, while the three of us are tackling dishes as a team, Bu Yulia opens the fridge to offer me some dessert. When I turn, I see a row of shiny green bottles that immediately catch my attention. “Do you drink beer?” she says. Holy shit. First of all, my Bu is Muslim so this was totally unexpected. Secondly, it is so hard to find beer in my village (like impossible) that I want to kiss her hard on the mouth. I tell her that yes, most definitely, I drink beer.
“Wait a minute, do you drink beer?” I say. She laughs.
“Yes! Tonight, we can celebrate and drink beer together.” This is the best night of my whole life and I am feeling fantastic. She pours me a glass, and another glass, and another glass. She tells me a bunch of stories about her travels and about the school and Bu Erny is working on her laptop quietly and giving her two cents every now and again. It is nine at night and I am so, so tired. It is an hour past my bedtime.
“You look tired. Are you tired?” says Bu Erny.
“No,” I say while yawning. “Just a little.” They both laugh.
“We know when you say, ‘little bit’ you mean, ‘yes.’ Go to bed!” she says. Alright, alright Bu, if you insist. I do as I am told and go to lie down on the bed. They do not sleep with blankets so I’m just lying on a mattress trying to get comfortable. I can’t seem to fall asleep. An hour later, both of the Bu’s come in and I pretend like I am asleep like I used to when Mom would check on me in my bedroom and then ten minutes later Dad would bring me Rice Krispies and tell me not to tell Mom. Good times.
Within minutes, the Bu’s are asleep. I know this because they are snoring. And making weird gurgling noises. And doing that thing where they move their mouths and it sounds like they are cows sloshing around grass in a bunch of saliva (Yes, Nina, like you). Nooooo. This was such a perfect night, please PLEASE have mercy on me!!! Bu Erny is directly next to me and I want to push her so that she wakes up and maybe I’ll have enough time to fall asleep before she does. I bump her a little bit but she doesn’t budge. I put a pillow over my head. It helps, but it doesn’t totally block the noise from driving me almost insane. I’m not sure exactly, I may have dozed off for a little bit, but I definitely did not get a good night’s sleep. Not the kind of rest I need to endure a long day at school in Indonesia, anyway.
The next morning I am sitting at my desk with my head in my arms and everyone is asking me if I am tired. Yes, I am obviously tired, I’m trying to sleep in the middle of the day, in 100 degree heat, please leave me alone, what do you want from me!!!!?? I don’t have class until 11:15 so I’m just wasting space and time until then. Bu Yulia eventually comes in to the teacher’s room.
“You look so tired! Did you not sleep well?” I give her a close-mouthed smile.
“Not really, Bu Erny was snoring all night, but it’s okay.” I say this with a laugh so she knows I am not mad. She thinks this is hysterical, and so do the other teachers in the room. She tells me I am always so tired, though, and she thinks that I am ill and need a day to refresh. She tells my co-teacher that I will not be going to class and that I am coming with her….to get a two-hour long Japanese massage. Oh hell yeah! Afterwards, she takes me to get coffee and French fries. Real coffee, not instant coffee. And I am so happy to have French fries. Afterwards, without asking, she takes me to her house, tells me to shower (2 HOT SHOWERS!) and when I get out her and Bu Erny tell me to lay on the bed, face-down. I have no idea what is going on but they lift up my t-shirt and begin pouring this warm oil on my back. All of a sudden I feel sharp pain.
“Ow! What are you doing!?”
“AHH! It is so red! You must lay still. I will show you when I’m finished.”
They show me a coin that Bu Erny is using to scratch down my back. I put my head back down. After ten minutes of wailing and cursing under my breath, they take a picture of my back and show me.
“Oh my God! It looks like you beat me!” I say to them. They laugh.
“Are you shocked?” Bu Yulia says. Yes I am shocked, lady. It looks like you whipped me with a leather switch. (If you don’t believe me, I will upload pictures to Facebook. You will be scarred.)
They explain to me that Indonesians believe that the redder you get, the sicker you are. I tell them I don’t understand that logic and they do not know how to prove it to me scientifically. But, they said it will warm my body and get rid of my “cold” or “illness” and that tomorrow I will wake up feeling much better and refreshed. So I go with it.
Eventually, crazy Bu Lis joins and the four of us eat dinner together (they made me soup because I am sick?). It was delicious and I was tired by 7pm and ready for bed. They tell me to go to sleep and so I go to lay on the couch because no way in hell am I sleeping in a bed with THREE snoring Bu’s this time (by the way, this bed is the size of a queen bed).
“No, go to the bedroom.” Bu Erny says.
“I want to sleep here,” I say.
“Get up! You will get sick if you sleep here.” This does not make sense to me. Bu Yulia comes over and also insists that I get up.
“No! I want to sleep here! I’m not moving!” They both tell me to get up on more time and I begin to kick my feet like my six-year-old sister throwing a temper tantrum. Bu Yulia fetches me a blanket and tells me that I am stubborn. I win J I pop a few Advil p.m. (that they don’t know that I have) and fall asleep very easily. The next morning in the car on the way to school, the three of them are laughing at some story that Bu Lis is telling. They are speaking too quickly in Indonesian and I don’t know what is going on so I mind my own business and stare out the window. Bu Yulia then informs me that Bu Lis is saying that she didn’t sleep the night before because she slept in between Bu Erny and Bu Yulia and they snored and made weird noises all night. We bonded over this and Bu Erny hit me a few times when I made fun of her. Ah, my girls.
So, it turns out, even though I thought alone time was my medicine for a heavy heart and exhausted mind, sleepovers turned out to be a rather nice way to heal my spirit. I went into the weekend with a fresh perspective and I even missed my Bu’s a little bit. The culture shock subsided for now, and I will get to see some American friends this weekend which is thrilling because that also hopefully means ~beer. So while I’m sitting on the beach of a tiny island in the EAP with new friends and a cold Bintang, I can happily say home will not feel so far away.