The Good, the Bad and the Mundane

Friends. I write to you this evening with tired eyes, sweaty fingers (sweaty everything) and a whole lot of frustration.

I shall start from the beginning. This morning, I am teaching my 10th grade students the simple past tense—they are happy to have me; I am delighted to be there. All felt right and wonderful until my headmaster (my counterpart), Bu Yulia, interrupts the class. She informs there is an emergency: I must go to the immigration office today in Semarang or else I will be deported very soon. I try to calm her down and explain to her that I will not be deported “very soon,” rather I have a few more weeks until the circumstances grow that extreme. I ask her to please let me finish this class and then we can go to the immigration office in Semarang. This will not do. She pulls me from class despite my argument and puts me in a van with three people I do not know.

I recognize the woman from school, but the two men I have never seen in my life. I have no idea what is going on, and it turns out that none of my three new friends can speak English. Fabulous. I assume these are the people taking me to the immigration office, so I get settled into my seat and start playing on my phone when we pull up in front of a house. They shoo me out of the van. I look around to see if the neighborhood is familiar. It is not. I am guided into the living room of another strange woman. They leave me here alone with this chick without explaining, or at least attempting to explain, what the hell is happening. Thus, I sit. I sit for two hours with a woman that I do not know in a house that I have never been to. We do not speak the same language. We do not communicate at all. We sit. We sit and we stare.

After two lovely hours with nameless woman, one of the men from the van comes back to get me. “We shall go now?” he says, as if I have the option. Yeah dude, let’s go.

This man, the woman from earlier (from what I gathered towards the end of the trip, her name is Endang), and I drive to Semarang. It’s about an hour trip without traffic and we arrive at the immigration office in a timely fashion. These people fill out all of my paperwork for me (which is confusing because they do not know me?). The immigration office says that they will call me to tell me what day I need to return for my visa. Great.

Afterwards, in the van, I am thinking about how smoothly the process went and how I can’t wait to get home and take a nap and maybe finish off the jar of Nutella that I’ve eaten for dinner twice in the past week.   Unfortunately, my day dream comes to an end when we pull into a warung (street side food vendor) and we eat lunch. The lunch part is fine, I’m happy about the lunch part, but it is during lunch that these peeps inform me (through lots of gestures and my looking up words in an Indonesian dictionary) of their plan to stay in Semarang driving aimlessly until 5:00 pm when the woman’s daughter will be finished with her class at the university. It is only 2:00 pm at this time, which means three hours of aimless driving. Three hours. Now let me paint this picture for you. The van has no air conditioning. Every orifice of my body is seeping with sweat. The warung food is doing something funky to my small intestines and I’m about to throw up, shit my pants, or die. The man who is driving the van is the worst driver in all of Indonesia I swear you. He taps on the break like he’s playing a song and I am moments away from amputating is right foot. The two of them are talking in Indonesian for the entire three hours, whilst playing angsty Indonesian music, whilst answering their phones and texting and carrying on separate conversations. They are burping. They are saying, “Miss Marie, you tired? Hahahahahahaha.” My elbows are on my knees, and my head is in my hands. Is God punishing me? I begin to promise the unidentified Indonesian hygiene god that I will wash myself two times a day (I’ve been scolded many, many times for this), that I will live as one with the cockroaches, that I will eat rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even for snacks if he/she will just PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!!!!!!! let me out of this damn van. I determine I am being punished. We sit in stand- still traffic for two hours. Two hours in stand-still traffic of talking and burping and braking and singing. I try to tell myself to breathe. To calm down. It. Will. Be. Okay. I take a deep breath….of pollution and burning trash and exhaust and burps. I imagine rolling out of the van and into oncoming motorbikes.

Eventually we pull in front of my house and I practically kick the door open and give them a closed-mouth smile and a “thank you” and I run for my bedroom. I collapse face first onto my mattress.

So here I am. Yes, I am over-dramatic and definitely acting like a five-year-old brat. I know these kind people took time out of their day to help me, a stranger, a bule, and I couldn’t have made it to/through immigration without them. However, this experience was nonetheless frustrating and challenging, and a nice little anecdote to narrate what my life can be like on a Wednesday in Indonesia. They usually aren’t so pessimistic. In fact, last week I hopped on the back of a co-teacher’s motorbike (she is in her mid-fifties and she is my girl). She speaks no English, but I thought she just wanted to give me a ride home. Turns out, she wanted to take me to the market, to her house and to yoga. Her friends threw me in the air and made me do some tricks and then afterwards she chased me around her living room trying to get me to eat fish soup while I screamed “Tidak!! Tidak soto!!!!” But we laughed a lot and she tried to get me to spend the night. I call her my Indonesian mother and she tells me she wants to play with me like a baby doll. We get each other (despite the language barrier) and she is in the running for my top three favorite people in Indonesia so far.

Consistency in my life is narrowed down to morning and night. (Warning: these are the mundane details that people like my mother enjoy. Feel free to skip.) Every morning I wake up, brew a cup of coffee, watch the sunrise on my upstairs balcony, try to breathe and make myself sane, put on some clothes, maybe brush my hair, and go to school. When I come home (my ETA varies each day), I sweep my floors of all the bug carcasses and dust that have accumulated in my absence, I sit outside on my balcony long enough to make me sweat (it prevents my cold showers from shocking me to the core), I shower, I cook dinner (or eat Nutella), I do some meditation/yoga, I make some ginger tea, and I read (or obsess over funny YouTube videos or binge on episodes of Girls). I am asleep by 9 pm, guaranteed.

Days are a lot different here, definitely. My friends range from age 14 to 60. I spend upwards of 6 hours alone every day, and I have the morning routine of a middle-aged woman…. But I have never felt more at peace when I wake up in the morning, or more satisfied when I fall asleep at night. I don’t know that I’ve quite settled into my life here yet (except my bed….I’ve definitely settled into my bed), and each day comes with its challenges, but I’m stoked to be here—to be teaching and to be making new friends—and I’m even more stoked for the stories I get to tell.

Love yas.

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