A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Market

Confession time, internet: Despite my pictures with adorable Indonesian children and beautiful scenery, I’ve been having a really rough time at my permanent site these first two weeks. I feel really isolated, angry at unwanted attention, and frustrated with a lot of the cultural differences that I overlooked when I was around other Americans in Batu. Now that I’m on my own it’s a lot harder to deal with the things that annoy me.

That being said, today was easily the best day I’ve had at my site so far.

After school, one of my fellow teachers invited me to her house which was very kind of her. Unfortunately all of the neighbors came over and started taking pictures of me. They didn’t introduce themselves, didn’t ask me my name, they walked in and immediately started taking photos. Only one of them asked first. This is the kind of treatment I get all the time and I know my fellow PCVs have similar experiences. BUT there were these two little girls, Nabila and Honesti. They’re both nine and they both love practicing English. They asked me endless questions: my favorite color, my mom’s name, my height, etc. Then they made me come over to their house (about ten feet away) to meet their grandma, who was very kind to me. Then they asked for my cell phone number and told me I HAD to come back tomorrow. I promised them I would come back next week.

This is a big deal for me, guys. Here’s a secret: I really don’t like children. Maybe it’s because I’m one of the youngest in my family. Maybe it’s because I’m sort of an only child. I do know how to act with kids and I can handle them for a little bit, but I just don’t like them and I never will. This is not an invitation for commentary on my biological clock or for a knowing smile, just appreciate the fact that I found two little girls that I actually like and recognize it for the miracle it is.

Later that afternoon, another teacher from my school invited me to go to Kota Situbondo, the closest large city near me. She and her husband picked me up and they talked to me like…a normal person! As a foreigner, the locals frequently treat me kind of like a zoo animal. It comes from a place of curiosity, but it’s annoying all the same. Taking pictures and laughing, parading me around and laughing, shouting things at me and laughing, only asking me what I eat and laughing, laughing at my language skills–it gets really tiresome, really quickly. I’ve been feeling pretty terrible here because of this behavior; it’s hard to live in a place where you’re supposed to be integrating if you’re feeling disrespected. I recognize that there are cultural differences and that most Indonesians do not and would not consider this disrespectful behavior–to them, they’re just trying to show an interest in me. However I’m not from this culture and I can’t ignore how things make me feel, even if I logically recognize that they don’t mean to be hurtful.

Today really made up for all that. We went to the market specifically so I could get broccoli, then we went clothes shopping for their sons for Edul Fitri and from there out to dinner. First of all, being in the presence of an Indonesian couple greatly decreases the harassment and unwanted attention I would ordinarily receive alone. Not a single person shouted anything at me, no one followed me anywhere. Second, they talked to me about everything: my opinions on school, what America is like, my experiences in Spain and in Indonesia, everything. Language didn’t get in the way at all. It was like I was a real person again and not a sideshow attraction and it was great. Especially compared to how I’ve been feeling lately, this was such a breath of fresh air.

I need to remember in the future that not everyone will treat me like an object. There are people here who are genuinely interested in me and will treat me with kindness–and Indonesians do kindness and hospitality better than any other people in the world. It’s easy to be angry and shut myself off from members of the community who would treat me with respect. I need to work on avoiding people who don’t treat me the way I want to be treated; not avoiding human interaction entirely.

Funny sidenote; As we were walking through the mall, I passed a young man about my age. He looked up into my face when he was about two feet away from me and literally jumped back and yelped, like he had seen a ghost. I laughed my ass off because it would be such an overreaction anywhere else, but here, it was completely genuine. His terror quickly turned to sleezy attempts at flirting but I was laughing too hard to notice.

Second sidenote: As I was typing this, I told my ibu that I had eaten cap cai, a vegetable stew thing, for dinner. She came in a few minutes later to let me know that there was cap cai in the kitchen. She thought I was saying I wanted to eat cap cai, so she ran out and bought it. My family is the nicest and my faith in humanity is officially restored.

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3 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Market

  1. Stay strong fellow bule! My philosophy with the pictures is that if i just let everyone take a picture now, then maybe soon enough they will have enough pictures of me that they won’t want anymore? We’ll see how that goes. I have yet to try cap cai. Sounds yummy:)

  2. oh girl. i feel you. literally as i write this i’m at school being talked about/laughed at.
    as for the photos, if they don’t ask they get an ugly, bule face, pig nose & all. it’s the little wins.

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