I’m a sweaty person. I sweat profusely in America and especially in Indonesia. My face goes bright right about twenty seconds into any workout and afterward I look like I just crawled out of a pool. More than once people have stopped me concerned for my health–no, sir or madam, I assure you, this is just my face.
Running in Indonesia means another addition to my red-faced sweatiness: bugs. There are these tiny bugs, about the size of gnats, that get trapped in my sweat as I run and I’m pretty certain they actually drown in my perspiration. So by the end of any run I am red-faced and covered in a slick of sweat and dead insects.
I have neighbors who I particularly enjoy greeting every evening. First are the seller women near the community pool who sit outside all day, watching motorbikes and trucks rumble past and selling sugary drinks to the local kids. Then there’s a local motorbike taxi stand–I’ve won over the young street guys who work there and now they only refer to me as “ma’am.” There’s the group of kids who play in a side yard and sprint to line up for high-fives when they see me coming. There’s the carpentry shop where the workers always wave hello. There’s group of farmers who lazily wave while resting after a hard day in the fields, across from another group of kids who repeatedly shout “HI! HI! HI!” to me as I pass. There’s a girl who dispenses gasoline who’s always got a shy smile for me, and the little kids with her who occasionally demand that I stop to give them nose kisses as if I’m family. The local bemo drivers flash their lights or honk or wave when they pass me; they don’t catcall or overcharge me anymore. There’s the young mother who once let me use her toilet in an emergency. There are the old guys who sit at a police post smoking cigarettes all day and always give me very formal waves and head nods. There are the women who wash and draw water at a well whose “good evening!” always sounds exceptionally kind. There are the husband and wife who are always sitting in lawn chairs near the street. There are the kiosk ladies who helped me when I broke my arm.
And then I turn back around and say bye to them all in reverse order.
They don’t care that I am a dripping tomato covered in dead bugs. They’re just happy I went by and acknowledged them–and by now it’s not in the objectifying, excited-to-meet-a-foreigner way so common in Indonesia. They just enjoyed having an interaction with their neighbor, even if she looks a mess. When I’m riding a bemo down the mountain and I wave to my neighbors, they’re always happy to see me and almost always laugh; I think at seeing me wearing normal clothes and not slicked in sweat. These moments are small but meaningful.
I recently had a difference of opinion with a man in a position of power here. He was rude and unused to being called out on his rudeness. The next time I saw him he tried to more subtly insult me, saying that the working people in the area were “scared of me.” Aside from the fact that I can’t imagine that someone so high up/into himself ever talks to the “working folk” around here, I might not have recognized this as a power play if not for my running. I know the folks in the area aren’t afraid of me. If people were scared of me I wouldn’t have toddlers lining up to ask for nose kisses when I run past. It’s only him that’s afraid of me because I said something when he knew he was in the wrong.
…admittedly, there might be a few obnoxious young men who are afraid of me. But it does them good to be afraid of a woman every so often.
My neighbors are what I love most about my Peace Corps site, and I think that’s probably how it should be.