Most of my time in Indonesia has not been spent on Timor, though I lately find myself struggling to remember the day-to-day of my first permanent site Asembagus instead. And I certainly haven’t spent most of my time in my Pre-Service training village of Kekep in Batu, Malang; yet every time I return there, it feels like home more than any other place in Indonesia. Perhaps because it was the first place I called home. Or maybe it’s the people I call family there. I know I’ve written about them before, but they occupy so much real estate in my heart that they deserve another post.
I recently went home to Kekep to visit my training family for the first time in a year. When I say “my family,” I don’t mean the mom and dad and two siblings I lived with: I mean them and their parents, my neighbors, the other PCVs’ families, and what feels like every elementary schooler in the village. My Indonesian is much improved since I lived there and everyone compliments me frequently for it. While the compliments are nice, the real advantage is knowing these people better than I ever have before. I arrived in their village being able to say three things: “I want to eat,” “I want to sleep,” and “Good morning.” This time, I’ve been able to tell them about what life is like in Kupang (where none of them have been; travel is expensive), to tell them what my friends are doing back in the States and elsewhere, and to discuss Indonesian national politics at a fairly in-depth level. One thing that hasn’t changed is how much food they try to push on me and how much I tease my little brother Dhafa.
I indulged a bit in the village gossip: Josh’s host brother, Rizky, the notorious village bad boy, is now married! And has an adorable daughter named Rere. Ben’s host sister is working a job and supporting herself. On a sadder note, my host grandfather doesn’t work every morning in the orchards behind our house anymore like he used to; he has liver disease and he’s not looking well. He has always been someone who asked more than the standard “Do Americans eat rice?” questions. He is intelligent and kind and kisses me in the same way he kisses his other grandkids.
The connection I feel to these people shouldn’t be as deep as it is. Three months shouldn’t make me feel their joy and pain to the extent that I do. But here I am, writing about them and thinking about them and loving them three years later. I’ve said this before: living in Indonesia makes you a bit Indonesian. I’m three years more Indonesian than I was before coming and that will always be so. No matter where I live next, no matter what shape my heart takes, these people in Kekep in particular will always inhabit my heart. They are the Indonesia I will carry with me, always. And if I return to Kekep ten years down the line? The same families will live here and the same children, now adults, will remember my name.
“Pak Dudut’s daughter is back!”