Rumah Indonesia saya means my Indonesian home. The family I have been living with for PST has been spectacular. I have been very lucky in that my family and I have gotten along with no problems. Of course, this might be because Indonesians are very hospitable and accommodating, but I’d like to think it’s because we’re just a perfect match for each other. I’ve never been made to feel, or treated, like I was anywhere other than home. That’s not to say my time with my homestay family has always been smooth sailing. All the hospitality and accommodation in the world doesn’t actually make a place home. It takes a little bit more than being comfortable to feel at home somewhere.
My bapak is very stoic, as is the norm for Indonesian men. At first I thought his silence was due in part to my inability to converse beyond very basic topics, but no, he’s just stoic. Nevertheless, he finds ways to show he cares.
When I return home from training each day I write about what I’ve learned and what has happened. Typically, shortly after I start writing, bapak will bring me coffee and a plate a fried bananas. I have never asked for coffee, or the bananas, but he continues to bring them to me anyway. The coffee is good, but the fried bananas are amazing. The first day he did this I did not understand the coffee was for me so I did not drink it until a series of charades and gestures made it clear I was supposed to drink the coffee.
My ibu, despite our inability to understand each other beyond a few words, also finds little ways to show she cares about my comfort while staying in her home. When I write I generally don’t turn on the overhead lights because the room I write in is usually bright enough. However, when ibu sees me writing in “the dark” she always turns on all the lights for me. Similarly, during one of my first dinners in Manisrenggo I was served a food called bakwan. I said bakwan was enak, or delicious, and for the next week I was given a side of bakwan with every meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner until I had to gently explain that a little more variety might be nice.
All these little things really helped make my first few weeks comfortable. But it wasn’t until the end of my first month in Manisrenggo that I realized home wasn’t only on the other side of the earth anymore.
Finding time to do laundry during PST can be hard. The only day we sometimes have completely free is Sunday. I am lucky enough to have had access to a washing machine at my homestay. So washing isn’t too challenging, but we still have to hang our clothes out to dry and iron anything we would wear to school.
My fourth Sunday in Manisrenggo was particularly hot. Hot enough that all the desa children were napping instead of running around, flying kites, riding bikes. I spent my morning reading and lounging in various parts of the house when I knew I should have been ironing and folding my laundry. After lunch I take my mandi siang, noon shower, and feeling refreshed and invigorated, I decide to finally start working on bringing in my laundry.
Unfortunately for me, the clothesline, as well as the area where we iron our clothes, is on the western side of the house. The equatorial sun seemed to have some vengence it wanted to exact upon me. I am sweating so much it seems as if I just walked out of the mandi. Even though everyone else at this point in the day is immobile I continue to take my clothes off the line and iron. Ironing has become a Sisyphean task as the sweat dripping off of my face is making my clothes nearly as wet as when I placed them outside to dry earlier. Sweat on clean pants, gross, I know, but when you’re in the Peace Corps what’s a few (okay, maybe few dozen) drops of sweat in the scheme of things?
I have barely started on my third shirt when I notice my bapak gets out a ladder and leans it up against the roof. An odd time of day for a roof inspection, but the ways of Indonesians are still not entirely clear to me at this point. I continue ironing, suffering. Bapak starts hammering on something behind me. Perhaps making a repair of some nature to the eaves of the roof, I’m not sure and I’m losing my ability to think logically.
Suddenly I notice I have become much cooler. As if a cloud has come between the sun and I. But there are no clouds on this torrid day. I turn around and realize my bapak has put up an old banner to keep the sun off of me as I iron. I am deliriously happy and express my appreciation as best I can in such a dehydrated state. Bapak offers a faint smile and nod to acknowledge my gratitude and continues on his way without much need for fanfare or pomp.
I didn’t ask for the banner, and thus shade, I definitely didn’t deserve to have it put up either; after all, I should’ve ironed earlier in the day. I had resigned to accept my fate of being roasted alive and thought of myself somewhat as Peace Corps martyr, trying to find nobility in my foolishness. I’m sure my bapak had to have thought something along the lines of, “why is this stupid American trying to iron his clothes at the hottest time of the day and when the sun is shining directly on him?” But he also acknowledged my self-imposed suffering and did what he could to lessen it.
It was after this day Indonesia felt like home to me. What my bapak did reminds me so much of something my own father back in America would do for me: observe me doing some task like an idiot, but decide to help me anyways. It’s this kindness and thoughtfulness that makes Indonesia more than just some place on the map I’ll live for a couple years.