My desa (village) during training, Manisrenggo, has been an excellent place to find my footing here in Indonesia. Everybody I have met has been friendly, hospitable, and generous. I never make it out of someone’s house without having been offered an array of delicious foods and plenty of water. Everyone is always very curious to talk about America and find out what the trainees think about Indonesia, the local food, the people.
The Sunday after Idul Fitri began like any other day from the past month. I woke up around five, mandied, had breakfast, and continued to read my book on the history of the United States Postal Service (it’s fascinating). At some point midmorning my host family niece (I think, the family relations are still uncertain to me) asked me something. What she asked specifically, I do not know. But she used the words ambil, ikan, and kolam. Something about taking a fish, but I couldn’t understand whether they were asking if I had taken a fish, if I would take a fish, if they should take a fish, or some other equally odd question. Eventually, and after some helpful charades, I remembered kolam means pond. They were inviting me to a pond with them to go fishing.
Indonesians are quite the inquisitive people. Upon first meeting someone they are prone to inquire about all sorts of things most Americans would find odd, or even impolite, to ask an acquaintance. Age, marital status, religion, and when you have had your most recent shower or meal are all things Indonesians do not hesitate to ask. These are not questions many Americans would readily find appropriate to pose, even to someone with whom they regularly associate.
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.
In Indonesia every Peace Corps volunteer lives with a host family. Originally, before I came to Indonesia, I wasn’t too thrilled with this prospect. I appreciate autonomy and independence. The challenge of inserting myself into a family as an absolute foreigner and trying to find a balance between two very different cultures seemed like something I didn’t want to go through. Now, however, I could not imagine living in Indonesia without a host family. It has been one of the best parts of my time in the Peace Corps thus far.
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The first several days with my homestay family were particularly difficult. I couldn’t understand anything my ibu said and very little of what my bapak said. No one spoke to me in English so I had to rely on only two days of training in bahasa Indonesia. During my first week of PST limited communication with my homestay family was only a small part of the my vast collection of fledgling Peace Corps trainee woes.
Before coming to Indonesia one of the things that I ofttimes thought about, and not in a particularly nervous or anxious way, was the squatty potty. The kamar kecil (small room). The porcelain hole in the ground.