I’ve been in Indonesia for one year now, and I have become pretty good at doing things the “Indonesian way.” Indonesian culture can be quite different from American culture so, for the people who don’t have a year to figure out how to blend in, here are a few tips on how to act like an Indonesian.
Cellphones are ubiquitous in Indonesia. If it seems as though everyone has one, or two, that’s probably because they do. As one of the strongest symbols representing the modern age, cellphones provide a lot of common ground for people from all walks of life to stand on. Still, with all the similarities this collective “cellphone culture” propagates between Americans and Indonesians, adjustments to that culture in Indonesia have taken time.
In late October I was asked to serve as a judge for a storytelling competition at a school in my district. Like most things Peace Corps or Indonesia I tried to limit my expectations and assumptions but was still surprised by many aspects of the event.
The bathroom is a great place to find contrasts between America and Indonesia. Besides using the squatty potty, Indonesians don’t take showers. At least, not showers as most Americans know them. In the stead of shower they mandi. Mandi literally means bath or shower, though what they actually do is better described as a bucket bath.
Often, children in public schools in the United States will recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a school day. Requiring America’s young minds to declare their allegiance to their country and its flag can seem a bit odd, maybe even jingoistic, but in Indonesia most schools take the opportunity to foster a sense of nationalism a step further.
There are many intersections between Islam and traditional Javanese culture in Indonesia. Tahlilan and yasinan are great examples of one of those intersections. During PST I was fortunate enough to attend nearly a dozen such cultural events with my bapak. My original goal, as my goals so often are, was too ambitious. I had hoped to explain exactly what tahlilan and yasinan are, how they’re different, where they fit into indigenous Indonesian traditions and modernist orthodox Islam. However; even after having queried my community liaisons (CLs), my host family, and many other volunteers about this subject I still find my knowledge about these subjects lacking and my understanding short of what it should be.
I really like running. So much so that a couple years ago I managed to cause both the tibia and fibula in my left leg to develop hairline fractures because I was running too much—about thirty-five miles a week. Ever since then I have wanted to get back to that level of performance but haven’t quite been able to manage it. Still, even though I’m not able to run the distances I was once capable of, I think of myself as a “runner” before many other things.