Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Big Favor

I am going to ask you for a favor.
If you are still an undecided voter or if somehow you are planning to not vote. Please consider the following.

About 4 1/2 years ago T and I decided to serve our country and join the State Department. It was a crazy process and turned our lives upside down. This is absolutely not a process for anyone who likes stability. It is not a lifestyle for anyone who likes predictability. And if you cannot imagine, even in your wildest fantasies not having the convenience of Target or Walmart or the benefits of having drivers around you obey the traffic laws you should probably not consider joining this dedicated group of individuals who are working hard to represent America in almost every corner of the world.

Don't get me wrong. There are some really cool things about this lifestyle, you've seen my pictures, and we love exploring the world and the challenges of making our home in a new culture. But there are huge sacrifices. Ones that we are willingly making.

The most important one is that we are 16 hours away from our families, in particular our children.

I know that many of my readers couldn't do this. I know because a lot of you have told me this. I also know because when we were on home leave this summer more than one of you told us you wouldn't be visiting because you wouldn't feel safe.

This is where the favor comes in. I know that where we live is volatile. (On a side note: no place is safe....Paris, Nice, Munich, Orlando Nightclubs and the Boston Marathon anyone? And that doesn't cover schools, churches and movie theatres that have all been sights of attacks in the U.S.)

I believe strongly though that you can do something for me to make us safer.

Please vote for Hillary Clinton.

I can tell you that Donald Trump will only make things more unstable. This is anecdotal but it stems from many conversations I have had while living overseas. The U.S. having a bully as our Commander in Chief will not make us strong it will make us vulnerable, particularly those of us who are living and serving our country.

Also, this is not the time for a protest vote. I remember what happened in 2000. Votes for Ralph Nader put Bush into office and I think we can all agree that two wars and a recession made that  a bad idea.

I know if you are already decided on Mr. Trump this will not change your mind. I don't expect it to.

But if this is what puts you over the edge for Secretary Clinton or gets you out to vote on Tuesday I will consider my plea heard.

Thank You.

Just a reminder... I don't speak for the U.S. Government or anyone else for that matter. Just me.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Diplo Dog

You may remember Shanti the Diplo Dog from her unintended journey to Baghdad. Our sweet skittish girl has now gotten more stamps on her passport than many Americans and she takes the transition surprisingly well for a dog that was rescued with her litter mates out of a field in central Ohio. It took a lot of time, patience and cheese on our part to convince her that people were ok.

Now however, she like the rest of our family, represents every time we leave the house. It's commonly known in the Foreign Service that not just officers but all of us are representing our country when we are at Post.

In Shanti's case she also represents her species.

You see this is our second post and our second predominately Muslim country. This is important information because Muslim tradition leads people to be wary of dogs. Any dog. I once watched some Indonesians freak out over a yellow lab, possibly the gentlest dog known to humans.

I did some very quick research to help explain this and you might be shocked to know that there is division about why dogs are not acceptable. It seems to boil down to the fact that their saliva is ritually unclean, but then it is also argued that so are many other things.
Tradition also makes it acceptable to have working dogs (I'll insert here that I learned at the Jordan Museum that dogs were first domesticated here).
It also seems that the Qur'aan tells us that all animals should be treated with kindness and there are at least two stories of dogs being honored. One story has to do the the Cave of Sleepers, not far from Amman and the dog who guarded them while they slept.

However the most preposterous reason in my mind is that that Angels will not enter a house where a dog resides. Perhaps they don't want the competition.

All of this boils down to tradition and the fact that, unlike most Americans, they were not raised with the idea of dogs being the good and loving animals that they are and instead they are scary and maybe unclean.

So when we are out walking and see someone, usually children, who show an interest in her we make a point to stop. Our sweet dog, who hates having her back end touched, patiently waits while they creep nervously closer and slowly reach out to pat her on the....butt. Once I can convince them the front end isn't dangerous they will happily stroke her on the head,

Shanti, who's name means peace in Sanskrit, and I hope that we have done our part to win the hearts and minds for her species and America.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

my little bubble

A friend of mine recently posted an interesting article titled "I lived in Korea for 5 years. Here's what happened when I came home to Nebraska."  Its an interesting reflection from someone who has lived the expat life for five years and if you would like to read it you can find it here:

The thing that struck me the most about this wasn't the part about moving from a big city back to a small town or the difference in eating or even the way peoples eyes glaze over and they want to make their one week trip to Cancun somehow the same as you immersion into and adapting to another culture. Though all of these are true.

The part that really struck me was the discussion about sound. More importantly to me, the way I have learned to tune out sound when I am in a country and don't speak the language.

Before I go any further let me say that I have made attempts. In Indonesia I dutifully signed up for language class but I was surrounded by people who spoke English so my Bahasa Indonesia deteriorated to the "polite words" and telling the taxi driver how to get to my house.
I'm also currently taking Arabic. A task I find a bit daunting but am willing to at least get some basics down.

Here's the thing though. Even if I master the ability to have a basic conversation in Arabic, I will never fully understand everything that goes on around me. As a consequence I find I tune out if I can't understand what I'm hearing.

I've been recently pondering the pros and cons of this. On one hand I generally go blissfully about my business. I've been told that Jordanian men can sometime harass women on the street, much like major cities in the U.S. I find that this hasn't happened. Maybe because I'm such an old lady or maybe it is happening and I just don't realise. I'm pondering the danger of this but I do know that I am aware enough to be alert to danger around me but not so much that conversations catch my interest. I move about in my happy little bubble.

Until I land in an English speaking country. The cacophony of words. Suddenly I am immersed in everyones business. The first thing I notice as I get off the plane is the that suddenly I understand everything going on around me. And America, its true, we are loud! Everyone speaks at such a high volume. I have a tip for you. Nothing you are saying is private. All of this really hit home this year on our first Home Leave for the State Dept.

So when people ask me what it is like to live somewhere where I don't speak the language. My first thought is to be grateful for all the people who speak English as their second language and my second thought is how peaceful it is to live in my little bubble.

Don't forget to check out T's insights at

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Eyes Wide Open

I don't speak any Arabic. I have some semi-usable French and what I refer to as Taxi Cab Bahasa (Indonesian). It was just enough to be polite and to get me home in a cab.

Many State Department employees are put through rigorous language training before they head off to their next post and spouses are able to join them when space allows. However, when the employee in question does not need to interact with the local population for their job you are sent off to a new land with nothing but your wits and a translator app that you have downloaded on your own.
Lest you think we are completely left hanging we can take free language classes once we arrive.

This is me taking the long way around to tell you about adapting to our new city.
Everything is new. Every culture has their own way of doing things and trial and error and watching can sometime be the only way to find out.
Ideally you would ask. But I can only ask so many questions about why and how. Because at the moment I know two words in Arabic. Thank you and no.

I should note here, if your first language is English, or you speak it well, you should be very very grateful. Imagine visiting another country where you don't speak the language, if you speak English you might get by. But if you don't you are pretty much out of luck. For example, French speakers visiting Amman better brush up on their English skills because all the secondary signage is in English.

So while it is not possible to get all my questions answered, I am so grateful for the world population that speaks even a little English. And here in Amman that seems like most of the population.

Other than the standard hand signals, how do you figure things out. If you are like me, it becomes all about observation. I'm sure I look a little odd, standing and watching, but how else am I supposed to figure out how it's done? For example, my America friends may not know this, but when you are grocery shopping in other parts of the world the weigh station for produce is in the produce section. Do not head up to the cashier without being pre weighed or you'll cause problems.

Here in Amman, I have discovered many local shops for cheese, spices, coffee or baked goods. Every one of these has its own process.

In some of the grocery stores, an employees will unload your cart for you and then they bag your groceries. Do not get in their way.

There are coffee shops that just sell coffee. Not to drink there but to take home to prepare. You select your beans and whether or not you want cardamom and they will grind it for you.

We've learned that the falafel shops do sell hummus but not shawarma. I've also learned that more often than not it seems the locals are there just to pick up supplies and they will assemble it all at home.

So, there is me. Eyes wide open. Watching. Trying to figure it all out.
My new favorite falafel shop

Monday, September 12, 2016

Making do (The Welcome Kit)

As I mentioned in my last post, we made the error in judgement of arriving in Amman the week before Eid Al Adha. For my non Muslim readers, this is the equivalent of arriving right before Christmas or Thanksgiving. The government shuts down and people are celebration the holiday.

T and I have done some exploring with our extra free time including visiting four different grocery stores in an effort to get the lay of the land. We've also made multiple trips to each of those stores because, of course, each time we go into the kitchen we realize we need something we forgot on the last list. Tonight it was foil.

Since we enter each new post with nothing but two suitcases and a carry on each to tide us over till the rest of our things arrive. We are provided with a welcome kit to hold us over until the rest of our things arrive. In Jakara that took three months. I'm hoping this time it will only be 1-2.

Now I had heard about the failings of the Welcome Kit before we even headed to Jakarta. I knew to pack some of my own knives. I also learned to bring my own can opener, wine opener and sheets that weren't made of 20 thread count blend. Tax payers should safely know the State Department isn't wasring your money on Welcome Kit items.

I made the mistake of thinking that all Welcome Kits would contain the same items. I was pleasantly surprised in Jakarta to find a muffin tin. Our arrival in Amman proved otherwise. Not only was there no muffin tin but also no frying pan! We quickly corrected that with another trip to the store.
This time I brought a cheese grater with me only to find one in kitchen drawers, but as I set about making dinner tonight I realized there are no casserole dishes. Sigh.

Fortunately the little corner store, that from here on we are going to call the Store of Requrement (Harry Potter fans will understand), is open even if it is a holiday and I had bought and pre-shipped new some Pyrex bowls that I am I love with (they have snap on, though not ovenproof, lids!) T made a quick trip to the store and now we have our makeshift casserole dish.

Find them here:

Necessity, the mother of invention!

On a side note. I'm reading My Life in France, the story of Julia Child. She is perhaps the most famous trailing spouse. I wonder what she would think of the Welcome Kit. She probably would have figured out how to make soufflé.

Link to the NYT book review

Friday, September 9, 2016

My dog went to Baghdad!

Our first 48+ hours.

My initial impressions of Amman:

The entire city is made up of short beige buildings surrounded by shrubby trees. The sky is a crisp blue. And most things we might need or want can be found in walking distance from our house.

Dry heat really does feel better.

The people are friendly and welcoming and thankfully most we have come across speak at least some  English.

We discovered a really good falafel shop near our house. I wonder if I will ever get tired of falafel.

I interviewed for a job at the embassy. I must have done very well because five minutes after the interview I had an offer. Now I just need to tackle security clearance.

It's a bad idea to arrive right before the Eid Al Adha holiday. The good news is that we have a five day weekend. The bad news is that nothing can be done till after the holiday, meaning our residency permits will take longer....and so will our stuff.

It also means that there was a big push to get Shanti here before the holiday.

My Thursday started very well. See the above note about the job. Just after lunch a call came though from the woman handling this end of Shanti's shipping. the conversation went something like this:

Shipper: Mam, we are wondering if you have your dog.

Me: No we are waiting for you to deliver her.

S: Do you know if she was put on the plane?

M: I believe she was...

S: Well, we have her paperwork but she was not on the plane.

M: (I am now starting to freak out) where do you think she is.

S: We will check further to see if we can find her.

My panic attack is starting to set in. I can think of a hundred bad things that could have happend.
Fortunately, the GSO office stepped in to help out. I'm not sure exactly what was said, most of it was in Arabic, but Top Priority was used several times. He also told me this never happens.

Now I had to wait.

An hour and a half later the call came in. We have found her! She is ok! She is in Baghdad!


Are you kidding me!?!

No they are not.

She will still be delivered to us "tonight".

Though it turns out that the language barrier with times meant her plane was taking off at 8 not landing at 8. The promise to call when she was on her way to us was pretty empty so we (I) fretted for most of the evening.

Finally, at midnight, the truck pulls up with our distressed and tired world traveler.  To add insult to injury our joyous reunion was marred, for her, by her desperate need for a bath.

Somewhere around 12:45 we all settled in for much needed sleep.

We will likely never know what the real story is.

But seriously....Baghdad!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Musings from the front porch.

It's Thursday Septmber 1st and the summer heat has finally broken in Ohio. I'm sitting on my front porch with jeans and a sweater on and contemplating my two months of home leave and enjoying the chill in the air. I've only had hot and muggy for 2.5 years so this is a welcome change.
I've been enjoying my time here in the States, most of it in Ohio this time but with time in DC and West Virginia/Maryland. Last summer included the 7 States in four weeks college tour so despite prepping Z for her first year at Case Western Reserve the pace has been slower and more relaxing.
One thing I have noticed this summer as I have seen friends and family is everyone asks a variation of the same question.."is it good to be home?"
My answer seems to be Yes, But..

Yes, it is so good to see my family and my friends. Most particularly my oldest child whoI am sure I miss more than he misses me. But I am also missing my new friends that I made in Indonesia. Many who I will likely never see again.

Yes, I missed the food. Particularly, Mexican, ice cream, cheese and affordable wine. But here I miss all the tropical fruit, bubble tea, and really good coffee we had in Indonesia.

Yes, I missed the convenience of driving myself and being able to easily get where I want. But, we spent the summer juggling four drivers and two cars.

Yes, I enjoyed the leasurly pace that came from not working. But, I miss having a job a feeling productive. I'm just not cut out for long term unemployment and I know both T and I are looking
forward to getting back into it next week. I have an interview on Thursday as soon as we arrive.

I think most foreign service families will tell you we all miss the ease and relative affordability of shopping in the US. Target and Trader Joes you have a special place in my heart. If only you would be better about shipping to DPO address. But, I am excited about finding new places to explore. Figuring out the markets and food vendors of Amman.

I missed the beauty of Ohio and the bounty of our farmers markets. But, I am also going to miss the lovely tropics of Indonesia and I'm looking forward to the desert living of Jordan.

I missed the amazing blend of people and cultures that America offers and all the benefits we have from this. It is a relief not to stand out like a wild unicorn for a while. But I have learned to appreciate the diversity of the multi island country of Indonesia. I promise the Balanese and the Ambonese are different from the Javanese and with time you can see it too. And we are looking forward to
immersing ourselves into new cultures.

So, America, we will miss you. I'm glad to have the opportunity to enjoy you for a while. But now we are on to our next adventure. We are nomads at heart. And please look out for my babies while we are away.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


There's a moment when I live in a foreign country that I start to feel at home. Things don't seem quite so odd to me any more and I are no longer in culture shock most of the time.
It's funny because if I vacation in a place it feels much different than the move. Probably because I'm not trying to figure out how to live but just having fun. Maybe Its because where I have lived is usually not a tourist destination even if the country itself is.
That moment might come when you are heading out to the store, movies, school and your head isn't on constant swivel trying to take everything in. In Indonesia I know it was coming back from a trip and feeling like I was coming home.
We have lived in two countries outside of the U.S. so far, New Zealand and Indonesia, and in each country I have managed to stand out for one reason or another. In New Zealand I looked pretty normal but the minute I opened my mouth out came my flat Midwestern accent. In Indonesia, well let's just say there are no locals with blond hair, green eyes and fair skin and at 5'4" I'm considered tall.
If you live somewhere long enough, all the things that felt different when you first arrived start to feel normal. Things don't stick out to you so much and it is very easy to forget how much you stick out yourself.
When we lived in New Zealand , I remember the first time someone said "I love your accent" and it caught me by surprise. I was so used to hearing the Kiwi accent I forgot I sounded different.

It happened again last weekend. I have lived in Jakarta long enough that this place feels normal. And Jakarta is an international city so there are always a lot of expats around, especially in the little bubble I mostly hang out in.
However, last weekend our family went to Medan, the third largest city but not a lot of expats. T and I went for work and we took Z along to have her experience a bit more of the country.
Z and I were out in the city with my coworker and as we traveled to my speaking engagements I started to notice the obvious head swivel. A lot. I'm sure it still happens in other places but I was starting to feel like I landed from Mars.

Z and I talked about it. It will be odd going back to the U.S. where we look and sound normal. It will be odder still for her since being 3/4 caucasian makes her white enough to still stand out and back in the States she's never considered the "white" girl like she is here.

So here's to being an oddity! And on to more adventure!

That's me. Sticking out in the middle.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I'll see you

Seventeen days and counting.
It's transfer season and it's also summer R&R season.
If you're in the Foreign Service you know that means that many of your friends are leaving. Maybe for just a few weeks or maybe they are leaving this post for good.
It's a bittersweet time.
If you are like us you are leaving for good. The movers will be arriving soon to pack up all our belongings and ship them to Amman. Or for Z the U.S.
This place that is starting to feel like home will be behind us soon. More importantly we are separating from the people who have come to be our friends.
I have been so very lucky to make friends who are both American and Indonesians and I must say, thank God for Facebook because for most of them it will allow me to still have some connection into their lives. It won't be the same.
The closest comparison I can make is when I was in college. Each year that batch of seniors left and we were all left missing them. In the fall and eager group of freshmen came to take their place and made it a new kind of awesome. Even when you go back as a graduate you will never again capture the magic of your time there.

Transfer season makes this even trickier. We all come and go at different times. I feel like we keep double checking who is leaving when. What is your last day? When are you going on Home Leave?
What is your departure date?

When is the last time you will see someone? A meeting? An Embassy party? Across the salon for that one last cream bath? Gathering your kids up at the pool?

In the end we all vanish. With our overstuffed suitcases we head out to the Jakarta airport and its never possible to say all of your goodbys.

So, for all of you who I will miss.
Know that I have counted myself very fortunate to know you. And here is to seeing you somewhere else in the word.

Our friend James said it best...."I'll see you, around"

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

In praise of the Cream Bath

Ahh the glories of the cream bath.
Ok. So I really need to tell you about this before I leave the country.

Indonesians have developed the most amazing spa treatment ever...the cream bath.

Of course they offer all the traditional treatments: mani/pedi, facials, massage but cream baths are the top of my list.

For as little as $10 this delight can be yours.

If you are like me and you love it when the stylist washes your hair when you get a haircut you will be on board with me.

The process is so simple but it is amazing. Your hair is washed and then, using conditioner, they proceed to massage your head. ahhh. But it doesn't stop there! A cream bath is really a head, neck, shoulder, upper back and arm massage. One hour of bliss.
After that your hair, now thoroughly saturated with conditioner, is left to sit for a bit while it fully soaks in and after a bit of time is rinsed out.
You are left with all that lovely bliss and soft shiny hair.

If you are smart, you will combine this with a manicure and pedicure because in SEA that means up three people working on you at once, efficiency, but it feels like bliss.

How many do you think I can get before I leave????

Permanent Departure

We are down to 37 days before Z and I depart from Jakarta. Like any move, there is so much to do, arrange the moving process, moving the dog, changing the mail. There are also the added aspects of a a State Department move, medical clearance, shipping your things internationally (do you want it, hopefully, quickly. Then it goes UAB. Or you can wait for the slow boat, it goes HHE), planning our home leave to the States. And for an added bonus, once again one of our offspring is graduating from High School and headed off to college this fall so she is getting her own shipment!

This is also that time when you come to terms that you will not see all of the country that you wanted to. This can be particularly challenging when you are in a country as large as Indonesia. My American friends may not quite realize this but Indonesia covers roughly the same area that the Continental U.S. does. It is a country of diverse and amazing beauty and some of it is very hard to get to. With that in mind we are planning a few more desperate trips in an effort to see just a little bit more.

During one of our nightly dinner conversations (HUGE plug: sit down and eat dinner with your family. You will have all kinds of interesting conversations.) Z and I were dwelling on the fact we are leaving a place we may never return.
This made me really sit back and think. Certainly I have traveled to places I will likely never visit again,  but leaving a place you have lived for almost two years seems to have much more significance. Most moves in my life I left  with the belief that I would be back in that place again. I don't know that we can say it this time. The nature of this life we have chosen, and the regional nature of T's position makes it less likely that we will live here in the future. This makes it feel so permanent.

Jakarta with all of its warts....traffic, pollution, lack of green space, has come to feel like our home. And now we are departing. I am sure that Amman, will present new adventures. I'm already wondering about transitioning from the tropics to the desert. Do I have enough lotion?

So we are staring down this new adventure. Our first transfer season. And we are taking time to say goodby to this beautiful place. Don't get me started about having to say goodby to the people. Instead I think I will use the standard State Department ....See You Sometime.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A matter of perspective

We've been doing a lot of traveling lately. Recent trips have included Bali, New Zealand and Bangkok. This really should come as no surprise to anyone who knows us. In fact, one of the main reasons we joined the foreign service is because we love to travel and have a crazy desire to see as much of the world as possible.
The thing is, when you live in Jakarta Indonesia the U.S. is very far away. In order to get back to our home base it takes 24 hours of travel. The problem is that this becomes your basis for measuring the reasonableness for travel time. You know that 24 hours is awful but then suddenly 7 hours doesn't sound too bad.

Want to go to New Zealand for a week? It's 12 hours. Hmm that seems doable.
Thinking about a weekend in Melbourne? That's 6.5 hours. Ok. Make it a 4 day weekend and it's not too bad.
Bangkok, that's only 3 hours!
There was a time when a 3 hour flight sounded really long and a trip to Europe from Ohio really should be a week long to justify the flight time.

Of course I am now staring down the flight back to the States soon. 24 hours still sounds pretty gross.
I think I'll stop in Hong Kong just to stretch my legs...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


I really hope that every parent has days like these.

In the last 24 hours I have had two separate interactions with my offspring that blew me away with how lucky I am to have them in my life. And also made me wonder how on earth these two amazing people came from T and me.

The first took place as I was getting home from work last night. Z and I are heading to Singapore for a long weekend around Chinese New Year. We're planning some of the standard stuff that revolves around eating great food, getting out and walking in the easy to traverse sidewalks, hanging out in Chinatown and celebrating the holiday, and maybe some shopping.
I brought up that I had heard good things about the ArtScience Museum and thought we should check it out. She pulled up their website and her first reaction was "Oh Cool! They have an exhibit on the Large Hadron Collider!" "We're studying nuclear physics now in physics class. It's so much fun!"

This is the child who used to cry when she had to do her math facts.

The second came when I got an email from F. He's the one on the other side of the world. In it he included a character study of himself he did in his creative writing class. While he completely downgraded it, and we had to beg him to send it,  I was impressed. He is eloquent and funny.
This is the math kid. The one with the Einstein totebag. The one who struggled with writing for school early on. Everything was  "just the facts mam". No detail. Not descriptions. The begging to get him to fill in more information to bring a report up to the required page count was awful.

For all of you who teach, it was his freshman English teacher that made him fall in love with writing and I bless that woman all the time. Maybe this Math Major will be a published author someday.

I look at these two, in those everyday magic moments, and I can't believe I had anything to do with these amazing humans. I think T and I did something right though.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Do You Pembantu?

Ok. Before I tell you this little story I have some full disclosure.
As part of our life here in Indonesia we have staff at our house. We have a driver who takes us around where we want to go most of the time, we have a gardener who comes in twice a week to tame our tropical garden and we have a maid who comes in Monday-Friday who cleans our house, does laundry and for the most part cooks our dinners.
Our driver and maid also run errands for us...dry cleaner, grocery shopping etc.
We do this in part because it is part of being an expat and contributing to the economy we live in. We won't always have this at other posts.
We also do it because:
1) I don't want to drive in this city. Ever.
2) Because traffic is so bad here it takes much more time to get what you need when you are doing those errands. Combine this with the fact that you can never find everything you are looking for at one store or even find it at the same store you found it last time and you see the benefits quickly.

I have also heard that many drivers and maids make more than school teachers here. Especially those who work for Americans. So it's probably not too bad a gig.

You should also know that most Americans I know only have one maid and many only have one part time. Most Indonesians I know have at least two maid and a full time gardener. Also if they have kids there is always a nanny sometimes one for each kid!

Now here's the story I heard at lunch this weekend.

A co worker was meeting with a large group of Indonesian professional women. The subject of staff came up. The Indonesians were complaining about managing their staff and the problems they have with them. The also found them completely necessary because how could you work full time and do all the other things that need to be done like cook and clean and take care of the children.
My co worker kept quiet for a moment and then with I can assume was a gleam in her eye said....
"Well in my country.." The Indonesians were of course all amazed at the American's ability to manage work and home all by themselves.

So ladies. Next time you feel overwhelmed. Remember how awesome you are for being able to do it all. And then go have that glass of wine. You can afford one in America.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

kami tidak takut

Yesterday, as I was sitting in an embassy shuttle bus on my way to a friend and co-workers going- away lunch, there was a sudden flurry as peoples phones went off. John and Ed announced there was a bomb and shooting in the city and they had to go. So they jumped out of the, parked, van and trotted back into the office leaving the rest of us as they went off to do their jobs dealing with the flow of media coming both in and out of the embassy.
It took the rest of us about ten more minutes before we were called back to the office. We hadn't gotten too far when the announcement went out to the shuttle drivers to bring our people back in. The send-off lunch will be delayed and we all scavenged for what we could find in the building. Thank God for the Starbucks in our building.
Systems kicked in. Shelter in Place. People were accounted for. Parents checked on their children. Everyone sent out the mandatory Facebook notices that we were all ok.
I can't tell you all the details, because some of the secrecy is what keeps us safe. That's why you don't see pictures of the front of my house or images online that might give away security issues.
What I am telling you is that those systems are in place and I witnessed them work yesterday.
I'm also telling you this because I work with some great professionals who do their jobs very well, both yesterday and everyday.
Yesterday could have been much worse. I've been to the Sarinah Mall several times. In fact one of my favorite restaurants is there and I have had meetings at that Starbucks.
It's a really busy bustling place. The Jakarta police had it under control and the situation was dealt with. And it will continue to be.
I have never been afraid as I am out and about in Indonesia. And trust me, I stand out as a westerner.
But Indonesia is home to kind, open, friendly welcoming people who happen to be predominately Muslim. And the Indonesians I know don't understand why anyone would corrupt their religion this way. But also they are not going to take it lying down.
I have of course seen the Pray for Jakarta posts. Pretty standard. But I have also seen Kami Tidak Takut! We Are Not Afraid!
They are not going to roll over and let outside influences make things harder for "normal", as one friend called them, Muslims.
So I am going to take a cue from my friends from across the archipelago. I am going to choose not to be afraid. I will not let a few bad seeds influence my experience as I travel the world. I will not judge people based on their religion, color, creed. Of course we will take precautions. I will always have a gate and a guard when we are in the Foreign Service. But I will also take a this lesson. Saya Tidak Takut

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Really Cool Things about Indonesia

My last post was really not designed to make Indonesia look bad or to make you feel sorry for me.
Just to put into perspective that with all good things come some bad. Yin and Yang. Dark and Light. Winter and Spring. You know all the sayings.
Mostly it was a reality check to remind myself and others that with all the "fabulous lifeness" we are having there are some downsides so think twice before you have too much envy.

I wanted to balance yesterday's post though with some really cool things, big and small, about our foreign service life in Indonesia.

1) Ok. Let's get this out of the way first. There is this:

2) Indonesians are possibly the nicest people in the world. I am pretty sure I have never met one who is grouchy. They are also generous and open to sharing their country and culture.

3) This is a predominantly Muslim country but they are generally open to all religions. I have       Indonesian friends who are Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian and I have never seen any judgement or conflict between them. In fact the country prides itself on being religiously tolerant.

4) Which leads to this. There is also huge tolerance for religious observation. You will see women in    headscarves and conservative dress but at least in Jakarta you will also see women in miniskirts and tank tops, frequently in the same family. 
5) Cream Bath's. This is an amazing development by Indonesians. If you like the part where you get your hair washed at the salon you will LOVE cream baths. It is a hair treatment and head/shoulder/upper back massage all rolled into one. It usually last for about one hour and generally costs $12-$15.

6) Fruit. I was already in love with mango and we have mango season! With about 10 different kinds of mango! But there is also watermelon, pineapple, mangosteen, snake fruit, rambutan, soursop, coconut, longan. Oh, yeah, there is also durian but no one in our house has managed to get on board with that. To go with these fruits there is also fresh fruit juice almost everywhere you go. Cheap! My personal favorite is watermelon with lime. 

7)I know I complained about the movie selection but when you do find one you want to see the movie theaters are AMAZING! I know the recliners are coming to American theaters but we don't even come close to the "velvet room" experience with pillows and blankets and smaller theaters.

8) Indonesian creativity. There is a culture of artistry here that extends to so much of what they do. This is true with batiks, paintings, music, and dance. Their creativity also extends to problem solving. I am frequently amazed at the solutions that I see for fixing things. More often than not it's probably not how an American would do it but generally it works and I'm usually impressed.

9) I have grown to love the Call to Prayer. I'm not Muslim or in danger of converting anytime soon but the Call to Prayer is a beautiful reminder throughout the day to pay attention to what is holy. That said the 4am version is something I could do without and am grateful we can't hear it in our house.

10) Martabak. This is an Indonesian treat that is no way good for you. It is full of margarine, sweetened condensed milk, usually chocolate of some kind and cheese. It is definitely a treat to be eaten only occasionally and with as many friends as possible but soooooo Enak Sekali!

11) I have, lizards, frogs and geckos living in my yard!!

Not my yard but looks just like the ones who live there.

12) Z is going to a great International School and since she participates in two sports we get to travel to tournaments all over the region. Next stop, Singapore! It also means we host kids who are visiting Jakarta for tournaments. We've had great guests from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok.

13)I have a really cool job! And I get to work with really cool people both inside the embassy and out of it. In fact I get to work with some interesting, creative people who are doing their best to make a difference in this country and in the world.

14) Lastly. All the friends I have made. We will all come and go from each others lives as we travel around the world with the foreign service. But someone said to me recently. I never say goodbye because we will see each other again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What sucks, big things and little, about our life in the foreign service in Indonesia

Recently,  in a message from a friend she mentioned she had seen some mutual friends of ours that day. When she was asked if she knew how I was she said I was off living a fabulous life. And really she is right.
If you look at my Facebook posts. You will see that in the last year I have been all over Indonesia, including Bali and Komodo, places you have probably heard of, but also Padang, Yogyakarta, and Pontianak, places I'm pretty sure you haven't but should.
I'm also lucky that living in Indonesia puts me close to other cool travel spots. So you've seen our trips to Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo and Cambodia recently.
It's true we are enjoying parts of the world most of our friends back home will likely never travel to and if you only see these pictures you wouldn't think there was anything about our lives that wasn't fabulous. Facebook kind of works that way mostly you post all the fabulousness  because most of life is pretty routine.  Also I have no desire to seem whiney. We did choose this life and really wouldn't go back.
If you follow me on Facebook you also know that I am lucky, and yes as an Eligible Family Member I know this is a bit of luck, to have a job that is meaningful and creative and allows me to contribute to the Embassy mission goals. This job is even part of my travel plan. A lot of officers don't get to see as much of the country as I do for work as I travel around to the American Corners.

But all this fabulousness does come with a price. So just to keep this real in my first of two posts, What sucks, big things and little, about our life in the foreign service in Indonesia:

1) Jakarta is a big, estimated 20,000,000 people, city with terrible infrastructure. The traffic is notoriously awful. What should take 15 minutes can take hours. There are no good sidewalks or really any decent green spaces. And thanks to the world's obsession with palm oil, this part of the world frequently can't breathe. I know far too many people who are struggling with lunge issues and as far as I can discern from the Medical Office, we are all allergic to the air in Jakarta. And we aren't even in Beijing or Delhi!
2) To go with the terrible infrastructure, you can't drink the water. All of our consumable water comes in delivered plastic jugs or purchased in water bottles. You are also taking a serious risk if you have ice anywhere but from your own home where you made it from bottled water.
3) This beautiful country that I keep showing you pictures of...yeah they are trashing it. Trash in the streets, rivers, oceans. Burning down forests and burning up peatland. Many Indonesians get it and are trying to stop the destruction but many don't and I fear this will take a long time to change.
4) One word: Toilets. Outside of Jakarta I am usually faced with a variation of a squat toilet that is a fancy, or not so fancy, hole in the floor. Not being raised with this let's just say at first it was a challenge. Now however I carry my potty bag with tp and wet wipes with me always and I only cringe a little when I have to deal with an especially bad one. I just wish I had a picture of the hole in the floor of the ferry boat that I was faced with recently.

5) Lack of what most Americans would consider normal sanitary standards in food production and service. We have to wash all of our produce in special soap or bleach to make sure we don't get any very nasties. Also we don't dare eat at the local street vendors for the most part because they wash their dishes in dirty water buckets in the street. Fancy restaurants aren't even a guarantee. I know many people, our family included who came away from a nice dinner with a bonus guest in our intestines. Oh yeah, we all feel free to talk about our bowel movements too.
6) The local movie theatres are running 6 movies at any time. Whatever big blockbuster is coming from the U.S. on half of their screens, one or two maybe should have gone straight to dvd movies and the rest from somewhere in asia. This seriously limits our movie exposure.
7) Cheese and Wine are both hard to come by in much variety and are expensive.
8) OMG. Asians cannot grasp the concept of the line/queue.  I get it. I live in their country so it's my problem not theirs. But if one more little old lady shoves her way in front of me in the restroom we may have an international incident on our hands.

9) Safety standards here in general would make OSHA have a coronary. If you ever want to complain about government interference you should come here and see a construction  site. Sadly this seems to go for airlines too. For some hair raising reading:
10) It is 90* here EVERY day. I know. You are all in the throes of winter. But I want you to think back to last July or August when you were hot and sweaty and couldn't get cool and just wanted to hide in the AC. Do you remember how you looked forward to Fall when you could sleep with the windows open. yeah.
11) Indonesians have a interesting relationship with rules. Some rules seem to be made to be broken. The idea for example that you should stay in one of the marked lanes in traffic for example. However just try to get a cheese pizza at the pizza restaurant when it isn't actually on the menu and you will most likely be told that this is not possible. "You could just make me a pizza and not put the other topping on it."
12) It has taken our family a year and a half to figure out how to get some kind of plan set up on our cell phones so that we can actually use them as smart phones and not be constantly running out of minutes.
13) Finally, and again I get this I am an American living in their country but, Indonesians meander when they walk. Maybe it's living in the heat but they seem to never be in any hurry to get anywhere. This is enough to drive this MidWestern Girl crazy and I can't even imagine what a New Yorker would do.

Next Post: Things about Indonesia that are really pretty amazing that you probably don't know about.