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.