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.

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