Archive for March, 2012

March 30, 2012

The Mada-Indo Connection

by Tabitha Kidwell

Check out this article:

This is just further proof of the bizarre but well-established link between Indonesia and Madagascar, all the way across the Indian ocean. This was one of the reasons I was interested to come to Indonesia – I knew that Malagasy culture had a lot of influences from its Indonesian heritage. I thought I might be like a cultural detective, searching out little similarities. Turns out, no searching is necessary – it’s so darn similar that sometimes I feel like I am still in Madagascar. Really, 1,200 years ago is not that long for the two cultures to have diverged. By that point in western history, contributions of Greek and Roman civilization were well in the past, most of France was already united, and vikings were already sailing around wearing funny hats. So it makes sense that Madagascar and Indonesia should be culturally similar. That entire last post about rice, for example, could have been about Madagascar as easily as Indonesia. Some other similarities:

If you go on a trip, you are sure to arrive back to neighbors and colleagues good-naturedly, or a little impishly, asking for their voandalana or oleh-oleh – gift or souvenir. I especially like the Malagasy, which translates literally as “silver of the road.”

You can’t walk down the street without running into an old lady selling fried goodies – but, no matter how many you eat, you cannot be full since you did not eat rice!

Indonesia may not have a drinking culture thanks to Muslim influences, but you can still find arak, potentially fatal or blinding home-brewed liquor, AKA toaka gasy.

Though Madagascar is predominately Christian and Indonesia is predominately Muslim, there are strong animist beliefs. The elaborate funerals and burial rituals in Toraja rival Madgascar’s famadianas, where the dead are exhumed and entertained at week-long parties in their honor. And ghosts and witches definitely still are roaming at night in both countries.

The languages have lots of similarities: merah is red, ribu/arivo is 1,000, and most or all verbs begins with m (but you can change it to a p sound to make it a person, i.e. menulis/manoratra to write and penulis/mpanoratra writer). There are no real verb tenses to speak of, beyond a general sense of past, present, and future that mostly comes from context, but there are labyrinthine uses of active, passive, and relative voice (bet you didn’t know that one existed, huh?). I’d probably know even more similarities if I could remember more Malagasy!

Lastly, both cultures never cease to give me reasons to wonder. Sometimes people seem to do things that don’t make sense to me as a foreigner living there, but it always seems to work out in the end. I think academics studying what the article calls “one of the strangest episodes in the human odyssey” feel the same way about the two cultures. Why and how did Indonesian people end up in Madagascar? Who knows, but it seems to have worked out pretty well.

March 25, 2012

Nasi Mania

by Tabitha Kidwell

As part of hosting a fellow, my institution got to send one faculty member to the TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) conference in Philadelphia. We are sending my friend Bu Rini, who came into my office the other day very concerned.

“Tabby…” she said. “In America, where can I find the rice? When Pak Hammam (another faculty member) went to America he said he was very weak without rice. What do you suggest?”

Oh my. Indonesian people love their nasi. They eat it for every meal, huge piles of it. They might have ten fried goodies, some fruit, a sandwich, and some noodles, but they would say that they hadn’t eaten yet because there is no rice. When they ask what I ate for breakfast and I say something like “fruit and yogurt” or “oatmeal,” they look at me like maybe I didn’t understand the question because those are just not logical answers. They were looking for something like “fried tempe, vegetables… and rice.” Indonesian people are constantly asking me what we eat in America if we don’t eat rice. Potatoes? Bread? Pasta? Well, yes, we eat those things, but not everyday, and certainly not every meal. Trying to explain that we eat very different things at every meal just doesn’t quite compute for a culture whose idea of “meal” is a variation of sauce or fried food with a big pile of white grainy goodness.

So Bu Rini was very concerned. She had actually come into my office as I was eating my packed lunch, a tuna sandwich and cut up vegetables. I showed her what I was eating and reminded her that I eat like that and do exercise and don’t feel weak. She seemed skeptical. I told her to try Asian restaurants, or to order two “sides of rice” in American restaurants. She was still unconvinced. She left last Friday – we’ll see if she can make it back alive!

March 19, 2012

Late to bed and early to rise?

by Tabitha Kidwell

I just got off a one-hour bus ride with the most horn-happy driver I’ve ever had. If it had been longer than an hour, I would have gotten off and waited for the next bus to come along. Every time he laid into the horn, I craned my neck to see what was going on, and it seemed to be nothing more than the usual flow of traffic, albeit at evening rush hour. After one particular 30-second long bleat, I looked around for someone to share in my frustration… and everyone was asleep.

This is one of many examples of how much Indonesian people’s sleep patterns baffle me. They seem to be able to sleep anywhere. I’m usually the only one awake on plane flights. I saw a woman asleep on the back of a motorbike once. Students sleep in their campus activity offices while their friends are literally shouting all around them. I don’t get it.

Though I guess I should: it’s evidence of systematic, chronic sleep deprivation. People just don’t seem to care about sleep here – it’s just not a cultural value. If an American got less than 4 hours of sleep, most of us would be droopy-eyed and cranky, drinking coffee and complaining about what a rough night it was. Here, people get that much sleep routinely and just go about their daily business. Part of the issue is Muslim prayers – they are expected to pray 5 times daily: before sunrise, around noon, 3, 6, and before they go to bed. So, getting up before sunrise is non-negotiable. I get that, and I think waking up early to pray would be a great way to start the day. I actually have started doing so. The mosques play the call to prayer at like 4:30, and it starts to wake me up before my alarm rings at the slovenly hour of 5 AM. Everyone is up then, even if they are not Muslim – it is just the time to start the day. Some extracurricular classes and meetings at Muslim schools even happen at 5 AM – can you imagine anything happening at 5 AM in America?

So, when people were telling me about their daily schedules when I first arrived, I thought for sure they would say that they went to be at, like, 9 PM to compensate for waking up at 4:30, but they say they go to bed at 11, midnight, or even later. I was always flabbergasted and asked if they napped. Some said they did, sometimes, but no one seemed to think that 4-5 hours of sleep every night was any kind of problem. I just don’t think they, as a society, have been taught to care about sleeping. When I am going to bed at 10 on a Saturday night (yes my life is very exciting), I look out my window and see whole families walking around the neighborhood, with babies and kids of all ages. There is no concept of “bedtime” forced upon children, so maybe they just don’t ever think about it.

This makes me wonder, do Americans only “need” 8 hours of seep because we have been told that we need 8 hours of sleep? If we didn’t believe that, could we run on 4 hours, no problem? Maybe, but I’m not going to try to prove it. It’s 9 PM and I’m going to bed!

March 6, 2012

File under “stupid”

by Tabitha Kidwell

Weird stuff happens in foreign countries. The bacteria and the food is different, so things that your body can deal with just fine in America cause serious problems abroad. For instance, when I had been in Madagascar about 10 weeks, I got a huge whitehead zit. Grossness alert ahead: It was the kind that is just begging to be popped, pus just under the surface, so I obliged… then had to spend 5 days in the hospital because it got infected and the infection threatened to speed to my eyes and my brain. Not cool.

So, I thought conditions in Indonesia were somehow to blame for the horrible bloating I’d been having for the past few months. I thought maybe I was allergic to soy or MSG, but after carefully watching my diet, no patterns emerged. I thought maybe I was overeating too much on vacation, but I seemed to get really bloated even if I didn’t have much to eat. So I did a google search, and it said that parasites and worms, though they usually cause diarrhea and weight loss, can also cause bloating and constipation if it is a truly massive infestation. I was pretty sure I was being eaten alive, starting with the intestines. Thanks a lot, Indonesia!

So, I finally got myself to the doctor last month. I went to the fancy western clinic in Jakarta, and used their wi-fi while I waited for the doctor. When I went in to see Dr. Dian, she poked around my abdomen and confirmed that, yeah, I was really bloaty. “Are you on your period?,” she asked. No. “Do you have any known food allergies?” No. “Do you drink a lot of soda?” None. “Do you have any heartburn or acid reflux?” No. “Do you always chew gum?”


I had, at the moment, been happily chomping away on a piece of sugar-free Extra Dessert Sensations Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream gum. Over the past few months I had become something of a sugar-free gum connaisseur. I had a lot more free time, and I was finding myself nibbling and snacking whenever I was sitting around my house, so to try to avoid that and keep my mouth busy, I started chewing sugar-free gum. Unfortunately, Indonesia only seems to produce, like, 3 flavors, and I got sick of those real quick. I started asking for gum in packages, I bought some when I was in Australia, and my mom brought me some. By the middle of January, I had a huge stockpile. I even had more waiting for me in packages when I got back. Here’s an idea of just how much (and this was after I had chewed a ton and given away probably a third of it):

Having so much gum made feel like I needed to do all I could to use it up, so I started chewing more and more. By the time I went to the doctor, I was probably up to a half a pack a day! Basically, if I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I was chewing gum. Wait, not just chewing gum. I was chomping, snapping, blowing bubbles, and generally annoying everyone within earshot.

So, back to the doctors office: She told me that chewing gum makes you swallow more air and can lead to bloating. I read on google later that the artificial sweeteners are also bad because your body doesn’t digest them well. She suggested that I try a week without gum and see if it helped, then come back to see her again if it didn’t.

So, I tossed the last of the gum I brought with me on my travels.

And the bloating was over.

Meaning, I had managed to chew so much gum that I was able to convince myself I had a massive infestation of worms. Not cool. No hospital time, so not as bad as the zit, but right up there.

Anyone want a lifetime supply of sugar-free gum?

March 3, 2012

Back to Salatiga

by Tabitha Kidwell

After 6 weeks of traveling, I was ready to get back to Salatiga last week. I was excited to stop living out of a suitcase, to wear different clothes, to cook my own food, to get back into a normal exercise routine, etc. In short, I was excited to return to normal life. My return was even better than expected, though, thanks to a couple of things that had happened while I was away:

1. A beautiful organic grocery store opened up just down the street from me! And, the main grocery store in town added an organic produce section. Especially now that I have a salad spinner (thanks, Mom!) I can now eat all the fresh, organic fruit and veggies I want! I really appreciate this after quite a few fried meals while traveling. I loved it at the time, but it’s time to eat healthy again.

2. A yoga studio opened up! This was great in principle, but I went to a class and it was… not yoga. It was similar, but with jerky movements between poses and lots of breath holding, two things I’ve always been told NOT to do in Yoga. So I won’t be going back to the yoga studio, but I’m happy that it exists.

3. I had 2 packages waiting, and 3 more arrived in the next week! I am totally stocked for the rest of my time here, with over 6 pounds of whole wheat pasta, 5 packages of sour patch kids, 3 bags of jelly beans, 4 packages of reese’s peanut butter cups, probably $100 worth of sugar free gum, and so many more goodies! People did a really good job of reading my wish list!

4. My new road bike arrived from Singapore. I bought it in Jakarta a few weeks ago with my friend Jackie, who actually bought the same bike. We are going to use them to train for the Bintan Triathlon on May 26! I’ve also become a member at the fancy hotel in town so that I can use their pool. (Only $60 for 3 months!) So I am getting in shape in a big way!

Beyond all these big changes and visible improvements, I also have started making smaller changes myself. After visiting and traveling with friends, I was reminded how nice it is to spend time with other people. That sounds a little crazy, but I think I got a little too isolated last semester. The past 2 years, I have been working full time, getting my masters degree, coaching cross country and track, training for marathons, volunteering at church, and trying to squeeze in a social life. So when I got here, I really relished having free time to read, meditate, and spend time alone. But I think I took it a little too far – there would be days when I would go out for a run in the morning, then wouldn’t even leave my house for the rest of the day! So I’m making more efforts to build relationships here in town. I met my Indonesian friend Sasha for lunch (though then I learned she is moving to Jakarta). I got back in touch with some American girls who are here studying Indonesian, and have started going to their house to watch downloaded episodes of The Bachelor. I cooked pizza with my counterpart’s family. Rather than sit around all day surfing Facebook and reading my kindle, I’ve made myself leave the house and go to coffee shops and restaurants… where I surf Facebook and read my kindle in. At least I get out of the house! As an added bonus, I discovered this amazing place that has oreo blizzards to rival Dairy Queen. In fact, I’m going to go get one right now! Yes, it is definitely good to be back!