Archive for October, 2012

October 26, 2012

Living the Dream

by Tabitha Kidwell

The 3 days I spent in South Kalimantan last weekend were the kind of adventure that I will look back on 10 years from now and wonder if it really happened, or if it was a dream. It may be because I was sick with some kind of dizzying illness most of the weekend, but looking back, it seems like a strange string of fantastic experiences that would make more sense if preceded by “I had this crazy dream last night that…”

There were 7 ELFs from around Indonesia staying at our friend Jon’s house in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan. We woke up before dawn on Friday morning to go the river and get on a boat to go eat breakfast. While sailing down the river, we interrupted lots of people taking their morning baths, but they didn’t seem to mind. Once we got to a bigger river, boats full of food pulled up to us and we took what we wanted using a pointy stick.

Then, we went back to Jon’s house, got in cars, picked up 2 more friends at the airport, and drove like 6 hours to a wooden cabin in the tiny town of Loksado. There was a complex across the way that was described as a “hot springs” but when we all went over, it was more like a “dirty pool” that we swam in nonetheless.

The next morning, we took motorcycles over some rough terrain and some precarious bridges to get to a waterfall in the middle of the forest. We swam in our clothes because there was a spirit there that would be angry otherwise. I had my brand-new underwater camera with me, but it wouldn’t really take pictures underwater even though it seemed to work well otherwise.

That afternoon, we climbed two-by-two onto rafts made of bamboo logs tied together, and floated down the river. It wasn’t more than a foot deep at most places. The guides kept having to move rocks to find a pathway for us, but it was still a lovely ride. It got especially exciting when Jen (who was also in Madagascar with me) piloted our raft.

That evening, we gathered around a fire and sang American songs. We passed around an empty water bottle as a drum and a bottle of ciprofloxicin as a shaker.

The next morning, we piled into the cars again and drove back to Banjarmasin. But we got there too early, so we tried to go to our friend Matt’s house, but he wasn’t home, so we went and drank cold drinks, then Iris and I got a massage, then Matt was home, so we went there, then I filled out my Absentee Ballot and gave it to Jackie to mail for me, then we went to the airport and flew home…

And then I woke up. No, clearly it happened since I have the photos to prove it. But it was a crazy, unreal adventure. Indonesia – where dreams become a reality and reality is like a dream.

October 13, 2012

The Paper Shuffle

by Tabitha Kidwell

I don’t know if it is a holdover from Dutch colonization, but bureaucracy is a big deal in Indonesia. Stamps, letterhead, folders, forms – all very important. For example, here is the procedure to extend your visa:

Got all that?

And here is the main office of the university:

Those cabinets are full of pastel-colored folders holding who-knows-what important records. I wandered in here during the first week of class and the teetering towers of documents was terrifying.

So, when I got a letter from the Postal Customs Office in Semarang (the provincial capital, 1.5 hours north of Salatiga), I knew it was trouble. I had to go to Semarang with Bu Rini, my sponsor at STAIN, to do other bureaucratic things at the Immigration Office and Police Station, so we added one stop to the trip. We went to the post office, showed the letter, and were led through a labyrinth of bright orange bags of mail to reach a hot, cramped office in the back. It was staffed by 4 very bored looking civil servants and 3 vocational high school students. The students were diligently filling out some kind of form. One of the civil servants was smoking, another eating peanuts. The last two weren’t doing much more than sweating. But they managed to look very irritated when Bu Rini and I entered. One went off to get the offending package while the other three peered at me suspiciously and asked about what I was doing in Central Java. Their colleague returned with the package (which turned out to be from my mother) and revealed what had raised the red flag: a small zip-lock baggie of calcium pills. They asked us to explain what they were and what they were for. I thought they were probably concerned they were drugs – Indonesia is pretty strict with narcotics. So I was a little nervous as they had me count them.

60 pills total – enough for one person for 2 months.

“Ah, yes.” Said bored immigration lady #1, totally unconcerned with the possibility that these could be illegal drugs. “That is a large quantity. You could sell those for profit. You must pay a tax.”

Serioualy? 60 pills? That probably cost $5 at home? I asked if I could just take the rest of the contents, and flush the pills down the toilet.

“No.” said bored immigration lady #2. “It is one package. You must take the entire package.”

At this point, I had seen that the entire package contained sunscreen, Ohio summer honey, and Ghirardelli semi-sweet baking chips. I wanted the entire package. So the negotiation began.

Plan 1: You must go to the Office of Controlled Substances (which is in Semearang, 1.5 hours away from where I live) to get a permission slip to have the calcium pills. Then you must wait 2 weeks while the paperwork is completed. Then you must return to the Postal Customs Office (which is also in Semearang, 1.5 hours away from where I live) to retrieve the package and pay the tax.

Somehow Bu Rini managed to talk them out of this, since we live so far away and it is difficult to come to Semarang. Also, I may have cried a little bit.

Plan 2: You will pay the tax here, and you will promise never to send dangerous items like calcium pills through the mail. The tax is 300.000 rp ($35).

Seriously? The contents didn’t even come $35 to begin with, so this would be like paying for them all again. I bluffed – I said I didn’t even want the package, picked up my purse, and got ready to walk out the door. But Bu Rini stopped me and got them to make the tax lower.

Plan 3: You will pay the tax here, and you will promise (A) to never send dangerous items like calcium pills through the mail and (B) to never come to our office and bother our afternoon gossip session again. The tax is 90.000 rp ($10).

This plan was satisfactory to all involved. They typed up the forms (in triplicate!), I signed, paid the tax, and went on my merry way. Until my next roll-in with the forces of Indonesian bureaucracy, that is!

October 9, 2012

My New Roommates

by Tabitha Kidwell

Disclaimer: If you don’t like bugs and rodents, don’t read this. Also, don’t move to Indonesia.

I may have been premature with my statement “the rains have come” last post. Unwavering sunshine is still prevailing, but I still hold out hope.

One major reason I am hoping for rain is because I am hoping it will wash away the rat family that has taken up residence in my pipes. There is basically one pipe that runs from the roof drain, through my bathroom, under my living room, and drains here:

Then everything goes into this open air sewer directly in front of my house:

Some history: one night, a rat got into my study/food storage room. I thought he climbed in through the open window, so I just closed the door, went to bed, and hoped he would be gone in the morning. It was a successful strategy and I only lost a cup o’ noodles. I thought closing the window would solve the problem, but the next morning a bag of soup mix had been nibbled on. My housekeeper told me they were probably coming from the pipes, so I constructed this:

Water can pass through, but not rats. Nice, huh?

But then I was awoken at 4 AM one morning by a rustling in the garbage in the other room. I arose just in time to see a little furry thing run into the bathroom and disappear with a clink of the shower drain. I have since started keeping a brick on there and that seems to have stopped them. I definitely confirmed that they are living there, because I saw 3 or 4 little guys peeking out of the drain hole pictured above, and I can hear their little squeaking at night. I’m hoping the rain will wash them away for good, but who knows.

Rats aren’t the only vermin to have taken up residence while I was away for the summer. I also have been killing cockroaches at the steady rate of one per day. They’re not even fast cockroaches, they just sit waiting to be smashed by my flip-flop. I wonder if they are a ploy sent out by the cockroach mafia to distract me while they are dealing cocaine in my back yard (or maybe I’ve been watching too much of The Wire?). I even killed one by accident in the door frame. It got stuck there, 3 feet off the ground, and for an entire day, an army of ants dismantled it and carried it away.

Which reminds me: ants are a problem, too. There seems to be a whole hierarchy of ant types: big, fat ones in the kitchen, medium-sized in my study, and teeny in the living room. But no matter the size, if I leave an empty teacup out for 5 minutes, they will swarm the still-sugary surface. I’m worried if I sleep too late they will begin to dismantle me like they did the cockroach.

In short, life is hard. But at least the spiders and small and the geckos are cute. And a mosquito hasn’t woken me up buzzing in my ear for like 2 weeks. So I’ll take the rats, ants, and lazy cockroaches. Until I figure out that cocaine scheme. Or until it starts to rain.

October 6, 2012

October Rain

by Tabitha Kidwell

There are at least 3 posts on my Facebook newsfeed referencing the weather in America. Snow in Colorado! Raining for the Saturday morning run in Columbus! Unseasonably warm in the northeast! We Americans seem to be endlessly amused/chagrined by the ever-changing jet stream.

When I explain American weather to Indonesian people, they are always a bit baffled. “So, it can be rainy and cold one day, then warm and sunny the next? Any time of year?” The idea that weather could change so drastically and so often is a new and foreign concept. Being that weather is basically the same here, day after day, small talk about the weather is pretty pointless. No one really asks “How’s the weather?” “How about that rain?” “Cold out there, huh?” because it would lead to the most boring conversation ever.

That is, except for right about now. The dry season has been dragging on since April and it’s just been getting hotter and hotter and dustier and dustier. People keep saying “It’s hot!” then fanning themselves ineffectively with a sweaty hand. “We need rain,” then say, and I agree. There is a drought so severe that entire dammed-up reservoirs now look like this:

And the rushing river that usually runs through the grounds of the fancy hotel where I work out now looks like this:

Though when I was there yesterday morning, it had a trickle of water flowing, making me think it was raining somewhere upstream.

Then, today as I was riding my Scoopy home from a Batik shopping spree, a drop of rain hit my face. Then another. And another. I sang an impromptu “Hallelujah” that I hope other people couldn’t hear while I was moving. I was super excited! No one else seemed to notice, though. Except the random Bule I pulled up next to at a stop light. I looked over, and she had the same silly grin on her face that I did.

“How about that rain?” she said.

Yep, pretty exciting.