Archive for April, 2013

April 16, 2013

Thoughts on Violence, Marathons, Indonesia, and Boston: Alhamdulillah

by Tabitha Kidwell

One of the best parts of living somewhere 12 hours ahead is waking up in the morning and scrolling through my facebook feed to see what my friends in America did yesterday.

Today was not a good morning.

Last night, as I went to bed, I saw pictures of friends from my running group as they were preparing to run the Boston Marathon, the country’s oldest and most iconic race. People train hard for years to qualify for Boston. Even if we know we’ll never qualify, we still think about the possibility (if I had a great day…; If I could lose 15 pounds..; If I can still run this fast when I’m 70…). We know random facts about a race course we have never seen (10 AM start in Hopkinton; Newton Hills between miles 19 and 26). Based on my age and gender, I would have to run a 3:35 marathon to qualify. That will never happen, but for my friends who are just a little faster and a lot more competitive, it’s within the realm of possibility. This morning, I was excited to wake up and see how they had done in yesterdays race.

And, of course, the first thing I saw was the terrible news of 2 bombs at the finish line.

For some reason, when people hear about a senseless act of violence, we want to find a connection to our own lives. Maybe it’s human compassion, maybe it’s voyeurism, but we want to take someone else’s tragedy and make it our own. We update our facebook status, we tweet: We are all Virginia Tech; Praying for Sandy Hook families; Those could have been my friends; That could have been my child. We want to be part of it, and somehow we feel like we are.

People here in Indonesia feel the same way, and often, I am their connection. For many of my students and colleagues, I am the only American they know well, or even the only American they have ever met. When a tragedy occurs in the States, they often seek me out. “We are sorry to hear the news,” they say. “Are your family and friends okay?” Usually, my family and friends are hundreds of miles away – many Indonesians don’t know New York from New Mexico. I let this slide since many Americans don’t know that Sumatra and Java are more than coffees at Starbucks. But, by being able to connect with me, an actual American, they feel a connection with the tragedy, and they have a conduit for their condolences.

Of course today, some of my friends were there, had passed the exact bombing site only minutes before. And even more of my friends felt like they were there. People come to run Boston from all over the country. I would bet that any distance runner in the US who runs with a group knows at least one runner in Boston today, and immediately thought of that friend. Actually, many of them had already been thinking of those friends all morning as they ran the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square, mentally sending luck and encouragement. We think about them going to the expo while we are doing our own long run Saturday morning. We see Facebook pictures of them having their pre-run pasta on Sunday night. We post good luck comments on the picture of them on the bus that morning. We follow their progress online. A little bit of us is there too. So when we imagine their finish line excitement and triumph turning into tragedy, we feel that, too.

I feel a little bit sheepish saying this about something as secular as a foot race, but there is something sacred about the finish line. I always cry as I cross. I’m not sure if that is because I’m proud of my accomplishment, overcome with endorphins, or just happy I don’t have to run anymore. The feeling of finishing a marathon is an incredible peak experience. You think back to the long months of training, to the runs in the snow and the rain and the sunshine. You think about other things in your life you are proud of and of what you still have to accomplish. You think about all the people that supported you, all the people who love you, and all the people that you love. It’s a thin place, a place where you are more connected to the fundamental magic of the universe. To have that feeling changed to fear and tragedy in one second is unpardonable.

Living in Indonesia, among a Muslim society, there is a phrase I have come to love: Alhamdulillah. It’s roughly translated as “Praise be to God,” but that doesn’t have the same ring to me. Muslims continue to recite the Koran in the original Arabic because of the power and the beauty of that language, and that may be why Alhamdullilah just seems more powerful than “Thank God” or “Praise Jesus.” So that’s what came to my mind.

When I read the e-mail from Marathoners in Training (MIT), my running group in Columbus, saying that all the runners from our group were safe.


When I saw my friend Katie’s facebook status: Just wanted to let you know that I’m okay


When I thought about my friend Debbie, who has tried for years to qualify and missed it last year by a maddening 26 seconds.


I know that many people think of Islam when they think of terrorism, and that is a sad and unfortunate connection. But after two years of living in a Muslim society, among some of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever met, I do too – as a source of comfort.


April 12, 2013

The Simple Life

by Tabitha Kidwell

Two years ago, I was basically trying to live two or three lives at once. I was teaching full time, coaching track, training for a marathon myself, going to grad school classes at night, studying for the M.A. exam, volunteering at church, and, oh yeah, trying to have some kind of a social life. I needed, like, 35 hours in a day. This is more or less how I spent most of my twenties, which is how I managed to run 4 marathons, earn a masters degree, and get nine years of teaching experience (in 6 different countries!) before my 30th birthday.

Now, I barely have enough activity to fill one life. I really only need like 16 hours in the day. My contract only requires me to teach 14 hours a week, and, through scheduling genius, my classes are only on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. I still do 3-4 workshops, conference presentations, or other special projects per month, but after 16 months here I can kinda go on auto-pilot for those and usually repurpose something I have put together in the past. I’m training for a marathon again, which is good since otherwise I would basically have no reason to wake up on the 4 mornings a week I don’t teach. Most days, I work out, go to campus to teach or just put in an appearance at the office, have lunch, go home and do “work” on my computer until about 6 PM, then watch Mad Men DVDs and get in bed to read by about 8:30. Out of compulsive devotion to “working hour” norms, I force myself to sit at my computer “working” most afternoons, but “work” could include any of the following: lesson planning, presentation preparation, report writing, job searching, e-mailing, travel planning, blogging, posting pictures, looking at my friend’s babies on Facebook, catching up on celebrity gossip, and watching cute cat videos on YouTube. The hours between 2-5 PM are some of those I would totally be willing to give up. I don’t really mind this life. It’s fairly stress free. My house stays clean and my laundry gets done, thanks to my housekeeper. My house is quiet and I cook and eat whenever and whatever I want (well, not whatever, given that red wine, kalamata olives, sea salt and vinegar chips, etc., are nowhere to be found). I sometimes turn down social invitations based on the contents of my fridge. Dinner Friday? Sorry, I have plans (AKA leftovers). I can’t let that expensive jar of pesto sauce go to waste, can I? At the moment, life is clean, neat, and easy. I always get 8 hours of sleep and I always finish my to-do list. I really enjoy the peace and solitude.

But something about it doesn’t really seem right. It seems a little like a descent into an obsessive compulsive focus on routine and order. This is the first step to becoming a hermit who lives in a cave or a lady who dies at home and gets eaten by her cats. This isn’t real life. Real life is coming home to a sink full of dishes, an overflowing trashcan, a lost TV remote, and an empty carton of milk in the fridge. Real life is staying too long at happy hour with your friends and having to meet your running group just a little bit hung over the next morning. Or a lot bit. Real life is going over to your cousin’s house to watch the season finale of The Bachelor only to find that your crazy Uncle Bob has erased it and you have to go over to your cray Aunt Noreen’s house to watch it (side note: the more stories I tell about my crazy Uncle Bob, the more I realize that everyone has a crazy Uncle Bob. But most don’t have a crazy Aunt Noreen too. I’m lucky like that). Real life is thinking you are going to spend a Saturday afternoon catching up on grad school reading until your sister comes home with a slip ‘n slide and you realize you have to host a cookout. Real life is thinking you are going to stay in for the evening but instead going to a party at your neighbors house, meeting a C-list celebrity, stealing a car, and waking up in Montreal dressed like Carmen Miranda. All of those actually happened to me! (Okay, not the last one, but I feel like it could have.) I feel like real life is on pause right now. The past two years have been relaxing, healthy, and a good chance to read The New Yorker every week. But I’m ready to get back to real life. Who knows what adventures await me? I’ll have to find that Carmen Miranda costume.

April 5, 2013

My Pembantu

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I lived in Columbus and was training for marathons, I used to love my Saturday morning routine: I would get up early for a long run, come home, make coffee and breakfast, take an ice bath, and clean the house, full of energy from my runner’s high.

I have much the same routine on Friday mornings now: I wake up early for a long run (18 miles this morning!), come home, make coffee and breakfast, take an ice bath…

Ice Bath... from the knees down only.

Ice Bath… from the knees down only.

… and sit around reading the New Yorker, full of energy from my runner’s high.

I used to think I loved cleaning, but I think now that I just really love having a clean house, because I don’t miss it a bit now that I have a housekeeper. That’s right, a housekeeper! Another overpaid teacher who is living the high life!

Ok, but if you moved to Indonesia, you could afford a housekeeper, too. You could probably afford a couple of housekeepers. It’s very typical to have a housekeeper, and most middle class families have one. It’s a sort of social welfare – those who have some disposable income use it to provide someone else with a job. Just like on Downton Abbey, but with less intrigue and fewer attractive people.

Here, they are called pembantus – helpers. My students translate it as servant, but that makes me feel too antebellum, so I prefer housekeeper. Or her name – Ibu Ita (which I now sometimes use as my name when making reservations or orders over the phone, since it could conceivably come from tabIThA and is a common Indonesian name). She comes twice a week to clean and do my laundry. For this, I pay her 350,000 rp a month, which might seem like a lot to Americans who would love to have 4 zeros at the end their monthly salary, but the conversion only comes out to $35.89. My Indonesian friend only pays her full-time pembantu 500,000 rp a month, so I think Ibu Ita is getting a pretty sweet deal. I mean, she used to come to work by mini-bus, and now she has her own motorbike. I think she’s doing alright.

Ibu Ita’s deal is even sweeter considering that I pay her in full for the months when I am traveling around Indonesia or home in America, and all she has to do is come and hang out twice a week and air out the house for awhile. The truth is, even when I am home there is not much to do. She is usually finished in under 3 hours. She wants to work full-time (well, she wants to be paid full time) and has offered to come 3 mornings, or to come everyday to cook, but I really don’t need her any more. Even with 2 mornings a week, she sometimes gets bored and does things like take all of my toiletries off my cabinet (where, I supposed, they looked cluttered) and put them in a box under my bed. Okay, yes, it looked neater, but they were up there because I use them, so I had to put them all back out. We also had an ongoing, unspoken battle over the organization of my bookshelf. I originally organized it by topic, but I would come home to find it organized by size, or by color. I would put them back like I wanted, only for her to put them back like she wanted. I think we have finally reached a detente, though:

Books stay on the shelf I want, but in the order she wants.  Everyone happy.  Basically.

Books stay on the shelf I want, but in the order she wants. Everyone happy. Basically.

Despite these little annoyances, I really love Ibu Ita. I mean, she folds my underwear (and used to iron it, until I told her to stop!) It is so nice to come home to a clean house and freshly washed laundry twice a week, and especially after being away traveling. I don’t miss doing laundry or cleaning my house at all. It’s going to be a rough adjustment heading home… but there is Chipotle there, so I think I’ll make it.