Everyday Adventures

by Tabitha Kidwell

My approach to life here in Indonesia is very different from when I was here before.  Over the two years I was here as an English Language Fellow, I traveled to all the major islands and a lot more not-so-major islands.  There’s a patriotic Indonesian song that extolls the beauty of the country “from Sabang to Merauke,” the two farthest cities in Indonesia – one on an island perched just above the northern tip of Sumatra, the other on the southeast coast of Papua, almost to the border of PNG.  I didn’t make it all the way to Meruake, but I did get to Manokwari, on the northern coast of Papua.  That is still 500 miles away, but a lot of people don’t even make it all the way out to Papua.  And I did go to Sabang, 2700 miles northeast, and to dozens of cities between the two.  Because I had friends working as Fellows in major cities all over the country, and because those friends often hosted teacher workshops that needed speakers or facilitators, I was able to travel all over the country, and often had it paid for through my professional activity allowance.  During those two years, I also traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia.  Even when I wasn’t setting out on big trips, I would leave Salatiga every few weeks, often just to visit friends in Jakarta or in Yogyakarta, a city about 3 hours to the south.  I somehow found time to do my actual job in Salatiga, and even to make friends here, but I did my best to see Indonesia during my time here.

This time is different.  Maybe it’s because I’ve already been everywhere I wanted to go (with the exception of a couple of remote dive resorts that are probably still out of my price range).  Maybe it’s because I have a clear project here – with only 7 months, my data collection schedule is pretty full, and I can’t be jetting off every weekend.  Whatever the reason, since arriving in Salatiga in mid-August, I have left town overnight exactly twice.  Both were for trips with clear purposes – first, to attend a conference in Semarang, a town an hour north of me, and then to shop for a wedding dress in Singapore.  Otherwise, I’m happy staying here and sticking to my routine.  That isn’t to say that life here is boring – for instance, as I write this, I am distracted by a wedding down the street with very loud speakers and very amateur karaoke.  Life offers up surprises every day here, and those little surprises are probably another reason I’m happy just staying in town.  Even my daily routine is a departure from daily life in the US.  Here’s a typical day:

I start to wake up a little before 5, when the call to prayer starts, but I don’t get out of bed until 5:30 or so.  I do yoga or go for a run past farmers in the rice fields and children headed to school.

Most days, I go to observe and interview an English teacher at a local school.  My arrival usually involves stares, giggles, general merriment among the students, who are not accustomed to seeing foreigners come to their school.  If it’s an elementary school, I’m usually mobbed by children wanting to shake my hand; if it’s a middle school, brave students are more likely to shout out “wass-yoh-nem” and then beat a hasty retreat into a group of friends; at high schools, the mobile phones come out, and I pose for a few dozen photos.

Sometimes I even lead an impromptu song and dance session!

If I don’t go to a school, I ride my scooter to campus, past rice fields and views of volcanoes.  I hang out in the office, chat with colleagues, and try to do a little work, before heading out for lunch. Sometimes I go fancy places with waiters and menus (for less than $5), sometimes I go to street food stalls (for less than 75 cents), but recently I’ve been going to a little Javanese cafeteria that lets you choose among dozens of Javanese dishes.  I fill up my plate, then the lady at the end calls out a price.  The price doesn’t always seem to correlate with the contents of my plate, but it is never more than $1.50, with a drink.

In the afternoon, I might go back to campus, unless the gamelan orchestra has practice.  I’m more likely to go work for a few hours at a coffee shop, or to go to a local hotel and read by their pool.

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I’m usually home for the evening by 5.  I have dinner at home, and read or watch TV until I go to bed around 9. I’ve read the full New Yorker most weeks, and have even gotten through most of the Economist some weeks, which I consider a real accomplishment.

So, three months, and only two trips away.  This time around, I’m much happier just leading my quiet life here in Salatiga.  Even if some days, like the days when there is a wedding down the street, are not so quiet.  At least I can always head to that hotel pool!

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