Archive for ‘Life in Salatiga’

June 16, 2013

Good-byes and Travel Plans

by Tabitha Kidwell

Last Wednesday, I went to Singapore to meet my friend Debbie, who will be traveling with me until I fly home on July 11. I can’t believe she has only been here a week – it seems like we have done so much already!

She got a makeover as a Javanese princess for my going away party…




…we went to church…

We attended my students’ English drama…

…and my going away lunch…


…and rode around town on my scoopy.

We even visited the Gedung Songo temples and got asked for our picture bunches of times!


And yesterday we flew to Bali, where we visited Ulu Watu, this beautiful Cliffside temple…


And picked up our marathon packets…

We also took a quick run with our friend Ryan Hall and some elite Kenyans!

We also took a quick run with our friend Ryan Hall and some elite Kenyans!

And drove to meet my friends in Ubud.


We’ll run the marathon on Sunday, and will be here in Ubud until Tuesday. Then we go to Nusa Lembongan, an island off of Bali, for 4 days. Then we will go watch my friends compete in the Bali triathlon before flying to Vietman on June 23.

In Vietnam, we’ll spend a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, then do a bike tour of the Mekong Delta. We’ll spend a few days on the island of Phu Quoc before going to Hanoi and doing a boat cruise through Halong Bay. On June 9, we’ll fly back to Singapore where my bike is in storage. Debbie will fly home on the night of June 10, and I will follow on the morning of July 11, but we will both arrive home around 5 PM on the 11th. It should be a great month!

June 10, 2013

What I’ll miss, what I won’t, and what I’m excited for at home

by Tabitha Kidwell

As I’m preparing to go home, I’m thinking a lot about all those special (or annoying) things that I won’t find in America… and all the amazing things I will find when I go home. Here are some of my thoughts…

What I’ll miss about Indonesia:

I’ve probably overindulged in massages these past 2 years. There have been periods where I was getting 2 or 3 a week. At under $10 a pop, why not?

Vegetable Peanut Sauce Dishes
There are 5 or 6 very similar Javanese dishes involving vegetables and peanut sauce. They all have different names, but seem to include differing combinations of 7 or so ingredients, kinda like the food at Taco Bell. (Chalupa, gordita, taco, tostada, come on, it’s all the same!)

Riding my Scoopy
I had a pink motorcycle. That will never happen again (but, actually, never say never.)

Fresh Juices
Mango, melon, strawberry, papaya, avocado (sounds weird but it’s awesome). Oh I’ll miss you.

I’m sad to be leaving just as mango season is beginning. When I tell people how much mangoes cost in America, they wonder why I want to go back there. Actually, now I wonder, too.

My Housekeeper
I haven’t mopped, dusted, cleaned a toilet, or done laundry in 2 years. I’ve barely even done dishes. It’s going to be a rough return to housework.

My Students
They are so sweet! Many can’t really speak English, but they are so nice and hard working. I’ve gotten hourly text messages the past few days: I will miss you! Miss, safe travels! Miss, we love you soooo much. So sweet.

Feeling Like a Celebrity When I Walk Around Town
It’s flattering to be stopped and asked for a photo when walking down the sidewalk, even if they only want it because I am white.

What I Won’t Miss:

Leave out a sugary cup and you’ve maybe got 5 minutes before they descend. They’re everywhere. They even use my body as a ladder to get to food. I don’t even look anymore, I can just tell when one is crawling on me and brush it off. I was a little worried that, if I sat still for too long, they would slowly disassemble me the way they did with the cockroaches I smashed.

Speaking of, I hate them, too. I got to the point where I didn’t even need to see them, I knew their sound. That is too intimate.

It’s hot here. It will be in America when I get back in July, too… but then it will be autumn. And then I intend to complain about the cold.

I just can’t do it anymore. Maybe I’ve eaten my quota for the year. Or for life. At my going-away luncheon, I just took fish and vegetables and people were really concerned. “No rice? You will be so hungry!”

It’s not so bad in Salatiga, but I still hate sucking in exhaust when I ride or run along the main roads, and I won’t miss the haze that sets in when everyone burns their trash in the late afternoon.

Having to Wear Extremely Modest Clothing
I’m going to show my knees. And shoulders. And collarbone. Maybe even at the same time… eventually.

Feeling Like a Celebrity When I Walk Around Town
Ok, it’s charming for schoolchildren to laugh and point when you pass, but, believe it or not, it does get old.

What I‘m Looking Forward To:

I hope I can remember which side of the road to drive on. Good thing my mom encouraged me not to sell my car since now I am unemployed and might have to live in it.

Happy hour! Draft beer!

They have everything there, all under one roof. And you can reach up and take it off the shelf. And you can walk down the aisles without 400,000 people being in your way. And they have icees. Or so I hear.

Getting an iPhone
I heard there is something called an emoji, and I want to know what it is. Also, I’ll need to find where the nearest Target store is at all moments.

Moving into an Apartment
Ok, this won’t happen for awhile, but I’m so excited to take the boxes out of my mom’s crawl space, remember what is in there, and put it all in cabinets. I love packing and unpacking (probably why I travel so much).

Running & Biking with Friends
I did this here, but not enough. And not in places where it is a normal thing to do and adolescent boys didn’t chase after us.

Friends & Family
This, of course, is the big one, and the reason I’m willingly leaving my wonderful students and colleagues, my scoopy, the massages, juices, and peanut sauces. I have had a wonderful 2 years here, but it is time to come home and spend time with the people I love most in the world. If I can tear myself away from my iPhone, that is. (Can someone please explain who this Siri is and why she knows so much?)

May 28, 2013


by Tabitha Kidwell

I just made the mistake of looking at facebook pictures of my first class of 7th graders from Kilbourne Middle School at their senior prom and graduation ceremony, right after cleaning out my office here. This made me simultaneously nostalgic for my own high school days, for the time I spent teaching middle school, and for all the exciting and wonderful places I have ever lived and had to leave behind. In short, it made me miss every ending of every experience I have had thus far. Except maybe for college. But now that I think of it, I really miss college too. Now, I have this deep feeling of loss and sadness. I feel like there isn’t possibly enough time in the world for everyone to do everything they need to do. My mom told me that, after dropping me off at my dorm freshman year, she cried for 24 hours straight. I didn’t really understand that at 18. At 30, I’m beginning to.

I don’t mind this sadness – It’s only sad because it marks the end of happiness. You should be sad at the end of an experience like this. So I’m sitting in it, feeling it, poking at it. I’m regretting the progress of time, but I also feel a little bit like time doesn’t exist, like I am partly still back in high school and like that high school girl is also a little bit here. We’re united by longing and memories, just as the me of today will still be there when this feeling surfaces again sometime far in the future.

After the closing ceremony of a conference we attended together last November, Bu Rini, my partner at the university here, asked me “Taby, what is that word for something that is both sugary and unpleasant?” “Bittersweet?” I offered. “Yes!” she exclaimed, “bittersweet! I feel bittersweet because you will leave soon!” I thought this was a little odd at the time, given that I had over 8 months left to go, but Bu Rini was just thinking ahead. The bittersweetness is really kicking in now. I’ve loved living here, but I can’t wait to move back home. I’ve met wonderful people, but I’m so excited to be back near family and old friends. I’ve had great career experiences, but now I’m ready for a new chapter. When I started this blog almost two years ago, I wrote about how I love the beginning of things. Now I realize I also love the end.

May 26, 2013


by Tabitha Kidwell

No matter how many Indonesian people I meet, they always seem to say the same things. The order varies, but I get the following questions/comments basically every time I meet someone new:

Where are you from?
You speak Indonesian very well! (This often comes after hearing me say only a handful of words. They are easy to please.)
English is very difficult.
How can I learn English?
Where do you live? (They mean, like, which street, which is creepy in America, but just curiosity here… I think…)
What do you do?
What do you think of Indonesian people? (Duh, they’re awesome!)
Which is better, Indonesia or America? (Duh again… I give the people what they want.)
How old are you?
Do you have children?
Are you married?
You should marry an Indonesian man!

I have perfected the answers to these questions, making me sound like a much better Indonesian speaker than I actually am. I even have a few comedy routines I can throw in (Yes, Obama and I are good friends!… I’d love to marry an Indonesian man, do you know any?) I don’t often get thrown for a loop. But this morning, my horse cart driver and I were making small-talk when he asked “So, are you a virgin?” as if it were the most logical and normal question to ask. I suppose it was, from his point of view, or he wouldn’t have asked it. After 2 years here, it’s amazing how surprises can still come up!

May 7, 2013

Lets (not) talk about sex, baby

by Tabitha Kidwell

This morning, one of the groups in my reading class presented a puppet show about one of the articles they had read. The topic was Rob Portman, the Senator from Ohio who had “flipped” his opinion on gay marriage after his son came out. It was strange to sit in a classroom on the other side of the world and watch a puppet show about my own senator. Without the gay marriage controversy, Indonesian students would never have known the guy’s name.

A few groups picked this article to read, and their reaction papers are very interesting. I write comments on most of the reaction papers (I agree! How interesting! Do you think that will be true in the future? etc.) but I have avoided comments on the papers about gay marriage or gay rights. As a guest lecturer at a Muslim institute, I’m just not sure how to weigh in on it. Most students say something like “I am Muslim, so I do not support gay marriage.” A couple said very enlightened things like “I do not agree, but I understand that marriage is a right for all people,” though many don’t seem to have thought about it much.

In terms of romantic relationships, Indonesia seems to be about where the U.S. was in the 1950s. Society turns a blind eye to pre-marital sex. Sex education is not taught in schools based on the idea that students won’t need it until they get married at 20 or 21. Because of that, Indonesian teens have very limited knowledge of sex. Condoms are available at any mini-market, but many teenagers (and children as young as 12!) end up married “by accident.” As to same-sex relationships, I have had students tell me flat out “Indonesia has no gays.” Maybe because they are so sure of everyone’s sexuality, men are very comfortable showing physical affection with each other. It’s not at all strange to see two men walking down the street arm-in-arm, or a teenage boy reclining between his friend’s legs. Men are even comfortable wearing women’s clothing. There is a great tradition of cross dressing in Yogya, the cultural capital of Java. I first took this as evidence of tolerance for homosexuality, until I was informed that it actually stems from women historically not being allowed onstage. So it’s more like evidence of close-mindedness. Fail.

So, while America is debating gay marriage, Indonesia is debating instituting raids on hotels to catch unmarried couples. The two countries may be light years apart from each other ideologically, but there is still the same impulse for the government to decide who can love whom and under what circumstances. I’ll stay out of the debate except to say that, in both instances, the country would probably be better off without the government meddling in its bedrooms.

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.


March 26, 2013

Bugs Bug Me

by Tabitha Kidwell

“I’d really like to know more about all the bugs living in Tabitha’s house.”

Said no one ever.

So if you aren’t into bugs and other gross stuff, you can watch this cute cat video instead.

Still here? Okay… so I totally thought I was winning the war against the vermin in my house, until I got back from Singapore last Sunday night, and as soon as I walked in, I had to immediately take off both shoes so I could kill two cockroaches who had made them selves at home in my absence. Then this guy was hanging out in my bedroom:


Luckily I’ve seen this one before, and when I googled “Gross black bug java pincers stinger” last year I found out it’s called a “false scorpion” or a “vinegaroon” – the first, because it is totally harmless despite that stinger; the second, because it smells like you’re dying easter eggs when you smash it.

Since then, my usual one cockroach per day fatality has been up to two. And the ants are getting a little out of hand. I leave an empty sugary tea cup out for 5 minutes and it’s like Golden Corral. And look what they did to one of the cockroaches I killed:


Lastly, this huge spider spun a giant web in my front yard:

Not the best shot, sorry

Not the best shot, sorry

I thought she was totally beautiful, but anything that brightly colored has to be poisonous, right? I was leaving her there as a kind of experiment, until I realize how bad it would be if she wasn’t there one day and I didn’t know where she had gone – or if she laid eggs! So she had to die:


So the war continues, but I really only need to hold them off for 3 more months… I think I can make it. Then they can regain sovereignty.

March 5, 2013

Last Few Months in Salatiga

by Tabitha Kidwell

Yesterday, the new semester started at STAIN Salatiga. For everyone else, that is. Not for me, since I have Mondays off. I have Fridays off, too, so I spent the day the same way I will spend many of my “weekdays” this semester – going for a long run, lingering over a coffee while reading my Facebook news feed, making an elaborate lunch, and generally relaxing all day. It’s shaping up to be a relaxing semester. I’m teaching as many classes as past semesters, but a scheduling miracle put them all on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Plus, the classes I’m assigned to teach will be easier to prepare for – the last two semesters, I taught teaching methods classes that really pushed me to research the best teaching practices and present a lot of content in a meaningful way. By that, I mean it was a ton of work! This semester, I am teaching a few sections of reading class, a listening class, and two classes for the other lecturers. I’ll have to find materials and activities, but I can pretty much do whatever I want as long as it improves my students’ overall reading, listening, or general English ability. So I’ll spend far fewer afternoons and weekends researching, planning, or grading.

Besides teaching, my other commitments are getting easier, too. The English camps and the ETA trainings that I put a lot of energy into in October, November, and December are over. The conference invitations that poured in and kept me running all around Central Java in October seem to have dried up. I still have my elementary school teacher group and the STAIN lecturer support group to plan for, but now that I know the participants better, that is easier, too. As an English Language Fellow, you don’t really have a boss – the State Department hires us, Georgetown pays us, and the local Regional English Language Officer oversees us, but we file taxes as independent contractors (and pay the self-employment tax to prove it!). The crazy schedule I kept in the fall was only a result of my own inability to say no and to limit my commitments. I’m glad I did all that extra work- my CV is stacked now! And now that circumstances are different, I don’t feel too bad about taking it easier this semester and basically only doing what my contract says I am supposed to be doing.

So what will I do for the next three months? I’ll train for a marathon and do a sprint triathlon on the way. I’ll try to get through Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Wire. I’ll read a few of the books I’ve been meaning to read – especially the 5 or 6 actual/non-ebooks that I’d like to read and leave behind. I’ll visit my Indonesian friends’ houses and travel to the last few of places I want to see in the country. I’ll do crosswords and play Words with Friends. I’ll finish all the lessons in the Basic Indonesian book I’ve been working through. I’ll get lots of massages and facials. I’ll write in my journal, pray, and finish A Course in Miracles. I’ll apply for jobs and research PhD schools. I’ll plan my post-fellowship travel in Vietnam. I’ll study for Jeopardy. I’ll (hopefully) decide where I want to live and what I want to do next year. In short, I’ll have a great final 3 months, and I’ll be ready to go back home in June or July!

February 1, 2013

Ode to Durian

by Tabitha Kidwell

Durian fruit is one of the most intriguing things I have come across during my stay in Indonesia. It is incredibly divisive – people either love it or hate it. It is often banned in hotels and on public transportation. Apparently it can’t be harvested, so you just have to wait for it to fall. I’ve heard stories of people being killed when the very fruit they were waiting to enjoy fell right on their heads. There are also stories of men running through the forest after hearing the distinctive clunk of a Durian hitting the ground, only to turn and run the other way upon finding a tiger already eating it. Because of all these perils, Durian is very expensive, but it is worth the cost to the many Indonesian durian fanatics. Indeed, Javanese people describe Durian as the “fruit of the Gods.”

Foreigners are more likely to compare it to stinky feet. It is incredibly hard to describe to someone who hasn’t actually tried it. Here is an example of my conversation with Erica, my visitor from America: Is it like melon? No. Is it like fish? Yes. Is it like cheese? Maybe a little. Is it like garlic? Yes. Is it like tomatoes? No. Is it like ice cream? Yes. Is it like bananas? Maybe a little bit. Is it like plain yogurt? No. So what is it actually like?

Well, it starts as a green spiny fruit the size and weight of a watermelon. Duri actually means thorn in Indonesian, and the spikes are surprisingly pointy. You chop it open and find three small sections each made up of two or three seeds surrounded by creamy white flesh. There is surprisingly little meat in the giant, heavy fruit, but what is there is unlike anything else in the world – sweet and pungent, creamy and rich.



I first tried Durian during training in Bandung last year. While I didn’t think it was horrible, I definitely didn’t like it. At the height of Durian season, I would get to the grocery store and turn right around because of the stench coming from the produce section. But somewhere around the six-month mark here, I inexplicably started to crave it. Something about it’s sharp taste and intense smell appeals to me in the same way as Roquefort cheese, black coffee, lemon juice, and liquorice.

Javanese durian season started a couple of weeks ago, so I was excited to get back home, if only for a few days in the middle of Erica and my travels around Bali and Java. Almost as soon as we showed up at my house, a man rode by on his motorbike with a basket full of durian! I called him over, picked the smallest one, and cracked it open.



Erica was almost immediately put off by the smell, but she was a good sport and gave it a try. Here’s what she thought:


I think it may have been the only food in Indonesia she actually didn’t like. Yet. Like so many aspects of like here in Indonesia, durian takes time to grow on you, but then you love it… and you know that when you leave, you won’t ever have quite that experience ever again.