Friday, April 15, 2011

A Different Kind of Social. Part II.

In my last post I expressed frustration and confusion over how socialization is done in Indonesia. After I wrote it I kept thinking and observing and found more to add.

First, let me point out a pretty obvious error in my thinking. I put everyone together in one big group and overgeneralized hugely. Which, while I'm not trying to excuse overgeneralizing and it's negative effects, to get to any detailed thought about anything you start with generalizations that you then question and dig into deeper. This is my digging deeper.

Kudus may be a small town in the north of central Java- a huge island belonging to a country that has another 14,000 islands, but even then it has its own little diversity. OK you don't have much diversity in things like hair color and skin color and language but you have diverse little bubbles that make up the people of Kudus.

There are Christian circles, Muslim circles, University student circles, community leader circles, teacher circles... I walked into this culture and am awkwardly trying to find my identity here. I'm trying to learn about a culture without being treated like a person belonging to the culture and without a long history and therefore relationships and rhythms and familiarities that the local people have. I am an outsider. Which is fine, but it does make interpreting the culture an interesting task. It's a crazy endeavor. I come from countries that are so, so different than Indonesia. The way we perceive things is so tied to what we grew up with (I know there is psychological term for this but bare with me and my simple, quotidian vocab). How can I ever BEGIN to understand anything from this country the way the people here understand it? Simply put, I fit in no circle here in Kudus and so I'm smooshed between two (or three, if you count the Portuguese culture. I kept trying to say Portuguese words today as I was speaking English and it killed) cultures and still trying to create a daily rhythm and maintain my sanity while still being who I am but enjoying the other culture that is everywhere I look and permeates everything I do. Can you see how it would be hard not to resist it, get a little frustrated, get a little confused?

So here, from my unique bubble, it is difficult to see into other people's bubbles and understand how their rhythm of life works. Even being in a home stay situation, I see my unique family's life but it's still difficult to understand. The key word, is unique. My host dad is an assistant pastor and on fifteen thousand boards and committees. My host mom is a nurse. Their lack of what I see as a social life does not mean that my students at the university also live like that, or that because my students at the university don't seem to socialize a ton with each other out of the university doesn't mean that Joel's students and church youth don't socialize outside of academics either.

There are things I don't see. For example, every Wednesday evening  I have been gone for some reason or another, so I did not know that my host mom goes to a community women's meeting every Wednesday. I knew that once every other month a ton of ladies were at our house and that meant there was a ton of snacks laying around for the next two days, but I didn't know that was actually a weekly thing where they got together and sold things to each other and talked about the community and... socialized. I realized that this week.

Also, this being a very religious society it would make sense that much of the socialization that occurs would happen in the church setting. My church is in the village and frequented by I would say 12 adults ages 50+ and 2-3 teenage/young adults. My attempts at getting together with these 2-3 young adults have failed miserably. That said, the church in town, from a different denomination and budget, has about 35 youth and young adults and have weekly special events on top of cell groups, youth meetings, regular church services, sports events, praise and worship programs etc. The kids socialize at these events. Maybe they are not for the sole purpose of socialization but they bring people together and relationship happens there.

My university has no dormitories so most students who don't commute stay in boarding houses around the school. My host parents have a boarding house attached to our house that houses about 8 girls. Most of their nights are spent wearing PJ's and giggling in front of the TV. But they do it together. I am often woken in the morning by their laughter and yelling. They have relationships that were built while wearing those PJs in front of the TV. Every night. Seven nights a week. Because there isn't a lot of "going out", there is a lot of "staying in" and a lot of socialization happening then. Behind closed doors. So when I ask my students, "What do you guys do for fun? Where do you go out to?" And they answer that they don't go out, but they just stay at home, it doesn't automatically mean no socialization happens.

I see a ton of students hanging out at the university and while they don't seem to go many places together outside of campus, they sit around and talk inside of campus and that's where their memories are made. That's where it goes down, on that partial wall that separates the scooter parking lot and the main campus road. When I've asked them what their best memory is, some of them tell me stories of this once when they went to the beach (which is an hour away) with their senior high school friends. It confuses me because they live so close to the beach town. Why not go every weekend?

The fact that girls can't be out alone or with other girls and no boys past 6pm makes for a very different social life than I was used to. I guess everyday relationship building happens in the workplace, in the school during their breaks or in class, in once a week women meetings, in the church (I'm not sure what kind of community activities happen in the mosque), in front of the TV, sitting and doing nothing in the town square (which is actually a huge grassed roundabout in the middle of town), .... Not necessarily at coffee shops over a late, or in bars over a beer, or playing games, eating together, cooking together, staying up late out on the town, going to the cinema, shopping, bowling, going to the beach.... People here also visit family, and that takes time. They are a very family oriented society and that includes aunts, uncles, etc.

Though I may feel bored or lonely here it doesn't mean that the people here aren't social. It means that I am new and out of my element where I am known and have history and can readily seek enjoyable, intentional social interaction. If I grew up here A) I'd understand and therefore be satisfied with what this culture offers as far as socializing time and place, and, B) I'd know people and have my own family.

Perceptions, objective reality... So hard, especially when you bring the inevitable heavy baggage of your own culture.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A story of being blessed.

I've been having an awful time with my stomach lately. A lot of nausea and stomach pain, and it's not enough to go to the doctor but it's enough so that it gets my spirit down and it's hard to work. I would rather have diarrhea a hundred times more than having nausea and stomach pains. I don't know if it's all the fried food I eat or all the rice I eat or a combination of both but this last week has been bad. Waves of nausea in the middle of teaching, heavy stomach and fatigue.... In a fit of frustration yesterday I vowed to stop eating Indonesian food. I can cook my own food that will not make me ill, thanks very much.

I managed to make it all day with no Indonesian food. Coffee and an apple for breakfast.  another apple and a carrot and a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and for dinner... I was just planning on having an orange and maybe a piece of bread. (There is a market here with fresh ingredients but it's a half an hour bike ride from here. And when it's raining, that is not an option...) Just so tired of rice and fried chicken, or fried rice, or fried noodles...
And actually I've felt really good all day. Feelin' fresh and not heavy in the stomach. But now I'm hungry. But I don't want to buy fried rice again!

I was going through my dinner options and realizing that if I couldn't even do one day without Indo food, surviving till July... Not going to happen. Ugh Sometimes I just want American food. Stuff my stomach can stomach!

Then I get a text from a friend of mine, her  name is Yuliana :) and I met her teaching at the hospital. She's a kindred spirit. Her text was something on the order of, "Juliana, I'm at Papa Ron's Pizza [the only pizza shop in town] with my family. We have left overs. Do you want some?!"

Do I want some? Are you serious? Heck yes I want some! It was perfect. And the first time it has ever happened. My first thought was: "that girl is from God, and God's blessing me through her."

Weirdly, it gives me a sense of, "Ok, maybe I can make it on Indo food till the end of term." As long as I have days where I can detox and go all out on fruit and maybe something American, I'll be ok. Reminds me that God going to come through when I'm at my limit and really just needing rest from the stresses of life. Whether those stresses are from living overseas with all the newness that comes with that, or whether it is stress in the States struggling with a heavy work load, or whatever. God will come through. Makes for a blessed Church!

And a happy Juliana stomach.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A Different Kind of Social

I've been going to the gym about 5 times a week. Running and lifting. Feels really good to push myself physically and get tired out. Helps with getting emotions out. The first few times I went were frustrating as people stared and the gym guys obsessed about my knowing how to use the machines, but now they know who I am and mostly leave me alone. Someone has mentioned before how the other SALTer here doesn't talk to many people when he's at the gym. They seemed to think that he was being anti-social, and I've gotten the same comments said about myself when I am biking somewhere with my head phones on, for example. I explained that when we go to the gym, we don't go to talk to people. We go to be alone and exercise and that we really don't want to converse with anyone. It's not the purpose of going to the gym. In America, most people have their headphones in and it would be extremely rude to stop them in their run to ask for a photo, or to distract them while they are lifting weights. It's just not done.

I know people don't understand. Why would we not want to stop what we're doing and talk to them for 20 minutes?! Why would we want to be cut off from others and so alone when we are doing things? It's the American way, I guess. There is social time, and there is alone time. Socializing is done on dates that you usually schedule ahead of time, usually during meal time over food and in the evening. Other than with family, social time in the US is usually at events. You meet up with people. Alone time is for the in-between, and to be alone is perfectly alright and does not indicate that a person does not have friends or no one wants to be them. When I tell someone I'm doing something or when I first get to an event, the first question I am always asked is "Sama siapa?" ("With whom?") and it sounds strange to them when we say "Sendiri" (Alone). Sometimes I'm told I'm brave. Sometimes I'm just looked at with an "Oh! Poor thing..." expression. It's the same with romantic relationships. All the time I am asked who I am dating. When I explain that I have dated before but broke up with my boyfriends, it confuses them. Why would you not want to be dating someone? Why would you purposefully be alone?

And yet...

I often, often eat alone.And my evenings are sometimes spent alone, even though I know plenty of Indo people. The eating thing especially confuses me. Everyone will be at home, but my host parents will take their food into their room and I will eat at the table alone and it will be completely normal to them. Evenings are spent in front of the tv, not in a coffee shop talking with friends, or playing cards and talking with your family.
And yet they are constantly texting people, constantly on facebook.

I don't understand it, really. A very social society. You do everything with people. And yet you don't often have intentionally social times and times that would be convenient to be social, in the evenings when everyone is home, or at meal times, are not taken advantage of for socializing. There is no time purposeful for socialization, not many friend dates that from what I see in the society. That makes me sad. Yet people are trying to talk to me all the time, and people think I'm snobbish for not answering their calls and their yells as I'm walking somewhere or doing something.
This is just a cultural observation that my limited experiences have given me, but it's a phenomena I haven't quite figured out yet. What's the underlying pattern, or cultural value that I'm missing? Is it not so much a difference in socializing as it is an independence thing? Confusing...

This week.

Last Saturday Christian (a Fullbrighter here) and his friend JT (also a Fullbrighter) and Joel and I went to a soccer game here in Kudus. It was Kudus vs Surabaya, a big city in East Java. We were predicted to lose but ended up winning. Super fun to watch. They were not too bad! Took me back to the days of soccer games in the Azores, watching Santa Clara get destroyed:

This is Marlon and Andrew, Stephen and I are in the background. Circa 1999

Unfortunately my computer/internet connection has decided it does not want me to update anymore photos onto blogspot, so I'll try to put them up on facebook and put the link to the album on this website.

The game was pretty nuts. We met JT and Christian at a local fish restaurant and felt our bicycles there. Walked over and got out tickets and I should have known from the near squeezed-to-death incident in the line to go into the stadium that it was going to be a wild ride. One of Christian's Indonesian friends grabbed us and took us to the area where the face-painted, waving, chanting crowd was and we were immediately the center of attention. A lot of camera phones in our faces, soccer club scarves around our necks, chant yelling in our ears... It was mad. And I, both as a girl and on top of that a white girl, was definitely in the minority. I've gotten used to it mostly but sometimes I just wish there was a chick around here that I could hang out with and who could relate!

Eventually we got told we could cross the fence into the field for better pictures and so we climbed over the 7 foot barbed wire fence and got to get some pretty cool pictures of the field. Ahaha I have some great photos of Joel leading the crowd in cheers from a high platform on the inside of the fence. My newspaper friend from church saw me and came over. He took some pictures and apparently we all ended up in the newspaper on Monday. I have yet to see it but I've heard it's a pretty cool photo. He did an article about me a couple weeks ago as well, so I've been in the newspaper twice so far this year. : ) Celeb status!

Kudus ended up winning and we got to see the crowd celebrate.

I had thought about not going... I had a rough morning where all I wanted to do was cry and not be around people. Sometimes I just feel such a void of love and understanding here. Not the love I'm used to anyways. No hugging, no cuddling, no hair messing, very little eating together as a family, very little soft speaking and politeness in the way that I'm used to, very little creative stimulation, not around a lot of people who have travelled and know where I'm coming from when I have difficulties with the culture.... I had just watched "New York, I Love you", a movie about many different stories of different kinds of love. Just made me feel sad. I'm glad I didn't give into the mood though, and got to experience the game.

It's hard to know when you've reached your limit and you need to shut down for a while. When is it appropriate to get away from it all, and when is it appropriate to dry your tears and get out there and face the world again? There could be negative consequences on both sides. If you don't respect your stress but go out there and try to face the world you may end up saying mean things to people, being rude, getting more irritated... That could be damaging to the world and to you. But then if you stay at home, what are you missing out there?

Sunday I went to the wedding of one of the lecturers at UMK. It was one of the smaller weddings I've been to (at the last wedding I was at they gave away a fridge and a tv as door prizes, had dancers with 4 foot feathers coming out of their hair, and a 6 course meal) but I really enjoyed it because there were so many people I knew from school there. I realized that they are my community and it was neat to see them in a setting other than campus. For some reason there was a lot of really beautiful batik and clothing at the wedding as well, and it inspired me to look into getting some clothes made here before I leave. And possibly making enough to sell over there in the States. Maybe. The month before I leave Indo there are no classes at the university. Maybe I  could use that time to travel around, find some good batik, and have some stuff made...

Other than New York I Love You, I watched The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Life As We Know It. Maybe because I had read the book before, but The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was not a great movie. For one, it was dubbed in English from Swedish and that was a little distracting, plus they left out significant parts. But Life As We Know It, with Katherine Heigle was really, really good. Laughed out loud several times, but it had some serious parts too. It reminded my a bit of What Happens In Vegas just because it dealt with the real issues. The hardness of life. The acting was pretty believable I thought..

This week Karen, Major, and Lilik came to Kudus to visit. I think they're going around visiting all the SALTers but Tuesday was the day for Kim, Joel and I to be visited.It was so, so great to be able to talk to them about my position, experiences, frustrations... They were really encouraging. Listened a lot, asked good questions, praised the strengths they saw in my work... It made me more excited for retreat. I just long for fellowship. I'm super thankful that Joel is here, but it still gets lonely.

This week in Small Speaking Group I showed the students a book I got from Christian called "Being Muslim in America." It had a lot of pictures and stories and lead to some really good conversations. Plus, I learned a lot through the book as well. You can read it too. Here:

I went to the gym 4 times with week. Felt so good. It's been raining a lot lately so running outside hasn't been an option.

Yesterday I went into town and just hung out by myself which I really didn't mind. I'm thankful for the personality I have. I think it goes with what I want to do in life. I do need people- for sure. But I don't need a lot of people. I need a few close friends and a few occasional friends and then I'm set. I don't need people around me all the time and I'm completely ok with hanging out with myself for an afternoon. I could see myself getting along fine in a developing country living in a town with very few expats as long as I had at least a team of about 10 who come from my culture and be my community. I could do that for a good many years.

While I was out I went to Omah Mode, a factory outlet with a restaurant attached, I found out that a pair of pants I had been looking at for a while was 75% off. So I bought them for $5. :) They are cream and pink paisley, stretch, flared. Awesome. I'm not big into pink but I really love these for some reason. With a grey t-shirt they'll be fab. I also found out that a lot of the stuff there is 75% off including some amazing scarves I saw. I'm tempted to shop and re-sell back in the States. Really tempted. There's Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Burberry, Charlotte Russe, and Christopher and Banks. Also a lot of Adidas and Nike.

That's about all I can remember of significance for this week. I'm sure there's more that could be written but this is getting long and I just wanted you to get a little overview of my week and the activities it held.