Greetings from Tuban!
I arrived at my new home 2 days ago and I’ve just been setting things up. My address is
JL. BASUKI RAHMAD
KOMPLEKS SRUNI NO.3
Please send letters, photos and if possible, newspapers and magazines that I can use for my classes. I have to pay high tariffs on anything that is shipped to me, so if you mail anything larger, please write “used books” on the ticket. Someone told me you can write “feminine products” or “women’s underwear” and the post office will not open the package.
I even have a phone! I can’t make international calls, but I can receive them! The phone number (from the US) is 011-62-356-321493 (From Indo 062-0356-321493).
Tuban is bigger than I imagined, possibly 20,000 people live in the central city. It seems like a great place to live. The beach is not very good for swimming or even walking on. There are many small fishing boats, beached fishing rope and net, trash, etc. However, there is a boardwalk along the beach and it is nice for watching the waves and the boats in the Java Sea. Along the boardwalk are several seafood stands. The street headed east along the beach turns right and continues to the town round-about that circles a colorful fountain carved with three dimensional fish faces and topped with some military figure (As far as I’ve seen, all Indonesian city art is militaristic). There is a beautiful little park filled with trees and flowers. If you turn left at the round about, you will be on the main street. It is lined with shops, food stands and several unemployed becaks (bicycle taxis). Bicycles outnumber cars on the roads in town it seems. On the lampposts, hang star and moon-shaped lanterns or intricate christmas light designs of fishing boats, a fish or a bird. Take a left off the main street, and you will be on Jalan Basuki Rahmad. My complex is really quaint. It is a block of homes with a yard in the center, where chickens roam and the occasional football (soccer) or volleyball game is played.
My home is actually one side of a two-family building. Single-unit dwellings are very rare here. My building was probably intended for an extended family with multiple generations living together. No one is living in the other unit now. There is a green painted gate in front, a tan tiled patio and a small dirt area where 2 bushes and 2 tropical plants grow. I plan on doing some more gardening there. There are also some unused pots so I can start growing house plants. The front side of the house is light yellow and has three tall windows that pop open from the bottom and a matching door. Inside is the front room/living area with red tiled floor. The walls are pretty beat up and could use a paint job. I have already hung some photos of places I love and miss like my beach at home, Yosemite, Joshua tree and Italy. I also hung a map of Indonesia. There is a back door that leads outside to the mandi and the shared laundry and food prep area. It wraps around my part of the building and goes back to the front gate in between the two units. There is a stairway that goes to the roof, where there are more lines to hang laundry or to just sit out of view from the neighbors wearing scanty tank top and shorts.
Connected to the front room on the right is the room where I am sitting right now. Here is a small wooden desk where I plan on writing many letters and emails (no internet connection, though). Yesterday, I hung mosquito netting around my bed in my bedroom. The mosquitoes here are bigger and much more vicious here than they were in Yogya. All the rooms have wooden shutters and there is a decent breeze through the house when they are all open. The kitchen is small. The mint green counter top, which goes across one side of the room, stands about 2 and a half feet tall. I have a 2 burner stove top that sits on top of one third of the counter. The refillable gas tank sits underneath the counter. The sink takes another third of the counter. Oh yeah, the water only works when the pump outside is running. The middle third of the counter is a few inches lower than the rest. I’m not sure why. I also have a small refrigerator that sits on top of a small wood stand. I feel like a queen with all the amenities I have been given. The mandi was pretty disgusting when I first arrived. But, it’s amazing what a difference bleach and some elbow grease make. My friends Alice and Catherine helped me move in and clean up the place. I am deeply indebted to them!
One of the best parts of living here, I think, is that I have the ability to live by myself and have some privacy, but I also have the closeness of my new family. Pak Agus, who is Secretary to the Dean at the university where I will work is also the village head and lives across the yard from me. He is tall for an Indonesian, skinny and has long arms. He has a warm presence. His big ears and very long mole hairs indicate wisdom. His wife is teaching me how to cook Indonesian food. They have 3 daughters and one son, aged 16 to 3 years. They invite me over for every meal and help me with my Indonesian. This morning, I was able to help Ibu (mom) prepare food. Skilled with the pestle and mortar, the oldest daughter mixed garlic, onion, red chilies, safron and lemon basil into a spicy sambal sauce. Ibu cut corn from the cob and peeled the coconut. I grated coconut (not nearly as fast as the mother). The corn and coconut are mixed to make sweet tamales…yes, tamales. (There are so many similarities to Latin America here.) Lukman is a student of English from the island of Flores and lives with Pak Agus’ family. He has vowed to be my personal guide in Tuban. He is very enthusiastic and curious about America. He listens intently to everything I say and laughs at the slightest bit of humor. He is also teaching me real Indonesian expressions and idioms. Tonight we are going to bike ride around town. I forgot to mention that the house came with a bicycle.
The only thing that I have yet to get accustomed to is the impromptu schedule here. The first day I arrived and moved my bags into the house and spent the whole day cleaning with Catherine and Alice. We were exhausted, dirty and hungry. So, we decided to mandi, explore the neighborhood, find something to eat and make it an early evening. When we returned home and were getting ready to relax for the evening, the phone rang. It was Pak Agus asking me to come over and meet the Vice Rector of the university. I couldn’t really say no. So, we went and it was very nice (even though the Vice Rector could not speak any English and I had to speak in my 1st grade indonesian and answer stupid questions about my hobbies). Then, last night, I went with Catherine and Alice to the train station an hour away with a driver and a van from the university. I said goodbye to them as they headed off for their own adventures in Padang and Menado respectively. I was looking forward to my first night alone in my new place. I could relax, write in my journal, go to bed early and just be alone until tomorrow. Well, there were other plans for me. When the driver reached Tuban, he informed me that I was going to a party for one of the teachers who had just moved into a new house. I really had no choice. I went inside and everyone was waiting for me to arrive. I greeted each of them and congratulated the hostess on her new home. The meal was traditional Javanese. A large woven mat lie on the floor with rice, many Indonesian dishes, fruit and sweets prepared and set on top. Everyone sits around the mat and there is a moment when no one wants to be the first to take food. Everyone insists that I begin. I decline and ask that they begin (Refusal is very polite here). Silakan, silakan (please, please) they say. I had already eaten with Catherine and Alice at the train station, but saying no is not customary here, so I ate again. The words of a former volunteer rang in my head, “Take small portions because you will always be expected to eat more.” It’s so true! I made it home at about 11:00. I was beat. My first night alone consisted of throwing on a sarong, washing my face, brushing my teeth, crawling under my mosquito net and going to sleep.
I was happy to wake up in my new place and start my morning routine. It’s funny that no matter how things change, some things always stay the same. I put some water on to boil, did some yoga, drank some green tea and honey…and thought that very thing. It was still early. I started to put some clothes up and move some things around. The phone rang at 8:45. It was Pak wondering what time I woke up and would I come over for breakfast.
It’s now almost dinner and this letter has been broken up by a few unannounced visits by students and by Pak Agus’ children. I guess I will have to start visiting hours. Be sure to make an appointment if you want to see me!
Ciao for now and lots of love,
PS While I was still in Yogya, I heard something quite shocking. According to an Indonesian friend, female circumcision is not uncommonly practiced here. It seems that many people believe it is commanded in Islamic law, even though it is not. Usually midwives perform the operation. I plan on researching this more while I am here. If any of you know more about this, I would like to hear your input. Also, if any of you nonprofit people know of any organizations working on this (especially in Indonesia), please send me contact info.