When I wheeled my bike out of the garage a few days ago, the tires were a little flat. No problem. I grabbed the pump and pumped away. Except that the valve kept retreating. Unable to lock the head of the pump to the valve, I ended up letting all the air out of one tire.
Their Indo senses tingling, it didn’t take long for my host uncles to come over to see what the trouble was and how they could help. I explained the situation with my broken Indonesian. In a minute, I had a fully pumped tire. Then my uncles asked some clarifying questions, but my answers only seemed to confuse matters. Suddenly, one uncle was letting the air out of the tire we had just pumped together. I was frustrated, but I’m getting better at laughing in situations like that. It’s what you have to do. I was confused as to what was so confusing, but then again, I wasn’t listening to my attempts at explanations.
I’m actually relatively good at paraphrasing. It’s something I pride myself on. I might not know the correct word or phrase, but quite often, I can get the point across anyway. Throughout my years of language teaching, I’ve noticed that it’s not really a skill that is actively taught or practiced. Most of my students get hung up on the translation of a word, forgetting that they know so many other related words. Sure, paraphrasing is hard when your vocabulary is minimal, but it’s always worth a try. I must admit that my confidence in paraphrasing makes me a little lazy when it comes to learning vocabulary. Paraphrasing is a useful skill, but there’s something to be said for accuracy as well.
Back to my bike. Eventually, I had two full tires and I was ready to pedal the 33 km (20 mi) to my extended host family’s house in Jabung. As bike rides go, this one was pretty easy. The road climbed steadily the whole way, but I was only following one road for about 20 km. There were a few more ups, downs and turns for the last 13 km, but nothing too crazy. I found the street where my family lives relatively easily; I just had to find the house. This also turned out to be quite easy. Pak Mul was standing outside, keeping an eye out for me.
I heaved myself off my bike, followed Pak Mul into the house and sat down. A steaming glass of coffee appeared before me, and just a few sips in, I was asked if I wanted to freshen up. I did. Fresh out of the shower, I was told it was time to eat. Watered, fed and clean, I could finally give my attention to Fito, the four-year-old who hadn’t stopped talking since I got there. It’s funny: he had been to my house several times but had never given me the time of day before. Now he had a million questions. He wanted to learn English, he said. We tried to practice a few color words, but there was too much excitement. His attention span was shorter than the word attention. When his dad came home, the three of us went for a bike ride. Fito rode on the back of my bike. We went to a military base to watch a high school marching band practice, which was very cool to see. It definitely brought back memories of my marching band days.
When the band stopped for a break, Fito and I took over the field. We ran to one side to see a sculpture of a scorpion, then to the other side, where Fito showed me a decommissioned jet. Anytime we weren’t running, I served as a jungle gym. Fito was quite the little acrobat.
When we finally got home, we snacked on some grapes. Then Fito took me to his friend’s house a few blocks away. The idea was that he would ride his training bike, but the chain kept popping off, so I carried it. At the friend’s house, I was brought coffee and fruit. Meanwhile, Fito zoomed around like he owned the place. I finished the coffee and realized it was getting quite late. I still had to ride my bike home. I had to exert a little pressure to get Fito to leave, and I was a little nervous that there might be a tantrum brewing. Luckily, his general excitement still outweighed impending exhaustion, and any potential tantrum was averted.
Fito wasn’t done showing me around though. We took the long way home, and I got a little lost. I couldn’t tell if Fito was lost or not, but I figured I might as well trust him. At one point, we ended up at a main road, and I knew where we were again. The words come stand next to me had barely left my mouth when Fito booked it across the busy road. The heart attack I nearly had probably would have been worse if I didn’t know how traffic-savvy Indonesian four-year-olds are.
It turned out he had seen someone he knew. I followed him across the road to bring him back to the other side. There had been no reason to cross. Safe and sound, he booked it again, this time in the direction of home, staying 15 feet ahead of me but always turning back to make sure I was still behind him. When we got home, dinner was already on the table. Everyone laughed when he told them about taking me the long way home and running across the busy road.
Finally, fed and rested, it was time for me to ride the 33 km back to my house. It took me a few “tries” before I could actually leave, however. First I had to try some fresh cow’s milk from up the road. It was definitely fresher than any other milk I’ve had in Indonesia, but it was sweetened with sugar and flavored (and colored light green!) with pandan leaf. I casually mentioned that I had heard they also make yogurt in Jabung. “They do! Do you want some? I’ll go get some. What flavor do you want?” Cousin Luthfie ran out and came back with two bottles of plain yogurt. Finally, stocked up with dairy, I rode my bike home.