Last week I went out for an evening stroll, which, as often happens in Indonesia, turned into more than just a stroll. Evening walks are not something I’m known for in my community, so the neighborhood kids were a little confused, but they wished me well on my strange journey. While I was out and about, I remembered that I wanted new shoes and sandals and that I needed a few props and supplies for school. Sometimes salespeople get nervous when I enter a store, probably because they think they might have to speak English. After they realize that I can bungle my way through a sales transaction in Indonesian, they relax. We have a little chat to satisfy their curiosity and I move on.
On my way home, I waved or said hi to… pretty much everyone. People asked why I wasn’t on my bike, which struck them as odd for two reasons. Bicycles are usually associated with children, old men or cyclists looking for a workout, so a bule that uses his bicycle to get around is still a novelty for a lot of people. Even less comprehensible, though, is someone who walks to get around. One family that was standing outside their house asked me inside. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I said all right. Actually, the guy that asked me inside had to leave, but his brothers were happy to entertain me. They made tea; we chatted about all the usual things. They also asked me about running. They knew that I used to run, had stopped for a while, but had recently started again. They said they liked to run Sunday mornings and asked if I wanted to join them some time.
That actually happened today. I ran to their house this morning just before 6:00 am. Their father urged me inside—about 5 times in 20 seconds—to wait until the runners were ready. I knew the first stretch of our run, but after a while we turned onto a road I hadn’t been down before. The rest of the route was pretty peaceful for Indonesian standards, and I enjoyed it. After about 30 minutes, we suddenly turned onto my own street, but I almost didn’t recognize it because of the angle that we approached it from.
After a shower and some breakfast, I left my house again to pick up a fellow volunteer, who was coming to my town for a visit. After a quick stop at my house, we went for a long walk. We stopped at the market and popped into a few stores. After lunch we walked to my school, just to take a peek. On the way back we stopped for some more liquid refreshment, before my friend returned to her village.
On my way home, I stopped to say hi to some punks who had loudly (and not particularly politely) verbalized their excitement to see a white guy walk down the street. Once I stopped to talk to them, they became very respectful. Well, after they got their photo, they showed a little more respect. They told me they were from one town over and that they had come to my town to try their luck at the Indonesian version of busking. They even played and sang me the song they had practiced.
I continued on my way, but I didn’t get very far before I met the next group of inquisitive young Indonesians. I sat down and had a cup of coffee with some guys in their mid-twenties who happened to have graduated from the high school I’m teaching at now. Among other things, we spoke about learning English: the profits and pitfalls, the vocab and grammar… Indonesians I talk to are usually relieved when they don’t have to speak English with me, but they do express an interest in learning. As a longtime English language teacher, it’s a conversation I always enjoy having.
Language is one key to building a life here, but it’s only one hurdle. Stay tuned…