In my last post I mentioned getting yelled at, while I was walking down the street. Most volunteers confront what we call “unwanted attention” on a daily basis. I count myself lucky in that I tend to get it in relatively manageable doses. When I have time, I like to stop and meet the curious gawkers and yellers. In my experience, the interaction changes completely when I stop to say hello. They come down from the adrenaline rush of seeing an obviously foreign person IN THEIR OWN HOME TOWN!!! and we have a more civil, more personal interaction. Still, civility in Indonesia is not the same as civility in the US or any other place I’ve ever been, and it takes some getting used to. Add the language barrier and the sheer frequency of this unsolicited scrutiny and you end up with some frustrated bules.
At the same time, if I choose to, I can have a conversation with virtually anyone I want, and my attention will be reciprocated, thanks to Indonesians’ natural curiosity. On Saturday I decided to go for a nighttime stroll, but I didn’t get very far, because I was invited to sit down and have a cup of coffee at a little coffee shop on the way out of my village. I opted for a ginger infusion instead, but I sat down all the same and talked to the guys there for about 45 minutes. I mentioned before that I don’t leave the comfort of home much when the sun starts to set (except for Javanese prayer meetings and funerals: more on that in another post). As I was walking along, a woman raced paced on her scooter. I heard her express her surprise at seeing me before she let out a “Mau ke manaaaaaa?” a standard Indonesian greeting. That question in particular—literally: where are you going or where do you want to go?— usually sets me on edge, but this time I had to laugh as I heard her question trail off into the night. She was probably already about 10 feet away by the time she finished her thought. She must of have known she wouldn’t hear my answer. Still, she couldn’t help but ask.