Can I have your shorts?

I went for a long walk today. Not sure how long, but really long. As per usual, I had very little idea of where I was headed, which baffles Indonesians. One woman said, “But how does that even work?” when I told her I didn’t have a destination in mind. I told her I was following my nose; if my nose turned left, I turned left; if my nose turned right, I turned right. “All alone?” is another comment I always get. “Yes,” I admitted, “but actually not really. There are people everywhere!”

Everyone asks if I get lost, wandering around like that. Even if I didn’t have an interactive world map in my pocket, it would be pretty difficult to get lost. And even if I didn’t have a smartphone, there are literally hundreds of people who would be more than happy to tell me where I am and how to get where I’m going.

I tend not to use my phone or ask for directions unless I’m going somewhere by bike, i.e. going somewhere farther away. I do like to ask people the names of the villages I pass through though. Google doesn’t always know those, and my bapak and ibu always want to know where I ended up.


But that’s not even what I wanted to write about. My walk was not uneventful. I had barely left my own house this morning before I was whisked inside someone else’s. After a hello and a handshake, a smiling older neighbor grabbed my arm and steered me straight toward his home. My great-grandmother would have have said parlor for the sitting room where Indonesians receive their guests. That’s where we sat for a few minutes, while he fired off questions. Then a customer came looking for a haircut. It turned out my host was a barber.

I continued my walk down my old street* at the end of which I was rerouted by a young guy with a cigarette in his mouth. We sat on his stoop for a few minutes, while he fired off questions, one of which was, “Can I have your shorts?” Now, I’m quite attached to my shorts, so I had to disappoint him, but he didn’t give up that easily. He asked instead about my faded, old T-shirt. I tried to convince him that he didn’t really want it, but he did, and since I was far less attached to my worn-out T-shirt than I am to my shorts, I didn’t mind trading it for a bright red soccer jersey. I definitely think I got the better deal, especially since it’s an Arema jersey, my area’s favorite team.

After the trade, I set off again. I walked along the route of my last long run and chatted with a family for 10 minutes in front of their house. I enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery my site has to offer. Then I entered uncharted territory. I took a new road that might as well have led back in time. Village is almost the wrong word to describe the houses I found scattered throughout the woods and rice paddies. People there were a bit more suspicious of me, too, but I know the Javanese magic word, so I was allowed passage.

Finally, I left the woods and began to see denser collections of houses as well as stores again. Along the way, a man on a motorcycle looked at me and put his cupped hand to his lips, the universal sign for drinking. This was an invitation to have a cup of coffee at his house, which wasn’t far away. The woman on the back of the motorcycle jumped off and led me there on foot. A sip and a half into my coffee, I was told it was time to eat. I was handed a plate and told to help myself. I took some rice (but not enough, apparently), some cooked young jackfruit, a fried egg and some spicy green chili sauce. A visiting nephew joined me in my meal, for which I was grateful. I don’t especially like when offers of food turn into bule feeding (and watching) time at Mr. Liam’s Traveling Circus.

After about a dozen invitations to take seconds and a dozen assurances that I was already full, I returned to the parlor. More family members had sprouted out of nowhere. We had a good chat about why people, who live and work in one place for two years, aren’t really tourists, even if their skin is white. We talked about what we do and don’t have in the US, a favorite topic of Indonesians. They always try to stump me with different fruits, vegetables and snacks. “Do you have snake fruit in the US? Cassava chips? Corn?” I tell them that a lot of things like snake fruit aren’t grown in the US, but that they can be found. I tell them that the US is a country of immigrants, who often bring their favorite kinds of food with them. After the interview and after a few photos, I took my leave.

I love my long walks, even if most Indonesians don’t understand why. I might not know where I am or where I’m going, but I’ve rarely felt less lost.


*I know…I still have to write about my move.




The other morning I went for a long run. I had set out to retrace an old route, but I decided pretty quickly to try something new. Where I normally would have turned right, I went straight ahead, down a steep hill, across a bridge and up a steeper hill on the other side. When I made it to the top, I was breathless for two reasons, the second being the absolutely beautiful panorama before me: rice paddies, lush and green; palm trees all around them; ahead of me a majestic volcano. The sun had barely risen, so everything was bathed in a very gentle half-light.


I rarely have an opportunity to forget that I live in a very densely populated part of an already densely populated island, but tucked between the sprawling towns and villages are many of these vast swathes of tranquil green, and if you go there at the right time of day, there are hardly any people. On this run, my imagination turned the few humming motorcycles into buzzing insects. I stopped for a moment and soaked up the scenery. When I set out again, I felt that those moments of peace and quiet had given me an extra 10 minutes of patience for the day.

I didn’t know where I was, so…I just kept going. Eventually, I left all signs of habitation behind, running down another hill and across another bridge. Then I made a turn I won’t call right or wrong. I followed a track that ran parallel to the river I had just crossed. The track got narrower and narrower, but it didn’t disappear…for a good while. At one point though, the road did vanish into the river. Signs that people still passed this way continued though: crops that were obviously being tended, the odd piece of clothing. I decided to keep going.

Signs that I might not be alone or that there might be a way out ahead spurred me on. My run had turned into obstacle course, which I navigated carefully. Finally, I saw a man ahead inspecting his crops. Hopeful, I asked him what lay ahead. Would I find a way out if I continued? He pointed to a sheer cliff behind him and said I could climb that. Otherwise I’d have to turn back. I took the latter piece of advice.

When I finally reached the bridge and the fork in the road from before, I chose the path I had previously ignored and soon ended up on a well-traveled road. The sun was climbing higher, and there were more people out and about—people that had never seen me before. The calls of bule! and tourist! began to increase in frequency. I felt my stock of patience running out.

IMG_2509When I finally made it back to familiar territory, I thought I’d be safe from unwanted attention. These people knew me after all. Unfortunately, I was wrong. People pointed me out the way I might draw attention to a kangaroo that had escaped from its zoo. My patience was nearly depleted, and I was disappointed that people I thought I knew would objectify me that way, but I had one more trick up my sleeve. I turned on to my old street* where I was sure I’d only be greeted with familiar hellos. It worked.

I’ll try this new run again sometime, and maybe I’ll even try it as a walk, so I can slow down and explain that I’m not an escaped kangaroo.

*I’ve moved! More to come soon.