Monday, August 21, 2006

Say What?

Lately, I've been trying things in Indonesian. That means attending church, showing up at Young Single Adult activities, and chatting with taxi drivers. My Bahasa Indonesia is passable, meaning that I can (mostly) follow the gist of a conversation if a)it's one-on-one, b) it's face-to-face, and c) the person speaks loudly and slowly. My vocabulary's also pretty limited right now, which means I, and whoever I'm talking to (not to whomever I'm talking, please note) have to do some guessing.

So the other night I was trying to explain my view on Indonesian desserts to Brother Sam, one of my favorite Church members here. Indonesian food is fantastic, but I am always disappointed with the post-meal offerings; they're not chocolate, they're not very sweet, and they're always vaguely mushy or slimy. I was trying to tell Brother Sam about this, but I didn't know the word "texture." The discussion that followed went something like this:

Hannah: I like the taste of Indonesian desserts, but I don't like the....(pauses to ponder)
Brother Sam: The...?
Hannah: ...the "texture"? Do you know the word "texture"?
Brother Sam: "Texture"?
Hannah: Okay, how to, like, if I touch something, it feels...(demonstrates touching)
Brother Sam: You stroke your food?
Hannah: No, no, like, for anything. Everything has a "texture." Like, if I touch this desk, it feels...(pats the desk for a minute, then realizes she doesn't know the word for "smooth." Or "rough." Or any texture-related words. Sighs in despair.)
Brother Sam: (stares blankly)
Hannah: (thinking of things with interesting textures) Okay, I'll try again. It's the feeling of something. Like a snake...or like fur...or like oil.
Brother Sam: You think Indonesian desserts taste like snakes?
Hannah: (Searches for a way to explain "mushy." Decides it isn't worth it.)
Brother Sam: (Pulls out an electronic dictionary, looks up "mushy.") Oh, "like pudding"!
Hannah: Yes, like pudding! (Thinks, "I can't believe I just went through all that for the translation "like pudding." Screw circumlocution; I'm buying an electronic dictionary.")

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Things Remembered, Things Forgotten

Selamat all times of day from the wilds of Indonesia. To get things started right, I think we need a list, perhaps of things I had remembered and things I had forgotten.

1. That the water is not potable
a. because the canals are so clogged with trash they can barely move
b. and because the water from the tap is vaguely greenish. (Don't take baths.)

2. The thick, almost overly sweet-smelling air of the tropics
a. with an acrid overlay of pure pollution
b. and sometimes the stench of rotting garbage.

3. The call of the mosques echoing through the (relatively) cool twilight
a. and the constant roar of motorcyles, buses, cars, trucks, and bajaj
b. and never forget the tinny Indopop blaring from every radio.

4. That Indonesians are kind, gentle, polite, and friendly
a. and will always smile in exchange for a smile
b. and will never, ever, ever leave a person alone.

5. That crossing the street is like a giant and deadly game of Frogger
a. but it's not as scary as, say, Cairo
b. and sometimes, if you're lucky, a friendly member of the Indonesian Special Forces will step in the road and stop three lanes of traffic for your crossing.

I'll be in culture shock mode in a month or two, I'm sure, but for now I'm still in the honeymoon phase. Jakarta is overcrowded, dirty, smelly, and noisy, but every so often in the midst of the hubbub I am struck, in the spirit of Proust's madeleines, by a tiny thing--a word, a smile, a smell, an "Allahu Akbar" over the loudspeaker--that reminds me of my years here and makes me think: this is coming home.

May all my homecomings be this way!