Happy 29th Birthday, Pam! Sorry I can’t…you know, not be in Indonesia. Hope Dad makes you some good spaghetti or something. If you were here, I’d definitely buy you some meatballs…or chicken feet. Selamat ulang tahun!
Yesterday, my cluster went to Batu to buy fabric to have clothing made. Three of us (myself included) bought batik cloth and one bought material for a skirt suit. We came back to Bu Asmaoul’s and waited for her brother to come home from buying buttons in Batu; he’s our tailor. We were measured and informed that he couldn’t make the clothes last night because he wanted to attend a cousin’s wedding party; last week, he made Erika a set of formal black dress pants and a batik shirt (complete with buttons and a mandarin-style collar) in one evening. It ended up costing her a total of $8, including the silk batik fabric for the shirt. Of course, we tried to explain that we didn’t need them immediately and didn’t want to rush him or inconvenience him at all, but I have a feeling we’ll be getting our new clothes sometime in the next couple of days.
I very much like the idea of buying fabric direct and personally knowing my tailor. It’s a welcome change from the clothes in department stores in the US that are made in factories around the world and from buying used clothes at Goodwill or Salvation army. Plus, my new shirt will be batik. I have big plans to wear nothing but batik when I start teaching full time– so far I’ve three batik shirts, two tunics and one blouse with a neat row of buttons down the front (but with a strange shell/bowtie combo that I’m not a huge fan of). Anyways, it’s batik, so it’s great. I’m having a collared tunic made out of the new fabric, which is diagonally striped batik motifs with orange, dark and light grey, tan, and teal designs. It’s wonderful! I’m already starting to put some of my blouses from the states back into my suitcase forever… all the worry I had about buying teaching blouses and appropriately modest shirts was utterly unnecessary. I can buy batik or “regular” style clothing here that’s modest and beautiful, not to mention inexpensive.
I have to say, I’m enchanted with the idea of dressing extremely modestly while teaching. Teachers in the states dress modestly, but the standard of what is acceptably modest professional dress is different here. Clothing is much less form fitting which means it’s more comfortable; my batik tunics are formal here, though they almost look like pajama shirts. From what I can see, because everyone’s so modestly dressed all the time, people here are much less absorbed by body image than folks in the states. It seems there’s a greater level of respect (and self-respect) for bodies here: people aren’t worried so much about one another’s bodies or how those bodies are perceived because they’re well-covered up. However, I have a suspicion that the sort of fixation on body image that is so pervasive in American culture exists in Indonesian culture, but in a different form; Indonesians are highly interested in the lightness of one another’s skin and the pointiness of noses. Almost every body lotion or face product has whitening agents in it and celebrities on television here are whiter than many Caucasian American stars. We’ve an African American lady and Indian American lady in our peace corps group and their skin was not insignificantly lighter after they had been made up the other day at the salon (from powder and foundation, not bleaching agents; the salon ladies wanted them to be as beautiful as possible so felt compelled to lighten their skin tone). At least a couple dozen women have commented to me about how beautiful I am because my skin is so fair (and my nose is so “pointy“). We get comments that we all look like movie stars and I’m sure it’s partially due to our skin color (and partially due to our height: we’re giants, relatively speaking). I’ve had an interesting time explaining that white people in America often want to be darker and therefore use tanning lotions to change their skin color.
Considering the long term, I bet crash diets and eating disorders are equally as harmful as slathering yourself with bleach everyday, if not less so. Still, it’s nice to have a break from the beauty standards that are culturally significant to me. And although it feels strange to have people telling me I’m beautiful all the time, it’s not as bad as constantly wondering whether or not I’m beautiful at all (which I don’t do, but I think it’s fair to say that many of we American women, no matter the skin color, spend a significant amount of time agonizing over their physical appearance). But give me another couple of months in this sun and I’ll be as red as a betel-nut, ugly by any standards. I’m certain that I’m working toward a slow burn, not toward turning any browner than I am now. At least I’ll match my batiks!?
My host dad, Pak Achmad, is a gem. He enjoys looking into the future by reading the palm of his hand; he told me weeks ago that I wouldn’t be stationed in Madura, which I confirmed at the last hub meeting (we found out only boys were going there): “Bapak melihat di tangan.” He’s always patient with me and seems to genuinely enjoy talking with me about our respective cultures, politics, languages, etc. He doesn’t speak any English except a few phrases, his favorite of which is “up to you.” My host mother and my Bapak are hilarious together: Bapak likes to tease quite a bit but Ibu can dish it right back. Bapak will fart and say it was Ibu, she’ll slap him; he’ll start blathering about how he’s got another girlfriend in another town, she’ll mime slitting his throat or punching his lights out; Ibu likes to call Bapak a bahasa Indonesia phrase that escapes me at the moment but literally translates as “skilled craftsman in lying,” especially when he talks about how she only likes to go to market to check out the guys; Bapak hates shopping and Ibu hates taking him because he never bargains since he’d rather pay full price and get the heck out of there; he complains that Ibu likes money too much and that his only purpose in life is to work so she can have money. I learned today, after making a joke that maybe Bapak should try making the shrimp with spicy durian sauce recipe he had just poo-pooed as we were watching a cooking show, that Bapak thinks his cooking is better than Ibu’s…even though he admits he can only make fried rice (which he promised to make me for breakfast tomorrow). Plus, it’s always endearing to hear him talk about himself in third person and say “Bapak likes…” or “Bapak is tired…,” even though everybody talks in third person. It’s really easy for me to make him laugh, which I appreciate (side note: I am extremely funny in Indonesia…maybe just because I’m strange/foreign/dumb in bahasa, but I like to think I’m crackin’ the best jokes this side of the Pacific). We had a fun time today talking about ants… I wanted to tell my host sister to be careful with the bag of tea because there were lots of ants inside but I accidentally said “fat” instead of “ants” (in bahasa, not English); Ibu told me the word for ant, which I promptly forgot and tried to remember. I ended up saying the word for pubic hair, to my Bapak’s delight and eventual encouragement. He didn’t tell me what it meant at first, just laughed. I said it a couple of times knowing I was saying something dirty and not really minding, but Ibu quickly told me it was rambut lain, “other” hair. Big laughs all around. On top of it all I was saying it in Javanese (there’s nothing more amusing to a Javanese person than a foreigner speaking bahasa Jawa). You’re welcome, Pak!
Fun fact: There’s a verb in bahasa Indonesia that means to annihilate or completely destroy. That verb is meRambo. Yep. Rambo.