On returning to Malang

13 September 2014

Of course, shenanigans ensued immediately upon arrival in Malang. I was picked up at the airport by my friend, who helped Peace Corps as a language and culture facilitator and also presently works at the international relations office at my affiliate university. He texted me to let me know he was at the airport: I’m standing right behind you. And he was! Had a nice lunch and chatted before heading to campus to stop by the office; ran into the host sister of a fellow now-RPCV and hitched a ride to her village, near mine, to see her extended family and meet her new baby (whose new nickname is now Baggage since his name is one letter shy of that word in Indonesian). The baby liked me! Normally, Indo babies get fairly spooked by my pale face, but Baggage and I goofed around for quite some time before heading to my village. So far, everyone that I’ve met up with that I knew from before has been super gracious and excited to see me. This definitely feels like a homecoming, in a great way!

I didn’t even recognize my host parents’ place when we pulled up. The whole house has changed, and a new, blue, two-story house has been built right behind the old house (which is now being rented out). Bapak and Sinta were home, and again it barely felt like I had been gone at all. The major change in the family besides the new house is that Sinta is two years older, now 20, and that much more confident, ebullient, and, well, grown up. Ibu was at a selametan for the one-year anniversary of Bapak’s kakak’s passing, and she didn’t come home until quite late. She received a good long squeeze upon arrival.

So far, chatting with Bapak and Ibu about my upcoming project has been quite titillating. They are both so intelligent and well-spoken; Ibu in particular has a way of making things really clear for me (because, after all, my language skills aren’t as great as I’d like them to be). The best part of the conversation was when I asked Bapak, an architect and contractor, whether he had ever been to see a dukun (shaman) and he said no, but I’m a shaman myself. I said, oh? Really? He said yep— a dukun pembangunan, a building-shaman. He also informed me that he’s been to a female shaman— Ibu, ‘cuz she takes care of everything. Earlier today, Ibu and I were discussing shamanism around Indonesia, and she had an interesting story about magic on Kalimantan: Javanese men who go to work on Kalimantan often get hypnotized by women there, and when they come back to Java, their privates disappear (and thus cannot be used in the marital bed). When they go back to Kalimantan, poof! They reappear, and the man is lured into marriage on Kalimantan, leaving his Javanese wife behind. Who’d want to return to Java, wife or no, under that sort of spell?

I can start searching for participants as soon as my KITAS comes through, which should be next Thursday. My friend from the international relations office helped with that process, too, and also helped me start searching for a place to live. It was suggested to him that I live in a house owned by the university, and luckily there is a spare room. Even luckier, I can live there rent-free, at least for this semester. Apparently the university owns a couple of guest houses—one for males and one for females—that international/visiting lecturers can use during their time here. I don’t count as a visiting lecturer, so I don’t have priority, but enough of the lecturers here this semester have found alternative housing for themselves.

Admittedly, the facilities are lacking slightly: no A/C (though it’s cool enough that I think a fan will be enough), no real sink for washing dishes (though apparently most housing around here doesn’t have complete kitchens as food on the street is so cheap and plentiful), Western-style toilets instead of squatties (which would be ideal except that in Indonesia, Western-style toilets are often wet all over due to splashing from manual flushing), and three twin-beds in my room (since the house is really a 10-person house, though the 4 rooms and status as international housing means it functions as a 4-person house). However, can’t beat the price, and I think I’ll just tilt the extra beds up against the wall, get a blender and an electric kettle for coffee and smoothies in the morning, wash dishes in the tiny little hand-washing sink, and cope with the toilets. The positives: hot water for showering, a nice living room with a big coffee table for studying/working, an interesting and nice housemate, a couple young guys who come daily to sweep and tidy up, an Indomart convenience store and laundry toko just around the corner, and just a five minute walk to campus. I will be sharing with a nice Uzbekistani lady who’s teaching English this semester. She’s part of a little expat group of lecturers from all over the world: Libya, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Venezuela, France, etc. etc.! I haven’t met them all yet, but they warmly welcomed me yesterday into their little circle.

My plan at this time is to stay in the guest house Monday through Friday and go home with my host sister on (most) weekends to Bapak and Ibu’s house. She’s studying for her bachelor’s at the university and commutes daily, so I’ll be able to see her now and then during the week, perhaps for lunch or coffee!! (Went back to the much-beloved coffee joint in front of campus and had a delicious $0.75 iced espresso yesterday.) Not to my great surprise, Bapak and Ibu were very gracious and offered that I stay with them instead of paying for a place on my own in Malang, which is noisy and dirty, they say. I think a good compromise is splitting up the time. I love staying with them, and frankly I still have a lot to learn about Javanese language and culture; they have always been some of my best teachers. Lately, great conversations have been about: dukun, as mentioned; the recent Indonesian presidential election; cross-cultural co-habitation and its many challenges; family updates, including a couple of untimely deaths of middle-aged relatives on their end and updates about my family (that photo album was much enjoyed by all, Lauren!) and storytelling about my grandmother’s recent passing; village gossip, changes, and news; and what we’ve all been up to, in general, over the past two years, including Sinta’s somewhat negative experiences as a university student (she’s finding it hard to make friends since she is the only person in her cohort who commutes daily).

I think that’s all from me for now; the rest of the weekend, I’ll mampir to the other host families to catch up and say hello, head to the shopping center to get a few things for my new place, and hang with the family some more. I’m especially enjoying Sinta’s newfound enthusiasm for practicing her English, sitting in the kitchen in the morning with Ibu sipping coffee while she cooks and chats, and Bapak’s clear excitement that I’m visiting again. I also feel especially relaxed and enthused because of my smartphone and data plan; keeping in touch with important folks in the States is much easier this time around. Actually, since I knew what to expect this time around, everything so far as been much easier. I’m sure I’m still honeymooning, but I can’t imagine the coming weeks will be any less exciting since I get to start my research project. From my current vantage point, it seems that the most difficult thing about the Fulbright year so far is getting over my anxiety about the big shift back into this Indo life, and now that I’m here, I can finally relax about it all. I don’t doubt there will be big challenges in the future, but I know I’ve got a great support network (here and at home), a great internet connection, and a great deal more language, cultural, and self knowledge than I did four and a half years ago.


2 thoughts on “On returning to Malang”

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