Who Speaks English Already??

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The first thing I notice when traveling to another country (out of Indonesia) is that the Indonesian language won’t work anymore and I’m free to use English again. That is such a strange realization. It’s like all of a sudden I don’t have to strain to be understood. It’s really shocking to be around Asians who actually understand English- to see an Asian face who I’ve been programmed to believe won’t understand English, but then they actually do. Weird.

The reason why I experience this is because day in and day out I’m around Asians who DON’T understand English. From the very first week in country you learn this. It’s crippling at first, to be reduced to the speaking ability of a four year old. But you get used to it. And over time you grow to the level of a six year old, then eight, and after a while you might be at a high school level. But during that whole process English has long since gone out the window. I rarely use it. Even people who THINK they know English and want to try, I have to stop them after a couple sentences and switch. My Indonesian language is better than their English, so if we’re going to communicate something it’s best to use their language.

So this is why it’s so weird for me to go to a place like Bangkok or some other international city and use English again. Okay, I certainly don’t know Thai anymore so I HAVE to use English. But somewhere in the recesses of my brain I’m being told “Asian looking person = won’t understand English, therefore use Indonesian.” It takes me at least a couple days for my brain to process this new info.

And when I go back to Indonesia it’s a little refreshing to speak Indonesian again. At least the wires in my brain seem connected again and I’m not confused, at least about that.

“Oh a Hiking We Will Go. . .” (Through the Sumatran Jungle)

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Last week some friends and I took a hike up a nearby mountain and swam in a waterfall. I really enjoyed the excursion. Something about village life in Sumatra always puts a smile on my face. The locals are always eager to accompany us up to the summit and swim with us. I want to give a brief overview of our trek, and I’m going to tell the story through pictures. So here we go.

This first picture is a a few of the kids who followed us up to the waterfall. They live in the village down below. What strikes me about these kids is that I really doubt if they even asked or told their parents where they were going. I think what happened was we rolled up in our cars and motorbikes, a large group of white people got out, and we proceeded to start walking. When all the kids disappeared the parents must’ve assumed they all went with us. I mean, what else would the kids be doing?

This is a shot of the “trail” we followed. This picture gives you the impression that it was downhill, but it was not. It was definitely uphill! We actually followed a pipe that ran from the village to the river up top. The locals poked holes in it periodically to give off a spray for those traveling up the mountain. Good idea!

We took a pit stop 3/4 of the way up by a little water reservoir. The kids couldn’t resist and jumped in. It definitely looked a little sketchy as there was a dam on one side and the water falling off the top. And that’s exactly where the kids were swimming, right at the edge! I think I’ll wait for the waterfall, thank you very much. This is a shot of one of the boys climbing up the ladder after jumping in.

Finally, we made it to the top. The waterfall was spectacular. It was taller than I expected. It had a nice natural pool in front for us to swim around in, and the rocks on the side were just flat enough for us to climb on and jump from. At the base of the waterfall was another little pool from which we could slide down from on our butts- a natural water slide! It was a little bumpy going down, but for the adventurous spirit a lot of fun. The water was pretty darn cold, but after a hot hike through the jungle it was very refreshing.

Here’s a picture of the rocky water slide. Look out below!

After swimming we ate a picnic lunch of the rocks. We ate ‘nasi bungkus’ or fried rice in a packet that we carried up with us. After stuffing our faces we washed our hands in the stream and took another dip in the water. I foolishly didn’t wear any sunscreen and someone pointed out that my arms and shoulders were looking a little red. The sun is brutal in Sumatra. I decided to rinse my shirt off in the water and wear that the rest of the day.

After cleaning up the area and packing up our stuff, we headed back down, but not before noticing a really HUGE spider not far from our path. It very much resembled a Banana spider like the kind I saw in Florida, but I’m not sure exactly what it was. I didn’t really want to get a picture, or get too close for that matter.

On our way back down the mountain I crouched by the stream and was able to get a couple neat shots of the flowing water.

Lastly, on our way back home we passed by some beautiful villages and rice fields. We had to stop the car, get out and enjoy the scenery. Here’s a shot from atop the valley.

All in all, a fun little excursion. It’s fun to go hiking with friends, be followed by local village kids, and explore hidden waterfalls in the jungle.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat. . .

Let’s see, what did I do yesterday? Yesterday was Thursday. . . We had some neighbors stop by our house in the morning. I served coffee. In the afternoon I went to the police office to give them my new visa documents. We stopped by our friends house to congratulate them on their new baby. And lastly we did a little house work.

I’m always amazed at how Indonesia has a way of completely wearing you out and having very little to show for it. I think in the States I would be able to do so many things, accomplish so many tasks. Go places, visit people, and not be completely worn out by it. But here it’s just uncanny how doing almost ANYTHING is extremely exhausting. I wear out so quickly doing the most trivial tasks.

I really think the heat has a lot to do with this. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that 80% of the issue is the weather. (The other 20% might be language/culture fatigue) But it’s just so hot here and it really plays with your energy levels. Yesterday was a really hot day. Even indoors it was toasty. We were at our friend’s house and they usually have fans running. But the power was out so we had to sit in the heat and humidity. Sweating burns calories, right? I think I was burning a lot of calories just sitting on their couch.

I know it gets hot in the States too. I remember Texas was an inferno at times, over a hundred degrees. But at least there you have AC to run to. Buildings, cars, malls, etc. . . they’re all equipped. But here AC is a luxury that’s hard to find. That’s the reason we frequent coffee shops and the mall in town. Trust me- it’s not for the coffee! It’s to escape the heat.

Ahh, the joys of living on the equator. Beautiful paradise. Lot’s of tasty tropical fruit. Lush forests and beautiful oceans. . . But if you can’t stand the heat. . . go back to Wisconsin, ha!!

Extending our House Contract.

“Terserah” or “It’s up to you” is what our landlord said today when we asked him about next years rent. In other words, he is saying we can set the price. It’s up to us! How many landlords do you know would say something like that?

This has been a really great house for Kim and me the last two years. I was walking around it the other day having a quiet celebration in my heart as I looked at all the little renovations and improvements we’ve made. Everything in here, from the cabinets and furniture to shelves and floor we’ve had a hand in improving. It’s not much to look at still, but we’ve made it our own and that means something.

I am just so thankful to God for how He’s provided us this place. We’re surrounded by great people, right in the heart of Anugerah territory. It’s still in the city, but outside it enough to run into a lot of traditional values and village-like mentality. I’d say it’s still pretty village-like around here.

And the people have really accepted us into their community. We never really know what people think of us (because we’re outsiders) but every now and then we get a glimpse into their mind’s eye. Just last week for example they built a little wooden guard post in our front yard. This is used for the night watch and I was asked to participate. So from now on once a week I will join three or four other guys as we take our post and stay up all night watching the community. At first I was like “oh. . . great. . . do I really have to do this?” but I’ve asked people and they say it’s a big honor. It’s a sign that we’re accepted and a big part of our community. All too often we’re guessing at what people really think of us. But things like this are a good sign.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in our house in BK for two years. I can’t think back clearly enough to recall everything that’s happened. We DID go back to the States for five months, that I do remember. But as for our life here in Indonesia, it’s been really really full. We’ve gone through many challenges and have grown as a result. Facing difficulties and the unknown has made us stronger. I’d like to think we’re more confident and together than we were two years ago. Living in Asia has a way of making you feel completely overwhelmed and like a child most days. But we’ve made progress and good things are starting to happen.

So I look back over the last two years and just feel extremely grateful for all God has done for us. He truly is the Provider. We’ve never lacked anything but have seen the power of prayer first hand in our lives. And this is one of the testimonies we have for these people. That they too can call on a God who hears them and cares about them. It’s enough to make us stay. . . and renew our contract for another two years.

“Thank you Lord for this house. Bless it and the people who come here. May it continue to be a light to those who live around us. Amen!”

The Crazy, Multi-national, Miraculous Visa.

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I made a comment to Kim just now that this is the forth night in a row where we’re sleeping at a different place. For the last four days we’ve been nomads. Starting from Singapore we’re slowly making our way back to little ole’ BK where hopefully our house and cat await us. It’s been quite the adventure let me just tell you- another huge exercise in trust. But like always whenever we step out on faith, relying 100% totally on God (usually because we have to), He always provides for us. This has been no different. So the last couple weeks, although brief, have been an exercise in faith with just a wee bit of craziness.

So, why are we bouncing around so much?? Why not just come straight back home to BK?? Well, the reason for our departure from BK in the first place was to get our new visa. You can only be in country as long as your visa says. And for us it said ‘times up!’ So we made our exit and spent about a week with my relatives in Singapore waiting for our approval to come through. It came (a few days later than expected) and we were able to come back to Jakarta. Now here’s where it got really interesting. . .

We have to check in at immigration in Jakarta. This involves signing a bunch of papers, getting our finger prints and photos taken, and paying fees and other things we really don’t know what are for. And of course we’re not sure where to go for this, what we’re supposed to say to the officials, and how long all of this is going to take. We’re thinking maybe five days. If we’re lucky we’ll be done and can get a plane back to BK. Okay, Lord. . . here we go!

But fortunately Friday morning our visa sponsor comes to the rescue. He hooks us up with a closer place to stay for the night, and all we have to do is drop off our passports. But later that day he says we can go and get it all done that day! Just pay a little extra and we can get the ‘speedy’ service. Doing some mental calculations in my head, it’s cheaper to pay for the ‘speedy’ option, getting it done in one day, and not shelling out all the money for hotel nights.

Long story short, we were able to get all our paperwork and reporting done in just one day. We also were able to visit my new Jakarta office! Ha ha. Well, technically I am an employee now. =) Yesterday we met up with Hendra, our Indonesian sponsor, and he shared about some of the work he’s involved with. I can’t go into all the details, but let me just say that I’m more and more impressed with this man. He has his heart and his priorities in the right place. He’s a solid Believer, a business man, extends visas to people like me, and is doing everything he can in his own way to reach people for the Lord. What a guy. We’re so fortunate to know him, and really really blessed that he gave us a visa.

That’s the story. Kinda crazy. Kinda wild. But ultimately God had it all under control and we just kept trusting that the whole time. Will I remember days like this?- where Kim and I are wandering around Asia, bouncing between government offices in two different countries, getting flights the day of, and checking into hotels with nothing but our carry-on luggage? It’s a pretty crazy lifestyle sometimes. Gotta love it, right?

Access Denied!!

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Well, we find ourselves in a rather unique situation. For the first time ever we are not allowed back into Indonesia. Hopefully this is only a temporary setback! Our old permission (ie. visa) has expired and we’re waiting for the new visa to come through. In Indonesia we have a home, friends, a cat, a job, etc. . . but today we are not allowed back in. Sort of a strange feeling. Usually it’s no problem to cross borders. Just wave our passport at the immigration official on our way to baggage claim. Then life can continue on as normal. But that all comes to a screeching halt once your visa is expired.

Visas are usually the bane of a foreigner’s existence. I know a lot of people who have great difficulties just obtaining a 1 year visa for the country. What happens if you’re only given a couple months at a time? Several years ago I lived in Thailand. I had a tourist visa and every 30 days or so I had to exit the country, go to Burma, and come back in. I did this for about six months. I can’t imagine how it would be for the long term worker. What a pain!

Fortunately for me and Kim we haven’t experienced too many visa troubles. We’ve always had a pretty solid 1 year visa to let us in and out. This will be the fourth time we’ve had to go through this process. The first time- a student visa on Java, the second- a student visa on Sumatra, the third- a teaching visa, and now- a business development visa. Sometimes too there are heavy requirements from the visa sponsor. Your sponsor might require you to work a whole lot of hours just for the PRIVILEGE of working or living in the country. Ha! Imagine that. If you are sponsored through a university (for example) you might have to teach a whole bunch of hours. Or if it’s a community development visa you might get sucked into a bunch of projects you didn’t really come there to do. For us, though, last year I only had to teach about 8-12 hours a week. Not bad really.

But the fact that we don’t have the visa in our passports right now makes us feel kind of stranded. We’re not stressing about it- God’s got it all under His control- but we have taken our liberty for granted. It feels different when all of a sudden we’re not eligible to come back in. It really makes me value our time there a little more. You always value things more after you lose it, right? Our time in Indonesia is not free. The “payment” comes in the form of a little sticker that immigration officials look at when I walk across their border. That says we’re “valid”. We have 1 year and the clock is ticking. Better make the most of our access while it’s ours to have!

“They’re all staring at us. . . I wonder if I should say something.”

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This is the thought that ran through my head as Kim and I were out on our walk this morning. The best time to walk is in the morning around 7am. Any later in the day and the sun comes out and heats everything up. Yes, even at 8am in the morning it’s too hot to walk around. So the earlier the better. But 7am is also the time that kids go to school, people arrive at work, and parents drop off their children. So the road that normally is pretty empty was busy. We must have arrived at the sweet spot, because there were a lot of people on the road. I didn’t know how famous we are. But every ten seconds someone was yelling out “Hello Jos” or “Hello mister” or “Where are you going, Jos??”. How do all these people know my name? Seriously! I really didn’t recognize any one them. Our presence in the community precedes us.

As we came around a corner we saw ahead a group of about twenty young girls in school uniforms sitting beside the road. As we got closer all eyes were on us, as if an alien had landed. So. . . they’re all staring at us. . . should I say something or just keep walking?? We gave the customary ‘selamat pagi’ or good morning and kept on walking without too much interaction.

However, they weren’t going to let us pass a second time. On our way back they were still sitting beside the road. Well that was just too much for them. They couldn’t take it anymore! Heaven forbid they let an opportunity like this slip by twice! One brave girl approached us, held up her cell phone and asked if she could get a picture. I said “Ok, but just one!” Big mistake. Open the floodgate! Almost immediately the rest of the group ran over to us holding up their cell phones at odd angles, trying to get their face next to the white people. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. In a matter of seconds it was all over. I asked them where they were from and they mentioned someplace out of BK. We couldn’t understand everything they said, but Kim and I gathered that they were in town for a field trip. That helps explain their excitement on ‘discovering’ a couple of white people. Maybe there are no foreigners where they come from. Oh well. Smile for the camera!!! =)

Borobudur Pictures

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I posted some pictures from our recent trip to Borobudur. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It’s divided into 8 levels with a bunch of stuccos on the top three levels. All along the bottom level walls are carvings. I wasn’t sure what the story was but it was pretty impressive nonetheless. Check it out!

The ‘Return Home Blues’

After a week away for training and a little vacation, I’m back in BK. So. . . how am I feeling? Honestly, it’s always hard to come back to normal life. It’s hard to jump back into the daily routine, partly because there IS no daily routine. Sometimes people ask us “what’s a typical day look like for you overseas?” And I can usually never give a typical answer. That makes for a non-predictable, some might say ‘adventurous’ life, but it’s really nice sometimes to wake up in the morning with a game plan already laid out for me.

There is usually only one solution to the ‘return home blues’ and that is to get out of the house and be with people. In other words, engage the culture. I remember our supervisors telling this to us the first week we were in country. They said that when we’re feeling culture shock, overwhelmed, and stressed, the best thing to do is NOT to run away from the culture, but to run TOWARDS it. The impulse is to run away from it- into our bedroom, turn on an American movie and hide. But we’ve learned that never solves the problem. It only stretches it out. There are other good things to do too, like connect with God, read my Bible, be productive with something like respond to emails or write a newsletter. But when we FIRST come back to town, it’s so important to re-establish our presence in the community. Be with our friends and neighbors. That’s whisks the shock right away, and that more than anything gives us drive.

Unintended Invitation

Here’s an interesting/funny cultural moment.

I’m sitting around my house with my friend Dang Ari. He’s a young guy in his early 20’s. He’s a real social animal and loves to talk and go out and do things. I appreciate Dang Ari because he’s a lot of fun, knows English pretty well, and teaches me his language off and on. But anyway, I tell him my mom is in town and in a couple days we’re going on a short trip to stay in the mountains for a couple nights. He gets this excited look on his face and picks up his phone to call his boss. Uh oh, what’s this going to be about?? I realize I just did something very wrong. He gets off the phone with a satisfied look on his face and announces that he just got permission from his boss and can take off work to accompany us to the mountains. Oh, but even better. Why not make it a large group thing- his boss can come too. . . and our mutual friends Jeremy and Lindsay! The more the better! Geesh. How do I navigate these cultural waters?  How do I explain to him that I see my mom at best only once a year and was really looking forward to some private quality time with her? I’ve been in Indonesia over 3 years and I understand their culture quite a bit. But they don’ know my culture so it rarely helps to explain my perspective, especially in a place as small as BK. Their ideas of privacy and quality time are very different than mine.

So what do I do? I try to dodge it. It would be rude to outright refuse or reject his idea. Instead, I affirm that going to the mountains as a large group is a great idea and we should all go sometime- like in a month or so (long after mom is gone). I explain that this time it’s all arranged but NEXT time will be a lot fun. After repeating this four or five times he finally gets it. Lesson learned: when you tell an Indonesian friend your plans they often think it’s an invitation for them to join.