Well, we’re back home in Indonesia. Our trip back this time took us a total of 44 hours, 38 minutes, and 19 seconds. That’s a long time to travel, especially with a one year old baby! Eli did well. Towards the end of the trip though he got super tired and fussy. That’s to be expected I guess. We were pretty tired too. I don’t sleep well on airplanes. I can doze a little bit but for the most part I have to wait till the trip is over to really get any sleep. The exhaustion definitely starts to catch up with you after two days though. Walking around our final airport with Eli in my arms I was afraid I was going to fall over and drop him! And when we got home I was so hungry but couldn’t finish a muffin. You know you’re pretty tired when you start to fall asleep in between bites! Our jet lag seems especially wicked this time too. Here it is- 12:40 at night and I’m wide awake after four hours of sleep. I should AT LEAST make it to 3 or 4 am! Going back to bed and fighting through it is probably the smart thing to do, but right now I feel like staying up. There are other things on my mind.

I’m always amazed with the relative ease with which we transition from our life in America to our life overseas, and how we can go from one world to another in a matter of days. It’s comparable, I think, to taking a rocket ship to the moon. All you have to do is just put on your space suit, strap yourself in, and hang on tight. After a couple days of interstellar travel you’ll find yourself disembarking on a foreign planet, in totally new surroundings. That’s sorta what it feels like to come to Indonesia. Only here it’s not quite so desolate. We have a house, a Tv, a living area, bedroom, refrigerator, and can speak the local language. And instead of a barren wasteland like the moon this place is teaming with life and activity. Everything is green. We have goats in our front yard. Coconut trees in the back. You can only take the comparison so far. But I can’t imagine the experience of traveling to the moon to be much different from what we do. Our two lives are worlds apart.

When we finally got to our house, tired, and completely exhausted after a long trip we were informed by our neighbor that our ‘uncle’ passed away earlier that day. We weren’t greeted with a hello, or “how’s your trip?”, but informed of the local news. I guess she wanted to skip to the punch. Our ‘uncle’ is a local man whose extended family we are pretty close to. It turns out he had a sudden stroke, was in a coma for two weeks, and passed away the day we arrived. So today we visited his house to pay our respects to his family. In Cousin belief you have to bury the body the same day they die, and then have prayer services on the 3rd, 7th, 14th, and 100th day after that. By the time we got there it was already the 3rd day service. In typical Cousin fashion all the men had on their long-sleeved batik shirts and kopiah (hat). I showed up dressed similarly and Kim wore a head wrap. Pretty different than the polo shirt and jeans I wore just two days ago in Indiana. When we arrived there were a bunch of people there, but it seemed the event was just finishing up. People were starting to head out. Oh well. There were still quite a few people milling around and I sat down and ate a plate a food, which consisted of rice, beef, chicken, and noodles. Yum!

You can only know so much about another culture when you see it through a pinhole. And oftentimes what you do see is colored by our own perceptions.

Social events, even funerals, are always an interesting experience. It’s hard to know what to talk about, especially when I just stepped off an international flight, jet-lagging pretty badly. They just can’t relate to that. And when I tell them about our time in America (something so fresh and real to me) it always seems like a fairy tale to them, as if I’m describing a magical far off place. They ‘re very curious about America, naturally, but they don’t know much about it apart from what they’ve heard. They ask about the form of government, what snow feels like, and if we eat rice over there. Usually their questions are trying to scratch an itch, answer a rumor perhaps, but they don’t really know for sure. They’re inquisitive but they have such a tiny window, a small frame of reference with which to ask questions from. It’s a similar story in America when people ask us questions about life over here. People in America often ask, ‘Do you feel safe? Do you have to cover your head? Do you drink a lot of coffee?’ etc. These are interesting questions but are usually based on a rumor, or hearsay, or even worse, television. You can only know so much about another culture when you see it through a pinhole. And oftentimes what you do see is colored by our own perceptions. It’s rare to find someone who’s lived in both places and can talk about travel and airports and the struggles of overseas living having done it themselves. It’s hard to find someone like that. Maybe that’s why we appreciate our team so much. We’ve done similar things, gone through similar struggles. You bond quickly with people you share a common experience with. And in our case making rocket ship commutes to the moon and back is a pretty unique experience. We’ve bonded quickly!

Our trip back to America has been short and very sweet. Despite that we’ve only had four weeks, this has been one of our nicer trips back. The weather has been delightful, everybody is healthy, and we’ve really had a lot of time with our parents and family. My brother got married, Eli has been so smiley and happy, and it’s just been a great little vacation for us.

Whenever we come back to America people always ask us if we experience any culture shock or if it’s difficult to readjust. Honestly, this time around it hasn’t been that bad. Maybe it’s because this is the third time we’ve ‘visited’ and by now we know kind of what to expect. We were also here only 9 months ago so Indonesian culture hasn’t had as much time to soak into our blood. Our memories of living here recently (for Eli’s birth) are still pretty fresh. Time spent away makes a big difference with the ‘shock’ factor and we haven’t been away long.

If you speak English than we immediately have something HUGE in common!

That being said though we do notice new things every time we’re here. One thing, for example, is that all of a sudden I  find it so easy to talk to people again. It’s been so effortless to engage people in conversation. I find myself gladly talking to random people in grocery stores, at church, the gas station, standing in line. . . This is new for me. I’m not normally an outgoing person. But I’ve enjoyed the ease of it all. I’m not intimidated to talk to anyone and no social encounter seems too difficult! If you speak English than we immediately have something HUGE in common! The topic of conversation might lose me (like the latest Tv shows and current events), but I find myself comfortable talking with just about anyone. Contrast this to what we’re used to in Indonesia. We’ve been there for almost five years and there’s still a struggle to understand and be understood. We’ve made significant progress in learning two languages, but it’s still difficult. It helps when we can control the topic of conversation or can steer it back to things we have the vocabulary for. But this naturally limits the scope of what we talk about. That’s why I feel so free and at ease with conversation here in the States. There’s enjoyment in talking because it’s so effortless. What a relief!

The other thing I’ve noticed the last couple weeks is the immense diversity we have here in the States. I always thought Indonesia was such a diverse place, and indeed it is. But we’re pretty diverse here too. I noticed this immediately upon arriving in the Chicago O’Hare airport. Looking around the terminal were people of all shapes and sizes! Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people. Black, white, and dark. People with mustaches, people with beards. People with dyed hair, people with NO hair. Asians, Hispanic, African, European. . . people from all over the world. The style of dress was all over the place too. All the way from business suits and jilbabs, to skimpy skirts and tank tops. Incredible diversity we have here. America really is a melting pot of cultures.

There’s an organized group for just about anything you want to be involved in. This doesn’t exist in other parts of the world.

I’ve also been struck with the diversity of opportunity here too. Not just the people, but the things we have and can do is wide and broad. America still is (in my opinion) the land of opportunity. Especially when you compare it to other countries. Goods and, especially, services are abundant. Organizations, sports, music, clubs, hobbies, etc. You can do art, or music, or sports. . . there’s an organized group for just about anything you want to be involved in. This doesn’t exist in other parts of the world. Or if it does it’s much more limited. They don’t have the same opportunities overseas that we have here. That’s one of the nicest things about America. If you want to pursue something, you still can.

These are a couple things I’ve noticed about America this time around. Having lived overseas has really made me appreciate these little things about the land of my birth. And I think the experiences I’ve had overseas and the people I’ve met have already changed me for the better.

36 hours, 18 minutes, and 14 seconds. That’s how long it took us to travel from our home in Indonesia to my parents home in Wisconsin. I started a stopwatch the moment we left our doorstep in Sumatra, and stopped it the moment we arrived at my parents doorstep in Wisconsin. So it includes all things like taxi rides, waiting in lines, transit, immigration, baggage claim, etc. It’s the TOTAL trip. I always like to time our travels that way. It’s a more accurate way to see how long we’ve traveled, not just how long our flights were.

To be more specific though we basically had two long flights, from Jakarta to Tokyo (7 hours) and Tokyo to Chicago (11 hours). Our first flight to Tokyo was relatively easy. Eli just turned one, and because the flight left around midnight Indonesia time he slept pretty much the entire flight. The lights were dim in the cabin and he and Kim could get some shut eye. As for me, I don’t sleep well on flights, especially that first one, so I spent the time watching Ghostbusters (always a classic) and just zoning out.

Our second flight to Chicago was a different story. Eli was really fussy during this flight. He screamed, he blasted, he fussed, he squirmed. . . for the entire 11 hours. He didn’t sleep or nurse either. I think he was so fussy because he was bored, and his ears were hurting him. We took him to the doctor soon after arriving and discovered he had an ear infection. So that was a culprit. This flight was also in the middle of the day for him, as opposed to our first flight, and so he wasn’t tired either. I feel bad for the nice French Canadian people who had to sit next to us. They hardly spoke a word of English though we made some initial attempts to communicate when we first got started. Even though they were good sports about it I could tell they were a little annoyed. It’s hard to enjoy a flight, let alone get any sleep, when you have a noisy baby right next to you. We were those people- the people with the fussy baby.

But we’ve learned some interesting lessons too. Number one- make sure your baby isn’t sick when you fly, especially with an ear infection. We have some medicine now (Amoxicilin, which we couldn’t get in Indonesia) and can spot the signs and symptoms so hopefully he won’t have an ear infection again. Number two- make sure your baby gets enough liquids. I think Eli was fussy because he was dehydrated. He’s still nursing and doesn’t really take a bottle yet. And trying to nurse him on an airplane has proved very challenging to us. The first thing we got upon arriving in the States was a sippy cup (again, something we couldn’t get in Indonesia) so that if he won’t nurse at least he’ll be able to drink out of a cup. Number three- Benedryl. We will definitely be picking up some Benedryl for the flight back next month so that if Eli really is inconsolable we can give him a sleep aid.

Eli is doing much much better now. His little ears aren’t bothering him anymore and he’s back to his happy little self and enjoying a lot of special time with grandpas and grandmas.

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.

The long journey back has begun. We’re sitting at the Jakarta international terminal waiting to check in for our first long flight. Nothing but a lot of empty time in front of us. Not really empty though- we actually look forward to this part of the journey, when everything is taken care of and we just have to enjoy the ride.

We’re counting down the days now till we get back to the States. Just barely over a month to go. Honestly, it’s hard to keep focused on life and job here in Indonesia when such new and exciting things are in store for us in the very near future. We always think about America as this great place to return to. I mean, what’s not to like about it- great food and restaurants, ease of travel, peace and quiet, privacy, comfortable lodging and homes, sofas, air conditioning. . . and best of all- friends and family whom we miss so dearly! There’s much to look forward to. And even more so this time. We’re expecting the birth of our first baby Sept. 22nd. We found out recently that he’s a boy, so we just couldn’t be happier. We already dove head first into ‘baby world’ and all that that encompasses; reading books, magazines, registering for baby stuff, making decisions, baby names, baby clothes, diaper choices, etc. Man, there’s a lot of stuff out there! Who knew? We’re just taking this one baby step at a time grateful for these new changes in our life.

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?

Still no word on the visa thing. Our visa sponsor said “besok” which literally means tomorrow but in common use can mean anytime in the future. So we have no real estimate of when it’ll come in. Looks like we’re in Singapore over the weekend.

It’s been really nice to be with Scott, Randi and the boys. It’s wonderful to be with family. They have the inside scoop on the city and know the good places to go and how to save money. And we just really appreciate the small things like board games at night and home cooked dinners. It’s definitely the little things that make a big difference. So despite the fact that we’re ‘stranded’, we’re really not that bad off! Just hoping our approval comes in soon.

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!

Today I had one of the most abrupt transitions ever. For the last couple of days Kim and I have been helping out at a wedding across the street from our house. When I say across the street I mean LITERALLY across the street. So close they used our front yard as a parking lot.

Saturday was the official wedding ceremony and Sunday the reception. But really, between the two days, there hasn’t been a break. After the wedding on Saturday they played techno-ish music from the huge loudspeakers into the whee hours of the morning. People sang karaoke to their hearts content. It was so loud that Kim and I couldn’t sit in our living room and hear each other speaking. So we had a restless night.

Sunday it started up again around 8am. The music started playing indicating it was time to get ready. When we arrived I was invited to stand in the greeting line while Kim went to go help out in the kitchen area. I greeted guests for a couple hours as they came in. Kim handed out drinks at one of the serving tables.

Now the hard part of all this is that immediately following the wedding and reception we had to hop on a couple planes to Singapore- no time to catch our breath in between. We’re getting our new visa and have to leave the country. But because the wedding was across the street from us we had to do that too. So one minute I’m immersed in the culture, greeting guests, speaking the language, and the next I’m back in my American clothes, passport in hand, on my way to the airport. Whoa Josh!! Slow down! Even now as I write this, it’s late at night, we’re in Singapore and I’m still trying to get my head on straight. Who am I anyway? Can I really just jump worlds like that so quickly? Can I go from the village to international flights all within a couple hours?

Perhaps I need a good nights rest. Tonight I have the soft purr of a quiet AC unit in the high rise apartment. Last night, the thunderous booming of karaoke from across the street. Tomorrow is a new day.