We’ve been back in Indonesia and our home in Sumatra for a couple months now and so far this term has felt different from the first two. It’s been nice being back and having a little traction under our feet, a little wind in our sail. We’ve had traction before at various points over the last few years. This isn’t the first time we’re feeling this. Usually after a workshop, or a retreat, or a getaway we normally feel pretty motivated and come back with a renewed sense of focus and energy. We always appreciate those times. Unfortunately, though, after a month or two the energy runs out and we need some motivation again. This has been a pretty steady pattern for us.

But something unique is going on. We’re feeling pretty motivated and it’s not because of a workshop. Something has changed in us. One of the biggest changes is that we feel free- free to pursue ideas that we think will be useful or beneficial. It’s opened up a whole new world of possibilities. For example, one idea that we’ve had is to make a website for the people group we’re attached to (the Anugerah). We’ve noticed how much we’ve gotten plugged into this community and the close relationships with have with the people as a whole. We’ve done some research and have learned a great deal about this group. We thought it might be good to organize some of this info in a format that they and other people could use. And since we have this relationship with the people we can fairly easily involve them in the project by asking questions, getting feedback, etc. It would be primarily for them, but could also be a resource for Westerners who want a window into the group. There will be an English version as well as a local language version.

This idea for a ‘cultural website’ was hinted at by one of our supervisors, but we’ve really taken the idea and are running with it. While our organization has had some involvement in the project, we’re really the ones who are pushing it through. We’ve always had supervisors and others to keep us accountable to things. But I’m finding that the real motivation to do this isn’t coming from our superiors, it’s coming from us. I’m not exactly sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I like working with computers and learning new things. Computers have always been a hobby of mine. Maybe it’s because “data collection” fits well with what our team and colleagues are doing by going out weekly to the villages. Our goals are a little different, but we can help each other in the process. There’s overlap.

But more than a hobby or overlap, the biggest thing I like about this is that it’s TANGIBLE. What I mean is that I can put in a day of work, go out to a village, do an interview, translate an article, etc. and immediately put it on the web and SEE it. There’s something to show for our efforts and it doesn’t take months or years to happen. Progress can happen in one day! While there is a substantial learning curve to the web stuff, the knowledge is immediately practical. This is something I’ve not really felt in four years. This is what I mean by traction.

I can summarize the difference with this term in another way. Before, our life and work really felt like we were constantly setting up dominoes. We were laying a foundation, modeling good habits, getting training, attending workshops so that when the right moment came along we’d be ready. It was all good training, but fundamentally it was preparation for what we wanted to see happen in the future. It was what we were hoping to see. It’s fun to set up dominoes but only if you can knock ’em all over once they’re set up! Our issue was that the first domino wasn’t falling. It hasn’t been wasted time. We haven’t merely been waiting. We’ve put in a lot of hard work in learning two languages, forming close relationships with the people around us, attending local events, encouraging our team, pushing ourselves out the door, and trying to be intentional with our time. We’ve been productive in some sense. But if your goal is more than just foundational stuff, which it always has been, a new approach has been needed.

Our new approach is more like Legos- putting it together one block at a time. We want to take a good look at the pieces in front of us and see what we can build. It’s frustrating forever waiting for conditions to be just right. But if there are concrete things we can do now while we’re waiting, even if they’re small, that’s what we want to do. Previously there have just been too many steps in the process and I’m tired of setting up dominoes. Hopefully by having a more ‘Lego-like’ mentality we can eliminate some of the steps and just start building with what we have.

So I was at the mall today with Eli. We were walking around giving Kim a much needed break. I thought if I took the baby and walked around she could have a little alone time. She’s with Eli pretty much 24/7 so giving her time to check Facebook, surf the web, and just relax at a coffee shop was the agenda for today.

I walked around and made my way over to the arcade. I thought Eli might like to look at the lights, watch some of the other kids playing games and take in all the new sights and sounds. It was kind of loud in there so I made my way toward the back. There I found a kid playing their version of Dance Dance Revolution. It wasn’t exactly called ‘Dance Dance Revolution’, but it was the same basic idea. I stopped and watched this kid for a while. He was obviously an expert. He was using both foot pads, not just one. In other words, he had ten spots on the floor that he was interacting with- up, down, left, right, middle, and then the same of the other side. It was really fun to watch him play, although ‘play’ was not quite the right word. He was gettin’ his groove on! He was dancing, hopping, and skipping all over the floor pads. He wasn’t really even looking at the screen, just kind of in a world all his own. His arms were swinging around, and he even got down on his hands and knees. When the round was over I was expecting a few mistakes. After all, it didn’t even look like he was trying. But he got 100% perfect, an A+. How many hours does it take to win Dance Dance Revolution with a perfect score without even looking at the screen? I was amazed.

I watched him for a good twenty minutes. By this time a substantial crowd had also gathered. After several rounds at a moderate pace he decided it was time to take it up a notch. I’m not sure what he did, but the next time he played he sped it up so that the arrows were flying up the screen three times as fast. No more sauntering around now! He grabbed a hold of the bars behind him and let his feet do all the tapping. His feet were a blur as he hit all the notes flying up the screen. Again, he got a perfect score. I’ve never seen anybody move their feet that fast. It was pretty incredible to watch. I think Eli was impressed too.

You just gotta give it to Asians. They beat our pants off at Dance Dance Revolution. Check out these videos I shot with my cell phone. Sorry for the bad quality, but you get the idea.

I’ve been in Indonesia for over four years now. And just when you start to think you’ve got a handle on things, just when you start to think you have everything figured out something new comes your way that throws you for a tailspin. That was the case for me the last few days, and I can definitely say I’ve learned some new things.

It all started last week when a couple water company guys came to our door. They basically explained that the water bill hasn’t been paid in 34 months (that’s over three years) and they were going to shut our water off if the bill wasn’t paid in two days. Yes. . . 34 months. Kinda makes you wonder why they hadn’t come any sooner. In the States you could get by for two maybe three months, but 34? Yes, that’s a problem. I told them that it was my land lords responsibility to pay the water bill, that we had an agreement, and I pointed them to her house kitty-corner behind our house. Once they left though I was upset. My land lord’s house and ours shares the electricity and water. From the beginning we had agreed that Kim and I would pay for the electricity if she paid the water. That was the agreement. We’ve been paying electricity the whole time, but it looked like she hadn’t held up her end of the bargain. I made a mental calculation in my head- 34 months x 10 dollars a month. . . that’s over 300 dollars. That is a REAL large amount for a water bill, especially here. I was pretty sure my land lord would never be able to pay that, but still I hoped that somehow she’d take care of it.

It’s amazing how quickly your house can fall apart when you have no water.

Well two days later our landlord still hadn’t “taken care of it” and they cut off our water. They even went so far as to remove the meter in front of our house where the water comes in. They weren’t just shutting the water off, they were removing piping! This was serious. Water is kind of important. We use it for dishes. We use it for laundry and diapers. We use it for showers and toilet. It’s amazing how quickly your house can fall apart when you have no water. We started to go into reserve mode- using only the bare minimum to get by. Fortunately we have a reservoir in our bathroom that we could draw from for a couple days, but it wouldn’t last long. To make matters worse I saw them installing a new pipe and meter at my landlords house. This meant our houses were no longer connected. My mind started trying to piece it all together. Was she installing new pipes and water at her house so she didn’t have to pay? Was she sticking us with a three year water bill? Why wasn’t she responding to my text messages? It was hard not to think the worst.

That’s how it works here when you can’t pay your bill.

I tried to keep a level head about it. Okay, Josh, don’t over-react. I’m sure there’s a reason for all this. I know our cultures and therefore our expectations are very different. Maybe there’s a cultural thing going on that I’m just not aware of. My neighbors recommended just talking it out with my land lord. So that’s what I did, and oh what a relief! I’m sure glad I did. It turns out they were planning on connecting our house to the new line all along. Apparently they just had to wait for the rain to stop so they could glue the pipes together. Why they hadn’t bothered to mention this to me was behind my understanding. But it was a relief to know that our landlord hadn’t forgotten us and that we’d have water that day. When I asked about the 300 dollar bill that was due she said not to worry about it- that there was no bill anymore because we can just get water from the new pipe now. The bill just magically disappeared! So basically if you want to get out of paying your bill just get a new account through your neighbor and route the water through her! That’s how it works here when you can’t pay your bill. O-K-A-Y. . . ! Mental note taken.

So in the end, no hard feelings. We have water again and I’m the wiser for it. Lesson learned. Next time make sure and ASK before you start to accuse and make assumptions, because here our assumptions are usually wrong. I still see things with American tinted glasses. Will I ever see things the way they do? Probably not, but by asking around you get another view of the situation. It never hurts to ask!

Here’s a quote from a recent podcast:

When we are face to face we are inhibited by the presence of the other. We are inhibited from aggression by the presence of another face. . . On the internet we are dis-inhibited from taking into full account that we are in the presence of another human being.

I pulled that quote from the NPR podcast “In Constant Digital Contact We Feel Alone Together” (posted in the audio section). It’s a podcast I want to hang onto as I found it very interesting and relevant. The guest has done a lot of research on the use of cell phones, text messaging, and Facebook. The discussion (and her research) was geared at making us think about technology and how these devices have changed the way we interact with other people, and what we’re giving up to use them.

Are we communicating better or just faster?

I think these are very relevant questions. I find it remarkable that people so readily embrace technology and gadgets without first evaluating the cost. What are the costs to using Facebook? What is the cost of the text message revolution? I suspect that there are hidden costs in these. Are we communicating better or just faster? I’m glad research is being down to examine this.

But the reason I collect and repost podcasts like the one above is because I feel like I’m a minority. I feel there aren’t enough voices out there talking about these things. In fact even just the idea that there ARE consequences is a rare thing. Nobody talks about the downside of text messages. Nobody talks about why being in constant contact might not be a healthy thing for us. This is a discussion we should be having. We are not slaves to technology. At anytime we have the option not to use it. I just wonder how many people make that conscious choice.

These are questions we all need to ask. As they talk about in the podcast these are issues that effect both kids and adults. Both kids and adults are distracted by devices. Both kids and adults are increasingly uncomfortable being alone. Both kids and adults are getting their sense of worth by the number of texts they receive in a day. If we’re aware of these thing this can change. We need to be smart about what we’re looking at. Especially for parents (which I am now one), we need to be smart about what our kids have access to.

Tech and entertainment always REPLACE something that previously existed. They move into and take the place of something else. I wonder how often we’re aware of what we’re giving up.

I believe that every form of entertainment or tech we bring into our home has a hidden cost to it. There’s a hidden cost in time, a hidden cost in distraction, a hidden cost in loss of margin in our life. These things change us whether we realize it or not. Tech and entertainment always REPLACE something that previously existed. They move into and take the place of something else. I wonder how often we’re aware of what we’re giving up. I’ll definitely continue to monitor these discussions. Hopefully more and more of them will be happening.

This morning was the weekly task of raking our front lawn. It’s a weekly task because it’s not leaves or grass that I’m raking, it’s trash. Our front yard is littered with rubbish on a daily basis. I’m talking about old wrappers, sucker sticks, empty bottles, cigarette packs, straws, paper, juice cartons, etc. Just imagine it, I’ve probably raked it. This morning I even found a pair of shorts.

The reason we get all the rubbish is a variety of reasons. One is simply that Indonesian have a habit of throwing trash anywhere and everywhere they want. No need for a garbage can. Out the window, out the door of a taxi, over your shoulder. It doesn’t matter really. The public domain is free for all. Garbage cans are not really provided, and even if they are they are seldom used. It’s not an engrained habit to dispose of trash properly. So it gets tossed helter skelter on the roads and gutters.

Our house also happens to be right next to a fairly popular warung (a warung is a convenient store set up in front of someone’s house). People stop at the warung, fill up their gas, buy a drink, drink it, toss it to the side and they’re on their way. Since we have the only grass around inevitably it all gets blown into our yard. It’s a proximity thing.

I try not to mind all the rubbish. Of course it would be nice to have a nice looking front yard. But I find some consolation knowing that a) I didn’t contribute a single item to the collection out front, and b) I won’t be able to change peoples’ habits or the culture at large in this regard. In other words, it’s not my fault and I can’t do anything about it. So if my yard is trashed it’s a reflection of other people, not me.

The reality though is that it probably bugs me more than it bugs them. Like I said, it’s not something they’re brought up with. I see it as a problem more than they do. So even though it’s not my fault I try to be a good citizen and rake it up. I think my neighbors appreciate it- not that I haven’t littered, but that I care enough to tidy up the yard. It shows I care, and maybe that’s all that’s important.