Our Big Fat Indonesian Family

 By Will

Throughout the Peace Corps program, most Volunteers live with a host family for their two years of service. This isn’t universal, but we’ve heard that Peace Corps is moving in that direction. Our home-stay situation is much different than many of the other volunteers, in that we have quite a bit of privacy and less of a family’ish relationship. I think this is mostly due to being a married couple and the family wanting to provide us some space. Some other volunteers have variations of this type of setup, but many have very close relationships with their host family. Because of this, we are grateful that we have privacy and that we don’t have an ibu always telling us to eat, shower and even cutting our food for us (it happens, seriously). However, its a trade-off. We also don’t get to enjoy all of the positive things that come with joining a family like we did during training in Batu.

Even though we don’t have a real family support system at home, we’ve been able to fill that vacancy with people to whom we’ve grown incredibly close. We have made a fair number of friends here, mostly Indonesians in their twenties who happen to speak English, and we have an incredible support system within the Peace Corps organization of staff and other volunteers, without whom this would be nearly impossible. However, this post is for the people in our community who have taken us under their wings and have made Ngoro feel like a home.

Pak Hindin

Pak Hindin and I

Pak Hindin and I

Pak Hindin quickly became my first and best friend at our site. When he was a child, his father worked for a shipping company so he was raised with a sense of the world beyond his village. He acquired a passion for English while in high school and even though he teaches technology classes, his English surpasses most English teachers I’ve met in Indonesia. He also has a hunger to learn about the world, and I first gained a real appreciation for this when we had the following conversation in August:

Pak Hindin: So, Will, do you think Obama will win the election?

Me: Yeah, but its going to be close. A lot can happen between now and November.

Pak Hindin: But what about the latest Rasmussen polling numbers that show Romney with a lead?

Me: First, Rasmussen carries a heavy Republican bias, so you should discount their data. Second, how do you know about this!? Few Americans are even following the election this closely and most have no idea what Rasmussen is!

When the American ambassador in Libya was killed last year, Pak Hindin told me the next day that he couldn’t sleep the night before because he was so worried about Amy and I and how we would feel upon hearing the news.

Before coming to Indonesia, I had read about how hard it would be to make deep, personal connections with people here. The cultural differences too vast to move beyond shallow friendships. However, I’ve learned that while that can sometimes happen, its absolutely not a truth. Pak Hindin and I have had an incredible number of deep conversations about our countries, cultures, and the world. He has become as close a friend as I know and I’m blessed for the opportunity to have him as a friend.

Pak Eko

Pak Eko and Bu Ndari (next on the list)

Pak Eko and Bu Ndari (next on the list)

Pak Eko is my counterpart at school, which means that I teach ten classes with him every week.  He has been teaching for 20 years, so you can imagine the awkwardness of that first month as we tried to teach together. However, once we got to know each other and began to trust each other, we’ve seen so much success in our classroom. I realize that he’s perfectly capable of teaching on his own, so I try to offer more ‘outside of the box’ ideas that can make the class more engaging or interesting for the students. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I think he has seen the benefit of some of the games or activities. Additionally, he relies on me to teach some of the things that are just easier because I’m a native speaker, such as expressions. We’ve established a good team-teaching system and I look forward to building on that for year two.

However, that’s not the reason he’s in this post. As a result of spending 20 hours or more together each week, he’s always fully aware of what is going on with Amy and I at home, in our village, within Peace Corps, etc. Whenever a problem comes up, I usually turn to him for help on how to navigate cultural missteps (or land-mines), such as, “what’s the most polite Javanese way to request that our family doesn’t use the internet when we are trying to FaceTime with our parents?” Or, “what should I wear to this wedding I’m attending next week?”

Without him, I would be lost and I’m forever grateful for the many, many mistakes he’s helped me to avoid, as well as for being a great friend.

Bu Ndari

Bu Ndari is the senior English teacher at my school and is just a couple of years away from retirement. We hit it off immediately and she has become like a mother-away-from-home to me here. She is always concerned for my health (and there was plenty to be concerned about with how frequently I was sick early on), always wants to make sure I’m comfortable here, and is often inviting Amy and I to come to her house or join her and her husband for travel.

She is very different than most Indonesian women I have met. She is muslim, but she doesn’t wear a head covering. She is married to a Christian (something that is no longer allowed under the rules of the major Islamic organizations here). She is Javanese (people renown for their politeness), but she is incredibly blunt. And she and her husband are Volkswagen aficionados, owning a van, a bug from the 60’s, and being members of the Jombang Volkswagen Club. All of this makes for an awesomely unique woman and a really great friend.

Amy and I don’t see as much of Bu Ndari as we would like, as her daughter recently had twins and moved in with her, but we know that we could always rely on her and her family for anything we would need.

Bu Kis and her family

Bu Kis, one of her daughters and Amy cutting cake at the joint-birthday party

Bu Kis, one of her daughters and Amy cutting cake at the joint-birthday party

On Wednesday nights, Amy and I bicycle into Ngoro to teach an informal English class to a pack of young girls at Bu Kis’ (Amy’s counterpart) house. After the hour-long lesson is finished and the girls return to their homes, we eat dinner with Bu Kis, her husband, and their three daughters. Throughout the past seven months, we’ve grown to feel like part of their family. We have great conversations with Bu Kis and her husband and the daughters love our secret handshakes and the rides on Mr. Will’s shoulders.

We’ve joined them for a number of family outings, had shared birthdays and celebrated milestones like them buying their first car. While we haven’t grown close to our host family, Bu Kis and her family have given us a family to feel a part of away from home.

These are the people that we’ll hate to say goodbye to the most in a year. Until then we feel so lucky to have them in our lives!


5 thoughts on “Our Big Fat Indonesian Family

  1. Pingback: Commencement of Cuteness | Two Cups of Java

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