I spent the second half of December traveling with Amy and Will in Malaysia and Indonesia. I’m sure they will have plenty to say about those travels, so I’ll focus on the days I spent visiting their current home, traveling with teachers and their families from Amy’s school, and visiting the homes of their original host families from their training.
While I only spent a few nights in their village, it was very interesting to see how they fit in the community there.
It was very nice to meet the people that Amy and Will live and work with. All of their colleagues were friendly and welcoming, and it was nice to meet many of their families during our trip with Amy’s school. They have lots of kids, and they are all adorable. Parenting styles are generally pretty Laissez–faire, and often the kids seem to be running the show with the parents just trying to keep up.
As Peace Corps volunteers, Will and Amy are representatives of America to people who have had little or no contact with Americans. This is a responsibility they take very seriously. Being new and on a short visit, I felt like something of a celebrity and everyone seemed interested in meeting me. Will and Amy, however, have been in the area for over a year and while they are still exotic and interesting, they are also part of the community now.
They have an especially strong relationship with the kids in their village, many of whom participate in their at-home English group and vary from young children to teenagers. Amy and Will have something of an “open door” policy in that the children might wander by at any time. One evening we had all just laid down for a nap when a group came in and wanted to play Uno. I know they were tired, but both of them put on their best faces and we hung out with the kids for an hour or so playing Uno before they had to leave. They both really care about making the best impression, because beyond their “jobs” of teaching, that is why they are there. Will is frequently the tallest person around, which makes him extra popular with the younger children for piggy back rides.
Being in their village got me thinking. Many of the views we have of small towns, some of it nostalgia for the past, is a way of life in the villages. Children wander around unattended and there doesn’t seem to be much fear of them stopping in to people’s homes. Amy and Will explained to me that in the village culture, doors are generally left open and this is seen as an invitation to visit. We spent a day making the rounds ourselves to visit several of their colleagues homes, playing with their children and grandchildren, and generally just chatting. We did the same when we visited their training site a few days later and I got to meet their original host families.
On the other side of the coin, gossip (good or bad) spreads rapidly through the village grapevine. Amy and Will are very visible, so it was interesting how many people knew their business. This can help when they need to politely get a point across, but means that they have to be extra careful to avoid offending any local sensibilities. The real difference between small towns in the US and villages in Indonesia is that they are not isolated. Villages line the main roads one after another, such that Amy and Will actually live and teach in different adjacent villages. It’s hard to tell where one ends and one begins.
We had a wonderful time on the rest of our trip, from the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur to the peaceful beach island of Nusa Lembongan. Amy and Will were able to take a well earned vacation of their own in Malaysia and Bali. In between these areas though, I am glad I got to spend some time at their current site and visit their training site, where I got to meet their original host families. It gave me a flavor of what their life in Indonesia has been like. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit and to catch up with my friends after a year and a half.