Indonesia: We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way.
Peace Corps Volunteers: How about the middle way?
Indonesia: There is no middle way.
Recently due to rainy weather, all the clothes lines in our back yard collapsed, and after a subsequent laundry back-up we decided to start sending our clothes out to get washed and pressed. For about $0.35 per kilo (2.2 pounds) we can get our clothes washed, pressed and folded. I drop off and pick up on my way to and from school. It. Is. Awesome.
It got me thinking about how many things in Indonesia are either really easy, or really hard. Take the clothes washing. Either we are out back, getting bit by mosquitos, hand washing and hand wringing our clothes only to have the clouds roll in as soon as they are all hung. Or we can pay someone a few dollars to do it for us. The middle way is what we used to have: an automatic washer and dryer in our apartment.
Another example is cooking. Either you have a host family who does all the cooking for you, or you are riding your bike to the market, trying to figure out what’s locally available (and what it’s called) and trying to cook something you like in a kitchen with limited utensils. The middle way is driving your car to the supermarket to buy food to cook in your well-appointed kitchen or getting take-out.
This goes for transportation as well. Let’s talk about getting home from the airport at the end of a nice vacation. We can take a bus or taxi to the bus terminal, take another bus to Jombang, and then take a hot mini bus to our house. Or we can pay a driver $30 to take us right to our door in an air-conditioned car. The middle way is driving your own car home from the airport which is waiting for you in the long-term parking.
As volunteers there is a certain expectation that we at least try to do things the hard way. I’m not sure if Peace Corps really puts that pressure on us, or if we do it because it’s what we thought Peace Corps was supposed to be like. The daily life of our host mom is not the hard way. She rides a motorcycle to work or her son drives her places in their car. She comes home to air-conditioning in her bedroom and she has a housekeeper to do all her cooking and cleaning.
At a certain point I think we realized that while we don’t get to have AC and we have to ride our bikes or take a bus most places, we can do a few things that are not out of place for Indonesian professionals such as getting our laundry washed and hiring drivers every now and then. Sometimes we even ride our bikes five minutes for Chinese take-out.