Part of the Peace Corps Indonesia experience is living with a home-stay family. This is to bond closer with the community, and also for our safety. I moved into my family’s house in Kediri with minimal Bahasa Indonesia skills, and having never before met any of my new family members.
After three hours, I felt as though I’d been there my entire life.
After seven hours, I felt like a stupid foreigner who was in way over her head.
On my first night with my host family in Kediri, I crashed an Indonesian wedding with wet hair, no make-up, and wearing leggings and a t-shirt. Because, of course.
The early parts of the day were wonderful. I was extremely nervous about moving in with this family I had never met and who did not speak the same language as me, but I immediately felt at home. From the very first moments, my Ibu (host mom) and Bapak (host dad) were extremely welcoming and constantly introducing me to someone new as their “Anak baru” (new child.)
I have two brothers, one is 25, and the other is seven; and one sister who is 19. The resemblance to my family in America is incredible as I also have a 26-year-old brother, an 18-year-old brother, and a 13-year-old sister. Here, I resumed my comfortable position as child number two; big sister and little sister.
Because we live at a warung (small, family-owned, food stand), there are always people stopping by for food, coffee, and juice. This also means that my Ibu’s food is amazing. The first meal she made me will always be one of my favorite Indonesian dishes — lontong tahu — now, it will always remind me of home. It is a classic Indonesian take-out-type meal consisting of pieces of tofu, compacted rice cake, potato, and coated in peanut sauce. It’s perfectly spicy and sweet, and is (basically) Indonesian comfort food.
Even the coffee Ibu made me that first day made me feel at home. It was perfect: strong and sweet as if I were back in my kitchen in Chicago watching Good Morning America and gossiping with my own mother. It was as if my Ibu knew exactly how I would like everything to taste and she made it that way — and, maybe, after years of running her small restaurant, that was a gift she had acquired; but I like to think it was mom magic. Right out of the gate, I felt completely at home.
After eating, my new sister and I set up my hammock on the side porch and we spent the afternoon taking turns swinging with the neighborhood kids. None of them speak English, and I’ve forgotten most of my Bahasa Indonesian training in the apprehension of the day, but we made it work. Having fun is one of the beautiful universals in life.
Just before dark, I washed up and changed into comfortable clothes to relax in my room and begin unpacking. Soon after, Ibu came into my room, and (I thought) asked me to go for a walk. As we walked down the street, I realized we were not just going for a leisurely stroll as we stopped to walk with two of our neighbors who were both in beautiful full-length dresses.
My t-shirt and I were in too deep, I couldn’t go back. Ibu held my arm as we walked the rest of the block and then we walked into a tent where I greeted three women. I was then turned around to face a bride, a groom, and two sets of parents in full Indonesian formal attire.
I would pay for the opportunity to see my own face, because my eyes grew wider than I’d ever felt them before and I can only imagine the color my embarrassed face turned. I was humiliated, and extremely guilty for looking the way I did on such a special occasion.
Luckily, guests don’t stay long at Indonesian weddings, and after eating I made the walk of shame out of the tent, but not before having to once again shake the hands of the wedding party. This time, I pulled on the hem of my t-shirt and said “maaf” (sorry) over and over; a small attempt to convey my feelings with limited vocabulary.
The nodding and smile method of joining Indonesian life truly backfired on me today, and I gave the community a first impression I truly hope they forget soon, although I doubt it.