Sunday, November 30, 2014

Walking After the Rain

It has been a fun week, full of holidays and parties, crazy schedules, music classes, lots of rain and lots of good food.  We had a whopper of a storm on Friday afternoon, giving Lilly a 90 minute ride home from school on the bus.  Many people leaving the embassy were stuck in traffic for over 3 hours.  Dave rode his bike home, and arrived home soaked an hour later.

Because of the parties and all of the cooking, we asked Sumi to come clean up on Saturday morning.  And since we had the spare grown-up in the house, Dave and I went for a walk.  Our neighborhood is interesting - the roads are lined with large, beautiful houses behind thick gates;  houses that rent for over $6,000 USD per month.  The streets are congested and busy, with simple furniture shops, fruit stands and stalls of goats.  You turn off of one of these dirty streets onto these tree lined roads.  And when the tree lined roads end, you keep walking on paths wide enough for a motorbike.

That's where we walked on Saturday morning.  Here are the photos.

This is the canal that runs through the neighborhood.  One just like it, only narrower, runs near the entrance to our complex.  When it overflows, which it does regularly, you can not enter through that gate.  Under those conditions, it can take an hour to reach the other gate and our home.

It seemed that everyone was hanging out their clothes to dry this morning.

A graveyard for food stalls.

This woman chatted with Dave for a while.  We were discussing how crazy the storm had been the day before.  She said that the water was high in their neighborhood.  Look at this picture again.  See the red circle I added on the middle right?  That's her water line.  When the canal overflowed the day before, the water rose all the way to that line on the outside of her house.  Well, and the inside of her house.  You're looking at her door.

That's why everyone was hanging out their clothes,

...and their mattresses.

Because the entire neighborhood was under water.

Around the corner, these ladies sat on their front step.  The water didn't rise all the way into their home, but it did leave the walk in front of their house slippery and thick with mud.  Their doorway faced a chicken yard, full of lively chickens and littered with dead ones.

Everyone was eager to talk about the water.  I suppose that should come as no surprise.  Their homes flooded and they all slept on the floor at the local mosque.  Their belongings are hanging from hooks to dry.  This is the conversation point on this morning.  If you can see where this man is holding his right arm over the canal, he is showing Dave how high the water had risen at this point.  I suppose the surprising part is how friendly and willing to talk to us everyone was.

These are the houses on the hill - the pricey houses on the tree lined streets, with guards and drivers and housekeepers.  Houses like ours.  They live on these retaining walls so they don't flood, driving all of the waters directly into this tiny canal.

These folks were all walking across this little field / community dump while I was staging the photo of the houses on the hill.  The kids were adorable, but wouldn't chat with us at all.  The ladies were chatty and on their way to a party.  They were laughing and happy, and beautiful.

Possibly the most striking part of our walk was seeing the quick recovery of this neighborhood.  Yesterday's flood waters had receded by the morning and everyone had cleaned out their floors and washed and hung their clothes from the rafters.  They were now getting ready for the party, which was going on as scheduled.  People were dressed in their fancy clothes, speakers were booming music, and a stage was set up with rows of chairs for the audience.  Just another day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good Luck - Bad Luck

I spent most of last week in a funk.  Nothing seemed to be going right for me.  And this wasn't just one of those days where you stub your toe and realize you have no milk for your cereal.  I was making some real efforts, and still things were going wrong.

I wrote nearly two weeks ago that I was nervous.   As it turned out, I had good reason to be.

Working on my music classes, I met resistance almost everywhere I went.  Locations were offering impossible pricing.  Advertising prospects did not want to post my flyers.  I felt discouraged.  Already I could not make these classes work in September.  Would I fail in January as well?

I was nervous about an apartment in Sydney that booked quickly, because this was clearly our last (and also best) option.  I wire transferred the entire cost of the week-long rental directly to the owner.  And then learned last week that there is no property, and we wire transferred that money directly to a con-man.  Who then tried to hack into our email account.  We were able to stop him from entering our email, but the money was gone.  The moral of this story: only book on or directly through the website, because they do not guarantee their locations but they do protect your money if you pay through them.

Lilly sat down to practice our piano (purchased in the US, and running on US voltage), which we leave unplugged to protect it from electrical surges.  She took the plug and put it into the largest and easiest socket on the transformer.  She pressed the power button and heard a funny noise.  And then nothing.  She had plugged it into the wrong voltage.  Just that quickly, we lost our piano.

And on top of that, I have no friends.  Loads of acquaintances, loads of people who I really like.  But no friends.  Not yet.  And although that is normal, it is also wearying and lonely.  And along with the other hits of the week, I felt alone and sad.

Last week was full of bad luck.  It was a hard week.

But our luck turned around this week.

Yamaha sent someone out to repair our piano.  Within 5 minutes and for under $20, he replaced the fuse and we have a working piano again.  Hallelujah! offered us an insurance policy, which recoups about 20% of our loss.  After following up with our household insurance company, we are hopeful that they will reimburse us for more.  And I was able to find another place in Sydney, affordable, well reviewed, and definitely in existence.

As I found places willing to market my music classes, I also found people excited about them.  Half of Jakarta is not coming to my demo classes, but there are enough people to make the classes worthwhile.  And the people coming are enthusiastic about the program.

We spent a social weekend, reinforcing that although I don't have any close friends here, I am generally likable and pleasant.  Sometimes we need to be reminded.  Or anyway, sometimes I need to be reminded.

Clearly my luck turned around.  And then today, good luck showed itself in all sorts of pleasant ways.  Sophia stayed home sick from school yesterday and today, but by noon she was feeling well enough to eat and chatter.  She will be back in school tomorrow.  Annika made a great show in arithmetic at school and has friends who want to come to music class with her.  Lilly, our budding teenager, has been sweet this week - a huge blessing all by itself.

But even simpler.  When Annika and I walked home from school today, the sky looked grey.  I told her that it may rain today but probably not for quite a while, and we walked down the street.  The sky maintained that same light grey the entire walk, but as we neared the grocery store it began to drop big drops of rain.  We ducked into a little flower stall just as the sky opened and rain poured out in soaking torrents.  The man at the stall cleared a place for Annika to sit, and he introduced himself.  His neighbor brought some bunnies for us to play with.  Well, really he brought baby bunnies that he offered to sell for less than $10.  But he also let us play with them.  I wish I'd thought to take a photo - but then, how could such a lovely scene photograph well?  A little girl in her kiwi green uniform, snuggling a tiny albino bunny while she sat on a rustic wooden shelf surrounded by fresh flowers and a curtain of rain.  It was perfect luck - and although I hated Jakarta last week, I loved it in that flower stall.

Friday, November 14, 2014


My stomach has been in knots since mid-day yesterday.

Our family plans to spend our Christmas holidays in Australia.  We have discussed this trip since we began seriously talking about life in Jakarta.  How much closer can you live to Australia?  This is the time to go.  But life kept us preoccupied until the past few weeks, when we realized that we will be visiting Australia during high season.  Many hotels were already booked, and many more were outrageously expensive.  I spent a solid two days making plans, contacting owners or hotels and reserving tickets.  Most things fell quickly into place - only a few rooms were available in Melbourne, so I watched email obsessively for a day to make sure we booked the best of our options.  However, Sydney proved to be the most difficult.  We could not find anyplace that fit all of our needs and was also available for our dates.  Actually, we could.  The affordable serviced apartment that I'd been referred to had rooms available for our 8 days in Sydney - with a bill of $6,000.  So when I heard back from an apartment owner in an amazing location with a better price, I grabbed it quickly.  I arranged the wire transfer and called it done.

And then, when he ought to have received the money, I didn't hear back from him.  At all.  I spent the last few days worried that I had wire transferred our vacation money directly to a scam artist, and my fears reached their peak last night when I told Dave.  He didn't have any words of consolation, which only made me feel worse.

Happily, I heard back from the owner this morning.  He had been out of town for the past week, and seems entirely legitimate.  Phew!

But my stomach remains in knots.  Today seems to be the culmination of quite a few things making me nervous.

I spent the morning scouting out locations for my music classes.  I had such success opening up a music center in Caracas that I came into Jakarta with confidence - the city is much larger and so is the embassy community.  If Caracas was simple, this ought to be a breeze.  I ran two free classes back in September, and people attended.  But too few people registered, partly because most of the embassy's young children live in a neighborhood far from my own.  The complexity here is simple - Jakarta is a big city with awful traffic.  To reach the young children that I know, I need a new location for my classes.  Scouting out new locations this morning went well, but not great.  I have more work to do, and I feel more nervous now than I did when I left the house this morning.

Within the next hour, I will leave to have my hair done for the Marine Ball tonight.  Two more things making me nervous.  I haven't had my hair cut in Jakarta yet, and I don't know much about the stylist doing my hair this afternoon.  I have had some bad hair cuts in the past - new hair dressers make me nervous.  And then my gorgeously cut and styled hair will need to stay in place through the steamy weather - in fact, the currently pouring rain - while I come home, manage my own makeup, fancy dress and heels, Dave picks up his suit from the tailor, and I put on my social butterfly face for a party with a number of people that I only know slightly. 

These are first world problems if there ever were any.  All the same, they make me nervous.  I wear makeup only a few times a year - who wants to show up to a ball with messy eyelids?  And although I'm excited to socialize without children and in a pretty dress for a few hours with a number of people who I honestly want to get to know, I'm still nervous.  This season is still new, and as such my life is missing the comfort of seeing and socializing with old friends. 

I am not a worrier.  I am confident that each of these things will work themselves out well in the end.  Even if the music classes fail disastrously, they will still fill my resume and give me strong talking points for my next job interview. 

But this future confidence does nothing to resolve the butterflies currently filling my stomach.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Since I wasn't able to begin teaching music classes this session, we decided to focus on travel this season.  Once music classes begin, we will be in Jakarta every Saturday morning.  So we spent all of our fall break in Bali, and we jumped out of town again over Veterans Day weekend.  This time we just dropped down south on our own island to Jogjakarta, the cultural capital of Java.

It was another weekend of renting a car and getting lost in rural Indonesia, but punctuated by walks on tiny alleyways, amazing meals, a fabulous hotel and spending some quality time with a few batik painters.

 The old city of Jogjakarta is very touristy, but also 
very much inhabited.  And, I thought, very photogenic.

Ice delivery.  We see this in Jakarta, too.

Another Google Maps fail.  
This was the road to Borobudur, but it
 was definitely not the most popular route.

the largest Hindu temple in the world

There was a lot of talk of Indiana Jones as our
young explorers checked out this ancient temple.

We fell in love with the hand-painted batiks in
a gallery near our guest house, and so they invited
the girls into the workroom to make their own batiks.

Batiks are made by painting or dripping wax onto stretched cotton.
Then the cotton is dyed, and then boiled to remove the wax.
The wax disappears to leave bright white cloth.

This was our pool, outside our guest house. 
This ranks as one of my favorite places to stay ever.

A public bathroom at the guesthouse.
Here, Sophia thought it would best to practice
walking with her eyes closed.
She ended up soaked, and commented with relief 
that their fish don't bite.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Star Fruit Tree

Sophia and I sat on the front porch waiting for the bus.  The school bus picks up our girls right at our house, and always pulls into the driveway for them.  In between the driveway and the front porch stands a tall star fruit tree.  Yesterday morning, as Sophia and I sat on the front porch waiting for the bus, we were watching this star fruit tree.  The star fruit tree seemed full of action, although it was difficult to tell what the action was.  Especially difficult for me, because I did not yet have my contacts in. 

We could hear leaves rustling.  We could see branches swaying.  And we could not miss the star fruits being pelted at the driveway.  Our first assumption was that monkeys sat in the branches of the trees, and feeling mischievous, were pulling fruits off the branches and throwing them down.  I'll admit - we were afraid to stand under the tree, lest we be attacked with bad fruit.  But we have not seen any monkeys in Jakarta, or even heard about wild monkeys roaming the trees. 

So we continued watching the tree, and brainstorming.  The fruits continued to fall.  This lasted a good five minutes, and had clearly been going on for quite some time before because the driveway was covered in fruits.  When rather abruptly, five macaws flew out of the tree.  They flew so suddenly and quickly that I could not catch them with my camera.  But after their departure, no more fruits fell.

We walked over to the driveway, and put together our final theory.  A crew of five macaws spent the morning eating star fruits in our tree.  Without hands, they could not hold the fruit and could only eat it until it became unhinged from the tree and fell, with some force, to the driveway.  Each fruit was covered with bites, some more than others.  Such fun on a Thursday morning!