1-24 Ringing in the New Year with Guinness in Jember, Indonesia

We spent New Year in a hotel bar in Indonesia. This might sound like we spent it alone, having not ventured out, in fact it was quite the opposite.

Late night, or is that early morning? in the rain, like you do on the New Year’s

We left our hotel to find a taxi in the rain. After fifteen minutes, we determined that there were an insufficient number of taxis on the road, at which point we went back to our hotel and asked them to call a taxi. Fifteen minutes after that, we were in a taxi with a “broken meter.” In Indonesia, taxi drivers tell you the meter is broken so they can over charge. This is particularly used against tourists. Lucky for us, we were going to meet our two PCV friends. That meant, they could argue with the taxi driver in Bahasa, making it much less likely we’d get scammed. We hoped.

After a wrong turn and a phone call to the PCVs which got passed to the driver, we found them. They then noticed that the meter wasn’t working, which caused a bit of an argument. The PCV in the back with us quietly muttered, “If we get out and give him money, just jump out.” The driver and the PCV in the front seat reached an agreement and we continued on our way.

We were planning on going to a club, because why not. We arrived at the club doors and it looked swanky. We sent the best dressed of us in to scope out the scene. He came back out 60 seconds later and jumped back in the taxi. It had a $10 cover fee and a dress code. Not our kind of place. (A $10 cover fee is steep for Indonesia. We were both eating entire meals for $6-8.)

Chow time!  The low tables were standard for street food stalls.

We continued on, at no additional fee from the scammy taxi driver, to a slightly less swanky hotel. The month before, the PCVs had found cheap drinks there. They had increased their prices for the evening, so it was $3 for a giant bottle of Guinness, instead of $2. The PCVs were disappointed. We were delighted to have Guinness.

We spent the next three hours drinking Guinness and discussing politics, corrupt governments, educational policy, the importance of fiction, and other such weighty topics. I also got a serving of banana fritters topped with chocolate sauce and parmesan cheese. I know it sounds weird, but I promise, it worked.

A few minutes to midnight, we started a countdown on Jason’s phone. At 20 seconds to midnight, our companions interrupted the band to get the countdown going. Since we were the only ones in the bar, that wasn’t really a problem. We toasted the New Year with double shots of Johnny Walker.

Sorry it is blurry.  Long exposure + Alcohol = Difficult.

The bar was trying to close, so we decided to leave and go find some food. We ended up at a park of some sort that had wonderful patios lined with food stalls. It took a few tries, but we found one that suited our PCV friends and ordered food. Indonesian food is perfect drunk food and fairly vegetarian friendly. I had fried noodles with veggies and egg.

We walked from there back to our hotel. We got in at two in the morning, like one should on New Year. I woke up with a minor hangover, which was justly deserved. Luckily, it didn’t last long since we were on a train from Jember to Surabaya to Jogjakarta at 10:30 in the morning.

1-25 Peace Corps Indonesia

Getting from the bus stop to his house.  (Jason is in front.)

While in Indonesia, we spent a night at another PCV’s site. While we were visiting, he had another PCV visiting as well. The four of us stayed up way too late chatting about life in Peace Corps, how similar and different our lives were and all the food we missed eating.

Let’s start with some differences. The most obvious was his housing. He lived in a house with a family, in which they lived downstairs and he lived on the second floor. Please note: there was a second floor. The house had indoor plumbing, a gas stove, running water, electricity, glass windows and internet. He was required to give a portion of his living allowance to his family each month, for which in return they fed him and payed the bills.

He worked in a school about half an hour away and biked to and from work each day. He had a set schedule at school which had him there every day for most of the day.

Visiting the nearest town was a 30 minute bike ride and a 15 minute bus ride away. Getting to the capital and the PC office was a 30 minute bike ride and a 4 hour bus ride. The whole thing could be accomplished for less than $20.

Shot from the second floor.  Look at all the buildings!

And that’s about where the differences stopped.

When we went for a walk, we got a lot of “tourist” comments. Things like “You from?” shouted from behind us, (meaning “Where are you from?” and often used as a greeting/conversation started with outsiders). Because, you know, waiting until someone walks completely past you is a good time to start a conversation with them.

We bumped into one of his students on the road. Not like we were walking someplace that the PCV was well-known and ran into someone he knows from there. No, we were in an area the PCV had never visited in his town. The student immediately recognized the PCV and stopped to say hi. They chatted for five minutes before we moved on.

We shared a common sense of disbelief, frustration and confusion over some of the local customs. Even though the cultures are wildly different, the emotional response of being outside your culture is the same. We swapped a ton of stories about the intensity of cultural activities, everything from funerals to butchering animals to church holidays.

Transport, fun in every country.  Also, bananas seem to be rampant.

The laid back attitude that comes from an overwhelming amount of confusion. Its not that we don’t want to know what going on, its that we’ve accepted that we might never know what’s going on. So instead, we just roll with it. Now is time to butcher a pig? Ok. Now is time to take a nap in the middle of the floor? Ok. Now is time to take off shoes and pray in the temple? Ok. Now is time to teach class? Ok. Now is time to wait for the bus? We’re still waiting for the bus? You mean the bus isn’t coming today? Ok.

Overall, it was striking how our lives paralleled theirs. Though the culture and trappings of life are different, the things we took away from Peace Corps were very much the same. Our attitudes, our hopes for our communities and our love for our country were all similar.

The other major theme of similarity? TexMex is amazing and how have other places not caught on?