Easier Asked Than Answered

“How is Indonesia?”

I don’t remember who has asked me this question in my five weeks at home, so if you are one of the people who has, don’t worry about it.  I’m the one who is sorry, because I probably answered you in one of the following ways:

“Oh you know.  Southeast Asia.”
“Hot. Smoggy.”
“It’s Indonesia. You know.”

Needless to say, these are lousy answers.  I really, truly, am sorry.

If you are close to me, you already know about Indonesia.  We talk. Perhaps you read this blog.  We text.  You don’t really want to know about Indonesia. You feel compelled to ask me, “How is Indonesia” because I have been gone, and it’s hard to start a conversation with someone you haven’t physically seen in an entire year.

If we are not close, then you don’t know about my life in Indonesia, but there is no way that I would be able to tell you “all about Indonesia” in the few moments we were about to share.

It’s not easy to talk about Indonesia when I am home, because I don’t actually know what anyone wants to know when they ask me that question.
“How is Indonesia?”
How is Indonesian…. weather? politics? food?  How was my first year of teaching in Indonesia? How do I like living in Indonesia?  I don’t know where to start, so I just…. don’t.  I say something vague, and then I say something more specific: “I like the school where I work,” or “My co-workers are fabulous,” or “Living in the city is a totally new experience.”

This is a problem that a lot of travelers have to some extent, but is usually minimized because they travel for a month or less, and their experience wasn’t life. They sightsee and tour, they don’t have an apartment and work a job.  I could have answered “How was Australia” in a few genuinely expressed sentences, since I was there only a few weeks, but Indonesia? Thats a big topic to tackle.

But I live in Indonesia.  It’s not some extended vacation, I don’t spend a lot of time sightseeing, and I certainly am not a tourist.  How can I condense a whole year of life into a few sentences?

And furthermore,  how does one talk about their life to people who live in a totally different context?  While at a wedding, I bumped into an friend from college who I hadn’t seen in two years.  Somehow, we ended up talking about living abroad, and a statement he made prompted me to comment that he felt that particular way because he was a third culture kid, a sub culture of children notorious for their unique perspective borne from being raised in a place not their country of origin.  He looked at me and said something like, “Well, you are one too, now.”

I am not a third culture kid, but I understand what he was saying because I stepped into the world of the displaced: the expats, the third culture kids, and the missionaries.

All this to say, I am sorry that I don’t know how Indonesia is: maybe next year I will have a better answer.  How is America?


2 thoughts on “Easier Asked Than Answered

  1. My English teacher who was a Canadian said this to us before. “As foreigners, we want privacy. Everywhere we go, people always ask these 3 questions: “Where are you from?” (1) “Are you married?” (2) and last but not least, “Where do you live?” (3).. so I think she was trying to say that Indonesians are nosy which I agree anyway. And I believe the life in Indonesia, or Indonesia itself is not as abstract as you see it, it’s just they are living in their own world, their own culture which will always look blur if you see it from your American point of view.

    • This is so true! I try to always step back from my own, limited perspective and try to see life from a different point of view.
      For my friends and family in America, it is hard to know which questions to ask about my time in Indonesia, and even harder for me to explain that new point of view to those who haven’t been able to experience Indonesia!

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