Aside
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Word has it that if all expats in the world were pooled together in one territory, we would form the 5th most populous country in the world. When I first saw this data I was amazed. Are there truly that many people living outside the borders of their home country?

When we moved from Jamaica to the United States I didn’t feel like an expatriate; I felt more like an immigrant. This feeling stems from the fact that, for Jamaicans, living in the USA is what people do. Everyone in Jamaica has a friend and/or family member living in the US. The fact that we relocated specifically for hubby’s job did not change that feeling of immigrant vs expatriate.

The move from the US to Indonesia has, however, now placed me squarely in the expatriate box. There are tons of articles written on the expatriate lifestyle. Many create fantasies while others try to understand the emotional and realistic lives of all age groups within the expatriate community. The expat life isn’t always a bed of roses. For example, as a Jamaican, it kills me to not have the rhythm of my music, of my people and of the life on a small island. Say what you will about the problems in my home country, it is and forever will be home.

Photos below of a beautiful spot in Portland, Jamaica and of Red Stripe beer (the most refreshing beer in the world).

Portland

Real Jamaican Beer

Personally, I love the expatriate life. I like seeing the world as a tourist and as a resident. I feel as though the world is my own cocoon. My family and I are now champions at figuring out which countries have safe enough to eat street food (well hubby and I do as the kids are anti street food). We are also masters at figuring out in which cities hunger is a more viable option than touching anything cooked in a restaurant with less than 4 stars. We have seen so many World Heritage Sites and have felt the warmth of so many cultures that anything other than gratitude for our lives is thankless.

Among the many things I truly love about expatriate life is the hunt. The hunt for the next place to live. For me, the hunt starts long before we are scheduled to leave the current post. It is when the mind tells me I need to learn a little more about living as an expat in a particular country. It is when a newly made friend is re-posted and is moving to a country that holds a fascination. It is when I meet someone who, over dinner, revels in the memories of their last posting. That city in which they regularly had monkeys in their backyards or where Friday nights in the high-end clubs are free Cosmopolitans (the drink) for women until 11 pm. The funny part about the Friday free cosmopolitans is that the country in question is a religious state. That discussion is for another day and time.

When I hunt, I hunt well. I go detailed. I look at houses and compounds. I learn details about schools: is there a British school or an American school or both? Do the students at the British school study for A’level exams or the International Baccalaureatette (am I the only one who finds it difficult to spell that word)? Is City X a family duty station or not? Ah, fun fact on family duty stations: Iran and Pakistan are family duty stations but Haiti isn’t. Hmmm, not sure I get the logic of that one. Other fun fact: everyone I have ever met who has served as an expatriate in Zimbabwe wants to go back. One such friend describes Zimbabwe as the secret duty station. It is that place we hear about and assume it is awful but in reality it offers a wonderful life for expatriates, or so my friends proclaim.

Where to next, we have no clue. Catch me after a trip to the Caribbean and I may say any Caribbean island. Catch me after watching a documentary on life in Buenos Aires and I may nag hubby to move us to Latin America. Let me see Africans dancing on my tv screen or hear the roar of lions and nothing can rattle my conviction I am destined to reside in a country somewhere on the African continent.

The reality is we know not when or where we will next have an address. What we do know though is that we still have much to see and do in Indonesia. Right here on the Ring of Fire in the country with the most volcanoes in the world.

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Family Vacation in the Sumatran Jungle

oldmanoftheforest

I decided to take my family on an unusual vacation

The big question when our kids have an extended school break is always, “what are we going to do?” Often times the first response is to think of where to go outside Indonesia. This time I was determined that we try an Indonesian adventure. For most expats here, the easy go-to place is Bali but we have never fallen in love with Bali  so that was not going to be an option for the picky Rodriques bunch.

Hubby has been speaking about a trip to Banka Belitung. The place is said to have nice beaches and rock formations but without the overrun of tourists. I am also curious about Banka Belitung but felt we needed something different. My mind churned for days until it hit me: how about a vacation outside of our usual norm?

I felt devious. I started to scheme a plan for a vacation. I love planning surprises and so the family (except the youngest) was kept in the dark about my plans for our jungle trekking trip.

My friend Charlie had already visited the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra and raved about the awesomeness of the experience. I mirrored Charlie’s experience and we had a fantastic time.

Really hating early morning flights we leisurely got up and caught a 10:20 am flight to Medan. Up until then my beloved husband, our first born and her friend who was tagging along had no clue where we were heading. The flight from Jakarta is a quick two-hour hop over to the 3rd largest city in Indonesia. Surprise surprise when we got to Medan: the airport is actually quite nice having only been opened two and a half months prior to our visit.

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On arrival to Medan we began a 4-hour drive to the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang. The National Park is home to orangutans which are a critically endangered species in Indonesia. It also has a rehabilitation center for orangutans that were rescued from captivity or which were being hunted.

When we got to Bukit Lawang I glanced around but could not figure what was happening. Firstly, this did not look like a rain-forest and secondly I did not see a place for us to stay. While I did not expect luxury I certainly expected something decent. I didn’t see any sign of a decent hotel in sight!

Seeing the initial puzzled look on our faces we were told that we had not yet arrived at our lodgings. Cars could not drive into the area and as such we had to walk to the Jungle Inn at which we were booked to stay. How quaint, I thought, still apprehensive about what to expect after the walk.

Parts of the path are steep

Parts of the path are steep

Typical Indonesian style we were asked if we wanted to pay someone to carry our bags. We said no but after walking for 10 minutes on sloped and less than perfect surfaces we regretted the choice of not paying less than Rp 20 000 (US$2) per bag for the much needed help. Seeing our struggle, our guide Yosep gave us a hand and took my suitcase. Once again Yosep proved himself to be very helpful. Since starting to plan the vacation I had been in touch with Yosep who arranged our transport from Medan, all our activities and our lodgings. A more receptive guide we could not have asked for. Given my OCD tendencies while planning trips it was awesome having Yosep respond to my million texts shortly after receiving them.

There are shops along the way - good for souvenirs, water, or a Bob Marley t-shirt

There are shops along the way – good for souvenirs, water, or a Bob Marley t-shirt

It wasn’t a short walk. After a 20 minute walk my confusion and apprehension gave way to a smile. Along the walk to the Inn we saw monkeys traipsing along as though they owned the place; we also caught glimpses of other foreigners relaxing with iced cold beers in their hands.

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Everywhere you looked there were monkeys along the way

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In a couple of local shops we saw t-shirts with picture of Bob Marley and even the Jamaican flag. This was beginning to get interesting. Especially exciting for some in the family was the sight of folks tubing down the river and seeming to enjoy a ride which would not have complied with US safety standards. But it wasn’t too scary. I made a note: yours truly, the biggest coward on land or sea, would go tubing as well. And I would drag the rest of the Rodriqueses with me!

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This is how the tubes get back up

Folks nearing the end of their tubing

Folks nearing the end of their tubing

By the end of our time in the Sumatran jungle I had tubed, seen monkeys, orangutans and other critters, eaten awesome food and yelled like never before when a leech decided he wanted some of my blood. To top it off, I slept like a baby at nights to the sounds of the jungle and the waterfall right outside our bedroom.

Money-wise this was one of our cheapest vacations ever but the memories created will last a lifetime.

For more photos visit hubby’s website at srodriquesphotography.wordpress.com

TIDBITS

* For Rp 20 000 per bag someone will carry your luggage for the 20 minute walk to the Jungle Inn or any other hotels along the way. This is well worth the price as the path is not evenly paved, has puddles of water and has bits that are uphill.

* We used a guide call Yosep for our trip to Bukit Lwang. He works with the Jungle Inn and made all the arrangements for our transport, accommodation, jungle trek, tubing, viewing of the feeding of the orangutans.

Yosep may be reached at +62 821 6596 4000

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What Does My Loyalty to Blackberry and PC Say About Me?

English: RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 9550

Image via Wikipedia

Earlier this week I posted the following  Facebook status,

“This is a public service announcement. Microsoft

and RIM please take note” I am a loyal supporter

of the PC and the Blackberry and have no intention

of switching as I am not tempted by the many other

gadgets from the fruit family sneaking into my house.

My only complaint is that I need a boom box on which

to dock my Blackberry. Thanks again for your kind

consideration.”

One of my friends from grad school (Go GWU!!!!!) being her usual straight as an arrow self responded with,

” Perhaps if you progressed with the rest of mankind then you

would have your pick from the many audio compatible device

out there already – there’s a reason no one has developed such a

thing for a dying product line :)”

I did not bother to remind her that during our program she had to take her fruit branded product for repairs while my PC stood the test of time even though it was quite aged. That aside it got me to thinking and wondering what it says about me that I am not even slightly tempted to make the switch. My husband has bought into the fruity fantasy. He has the phone, the rectangular not quite a laptop and too big to be used as a camera gadget and is lobbying hard for us to acquire one of the ginormous desktops from this family of equipment. It has always been the case in our home that we each have individual laptops but all of a sudden we need a family desktop – to do what I know not. So, he has been converted. Thank heavens the store at the corner from our lane is crap so he doesn’t get distracted there.

But seriously, is my love for Blackberry and PC a sign that I do not like change. Am I antiquated or just not cool? Am I lazy and just cannot be bothered learning a new system? Yes I am rolling my eyes at you if you are even thinking of telling me “oh the fruity system is not difficult to learn”. After thinking about it for the last few days I realize that I am none of the above. I am simply loyal and firmly believe that if something is not broken then it doesn’t need to be fixed. My place of abode is in Jakarta but my friends and family are in Jamaica and the US and I keep in touch through BBM. It is reliable and effective. Why switch? Again I am rolling my eyes while the fruity fans try to tell me about Apps. I am not an App girl – I need the basics. Yes they are cool but I don’t miss them.

Have a great one everybody and hug someone with a Blackberry as you go about your business this week.

Until next time…….One Love.

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Arrogance That Kills…

I am a Christian not by choice but by luck of the draw. Many reading this may be offended by my comment but I offer no apology. The world has gone crazy in the name of religion. It is Easter and I am living half way around the world from my family and friends, from all that I have known Easter to be. A typical Easter weekend in Jamaica includes attending church services, watching several episodes of the crucifixion of Christ and eating an ungodly amount of Jamaican bun and cheese, fried fish and mongoose bread (no the bread is not made from mongoose). I am already quite grumpy as I have no bun and cheese and my youngest child told me that Easter is a “time when kids go egg hunting”. She has no idea of the true meaning of Easter. I am most bothered by her ignorance as it highlights our failure as her parents to teach her the basics in the Christian philosophy (I am conflicted as to why this bothers me.

 Our failures, the lack of bun and cheese and my bad mood aside, this Easter is proving to be sad. Once again ignorance and intolerance have raised their ugly heads and it is a little too close for comfort. The excerpt below from a local newspaper explains my feelings:

“Indonesian police foiled Islamic extremists’ plan to bomb a church ahead of Easter celebrations in Serpong, just outside of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. On Thursday, authorities discovered 3330 pounds of explosives not far from Christ Cathedral Church. Bombs were found beneath a gas pipeline and in bags near the church entrance. Police safely diffused the explosives after 10 painstaking hours, according to officials. The militant cell had planned to detonate the explosives remotely using a mobile phone at 9am on Good Friday, just when service at the 3000 seat Catholic church would begin. Indonesian officials placed the nation in a state of high alert – ramping up security at embassies, religious sites and tourist destinations as well as areas frequented by foreign diplomats.”

Living within close proximity to Serpong I feel threatened and at risk. Why are we killing each other? Why are we intolerant of differences? Why does our arrogance allow us to believe that our individual beliefs are more accurate than that of our neighbours? I am sorry to burst the bubble but it is a luck of the draw which dictates most of our beliefs. Luck isn’t even a suitable enough word. I have been socialized Christian because I was born in Jamaica and the missionaries from England were the ones who influenced my forefathers. I did not choose to be Christian: I can only claim it as a choice after having studied the others with an open mind and still select it as my religion of choice. This I have not done so I maintain that I am socialized Christian, not Christian by choice .

To everyone who believes their religion is best I say “Kiss Kitty K Y Minus Plus”. Get over yourselves and stop the utter rubbish. Whatever or whoever you believe keep it to yourself. If you feel you must share then be respectful of those who differ.

Until next time…….One Love!!!!!!!

13

When is it ok to Break the Law?

I felt the urge to share this experience that rocked me to the core. 

On arrival to Jakarta we hired our personal household staff but hubby’s office handled the hiring of our security guards. Given my personal distance from that hiring process and the fact that I did not expect to interact much with these men I mentally compartmentalized them as not truly staff. 

Fast forward a few weeks and I realized that our youngest daughter was spending a lot of time with her nanny and the guards in our garage. As a mother I decided to seriously look into what was so compelling to cause her to spend hours on end away from the things that normally held her attention. Low and behold I discovered that not only did the guards play football with her but they had become versed in Uno, Monopoly, Loodu and Scrabble. Keep in mind that their English is as good as my baking (I cannot bake to save my life). In addition, they watched and listened to music videos and allowed our daughter to teach them Jamaican dance moves which they readily performed daily: it was great.

Fast forward again to 2 weeks ago when one particular guard (the best dancer of the group) did not turn up for work for a few days. Keep in mind that these guys are not from you know where (that country that starts with J and has the best mangoes in the world) so they do not easily miss work. I asked and was told that he had been hospitalized with stomach problems. Hubby and I were concerned as medical attention for locals is as much a hit or miss as is my mom’s chance of cooking beef without burning or nearly burning it. We were however not overly worried until today when I drove through our gate and noticed a man standing in our yard. I asked our driver if he knew the person; thinking that once again the landlord had sent someone to do work without telling us. I was mentally preparing to call his office and complain when the driver said, “Mrs, its Pak ______”. I couldn’t believe it: the man standing in my yard was at least 50lbs smaller than the Pak______ I knew. This was a mere shell of the man I had come to know.

I quickly went and shook his hand while exchanging a few words. Fighting back tears I ran inside feeling sad as I watched him struggle to breathe, stand and speak. I yelled for hubby to come downstairs and went back outside to invite Pak _______ to take a seat at our dining room table. He sat, we asked about his sons and his wife (who is unemployed); we learned that he was no longer with the security company since he became ill. To this we pointed out that as soon as he was better we would ask for him to be reinstated. We spoke about how he was feeling and we watched the tears reach the brim of his eyes several times in the conversation.

The entire time we sat with him I felt an ache in the pit of my stomach as my brain raced to figure out a way to help. This was made worse by his incessant need to tell us how sorry he was that he left us without one of our guards when he became sick. No matter how many times we told him that there was nothing for him to be sorry about he kept saying it. It was unbelievable that he could feel the need to apologize for something over which he had no control. Something that needed no apology. The heart of the man was big, his soul was warm and he showed kindness where none was needed or expected: he brought beautifully wrapped gifts for the girls. I could not believe it!!!!! I had no idea how this man’s family was eating or paying any bills and here he comes with gifts for our children? The ache in me got even bigger.

My mind was racing while I tried to control myself: could I take him to our doctor just to make sure he would be fine? The answer was no. It is illegal in Indonesia for foreign doctors to treat Indonesians unless they are married to a foreigner. As Pak_________ left our home, hubby jumped on his phone to see if there was any way that our doctor could see our guard and there was none. Absolutely none!!!!! At this point I could hold it no longer and the flood gates opened. I just sat and bawled like a baby, said a silent prayer and allowed my sense of helplessness to overwhelm me. I understand the reasoning behind the government’s policy but rubbish it at this point when a man’s life hangs in the balance.

As I write this blog I ask myself what am I going to do if in a week he doesn’t seem to be improving. I can continue to give money but as I handed him that token today I saw in his eyes that what he truly wanted was his former “life”. With that I say, please God, Allah, Buddha, Haile Selassie and other gods, save Pak _____and give me the answer to this question: when is it ok to break the law?

4

Buddhism and Asthma

Chinese New Year, Jakarta

Given hubby’s work schedule and the hassle of getting around in Jakarta we haven’t managed to see and do as many things as we would have liked. With this is mind, we have resolved to explore and see more in this chaotic city. Yesterday we decided to visit Glodok which is the “Chinatown” of Jakarta. The history behind the establishment of Glodok is quite sad as the Chinese were pushed to live in these ghettos centuries ago when they were being persecuted and massacred for being different. (Intolerance is a wretched thing). For the most part, Chinese Indonesians are still the predominant inhabitants of Glodok and visiting this part of town is an excellent way to visit Traditional Chinese Wet Markets, Buddhist Temples and I am told great Chinese restaurants (we could not find anywhere to eat so I guess we missed that).

We walked through the streets and spent and inordinate amount of time reminding our 12 year old that she cannot just randomly take people’s photos as it was an invasion of their privacy. Truth be told I wanted to take photos too but had to restrain myself. Yes the elderly Chinese man standing behind his counter eating God knows what would make an excellent black and white photo; yes the man sitting over his stall of live toads and frogs along with many varieties of snails in filthy containers would be quite enthralling but no, we have to respect people’s privacy.

Temple Toa Se Bio

The wet market was great but the highlight of the trip was the Buddhist Temple called Toa Se Bio that was built around 1751 by Hookkian immigrants. The Temple got its name from the fact that the main deity worshipped there is Toa Sai Kong. It was an amazing thing watching the worshippers buy and light their many candles and perform their rituals to each deity. To a Christian looking on it seemed like a strange ceremony. Later in the night while I reflected in between sneezes from the high inhalation of smoke I realized that it may seem strange but it was actually a testimony of a religion that encouraged individual relationship with the one they believe to be most high. The Temple encourages all to worship and pray to whomever they believe is the Supreme One or Ones.

I have never seen so many sizes and shapes of red candles just burning. To some extent I felt in awe and wanted to stay a while longer but for the smoke that burnt my eyes, nose and throat. This is what led me to wonder if Buddhists are never asthmatic. By the time my husband got home his chest was tightening and nearly 24 hours later I still have the smell of smoke in my nostrils and my clothes are as smoky as when I used to frequent some of Jamaica’s favourite night spots.  I do not understand: is it that if you are asthmatic you do not practice Buddhism; is it that Chinese (who are the main practitioners of Buddhism) are by nature not afflicted with asthma or is it that the faith is so powerful that such inflictions are deflected by the power of the mind? In my research on Buddhism I found that meditation and its effect on the mind and body can be powerful. (I probably should not share this but: while we lived in the US I joined a class that taught one how to meditate and twice I fell asleep while trying the techniques. My Jamaican pride could not stand being seen among my classmates as the sleeper so I quit). I believe in the possible power of meditation but probably not as fundamentally as those that practice the religion. Within Buddhism there seems to be various principles and practices that are purported as bringing happiness and good health to the body. Is this why there doesn’t seem to be a greater incidence of asthma among Buddhists who practice their religion in the midst of much smoke and ash?

As a Christian (not necessarily a practicing one) I am somewhat skeptical about the power that can be brought from meditation and other such practices but as a social scientist I cannot explain some things and am wondering if the fact that I was born in the West and brought up Christian is limiting my openness to possibilities that could be beneficial to my well- being. What do you think?

 Until next time……..One Love!!!!!!

5

The Ride Of My Life

Jakarta Traffic

Living in Asia means getting a chance to do many things that would ordinarily not have even crossed my mind as options. One such activity is riding an “ojek” here in Jakarta.  Motorbikes make up 60% of all vehicles on the highly congested streets of Jakarta. They swerve through the traffic like maggots from dead meat, except many of these bikes are moving quite fast and bob and weave like no maggot can. Even if I were to ask the best writers in the world to explain the bike phenomenon of Jakarta they could not evoke the idea of what it’s really like. Before moving here I had the idea that I would learn to ride a motorbike and hop around the city with my locks in the wind and my leather backback on my bag. Yeah right!!!! As my grandmother would say, “get that folly idea out of your head.”

On to the story of my near death experience. On this particular morning I was late and our driver was en route from dropping one of the kids so hubby and I decided to walk out of our ‘lane’ and grab cabs. At the top of our ‘lane’ there are always ojeks and we sometimes feel bad that we never hire them. We are always those expats who walk by and wait on our cabs even if the wait is 20 -30 minutes. We sometimes feel guilty as we sense the eyes of the ojek drivers piercing into our backs while they wonder why the bule never use their service (a bule is the local term for foreigners. Not sure if by definition I am a bule since the term was coined for Caucasians). Between being late and feeling guilty I decided to hire an ojek (keep in mind that hubby was also egging me on while he stepped into a cab, which by the way was initially mine but the driver spoke no english and had no clue where I was going while hubby’s destination was close by and well known).

I have been on campaign trails in Jamaica where our motorcades have been fired on, where our vehicles have been pelted but absolutely nothing, when I say nothing I mean nothing, compares to the level of fear I felt for the 45 minutes I spent on that motorbike. Let me just say that I have never really liked motorbikes and always had a bit of fear for them but this ride would have been scary for anyone except an Indonesian. The bike was being driven at top speed along streets with potholes – I was terrified and quite convinced that I would never live to see my kids graduate college or my husband with a full head of grey hair. To make matters worse the ojek driver did not speak a word of English so I simple had to be quiet and grab his waste even tighter. I could feel the poor man trying to wiggle from my grip but to no avail: I wrapped my arms around his waist and clasped them in front like my life depended on it (actually my life did depend on it). For a split second when we slowed at traffic lights or when he could not ease the bike in between the really small spaces between vehicles with 4 wheels (aka cars) I glanced over at other bikers and noticed 2 things:

  1. The riders were all staring at me gripping this man’s stomach even when the bike was stationary.
  2. No one was hanging on to the drivers of the bikes the way I was. In actuality many were on their cellphones, reading books or just relaxing as though they were riding in cars all securely tucked between sheets of steel and metal. Not to mention the devout Muslim women who riding side straddled. God, Allah, Buddha and Haile Selassie be with them.

At different points I felt as though we were inflight as we flew over the sleeping policemen in the streets. Who knew there were so many in Jakarta? Why didn’t he slow down over them? Why didn’t he recognize that every time he propelled over one my body lifted from the seat and I was then forced to grip him harder?  If you think that is bad let me tell you how much worse it was when he missed a turn and ended up on a one way street facing all 4 lanes of oncoming traffic. Did he slow down at this point? No, he continued speeding while bobbing in and out of oncoming cars that were not slowing down but were rather annoyed at us.

The fact that I am writing this blog tells you that I survived and that I am well but that was 45 minutes of sheer hell. It’s a good thing I have low blood pressure as I am sure I would otherwise have had a heart attack. It is never a good feeling when you think that if you move either of your elbows you are literally touching cars while you straddle a motorbike flying at top speed. I made it and I am happy but I’m not sure how to ask the Supreme Being to allow me to break my promise of not eating rum and raisin ice cream for the next 6 months (I made this promise to him while begging for my life through prayer).

Will I hire an ojek ever again? Maybe yes: after several drinks and zero other options. Am I sorry I did it? No, because I can now cross the need to ride on the “back of a speeding motorbike flowing through heavy traffic” off my Bucket List.

Until next time…..One Love!!!!!