It is all cloud and gloom today in Keji Village. The gray, monotonous sky and cool moist air remind me of my home in Cleveland, Ohio in a bittersweet way. The difference is that the power comes on and goes out frequently, sometimes for an hour or two or even for a day. It becomes frustrating trying to communicate with my family and friends.
Lately, I have been homesick. Homesickness follows me like the mosquitoes in the village. Sometimes at a distance, sometimes in my wake, and other times, especially in the morning, ringing noisily in my ear. I think of my loved ones often, of what they might be doing and if they miss me, or what their daily plans are. My mind wanders frequently to the other volunteers elsewhere in the country. Perhaps they are in a better environment than I am? Perhaps they miss their families as much as I miss mine? Maybe they are just as overwhelmed in their projects as I am in my project? I feel isolated, and yet I am realizing these feelings are part of my transition here; comparing, contrasting, regretting, and adapting. Like everything in Indonesia, feeling homesick and overwhelmed is something I have to get over or get used to.
But, just as homesickness comes, so comes happiness. I make new friends almost everyday and the children greet me with calls of “Ba Nesha, Ba Nesha (Sister Nesha, Sister Nesha)!” They are always smiling, taking my hand and putting it to their face in a sign of respect. They ask me where I want to go or where I am going, and if they can walk with me. I so appreciate their eagerness to welcome me to their village, to see, live, and do as they do.
Hospitality is a matter taken seriously in the village. Walking past someone, they often ask “Mau ki mana? (Where do you want to go?)” Or “sudah makan? Sudah mandi?(Did you already eat? Have you bathed already?)” The bathing question is very interesting. I have become accustomed to many people asking me whether or not I have bathed. It is not because I smell or look dirty, but because it is a conversation starter and the general rule in Java is that one must bathe at least twice a day because of the humidity.
People also often ask if I would like to come to their houses. Not later in the evening, not tomorrow, not the coming weekend, but right then and there. Once I accept, I am taken to the house, sat down, and given tea, fruit, and sometimes an entire meal. We can barely understand each other but through pointing, gesturing, and laughing, we surpass barriers of language and come to know each other a little better. Sometimes, I get invited to spend the night, but as I am still transitioning into this completely unfamiliar way of life, I politely refuse.
I am beginning to realize just how important it is to the people in my village that their guests are taken care of. That they would go to such lengths as to make sleeping arrangements and prepare multiple meals for a person who they can hardly understand or even know is overwhelmingly kind and generous, especially since many of the people here are poor and often shyly admit it.
The conclusion I have reached is that even though I miss my family, friends, and home in America very much, I must take into consideration the people I am with now, who go out of their way to make a stranger feel comfortable. My responsibilities to them are simply to get to know and help them as much as my abilities will allow in the short time I am here. I have no naïve notions of changing the life of every person I meet, but I can show my respect and gratitude by giving them what I can.