Surabaya is the capital of East Java, the second largest city in Indonesia and appears similar to Los Angeles at first glance. Ida, my Workaway host, picks me up at 11:00 AM just as I am finishing my blind reflexology massage (more about this later!) at the hotel and we chat about the weeks to come while walking to the motorbike parking area.
We will stop at a shopping mall before driving back to her house so that I can buy a shirt, pants and sandals since my bag is MIA. The mall is three stories tall and looks like a flea market in some parts and a western mall in other parts. I am quickly ripped off for a pair of batik patterned pants, $125,000 rupiah, which I don’t realize until I find the exact style of pants for half the price upstairs. After an hour Ida and I are tired and hungry and scoot to a local warung for a $15,000 rupiah lunch (just over $1 US dollar.) We have black soup (rice, beef, some type of sprouts and broth) which is delicious and by the looks of the grime and disrepair of the area, may give me Hep A. Lord be with my intestines!
Back at Ida’s house / school I meet a few adult students and take a quick tour. Then it is time to join a lesson and I get to help the students with pronunciation and grammar. The adult students are summarizing children’s books that they were assigned to read (the steadfast tin soldier, Thumbelina, etc.) which is charming and amusing. I have a hard time remembering their names, maybe from Jetlag or because most are so foreign sounding that I have nothing to associate them with.
Once the afternoon commotion of greetings and lessons have settled down I become acquainted with Ida’s home and neighborhood.
Beautiful tropical foliage line the small street. Neighbors sit and mill around open porches and school children ride bicycles. I walk over a small bridge and observe what appears to be a grey water canal which passes between the homes, pipes emptying dirty water into the flow. Plastic bags, bottles and other rubbish snag on low hanging tree branches or float slowly by. The co-existence of beauty and squalor prompt me to consider my own Western life. What small annoyances distract me from appreciating the beauty of that life? How am I able to overlook uncomfortable living conditions here when a messy house or a few degree weather change can turn my mood sour at home?
The woman on the airplane who taught me to ask ‘What is this?” and “What is that?” in Bahasa Indonesian also mentioned that when she lived in the Country, 30 years ago, the local residents did not use toilet paper with their squat toilets. They had a water trough near the toilet and standing drain area. This tiled concrete tub was always filled with water which was not drinkable but could be used for bathing and washing after using the toilet. A plastic ‘dipper’ sat on the edge of the tub and was used for dousing oneself, whether to shower the whole body over the floor drain or just the offending parts while hovering over the squat toilet. She wasn’t sure if the plumbing situation had improved since her visit.
There is still no toilet paper, at least at my host’s home. I was given a towel of my very own for drying myself and basic instructions. With rolled up pants and a full bladder I latched the bathroom door in resolve.
I awoke early the next morning to prayers blaring across the load speakers from the local Mushallah (prayer room) and Mosque, one block away in either direction. It is very loud and I lay sprawled on the bed, no blankets needed due to the heat. I leave my hair down while outside the house to cover my shaved sides and tattoo in respect of my hosts and their neighborhood. My hair has become a curling voluminous mane which sticks to the back of my neck and insulates my head. I wanted to blend in, live like the locals and understand their culture, but inside this musty room with my hair mercifully tied up and Arabic prayers drifting through the window I feel very out of place, very different.
The days to come will be no doubt interesting. I have been treated with every kindness in this little neighborhood and appreciate their tolerance of a curious foreigner sampling the ways of their world.