It’s not about the coffee

The only time I get frustrated with Indonesia is when I expect it to be the USA. When I see a café touting fresh coffee and tea I march right on in and nonchalantly request an iced Americano with a shot of vanilla and a splash of coconut milk. No coconut milk? Ok, I guess I can understand that. Not every café offers cow milk alternatives for the lactose intolerant or vegan coffee snob. This is Southeast Asia; however, and there is literally a coconut tree growing RIGHT outside of the café… its fine. I’m fine.

Saja Americano dengen vanilla then. No espresso?! Apa?! Drip coffee? Tidak. Vanilla syrup? Tidak. At this point I’ve exhausted my limited spoken Bahasa Indonesia and cultural competency so I turn to Ben for help. “Ben, what kind of coffee do they serve here?”

His expression leaks hints of pity and exasperation “It’s like I told you, babe. They have instant packets that include milk and sugar or they have ground coffee but no filter and it’s not fresh.”

My posture slumps and I offer a deflated “m’kasih” to the man behind the counter. We walk outside and I relay my frustrated inner dialogue to Ben. It includes miffed observations about the irony of this island of Java NOT HAVING A DECENT CUP OF JAVA for miles around! Java is slang for coffee in the USA. I expected that people here would possess an innate sense of coffee snobbery. I imagined my pilgrimage to this coffee producing paradise differently. He wonders why I can’t just believe him when he tells me the café isn’t going to have the kind of coffee I want.

Ben and I stand on the side of the small dusty road. We look at each other quizzically while waiting for our Grab car to pick us up. Realization settles is in mind like filterless coffee grounds to a cup’s bottom.

The only way I can love this place is if I don’t demand that it be something else. Indonesia is beautiful and interesting. It’s worth loving. Why must I make it America?

Now in the back seat Ben’s dark brown eyes lock into my greens and we silently ask “who are you?”

How can I expect this 28 year old Southeast Asian Muslim man to share identical views with me? It’s comical. Why would he ask a 31 year old Western Christian woman to know his mind? He can’t, it’s illogical.

Our obtrusive differences will not be overlooked and this might be our salvation. If our thoughts were more similar we might be tempted to assume identicalness and miss the curious, beautiful contrast of minds. Frustrating at times? Yes, but only for a fleeting moment if appreciation and collaboration can follow.

No two places are the same. No two people are the same. I have a good imagination, but wow, God has me beat. This sometimes foreign, sometimes familiar city whizzes past my window and I’m glad the world defies my expectations.


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