“Silakhan, Kak Mal. Take a seat!” It was my second night in the home of the strangers that were supposed to become my family, and I was still very much in my anxious, exchange-rookie stage. Cautiously I took my place at the table, fearing the food spread that was going to be presented for dinner that evening. My beaming mother placed a plate in front me.
“Why did she give me a heaping pile of burnt cheese?” I thought to myself.
“It’s pisang keju coklat! You can only find it here in Indonesia!” My puzzled face and limited vocabulary encouraged her to continue. “Banana cheese chocolate!” Bananas? Did she mean the mushy, fruit nemesis that I had battled my whole life refusing to eat... Slathered in... Cheese?
“What is this country on?” I thought to myself.
Flash forward to my first Monday at SMA Kartika. I was instructed to be at school fifteen minutes before usual sporting my school hat. “6:45 am at school? This country is absurd.” I grumbled to my host-mom. After sluggishly making my way through the towering, steel gate, my faithful classmates grabbed my hand and started shouting the four words of English they knew.
“Come on, Mal! Let’s go!” Before my eyes, students began falling into perfectly harmonized lines, segregated by class and gender. Reminding me of civilian soldiers, these students began saluting their elder students and teachers. And shouting. An abundance of shouting in their mother tongue that I knew a whopping five words of ensued. The fun didn’t stop there and next thing I knew, we were marching. My clumsy, bule feet attempted to march in sync with my perfectly practiced peers, without success. The girls behind me were lucky enough to witness the show I had made of myself and didn’t make an effort to cover there laughter. After 45 minutes of standing, marching and reciting, my mind began to wander. I feared the long year ahead and attempted to count the number of bizarre, Monday flag ceremonies I would have to endure.
On my first day in my new home, I was exceptionally curious about the bathroom situation. I had heard the horror stories of squat toilets and bucket showers so when I saw the western-style bathroom and toilet paper supply, relief washed over me. My excitement was quickly taken down a few notches when I came to the realization that I had not a single clue of how to flush the toilet. I locked eyes with my white, porcelain foe. I decided to search for a lever on the side in hopes that it would be like my trusted toilet back home in the states. In my search, I found a knob on the side that seemed like it should do the trick. I rotated the knob. With the force of a firehose, water began spouting from an unknown source, drenching my entire front. This toilet was not in fact a conventional toilet. This toilet was a baffling, bizarre bidet.
I’m proud to report that I’ve come a long way since those initial days. In my early stages of living in Indonesia, this place seemed straight up weird. But here’s the cool part. These things, and so many others, they can no longer be classified with that word because these things are now my ordinary. Pisang keju is one of my most favorite treats. And I can now actively participate in school flag ceremonies. Rising with the sun is no longer a battle, and I appreciate the extra hours of the day I can spend enjoying my country. I’m unfazed by toilets that make pig-sties look like palaces. Motorcycles frantically weaving between each other no longer put me on edge, but instead leave me smiling at the harmonious flow that is Bandung. I’m thankful for the school uniforms that were once a drag, and relish in not having to pick outfits for school each day. In the eyes of many, Indonesia is weird. But it’s these quirks and idiosyncrasies that I’ve come to love most.