Mis-Connection

I’m writing from the Singapore Airlines lounge in Singapore where I’m sitting, enjoying a snack, and taking it easy for the first time in days. You know how it is before a big trip? All the planning. The packing. The worrying over what needs to get done before the trip, for the trip? It can make you crazy… This is the only excuse I have for racing into Jakarta’s lux megamall, Grand Indonesia, a couple of days ago, without my PHONE.  (Don’t laugh. I know what you’re thinking: Big deal, will it hurt to go a few hours without being connected via phone?)

Not having my phone wouldn’t have bothered me one little bit—if it weren’t for Aan. I don’t drive in Jakarta, Aan does. Over the years, he and I have developed an efficient drop-off/pick-up system. It works like this: Aan drives me to a mall or shop entrance. We both note the place and agree where we will meet up. Then Aan drives off and I go about my business. When I’m finished with whatever I’m doing, I give him a call and he picks me up. Simple—except if I forget my phone…

I didn’t realize I’d forgotten my phone until I was ready to go and began digging around in my humongous purse for it. I knew instantly it was In the car. I’d been checking my e-mail as we drove and must have left it on the seat. My only hope was that someone called me and Aan heard the phone ring and realized I’d left it. Or, that he’d spotted it on my seat. If not, he’d never realize I was phoneless and come looking. Instead he would sit wherever he was, waiting and waiting and waiting for my call.

I scurried back to our appointed meeting place and looked around. No familiar, most common of all-silver mini-vans hanging about. Might he be inside watching for me?. If he realized I didn’t have my phone, he might come inside to wait an watch for me. It was air-conditioned… Alas, there was nary a a slight, big-eyed, spikey-haired Aan in sight.

Not everyone in Jakarta uses our system. Some use the tried and true Car Call method. Established long before hand phones became common, Car Call is exactly that. When a patron is ready to be picked up, he or she goes to the Car Call desk and tells the attendant the driver’s name and place of employment. For instance, if I were to call Aan, I would say. “Aan, dari BP” (“dari” means from or with) and the attendant calls that out over the loud speakers, which sounds in the garage, and soon he’d drive up to fetch me.

Unfortunately, using the Car Call is not our system. It’s not many drivers favorite system as it means the driver has to park in the garage, within ear shot of the speakers. He can’t eat, or smoke, or hang with friends. And worse, he might have to stay in the dreaded underground garage. Dreaded because several Jakarta hotel bombings ago, drivers were trapped underground in a garage. Aan does not like those cursed garages.

I tried Car Call anyway, hoping, with little hope, that Grand Indonesian was one of those places where Aan likes to park near the speakers. And I waited.

I tried Car Call again. And I waited…and waited.

And while I waited, I didn’t just wait, I came up with a plan. I could ask someone to borrow his or her phone and call Curtis at work and ask him to call Aan. Or I could call Rusnati at home and ask her to call Aan. Or, if I knew Aan’s number, I could call him myself.

I was mustering up enough words to ask one of the mall employees if I could use  precious phone minutes for an emergency (how do you say "emergency" in Bahasa Indonesia?And should I pretend to be sick or dying) our lovely, silver mini-van drove up. Yeah, Aan!

The van door was barely closed behind me when Aan started in on how I had forgotten my phone. How it had rung almost as soon as I’d left. How he had been back and forth looking for me, worrying about me... How he had gone into the mall asking employees if they had seen a tall, hair-less white lady in tan pants wandering around…How he'd given the Car Call attendant my description and told them to call me if they saw someone fitting my description. (I’m sure if he’d had a photo he would have shown around it ala every cop program ever aired, or made copies and posted them.)  It was a though I were a teen, being lectured by my adult. Blah, blah, blah….

Back home, Aan did the most “Dad” thing of all. He handed me a small piece of paper torn from his notebook. “Keep this in your purse,” he instructed. On the paper, in tiny, tidy letters, were written his name and phone number.

I felt like a kid, a silly kid, true. But also like a well-cared for kid.

I promise, Dad/Aan, I’ll never leave home without it!

Wedding Bells Jakarta-Style

I’ve shared so much of our Jakarta life: woes about my pond; frustration over the traffic and miscommunication; sorrows, as with Suharti’s death last month. It’s fitting and especially joyful to share glad tidings: This weekend Linda Hermawati, Rusnati and Rohemon’s oldest daughter, married Agung Iskander. As is the custom, the wedding was a three-day affair, beginning with a Muslim ceremony on Friday and culminating in a Javanese-style reception on Sunday to which Curtis and I were invited. Rusnati's mother and father came from Cirebon for the wedding. Rohemon, an only child, has his cousins there. (Agung's family was there as well, I just didn't get a photo of them)

Unlike Western weddings, which are more about getting things ready for the big event, Indonesian weddings are about readying the bride and groom for this life changing event.  For 5 nights before the wedding, the bride was prepared for the ceremony. Linda prayed and fasted during the day. She could not eat certain food including chicken or eggs. Each evening her mother (and other women in the family) washed Linda with an herbal scrub to make her skin soft and sweet-smelling.

Sunday’s reception was held at Rusnati and Rohemon’s home. The driveway beside the house was completely tented and festooned with flowers and decorations.

A dais with chairs for the bridal party, the parents of the bride, bride and groom, and parents of the groom stood in that order to greet each guest. It is customary to hold each person’s hands between yours during the greeting. Guests bless the couple by saying “selamat berbahagia” welcome/best wishes for your wedding. The first wedding we attended, our Driver, Aan and social guru, coached Curtis and I on the proper pronunciation of that phrase. We said it to everyone we met that day, not realizing we were wishing each of them happiness at upon their wedding.

The wedding party spends the entire reception on the raised dais, at the ready for photographs and to greet the next guests, and the next, and the next. Some receptions last 2 hours, some all evening. It is no wonder that Javanese wedding parties don’t smile. (Actually, smiling for photos is a relatively new practice in Indonesian, popularized by youngsters snapping and swapping pics via Handphone.) Not only do older Indonesians not smile for photos, many will not look at the camera and some refuse to have their pictures taken. Perhaps in the style of Native Americans, they believe the process of taking a photo takes part of their spirit?

Unlike Western weddings, there’s no dancing, no toasting, no speeches by the family—at least not at the reception. (I don’t know what happens at the other wedding events as I’ve never been.)  At large, hotel receptions there are constant announcements over a microphone. Guests are announced as they approach the wedding party; family members are announced as they enter the room, co-workers, friends and family members are called up to take photos with the wedding party as per a pre-set list. All this announcing mixed with twangy-clangy gamelan music and caterwauling by traditional singers is so loud it makes polite conversation impossible, so everyone has to yell…and the decibel level rises.

Mercifully, Linda and Agung spared us from that. The tone of their wedding was friendly, a pleasant blend of eating, drinking, chattering, children playing.

It was an honor for Curtis and me to share this joyous occasion with Rusnati, Rohemon and their families and friends.

Selamat Berbahagia, Linda and Agung!

‘Tis the Season!

We are mid-way through Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Everyone is looking a little worn from keeping irregular hours and not eating and drinking during the day, feasting most nights. You’d think after several weeks, the city would be at a stand still. That might well be the case if it weren’t for Idul Fitri. Idul Fitri marks the end of the fast. “Idul” from Eid, an Arabic word meaning "festivity", while “Fitri”, Fiṭr means "to purify". The holiday symbolizes the purification after completing the fasting month.

Officially Idul Fitri is a two-day holiday, but schools and most people take a week or more off. It’s much like the Christian Christmas Season, Hindu Diwali, and Jewish Holidays (whether these groups like being linked together or not). People spend time with their families and gather with friends. Everyone exchanges gifts, imbibes in rich foods they don’t splurge on the rest of the year, and return home broke and exhausted.

And holiday traffic is horrid. It’s taken me a while, but I have finally, with the help of our driver, Aan, figured out the traffic pattern. Because every Muslim gets up before dawn to eat and pray, the travel times aren’t staggered like they are the rest of the year. In mass, the whole city finished their morning ablutions and rushes to work. This makes the commute take twice as long because the streets are crammed with 2 or 3 times as many vehicles as usual. And then, beginning at 3:30, everyone floods the streets again, in a mad rush to get home or to parties for bukah puasa, “breaking fast.” Traffic vanishes when the call to prayers begin at dusk. And from then until dawn the streets are blissfully empty.

In response to Ramadan traffic patterns, Curtis has adjusted his routine. He waits until after dark to leave work (not that that’s unusual; it now premeditated.) And I’ve adjusted mine (the big shift.) I’m a morning person. I prefer to work in the morning and run errands and exercise in the afternoon, when my creative energy ebbs. But this month, I’ve reversed my schedule.

And it’s working out pretty well, better than I ever imagined. I’m finding that I enjoy the long afternoons to sit at the computer, not having to rush home so Aan can get to the office in time to wait for Curtis. And I’m getting lots accomplished without as many interruptions. (I’m also using Ramadan as an excuse to send Rusnati and Rohemon home early, which may account for the lack of interruptions.) Isn’t that often the way? Enforced change bringing welcome results.

Idul Fitri brings on the same stress as these other holidays. Everyone scrambling to buy gifts, organize travel, and pay for it all. It’s worse for Muslim’s in Jakarta as they are considered the “rich” relatives because they live in the “big city” and are paid “big city” wages. What the folks back home don’t realize—never do—is that city life is way more expensive than village life. As a result, the cost of everything—everything—rises during Ramadan.

Which, looking at the signs, doesn't seem the case. Just as “back home” there are Christmas Sales, Ramadan Sale signs are everywhere. However one must look closely as prices have been doubled and more for these special “sales.” And, whereas, normally, everyone bargains (it is usual to pay ½ to 1/3 the asking price) during Ramadan bargaining goes by the wayside. Vendors, like everyone else, are so desperate for money, they won’t bargain. They’d rather gamble that whoever is buying needs the item badly enough to pay more. It does cost them sales, especially from bule, “westerners” like us, who don’t need anything. But just wait. When the holiday’s end, the real sales begin. Everyone will be broke then and honestly scrambling for cash as they have squeezed every cent dry.

It would be nice to say that witnessing all of this has wizened us up. That this holiday season we won’t be buying and paying and doing ourselves into debt. I'd be lying.

Besides, which "season" is that exactly?

As cultures intermingle, holidays merge. We traditionally participate in the Christmas  and Hannukah celebrations, and since moving here we've joined the Idul Fitri basket/gift giving frenzy. (I've already purchased all the goodies.)  After all,  ‘tis the season...

Voyeaur is Putting it Nicely

I’m a little ashamed of myself this afternoon, and the more I think about it, the more ashamed I am…or should be. After a tearful afternoon spent with Rusnati and Sani, over at Mrs. Teri’s house, I came home and took on a totally new-for-me persona, something I never in a zillion years would have thought myself capable of. I became a Facebook Peeping Patty. We’d been were over at Mrs. Teri’s to collect all of Suharti’s belongings, and her due pay, and discuss the hospital bill. Suharti died a week ago today.

The hospital bill, for 3 nights in ICU where they “couldn’t do anything until she was stabilized” came to Rp 18,690,000. About $1850.00, including 2 million rupiah, about $200, for the ambulance to drive Suharti home to Cirebon for her funeral, a drive of about 5 hours. (That was probably the best value of all.)

To put it in perspective, Suharti’s monthly salary was Rp 1.5 per month, about $150. Her due wages including one month back pay and one month Ramadan pay was RP 3 million. So the bill upon her death was almost a year’s wages—which her family had to pay before the hospital would release her body. Mrs. Teri paid Rp 10,000,000 of that as a deposit when Suharti was checked into the hospital. Without it they wouldn’t have done a thing. Not. One. Thing.

While all the expenses are itemized and the charges noted, by all accounts that cost seems exorbitant. I’ve discussed this with several people, Indonesians and Expat employers who have paid their staff’s medical bills. The cost of a hernia repair and 4 days in the hospital was half that amount; Sani’s mom spent more than 2 months in the hospital and the bill was Rp 50 million, with an operation, medicine and post-op care included. Suharti’s doctors treatment was to “wait and see.” For that the hospital charged more than 18 million…six times Suharti’s due wages. How long is it going to take for her family to make up that cost?

Rusnati, Sani and I went over to Mrs. Teri’s with bags of large bags, expecting to pack everything up ourselves. The other ladies on Mrs. Teri’s staff, the one’s Suharti had worked with, had already packed her things into boxes. I don’t know if Sani and Rusnati were disappointed or relived not to do the packing. They both sobbed when they looked in her room. On the dresser was a tiny, lid-less bottle of cologne. The ladies passed it around and sniffed. “Suharti,” they said, nodding at the familiar smell. Mrs. Teri sniffed it and smiled, too. Then one of the ladies took the bottle away to bag it up. Bottling Suharti’s scent for later.

We returned home with Suharti’s possessions--4 boxes and bags in the back of the car…about the amount of luggage I pack for a vacation. I told Rusnati to go home, then. That Aan, our driver, would take her and Suharti’s belongings home. But Rusnati didn’t want to go. She had work to do. She wanted to make Curtis’s lunch.

So, she went into the kitchen and I came in my office and sat at my desk. I didn’t want to do any real work, but I didn’t want to seem as though I wasn’t doing anything, so I “pretended” to work by clicking on Facebook.

I didn’t set out to look up old classmates, I clicked on “search for friends” so I could look at Max and Lexi’s photos, and grand-niece Adelaide, fresh and new, at something happy. Then I read the notice saying search for classmates from Huntington Beach High School class of ’76, and some lurker demon took over my body. I poured through all 14 pages of people who said they’d graduated from the same school, in the same year I had.  But how could that be? They all looked so old, even older than our parents used to look when we were in high school, and they looked really old. (I don’t look that old, do I?) I recognized some of the names but few of the faces. Only 2 or 3 stood out as familiar. One Japanese woman looked exactly the same—figures (next life I want Asian skin).

I found myself getting miffed at people who “hide” their personal stuff. Dang, I wanted to know if they were married, had kids, where they lived. One couple surprised me by stirring up dirt and my thirst for more… .As it happened, I had gone through middle-grade and part of grammar school with the man nee’ boy. He’d played sports with my brother, too. And once, in 5th grade, we’d had some sort of special event where we made box lunches to exchange with another classmate. The then boy and I were supposed to exchange, but he had turned his nose up at the tuna salad sandwich I’d lovelingly prepared for him and refused to swap, so I ate it (or not, as I recall feeling so embarrassed by his cracks about my soggy, warmish, tuna salad I could barely swallow.) As it turns out, these two had gotten married before his graduation …she was a grade older…hmmmm. Why? I wondered looking at his photo, squinting to find traces of that lanky boy within the manly facade. What’s the rest of the story?

Others from my class were single with children, married with grandchildren,  some were still surfing after all these years and rock climbing in knee braces, others still favored “Alice Cooper” and “Led Zeplin” music or lived in Livermore. So many stories. The sad part was that I didn’t know any of them anymore, and after all the hours and years we’d spent tangled in each others lives, didn’t want to know them. Many of them know each other though. They’re “Facebook friends.” They probably even have reunions…probably go to them, too…or at least get invited…

I tried to shake of a wave of Christmas green and red, jealousy mixed with embarrassment--after all these years a part of me still longs to be “popular.” Do any of them ever ask: what ever happened to good old what’s-her-name?

Then, in the same way movie cameras pull back sucking viewers out of a close-up so we can see the wide-screen, Rusnati calls from the doorway to say she’s finished and pulls me back, back to reality. And I’m ashamed of me, of my petty feelings, of my voyeurism. Am I really so shallow? So easily sidetracked? This is supposed to be about Suharti. What would she say if she knew I was stalking old classmates while her sister cried in the kitchen?

Maaf, Suharti

Yesterday, August 17th, was Indonesian Independence Day. It’s celebrated much the same way as 4th of July is celebrated in the USA, with picnics, games and fireworks. The streets are festooned with red and white flags and buntings. The stage was set for a rousing good time—then it rained. I’m glad it rained.

Suharti, my maid Rusnati’s youngest sister, about 35, a single mother of 2 children, a girl about 7, and boy about 4, died yesterday morning, August 17th at 2:30 am. She died of either a heart attack or stroke, we will never know which. Suharti was a runner, a strong, smart woman, with a shy demeanor, determination, and quick wit.

We first met Suharti 4 years ago, when our friends:  Joy, Michael and their son, Alexander, relocated to Jakarta. As we do for some new families, we helped them  find household staff. When Rusnati learned that I was looking for a maid, she mentioned her sister, Suharti. At that time, Suharti was living in the village with their parents and her 2 young children. A shy, skittish, cowed woman, Suharti would barely look you in the eye.

She’d started with a bright future. Educated in Catholic school, like her siblings, Suharti was working, doing well when she met and married a “bad” man. From what I have been able to piece together, “bad” means her husband was a womanizer, drinker, maybe gambler—or any combination of bad. At some point in their marriage, either before their 2nd child, Kiki, was born or after, he took her to live with his family in Sumatra and dumped her there.

The part of Sumatra where Suharti’s husband is from is matriarchal, meaning the woman own everything, and is advised by her oldest brother. The men must leave the area, make their fortune elsewhere and return with enough to pay the bride price if they want to marry well. Returning home with a strange wife (and  daughter) would not sit well with mama, to begin with. However be dumped there when you husband leaves is really bad. A woman without a husband is nothing in this society. A woman left by her husband is even lower. A woman who can't keep her husband is trash. So, Suharti, who had by all accounts been abused by her husband,  after he left was then abused by his family—physically and mentally.

Rusnati wasn’t sure what all went on at this time. After Suharti married and her husband took her away, they had very little contact with her. Then, one day, shortly after the birth of Suharti’s son, the family got word—either Suharti called, or a friend called…somehow, someone got word to the family that Suharti’s situation was bad. Rusnati, oldest child and bossy-boss took the ferry to Sumatra, made her way to the mother-in-law’s home, bundled up Suharti and the children and took them home to the family village near Cirebon. (The boy baby was either too tiny for the mother-in-law to care about, yet, or else Rusnati snuck them out without her knowing, because in Muslim families a boy child never would have been allowed to leave.)

Although Suharti was safe there, life was still not good. She had failed—miserably. It didn’t matter what her family thought, and how happy they were to have her and her babies, to everyone in the village, she was a disgrace. Not enough woman to hold her man, she was shunned, gossiped about, laughed at…Suharti couldn’t wait to get away.

When she first arrived in Jakarta, Suharti rarely spoke, often didn’t seem to respond to what was said. She cowered when a man, any man, walked in the room. And she was terrified of Joy and Michael’s dog, Callie, a Dalmatian who growled and snarled at everyone—us included. (He scared me, too.) Many Muslim’s are scared of dogs. Many won’t touch them and won’t work in a home with a dog, because dog’s are unclean animals. Devout Muslims who touch or are touched by a dog must go through a complicated cleansing ritual to be purified.

Suharti was definitely not a quitter. She stuck with it, stuck with the job, stuck with the family. She watched and listened and learned—and even learned to manage Callie. She could have lived-in as Joy and Michael had servant’s quarters. But she chose not to. She craved independence. At first she stayed with Rusnati’s family. Then she got her own tiny space—a room with a shared bath. She started running, made some friends, cut her hair in a swishy shoulder-length bob. Began dressing well, wearing lipstick, and smiling. She blossomed. We watched the flower unfold, marveled at the changes, rejoiced in Suharti's rebirth.

Joy encouraged Suharti to be more, to take English classes and cooking classes—American, Thai, Indian. She  and Xan (who is an inspired, creative chef) taught Suharti to cook Mexican food, BBQ and other family favorites. “Why are you so nice to me?” Suharti would ask. When we had parties, Suharti and Rusnati worked them together, earning some extra money, enjoying the excitement, the preparations, the festive foods.

Joy suggested Suharti take computer lessons so she could get a better job, but Suharti didn’t want to. She could make more money as a maid, she told us, “besides, I am too old.” (Indonesians have mandatory retirement at 50, so it’s difficult to get a good job, or start up the ladder at the ripe old age of 35 or so.) Suharti religiously sent money back to the village to pay for her children’s school, clothing, etc. and returned to Cirebon to see her kids occasionally, but it was clear that she didn’t enjoy being there. When their father became ill, she joined the family in chipping in to pay for the cost of his medicine, too.

Their father, Bapak, a retired wood-carver, is the primary caretaker for Suharti’s children. (Men here commonly tend the children while the women work. It’s usual to see a group of men gathered on a bench, chattering and smoking while holding babies and tending toddlers.) Rusnati loved to tell me how Bapak would take them with him to the garden and they’d follow behind like ducks in a line.

After Joy, Michael and Xan left Jakarta, Suharti went to work for Mrs. Terri as a cook, upon their recommendation. Being a “cook” is the highest job in the household help chain. It is testament to Suharti’s commitment to learning  that she made the huge leap from maid to cook, got the job and kept it.  When I saw Mrs. Teri at the hospital on Monday, as she was leaning over Suharti’s bedside, all Teri could talk about was how much they loved Suharti’s mashed potatoes and chicken enchiladas, how much the boys were missing her being there, making all their favorites. How anxious they were to have her back… Although Suharti was on a respirator, with unfocused eyes and an erratic heartbeat, she responded to Teri’s words, even smiled a little from one the unencumbered side of her mouth. She deserved to smile.

Suharti took excellent care of herself, was thin and strong, exercised, ate well (shunning traditional mostly fried Indonesian food, she preferred steamed fish and vegetables).  How had this happened? On Friday, Suharti wasn’t feeling well. At the end of her work day, she retired to the servant’s quarters and was taking a shower when she collapsed. She called for help, and one of the maids helped her up and to bed. (Suharti decided to live in at Terri’s house as they have lots of staff and Suharti enjoyed the company.) Saturday was Suharti’s regular day off, so Terri didn’t expect to see her and so had no idea Suharti wasn’t well. However, at around 10:00 am, Teri noticed a strange woman going into the servant’s quarters. She asked the houseboy who it was. He told her they had called a traditional healer to massage Suharti because she was ill. Terri went back to see what was happening. Suharti was in bed, speaking gibberish, clearly out of it. Terri ordered her driver to take Suharti to the hospital. She then called Suharti’s mother in Cirebon who called Rusnati. Rusnati and Rohemon rushed to the hospital.

Hospitals in Jakarta do not treat charity cases. When the driver brought Suharti in, they would not do anything without money. The driver returned to Teri’s house, got a few million Rupiah (a couple of hundred dollars), and headed back to the hospital. Whether before or after he returned, Suharti’s heart stopped, she was resuscitated and a nurse was keeping her breathing by pumping a hand-held respirator. Suharti  lapsed into a coma. Her eyes were open but, as Aan, our driver, and Sani, our helper and Suharti’s friend, told me: “there was no person inside.”

The hospital took x-rays, did blood work and determined that nothing body-wise was wrong. The problem was either her heart or her head. They wouldn’t know until they scanned her head and that small, ill-equipped hospital didn’t have the scanning machine. Besides, the heart doctor doesn’t work on Saturdays.

Slow, long, agonizing, worrisome wait to early Monday morning. Suharti regains consciousness. She responds correctly to questions asked her by the nurses and by Rusnati. She knows she has 2 children, she knows she works for Mrs. Terri. She knows her sister. But no one knows what will happen next. And no one knows when the doctor is going to come or when the scan will be done.

There is a distinct class system in Jakarta (maybe all over Indonesian, but I can only speak for here.) Unless you are a rich Indonesian, or an Ex-patriot you are nobody. The rich Indonesians make sure everyone knows they are somebody by speaking out—loudly—to be sure they are heard and they get what they want. They also push and shove their way to the front of lines and into elevators, toilets, etc. usually leading with their giant purses. Expats command attention by similarly being loud, but it’s not necessary as our very “caucasian-ness” commands attention. Indonesians, Javenese, however,  soft-spoken, round-eyed, unassuming Indonesians, taught to stoop with one hand beside their backs when passing superiors, taught not to draw attention, not to make a fuss,  are invisible.

When I arrived at the hospital Monday morning, Rusnati, her sister Ruskeni, and cousin, Yani, were there. So was Mrs. Terri, who had arrived shortly before me. Having never seen Ruskeni or Yani before, I had no idea who they were and they sat quietly, hands folded, waiting… Rusnati hadn’t left the hospital. She alternated between checking on Suharti in ICU, going to the mosque to pray, and sitting, waiting. Still no doctor had spoken with them, any o fthem. They didn't even know which of the busy looking people was a doctor. And they had no idea what was going on. It wasn’t that they hadn’t asked. Rusnati is a lion, never shy about speaking up, ferocious in defense of her family. But the nurse couldn’t or wouldn’t tell them anything except that the doctor was coming later…maybe at 3?...maybe this evening?

Finally, bossy me, muscled my way in. I asked the nurse questions, everyone Aan, Rusnati, Ruskeni, translated my pigeon Indonesian and together we learned that the heart doctor would be in until he was finished with everything else, after 8:00 pm. Suharti was supposed to be taken to Pondok Indah hospital (the larger hospital) for the scan, but when??? In the end, I got the doctor’s phone number from the nurse, gave it to Terri, who sent an SMS to her doctor, an ex-pat doctor who is Indonesian, Dr. Isabel, and Dr. Isabel called the heart doctor who immediately returned her call. Suharti was too unstable to move. “Frankly, at this stage, it doesn’t matter which hospital she is in,” Dr. Isabel said. “Until they can wean her from the respirator, they can’t do the scan or move her to a better hospital.”

Suharti’s heart failed early Tuesday morning, August 17th at 2:30 am. It is Muslim tradition that a person be buried before sundown on the day they die. So, while no one at the hospital could rush to help her until the payment was secured, they sure could bundle her up and ship her out post haste.  By 4:30 that morning, 2 short hours later, she was in the ambulance with her sisters on her way home, to the village near Cirebon. Two other cars full of Jakarta family drove with them. By 4:00 that afternoon Suharti had been buried.

Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting started last week. During this month, it is Islamic tradition for believers to ask forgiveness of family and friends for any harm they have done in the past. “Mohon and maaf,” they say, “forgive me and I am sorry.” The practice of asking forgiveness is familiar. In Christian religions believers also ask for forgiveness. Rather than asking forgiveness from those they have wronged directly. Forgiveness is asked from higher powers. “Forgive us our sins,” goes the prayer. “Forgive for our trespasses and forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

After the funeral Rusnati called me. She told me about the funeral. I told her that I had called Joy, Michael and Xan to tell them about Suharti and other platitudes one says when one doesn't know what to say. In closing, Rusnati apologized to all of us. At first I thought she, Rusnati, was apologizing for any trouble she was causing for inconveniencing us. I  shushed her. She repeated what she had said, naming each of us in turn. And then I realized, Rusnati wasn't apologizing for herself, she was apologizing on behalf of her sister.  “Maaf Suharti,” she said. “Forgive Suharti.”

Forgive me, Suharti. Mahon and Maaf.  I am sorry.

Fish Out of Water

Went out to feed the fish this morning. Tossed in a handful of food. Waited and watched. And watched. And took a closer look. And another... 90% of the plants that were there last I checked aren't there now, so I can see clearly now...

All the sapu-sapu, algae eaters, save one lone shy guy, gone...

All the ikan lele...gone.

I watch the food pellets swirl aimlessly.

"When?"

"Where?"

Not a word to me....

And why my sapu-sapu? Those were my sapu sapu...

Pickled, Again

Not that kind of pickled—although it’s been known to happen. I’m making pickles. Although Jakarta doesn’t have a designated “summer,” as the temperatures are pretty much the same year round, between 78 and 90, night and day, and there aren’t really "longer days" as this close to the equator night and day are pretty evenly divided into 12 hour periods with sunrise around 6 am and sunset around 6 pm, it feels like summertime: school vacations are on, most of the Expats are off on holidays,  everyone “back home” is hot and getting hotter, and so my internal clock is calling “canning season.”

We made pickles last fall, too. “We” being Rusnati and I.  While we had made mango chutney together, before, it was our first pickling season. Rusnati bought about 30 kilos of cucumbers, onions, peppers and we diced and sliced and marinated and cooked for days. We made Bread and Butter Pickles (Curtis’s favorites), Sweet Lime Pickles, Hot Pepper Relish, Corn Relish, Sweet Relish, and Fennel-Garlic Spears (which Curtis hates).

It did not turn out to be a “fun” little project for Aan, who traipsed all over buying up canning jars two or three at a time rather than buy the box, and mustard seeds late at night, and dill, which turned out to be fennel (hence the “fennel-garlic” spears instead of “dill spears”), or for Rusnati, who chopped onions

and deseeded peppers until her eyes ran and fingers burned, and washed sink loads of pots and pans and bowls, strainers and spatulas and jars and more, or for Curtis, who not only paid for all the pickling supplies and fuel, but also paid dearly in time spent listening to me fret and plan and calculate. It was an event worth writing about. Maybe reading, if so, click back on the Oct. 2009 posting titled “Pickled”

Canning—really “bottling,” as we preserve the food in glass bottles and jars, brings me close to my grandmother, Nanny.

The first batch of jam I remember us making wasn’t strawberry, though. It was plum. Made from plums plucked from the next door neighbor, Emily’s, tree. Emily and her husband, Jerry, were gone and we were minding their house, which included plum picking privileges.

Plum jam is easier that other types because you don’t peel the plums first as the peeling adds color and flavor to the jam. All we had to do was wash, pick, halve and deseed the plums—eating as many as we liked in the process. Side by side, Nanny and I leaned over the kitchen sink to sample the ripest, softest plums—too ripe for jam. So sweet and succulent the juices rolled down our chins, plopping like purple rain into the sink.

Nanny always made her jam in the turkey roaster as a larger surface air dispersed the juices over a larger area, giving us more control over the jam’s quality. My first "important job" as I recall was "keeping it from burning." I'd stand on a footstool beside the stove stirring the juice, pectin and sugar mixture, watching and waiting as it heated and bubbled, turning from murky to clear, glossy, thick syrup, while Nanny supervised. After the jam was jarred, a layer of hot wax was poured over the top and the jars were set aside to cool. Then came the fun part—the part my brother, Joe (then Joey) always showed up for. (Although now that I think of it, I bet Joey would have liked to have been invited to make jam with us. But jam making was “woman’s work” in Nanny’s eyes, and I liked keeping it that way!) Joey was invited to the “tasting” part, as was my grandfather, Poppy, who’d always bring home fresh, crusty French bread to serve as spoons. That first batch of plum jam was puckery tart and runny. Not exactly “Blue Ribbon,” but pure gold.

Nanny was the 3rd of 9 children raised in Gustine, a town in California’s Central Valley, “God’s Garden” as Nanny called it (when she wasn’t calling it “hotter than hell”). Back then, in the icebox days, “canning season” began when the early peas came in and continued through the fall into butchering time.

While we hulled berries or stirred our fruity brews, Nanny would share childhood canning stories. Some funny, some gross, all mentioning the words “hot” and “sweaty” and “miserable heat” many, many, many times, and one that I’ve repeated and will again. It begins with a plum tree. The biggest plum tree, upon which grew the darkest, richest, biggest plums in town. (Maybe Gustine, maybe Watsonville, I won’t say.) Big and sweet and luscious as those plums looked no one dared to go near that tree. Not because anyone warned them to stay away. Not because they were hard to reach—the fruit hung so heavy on the branches they sometimes brushed the ground. But because, the tree stood in the middle of a field beside the town mortuary and, as everyone knew, as part of preparing the bodies, the undertaker drained all the blood from the bodies. And, while no one had ever seen the hose, it was a well known fact that he drained the blood into that field. That blood is what made that tree grow so large, and that fruit grow so big and ripe and dark, dark, blood red. Vampire plums...

I put up my first preserves when I was 13, living with my mom and brother on Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach. For some reason, we had a bushel of ripe tomatoes and I decided to preserve them—even though I hated stewed tomatoes with a gut wrenching  passion. I found a recipe in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, rode my bike to the store to buy supplies and jars and spent the better part of a day and night stirring  up a few batches of sauce. (Sauce that looked so pretty in jars lined up on the shelf that I wouldn't let anyone use it.)  Nanny wasn’t there to help me, but I told her about it and made darn sure she saw them on her next visit.

This year, making pickles was an aside that came from Rusnati and my discussion about “Mister’s Lunches." Mister, Curtis, loves his pickles and we'd run out. Rusnati does not--never ever--like to run out of anything Mister likes. Be that as it may, I have a feeling that “pickling” hadn’t been as much fun as expected. Usually, when I’m in the kitchen cooking, Rusnati likes to be right there with me, cutting (sometimes taking my knife), stirring, (whatever I have the spoon), putting a hand into kneed (even when I’m elbow deep in flour), crimp the edge of the pie (my favorite part) and, if nothing else, washing everything (which I love!). This pickle session, Rusnati dutifully washed the cucumbers (only 15 kilos this time), placed them on the counter beside the five bottles of vinegar and 5 bags of sugar, said “sampai jumpa, selamat ahir mingu, see you later, have a nice weekend,”  and left.

So Rusnati wasn’t with me to make pickles this year. But Nanny was. Just like she is every “canning season,” standing beside me as I stirred the bowling brew, spooned hot pickles into jars, capped and sealed each jar in the boiling water bath. Right there as I sampled the first of this year’s sweet lime pickles on a slice of fresh, crusty buttered French bread.

Ah, Summer Time! Sweet, Summer Time, Summer Time!