Dissenting Compromise

Things are different here. That isn’t particularly surprising, it’s just a simple statement of fact. They are different here than they were in Malang. They were different in Bandung than they are here. Each place has been different. Each city a change.

I suppose before I continue rambling on about cities you’ve seldom heard of and places you’ve never seen I should provide you all with a brief lesson in Java’s geography and a little history of Indonesia (just the pertinent bits, I promise). I live on the island of Java in Indonesia. In Java there are a series of, let’s call them provinces: West Java, East Java, Central Java, and a few more I am unlikely to ever mention. Now, Indonesia was occupied by the Dutch for about 350 years. This has affected their languages, their culture, and their lives to this day. Indonesia finally gained its independence in 1945. While Indonesia was now one free country, it was still comprised of over 1700 islands with wildly different cultures and languages. For this reason, the representatives of the islands came together and decided to instate a national language and dubbed it, you guessed it, Indonesian.

Geo Lesson

Here we go, folks. There will be a quiz.

Alright, you say. Enough with the informational bit, you say. Ya, ya, ok, fine. You needed the back story to understand where I’m going with this so just calm yourself. In East Java there are primarily Javanese people. They have a very specific culture and their own language (Javanese) which is spoken at home. Children here grow up learning first their local language (generally), then Indonesian, and maybe English later (Makes you feel a little badly about your single language skills, doesn’t it, America?). I learned Indonesian in East Java, I lived with a Javanese family, I learned about their culture and values. Then I moved to West Java. West Java is composed of mostly Sundanese people. They speak, yes, Sundanese. This is not just a little switch from the South East Coast of America to the North East Coast of America, this is vaguely akin to moving from America to Canada. Probably Quebec. The people mostly look kind of the same, they can speak the language you know (if they’re young), but everything else is a whole new world. (Sing it. SING IT. You know you want to.)

Not only have I moved to a new culture, I’ve moved from a community outside of a large city to the middle of nowhere Desa-Desa land (Vocab: Desa – A small village or town). Things are different here. My community in Malang was open and somewhat modern and very liberal (comparatively speaking). Tattoos and piercings were not normal, but not bad. It was slowly understood that I am a strong and opinionated adult. It is different here. People are slow to understand and even more slow to accept certain things. I am a single woman who cannot cook. That is not ok. I’ve been told I must learn. I’ve been told I may not spend so much time in the company of men. That it’s unseemly for a woman to be so familiar with men and not women. They spend ten weeks trying to prepare me for this and I don’t know that it is possible. I don’t know that I can look Peace Corps in the face and tell them they did it wrong or poorly but I don’t think I was ready for what I found here. I come from a different culture and no matter how many cultures we are exposed to by living in a proverbial melting pot, it’s not like this. Well, it wasn’t for me.

This would be my normal state of being. Some people are not used to such things.

This would be my normal state of being. Some people are not used to such things.

What’s the moral here? Where’s the sunny side? What’s the solution? Well, we wait. School hasn’t even started yet, we’re still on their version of Summer Vacation. I’m still new in town. I’m still a crazy, eccentric, white girl from America (some Americans have trouble swallowing my eccentricities, the poor Indonesians didn’t know what they were signing up for!). I’m never going to be able to change the way they see women here but that’s not the goal. The goal is to assimilate enough that I become a member of the community, no longer a guest among strangers. The ultimate success is to assimilate without changing how I do things. Meeting in the middle and sharing ideas instead of one side triumphing over the other. This isn’t tug of war, this is a cultural exchange. For anyone who wants to join the Peace Corps, any strangers who may be reading this entry, if you take nothing else away, take that. This is a two way street. The people in my community may not always remember that but that’s when I offer a gentle reminder. It’s not just me to has to assimilate and compromise. And, while I may not be able to change everyone’s view on women or Americans, I can change a few. I can plant an idea. An idea is the most dangerous weapon in the world, yes? It starts as a small seed deep in the minds of a few and grows into something bigger than me. It will take years and it may only affect a few people but that would be the greatest success in the world. To see one of these girls grow up to become anything she wants to be.

So. Things are different. Different so often has the connotation of polite discontent or dislike. Like interesting. I don’t mean that here. I mean, denotatively, not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality. Things are here, as always, exactly what I make them. I will get out of this exactly what I put in. If I don’t like something, I need to change it on my own. Not enough space in my room? Build a shelf. Not a shelf in the mandi? Use smaller bottles. Don’t like what’s being asked of me? Explain why I’m not going to do it. When I was younger I took Hapkido, a Korean martial art. My particular brand was called Yu-Shim Hapkido, or, Bending Willow Hapkido. The willow flows and moves in the winds but its branches are strong and hard to break. You have to be flexible and move with circumstances but strong enough to stand your ground and preserve what makes you who you are. I’m not going to be the same person when I leave this place but I’m not going to change what I believe or how I act to suit anyone, save myself. It’s a tenuous line but I’ve spent my entire life being told I’m too stubborn to be afraid of anything.

One thought on “Dissenting Compromise

  1. Wow, I feel for you. I’ve had a couple of experiences working with men who had an attitude toward women. I responded much the way you mention – kept an open mind, went about my business, and eventually won respect from them. Very gratifying! Can’t imagine being in a whole community with a ‘Tude toward you. But you will win many of them over, and leave a mark on them. Those lucky kids will end up more open minded thanks to you!

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