I appreciate my Indonesian host family. Yes, there are Muslim. Yes, their village had electricity only in the evenings. There was no running water and it was dreadfully hot each day. But, I preferred staying with them in their village than in the bustling city. Because Americans are such a rarity in that part of the country, Lauren and I were constantly the center of unpleasant attention when in the city. Although the presence of Americans is even more uncommon in the village, the villagers did not make us feel like outcasts or superstars. Even though they were curious, they sought permission to ask us personal questions. For example, several of the ladies in the village asked me if my hair was authentic and they often wanted to know if we grew rice in Mississippi.
My host family is composed of 5 people. The mother is fifty years old. She gets up every morning and sweeps the trash from the yard into a pile and burns it. Then, she washes the family’s clothes and hangs them out to dry. She ensures the family’s chickens, ducks, cats, and goose is fed. Once her early morning chores are complete, she works in the family’s rice paddy. Deta is the oldest daughter. She is a teacher at our host school. She wakes up early each morning to cook breakfast for us and the family. Regita, the youngest daughter, is an adorable 16 year old girl. She was more like a big sister to us because she always looked out for us and took such good care of us. Each night she hung mosquito netting over our bed and took it down before leaving for school each morning. There is a son, Topan, who worked in the city and another sibling who had a baby named, Bintang, which is Indonesian for star. Regita is the only one who speaks English but, she prefers the help of an electronic translator to communicate effectively with us.
During our first day in the village, the family moved all the furniture from the front room. They were preparing a dual program- one to honor us and one to thank Allah because their son survived a motorcycle accident. The mother had been cooking most of the day.
An hour before the start of the program, the father began writing several speeches. Slowly the house began to fill with visitors. Men congregated in one room, women in the other. That is the standard for traditional Muslim worshipping. Lauren and I were allowed to sit in a corner of the men’s room because they wanted to look at the Americans. It felt weird being in the room with the men because I knew from my readings that it is not usually accepted. I couldn’t help but wonder what the women might have said about us as we sat in the presence of men.
I was so grateful that my travel group was given an orientation on Indonesia and Islam before we traveled to the village. Because of the orientation, I was not caught off guard by a lot of the religious customs and the local traditions. Regita coordinated everything so that all of us would have ample time to bathe prior to the program. She reminded us that the women would need to be covered from neck to ankle and showed me how to position the scarf on my head so it would look similar to a hijab.
I didn’t understand anything said in the program. It was all spoken in Bahasa Indonesian or Arabic. I was shocked that the family had their own microphone and amplification system. Speakers were set up on the front porch to allow the entire village to hear the program. There was a speech to honor us and one for the brother. Men read passages from the Quran and there was a song that lasted about thirty minutes.
By the time the program was over, most of the people from the village were in the front yard. I guess you could say they were the overflow crowd. Every one of them welcomed us, talked with us, and shared wonderful food with us. It was one of the most prestigious welcomes I have ever been given.