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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

On Home

To start, some prose for you:

Today, someone sneezed and it sounded like you and instantly my heart dove into your white puffy jacket. My mind thinks often of the moment I said goodbye to you.

Today I climbed into a taxi on Jalan Sukum as stalks of rice tickled my ankles and the air freshener smelled like you. The drive took us around the same amount of time it takes to peel a few dookoos and eat them slowly. And after the first few breaths in the car, you were gone, just like that. Just like a nose gets used to a smell and as one’s perception of “normal” widens.

Today I sat in an open-air Hindu performance hall as a monsoon invaded the air around me and little droplets blew in, almost like mist. They adorned me and lightly changed the texture of my page just like sea spray, and it took me back to a moment with you. I’m here watching a girls’ Balinese dance practice, and for the first time here, the cartilage of my ears feels cold, almost like it does when the wind weaves through it when we are boating together and I stick my head over the edge.

Today I looked down at my feet on the earthy shower floor and thought of you. I had a usual shower: scrubbing punctuated by reflections and realizations, the shower eurekas. There are so many things to unpack here that showers serve as a jungle gym for the mind.

Today I sat wearing a hijab in an Islamic University when a group of college students floated by and one of them left me with the smell of you. Actually, your smell from two years ago. I was taken out of my dynamic conversation with a female student, also in hijab, about how her religion intersected with her feminist beliefs. My mind took me, just for a moment, to the smell of hugging you after I hadn’t seen you in a long time.

Homestay, you make me think of home because you seem like you are in different solar systems, and you also make me think of home because you two are too similar to be true.

I feel as though I have moved, or am really trying to move, beyond travel as a way to pique the fascination of other people of me. I think I have moved beyond travel as a way to prove myself, my “roughing it”, my courage, to those at home. I have been hesitant to talk about my homestay because I remember the way I used to describe previous homestays, the idea of the ruggedness earning me stripes. My understanding of my homestay here has been gradually filled with more softness and my heart truly feels comfortable here now.

Mom, my Ibu is just like you. She makes smoothies and boils vegetables for every meal, she uses the backsides of no-longer-needed paper to model recycling for her kids. She and her family created a contract that outlines the way they treat each other and also limits her kids’ screen time. She was never really into cooking but she learned because she wanted her children to eat food that was infused with love.

Dad, my Babak here reminds me of you in ways that completely disprove my vague and stupid preconceptions of gender roles in Indonesia before coming. He, like you, helps with the housework, practices math with the kids before school, plays games and sings with them, and stays up late working and watching TV.

I went from being nervous to go back to my homestay, tiptoeing and not wanting to offend anyone, to looking forward to the weekends with them, where I can have unstructured time to just live the way they do. I talk politics and gender and spirituality with my Ibu, I sing songs and come up with handshakes, and I just “hang out” without needing to check off activities. I can feel this family’s selflessness in everything that they do for me. They put my wet shoes in front of the fan, pack me a lunchbox, and give to me in so many other above-and-beyond ways. I leave my house every morning on my cheery walk to the Dragons Program house with a heart that feels light and flowery. I often sing to myself and stop and touch the plants I pass. What a beautiful thing it is to be cared for like a daughter by a stranger.