Welcome to Taking Route. I grew up in Southeast Texas and moved to “Sweet Home Alabama” just before my college years. I currently live with my husband and our three children (1 boy, 2 girls) in Southeast Asia. Prior to moving overseas, I was a first grade teacher and had very few skills in the kitchen. Now I’m one of those hip, stay-at-home moms who can make some pretty awesome homemade enchiladas. In my spare time (because I have so much of that) I am co-editor of this little space of the world wide web.
My morning starts around 6:40 am as my alarm beckons me to wake up. But I know I can hit snooze at least 3 more times before I really have to get up and get going. I prepare my 5-year old son’s school lunch. Ritz crackers? JIF peanut butter? Am I really in Indonesia right now? These imported goodies aren’t typically found in all parts of Indonesia, but larger cities tend to have them. And it’s the little things, like familiar food, that help me get through the day sometimes.
The drive to my son’s school is abundant with buses. Not school buses (those aren’t really a ‘thing’ here). And sometimes “bus” isn’t the right word. A lot of the public “buses” look like the creepy vans your parents always told you not to approach if the driver is offering you candy. But this Hello Kitty bus is really standing out in a crowd. At some point maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “Is Hello Kitty really that popular in Asian cultures or is that just a stereotype?” She is no stereotype. She is everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I see her at least a dozen times per day. On cars…on soap dispensers…on latte foam art…on the helmet of a grown man driving his motorcycle. Hello Kitty is the Beyonce of cartoon cats.
Once I get back home, it’s time to make coffee. With a baby on my hip, of course.
Three mornings a week, my house helper arrives to save the day. When I first moved overseas, the idea of having a house helper was a little odd to me. I felt like household chores were something I was perfectly capable of handling on my own. And what was I supposed to do while she was cleaning? Just sit there and be lazy? I was ready to assume my role as a stay-at-home wife and mom, along with 100% of the responsibilities that come with it. But a few things changed those plans. Her husband’s health declined rapidly, causing him to lose his job. At the same time, the realities of living abroad smacked me in the face. Something had to give before culture shock and culture stress got the best of me. I learned there’s no shame in asking for help. I COULD try and do it all…and wear myself down on all levels. Or I could let someone help me out. We simultaneously help one another make it to the end of the week. That’s a win-win in my book.
Thanks to my house helper, I can leave one of my daughters at home while I run errands. The baby joins me, and she’s always a crowd-pleaser. My first stop is at a nearby convenience store right outside our neighborhood. I come by here on a regular basis and these two gals L-O-V-E to hold my baby. I never have to hold her while shopping here. I simply pass her off to an employee as soon as I walk through the door.
Motorcycles are the more common mode of transportation here. So common, in fact, motorcyclists get their own section to wait while at stoplights. They also get their own separate parking lot.
At the post office, I try to learn the whereabouts of some mail I’ve been waiting on for a few weeks. The layout of the building is very confusing. In order to find the office pictured above, I had to ask six different people to point be in the general direction of where I needed to go. “Go that way.” “Go straight and take a left.” “Go through those doors and ask for Mrs. So-and-So.” “I don’t know who Mrs. So-and-So is. Go outside and come back inside through different doors.” I gradually made my way deeper into the belly of the post office beast. I also collected a new person at each stop to follow me along the way (because of the cute baby). When I told the man behind the desk what address my mail was supposed to be shipped to, he immediately responded with my husband’s name. Apparently he knows us by name and address. Sadly, my mail has yet to be found.
Time to pick up big brother from school! For kindergarten, he only goes for half a day. He attends a local school mainly for language acquisition and making friends. So far, so good. Before he leaves the classroom, he has to “kasih salam.” Young children take the hand of the adult and touch it to their forehead as a sign of respect.
If you’re ever feeling hungry on the road, you can always count on snacks being for sale at the intersections.
But the best snack is already waiting for me at home. A few days ago some friends brought over some rambutan. The direct translation is “hairy fruit” because of it’s outer texture. But the inside is like a large grape with a big seed in the middle. It looks like a fruit straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, in my opinion.
I reheat some leftovers and make grilled cheese for lunch. This tiny gas oven and stovetop is actually an upgrade from what I used to cook on, if you can believe it. Also, I’m taller than my fridge (and I’m only 5’5″).
Earlier, when I picked my son up from school, the teacher informed me she needed a 3cm x 4cm size passport photo of him. Normally we have a dozen of those on hand, but of course we have zero when I need one. With all 3 kids in tow, we make our way to a nearby photography place to get my son’s photo taken. Originally, I had planned to take a photo of that process to share with you. But then I glanced over to see these high school boys, crowded around the mirror. I laughed a little to myself as they meticulously combed their hair, prepping it just so for school pictures. Good luck, boys.
We’re back at home and it’s time to do homeschool. Usually, I try to do this when the two littlest ones are napping. But thanks to the unexpected passport photo trip, that’s not our reality today.
Once a week we get together with some of our friends. One of my favorite things to watch is my children form a special bond with local “aunts and uncles”. Slowly but surely they go from hiding behind our legs and not making eye contact, to smiling really big and giving hugs as soon as we walk through the door. It’s hard to know, with this expat-type life, how long we’ll be in one place. Will my children remember some of the people that loved them so much? I’m sure some memories will fade. And because I know this to be true, I try to snap a photo of the candid moments to reminisce on later.
On the busier and more draining days, I don’t even pretend like I’m going to cook dinner. Compared to the errands I used to run in the States, today really shouldn’t have been that exhausting. But when you draw attention every where you go and traffic is the worst and you’re listening and speaking a second language all day, just 2 or 3 “to-do” items can wipe you out. Thankfully, Indonesia has a dish called “soto ayam.” Let’s just say it’s the best chicken noodle soup the world has to offer.
I miss trees and parks and clean air. But I do love the delicious food, the rich culture, and the smiling faces. No matter where I find myself in the world, I know I’ll always consider this country as one of my homes.
Indonesia, “tanah airku.”