Tirta’s tired eyes popped open at the sound of his cell phone ringing. It wasn’t often he got a call, but as he lay in a hospital bed, he hoped it was his family calling to check on him. A smile spread across his face as he heard the comforting voice of his brother.
Tirta grew up in a tiny village far into the jungles of a remote island. When he was 12 years old he decided he wanted to go to school. Usually the journey consists of a 2 day trek through the mountains followed by a short plane ride into the Highland valley. Tirta, however, didn’t have the money for the plane ride, so he and his brothers hiked for 2 weeks up through the peaks and down through the valleys of the mountainous terrain before arriving at his small middle school. Tirta has never taken his education for granted. He worked hard through middle and high school, and upon graduation, we invited him to join our brand new teacher training program.
Here Tirta was, 2 months into the program, when his appendix ruptured. Thankful to be in a city with hospitals, he patiently endured the surgery to get his appendix taken out. Within just the last few years, radios had made it to his tiny village in the jungle. Someone had radioed in that Tirta was in the hospital. Not knowing any details, Tirta’s brother hurried to find cell phone service. Usually the trek to find cell phone service takes two days, but this was an emergency. Tirta’s brother didn’t stop and was able to make the trek in only 18 hours.
Relief overwhelmed his brother as Tirta reported that the appendix surgery was a success and he would soon be released from the hospital. As Tirta hung up the phone he looked up to see one of his teachers sitting beside him in the hospital. Jules leaned over to Tirta and said, “When you get well, I’ll take you to do anything you’d like. What’s your dream?” Once again a smile spread across Tirta’s face. “I want to ride a train. I’ve never seen one and I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like.” Yesterday Jules and I took the three students in our teacher training program on their first train ride. When the train pulled into the station I looked over at Harta as awe consumed his face. Tirta smiled. Kashi giggled a little. As we boarded the train, they were anxious to learn. “How do the wheels work without tires? Can you walk from car to car? What happens if one of the cars gets disconnected?” It was such a joy to experience this day along side them.
Once in the big city, we took them to the biggest mall. They were grateful that they had learned how to use an escalator a few weeks ago because this mall had so many! They marveled at the restaurants, automatic hand dryers, and a store that only sold stuffed animals. Every time I looked over at Tirta, he was grinning from ear to ear. It was so refreshing to be reminded of the many things I take for granted. I have so much to learn from my students. Let us never forget to find joy in the ordinary.
Typical evening in the dorm. Yes, that’s a 5 gallon water jug being played as a drum.
Here in Southeast Asia there is a sickness named “Masuk Angin”, literally translated “Enter Wind”. Many people have different understandings of it, but the basic principle is that wind enters the body and causes what we might refer to as gas or a cold. One can get Masuk Angin a variety of ways including riding a motorbike without a jacket on, sitting on a cold tile floor, or having a fan blow directly on you. The remedy for Masuk Angin is to have someone take a coin and harshly scrape your back until blood bubbles just below the surface of the skin so that the air can exit the body. They also have an herbal drink that is supposed to help rid of the air (it doesn’t taste too good, they gave it to us after a race once).
When I first heard about this I thought for sure it was an urban legend, but it rings true for people who live here. To Westerners it sounds bizzare, and most Westerners here agree that while the sickness itself is real, the manner in which we get it may not quite be wind entering the body. I have learned that when living cross culturally, questioning assumptions can be healthy but blatantly pointing out what we think is wrong about another’s culture makes no progress.
This morning after devotions with the University students I live with I mentioned that my stomach was a little uneasy. “Oh!” they cried, “Masuk Angin!” I generally avert this kind of situation by saying Westerners can’t get Masuk Angin, and despite their possible suspicion, the conversation is left at that. Today, however, my students were inquisitive. “What?” they said, “You’ve never had Masuk Angin??” I smiled. I knew I was in a trap. How could I inoffensively tell them that I didn’t believe in this illness? One of the other Westerners who live in this house chucked in the corner. He knew I was in a trap too. I gently explained that I had never had Masuk Angin. They asked my other Western friend and he too claimed he had never had Masuk Angin. Shock overwhelmed their faces. They’ve seen a lot of strange things from us Westerners before: peanutbutter and bananas, carrot juice, sugarless coffee, but this was a new one.
We cautiously explained that we believe gas comes from perhaps something we ate. We continued in saying that we sleep with fans blowing directly on our faces every single night, and that we often have no qualms about sitting on a cold tile floor. They smiled. We smiled.
In other news, tonight I was explaining that I don’t drink coffee at night because the caffeine keeps me from sleeping (they don’t have decaf here), and they said, “Masashi!” which means, “I don’t believe that!”.
Just another day living life across cultures.