Here’s a What It’s Like Living Here essay from a village in Indonesia (a land of islands) by a very new writer, Yeniffer Pang-Chung, whom I met when I was in Halifax last November. She was leaving just after Christmas for an exchange trip to Indonesia and I took the opportunity to ask her to write something for NC. Yeniffer was born in Panama but grew up just outside Toronto. Depok seems like a place of perpetual summer. I love the idea of a community swimming hole at a bend in the river. I am mystified by some of the food they sell in the market. I am entranced by the five daily prayer calls coming from the mosque next door and the TV on for for prayers from Jakarta. (I had a friend once who went to Mass every Sunday in front of the TV so he could make his morning tennis match. Who says TV cannot be a conduit for God’s grace? Does God worry about such things?)
It is the call of Azan at dawn, it is the first prayer call for the village. The far-reaching call is even louder with the mosque located within steps from my bedroom window. This call is the signal to begin yet another day in Depok Desa, a village with a population of 5000 in West Java Island, Indonesia. It is one of five prayer calls that will sound throughout the day. There are slight sounds of movement in my host family’s home, the first stirring from a night’s sleep, and soon enough, the television is turned on and tuned in to the televised prayer from Jakarta.
My own wakeup call is the burst of sunshine through my window and the loud cries of the children hurrying to school. Occasionally, there will be a curious tap on my street-facing bedroom window, or better yet, the children will boldly stick their heads through my open window and sounds of their mischievous giggles will rouse me from a night’s sleep. I wake up, wash up and eat my breakfast of rice and fried vegetables. Time permitting, I make my way to the front porch of my sunny yellow house with my instant coffee to take in the sights and sounds of the village.
My eyes travel down the recently paved main road and take in the colourfully painted homes and mosques. Clothing dries on the wrought iron fences, clothes lines, and store-bought drying racks in the front of the homes. It is loud and challenges one’s notion of a village as a place for quiet. There is noise everywhere. I can hear the steady pounding of nails into wood just a few feet away from where I sit, the sound of workers upholstering the furniture that my host family sells in the market. There are motorcycles, mopeds, and trucks rumbling up and down the road. Traffic lights do not exist in the village. Horns sound periodically as the drivers alert other drivers and pedestrians of their imminent passing. It can be shock initially, the screech of a horn in a place where it does not quite seem to belong.
My sense of time is altered in the village. Everything moves at a slower pace. An easy five-minute walk can seem endless with the sun beating down relentlessly. However, I do walk; I walk constantly, either with a purpose or just to be outside. The village is green. It is green with lush vegetation in the form of palm trees, exotic fruit trees, wild tropical plants, and expanses of grass-like sprouts in the rice fields.
It is surrounded by mountains and rice paddies. Sometimes I feel as if there is almost too much to look at. I venture to the warung (convenience store) daily to satisfy a sweet tooth or to refresh myself with a cold drink. The warungs add even more colour to the landscape with their variety of bright-printed single serve packages of cookies, chips, laundry detergent, and flip flops hanging down in columns in the front of the stores.
Walking along the main road, I see tarps laid out along the side of the road bearing unhulled rice, shelled peanuts, and corn kernels roasting under the blazing sun. The season is dry, hot and humid with temperatures averaging the mid-30s daily. The produce will stay out until the first rainfall hits, and then it is quickly collected and saved for the next day’s promise of sunshine.
A steep climb awaits me if I take one of the many side roads branching off the single main street. A rocky path leads up the mountain to smaller and less visible sub-villages, clusters of homes and explosions of natural beauty. Towering trees bring temporary relief from the sunshine. The mountain homes differ from those along the main village road. The contrast juxtaposes traditional Indonesian craft with the ever growing shift to modernity. The village Anyaman homes are raised on wooden stilts and constructed out of intricate bamboo weaves. Nestled between these homes are brightly painted stucco houses that rest solidly on ground.
I return to the main road where all my new family and friends reside. Alone here one is never quite alone. Coming down back to the main village, the noise engulfs me, beginning with the familiar honks of vehicles passing by. The cries and laughter of children can be heard everywhere. Walking down the road of Depok is an invitation to be spoken to. Children and adults call out “mau kemana” and “dari mana” — common greetings that inquire about where you plan on going and where you have come from. House visits are common. My friends and I congregate and plan the day’s adventure. Food is usually involved; there is food everywhere in Depok. One of the first phrases one learns living in the village is ‘makan dulu’ which translates into “eat first.” The homes I visit offer a plethora of snacks from coconut biscuits to deep fried bananas (salty or sweet), fish chips, coated peanuts, and an abundance of exotic fruits.
A trip down to the river is particularly appealing during the sweltering hot days. There is no carved out road to the river but dirt paths molded and reshaped by frequent rains. The descent is slow and rocky. This section of river is located across from two elementary schools, so children frequent the place, scampering down the hills with ease. They are quick to shed their clothes and dive off of the rock studded banks. The rocks allow you to sit securely and let the rapids fall fast and hard against your body. The river is a haven. The view is magnificent with towering green vegetation, rice fields, and clear skies all around. I feel as if I am sequestered in a tiny piece of paradise. But the short hike up to the main road feels longer in damp, heavy clothes.
I am ravenous after time in the water. A craving for Mie Baso brings me to the Pameungpeuk market. It is a 20 minute angkot ride. Angkots are pickup trucks modified with wooden benches and a metal framed tarp; they are the most accessible transportation to the market for non-drivers. Pameungpeuk is the place to go for fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, clothing, and school books. The market is a dimly lit maze of stalls with loosely defined sections dedicated to selling food, housewares, and clothing. Families of goats, lone chickens, and dogs scurry about the market amongst the busy shoppers. It is easy to get lost in the maze. Outside of the market are free standing stores, food carts, and restaurants. Mie Baso and Mie Ayam are the most popular food choices for visitors to the market. Both are broth-based noodle dishes served with either chicken meatballs or stir-fried chicken. They are comfort food, eaten with sambal, fresh chili sauce, and preferably washed down with a cold drink.
At the end of the day, the best place to relax is home on the porch where I can settle in for the warm night and watch the comings and goings of the rest of the village. The noise that marks the day time disperses. Greetings trail off into the night as the village becomes pitch black; there are no streetlights to help one navigate. However, the quiet never quite closes in. People fill the mosques after sunset during Magrib, the most essential prayer time of the day, and their prayer chants buzz through the village. The engines of passing motor vehicles merge with the sounds of insects in the night, the cries of stray cats in heat, and the hoarse croak of the Tokeh, a red spotted lizard that punctuates the night. Then night breaks again when the call of Azan filters through my sleepy haze. Roosters crow, people wake up, and before you realize it, a new day has begun.
Yeniffer Pang-Chung is a Psychology and Health and Society Graduate from York University. She was born in Panama City, migrated to Toronto, Ontario and now resides in Mississauga. Her passion for volunteering took her to the far reaches of Indonesia on an unforgettable experience of living and breathing in a new culture, while participating in various community development initiatives abroad – something she hopes to continue in.
I cannot stop looking at that recently paved road. Seems like a dream, right above the worn footpath between the rice paddies. Paths toward the unreal, paths toward the real. The road cuts through the landscape like the river—a fissure or a seam.
She writes, “It can be a shock initially, the screech of a horn in a place where it does not quite seem to belong.” I cannot hear that horn from my desk in Vermont, but I sense a similar aesthetic or textural incongruity in that road. I long to travel it, to see where it goes, to find where it ends. Thank you for this beautiful rainy-day visitation.
Wonderfully written article, it eloquently paints a beautiful picture of life in an Indonesian village!