27 January 2010

A Tale of Two Cities.

A/N Dickens theme of two weeks' running unintentional; I just did a quick reread and realized he worked for this subject, too.

You All,

I find our resident rat impressively acrobatic and quite agreeable; just yesterday he made a stunning dash across our kitchen and up the window shade to freedom, from whence he took the stairs at a tip-toe tilt up the spiral railing and away out the terrace. I actually applauded, I was so pleased. The other sisters, however, did not. They do not like the rat. "He steals our potatoes!" they say, and I tell
them to lock them in the pantry cupboard where they should be, anyway. "He trashes our trash!" they cry, and I mention that perhaps maybe we only need tieup the trash bag for the night. They won't have it. The rat is still a rat. They want him dead. They bought a trap and set the bait. I started a liberation front, but have yet to come up with a name any better than S.P.E.W., so the buttons are pending. And in the meanwhile, my little rat's much smarter than any wire trap or cheap cheese lure, thank you very much, and together we will fight the good fight.

Oh, the daily battles of Indonesia. I only wish it were always so easy as cat-and-mouse.

Presiden came to Bandung today for another round of Cafe Bali*, bearing with him the latest pulang pergi from SisLily (packaged in Tim Tam wrappers woven into an envelope—-clever girl) and therefore, all the news from JavaTimor.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. There is some good in this world, and there are people willing to fight for it. Like Elder Greenwell, who is proving against all odds that Obedience and Hard Work do prevail out in Yogya. Three baptisms in three months and another one next week. He and his companion plan every night, make goals, and accomplish them. He's single-handedly
created the opportunity to teach English five times a week there, which is where they've found all of their current investigators (for a total of twenty). Meanwhile, he has already outlined his rise to power
and the programs he will instate once granted any leadership position at all. From the sound of it, he is exactly the kind of missionary this mission needs. I am trying to be more like him. I am sad I will most likely miss his eventual reign as AP.

Here in Bandung there is the Atmo family; their oldest son on a mission, the dad and other two boys always at church, but their RM mother most usually a no show. Last week I proposed we stop by this
past Monday for FHE. My companions (I'm in a trio now, with Atmi and Sodjo) grudgingly agreed to "try it." They grumbled even more when I made them actually plan for it. But the point is that we did it, and it worked. Really well. One of my more favorite experiences of the mission so far that also made me realize how much more favorite all of this could become if we could pull off "Real Missionary Work" all the time. Will work on that, too.

But anyway, the Atmos. Really love them, especially after finally meeting their mother. She has raised remarkably sweet and outstanding boys, so of course she was sweet and outstanding herself, but the mystery as to why she still never makes it to church (esp since the
rest of the family is always, always there, so transportation's obviously not the problem) remains unsolved. We taught out of the January Liahona** from the parting editorial on the back page about
searching for (and finding) God. We read from Jeremiah and testified from verses in the Book of Mormon. It was a super feel-good lesson, though I mostly chalk that up to the stark contrast in Spirit you find from only stepping over the simple concrete thresholds into these Member homes. Though their houses are just as small, cramped, spare or broken as the next, the protective magic of expanded blessing and light are undeniable. Monday night, when seven year old Nikki led us in his favorite hymn—-shoot, don't remember the English . .  the one about the 99 and the 1? Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd, maybe? And yes, it is his favorite, sung aloud with gusto and truest Indonesian
tone deafness—-and his dad said the opening prayer, and fifteen year old Christian stood to bring their stack of Kitab Mormon from a set-aside, sacred shelf in their living room without being asked as
the study began, I felt there couldn't be more beautiful gestures the world over as the simplest ones I'd just been witness to. Afterwards, when Nikki was dead asleep on the couch and Sister Atmo finished
regaling us with her own mission stories (way back then she got to live at Senopati, too, with a maid to cook and clean!), Brother Atmo suddenly cleared his throat as we were preparing to leave. "Hold on," he said, waving us toward the couch again. "I need to thank you." We sat back down, aware of the hour but this seemed serious. He was a long time before continuing, the clock at a slow tick as Christian watched his father patiently. "Maybe . . ." he began. "Maybe. . .I have learned something new tonight. Or, actually, I have remembered." He looked up at us again. "We do not usually have Family Home Evening," he confessed. "Or, if we do, it is a short prayer and a verse of scripture before I decide there are more important things to do, like stock the store or replace the water filter." He kind of laughed, then, embarrassed. "But this, this is important. Family Home Evening is not just song and scripture, it is more sacred than that. It is where we learn and teach and testify to each other of Christ, and I want to thank you for doing that tonight. For helping me to remember what I'd forgotten and what I need to seek again. Maybe . . . maybe I can follow your example and from here on out we will do as you have shown us and really have Family Home Evening."

So. That was worth it.

Plus I got to ride a becak home, because we were late and still an hour's walk from home, and even though we were late and exhausted I still made my companions plan and discuss—-TRULY discuss—-what we needed to plan for and care about, and then we had prayers and then at least I went to bed on time and so I think, for this week at least, we are doing the best we can do.

And this is starting to be a novel in it's own right and again I'm sorry it's mostly sad but there's the truth and also there's the prayer call, which means I've been here half an hour over my time
limit and must be going. I love you.


*If this were another email, unhindered by outside drama, I would tell you the story about how I've been praying to be able to interview with Presiden for a few days now and then, wahlah! There he is at our doorstep, surprise cleaning inspection—-and then interviews at the Church. So there you go. Pray.

**Was the Ensign redesigned like the Liahona was? All moderned-up and super white-spaced? I, of course, have an opinion, but in the matter of time I will only say that I like it well enough and End of.

20 January 2010

Great Expectations.


I just rode an angkot from the metal footstep up into the cab, my feet skimming the asphalt below me. It's the best way to ride, just outside the claustrophobic confines of the inner pleather benches, the wind whipping at your ponytail with one hand hooked securely through the door latch. I love it. I will miss it. Secretly I sometimes pray for overcrowding and endless traffic, just so the option is available.

Luckily, Jakarta has both requisites in abundance, and as I'm back in the Ibu Kota for tomorrow's PLD, the prayers of several weeks were answered in my twenty minute hitch-hike from Ambassador Mall (It is Sister Christensen's birthday and she is celebrating by replacing all her old white shirts with new white shirts at her half-way mark) to the Tebet warnet (where everything is familiar again and the sunset fell rosy-red against the golden mosque dome across the street and a circus' worth of children followed me to the door—Hello, Mister! Hey, hey mister! Was you naim?). We came in early today, P-Day a good excuse for a morning train across misty-blue rice fields and a few hours main with the JakSel sisters, so we've had a lovely afternoon of taxis and busses and angkot and the general to and fro that is the city. Sometimes I think I miss it. Then we get stuck in traffic and I retract all sentimental musings. Then I get off in Kampung Melayu and there is the gorengan I love and the crumbling concrete corners along blackened and broken storefronts and the bus named Naomi and it all comes back again. It is interesting, every time I return. I get the smallest sense of what it will be like, one day, to miss all of Indonesia—and I don't like it, not one bit. It's a lot of emotions all wrapped up into something quite impossible to clarify or catalog, except that I know it will hurt. A lot.

Remember how I grew up always pretending? Pretending that I lived under gypsy shanties or plantation prerogative or one hundred years in the past? Because actually I have always really wanted to experience another day, another age. So for a long while—well, all of life, actually—I figured my future was in Europe, in the cobblestoned byways and quaint remnants of those imaginings, countries that still offered up my childhood intrigues though centuries had now passed. That's what I thought. And then there it was, Indonesia Jakarta. And who ever put me in Indonesia Jakarta? Or in Asia at all? But something about reading that call, about knowing that future, made a lot of sense. Like something I'd worked towards long ago but since forgotten, now restored to me in new glory. It felt (and how cliché is this?) right. A feeling which in itself didn't make sense, because, again: Jakarta? Indonesia?

And then I came here, and I loved it. From the very beginning, I loved it. And as I continue to learn to love it even more, I'm beginning to find pieces of myself I never even imagined to be buried here—in the language, in the landscape, and then, this week, in the past. Because in Indonesia, I don't get to simply observe the cobblestones or consider the villages of days gone by. I am living them. Right now. The past in the present. We live in labyrinthine neighborhoods I imagine would be akin to the London Dickens knew. Occasionally we have to take a horse-drawn carriage to reach an investigator. For fruit and vegetables and fresh cuts of meat we wander through open markets amidst the urban sprawl, stench and sweet scent existing side by side as sewer runs along crates fresh from the countryside. Yesterday I was lugging our enormous kitchen kettle from stovetop to shower in my daily attempt to make the mountain water somewhat less survivable in the early morning and I just laughed out loud. Isn't this everything I always wanted to do? I am my own version of 1900 House.

Which then leads me to another thing that we all know but I usually forget: God knows us so much more fully and entirely than we ever fully appreciate. A thought I will leave up to you to connect to all of the above as Presiden wants us back at Senopati and this is it for now and until next week. Bandung is the best, I am sleeping slightly better (five hours last night!) and on Saturday nights I sing Beatles songs with the busker trio across the street from the Church. Oh, Indonesia. I can't wait to share this all with you. I love you.

Sister E.

13 January 2010

Dua Cerita (Two Stories).

Two stories in the interest of time:

Saturday afternoon I was waiting for an angkot to Antapani when a small hand tugged at my skirt folds. My hand went automatically to my coin pocket—my heart's far too weak for this, no matter the effect on my monthly stipend—and gave the boy whatever I could fit in my fist, our hands touching for the fleeting exchange of a please and thank you, and then he was off running again. I watched him turn the corner, dashing barefoot across the eroding cobblestone before taking a long leap into the neighboring bakery. He offered my coins to the woman at the oven, along with a broken bottle he must have picked up mid-flight. She filled it for him from the tap, water still brown and murky, and then he was off again—passing my way with a shy smile before arriving at his final destination, the concrete island divider between traffic lanes at the height of rush hour. In between the bumpers and motorbikes I watched him share his spoils, the small troop of street kids passing the bottle around their circle in measured sips. It was gone within a few rounds, and then it was back to work. They strapped on their ukeles, picked up their tambourines, and began to play from window to window.

I don't really understand why I got the life I did.

Sunday a shuttle-load of tourists wandered into Sacrament Meeting, visiting Bandung for the weekend from Malaysia. Members? Nope. Christians, looking for a Sunday service. And how did they find our little building, hidden away in the greenery of Taman Cibuening in a relatively undeveloped part of town? Their bus driver, the same one that drives us out of Jakarta every PLD. Muslim, but knows us and our nametags—and  looked up where we meet and worship. All ten of the visitors stayed all three hours, each leaving with a Book of Mormon.

God works in mysterious ways. But it looks like He's working in Bandung, too.

Am late and will have to call Presiden because of it, but I love you! Am feeling somewhat better, especially after all that mountain air. Sorry for yet another short email without a lot of connecting thoughts, but I know you know that I know the Church is True! Even in Indonesia.

love love love

06 January 2010

Gitulah (Like This).


Yesterday I doodled out the last page of my Moleskine study journal, the same one that carried me through my last month in the MTC and my first months in Indonesia. It's not very organized (or really organized at all), just a sort of spur-of-the-moment catchall to keep my thoughts in one place as I'm reading or listening or feeling. One thing that put my pen to paper all those months ago was something Elder Garret said in a District Meeting. I remember the moment very clearly, him at the front of the room with his hands in his pockets and his shoe scuffing the carpet floor. "Sorry," he said, apologizing for the story he was about to launch into. "All my stories are from last year. Because that's when I grew up."

I think I get it now, why Return Missionaries get that rap. You know, how they talk about their missions and only their missions and always their missions and before all this, before I had had a lick at this lollipop (as it were; I am practicing positive thinking and isn't this sweet? And colorful! And lovely and special but oh-so-fleeting), I thought "Oh, really. You've been home two months/one year/a decade now and haven't you lived anything else?" But that's not the point. Of course they've lived more and longer, but the Mission is where that Living began.

So I guess what I mean to say is that I'm sending this apology a long ways in advance, just so you can practice patience before I come home a year from now and never ever shut up about it. Sorry, she said, apologizing for the story she was about to launch into. All my stories are from last year. Because that's when I grew up.

Terima kasih for the phone call. I would've never made it out of the nursery without you.
I love you.
Sister E.

p.s. Something in my brain is trying to connect Peter Pan ("How am I deficient?"—"You're just a boy.") with A Knight's Tale ("You're just a silly girl, aren't you?") but it's not quite making the jump. But maybe you get what I mean, anyway.

p.p.s. Really. I love you.