Culturally Shocking.

60 days had passed since I had left the U.S. for the first time ever. Culture shock remained the ever present monster under the bed; never quite managing to snatch me by the ankles and pull me into it’s lair of emotional instability, bitterness and longing…until I spent 3 weeks in Tosari.

The call to prayer sung by a 5 year old every 4 hours or so was charming during my first visit. This time I bitterly sung along emphasizing its disharmonious cacophony while hoping that Simon Cowell would appear like a genie out of a lamp and put an end to my ear’s misery.

Shane’s host family previously had 2 generations present and a baby on the way. When we returned the little bundle of helpless crying joy had arrived, which meant visitors were coming and going like Louvre tourists visiting the Mona Lisa.

This also meant plenty of opportunities to make an ass out of myself as people attempted to converse with me, first in Indonesian, then in pantomime, I have a skill set of about a 0.05 in both areas. Oh, and my incompetency at baby holding was highlighted for the first time since it was decided 16 years ago that me holding babies poses a serious threat of their tiny over- sized heads breaking off their necks. It was decided quickly once again in my life that mom and grandma would do all of the baby carrying…..and split the job of breastfeeding?  The latter caused some precarious Google search history on my computer.


The beautiful clouds that would roll in around 1 p.m. every day at first made me feel like I was living in Care Bear Cloud Land as they blanketed everything in a veil of white mist. After discovering that they caused the trifecta of green black and white  mold (that closed up my lungs for a few days) to grow all over my clothes, my suitcases, the walls and literally every other non plastic coated surface you can think of, they became a daily source of cursing and frustration.

The bathroom situation didn’t get any easier, my dignity hung by a thin thread. I took 3 mandis (showers) averaging one per week that I boiled water for. And reviewed the harrowing rationale that led to the invention of the “western toilet” and paper every time I popped a squat hoping that my aim would not cause back splash in the front or miss the hole behind me.

Then, the gods decided to continue this cruel joke of cultural assimilation that I was attempting to sack up and grit my teeth through like G.I. Jane, and I was plagued with a ladylike situation. At least this caused a sudden motivation to break from my daily tell-tale 5 hour depression symptom naps to hike up the village hill to buy chocolate at the market. It also led to an awkward conversation with the new mother of the house to discuss disposal.

“Oh, I forgot that foreigners get that too! I always wonder how long is it for buleh? —Oh same with us Indonesians. There’s a red bag for baby diapers you can put yours there too.”

Thank you Jazzi, for being born.

I never considered myself a foodie in the U.S. more that I ate to survive. I ate on the go to fuel my daily life and I ate socially, but never gave thought to what I was eating, never cared about ensuring a variety of taste for my palette.  I had a few dishes I was good at cooking and stuck to those. Suddenly, I lusted for ice cream, pasta, hot wings, pizza, salad, bread, potatoes, Mexican food, Italian food, Thai food, Vietnamese food, American food, Faux Chinese food. Every day, I dishearteningly ate copious amounts of white rice and fried tempeh, that had dulled since their initial exciting introduction to my taste buds.

Point and Case: the honeymoon was over.  It was bitch slap from the developing world, in the same way you realize that your first kiss is less Disney and more Breakfast Club. Indonesia was done sweeping me off my feet and charming me.  Now I was waking up next to the bed headed morning breath ridden version of Java that I had all but been blind to during our whirlwind romance. This left me with several options: I could run back to the U.S. the familiar, yet creepily boring ex with annoyingly ever open arms, I could start anew in the next enticing land of  luster and promise, or I could accept and love Java for the ups and downs, the beauty and flaws, the quirks and uniqueness, and the relationship that we’d developed.

Smiling faces of school children rushing to say hello, lush greenery framing every mental snapshot of landscape, strangers inviting me in for tea, clean, crisp air, sprawling farmland with organic food; Tosari is the remote, peaceful, simplistic lifestyle that haunts the most taboo fantasies of Corporate Blue Collar CEOs, and here I was replacing every two moments of awe with one of complaint.

At first, I felt as stripped as a middle schooler pantsed in gym class, and filled with just as much angsty emotional issues.

But, the simple reward of  truly living life differently after experiencing challenging lessons in adaptation is what separates the traveler from the tourist. Wandering becomes something more than a full photo album on the coffee table, it becomes something that has changed you for life, and you don’t even realize it until after.

3 thoughts on “Culturally Shocking.

  1. Oh Andrea, what a huge experience you’re going through and you expressed it so well! It’s got to be difficult being out of every comfort zone you know, including friends, family and your country! I wouldn’t have lasted with a shower a week, that might be a deal breaker for me! You are so much more resiient, and if you have angst, that’s ok, you must process your experience in your way. I love your reference to the traveler and tourist, and you may have just gotten over the hump to less of a conscious acclimitization, shedding the chaff of civilization as you know it, and relaxing into the flow of your new life. Soon that will become natural to you, and it will charm you again, but differently, it will seep into your skin. Most people would be happy with the superficial photo album on the coffee table, but not you and your handsome fellow. Your consciousness is truly changing and expanding with the world you are opening yourself up to!

    And when you’re ready to come home to the USA, you know everyone will be waiting with open arms, you are so loved!


  2. Thank you Kerry,
    This was a very meaningful post for me, and kind of an apology to myself for not being as happy as I should have been. Also it yielded the realization of different motivations for travel and how experiences like these are the ones that change you rather than becoming some sort of bragging rights or a photo album. Experiences like these are addicting! I want to keep doing this all my life!


  3. Pingback: Ready, Set, Run! New Year’s Eve | andreainindonesia

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