Allie Matthias, Princeton Novogratz Bridge Year Indonesia 2019-20
OVERHEARD ON THE YAK BOARD
Something I never could have anticipated for this year is the amount of small daily surprises I encounter here in Jogja. These surprises—little moments of joy—come upon me at any time in the day. They break up the routine and remind me that my year here is not replicable. They make the mundane feel joyful, new, and human. They color my experiences in Jogja and persist in my memory, so as I reflect, I keep thinking of these interactions.
I wanted to share just 9 of those delights:
1. A few Sundays ago, I found myself folding boxes with 30 ibus. I just got out of the shower and entered the kitchen when my Ibu said, “Our neighbor died,” with a frenzied look in her eyes. I wished her my condolences, but as soon as the words left my mouth, she ran to the nearby house, broom in hand. My ayah came over to me and explained that our house was turning into the center of cooking and food for the funeral. In Muslim culture, the newly deceased must be buried if possible within 24 hours, and in Javanese culture, everyone must help with the ceremony. My Ibu set mats all over the kitchen floor, and the neighborhood women came and went, bringing boxes that I helped fold and food that I helped serve. Jacqueline joined in on the effort, and we spent the Sunday chatting and helping. I felt part of my neighborhood community, although not an ibu by any means. The man who died was beloved in the area, and around 100 or more people came and went through my house and the street in front to support the ceremony and pray for the dead. At the end of the preparations, everyone shared a meal together that Jacquline and I helped plate. There is a phrase for this type of communal effort: gotong royong, translating roughly to “mutual cooperation.” The feeling of gotong royong, a feeling of comfort and security that people will care for me as I care for them, was delightful.
2. The moment I appear at the doorway of my NGO office, a chorus of “Halo Allie!” rings out. My coworkers’ greetings are a delightful daily reminder that I am welcome and supported at the office, despite the language barrier.
3. Putri, a staff member of UNALA (my NGO), ran out of her office on Thursday, yelling out, “Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku bermain di Plaza Ambarrukmo hari ini sore! Ayo!” (“Memories of My Body” will play at the Plaza Ambarrukmo mall this afternoon! Let’s go!). The interns and volunteers turned from their computer and called out, “Aku mau ikut!” (“I want to join!”). I couldn’t understand what the fervor was about—most of the conversations took place in Javanese—but the excitement of the office was tangible. Anggita, my coworker, turned to me and asked if I wanted to join. She explained how this movie is censored, being about a non-binary person’s journey through traditional Javanese culture and dance, but allowed to play only at this movie theater once at 4:00pm on that day. I came along and soon realized the movie lacked English subtitles. Even though I was only able to understand 60% of the movie, it was a delight to join them and watch this story.
4. When the skies open up, the rain pours down, and a breeze flows through the city. I feel relief all through my body as the humid pre-rain pressure fades away. At night, the streetlights and motorbikes reflect against the puddles, staturating Jogja in a haze of reds, yellows, and greens.
5. A later Saturday, I photographed my NGO’s promotion in Bantul, south of the city. They gave a presentation to a Muhammadiyah youth group (a Muslim group) on reproductive health including issues of menstruation, self-love, and gender issues. I raised my camera up and tried my best to capture the expressions on the girls faces: their eyes followed the speaker, smiles tugged on their faces, and they sat forward. The girls were stuck to every word. It was empowering for myself to see them, who were all almost the same age as me, so focused and engaged. I felt pride in my work there, happy I joined this NGO to do what I can to help them. After the promotion, we squeezed into the organization’s car. Everyone was hungry—we already ran out of snacks. Putri called out, “Sate klathak!” The energy rose as if everyone downed a cup of coffee. Brokir, the driver, did a U turn then and there and drove until we found the restaurant. Sate klathak, some sort of goat sate, is originally from that area of Bantul and best served there. I unfortunately could not eat the sate klathak (I’m a vegetarian), to which Putri continually said “Kasian” (Too bad) about. Still, eating nasi goreng (fried rice) as they ate the sate klathak added to the many moments of joy that day.
6. On Sunday, I carved away the contours of faces from my woodblock board. Olivia came along that weekend, and we drank tea and chatted with my IEA mentor Fitri. I worked on my piece on female reproductive rights, Olivia created a piece on body image positivity, and Fitri completed her pieces on solidarity and activism. Time faded away, and soon it was already night. I got in my Gocar back to the program house, feeling as confident and calm as the women from my woodblock.
7. Jacqueline and I sit atop the Lippo Plaza mall, where street food stands, outdoor lamps, and cafe style tables and chairs decorate the area. We chose to sit a level above the main area, able to watch both the scenes below us and the nighttime view of Jogja. A low, distant murmur of voices created an ambience I had only before heard in recordings. As the purple and pinks of the sunset finally faded into the deep blue of the night, a breeze pushed out the usual heat of the day. This moment only lasted for 15 minutes, but it was delightful.
8. Every Friday, I give an English lesson to my NGO as a means of preparation if the European donors visit the office. I don’t know how useful my lessons end up being, but I teach about American culture and lifestyles, and we discuss the differences and similarities with Indonesian cultures. Given the lesson is always full of generalizations and mostly from my perspective about American culture, the lessons are mostly just fun. A couple of Fridays ago, per their requests, I decided to teach them slang. I included around 30 words, ranging from “ASAP,” “vanilla,” to “queen” (I did mention that some of these are only used with young people while others like ASAP are more general). It was fun to teach them, but the weeks ahead were more fun: my coworkers called shotgun for the front seat of the car when we went to promotions, said “cool, cool, cool” when commenting on something they like, and replied “RIP” when I couldn’t make it to an event. We bonded by laughing over the English language and made fun of words that took on alternative meanings. Delightful.
9. As silat (Indonesian martial arts/self-defense class) wrapped up on Monday, I mouthed to Aneekah, “What about doing zumba after this?” Before our silat instructor even left, Aneekah, Elliott, and I began to move our bodies along with the high intensity YouTube video. 10 minutes in, as sweat pooled down our faces, Jacqueline walked into the program house, coming from a meeting at a nearby NGO. We yelled out at her to join, and she too started the workout without changing out of her day clothes. There we were, the four of us with our hearts pounding and muscles aching. Then, the 30 minutes were up. The video finished. But, we kept going. We got on the ground, got into plank formation, and sang out “Cause baby you’re a firework!” at the top of our lungs as we waited for a minute to pass. We were determined to push our bodies, embracing the sweat, muscle ache, and eventual tiredness. I began playing Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” as each of us started a new exercise. From the outside, we probably looked like a mess, our faces red and bodies giving up under the intensity of zumba. But, endorphins pumping through my blood, I thought: this is delightful.
I do not know if it is because I am looking for these moments of delight, but I find myself feeling so much gratitude recently for being able to experience life in a way I’ve never experienced it before. The humdrum of the everyday no longer seems as overwhelming as it once did. I am excited by living moment to moment, knowing I can stumble into a moment like the ones I wrote about above again.