Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January 29, 2008

So, it’s time for another installment of life as a woman in Indonesia. It’s a strange place, but I’ve found that women all over the world fine ways to communicate that have nothing to do with a shared language. We smile and gesture and nod. We seem to just know by observing body language that another woman agrees, disagrees, or needs something. I find this reassuring in a country where I know only bits and pieces of the language.

Shortly after we arrived in Makassar, Peter and I joined a couple of teachers and their Indonesian girlfriends for dinner after work. I found myself chatting with the men as they all spoke English. The girlfriends and I attempted some conversation as they used their broken English. After a short while, our food came and we ate. I noted that one gal didn’t like her dish and the girlfriends were talking about it. One of the guys asked what was going on and I offered that Rani didn’t like her spaghetti and thought it was better at a different restaurant. They looked at me and asked if I spoke Indonesian or something. I said no, but women can communicate when they need to. The girls smiled and agreed.

I find this scenario comforting as I go to my aerobics classes and laugh with the instructor about the guys who have joined the class. When I shop and Peter does something a little silly and the cashier and I exchange glances. When I find that way to connect with my women students that allows them to know it’s safe in my classroom. It’s amazing to me the connection women have.

There are so many obstacles to being a woman – we are often considered lesser citizens around the world. We encounter a myriad of different struggles than men. One of these created one of my most interesting moments in Indonesia. After arriving, my period stopped for over four months. Week after week passed and I saw no evidence of this regular monthly event. Peter was pleased, but I was a bit confused and worried. Peter has had a vasectomy, so we wondered about the possibility of an immaculate conception – could it be possible I was pregnant? One day in October, we decided I should probably take a pregnancy test to make sure.

Pregnancy tests in Indonesia are a bit hard to find. There are very little birth control options and no tampons available in any of the supermarkets. Women’s reproductive health is not mentioned and yet every time we go to the grocery store we get behind someone buying maxi pads, salty snacks and Fanta. Hmmm…. Anyway, we wandered the department store we thought might have what we were looking for. No. As we were walking out, I saw a pharmacy type store and decided that may be where I could find something. Sure enough, after asking the clerk and involving no fewer than 4 people in finding this test, we found one and purchased it.

Now purchasing it was one thing – figuring out how to use it was another. This was not a stick you simply peed on. Of course not… I spent an hour in the bathroom with our Indonesian dictionary trying to figure out the directions. Apparently, I was supposed to somehow catch my pee and then somehow get 3 drops into a small opening on a stick sort of thing. It would turn a color if I was pregnant. Well, I used my creativity to find something to catch my pee and then used a toothpick to distribute the drop accordingly. After 3 minutes, it was clear that I was not pregnant and I heaved a sigh of relief. Being pregnant in Indonesia was not a pleasing idea.

Since then, my cycle has returned to some sense of normality, but the experience remains one of the strangest things I have had to do in this country. Being a woman is an adventure all on its own.


Evans Roth said...

Hadn't checked out your blog for several weeks. As usual found it fascinating. Liked the pregnancy one! But the culture struggle was more interesting. Hope you are trying to get some pieces published.
We are getting along OK - for our ages. Nancy turned 80 last month; I'm a year younger. We've turned into art collectors, the result of three big-ship cruises. Then we did a small-ship Rivers of Central Europe in November and liked it better - closer to locals and in small cities rather than big-city hopping. It was mostly in Germany but started in Amsterdam and ended in Vienna.

Very best wishes, Evans

gresse said...

Hi Sarah,
I miss you. I hadn't seen you for a while before you left and now I'm sad that you are gone. I've followed your blogs and it sounds great. I am still doing yoga, but miss your gentle guidance. I just did an Iyengar class in Maui and felt like the instructor was the Yoga Nazi. she would walk along and kick my hands further apart and kick my feet to say they were too close. Hope you are having the time of your life. Monica Lyster from Lake Oswego yoga class

A Knutson said...

I totally agree with you than being a woman is a unique experience - I have come to realize lately too how much I have in common with other women in different cultures (I have one woman in my class from Burkina Faso, and she amazes me constantly). The pg test story is a classic!!! What WOULD you have done if you'd been pregnant?? Now that would have been a story! I enjoy hearing your reflections about being a woman - and a feminine woman - in Indonesia.