Sometimes living in a foreign country is all about doing things and associating with people you never thought you would. Perhaps this is what happens when you state so many things with fervor and conviction…
Many will recall that I staunchly claimed that I did not run. Running was for occasions when buildings were on fire or someone with a knife was chasing you out of a convenience store. Yet, I find that my daily 40-minute runs in Makassar keep me sane. I also was staunch in my belief that you should avoid whole milk lattes in favor of the non-fat ones and that donuts should be equated with cigarettes when it came to their negative health aspects. Yet, in Makassar, my daily cappuccino is worth every sip – even though people here have never heard of nonfat milk. (Not to mention that the cappaccino comes with a free glazed donut – I mange to stay away from them during the work week, but come Saturday, I am all about my donut.)
These little sanity checks aren’t just relegated to my eating and exercise habits – they relate as well to my female relationships. In Portland, there were the easties and the westies – those who lived on the east side of the Willamette and those who lived on the west side. You could further divide the city into its four quadrants – NE, SE, SW and NW. Peter and I were decidedly northwest – we lived in a lovely, little neighborhood just blocks from coffee shops, pizza restaurants and some of the hottest bars in town. People came to the west side to dress up and shop, eat and drink along the hip people of the city. Or, at least to be around those who thought they were the hip people of Portland.
There were those who lived on the east side – they tended to be a little earthier – maybe they had their own mulching area in the backyard, maybe they grew their own organic vegetables, perhaps they recycled everything one could think of while listening to reggae and the Grateful Dead. They related to the world in a different way. They marched in peace rallies, stood up for the Tibetan people and believed in taking care of animals as much as they believed in taking care of those who didn’t have a voice.
Somehow, the two sides were at odds with one another. That’s not to say that we didn’t all live peaceably with one another. There were places we all loved – Peet’s Coffee & Tea, McMenamins, etc., but we were in different worlds.
In Makassar, the east and west sides of the Willamette don’t matter.
In October, Peter and I were invited to a bar b que. A new bule would be there – she was from Portland and vegetarian so surely we must know one another… right? Of course not – she was from the east side. We sat for hours talking about Portland and the paths we had taken which led to Makassar, Indonesia. She worked in homeless shelters in Portland, her partner was still living there, and Peter’s Peets was her favorite coffee shop. Over the remainder of the fall, our paths crossed every now and then, and we continued to figure out what it meant to be so differently connected.
Since January, Sandra has become an invaluable asset to my quest to remain sane. She and Peter and I have begun meeting for dinner once a week designating our group the “Makassar Support Group”. She enjoys working out, she loves cats, she doesn’t eat meat, and most importantly she wants to be healthy – to figure out where her path will eventually lead – to never be settled when you could strive to develop more fully into the person you’re supposed to be. What we have in common outweighs our differences – at least here in Makassar.
Sandra is also as different from me as one can imagine. She dresses in earth-y, hippy styles, she has permed her hair, she collects kittens and takes them in to provide a home for them. She has a degree as an anthropologist and hopes to move to Ethiopia to work with women’s health issues there. Our ideas of good music and good shopping are as different from each other as one can get. Yet, she is valuable to me.
Sandra provides me with feedback that allows me to feel connected to my true self. She listens and relates to me as only one can who has been thrust into this strange land. She understands what it’s like to have people touch you every time you wander to the grocery store. She knows how exhausting it is to feel vulnerable among the creepy men in the city. She understands that it’s not because I’m weak that I stay inside my home on the weekends, but rather it’s a coping strategy and allows for my batteries to be charged for another week. This is someone I cannot put a price tag on.
Someone once coined the phrase that “No matter where you are, it’s you’re friends who make the place”. That person must have spent time in a land far from home. It’s only when you are alone and the people around you are strange that you can truly recognize the necessity of friendship.