Welcome back to Kediri. Sudah makan? Walk into anyone’s home, and they’ll ask if you’ve eaten. We’re grilling sate ayam on skewers. We’re steaming bakso and blending guava juice. We’re serving up the meatballs in broth with noodles and hot sauce. We’re most definitely starting with rice.
In my home stay house, a pot of rice is already on the stove by 4:30 am. It’s the first thing we do before heading to the vegetable stand to claim the freshest papaya leaves on the block. Following the 3:30 am call to prayer, a pot of rice steaming on the stovetop marks the start of the day.
In Indonesia, each meal revolves around rice. Sometimes multiple heaping scoops, three meals in a row. When we eat mie (noodles similar to ramen), we eat it with rice. There’s even a soft white rice rolled up in a banana leaf that’s called lontong—the texture is like polenta and it’s delicious. Desserts are often made from tapioca (rice flour), and soto ayam (chicken soup) includes—you guessed it—rice. When we go to events like a wedding reception, we carry home boxes of rice. There’s no shortage of nasi putih, and if you haven’t eaten it today, then you haven’t eaten. In summary: please send bagels.
Sure, no sign of sourdough bread or sandwiches yet. But on the world’s most populous island, familiarity is never too far away, either. Kediri is happening. When we need a break from nasi putih lunch boxes, there’s Pizza Hut. We’ve got shopping malls. There are cafes with wifi in the city center. Go-Car is the local Uber or Lyft alternative when I can’t make it there on bike. And for emergencies, most convenient stores stock Oreos.
Still, Peace Corps training isn’t all tea and jello, although there’s plenty of each to go around. The day-to-day involves bucket showers (called mandi), squatty potties, washing clothes by hand, learning to speak Indonesian and now Javanese, riding a bicycle in crazy traffic, strangers asking—or not asking—for photos, sweating constantly, and shaking hands (called salim) with absolutely every lady in sight. We’re salim-ing all day long.
Culture, man. Integration is a process. Language learning is a process. Steaming rice is a process. It’s all a process, and we’re processing. Sometimes people hand me their baby, take my photo, and then take their kid back and walk away. Not everything makes sense, and that’s okay.
My little block in Kediri certainly has its perks. First, my keluarga has a mango tree. I thought Java only had two seasons: dry and rainy. Not true. There’s also mango season, and it’s happening right now. Ibu climbs the tree and collects the mangos. There’s a technique to picking mangos, and she’s got game.
Then there’s Coco (pronounced Cho-cho). Coco is a guinea pig that lives outside our home. He’s nobody’s pet, my host sisters swear they don’t feed him, and we spot him maybe once every week or two. Where is Coco when he’s nowhere to be seen? My Nine-year-old host sister says he’s jalan-jalan—just going for a walk. It took me seven weeks to finally snag a photo as proof of Coco’s existence. Sad to report, though: he’s impossible to catch.
Beyond our home, Kediri is flat. Rice paddies, busy streets, and one-story buildings. Not a hill or flight of stairs in my village, or desa. With the mountains in the background, the quiet green space—beside a sawah field is the place to be.
The other weekend, volunteers in our desa planned a day trip with our host families. Destination: Gunung Kelud, a nearby mountain. Locals expressed urgency about the dingin. It’s soooo cold there, they said. Jackets required. I’d like to report back that walking uphill in 85 degree heat does not warrant layers. But please, dress as you like. With a view like this one, it’s worth the sweat.