Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Boy talk.

My counterpart Yana quit. I shouldn’t say quit, I guess. She passed her exam to become a civil servant (after failing the first three times), which means she's now eligible to teach at a public high school. She says this means “her future is secure and she will never have to worry again.”

In some ways, she’s right. Now she gets paid leave and benefits and retirement. But she just left. She (and another English teacher at the school) immediately quit working at IGM, and she begins her new job in March.

I think it’s actually been a good thing for me. I got a new counterpart Laily, who is a little older, married, and incredibly sweet. She tells me often to pray that “God will give her a baby.”

I love it when people ask me to pray for them here, especially because they know I’m not Muslim. But they value my prayers, too, I guess. Who knows, really, which one of us is right? But I’m grateful, at least, that I was born in a place where I was taught my prayers are heard whether I'm dirty or clean, covering my head or with my hair hanging down, in the middle of eating or drinking or surfing the internet or riding on a motorcycle.

The teachers at my school find it nearly inconceivable that I’m not in a relationship or actively pursuing one. "So you don't want a boyfriend?" they ask. I try to explain that it's not that I want one or don't want one. They say, "Katie is in the middle. Katie is in the middle about a boyfriend." I tell them no boy would like me in Palembang because their pempek makes my breath so smelly. They think this is hilarious.

Yana used to make me crazy.

“Katie, what colors do you want for your wedding? I think I want bluuuuueeee,” she would say, dragging out the vowel on the end.

Anyway, two English teachers leaving IGM meant two new teachers were recently hired at IGM. Enter Ida, a 29-year-old working on her doctorate in education, and Rudi, a 20-year-old MAN (the only male English teacher) who recently scored off the charts on a national English exam.

I went to the movies with Ida last weekend. She got the times mixed up, and we were three hours early to see Avatar. So we opted for Sherlock Holmes instead, and we got coffees in the hour before it started.

I spread out my Bahasa Indonesia notes on the table and started asking her the differences between English and Indonesian commands. She answered politely, and then she leaned forward on her elbows and said, “Oh, Katie. What will your husband look like?”


“I really don’t know, Ida. Can you check and see if I spelled this word right?” She nodded and pouted a little.

But, no. This is a new Katie, one who revels in these differences in cultures and has sworn to – gulp – go with the flow.

“I think... maybe… he’ll be tall,” I offered.

She instantly perked up and leaned forward with her chin resting on her hands.

“Yes! You American girls all want tall, dark, and handsome, yeah?” she giggled.

“Hmm, definitely tall. Handsome would be nice. And I’ll take dark or light or medium,” I said. I was wary of requesting dark, considering she was sizing up the waiter serving our coffee.

“And what will his job be?” she asked.

“Maybe… a businessman. Or a lawyer.” She literally clapped her hands in delight.

(Ida is engaged, although she doesn’t wear a ring yet. She said her boyfriend “promised himself to her.” Hmph.)

“And what colors will you have in your wedding?!”

Sigh. Sigh. She looked at me with hopeful eyes.

“Well, I really love the color pink,” I conceded.

“Yes, how perfect! You should invite me! Promise you will!”

I promised.

And then I couldn’t believe it. She really started to talk to me. About other things! When I finally relaxed, she started to open up. Hey, this getting-along-with-people thing is more than it’s cracked up to be.

“We heard bad news from our neighbor this morning,” she said.

She told me how her neighbor’s daughter, a 16-year-old girl, had just found out she was pregnant. She knew the father was her boyfriend, who is also 16. I don’t have to tell you that this is bad news in Palembang. This isn’t “life-is-so-much-harder-now” news like it might be in America. This is very nearly “life-is-over-now” news.

She said the very sad part was that the boy’s mother won’t permit him to marry the girl. His mom says he has to at least finish high school first, which won’t be for another two years. The girl, of course, has already been kicked out of school, and she won’t be allowed back.

“Will she work now?” I asked. Ida said no. She’ll just raise the baby once she has it in another six months. “With what money?” Fortunately, her family will support her, though Ida said they are “very, very angry.” The boy won’t be responsible at all, even continuing to go to the very school that kicked his girlfriend out for carrying his child. After he graduates, he’ll choose whether he wants to marry her or not.

SuperKatie, of course, wants to save the world one pregnant Muslim teenager at a time. I wanted to ask to meet the girl, tutor her, give her my clothes when I leave, and be her friend. But am I what she needs? I’m like a celebrity when I walk around the mall here, but I doubt I’d be so popular if I came swooping in on this girl.

And maybe I’m not being fair. Unmarried sex here isn’t what it is in America. Even married sex here isn’t the same. My students were allowed to watch the movie Orphan as a reward one day; the teacher skipped any scene in which the husband and wife even kissed, but they were allowed to watch a nun being beaten to death with the spiky side of a hammer. This young couple had been warned to an exhausting point, I’m sure, about the risks—religious, cultural, and physical—of unmarried sex.

Inexpensive contraceptives are available here everywhere… oh yes, even in cringe-inducing flavors like durian. (Ewwww.)

I suppose it doesn’t really matter now. I told Ida I felt very bad for the girl and that she should let me know if she thought there was anything I could do to help.

Of course, she quickly bounced back to more entertaining topics. “How many children do you want to have?” she asked.

Going with the flow felt like less fun now. I persevered. “I think maybe two,” I said.

“Ooh. Very nice. I think I want to have threeeeeeeeeeeeee.”


  1. Just tell people over there that the man you love (me) is gay...and since I can't return your love, you feel that no one out there will ever work for you. :-) That would bring in some interesting conversation! I would probably end up giving off the wall responses just to see what happens. Haha!

    Poor Indonesian girl who is preggo. It's crazy that the young man isn't being hep accountable for anything. looks like if you entertain people's questions about a boyfriend...tehey open up. Yay. But seriously consider telling them what I said above. I'm sure it will make some interesting conversation.

    LOVE YOU!!!

  2. Katie--really this sounds like something that would have happened in the USA not that long ago, like in the 1950's. I still do remember if a girl became pregnant in our high school, she had to immediately quit school. That was in the late 60's. Then they let the girl stay until she started "showing" and then had to quit. (early 70's). I also remember in 1975 that a boy had to quit the high school basketball team because he married he pregnant girlfriend, and no school was "gonna have a married man on the basketball team".

    Maybe in 50 years they will let the Indo girls stay in school. I hope so. Dad