We chose our rental house based on several factors – proximity to our language school (we can walk there in 15 minutes), proximity to the University of Northern Sumatra (USU) where we hope to make contacts and friends, and proximity to a traditional market, in this case, Pasar Pringgan.
The Pasar lies between our house and our language school. So five days each week we pass through the market on our way to and from. This makes it convenient to pick up basic food and other items we might need, giving us additional opportunities not just to practice our language skills but to begin getting to know our neighbors and merchants. Already we exchange greetings each day with the nenas (pineapple) lady, and we have a favorite buah (fruit) lady where we’re able to buy a variety of other local fruits (markisa – passionfruit – is Gena’s lifelong favorite and it’s inexpensive and plentiful here!).
The streets are lined with small tokos (shops) that are both buildings as well as less formal, street-side affairs. Pick-up truck beds, trunks of cars, tarps laid out on the ground, small mobile carts all selling a variety of items. It’s a bustling place. We often are greeted with Hello Meeeester! as we pass through, as are our kids. Saturday mornings are the busiest, and by late afternoons things are wrapping up for the day. It’s colorful, noisy, pungent (both good and bad!), and in general a sensory overload.
Alongside the street on the southside of the market closer to our house is a neatly kept coffee stand. We pass by it each day and particularly on our way home from class late-morning, there is almost always a group of men sitting together, drinking kopi (coffee) and talking energetically. As most everywhere else we go, we are a spectacle to these men, and they repeatedly greet us and gesture for me to sit down and have coffee with them.
Today, I did.
It was a smaller group of guys when I showed up, but it was also a national holiday so that undoubtedly changed the usual workday patterns. Although I’m not a coffee fanatic I don’t mind it now and then, particularly if it’s sweetened. The barista, Tona, didn’t speak English but I conveyed to him he should make me whatever his specialty was, and in short order I had a small, neat cup of espresso and two sugar packets in front of me.
I was informed I was going to be drinking the best kopi in the world – not only from Sumatra (our island in Indonesia) but from Aceh province to the north of us. I’m certain coffee experts might argue about which region of Indonesia produces the best coffee, but I have to admit it was one of the smoothest cups of espresso I’ve ever had!
There’s only one table under the tarp that provides shade and a small plastic stool was quickly found for me. I sat next to Eddie, who spoke a bit of English and conveyed that he is a businessman. He introduced me to Reza, a quieter gentleman with less English, and to Seful, who informed me he has an older sister living in Texas. Between their limited English and my growing knowledge of bahasa Indonesia, we were able to comfortably make small talk without too many awkward blank stares. As with most Indonesians they are very friendly and kind. Curious about the bule (Western foreigners) walking through the pasar daily.
As an introvert it’s difficult for me to put myself out there with a group of strangers, but thankfully the Holy Spirit has provided me many opportunities for growth in that area over the years, and so now something I would have rather died before doing is only mildly awkward. Which is good, because this is how new relationships are formed. By taking an invitation to join a bunch of strangers who speak a different language and try to make sense of one another.
When I excused myself and started to pay they were insistent that it was their treat. I look forward to returning and repaying the favor down the road. Hopefully some simple kopi conversations will grow into deeper relationships and even friendships where the Holy Spirit can do what He does so miraculously!