When you go to Walmart, or Target, or Home Depot, or any other number of retail establishments, you expect when you walk in there will be someone you can ask questions of, someone to show you where things are. Sometimes you have to hunt them down, but they’re there. Somewhere.
Here in Medan, when you walk into a store you don’t have to look for a sales associate. Since wages here are low, most establishments have plenty of employees on hand, and their job is to be helpful. Not just in pointing you where to go or telling you an aisle number while they continue their own work, but in terms of walking you over, showing you not just what you asked about but plenty of other related items, and then staying with you to ensure you’re able to complete your shopping. It can be a little overwhelming, but it’s also very nice.
As bule (Western foreigners) people are even more inclined to assist as they assume you have money to spend. And there’s usually a jostle among the associates to figure out who has the best English and have them be the point person. They accompany you as you shop, escort you to the check-out area, and stay nearby to make sure everything goes smoothly.
As we were making necessary purchases for our unfurnished rental home we had a very nice sales associate. She didn’t speak English but she found several others who did to varying degrees and with this posse in tow we managed to get everything we needed. One of the young male associates who spoke English well was Mega. He was excited to talk with us as we shopped and looked and deliberated. Eventually he shared he was looking for a better job. He hoped we were businesspeople launching a new venture in Medan. We had to disappoint him to tell him we were just students for the time being. But on two different trips to the store we talked to him and agreed we would have him over to our home once we were settled.
Yesterday he came by.
He was very nervous when he arrived, explaining he had never been inside a foreigner’s home before – only spoken with them on the patio or carport. He gradually relaxed. After all, most of our furnishings came from his store! We talked for about two hours. He had many questions for us about America and what we hoped to do in Indonesia after our language studies. He shared that part of his desire for a different job stemmed from the fact he was required to work every weekend (the store’s busy time), which meant he couldn’t go to church. He also shared his desire to get his Masters in International Relations from a school in Australia, but such a goal was hardly attainable unless he could find a better job.
His father and grandfather were both pastors, but he doesn’t seem to have a desire to follow in their footsteps, though he is definitely proud of his Christian faith. We told him we would pray for his future as well as for that first necessary step of a more promising job. He moved to Medan from the western side of Sumatra and the coastal town of Sibolga. He has a brother in town who will likely be moving soon. Please pray that Mega finds a different/better job that enables him to go to church and work towards his educational and career goals!
We’ll keep you posted the next time Mega visits!