We were invited by a mutual friend of our family and another ex-pat family to come to her home this past Saturday. It was sort of an extension of Eid al Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan and their month of daylight fasting. Technically Eid al Fitr fell in late April but we were abroad so we were invited to a late luncheon. There weren’t any religious aspects to it, it was mostly an opportunity to share a meal and invite us to her home.
We ate, as is typical, seated on the floor on a rug with food at the center of our loose circle or square. Ibu (roughly the equivalent of Mama or Mrs. in Bahasa Indonesia) had prepared a delicious assortment of food – mie (noodles), lontang (steamed rice buns, kind of), chicken in curry, rendang (a slow-cooked dish that is a favorite in Indonesia and especially Sumatra), and a variety of snacks. She’s a wonderful cook and we enjoyed the food immensely. It took a few minutes for us to realize what looked like a green bean salad was actually green chili peppers. While I enjoyed it a lot, it was quite spicy and most of the rest of our group opted to avoid it.
We sat around for about 90-minutes, talking with Ibu, her husband, her father-in-law, and a few other relatives gathered around. But when we got up to go look at the baby kittens born the previous night, we realized there were more people gathering in the area, hovering, curious.
The word was out in this small neighborhood on the Western edge of Medan that there were bule (Westerners) here. It’s clear this wasn’t a usual occurrence, and while the adults might be a bit shy of coming over, the kids were not. They started arriving in droves, intensely curious about us all. The braver of them engaged us in conversation and we did our best to respond in our Bahasa Indonesia. It isn’t that we couldn’t necessarily understand what they were saying, it’s just they were so excited and talking so quickly it was hard for us to track with them.
Mika wasn’t able to join us because of an art class she’s taking on Saturdays, but the boys were hugely popular with the kids. The kids marveled at how tall Caedmon is (we marvel also!), and how white our skin is compared to theirs. One boy repeatedly would hold his arm up against ours, point out that he was darker than we were, and that meant he won.
We learned afterwards that Ibu’s husband was displeased, feeling the kids were not respectful enough. However we didn’t think anything of it. They were excited and curious and very honest. It was a fascinating experience to be in a smaller neighborhood. Not necessarily a kampung or village in the strict sense, but closer to it than the neighborhoods we’re more accustomed to in the main city of Medan.
We look forward to inviting Ibu and her family to come to our home for a meal in the near future. The challenge is that we’ve discovered that while we love to cook, Western food is something that is largely unfamiliar to Indonesians (other than fast food chains like KFC, Pizza Hut or McDonald’s), and they are hesitant to try it and often don’t like it. Not simply because it’s different, but I suspect because in comparison it’s so mild. Bland might be a word Indonesians would use if they weren’t so polite. Accustomed to the intense spiciness of their sambals, Western food just doesn’t interest them so much.
Still, I’m sure they’ll come. And we’ll make Mexican food, which might be a bit closer to their tastes in spiciness level!
Ibu and her family are all Muslim. Please pray we will have opportunities to speak of one of the commonalities between our two faiths – Jesus. They don’t acknowledge him as the Son of God, but they do believe (the Quran teaches) that He is a prophet who should be listened to. May the Holy Spirit guide and bless those discussions!