“Da, da, da, da. Di, di, di, di.” Then there’s a kick, kick, a push, push, the sound of a motorboat, and then a laugh wakes me up earlier than I’d like, but I smile anyway. The first light of dawn shines faintly through the windows. I talk to the one year old baby who just woke me up. I put him in his own bed 10 hours ago, but somehow he gets in between me and his mom every night anyway. I don’t mind. If he wasn’t in the bed with me, I’d wake-up and check on him a few times in the night, worried that he’s fallen out of the bed, gotten bitten by mosquitos, or worse.
I ask the baby if he wants to go for a walk. I don’t know if he understands since I’m the only person who speaks English to him. Maybe he does, but it’s still too early for a walk, so I get my old Samsung tablet from beside the bed. I’ve re-purposed it to show Baby Einstein and locked it down so his little hands don’t stop the video. He’s seen it a hundred times by now, but his eyes get big and his focus narrows to the fiesta of squeaking puppets, mechanical toys, and close-ups of babies and animals for the next 20 minutes. He giggles every time a puppet appears, like it’s the first time he heard a joke.
Then his mom wakes up and notices he’s wet. She efficiently changes his diaper while I chug a bottled water and put on my shoes. Soon we’re all three out the door, just before the sun begins to appear. We walk up the volcanic slope and I can see the first rays are shining on the top of Mount Welirang. Welirang is the Javanese word for sulfur and it’s so clear in the morning that we can distinctly see the fumarole coughing up a long sulfurous cloud from the earth’s crust that trails across the sky to the edge of the horizon. It’s a strato-volcano, like Vesuvius, St. Helens, Pinatubo, or Krakatoa, so I’d imagine the world ends around here every couple of hundred years or so, then it goes back to peacefully puffing sulfur into the sky while mamas, daddies, and babies eat the delicious produce yielded from the volcanic soils, abundant rainfall, and equatorial sunshine. Just like everything else here, there are pro’s and con’s about volcanos.
My wife is seven months pregnant and there’s a 10 kg (22 lb) baby squirming on my back. Our pace up the hill aligns naturally to a speed I’d describe as kind of slow. We walk past the first manned security gate. I can see the CCTV camera feeds watching over our street inside the little guard house. A man smiles and raises the boom gate. We greet him saying “Selamat pagi (Good morning)” as we approach. He talks to the baby in Bahasa Indonesia as we pass and asks him how he slept. It’s the third person the baby’s seen so far today and the third language he’s heard and the sun’s still coming up. I’m not sure how this affects him. Judging from the sounds that come out of his mouth, I think he speaks the same language as those puppets on Baby Einstein. I can’t understand much except da-da, although he babbles and talks quite a bit now.
We start looking for a stick along the side of the road. Every day we try to find the perfect stick. Not too big, not too small, straight, not rotten and decayed, and not full of ants. We find one fairly quickly today. I think it’s the same one I found two mornings ago. The baby takes it in his right hand and starts waving it around. A big four tooth baby smile lights up his face. We stop at the light poles and he clumsily whacks the metal pole with his stick to hear the satisfying sound of wood striking metal, “ping, ping, ping.”
A motorbike passes us in the opposite direction, going down the hill. I acknowledge the rider with a nod of my head and he responds with the same. Another motorbike passes us going up the hill, slowly and laboriously, carrying a load of hand cut grass tied precariously on the back. We see about a dozen men from the village nearby, all employed in the same endeavor of cutting grass by hand between the golf course and the road and using mopeds like utility vehicles. They likely have a cow cooped-up somewhere and they feed it grass to fatten it up for butchering, or maybe a horse or an ox used for work. Grass is free and none of these guys could possibly have even a dollar in their pocket. They’ll come back again just before dark and get another load. I feel respect for their effort and more aware of the privileged life I too often take forgranted.
The first group of Koreans on the golf course are teeing off at the 6th hole with four pretty caddies dressed in pink. They wave like they know us and they probably do, but I can’t keep the caddies or the Koreans straight. Maybe they are just waving at the baby. Everyone knows the baby. He sees them and waves his stick in their direction and squeals.
A water sprinkler is still on from the night and the baby squeals again when he sees it. Then a cat runs past and there’s another delighted squeal. An old lady stands in front of one of the houses along the golf course, maybe she’s the maid there. She laughs and asks him in Javanese, “Why are you carrying a wooden stick?” He just waves it at her and shakes his head. He’s with his Dada and he’s suspicious of well-meaning old ladies who might try to hold him and disrupt his walk.
We get to the intersection at the edge of the golf course and turn around just before we reach the second manned security station. Sometimes we walk farther, but this is our standard turn-around location. We’ve passed a couple of motorcycles, but no cars yet and we’re halfway. Now we just go back and it’s all downhill.
I kick some kind of fruit down the hill to amuse the baby. It looks a bit like an apple, but it’s not good to eat. I talk with my wife and try to learn a few new words of Bahasa Indonesia. We talk about other things too, whatever is on our minds. We see an old woman holding a newborn baby in the driveway of a huge house. My wife speaks to the woman as she approaches and although her teeth are brown and rotten, her smile is still welcoming and pleasant. The newborn’s mother is near and soon comes out to say hello. I think they must be the caretakers of this big house. Maybe the owner comes from Jakarta or somewhere a few times a year to play golf? Who knows? We only talk about the babies.
The first nanny arrives just before 7:00 am. She’s on the back of a motorcycle driven by her husband. She has a bag of freshly butchered chicken that my wife ordered from the village yesterday. We’re about three minutes from home when they pass and they slow down to wave at the baby. He squeals again, excited to see them both. When I walk into the yard, the nanny’s husband takes the baby for a while, like he does every day. My wife goes to make breakfast on a propane stove top and I go take a shower.
There are two bathrooms in our house, one upstairs and one downstairs. They’re probably equal in every way. I have the one upstairs. It has toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, a bar of soap, and a towel. The one downstairs has hundreds of things in it for my wife and a small plastic tub where the baby takes his baths. Hot water heaters hang on the wall above both showers. My wife never turns hers off because the baby takes frequent baths and she can’t reach the switch above the shower head. I never turn mine on because I’m always kind of hot here and a cold shower doesn’t bother me. I read that it’s good for you to take cold showers. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I figure it can’t hurt and if I believe it’s true, maybe at least I’ll get some placebo effect from the experience. Cold showers are super-efficient, so I’m done in about three minutes.
We send our laundry out in a bag on a motorcycle every few days. Half my clothes are always somewhere else and I don’t have many, so it’s easy to pick what to wear. I wear whatever is in the drawer. Today it’s a Texas A&M T-shirt where I spent a semester 20 years ago and a pair of shorts I paid a few cents for last year. Then I’m back downstairs about five minutes after I went up, ready to eat breakfast.
A man arrives with his little girl. He’s a driver my wife sometimes hires for the day. Today she’s sending our minivan to the city for an insurance claim. She forgot to get the 300,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($22 USD) required for the insurance deductible, so I jump in the minivan and head back up the hill to the nearby golf club and hotel. There’s an ATM there and I’m back in under 10 minutes with 1.25 million Indonesian Rupiah ($100 USD), the maximum amount for one withdrawal from that ATM. It’s a stack of money so thick I can’t close my wallet.
By the time I’m back, the little girl is playing with the baby and my wife has decided she should stay with us while her dad takes the car to the city. She’s a pretty little Javanese girl with big, almond eyes and long, shiny, black Asian hair. She can’t stop staring at me. It’s probably the first time she’s been in the immediate presence of a white person, or one of the very few times. I guess that she’s six, but she’s actually nine years old. The kids are smaller here, so I usually underestimate. She’s really nervous about me and isn’t sure she wants to stay or not. What if I ask her a question in English? My wife laughs and says I ask her questions in English all the time and it’s nothing to worry about. Maybe the worst that could happen is she’ll learn some English too.
I eat green beans, French toast, scrambled eggs, two chicken nuggets, fried tomatoes, oatmeal, and sliced mango for breakfast and wash it down with orange juice and coffee. I don’t know why my wife thinks green beans and chicken nuggets are for breakfast, but I never said anything because I think it’s good. Indonesians eat the same kinds of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so maybe that’s the reason I get chicken nuggets every day for breakfast. I am thankful each day that I have a woman who cooks breakfast for me. I never expected it. I tell her thank you every day too.
My wife makes a plate for the little girl, but she’s scared to sit beside me, so I leave and go back upstairs to check my email. The second nanny is here early today and is cleaning up the bedrooms, so I take my phone and go out on the deck and watch the golfers approaching the sixth hole, just on the other side of a small creek and a rice paddy behind the house.
One old friend sent me an email about the strict interpretation of the US Constitution and the Dred Scott case. I want to look up the Dred Scott case and reply, but the WiFi here is so poor. It’s like dial-up internet in 1995 when it works at all. It’s a bad morning for WiFi and as far as I can tell, I don’t have any other email. I can probably read about the Dred Scott case later and figure out how it relates to current US politics. My mind is quiet and I think it sounds interesting. If there’s anything good about bad WiFi and no cable TV, it’s that I don’t have much cause to get worked up and hysterical about terrorists, Russians, Democrats, or Republicans. On the other hand, it can be really annoying when I’m trying to get something done, like buying plane tickets or internet banking. I’m feeling stuffed with breakfast, so I take a nap on the just made-up bed under the blasting air conditioner.
After my wife finishes in the kitchen, she comes upstairs for a nap too. She’s pregnant and gets tired easily. I’ve got no excuse, unless being 40 is an excuse. After about an hour of light sleep, I hear the baby hollering and crying downstairs. The two nannies and the little girl are all trying to feed him. They’ve taken a broom away from him and he’s infuriated. For some reason, he loves brooms, probably because the nannies frequently sweep the floor in his presence. He’ll often check to see if the broom is leaning against the wall out back, then take it and toddle around the house, pushing the brush end along the floor. He’s happy to see me and reaches for me. Although I never feed him, bathe him, or change his diapers, I’ve somehow managed to become his favorite person. Even I’m surprised at this outcome, but what can I do except enjoy the honor? He probably won’t like me one day soon, so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. I take him for a walk and talk to him until he calms down a little bit, then they try and feed him again.
The driver returned with the car much faster than we expected, so we decide to take the baby for a pony ride later. Both nannies have to leave around 3:00 pm today, so it seems like a good thing to do. It’s still a long time before 3 pm though, and it’s getting hot outside, so I decide to take the baby for a swim in the pool.
He’s just a year old now and most days of his life he’s gone in a swimming pool with me. Surely it’s his favorite pastime. He can’t swim, not at all, but he thinks he can. We live in a brand new development and most of the houses are still empty. Maybe 10 families are here, but most of those only come for the weekends and I’ve only rarely seen anyone else in the pool, so it feels like our own private pool. We use it almost every day, sometimes two or three times a day. There are two sections, a deeper part and a shallow part. We go in both sections, starting with the deep part, then moving to the shallow part. Someone on Facebook told me to count everything to him when he was born, so we start the same way every time. We dangle our feet over the edge of the deeper pool and I count really slow, “Ooonnne, twooooo, three!” He gets a big smile on his face when I start the count down and usually laughs when we jump in the pool. As an aside, anytime I need to get his attention I start counting really slow like that and his mood changes instantaneously. It’s baby psychology 101. I presume he remembers it from swimming and thinks something is about to happen. I need to remember to thank that guy that told me about counting. It’s one of the best unsolicited tips I got from my Facebook friends. It works well for putting on his shoes and putting him in a car seat too.
The baby goes naked when he swims. I tried keeping his diaper on for a while, but they just explode and make the pool messy with bits of disintegrated diaper. I keep a bucket by the pool in case of an accident and I’ve perfected a technique to remove all baby poop from the pool in one scoop. If it happens, I get him out of the pool immediately and hand him off to his mom or a nanny, then I submerge the bucket upside down, so the air stays inside it. I move it near the baby poop and tilt it. The air bubbles up and the water and the poop get sucked into the bucket. He’s had four accidents in his life in the pool, so I guess shit happens. In my defense, we can’t find swim diapers here, so I don’t know if we have another option. Maybe I’m a terrible person for not worrying much about it. They clean it and put in chlorine daily and he’s never pooped in the adult swimming area, only the baby swimming area. I suppose I do feel a little bit guilty about it, but on the other hand, I’m trying hard not to let it happen and I’m not going to deprive him of his most favorite pastime. There’s been poop in that pool and it’s my fault, but it was in the water for less than a minute. I saw a dead frog in there before too and it was probably there all day. I think rotting dead things are probably worse than baby poop anyway.
The baby’s mom does slow pregnant woman laps in the deep end while we play. I walk along beside his mom and he copies her, kicking his feet and splashing around like he’s swimming. Then he likes to lay over the concrete wall between the two sections of the pool, reaching down to touch the water flowing from one section to the other. His naked white ass points up to the sky and it looks simultaneously ridiculous and dangerous, but I stand beside him and hold him with both hands to keep him safe. I think it looks much more dangerous than it is as long as I’m with him. His grandma gets a bit scared to watch him when he does this, and he does it about 10 times every time we go swimming. He’ll get pretty ornery if he’s held back from leaning over the edge to touch the falling water.
We always finish in the shallow end of the pool. It’s very warm, because of the tropical sun shining on it all day. The baby can stand up in the shallow pool and he creeps along the edge while he splashes in the water. Sometimes he sees his friend, one of the maids across the road while she’s out hosing down the driveway and he calls to her. The people in that house speak Mandarin. I’d like him to learn Mandarin, but that’s one language we don’t have in his daily mix.
We usually swim at sunset, so most days we see the sun come up on our walk in the morning then we watch it go down from the swimming pool in the evening. Bats and swallows fill the air above the pool as the sun sets. Sometimes an airplane goes by too. He’s started to notice these things. It was interesting to watch him notice an airplane for the first time.
My wife saw a snake in the pool once, but I didn’t see it and felt skeptical. I thought she was just paranoid. Then two days later, her parents were here walking the baby around when they saw a snake eating a frog beside the pool in the grass. They called me to come and see it. The snake vomited the dead frog when I came near and slithered off to the bushes. I don’t know what kind of snake it was, but I could tell it’s not poisonous. We used to swim at night, but that put an end to night swimming.
Just before sunset, we drive the back way to the highest village with accessible roads on the mountain. Sometimes it’s not accessible to go this way during rainy season because of mudslides, but it’s dry season right now. The road is narrow and winding with mostly motorcycle traffic. The driving is insane, but I’ve learned how to drive in the chaos and insanity too. It’s two lane, at most, but the traffic is so mixed and there isn’t any kind of law enforcement. You have to pull out into oncoming traffic to pass bicycles, motorcycles carrying 4 or 5 passengers, pedestrians, vehicles parked in the middle of the road, huge potholes, trucks, and other cars that are just driving slow for whatever reason. It’s a bit nerve racking until you get used to it. I’d rather drive this back road than the main road because it’s less traffic and I haven’t seen accidents here like I have on the main road to this village.
We pass by rice paddies, small businesses of all kinds, houses built really close to the road, many mosques, and a few graveyards. A lot of the men on the motorcycles are wearing Muslim hats. It’s not unusual to see these, but it’s unusual to see so many at once. Soon we see the reason. We notice that the graveyards are full of people. Ramadan ends at sunset on this day, so in the Javanese tradition, people are going to pay their respects to their dead relatives. Most people wouldn’t find this very interesting, but I recognize the anthropological significance. What they’re doing isn’t Muslim, it’s from the old religion of this place, a kind of Buddhist flavored Hinduism that survives in the smaller, more remote villages and was widely practiced back before Islam made it to this island. I tell my wife all about this as I’m driving. She pretends to listen, but I can tell she’s just being polite. She grew up in this province so it’s kind of like telling a Baptist girl from back home in Virginia that Jesus never saw a Christmas tree in his life.
We arrive in the village of Tretes just before sunset and the streets are as deserted as I’ve ever seen them, but still kind of busy. This is a resort town attracting many people from the nearby city. The main attractions are food and cooler temperatures. We came for the food and the pony rides. We have a routine established. I park the car wherever I can find a place, my wife goes to order food, and then I take the baby over to the queued up ponies. We climb up on top of a useful concrete ledge in front of the 24 hour convenience store that just happens to be about the height of a saddled pony and wait. One of the men brings a pony near and I climb on and sit the baby down in the saddle in front of me. I hold the saddle with one hand and the baby with the other. I don’t know a whole lot about horses, but I grew up on a farm and I’m comfortable enough around large animals. Falling off with a one year old baby might be catastrophic. I worry about that, but I don’t want to be scared to do fun stuff either. The baby chants “da da da da da” as we start the ride.
I’m not sure the baby knows about the horse at all yet, but he likes to sit up high and ride down the street waving at people and looking at things. We’ve been riding these ponies since he was about six months old, so we know the Tretes pony ride routine. It costs 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($4 USD) for a 5 to 10 minute lap around a short loop through the village. Today a younger guy with a pony tries to scam us for a larger pay out. I already had this scam happen before, so I immediately recognize it and decide not to fuss with him about it, we’re just going to enjoy the longer ride. So we go in a giant loop around the village that takes 30 minutes or so. That’s the scam. Since we went 4 or 5 times the distance, I should pay 4 or 5 times the usual 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah price. I know these guys will stand there with their pony all day long to get one 50,000 IDR ride, so after arguing, I’d end up paying 100,000 IDR because I felt a little bit guilty. Now he’s doubled his wage and left me feeling annoyed. I already know this scam and I’m happy to go on the longer ride today and cut to the double payment when we get back, so I just enjoy the ride. The baby babbles and squeals at the people in the warungs (food stalls) along the way, birds that fly by, or cats running along the gutter. The man walks in front, holding the pony close and smiles and talks to the baby. He seems careful and I’m glad about that.
When we get back, I tell the man “Tunggu untuk istri saya (wait for my wife)” and I go to find her. I only have 50,000 IDR in my pocket and I’m not in the mood to argue about the $4 extra. I find my wife at our usual warung (a food stall, like a tent beside the road). She already has our food and she’s worried. She thought maybe we’d had an accident because it took so long. I tell her I got scammed again, but just pay him 100,000 IDR (about $8, not bad for 25 minutes or so on a pony I guess) and tell him never to try that with me again. She’s angry with him, so she says a bit more and he doesn’t argue with her.
My wife has already eaten half her food, so I give her the baby and I start on mine. I’ve got grilled rabbit satay (on a stick), rice steamed in a banana leaf (called lontong), and sweet grilled corn on the cob with garlic butter. I get them to scrape the corn off the cob with a knife on to a plate. My wife has pretty much the same meal. We wash it down with iced tea. Altogether, our food and drink cost less than the pony ride. Some ethnically Chinese Indonesian people came in the warung with two tiny little dogs and the baby wants to see them. The little dogs are smaller than cats and one of them is super aggressive. I let the baby look for a while and the mean one growls and barks, so I tell my wife we’d better get going before our luck runs out and the baby gets mauled by the little dog.
We stop by the Tretes market to buy some produce before we leave. Chickens peck around along the footpath as we enter. My wife is specifically after the mangos today. After the shopping is done, a man in charge of parking directs me in a 27 point turn to get the minivan out of the overflowing parking lot. He shouts at me “Kanon, kanon, kanon (Right, right, right)! Keri, Keri, Keri (Left, left, left)! Terus, terus, terus (go, go, go)!” I’m sweating from that drama and I give him the required 5,000 IDR (40 cents).
On our way back home, we drive on the main roads and stop in a different village with a few department stores. We’ve been frequenting one of them lately because the top floor is a kids’ playground and arcade. They’ve installed the padded floors over a pretty large space and it’s the best place I’ve found for the baby to practice walking. It’s also the least crowded we’ve ever seen it, because of the holiday, and we get the whole playground to ourselves for a few minutes. Nobody takes our picture today for being white, but that usually happens here. Sometimes people will ask my wife to take the picture while they stand beside us and I think she finds it slightly annoying, but I think it’s sort of funny. I’m not famous at all, but I call them my fans and happily take a photo with anyone who asks.
The playground attendant is a young woman with a little girl who’s three and a little boy who’s one and they show up after a few minutes. They’re always at the playground. The baby tries to interact with them, but the three year old girl doesn’t like him. She keeps telling him, “this is my brother!” Their mom brings us a balloon on a stick and we go to practice walking. I take him by the hand to the other side of the room and let him stumble back to his mom. He falls twice and cried a little bit once, but mostly he just does it. He can walk when he wants, he’s just not confident yet and likes to have me hold his hand. I try to remember that I’ll miss this caution very soon, probably by next week.
My wife had to pee really bad because we’d just finished dinner and she’s pregnant, so next we headed home. Public toilets in SE Asian villages are horrifying, even for my Indonesian wife and she only uses them in absolute emergencies.
After dark, we have lots of toads hopping around the yard and our neighbor’s yard. The baby loves it when they hop and tries to kick them when he sees them in the grass. He’s gotten pretty good at it and nearly killed one the other night. I call them frogs, but I’ve just looked them up and they’re actually cane toads, an invasive species native to South America. Oh, and now I see from Wikipedia that they’re poisonous. They’re slow moving and when attacked their strategy is to just sit still until the venom works on their predators. Well, I guess that makes sense. I wondered why they are so slow to hop away from a clumsy baby. The baby and I have been going out in the yard and kicking them along the grass for about a month now and nothing happened to us, so I think the poison must only be dangerous when a cane toad is eaten. I actually just found out they’re poisonous as I was writing this and trying to figure out what kind of frogs we have in the yard (I mean toads), and upon reflection, I think that’s the last time we’ll play this kick the frog game. Now I understand that they’re moving so slow as part of their strategy to kill us with their poisonous skin! You’re probably horrified, but don’t worry. Kicking cane toads probably doesn’t even make the top 10 list of dangerous things for babies around here. Driving the car here, hanging naked and upside down from the edge of the swimming pool, mixing baby formula with water from a roadside food stall, and riding a pony on the street are probably all much more dangerous for babies than kicking cane toads around the yard.
Next we decide to drive around the neighborhood. We can drive a 10 km loop without going outside of the secure area inside the communities adjacent to the golf course. I don’t know any other place like this in Indonesia and I didn’t find this one on purpose, but we take full advantage of it and take the baby for a ride most nights to help him fall asleep. We drive the familiar loop and my wife gives the baby a bottle. There are fireworks everywhere, like the kind in the park on the Fourth of July in America or the kind they fire off the Sydney Harbour Bridge for New Year’s Eve in Australia. Those big, dynamite loud, bombs bursting in air type of fireworks, and all of them being set off by amateurs. I tell my wife the hospital will be doing some amputations for sure tonight. It’s cool to see so many fireworks at once though, and you can’t tell from a distance if someone’s finger got blown off in the process, so I just enjoy the show as we drive along.
When we get home, I carry the baby up to his room. He sleeps in a real bed already. I’ve turned the bed around backwards with the headboard towards the door instead of towards the wall and pushed it in the corner. That just leaves one side of the bed open for him to roll off on to the floor. The bed has a spare mattress underneath, like a guest bed for kids, but I use it as a safety feature so when he rolls off, he just lands on the mattress instead of the floor. He’s only rolled to the second mattress one time so far and it didn’t even wake him. I turn on the air conditioning in the room, set it on 23 degrees C, and I leave the door cracked so I can hear him wake up. He’ll be up in a few hours and in our bed again for the rest of the night. I check to make sure the tablet is charging so it’s ready to watch Baby Einstein again in the morning. Fireworks are still going off and they’re apparently reading the entire Quran, cover-to-cover, over a loudspeaker in Arabic from the mosque behind us tonight. It’s not a bad sound though, kind of like singing, and we’re all used to it.
Tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo. Since it’s the holidays here, I think the zoo might not be crowded. It’s a pretty cool zoo with a waterpark and rides too. Maybe I’ll write about that someday soon if people like reading about what I see and do with my wife and baby in Indonesia.