Yesterday (Wednesday the 6th) was a day for practical matters.  Alissa was
trucked off to the office by 6:30am; she arrived two minutes before 7:00 – a
new record in our brief experience.  Our new driver, Gunawan (accent on
the second syllable), has asked permission to take the side roads rather
than the main arteries.  To extend the metaphor, not only does he eschew
the main arteries, but he seems to favor the merest of capillaries.  These
tiny, winding streetlets are called jalan tikus (jalan=street; tikus=mouse).  But
if he can cut Alissa’s commute in half, I can only be supportive.

I had a meeting at 9:00am at the American Women’s Association, which is a
(gender-neutral) charitable and service organization that also serves as a
hub for many of the activities in the expatriate community here.  Conducted
by two or three long-timers (four- to 12-year residents), the meeting catered
to five or six of us who were new arrivals.  We discussed staff issues,
security matters, ant problems, pet quarantines, and there was a brief
digression into which salon gave the best crème rinse.  The AWA also
organizes several little clubs – the game night club, the book discussion
club, the explore Indonesia club, etc.  The last of these merits further inquiry,
and I’m sure several of the others might be good to pursue in the name of
[a] building a social network and [b] keeping the kids busy until school starts.
Most of the meeting notes I took pertain to staff issues: delineating duties,
establishing bonuses, setting guidelines for the inevitable request for a loan
from one or more staff members, making sure that information is not freely
distributed over the phone when calls come during our absences, keeping
incursions into the household to a minimum.  There are stories of people
coming to the gate – usually westerners – saying, “my good friend and I are
going on an outing today and he sent me here to pick up his golf clubs and
digital camera.”  If they get past the guard with that, the intruder might then
“remember” other requested tasks, like bringing that Rolex watch along, too,
and taking the TV and DVD player to the repairman.  Hence, a few rules
about who gets in the gate.
Other notes I jotted down: “imported Coke may be twice the price of local
Coke”; “phone company never sends request for payment, but they’ll
disconnect if not paid by the 15th”; “government considering rationing
cheaper gas… may spark protests”; “sucker marks or striations on neck,
arms, backs may indicate use of traditional medicine… if seen, have staff
visit doctor”; “fraud high with VISA cards; get an American Express”; “if
involved, leave the scene of an accident immediately – go to nearest secure
area or police station rather than risk ‘crowd justice’”; “bring small gifts for
staff when going on even a small holiday… they’ll do the same for us”;
“establish boundaries, e.g., do we share laundry detergent with staff or mark
one box ‘for staff only’?”; “precedent, once set, is ironclad.”  
The get-together was informative, fruitful, and, instead of two hours, went on
for nearly four.  When I got back to the house, Ibu Utju, our new language
guru (guru is in fact the bahasa Indonesian word for teacher) had arrived
and had begun Arianna’s lessons.  We all sat around the table for the next
two and a half hours (except when I had to jump up to oversee the delivery
and placement of several more items of furniture).  Ibu Utju is the picture of
an Asian schoolmarm – tidy and genteel, diminutive, gray-headed (worn in
requisite bun), with rectangular glasses whose surface area could be
measured in hectares.  Given that the language was recently devised
(beginning in the 1940s) with the intention of making it easy to learn, I think
we’ll pick things up quickly.  She was pleased that we had already made
some minor efforts on our own, and tickled that we could all roll our ‘r’s with
reasonable facility.  She will come to our house each weekday for 90
minutes or so.  Although Nani, our cook/housekeeper, has been very helpful
as interpreter, we look forward to communicating on our own.

On the matter of staff, some may question my timing but I went ahead and
dismissed Musli.  I had hailed him, indicating the need for some discussion,
but not until I approached him did I notice the small adze in his hand – ideally
suited to prying my face off.
At this point it would seem instructive for me to share what may be the only
Indonesian word that has made its way into common English.  To “run amok”
is a phrase originating on these islands.  Indonesians, particularly the
Javanese, are known for their relatively mild demeanor, at times owing to a
very conscious repression of sentiment.  Occasionally the pressure beneath
this calm surface becomes too great and the subsequent outburst, violence,
clamor, destruction, and mayhem is referred to as running amok.
Had I been reminded of this potentiality before I initiated the conversation
about dismissal, I might have first invited him into the house for coffee and
croissants (although I suppose, in the right hands, even a sugar spoon
could be lethal).  As it happened, he appeared very understanding about
the matter and had, in fact, already gotten wind that there would be an
exchange of staff.  He goes to work where Koko has been working and Koko
joins us.  The matter of a week’s pay, severance pay as it were, was
suggested and quickly agreed to.  I later learned this to be fairly customary.
Several of the other newcomers I met at the AWA meeting expressed their
frustrations with their new staff.  One woman had on her staff a husband/wife
housekeeping/gardener team, guards, a driver, and a pool man… but no
one to cook for her family of six.  Another woman described five days in a
row when she asked her cook to have a substantive breakfast ready for her
daughter to eat before tennis camp, but that no sort of breakfast was ever
produced.  Others talked about how their cook didn’t really know how to
cook, but was reasonably helpful in the kitchen.  I finally had to admit that,
with the exception of switching out Musli the poolman/gardener for Koko the
poolman/gardener/houseboy, we are very pleased with our small, very able
and amiable staff.  Based on this small sampling, we have been very lucky
Javalogue 3: 05-07 July 2005
locally made hand adzes
made by the historically
cannibalistic Asmat of nearby
Papua Nuigini; there is no reason
to believe that our first gardener
descends from Asmat ancestry.
image to come
this is an idle threat
the Javalogue
image to come
image to come
or not