My house helper, Orpa, has been gone for the last month visiting her family in Sulawesi for Christmas. I'm really glad for her, but while she's gone all the jobs she normally does fall to me. One of those is making weekly trips to the pasar, or open market. I have been to the pasar on numerous occasions and it is a job that I am very happy for Orpa to do. It's a smelly, damp place, with all manner of creepy crawly things creepin' and crawlin' over the food you buy. I have come up with a list of a few tips for those of you who may find yourselves heading out to the open market soon.
1. Go in the morning. The smells are much worse as the day goes on, so be sure to go first thing in the morning. The produce tends to be fresher, too.
Now, in addition to going to the pasar this past month, I've also been learning to drive David's motorbike. He used to own a big dirt bike and it was just too big for me to handle. So he downsized and bought a smaller bike that is easier for me to drive (it's so small that one of our co-workers said David looks like a Shriner in a parade). I've always been hesitant to drive a motorbike here - the traffic can get kind of crazy and I've seen lots of accidents. I always seem to have at least one child with me when I go out, and when I shop I tend to buy a lot, and you can only hang so many bags on a bike. But the main reason I haven't learned yet is that I'm a chicken, but I am working to overcome my fears. It's kind of like being a teenager again and earning my learner's license. David has put restrictions on me, like I can only go to certain places and only at certain times. All of that to say, another reason for me to do my marketing in the morning is that the traffic is light and it gives me a chance to practice the motorbike.
Early in the morning lots of vegetable sellers load up their motorbikes and head out to sell in the neighborhoods.
2. Never look down. If you know me, you might know that I have an irrational fear of cockroaches. It was one of the things I really worried about when we first came overseas. Silly, I know, but there it is. The pasar is crawling with cockroaches, mice, rats, etc. so to keep myself from screaming I find it best not to look down, if it can be helped. There was one time I had a panicky moment when I dropped some money and I was faced with the dilemma of bending down and picking it up and risking seeing something I'd rather not, or just leaving the money there. I realized how silly that would look to the Indonesians around me so I held my breath and picked it up, with one eye closed.
3. Never buy a doughnut at the pasar. I think the photo below best illustrates this. Raw chickens are on the left, doughnuts (uncovered, unpackaged) on the right, and you can't see the flies but they were doing circuits between the two tables. Need I say more?
4. Take the time to get to know the penjual (sellers) you buy from. As much as I would like to rush through, grab what I need and go, I try to spend a few minutes chatting with each person. They are more likely to look out for you on your next trip. The little lady below sells all kinds of greens and one day she didn't have the type I was looking for. On my next trip she practically grabbed me off my feet to show me she'd been holding some for me.
5. Wash it, peel it, or cook it. The hardest part of going to the pasar for me is dealing with all the stuff I buy once I get home. In the U.S. I would just toss whatever I buy into the fridge - but here there is no pre-washed lettuce, or wok-ready vegetables, so everything has to be cleaned and put away. But once that is done there is a great feeling of satisfaction at having survived another trip to the pasar.
On to other things...last night was Twelfth Night here in Tarakan. I am always on the lookout for fun things for us to do and new traditions to keep (and reasons to make a cake) and after reading some about Twelfth Night I decided to try it out on our family. First I made a King Cake which I am sure is unlike any other king cake since I followed no traditional recipe (apologies to my Cajun cousins who know what a real king cake is). Zoe helped me hide a coin in it, since the tradition is that whomever finds the coin (or bean, or whatever) is then the king or queen for the night. The coin was in my piece of cake, though Luke was so crestfallen by not finding it, I snuck it into his piece. So Luke spent the evening giving out royal decrees that we his loyal subjects had to obey. We also sang "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at the top of our lungs, ensuring the neighbors would have plenty to talk about. I don't know if it will become a yearly Holsten tradition or not, but it was a lot of fun.