July 11, 2010

Women's Retreat

This past weekend the gap that exists between "American Natalie" and "Cross-cultural Natalie" got narrowed a bit when I attended a women's retreat with ladies from my Indonesian church.  I constantly strive to be one with the culture, and in several areas I have adapted and am more Asian than ever before - but there are still some things, some very basic things, that I cling to as an American.

Bathing, for instance.  We still take hot showers here in Indonesia, though some days I opt for a cold one.  Indonesians, however, for the most part take splash baths - just you, the water, and the bucket, splashing away.  I have done this type of bath numerous times and while it's very refreshing after a hike in the jungle, I still prefer my American hot shower.

This past weekend though I went a step further than the splash bath and entered a new realm.  Our retreat was held at a little elementary school on the beach, and there was no bathroom, other than just a toilet.  So those who wanted to bathe had to do so out in the open, wearing a sarong.

I have long been in awe of women who can bathe wearing a sarong and somehow go from being completely clothed under the sarong, to being undressed, showered, and dressed again - and not show any flesh doing so.  It's truly amazing.  A few ladies took me under their wing and gave me some pointers with the sarong bath and I think I was successful - I got clean and flashed them only once.  

Another aspect of life I cling to as an American is how I sleep.  A soft mattress, a fluffy pillow, a cool, dark room makes for perfect sleep.  But having slept on floors many a time on our trips interior, and being one who loves to camp, I was up for whatever on this retreat.  We ended up sleeping in one of the classrooms; some were on the floor, like the ladies in the above pictures, and some - like me - on tables.  Okay, sleeping on a table - no problem.  But then there was the issue of the light.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: Um, are we going to turn off the light so it will be dark?

The other ladies: But if we turn off the light it will be too dark, like a cave.  Ibu Natalie, if you want it to be dark, just close your eyes!

So the light stayed on all night.  Long about 1 a.m., when we finally went to sleep, I was so tired they could have shone a flashlight in my eyes and it wouldn't have mattered.  It was entertaining to lay there and listen to these ladies - some of them grannies in their seventies - tease each other and giggle as we were settling down for the night, like a bunch of middle-school girls at a slumber party.

I was up by 5:30 (!) for our morning service, followed by games and exercise.  I was amazed to see the aforementioned grannies playing soccer, at six in the morning.  We played partner soccer, where you had to hold your partner's hand while playing.  After being drug up and down the soccer field by a very athletic woman and making pathetic attempts at kicking the ball, I was glad the next game was something I could actually do.  One team had to keep a balloon up in the air, while the opposing team tried to knock the balloon to the ground.  Effortlessly I - who at 5'6" is considered a tall woman - could rise above the crowd like Michale Jordan to bat the balloon around.

Swimming in the ocean, eating fresh coconut, singing together, and playing bingo into the wee hours of the night were all highlights of the retreat. But the best part for me - aside from learning to bathe in a sarong - was getting to know the ladies from church a little better. Even though we've been attending this particular church for about two years, I had yet to form any deep relationships with anyone.  But there's nothing like an overnight trip to help you bond with people.  I especially enjoyed getting to know the woman in the picture below, Ibu Elisabeth, whom everyone affectionately calls "Oma".  

I really miss having older women in my life to look up to and to emulate.  I see Oma at church every week and this woman ALWAYS SMILES.  And you can just tell by looking at her, that her smiles well up from real joy in her life.  I told my friend Novita, who also went on the retreat, "I want to be Oma when I grow up!"  I am so thankful the Lord allowed me the opportunity to get to know her - and hopefully she can help fill the need I have felt for a mentor.

And lastly, one of the most amazing things about this retreat, and something that really impresses me about the women who attended was that NO ONE COMPLAINED.  About anything!  I mean, we all swatted mosquitoes and had a few disparaging remarks about that, but overall everyone was just happy to be there.  This is another aspect of American Natalie I would like to shed forever - my tendency to complain when my personal comfort is threatened.