I stood in the post office, my stack of 48 Christmas cards on the counter as I counted out rupiah for postage. The young postal worker took my money, nodded politely and pushed several sheets of stamps my way. Four stamps for each card.
“You don’t mind putting them on yourself, do you?” he asked as he handed me a wet sponge for the stamps (sadly, self-adhesive stamps have yet to reach Indonesia). I could feel sweat trickling down my back. It was noon, a bazillion degrees, and no fan circulated in the tiny cramped room. Off in the distance, a mosque was sounding the call to prayer.
I just wanted to go home and cool off, but thinking he must have asked me because he had some other important postal job to do, I gave Zoe a stack of cards and we started swiping stamps across the sponge and slapping them on the envelopes. And the postal guy just stood there, a big grin on his face, and watched us the whole time. He even called his coworkers over to enjoy the show.
I paused and had one of those “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moments that still hit me every so often, even after 11 years overseas. Life here is just so, so different. And I wonder how long do I have to do this crazy expat life before I stop wishing, even just a little bit, that it didn’t have to be so different?
I think it’s especially hard this time of year, because I know that back in the states, the weather is cooler (even in my native coastal Georgia), families are getting together, lovely Christmas music wafts through grocery stores stocked to the rafters with all kinds of goodies, and people are putting self-adhesive stamps onto Christmas cards in climate-controlled post offices.
I want to embrace the culture here in Papua, but sometimes it’s like trying to hug a gorilla – it’s bigger and louder than me, it’s kinda scary, and it’s going to do pretty much what it wants to do whether I like it or not.
For example - Christmas fireworks. Now I love fireworks. As a child we had to cross the border into South Carolina to buy fireworks (the thrill of it!) and I loved shooting off bottle rockets and waiting for the big finale – the Roman candle.
Here in Papua starting the first of December, all day and especially all night, fireworks that we probably couldn’t buy legally in the U.S. have been shot off constantly. To put it lightly, fireworks have lost their appeal. David and I decided we’re giving each other a case of ear plugs for Christmas. When I see the fireworks stands on the side of the road I have to fight the urge to run them over with the car. It’s hard not to wish that Christmas could be celebrated here in a more peaceful, quiet, “Silent Night, Holy Night” way.
But I’m not giving up on hugging the gorilla. I will keep on putting my arms around it, brush its fur out of my eyes, and maybe even imitate it (i.e. Today, with my blessing, David went out and bought some fireworks).
Ok, the gorilla analogy has gone far enough. You get the idea. Natalie is dealing with a bit of culture shock, which still happens even after years of living abroad. And she will do what she has always tried to do – vent, breathe deeply, laugh, and move on.