December 17, 2014

Christmas in Papua, or All I Want for Christmas is some Quiet

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I think I'm over my recent bout of Seasonal Delusional Disorder.  It's a good thing, because now it's time to face Christmas.

I long ago stopped trying to recreate American Christmas in Indonesia.  Our first Christmas in the country, way back in 2001, taught me that it wasn't possible, and not even desirable, to make it "feel" like the kind of Christmas we were used to.  We found a happy compromise of incorporating some of our traditions from our home culture into the local Christmas culture.  It worked for us in Kalimantan.  But here in Papua, I'm struggling.

This summer I read an enlightening article about Highly Sensitive People.  Apparently, according to the quiz I took, I am one.  You can check it out for yourself here and see if you, too, are an HSP.  I guess up until I had my unofficial HSP diagnosis, I thought I was a bit weird for getting so bothered by loud noises, freaked out by violent movies, grossed out by the tiniest smells, and I'd wonder, how can David take all of that in stride?  How does the constant noise/puppy smell/etc. not bother him? What's wrong with me????

Well, apparently, nothing.  According to one website, HSP'ers cry easily (check), feel things deeply (double check), get upset when hungry (isn't that called being 'hangry'?), have a hard time saying "no" (me? no...I mean yes), consider noise to be a mortal enemy - and they are perfectly normal people.

The Christmas noise is what I'm struggling with most right now.  Papuans have a tradition of setting up pondok Natal every December.  These quaint, wooden Nativity structures disguise a hidden evil within - a sound system - that blares out the worst variety of Christmas songs, 24-7.
Pondok Natal

Up until this Christmas, I had only observed them from afar.  But since our move up to Pos 7, we're right smack in the middle of Pondok Natal Central.  There's no rhyme or reason to what is played (right now, it sounds like one is blasting out a movie and another is playing Vince Gill's Christmas with Donald Duck - I swear that's what it sounds like), or when it's played.  We've heard it through the night, early in the morning, at supper time.  The only respite we get is if it rains hard, or the power goes out.  The power went out yesterday and I actually raised my hands to Heaven and thanked the good Lord for power outages.

One Sunday afternoon the noise was starting to make me batty, and David brought his new noise-canceling headphones over and lovingly put them over my ears.  It was nice, but that's not how I want to get through the next few weeks, with headphones on my head, shouting "what?" at my kids when they try to talk to me.

I've tried to make light of it, to laugh about it - but friends, at 6 a.m. when I get up and just want a few minutes of peace, my sense of humor is nowhere to be found.  Even stopping to ponder the irony of "Silent Night, Holy Night" played at volumes that can be described as neither silent nor holy, won't bring a smile to my face.

After struggling through the first few days of Noise Assault from the pondoks, I thought, "maybe I'm missing something culturally.  Maybe there's something behind it all that I'm not understanding."  Seeking insight, wanting to be culturally in-tune, I started asking different Papuan friends what was the deal with the pondok Natal.  Did they like it?  All the people I asked responded, usually with grimaces on their faces, that they were too loud, that they couldn't sleep at night, that it was the young men who do it, that they ask them to turn it down but they won't listen.

So it's not just me being a culturally insensitive American.  And it's not just the music from the pondoks.  There's also fireworks, and bamboo cannons, and the worst, the carbide cannons that guys set off and make it sound like we're living in a war zone.

My nerves are frayed.  And my Christmas spirit - well, I'm having to dig deep and the well is still dry.

So it's back to the internet to find coping mechanisms for HSP'ers like me.  I've already tried most of the suggestions I've seen: headphones, barriers (we hung quilts over our windows one night to try to block out the sound so we could hear our movie), having a quiet place to retreat to (my English classroom).  Other suggestions aren't feasible, such as approaching the local authorities about noise ordinance violations.  Yeah, that won't be happening. 
Trying to block the noise with quilts

There is one other approach I'm trying this weekend: escape.  Our family is planning to head interior to the village of Mokendoma where our friends the Wilds serve.  How does this sound: 7,000 feet elevation, gorgeous mountain views, and nary a pondok Natal. 

But enough about me and my issues.  Here's some fantastic news: our beloved helper Orpa gave birth to her second child last week, and named her Natalie!  It helps that my name means "child of Christmas" and it's almost Christmas.  Isn't she beautiful?

This is how awesome Orpa is: she went into labor, hopped on a motorbike to ride to the midwife's house, gave birth, and a few hours later got back on the motorbike with the baby and went home! 

And if one namesake isn't enough, my lovely cousin Lindsay went and had a daughter a few days ago and also named her Natalie. 

Babies at Christmastime are so special; three of my kids were newborns during Christmas and I remember snuggling them, spending lots of time contemplating what it must have been like for Mary when she had Jesus. 

And look at those babies now:

 And their mama - despite her struggles with noise - is still able to find something to laugh about:

Merry Christmas dan Selamat Hari Natal from the Holstens!