After my marriage, I have spent more time in a hotel in Jakarta than I have in my home. Sometimes, I break into cold sweat at the thought that I have become the stereotypical expat wife that I always read about in glossy magazines. The sitting-by-the-hotel-swimming-pool-drinking-juice types. I have also realized that though it is luxurious, when done often enough, it can lead to a certain amount of mental atrophy. There is only so much window shopping a sane human being can indulge in. You know that things are going downhill when you can reel off all the items on the menu from memory. Gradually, when the novelty wears off, a certain amount of loneliness also sets in because you are in a foreign country where you don’t really have too many friends and inevitably, the husband is often very busy. That is when I started looking for people to talk to.
The most immediate people available to listen to you are the hotel staff. But its a challenge to communicate with them since not all of them understand or speak English very well. For instance, the masseuse who worked on my painful knee today. Sometimes she doesnt understand a word of what I say, but she ALWAYS smiles and NODS whenever I say something. I started learning a few words of Bahasa (local language in Indonesia) so that I could make myself understood. I have been practising it on the waitresses, the bell-boys, the room-service staff and anybody who will listen. Whenever I ask them “saya adalah bahasa yang baik?” (“Is my Bahasa good?”) , they LAUGH! And I laugh too.
Somehow, my efforts seem to be connecting with them. The lady who makes the bed told me, in broken English, how her husband beats her and she is only waiting for her children to grow up. She told me about her faith in God and how she keeps working hard everyday so that her children can go to school. Another young girl from housekeeping said that her dad worked as a chauffeur for the owner of the hotel. Her dream is to become a receptionist in the hotel but she doesn’t know if she will ever make enough money to get the training she needs. I am often taken by surprise and humbled when they share these personal stories with me. My husband often asks, “How come they tell you these things?” I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe because when they come to the room, I talk to them..ask them their names, about their families, etc.To them, I am a safe listener. They know that tomorrow I will probably never come back to the hotel and their stories will just travel with me safely. But I know these apparently ordinary people have taught me a thing or two about resilience.