Monday, April 7, 2014

What it's Really Like Living Overseas

 I had slept for only two hours in two days. We’d just flown from Colorado to our home in Indonesia, with our three small kids.

So that January day as we drove from the airport to our home that we hadn’t seen in eight months, I turned to my husband, Brad, and said, “Look at all those trees they’ve planted since we left.”

“Um, no,” Brad said. “Those were always here."

Oh, yeah. This town does, after all, sit on the edge of one of the world’s largest rainforests.

Besides being very green, my world here in Indonesia is pretty small. The island where I live is only about nine miles by 13 miles in size. And as a mama to three little kids and with no roads off the island, I don’t get out of here much.

So, when I get asked, “What’s Indonesia really like?” I have a hard time answering.

So, I’m taking advantage of the somewhat fresh eyes I have after my time away to tell you.

I sit here in week one of returning to Indonesia. I am busy cleaning out the shrew droppings and the cobwebs and taking stock of what’s moldy and what’s broken in the Indonesian house we rent. I have lots of errands to do…police station to renew my license, grocery store to get all those raw ingredients for making yogurt and bread and granola and pickles (actually I visit three tiny stores to get everything I need).

I’m surprised at some things…that I can remember the language, and can remember to drive on the left side of the road.

But I’m not surprised at how much I still dread those power outages that can last for hours. And those long lines at the gas station—how will I keep my kids quiet for the hour that it will take to wait to fill up the car?

But overall, it all feels very exciting and adventurous to be back. My birds of paradise plants are thriving in my backyard. I get to eat fresh pineapple almost every day. I get to catch up with all my friends.

But then I learn that my Indonesian neighbor just lost her 20-year-old son.  I visit her and listen to her story as her son’s body lays there in his simple open coffin in their tiny front room. He was healthy until one day he started vomiting and coughing. My neighbor took him to a local hospital and he was dead by the next morning. She thinks it was because they gave him a blood transfusion of the wrong blood type. The doctor never explained what he was sick with or why he died.

And I am mad and heartbroken and then I remember what it’s really like here.

It’s a lot of things. Hard. Poor. Confusing. Exciting. Mundane. Dirty. Smelly. Beautiful. Friendly. Exhausting. Hot. Hospitable. Fun. Boring. Adventurous. Scary.

It’s home, but it’s also foreign. It’s where I want to be, but sometimes, on the really hard days, it’s where I want to flee.

But as I think about my friend’s son and about the mistakes made, I think, too about my own kids. I think about the times they’ve been sick and the choices we have and don’t have. I think of all the bad things that could happen to them and to me and to my husband and my friends. And it helps me come up with a word that best explains what it’s really like living here.

It’s personal.  

This is where I spent half of my 20s and now half of my 30s and almost two-thirds of my marriage.

It’s where I first became a mom and where my kids’ first steps were taken and where I wonder if I can even do this motherhood thing right.

It’s where I’ve made lifelong friends with people from everywhere and where I’ve lost some of them and where I meet new ones all the time.

It’s where I sit with my insecurities and my growth and my homesickness and my deep sense of purpose and my fears and my mama-bear courage.

It’s where I bake lumpy bread that my family still devours and where I forget about the  yogurt I’m making until it’s long ruined and where I have a pile of dirty cloth diapers to clean.

It’s where I’ve learned about the hearts of these dear Borneo peoples and yet still don’t understand why the bad things happen or how to fix it all.

It’s where death feels way too close and life is so intoxicating and love is sacrificial.

It’s where I live and breathe and sometimes feel like I can’t catch my breath.

And in many ways it’s not so different from your world wherever that may be. There are things you like. And don’t like. People who make you feel great about life and people who break your heart. There are kids to raise and sleep to long for and dreams that are shelved and dreams that are happening right now.

But here we are in the midst of the hard things and good things, the doubts and the faith, the lush trees and the drab winter. Living.

One deeply personal moment at a time.


  1. hi rebecca. my name is lisa and i live in indonesia also. i got connected to heather (who i think you live near) because we're adopting through the same org. anyways, your link came up on my Facebook… yes, i'm stalking. :) we live in surabaya, so very different from your small town, but sounds very similar in ways. "It’s home, but it’s also foreign. It’s where I want to be, but sometimes, on the really hard days, it’s where I want to flee." i totally resonate with that. just wanted to say i feel ya and i appreciate you sharing your journey. :)

    1. Lisa! Thank you so much for your comment...Yes, i'm sure you can totally relate. I've heard Heather mention you actually...I'm praying regularly for her and their adoption. I truly hope the process is going well for you. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to comment!

  2. I'm in a different country (Congo) with different circumstances, but I can relate. We've just been back from a year in the states for about three weeks, so I'm feeling the "home, but not home" feeling pretty intensely. Thanks for sharing this. :)

  3. Thanks so much for commenting, Anna! Hope the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

  4. Many stories if You live in two different country right? And I think You mostly love live in Indonesia. I'm from West Borneo exactly, salam kenal... :-)

    1. So glad to meet you Blogger Borneo! Are you originally from Borneo?

  5. Really appreciate your honesty in this Rebecca.
    Hard for us to appreciate what it's really interesting to know how you feel Rebecca.
    Still think it is something I'd like the challenge of doing someday
    Please Lord !

    1. Thanks for kind comment, Dave! So, are you interested in moving to Indonesia some day?


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