Monday, October 28, 2013

Birthday Overseas

I turned 40 last weekend. I feel confident that the festivities around my birthday reflect the energy and excitement of the past decade and set an auspicious beginning to the next.  I still feel like there has been a math error somewhere along the way, but I am just going to roll with it and model the adage that you are only as old as you feel.

L-R Me, Elizabeth, Pari, Carin, Ash, Arjun
Stage 1 of my birthday project took place about 5 weeks ago. Shortly after arriving in Yogya, I learned that 2 other women in my house were also October babies... and we would all be entering a new decade, 20's, 30's and 40's. Unfortunately, our travel schedules had us in different places on any of the birthdays, so we started early. It was decided that a suitable celebration for three such worldly, wise and fascinating women would be a trip to a breakfast buffet to stuff ourselves silly. So, we gathered our best housemates, put on our finest elastic-waisted clothing and headed to the remarkable buffet at a fancy hotel.

We play in a band... a gamelan band
We enjoyed gorging on cheese and bread (not commonly found here) and thoroughly confusing the guy manning the juicer station with our odd juice requests (I tried to recreate apple, kale, ginger juice using Indonesian ingredients). It might have been our indulgence in too many lattes (also rarely found here), but we got a little adventurous and asked if Ash, one of the birthday girls and a student of gamelan, might sit in with the players. Unfortunately, they had retired for the day, so it was up to the rest of us to back her up (much to her mortification), but the staff seemed to enjoy the spectacle of foreigners ineptly jamming.

After lunch and jamming time, we wandered around the hotel garden, feeding the fish and waiting for our food stupor to subside. It was a lovely relaxing afternoon with wonderful friends... the kind of day I can't get enough of. It was topped off by a surprise cake from Elizabeth who had hidden it in the warung next door because the birthday ladies were always around and she couldn't get it past us.

Feeding the fish and letting them grab our fingers
Wait. What? Who is turning 40?
Stage 2 of the birthday celebration was not really a celebration, but a trip that I wanted to take. I had thought that it would be great to celebrate my birthday by taking a houseboat tour to see orangutans in Tajung Puting National Park. As it turned out, there was a long weekend earlier in October, so several people from ASRI decided to take the trip then. I invited myself along. Seven intrepid volunteers and one esteemed staff member made the journey to float through jungle rivers and take occasional walks to see orangutans. Look for a future post with more details... Although my fellow travelers did not consider this trip part of my birthday celebration, we began to discuss the final stage of the celebration and hatch plans for the actual birthday.
You know that this guy knows how to party

I'm on a boat.. with my friends. (Jesse, Hotlin, me, Shannon,
Sophie, Jaelin, George) Photo credit: Karen
Stage 3, my actual birthday was spent in Sukadana. I have met many people with my birthday or days adjacent, and here is no exception. October 25th is the birthday of Dr. Ronald and this offered me the opportunity to witness some Indonesian traditions. Indonesian tradition is the opposite of the American. If it is your birthday, you treat everyone... and in Indonesia, when you have a party, everyone is invited. This was a little intimidating for me since I haven't gotten a paycheck since August. The other tradition... much to the dismay of Ronald... is the throwing of flour and eggs.
Ronald embracing his flouring as Nur, Hotlin and Jesse gloat
and Etty hides... her birthday is coming up!
So, I had that to look forward to...

My actual birthday didn't start out so well. I was happy to get a phone call from my mom, who had figured out how to call me at the right time in Indonesia to be the first to say happy birthday, but I realized that I was not feeling great. Hotlin had planned a brunch, and I really didn't want to disappoint, or admit that I was sick on my birthday. Upon emerging from my room, howeve, I was greeted by a smiling Hotlin who had procured beautiful hibiscus flowers. My day began to brighten. I made a big mug of strong coffee and inquired about getting a massage. I was very pleased to hear that the "pijat" or local masseuse/healer/chiropractor would be coming to the house to treat one of the other brunch guests so it was likely that she could see me as well. And the day was a little brighter.
 As the coffee kicked in, our friends started to arrive. Mary and Anto showed up with stuff for chai and Jesse brought fruit. Hotlin provided her famous steamed coconut cakes made with all local ingredients (coconut, rice flour, palm sugar) as well as coconut pancakes that we ate with jam. The laughter of friends and the amazing food brought me to the brink of health.
Chilling with friends on my birthday made me happy l-r Jesse
(who is looking at lyrics, being rude), Hotlin, Anto, Mary
The massage carried me the rest of the way. As the pijat relentlessly kneaded my muscles and pulled on my limbs, my friends began to make music. I was carried away to a state of bliss. Yes, the way to enter your 40s. A little more bliss... when I asked the pijat how much she charged, she indicated that I could pay what I thought was right. Apparently, the going rate in the city is $5, but our here it is $3... yes, $3 for a one hour massage.

After a steamy morning, there was a nice rain that cooled us down enough for an impromptu session of yoga on the beach. Flowing through asanas in time with the ocean was transcendent despite some intense gawking at the white folks doing weird things on the beach and the noises of a normal Saturday afternoon.
Yoga on this beach... there are worse ways to spend your day
The final event of the day... yes, it is still my birthday... was a party on the amazing deck at the house shared by Shannon, George, and Jesse. To avoid the financial burden of me footing the bill for everyone, we decided to make it a potluck... the food was amazing.

Shannon and the martabak cake
By far the most amazing piece was a bit of Frankenstein baking pulled off by Shannon. She prides herself on her cooking creativity and the cake that she made for my birthday was an exemplar of this talent. She made the cakes of martabak, a thick Indonesian pancake much loved by all who travel here. The martabak can only be purchased in the evenings when the martabak carts come out... they will not share their recipes, so Shannon tasked George with the job of obtaining the foundation as she made a delicious fudge-like frosting to hold the whole thing together. She topped it off with decorations that she had made. Delicious doesn't even begin to describe it. Even our Indonesian friends who were dubious of this Indo-American creation came back for seconds.

We sat around in yet another food coma chatting and sipping on whisky (another rare treat) way past bedtime here in Sukadana (usually 9pm). Eventually, as is wont to happen here, the electricity cut out and we headed home.

Nur, Asnat and Nomi enjoying the martabak cake

George with and empty plate and Ronald with no flour

As I crawled into bed I had two thoughts. First, the only thing that could have made the birthday any better was the inclusion of my friends and family from home. Second... how did I get away without being covered in flour and egg?

I gave myself over to being 40 shortly after I turned 39. My 30s had some great events but, as is frequently the case with large emotional growth spurts, there was a lot of tough stuff too. All of this tough stuff leaves me entering my 40s with a better sense of who I am and how I want to travel through life than I have ever had... This is going to be fun! 

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