Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Indonesia in a nutshell

I arrived back in Korea on Saturday. It's good to be home.

Having been a very bad poster for two months, I feel like I owe my blog some sort of cathartic summary of the missing time, in which I laugh, cry, and possibly even hurl. Unfortunately, though, I'm far too lazy, and life moves too fast, so you'll have to make due with a random series of impressions of my time spent in Indonesia.

Indonesia would be a VERY bad place to be infertile.

Everybody asks about children all of the time. Children are a big deal in Indonesia, and are considered to be a standard part of marriage. Generally the very first question that people asked upon meeting me was "how many children do you have?" As it was, I could smile and say "I'm working on the first one now", but if that last IVF had been BFN, it would have been difficult to avoid tears when it happened for the 10th time in a single day. I can't imagine what it would like to live or visit there while still in the infertility trenches. I heard from others that if you just say "not yet", the follow-up question is usually "why not?", which would make things about a million times worse.

There are children EVERYWHERE. The current fertility rate is only ~2.4 children/woman of childbearing age, but as recently as 1990, it was 3.3, and in 1980 it was 4.6. Lots of families contain 4-10 kids. Kids are also a very big part of public life. It is widely assumed that people will enjoy interaction with other people's children, so children are not discouraged from approaching strangers, or making a spectacle of themselves in public. I actually did an informal survey in a big grocery store, and found that of the estimated 300 women in the building, only one was neither pregnant, nor accompanied by at least one child.

Indonesian children are beautiful. Now I think that all mothers think that their kids are beautiful, but Indonesian kids are particularly stunning. Looking at some of them practically makes my uterus ache.

Indonesia is full of neglected and unwanted kids. I frequently saw tiny kids (some as young as 3-4) begging on the streets at night, or approaching cars on busy streets, singing while soliciting "donations". The number of these "street kids" in Indonesia is staggering, especially in urban areas. Some live with their poor, often homeless, parents, while abandoned, orphaned, or runaway kids are often exploited by older kids or adults. It's absolutely heartbreaking. There are also orphanages everywhere. I asked people about the culture of adoption, and apparently it's very rare in Indonesia. Only infertile couples usually adopt, and then they often seek to adopt a blood relative, rather than seeking a child needing parents. To make things even sadder, it's VERY difficult for foreigners to adopt Indonesian kids. I looked into it, and the requirements are prohibitive for all but the most dedicated potential parent (perspective adoptive parents must live in Indonesia for at least two years before they can adopt an Indonesian child).

Indonesia is a good place to be pregnant

When they found out that I was pregnant, everyone that I met was obviously, exuberantly happy. I was invariably treated like gold after sharing the big news, even by people who had been rude or disinterested before they knew. On day 3 of my visit, the woman that was waxing my legs (unrelated aside-I have been a hairy mama since I've been pregnant, and my belly is making it increasingly hard to cope with all of the undergrowth), upon realizing that I was pregnant, felt my belly, pronounced that it felt "healthy" and "hard", showed me her stretch marks, enthusiastically held forth on the benefits of a vaginal vs. c-section birth, and then called in all of the other employees of the beauty salon to share my good news. (Another unrelated aside-the fact that on my way out, she slapped my ass and told me that I was sexy may or may not have had anything to do with my pregnancy, but definitely scored her a big tip).

Indonesia is also a bad place to be pregnant

I think that all Y-bearing fetuses in Indonesia are issued with their first pack of cigarettes while still in utero, and they spend their first 9 months longing for a little air so they can start smoking. Not only does the whole country smell of clove cigarettes and durian (see below), but men enthusiastically smoke while sitting at their desks in public offices right underneath prominent "no smoking" signs. They also feel absolutely free to light up in small enclosed spaces, public buses, and restaurants, and while holding small children, or sitting right next to women in the advanced stages of pregnancy. I felt like I should wear a gas mask the whole time I was there.

Indonesia is also very smelly. Some of the smells are good, some are bad, and some are simply horrifying. I have always had a very sharp sense of smell, and pregnancy has made it even sharper. So, I was constantly being assaulted by a wide array of challenging aromas. Thank goodness I was mostly over the morning sickness before I got there.

Indonesian roads are very bad. Not only are they badly paved and windy, but the drivers tend to be very aggressive. So, the net effect is that being in a car involves constant lurching around, trying not to fall out of your seat, scream, or cry, as the driver dodges chickens, children, and oncoming traffic. The fact that taxis tend not to have seat belts makes this even more fun. Good times, good times.

Indonesian food is very spicy and greasy. I suffered from hideous heartburn most of the time I was there. Now that I'm back in Korea, my symptoms have miraculously been reduced by at least 50%. I'm positive that the change is all due to the change in diet. It was hard to find foods that were both nutritious and safe (sanitation is a real issue there). In the last five weeks that I was there, I didn't manage to gain any weight at all.

Squat toilets are very hard to use when your belly gets big. I spoke with several pregnant Indonesian women about this, and am now fairly certain that this problem is not restricted to clumsy foreigners.

The quality of medical care in Indonesia is decidedly questionable. I knew this before I went, but was still shocked with the vehemence with which my (Indonesian) doctor insisted that I travel to Singapore for the amniocentesis.

Indonesia is beautiful

This one has been done to death, but bears repeating. There is just about nothing in the world more beautiful than a tropical rain forest, and forests try to grow anywhere there is a gap in the pavement in the tropics. The sheer exuberance of nature in Indonesia is breathtaking to behold, and really did my heart good. There are also spectacular volcanoes, beaches, mountains, palaces, and temples. Indonesian arts (especially dance and visual arts) are also amazing. There's really something for everyone. What a fantastic place for a vacation (but NOT a fertility-related vacation).

Indonesian people are absolutely lovely

Not only are the kids good looking, but they grow up into incredibly friendly, fun-loving adults. Smiles are everywhere, and there seems to be a song in every heart. It truly is a special place.


Marie-Baguette said...

I can't imagine having to deal with the smell of durians during my pregnancy -- New York odors were bad enough! I am so glad you updated your blog, I was getting worried. When is your due date? Is it a boy, a girl, a secret or a surprise?

Sarah said...

ooh, i loved this post! a little armchair traveling until i can hit the road again. thanks for painting such a great portrait of that dot on the map!

Lut C. said...

I've never been to Asia, it's nice of you to share your impressions. :-)

Good to hear you're doing well.

tanas aramuk said...
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Rachel Inbar said...

Wow, this was really interesting. It must be nice to be safely back home...

sam said...

What a beautiful story. It's a beautiful land of smile, dances and palace. I wish the Indonesian government makes it easier for genuine people to adopt their children.

Abandoned children deserve a chance for a better future. The Fox Family Adoption Agency at adoptachild.sg aims to provide a loving and secured home for these children.

The homes of geniune adoptive parents are open to them, but the doors to freedom are locked by the government. What a pity!