English My No Work Good Today

…. But that doesn’t mean my Bahasa Indonesia is working any better. In the past week, I have thought to myself “I’m just not feelin’ the Bahasa today” more than I care to admit. I wonder if I have hit my first language-learning plateau.

Sometimes I have little triumphs, where I remember a new vocab word or manage to express a more sophisticated thought than being hungry or tired. These moments I celebrate with great vigour, much to the confusion of my Indonesian acquaintances.

But other times I am (literally) at a loss for words. Examples:

  • Today I walked over to my neighbor’s mini-mart/living room to buy eggs. I strolled up, waving to the gaggle of children playing in an adjacent yard. Saya minta delapan….. I would like eight…… and then I stared at her blankly. Eight what? She gave me a smile and a prompting nod, which did nothing to kick my brain into gear. ...Uh, eggs? I finished in English. Telur [Eggs]? She suggested. Yes! I breathed a sigh of relief. “Egg” is Indonesian For Vegetarians 101, but for some reason my brain just couldn’t CRACK the language code. (Egg pun! Haha get it?…Nevermind.)
  • Ibu Asro and I were driving home last week and we were talking about the seasons in America and Indonesia. Yes, I can do this! I thought to myself. She asked me what season it was in Chicago right now. I paused. Thus far, I only know how to say hot season (summer), cold season (winter), and rainy season. But autumn? Or spring, for that matter? Such words are still beyond my grasp. I gave it a shot by explaining that in Chicago it was the season after summer but before winter. The weather is cooler and the trees are losing their leaves. It is beautiful and is a wonderful time to take long drives just for the sake of it….Said me never, at least in fluent (or even passable!) Indonesian. I was at least able to get the first part out, about autumn being between summer and winter. Then I tried to tackle the bit about trees. Pohon-pohon [trees]… I stopped abruptly, mentally scrambling for words. Leaves? Not in my mental capacity. Fall off? Nope. Change colors? Nada. Hibernate? Definitely not. I mulled over some alternative ways to explain autumn, but hit a linguistic dead end at each turn. In the end, I settled with repeating my first statement and giving a strong nod for emphasis. Ibu Asro drove on.
  • I eat rice with stir-fried vegetables and egg on the daily, usually for lunch and often also for dinner. When I eat in the teacher’s office, it is guaranteed that every passing Ibu wil stop and ask what I’m eating. Case in point: yesterday Ibu Nurleila, a sociology teacher and office joker, stopped by to observe me eating. She asked a question, which I knew must have something to do with my food. Apa [What]? She repeated herself. This time I picked out a word: bunguBungu? I repeated. She rattled off some other words, an effort that I appreciate but did not help at all in this case. So I did what I always do in this situation and whipped out my pocket dictionary (one of the best investments I have made in Indo thus far). Bungu: Spices. Aha! I only use kecap manis [Indonesian-style sweet sauce] and sometimes spicy sauce at my house, but that’s it. Question answered, I endeavored to elaborate on the cooking process but realized that I have almost no vocabulary for the kitchen….

….And so it goes. A new day, a new challenge. Day by day, word by word, apologetic nod by apologetic nod; I know that in due time my Bahasa Indonesia will be better, but it is a long road to get there.

Some days I feel like I'm riding high on this ball Bahasa Indonesia, other days I feel like I am being squashed below. I guess it is a success either way if I can at least do it with a smile.
Some days I feel like I’m riding high on this ball Bahasa Indonesia, other days I feel like I am being squashed below. I guess it is a success either way if I can at least do it with a smile.
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