Housekeeping. It is not a sexy topic, but it is something that takes up a considerable portion of time here in Indonesia. Prior to this year, I have lived in dorms (these don’t count since we had maintenance people to do some of the housework), a duplex with one roommate in Tampa, and in a flat in Oxford (UK) with three roommates. But this house in Pangkal Pinang by far requires the most work. Thankfully, I share this house with the unbelievably awesome Caitlin, so together we are able to tackle the minutiae of tasks that I touch on below.
Interlude: Shout-outs to the awesome roommates in aforementioned houses of years past!
Since the first week being at my site I have been taking pictures in preparation for this post. And so, without further adieu, I present to you…. Miss Kelly’s Indonesian Housekeeping 101!
Like everywhere in the world, there are dozens of tasks and chores that must be done to keep a house feeling like home. However, since we live in Indonesia some of these tasks are different from what homeowners have to do in the States, England, or anywhere else.
Keep the lights on at night. Keep the front gate closed. Sweep, mop, squeegee the porch. Repeat. No lawn = no grass cutting, hurray! Gently scold children who try to climb the fence. Throw waste water on the sand out front to keep the dust down. Water plants if you have them. Don’t hurt yourself trying to turn the water pump on. Shake out the welcome mat from time to time. Invite visitors to park inside so they don’t cause traffic on the narrow road outside. Pick up litter that people throw with reckless abandon. Careful not to fall in the two-foot-deep gutters that line pretty much every road here. Keep your doors open so people think you are friendly. Taking decorations from past holidays down is optional (our Halloween party signs and door tinsel are still holding up). Clean the dust off the windows. Take garbage to the main road early in the morning and dump it on the corner with everyone else’s trash; it will be picked up by garbage men and taken off to be burned or tossed in a giant garbage pile somewhere. Take your shoes off before coming inside.
The Living Areas!
Keep the front room stocked with snacks for when guests come to visit; Indonesian etiquette demands that homeowners provide refreshments for visitors. Tidy the shoe rack. Sweep. Repeat. Proudly display symbols of your professed religion in the front room and wherever else you see fit. Shake out the giant main rug that counts as furniture. Shut and lock the front doors and windows when you are not home. Feel free to use bricks as doorstops. Remind your neighbors that you still have the rugs that you borrowed for your birthday party last month. Try not to cuss when the stupid f***ing air freshener sprays a burst of chemical-scented perfume that startles you once again. Keep the emergency lamp charged for when mati lampu [blackouts] come again. Turn the wifi box off and on if you have trouble connecting. Play your music loudly and sing along; don’t mind that the neighbors can hear everything through the screen-covered ventilation windows.
Here there be ants… Try your best to keep it clean. Get creative when your only cooking implements are a two-burner gas stove and a toaster. Be patient turning the burners on. Rmember that the flame for the lowest setting on the stove in Indonesia is the same as the flame for the highest setting on stoves in America. Hand wash all of your dishes. Borrow from your neighbors if you need more than a wok, small frying pan, and small pot. Get used to not having table knives. Sit down to eat or drink; standing is considered rude. Defrost the freezer compartment in the fridge when ice prevents you from closing the door. Remind Ari every day that your sink is leaking until he fixes it. Clean up the “gifts” that the cicaks leave everywhere. Save big plastic bags for garbage or transporting supplies to school. Keep the fridge stocked with Yakult, fruit, bread, and eggs. Rinse your rice thoroughly before cooking. Use Mama Lime to clean your fruits and veggies before eating. DO NOT DRINK FROM THE TAP. Try not to spill water everywhere when you change the 17 liter gallon on top of your water cooler.
Cover the toilets in the two bathrooms you don’t use to keep bugs from breeding in them. Keep the drains covered to prevent critters from getting in. Scrub the floor of the bathroom you actually use to prevent the floor from getting slippery. Bidets are more refreshing than toilet paper (maybe TMI but I haven’t used too much toilet paper since arriving here). Build up your thigh muscles to use squat toilets. There is no sink in the bathroom, so just spit your toothpaste on the floor near the drain. Know that children who use your bathroom will probably just pee on the floor. There is no shower head and definitely no hot water, so get ready to get down and sudsy in the bucket shower. Clean the basin holding your bucket shower water every two to three days; otherwise smelly yellow scum will grow. Don’t change clothes in the bathroom because it is always wet. Hang laundry on the rack inside to let it dry; give it an extra day to dry in the rainy season.
We’re never really alone in our house, and I’m not just talking about the lamp-changing, shower-taking ghost that lives in the master bedroom. No, what I mean is that we got critters. Lots of ’em. That’s just a part of living in a tropical country. Let me introduce our friends and constant companions…
It doesn’t matter how well you clean up your crumbs or how much ant chalk you use, these little buddies still find their way into pretty much everything. We’ve lost significant amounts of candy to the persistent efforts of armies of ants.
They carry malaria! And dengue! And Japanese Encephalitis! Oh my! We have things like Glade plug-ins that are anti-mosquito. I think they work. I still take doxycycline everyday to guard against malaria. Ugh. stupid skeeters.
Caitlin and I differ in our roach-killing methods. She prefers to spray them. I prefer to hit them. I just read this sentence aloud to her and this is the dialogue that ensued:
Kelly: Caitlin and I differ in our roach-killing methods. She prefers to spray them…
Caitlin: Hey man I eventually hit them.
Kelly: Really? … It’s more sporty if you don’t spray them first.
Caitlin: Actually I usually spray them then put them in the green thing [our dustbin] and throw them over the fence outside.
Kelly: Caitlin, you might be poisoning the neighbor’s chickens!
Caitlin: …. I don’t think so.
Moral of the story: smack-a-roach is the way to go. One of my trusty Rainbow flip-flops is my weapon of choice.
We’ve had a few big-ass spiders in our house. They have small bodies, long legs, and I don’t want to know what their bite is like. We always take them outside in the green dustbin and liberate them… over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.
They eat the wood in the cabinets and the TV stand. We know they are there because there are always little piles of dust on the floor under the cabinets. Not much doing there.
Like centipedes, dragonflies, gnats, some little black bugs that infiltrated our rice awhile back (not really a big deal because they float when you wash the rice so they can be flushed out), etc.
Cicak is the name of the little lizards that are all over the place here. They are small, generally whitish, and look like geckos. They make noises sometimes. Our cicaks are apparently quite fecund during the rainy season because there are baby cicaks running all over the place.
They sleep on our porch sometimes. We know because they leave little dusty paw prints. For awhile we had a kitten that wanted to live with us but one day he stopped showing up.
Thankfully we don’t have rats in the house but they are in abundance outside. There is always a rat carcass or two in the street a few doors down where there is a vacant lot with tall grass. Ick.
Lots of animals are haram in Islam including lizards, dogs, and pigs. A lot of people I have met here just generally don’t like animals, but birds seem to be an exception. Our neighbors (the other ones, i.e. not the ones who get all of our unwanted critters) have lovebirds that hang right next to our ventilation windows in the TV room. I call out to them when they chirp sometimes. They tend to get angry when I sing… Tough critics.
Having a house this size means cleaning can be a pain. It is a constant battle against dust and ants and scum and my own messy ways, but we make things work.
Still, there are some other inconveniences that are specific to this house….
We live in a neighborhood called Bukit Merapin. Bukit means hill. As you can imagine, it is kind of hilly. When we moved in, I noticed that some of our neighbors referenced their house in relation to where they are on the hill: either di atas [above] or di bawah [below]. Luckily, our house is di atas, which means that flooding is less of a threat during the rainy season.
But then we got a surprise this week… when we got home from school our kitchen was flooded. Water covered the entire floor and bits of sewage was mixed into the soup. Based on the water splatter around our kitchen sink, it looked like the drain erupted a la volcano science experiment. We called Ari (our go-to guy for house stuff and younger brother of the house owner) and he helped us take care of the worst of it. Still, it took three hours for the two of us to get things back to normal in here. We treated ourselves to western food after that.
There are a few leaks that were already here when we arrived but some of them have gotten worse since we’ve been here and the rainy season started. Ari knows about these and roofing technicians have already been to check it out. Meanwhile we leave towels under the leaks so no one slips on the wet tile.
Lots of Keys!
Our house has a lot of locks. While it can be an inconvenience to lock and unlock all the doors whenever you want to go out, the locks serve a very important function. Just earlier this week I was reminded of the importance of keeping our doors locked.
The Damn Water Pump!
Like most Indonesian homes, we have a water tank on top of our house. We have a water pump buried in the front yard. When the water runs out of the tank (you know this happens when nothing comes out when you turn the faucet on) you have to turn the water pump on using a switch in the garage. But… the switch doesn’t always work. Which means you have to go and open the water pump cover and smack it around a little bit until it turns on. I give many thanks that it always does eventually turn on so we haven’t been without water yet… knock on wood.
Despite all the work and occasional headaches that are involved in home ownership, there are certainly some luxuries that make having a house–especially this house–worthwhile.
We have a laundry machine. I repeat: we have a laundry machine! When you sweat through one to three pairs of clothes a day, the laundry piles up fast. Caitlin and I do maybe two or three loads of laundry per week.
The one night there was a mati lampu [blackout] for several hours I woke up drenched in sweat and felt like I was suffocating. I took my blanket and slept on the rug in the TV room until dawn when the power finally came back on. I appreciated the A/C a lot more after this incident.
We use the internet for so many things: communication, entertainment, lesson planning… We pay around 470,000 rupiah per month for the internet which equals about $16 from both of us. Money well spent.
We can host people. Caitlin and I like to have people over (if we have advance notice, that is… sorry Indo but we’ve gotta set some rules) and we have opened up our house for a couple of great blow-out parties; namely our Halloween party and my birthday bash. But we also have had smaller groups of people over like when we did Thai night a couple of weeks ago or when we have had various friends come over just to hang out (and maybe use some of our WiFi). We want to do more themed food nights and of course we will have an epic farewell party in May.
We have excellent neighbors. This is an important luxury because a) we are safer knowing that our immediate neighbors are watching over us; b) we have tons of ready-made, easily accessible friends; c) we have a constant supply of random food; d) we feel welcomed as members of the Bukit Merapin (the name of our neighborhood) community. I don’t know what we’d do without our neighbors.
4 thoughts on “Indonesian Housekeeping 101”
What a great post Kelly. I’m not sure I’d like the bugs and critters, but love your house. I think the pluses far outweigh the negatives. I know you are having a wonderful experience in Indonesia. You are loved. Mom XXXO
Sheesh Kelly you’ve been such a busy girl! I loved reading about your daily life, the good, bad and ugly!!! It is wonderful and amazing how well and happily you have immersed yourself in the culture
Love and miss you. Aunt Betsy
I love reading your blog as well. You have such an entertaining writing style. Uncle Ezell and I think you should write for the New York Times or your oun travel show. You make the everyday seem uncommon. Bugs can be creepy and scary. Especially when you don’t expect them. Always good for a scream. I have come to terms with spiders. I was always afraid of them until I had a personal relationship with a Lepord spider. I had no idea how smart they can be.
Love you Kelly! UDF