Eight months of anticipation led to this very moment where I stood like a lost and not-yet-found puppy waiting to be rescued by someone who did not yet exist.
I had just landed in Jakarta, Indonesia with no plan, but to contact a local woman I had planned on staying with from Couchsurfing, a cultural exchange website where locals host travelers for free. To my dismay, the airport had no wifi and I had no number or directions of how to get to her house and even if I did, she was at work. My energy was slowly shriveling away along with my patience towards the taxi drivers’ constant yelling of, “Taxi! Taxi!” just a few feet from my bloodless face.
Rather than wasting my time sitting around, I decided to step into this new country fearless and with full force. I hopped on a bus heading towards the city center, hoping that everything would work out on its own. Previous travel experiences had taught me that when you keep an open mind and heart, the universe gives you all you need in return.
That’s how Rudy came into my life.
He was sitting on the opposite side of the bus from me. When we made eye contact he gave me a friendly smile and gestured if he could sit in the empty seat next to me. I kindly nodded in approval without a second thought. He spoke in broken english, a language I would soon become accustomed to. Our conversation consisted of hand gestures and the sharing of pictures of our families and homeland. When I finally got across to him that I had no idea where I was going, he looked at me as if I was a lost puppy that needed help. “You come my home,” he said. Usually my protective walls would stand erect and I would become cautious of this foreign man in this foreign country where the language barrier made communication difficult, but the words that came out of my mouth flowed with ease.
“Okay,” I said.
There was something about him that felt sincere and genuine – that he was truly looking out for me. He beamed with a smile and his entire face was glowing. I think he was as surprised by my response as I was. There was a moment of fear where the ‘little me’ voice inside said, “What are you getting yourself into?” That thought quickly faded and was transformed into a sense of safety and certainty that I had nothing to lose except an opportunity that not many travelers are offered or would ever accept.
So off we went.
We hopped off the bus and he flagged down a tuk tuk, while pulling me through the rambunctious and chaotic streets of Jakarta. I surrendered to his will with unwavering trust. The noises seemed to soften the further the tuk tuk traveled as it weaved in and out of traffic into smaller alleyways. The surroundings drastically transformed from shiny skyscrapers to dusty quaintness. I felt as if I had entered the unseen abode of Jakarta where the locals dwelled and few foreigners wandered.
Rudy welcomed me into his home and introduced me to his two teenage cousins who lived there with their father, his uncle. I was the only female, and I felt safe. Their standard of living was much lower than I had ever been accustomed to (I still vividly remember peeking into the kitchen to check that the path was clear of rats before scurrying into the bathroom to take a cold bucket shower), but it was more than enough and I was grateful to not feel lost in this new world.
Rudy asked if I was hungry and my stomach growled a deep “Yes” in response. I dropped my bags and he lead me through a small alley behind his house to a miniature ‘kitchen’ outside of an older woman’s home. The woman was thrilled to see a foreigner in her backyard and quickly whipped together the best gado-gado I have ever tasted to this day, and which soon became my favorite Indonesian meal. I watched her grind fresh peanuts and spices in a mortar, then add it to a bowl of fresh bean sprouts, cucumbers, and other unknown vegetables, along with fried tofu. It could easily feed a family of four and cost no more than 50 US cents. And Rudy wouldn’t even let me pay.
“You my guest,” he said. For him it was an honour to serve me and although it felt wrong, I was slowly learning to accept and open myself to his culture’s hospitality. The two days I stayed with his family he provided me with food, a shower, and a floor to sleep on, he had a friend give me a tour of Jakarta on his motorbike, and he gave me the sim card from his own phone to use data. And in return he would not accept a single penny. All he wanted was my company. It was humbling more than it was humiliating, as I reflected on my own frugal approach with money.
Rudy had taken me into his home, shared his family with me, and treated me like one of his own. Although communication was limited to smiles, laughter, and playing music on my ukulele, more was expressed in those unspoken words than any language could convey. It was from his simple and unexpected gestures of kindness that allowed me to see beyond words into the purity of his humanness – his humanity.
This language of the soul is carried with me on my journey.
(Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2017)