She stood in front of me in tears, our number two daughter, four years old. Sadly, expat children don’t always realize how privileged they are to be living such an exotic educational life in a foreign country, to be able to learn about new customs and cultures and therefore become true Global Souls and grow up to be ambassadors for world peace. Our four-year-old certainly didn’t care about becoming a Global Soul that tropical day in Indonesia, land of rice paddies and smiling people. She’d come running into the house, wailing, followed by Tuki Jon, the young man who took care of our housework and laundry.
“What happened?” I asked, ever the concerned mother. Her hair was a mess, she was missing a sandal, but I saw no blood, no broken limbs, and she was breathing.
What happened was this:
The laundry was fluttering blissfully on a washing line strung between a tree and a wooden post. Daughter was playing nearby. The wooden post decided it had had enough of holding up expat laundry and keeled over, taken the washing with it. Daughter got buried under an avalanche of clothing and sheets and fell into the grass. Horrified, Tuki Jon excavated her from the mountain of cotton and rayon.
Now visualize this:
Here they are in the kitchen: He’s giggling, she’s crying.
“Are you hurt?” I ask.
“No!” she wails. “But he’s laughing! He’s laughing at me!”
She’s all in one piece physically, but her four-year-old dignity is torn to shreds and she’s bleeding big tears of outrage.
It’s not the first time she’s outraged about what is happening to her dignity in this country. She and her sister regularly get their cheeks pinched by friendly Indonesians who love to show affection for their blonde foreign cuteness. She has no appreciation for this cultural custom. But I digress, and . . .
Tuki Jon is still laughing!
Actually it’s more like giggling. But it’s not because he’s having so much fun. He’s trembling all over, terrified he’s in trouble. Surely I will blame him for my child’s distress, fire him and render him jobless, hungry and destitute. He may have to go back to his home village and herd ducks in the rice paddies. He can’t stop giggling with the sheer horror of it.
It’s a cultural thing
Here in Indonesia, this giggling and laughing is a nervous reaction to stress, fear and danger, or to feeling ashamed or embarrassed. But number two daughter does not understand this. She’s little and all she understands is that she was terrorized by a tidal wave of textile and Tuki Jon laughed at her when she cried.
Clearly we were in the middle of a Cultural Crisis. But rest assured, I managed to solve this one. It took a hug and ice cream for the daughter (and a quiet talk later), and reassurance for Tuki Jon that I wasn’t going to fire him, or even chastise him. He dance-stepped out of the kitchen to gather up things cotton and rayon.
And now I have to wrap this story up somehow, so here goes:
It’s a difficult world, but it’s the only one we have, so deal with it.
Oh, here’s a PS:
A photo of number two daughter, fully recuperated and continuing her expat life and cultural education by studying the art of painting in Bali. I artified (my word) this picture with the help of Photoshop just for the fun of it.
* * *
You know what I’m going to ask you, don’t you? Hit that comment button. Tell me a (giggle) story.