Culture / Indonesia / People

My (Indonesian) Boos

Peace Corps volunteers get many praises for going to a different country and facing all the challenges that we do. However, I think the people that have amazed me the most so far are all the host families who are generous enough to open their home to a total stranger—who is also completely different in appearance, culture, religion, behavior and every other way you can imagine. Would you do it? I don’t know if I could.

Although not every experience has been as positive as mine—like with my real family at home—I would not be in Indonesia without the support and caring of my training host family. I am near the end of my stay with my training host family and will be moving in with a new family in about two weeks. Though my time here has been brief, all the members of my training host family have a special place in my heart—but particularly, the three Ibus or bu (mother, pronounced “boo”), who have been so kind and loving to me that I have happily spent many evenings basking in the pleasure of their company and affection.

From left to right – Bu Pipit, Oma or Grandmother Triana and Bu Jumami

Though my Bapak is the head of the family, Ibu Pipit is a true matron and the one running this household. She is the center of our keluarga (family) and the only mother I have in Indonesia. One of the most memorable moments with my Ibu was when I was sitting around the living room texting my real mom and my Ibu told me to tell my mom “Hi!” I went on to mediate the following exchange between my mother and Ibu:

  • Ibu: Makasih! Anda punya anak cantik! Dia harus tinggal di sini untuk selama-lamanya. Thank you! You have a beautiful daughter. She must live here forever.
  • Me: Mamaku tidak suka itu! My mom doesn’t not like that!
  • Mother: That’s for sure! Prestadita no mas!
  • Me: Dia bicara di bahasa Spanyol pinjam saja! She says in Spanish borrowed only!

My Ibu must have laughed for about ten minutes straight.

Bu Pipit-isms:

Orang jawa makan banyak nasi. Mel, tidak makan banyak nasi. Tidak gemuk! Diet! – Javanese people eat a lot of rice. Mel doesn’t not eat a lot of rice. Doesn’t want to be fat! Diet! – Basically, a daily phrase from my Ibu. She’s convinced I am on a diet, although I have told her I just can’t eat as much as she idealistically wants me to. I love that she calls me Mel.

Ibu pikir Mel terlalu kurus. Kurus sekali! Di Amerika, Mel gemuk. Saya lihat di foto. Sekarang, Mel terlalu kurus! – Ibu thinks Mel is too skinny! Very skinny! In America, Mel was fat. I saw the picture. Now, Mel is too skinny! – I’m not sure why my Ibu thinks I was fat before. I’m pretty sure I am exactly the same and I eat more here than I did in the States. I’m not complaining about being called skinny though.

Orang Jawa suka rasa manis dan pedas, Orang Amerika suka rasa asin. – Javanese people like sweet and spice taste. American people like salty. – Though I tried explaining that only I like salty things and dislike sweets, my Ibu insists on generalizing my tastes to all Americans.

Nanti, Ibu membelikan biskuit! – Later, Ibu will buy you cookies! – My ibu must buy a packet of coconut cookies every few days for me. I don’t know how she thinks I don’t eat a lot. On another note, when speaking Indonesians will refer to themselves and others in the third person.

Tidur nyenyak? – Sleep well? – My Ibu usually asks me this with a mischievous grin when I roll out of bed at 7am—since that is considered oversleeping by Indonesian standards.

Mel mau menikahkan orang Indonesia? Bisa pesta pernikahan di rumah!Does Mel want to marry an Indonesian? We can have the wedding party in this house! – All I can say to this is, Mungkin! Maybe! or Belum tau! I don’t know yet! or Tidak ada laki-laki! There’s no guy! Sorry Ibu, but this will never happen.

Hati-hati ya Mel? –Be careful ok Mel? – I can’t leave the house without this phrase and when I left on a three-day site visit, my Ibu actually had tears in her eyes.


Waah! Cantik! Ini anak cantik! – Ah! Beautiful! This is a beautiful child! – She usually says that as she grabs my face and sniffs/kisses me. In Indonesia the word for kiss, sniff and smell is the same: cium. I’ve never actually seen anyone kiss the way Westerners think of kissing—puckering lips and making a smacking noise. Instead, Indonesians, bring their nose close to your skin and sniff.

As I try to wash the dishes or do any chore: Oh, Mel, tidak! – No Mel, don’t! To which I respond: Saya bisa, Oma! I can do it, Oma! To which she replies, Oh anak pintar! Mandiri!Oh smart child! Independent!

Orang Madura keras! – Madurese people are rude!— Oma isn’t very happy about me moving, especially to an area with many Madurese people—another ethnic group in Indonesia.

Bu Jumami-isms:

Sudah makan? Ga pakai nasi? Nanti lapar!Did you already eat? Without rice? Later you will be hungry! – And of course she’s right. The only time I’m not hungry by mid-morning is when I eat nasi goreng (fried rice) for breakfast.

Sudah mandi? Ga dingin? – Did you mandi already? You’re not cold? – She must ask me if I’m cold at least 2 times every day. I find that I miss it when she doesn’t ask.

Ga takut? Ada hantu/pocong! – You’re not scared? There’s ghosts! – She asks me this every time I get home late—meaning past 6pm—especially if I’ve walked home from the neighboring village. I have to bypass a cemetery in the pitch dark—so yes, actually, I am scared. But I stick to answering, Sedikit! A little!

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