The Stranger (Or The Jerk)

The Stranger (or The Jerk) I have been at my permanent site, Haurgeulis, Indramayu, for over a month now. It is certainly a change of pace from PST where everything from breathing was scheduled. Here, life is slow. Not a whole lot going on. You can bet on two things, heat and sleep.

Georg Simmel, a German sociologist, wrote about this notion of “the stranger”. This person neither belongs fully to a particular society, but is not so far removed that he cannot be considered a part of the society. According to Simmel, there will always be a stranger. It is essential in the growth of a particular society to have this stranger bring a new perspective

The Jerk is a movie starring Steve Martin that came out in 1979. Martin’s character is naïve and ignorant to what society is like. Believing he was born a poor black child, he sets out into the world leaving his black family behind to try to make it in the world; not having a clue about society and social cues. You can definitely postulate that The Jerk is an example of Simmel’s prototypical stranger in society.

I am both the jerk and stranger in Indonesia. Leaving home with a partial world view and naivetés and now trying to navigate life here, on my own, at my permanent site. I am living here in Haurgeulis, and I speak the language somewhat well. I live with an Indonesian family and I work at the local high school. You can see me around town riding my bike, running, playing tennis with the other teachers, or having dance parties with the neighborhood children. From a distance, it may appear that I am a part of this society and in a way, I am. However, I cannot sever the parts of me that make me different from the parts that tie me to this new society. I have one foot in and the other out.The hokey pokey of cultural assimilation.

Cooking/Running/Outings that all make me feel like a (stranger/jerk)

Where are the Carrots?

I decided after my stint in the hospital, that I would like to start cooking for myself. I always cooked for myself back at home (granted the menu was limited to meatloaf, soup, pasta, brownies and pie). The menu for that night would be carrot soup, an old favorite introduced to me first by my Mexican momma, Margarita, back when I was living with her during a study abroad trip. I rode my bike to the pasar after school to buy carrots. When I walked into the market, I immediately felt like The Jerk. I smiled stupidly as the ibus and other market patrons stared at me blankly. Naturally, I turned to the first un-amused person I could find and I said in bahasa “Assalamualiakum nama saya Courtney. Mau beli wortel. Di mana ada?”. Or in English “Hello, my name is Courtney. I want to buy carrots. Where are they?” Now every time I enter the pasar I get wild shouts letting me know the direction of the carrots. thejerkcarrotsmeme

Can you blend this?

I really enjoy using the blender. You can just throw some good tasting things in there and blend it right on up. The carrot soup that I make is actually a cream of carrot soup and requires to be blended in the final stage. As my host mom watches in horror as I do this, I explain with another stupid smile that this soup comes from Mexico. I can’t help but sound like a character in Leave it to Beaver. An eager beaver, that’s what you can call me. Now anytime I make something they ask if I am going to use the blender. I.e. making scrambled eggs: “Blender?”; making grilled cheese: Blender?….and so on. Then came the day when I made a smoothie (thanks Alex for the idea) and they watched again in horror as I put bananas, coffee, oreos, peanut butter and some milk into the blender. I play along, of course, and at dinner time ask if I can blend what is on the table and they all think it is a riot

. thejerkmeme

Hot Shit

I never had any desire to be a pizza delivery person. I never thought I could handle the pressure and I honestly could care less if I got you your pizza in under 20 minutes. This same reason is why I suck at waitressing. I also never thought that getting close with my counterpart would involve a conversation about delivering my fresh poop to the nearby clinic and the best way to do so (which by the way, the consensus was to poop at home in the morning and then deliver the goods immediately). So here I am, on my bike weaving through traffic, singing “high way to the danger zone” to myself as I race the clock to deliver my fresh feces to the clinic in under 20 minutes. For three days I had to rush out of the house in the early morning to make a drop off. Not even having time to explain to my ibu where I was going in a hurry or what was in the bag I was carrying. “I got feces here folks and its mine, gotta deliver this shit in time”, I sang down the street. I am The Jerk.


They hate rocks!

Since I stopped playing soccer competitively, and I didn’t want to be a complete lazy ass,  I started long distance running. It’s insane, but I like it. Of course, I keep up the habit here. It’s normal for kids to scream when they see me running by. I like to think of them cheering me on, so, I often put my hands in the air and wave them from side to side and smile. Sometimes I throw in a fist pump. Sometimes I leap. I was running one afternoon and I saw a rock come out of the sky and land in front of me. Then another. I looked behind me and some little boys were throwing rocks. “They must hate the rocks!”, I thought. So I kept running and then another landed closer to my stride. I realized they were throwing them at me and I had to turn around and give them my best finger wag and angry face. Just like the serial killer in The Jerk didn’t actually hate cans, these delinquents didn’t really hate rocks.


People do not name animals here. People do not have pets here. People do not deal with feral animals here. I do all of the above. I do not have a dog like Shithead in The Jerk, but something way better. When Harry, the feral cat who lives behind the house, came into my life I knew it would be different. It must be quite bizarre to see someone talk to a cat, feed the cat and call for it) “Harry..di mana Harry?!”) after meal times. I am sure they are aware I save my chicken for him. I am not aware if they know he calls me Sally. I adopted him as my son and he now has his very own Facebook. When students and strangers ask to be my friend on Facebook, I direct them to Harry’s page. If there is one legacy that I leave here, it will be Harry the cat.


I am also apart of another community, the ID7 (or 4th group) volunteers and also trying to find my place amongst them. I’ve got one foot in and the other foot at home with my friends; the friends who have known me for years. They know all of my quirks and have been there with me through so many things. I have known this new group for only 4 months and because of our likeness in experience we have become closer. It is still a challenge, though, being true to yourself when you’re actually amongst strangers. We are all strangers here.

As involved as I am with my new group of peeps, I stare at Facebook and see what my friends back home are doing. I have now developed FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. Sometimes, I have trouble falling asleep because I’m thinking about what any one of yous is doing this Friday. I miss you guys. I think that once I establish more of a routine, this fear will subside and I will just be comfortable living here. This has not all been roses for me, clearly.

The stranger is isolated, and in a lot of ways I am also isolated. I am experiencing something the majority back at home cannot relate to. Often times, I feel inadequate and have existential crisis for my being here. I know all the other volunteers are going through the same thing, and their support has been invaluable. I will probably always be the stranger anywhere I go to some extent. I do hope I will be less of a jerk though and finally find my special purpose.


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