Wednesday, May 12

Two and a half months in Indonesia: Generosity

I cannot remember a time I ever dealt well with overt generosity, the giving of unexpected gifts and offer of a few dollars or a meal or whatever. It's not that the offer made me feel small or inferior or any of that. It's that I always took it too easily. One in three times, maybe, an attempt at a declination before accepting the repeated offer. A few minutes, a few hours later I would feel guilty because I couldn't reciprocate. They have treated me kindly. I have not treated them as kindly.

Which does not make Indonesia the ideal place for me. These are some generous people. I walk by our cleaner's two-room home to ask a single question on the way to buy groceries, and he offers me fresh fruit. I wait any longer, and he brings out a full loaf of bread and single-serving cups of water. One of our teachers in a mountain villages stops by his home to pick up some supplies before we meet the students. I get full lunch and a month's worth of fresh chilies from their garden in that time. Even the people who don't know me. If I'm waiting to meet to meet someone for the first time but they just happen to be out for the moment but will will soon be returning, out come the friend bananas and tea and coffee. They don't even give me a chance to say no. They just appear with cups and plates in hand.

The reciprocity guilt goes double here because even on a stipend I make way more money than them and have way fewer expenses when I live at the center, and it freaks me out when they hand me a whole loaf of bread and any similarly sized mound of food. I pull of a bite or two when the one I'm waiting for arrives. Three minutes late we have our stuff figured out. Am I expected to finish the whole thing? No one's watching me.

So I get tricky. Last few times locals have visited the center I've offered them tea and coffee and popcorn. Only once have I seen it all finished, even in a little glass. I have my answer.

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