Rote Series: Me House and Family

Kristia Davina Sianipar 30 Agustus 2012

How many people do you need to replace a bed frame of the village’s newcomer (a.k.a. me)?

Probably ten.

When I first came to this village, Desa Daleholu, at Rote, I was immediately put into the house of my host family in dusun Nggelak. It’s not a fancy house, but it’s actually much, much better than what I had had in mind. You know, I was imagining a little hut from dried leaves and an open toilet by the river. But here I have a house of bricks, a tin roof, rough cement as floor, a decent squatting toilet, and a bed. An actual bed. You know, with the mattress and a bed frame. I even got electricity and a phone signal here!

As I arrived to this house, I was greeted by, what seemed to me, dozens of people. I can’t even make out who’s who and who’s my actual host family. And everyone was busy making things ready for me. They all talked in this language I barely understood. It sounded like Indonesian but different. It’s what they call here “Bahasa Kupang”, which is what generally the language of the east sounds like here in Indonesia. Oh, and they also talk in Bahasa Rote.

With them busy as bees for who knows what (I really couldn’t understand what was going on), the next thing I knew the men were carrying a bed frame from the house across the street to this house. They were replacing the bed frame in what was to be my room. Then the men worked on the wooden board for the bed frame, looked for the mattress, and set up a mosquito net over my bed (there aren’t many mosquitos around, but the net is useful in keeping the dirt from the roof from falling onto my bed). So many people were working on this.

Soon I would find out that the house across the street belongs to the grandfather, and next to that is the house of his other son. And soon I would find out that here in the village, everyone is somehow related. And because everyone’s related, whenever there are things that need to be done, everyone’s involved. For example, recently my host family was building a new annex to the house for the kitchen, all the brothers and the fathers and the mothers and the sisters were here to help out, either by building the house, cooking, or just chatting. And one time, there’s a funeral at the next door dusun (that’s like a subset of a village) and everyone in that dusun got involved because, well, everyone’s family.

The family I’m living with now consists of father, mother, and three sons. They’ve got another son but he lives in Kupang. Father, whom I call “Bapa”, is a farmer in his forties and has worked as factory worker in Cengkareng (wow). Mother, whom I call “Mama”, is also a farmer but she teaches at a private kindergarten about 6 KM from here (and later I would find out that she’s a very active woman in the church and the village), in her thirties and has worked as a helper in Timor Leste. So both parents have gone outside of Rote, and I think that made a lot of difference; I would later find them to be very open-minded people.

The three sons are Papi, Fajar (a.k.a Ivan; his mom just told me that one day he decided that he would be Ivan, so from then on everyone calls him Ivan), and Dhimas. Papi acts as the eldest, a very responsible young man, very much adored by the 2-year old cousin across the street, and he’s only 11. Ivan is 9 and I can see that he’s the naughty one; he’s got sparkles in his eyes, but he’s a good guy, he once helped me carry a big map from school to home (and back). Dhimas is 7 years old (just turned 7 last week!), ranked 1 in his class, and he can’t stay put for long; he once played a plastic snake outside of my room after I told him I’m afraid of snakes ( and they said in the forest behind the house there are plenty of them, yikes!).

Oh, did I tell you that my room has no door? In fact, most houses I’ve been to in Rote have no doors. They just put a cloth on door frame. So when the wind blows, then you can take a peek into my room. The kids would often yank the cloth-door as they pass by my room, to just take a peek of what I’m doing inside. Mama would often pop her head inside my room unannounced. Well, there’s no door to knock on, what can I say? Yeah, I’ve got little privacy here. Once there was a discussion initiated by a visiting relative on making me a door for my room. I refused. Not only it will cost, but what for? I’m okay with almost-no-privacy. Having shared a room with 32 other girls and take a shower with them, I’ve learned to shed away privacy. Besides, I’ve learned too that privacy is not very much what’s on the outside as much as what’s inside your head. And for what’s inside, I think I’m still able to keep my privacy well.

So I’m settling down well here.

It took me a week to differentiate between Papi and Ivan. It took about three weeks before Bapa and Mama stopped telling me how humble their house is and keep apologizing to me for it (I mean, gosh this is so much better than what I had expected!). It took me a month to get used to Nggelak’s cold nights and colder water (I was told that I’m staying at the coldest place in Rote! I mean, my water would literally feel like ice in the morning). And it took me two months, and a two-week travel to Ndana and Kupang, to finally be glad to be home.

I’m glad I’m home =).


Rote, 30 August 2012


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