"I am your husband?"

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May 9th 2012
Published: May 9th 2012
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My time in Indonesia this trip has been a bit frustrating so far, mostly because the IRB (in the U.S.) delayed our start. I spent an extra few days in Jakarta waiting for paperwork. My team was trained and ready to go, already having scheduled several interviews. But, bureaucracy requires extreme patience.

Right now I am sitting in a little community center in the backstreets of Bogor, an hour outside of Jakarta. One of my fieldworkers is leading a focus group discussion with 8 men. They are all sitting on the floor on a rug, eating snacks we brought, half of them wearing a traditional Muslim head covering. They hardly notice me sitting in the corner of the stuffy room. The field worker is leading them in a photo elicitation exercise where he shows them photos of people smoking in different scenarios and gets their reactions and thoughts about the photo. Another female fieldworker with her head covered is taking notes. A third fieldworker went to a mosque down the road to do the late afternoon prayer.

This trip has been especially lonely so far, as I don’t know the language at all, have no friends here, and my Indonesian colleagues have all been occupied with other things. Plus, I traveled here alone this time. I can’t even have much of a conversation with my driver, who speaks almost no English. Today he said to me, “I am your husband?” but what he really meant to ask is if I have a husband. And it took me about 3 times to ask if his wife is a housewife or has a job outside the home.

I learned today that he is sleeping in the vehicle each night so that he can go home with the housing allowance we are paying him rather than spending it on a room. And he hasn’t been eating much to save his per diem. Today I bought him lunch (the equivalent of $3), and tomorrow he is going to use my breakfast voucher at the hotel so he has something to eat in the morning. This is the shit that breaks my heart in my line of work.

I am exhausted though. Most of the time I have no idea what is going on or where we are going. I just put my faith in my research team and go with the flow, which is a very challenging thing for me. You’d think I would have mastered that by now with all of my traveling, but every so often I feel myself getting anxious and have to talk myself down or just go back to my hotel to watch CNN and connect with the world I know again. By the end of the days here I am so drained from trying to make sense of my surroundings. It is especially hard in Bogor because safe food is hard to find, except for fast food chains like McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. This morning I ate a protein bar and a packet of tuna and some mini bananas. Although I was bored in my Vegas-style hotel back in Jakarta, I am looking forward to steamed veggies and a nice fitness room again in order to maintain both my mental and physical health.


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