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Now for the Hard Part

21 Sep 10

The timing for the start of our adventure couldn’t have been much worse. We arrived during what is arguably the busiest travel and holiday time in Indonesia – the end of Ramadan. It’s a time when it seems all of Indonesia is on the move, heading home to see family and friends.

We were supposed to be here in early August, before school started for the kids. That would also mean we’d return to the states with a bit of summer left next year, so we could re-acclimate before jumping into a new school year in Saratoga.

Indonesia though operates on what they call “jam karet,” or ‘rubber time.’ For individuals, this means in practice that if someone says they will see you at 10am, in actuality they may show up at 10:15, 0r 10:30, or perhaps even 11:45. Under the concept of jam karet they are still on time.

Life in Indonesia flows rather than unfolds. Those who create PowerPoint slideshows might call it a ‘slow reveal.’ Things happen, events carry you along. So after the first couple of weeks here, rubber time starts to make a bit more sense. The problem for our arrival though was that rubber time on a government scale can mean paperwork delays of weeks, or in our case more than a month.

I am traveling to Indonesia with two purposes in mind. I will be teaching at Universitas Padjadjaran in Bandung for five months, starting in February. But first I’ll be researching a British naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace for five months. Wallace is a pretty cool dude, and I’ll talk more about him later.

While getting permission for temporary residency in just about any country can be difficult (even the U.S.), you tend to double the problems when you want to enter for two purposes, as I was doing, rather than just one. How this translated for me was that I needed to obtain both a research permit and a permit for teaching before I could apply for residency papers.

As it happened, the Indonesian government this year changed the organization that vets research proposals and issues the research permit. So several of the Senior Fulbright applicants – there were ten Senior Fulbright Scholars, including me, in total (and 44 student Fulbrighters who had different standards to meet) – were required to defend their research plans. Mine was deemed the least critical, so for some reason that meant I had to jump through more hoops than most if not all of the others in the group. There’s no point in explaining all the details, but suffice it to say that this meant we weren’t coming to Indonesia until September at the earliest.

We finally settled on leaving Saratoga on September 4th. The people in the Fulbright office in Indonesia actually asked us to delay our trip by yet another week, but we were anxious to get acclimated, and get the kids used to the idea of being overseas for an extended period.

Idul Fitri is the celebration breaking the month-long period of Ramadan. We arrived just as Ramadan was ending and Idul Fitri beginning. Because so many people travel for the celebration, nothing is done during this time. So we arrived, and we explored, and we waited. We also got to take the kids to their school for one day of classes before the holiday break. And then we went off to Jakarta to start the paperwork.

The Fulbright folks had much of the effort wired. Once we got there, we spent two and a half days wandering from office to office, following our handler. Once in an office, the handler would disappear behind office doors for a bit. They would briefly return, long enough for us to sign a document or two, provide copies of our passports and other important papers, or perform some other function before they disappeared again, returning a bit later to take us on to our next stop.

It’s a tedious process, but finally we were finished. We had a final dinner with Beth before she headed to the airport for her return state-side, and the kids and I took the train back to Bandung for the start of our new life. For the kids, I think saying goodbye to mom at the train station while knowing they wouldn’t see her again for three months was perhaps the hardest thing they’ve ever done.


  1. dave lathrop November 24, 2010 at 8:44 am Reply

    i love the feeling of unfolding/flowing time… we have SO lost that in our hustle and bustle… even vacations seem to not “flow” so much as lurch from one desired activity to the next. “fitting it all in”… and to no real end i think as i age… pace is the mind killer… fueled by complexity… pushing the river we used to call it… maybe i need a sabbatical… best… dave

    • Willman November 24, 2010 at 8:55 am Reply

      Dave, you’re right. While it’s frustrating dealing with ‘rubber time’ in day to day life, there is a wonderful quality to it. In those brief moments when I’m able to give myself over to it, the feeling is certainly much more peaceful. I wonder how you could obtain some combination of the two? Thanks for reading!

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