Monday, May 15, 2006

Life Story # 4: One Fateful Night in 1983

It seemed that we had actually become settled in our new place on the side of the mountain just off of Kaliurang Road in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. After several hectic weeks of looking for hired help to do laundry by hand since we had no washing machine, and hiring a cook since food had to be purchased at the market on a daily basis, water had to be purified, vegetables had to be sanitized, etc., I finally was able to start tutoring my daughter in her second grade lessons. There was a small mission school but it only had classes up to the first grade. I hired a jaga malam (night watchman) who actually babysat my youngest son during the mornings when I was tutoring.

We had gotten used to the crowded dirt roads, the unusual smells, and astonished reactions to our white skin. We were even beginning to sleep through the blare of the Imam’s call to prayer through an electronic loudspeaker just outside our upstairs louvered bedroom window at sunrise each morning. During the daytime, Kaliurang Road was busy with dusty traffic heading up and down the mountain, but at sunset the area suddenly became quieter and all you could hear was the infrequent bicycle bell and the rhythmic call of the street vendors with their wheeled carts.

Our two-story house, while built of concrete, was oddly shaped with stairs of inconsistent height, the occasional rejections of small pieces of cement from the high ceilings above and a small patio in the back with an orchid covered wall which was also another house’s patio wall. It probably would not pass code in the United States, but for Indonesia it was considered a small palace with its extensive terrazzo front porch, terrazzo floors throughout and electrical pump for our well water.

I remember one peaceful morning while my daughter was working on a school project, I headed upstairs above the servants’ side of the house to talk to our babu cuci (laundress) about something. She was in a small sheltered alcove on the roof hanging clothes. I had never been up to this area which also housed our drinking water in a large cement catchment. The view looking over the chest- high wall above the red-tiled rooftops was so freeing in its vastness. In the distance I could see the perfect cone shape of Mt. Merapi with its little cloud of volcanic smoke blowing away in a feathery wisp. (I think I have a photo of this somewhere that maybe I can add here.)

A few nights after this I was shaken roughly awake from a deep sleep by my husband. “Get C. (our son)”, he cried. “I will get Y (our daughter). Hurry! Hurry!”  He threw back the covers and jumped out of bed.

My brain was foggy and I moved slower than I should have while trying to absorb the anxious tone of my husband’s voice.

“Wha…What is it?” I sat up in bed.

“Just hurry! We have to get outside. There is an earthquake.”

I got up from the low platform bed and ran to my son’s room and scooped him into my arms. I didn’t feel anything unusual as I moved across the floor, but as we descended the stairs I saw out of the corner of my eye the aquarium water slopping in dramatic waves out of the sides of the aquarium onto the floor.

We rushed to the street. Only a few others were outside standing in the dirt road. We waited in quiet shock anticipating the worst. There was a small tremor that swayed the bamboo fence in the front of the yard and then nothing for a very long time. There was no noise in the neighborhood to indicate anyone else had noticed that the earth had shaken her shoulders.

Our crazy concrete palace was still standing and nothing had fallen from the ceiling as we carefully made our way back inside. We eventually fell asleep and awoke the next day with the memories seeming like a dream.

If you are following the news recently you will understand that we could have been going through much worse with Mt. Merapi eruptions.


  1. Would it be safe for you to return now, Tabor? Or not. (I mean, from the people, not the quake.)

  2. Wow! Earthquakes, now a volcano and the bird flu. It looks hot there, too. I don't handle that humid heat well.

    The low platform bed would have worried me, too. Rodents?

  3. Looking back now it must seem like an adventure Tabor but I bet you would not want to return to stay for any length of time.

  4. Hoss, the local people were always polite and the Islamic tendancies moderate, although today in these times, I don't know.

    We actually didn't have rodents in the house, but one time we got a strange black snake...snakes WERE a problem.

    I'd go back for a short length of time. It is a fascinating country filled with very artistic people. I could take up my batik classes again!

  5. You never cease to amaze me :) What an adventure that was!

  6. Such an interesting story! Such rich opportunities for your kids, too!

  7. What an amazing story!

    But yikes... snakes? *shiver*

  8. Anonymous9:46 PM

    I guess I missed the fact that you lived in Indonesia and wonder why. We actually had a small earthquake here in Southwest VA once. I felt it but talked myself out of wondering what it was and then later heard it was an actual earthquake.

    I like the guy's term "pirate journalists."

    Thanks for the birthday wish!

  9. I was in a major earthquake once in Mexico city, a 6.8.
    I woke up to see the chandelier over my bed swaying. I had been dreaming I was on a boat that was bobbing in the water. Then I heard the glass panels from skyscrapers hitting the roof of our motel and workers screaming in Spanish. Were they saying, get out? or Don't get out? It was over before I could parse the language.

  10. Wow! What scary moment you all had!


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