Yesterday a neighbor inquired, “Could you give us a ride to a birthday party an hour away, since you have a van?”
We still don’t know whose party it is, but Dad consented, so now he’s taking out the back seat and spreading our rug for them to sit on. It’s time to go! All dressed up, our family and neighbors spill onto the street. As we all squeeze into the vehicle, some have to stack!
Our faithful van groans out to the main road and picks up more people. Oh, here’s another lady who wants a ride! She is the eighteenth in a car made to hold eight!
“Iya, sudah!” Rain sprinkles softly outside, but inside it is cramped and steamy. After what seems like ages we see the party, a house jammed with people of all ages. Will we even fit? I guess somehow there is always room for one more. Or eighteen. We squish into the house and find a little spot. It’s hot in here too!
As we seat ourselves on the floor, we hear about a dozen little children screeching out happy birthday songs in Indonesian. Through a doorway we glimpse a cluster of ladies squatting on the floor cooking a massive meal.
They give us each a bowl of noodle soup (sop mi) and a spoon (sendok). Sitting cross-legged on the floor, we try heroically to not spill broth everywhere. The soup is delicious, so we slurp it up. If the menu had not been noodles, we could have expected rice with a bit of chicken or fish and cooked green leaves. Here people think that if you don’t have a big pile of rice (nasi), it’s not a complete meal. I guess noodles count too.
Next they pass out pieces of cake on tiny, plastic saucers with tiny, plastic forks. The white cake looks very fancy, but it tastes odd, like candlewax.
In the midst of all the hullaballoo sits a small girl of five or six, dressed in stiff, formal clothes. This is a big contrast from her daily clothes which are much like you would see on an average American child, unless she is dressed in her school uniform. Nearby, the corner is filled with packaged sweets, the standard Indonesian birthday gift. It’s her birthday, the poor thing. Whether she likes it or not, she must sit quietly and smile. We hope she’s enjoying it at least a little, because, unless her parents are very rich, she might not get to celebrate her birthday for another five or six years!
—ACS in Indonesia, April 2022