Max’s Birth Story

Each child has his or her own unique birth story for their mother to cherish (or try to forget…). Since the story of Max’s birth here on an island in Asia Pacific includes a window – small as it may be – into life and culture here for my American readers, I wanted to share.

I went into labor bright and early on a Monday morning. A friend of mine, Marie, living in the same city as we, is an American who married into this country, and who so wonderfully serves many pregnant expatriate ladies as a doula. Her being fluent in both languages is an extra super-bonus when you’re in labor and trying to communicate to hospital staff (which is hard enough to do in your native language). Marie came over, and a couple of other friends also came along for the experience. So, with Jim at the wheel, and a car full of ladies (one being his laboring wife – he’s a good man) we started for the hospital.

The drive takes 1 hour, about half of which is on a smooth toll-way (just last year, before the toll-way was completed, it would have been a bumpy three-hour drive).

During the throws of labor, I remember seeing a demonstration in the middle of our road (I read in the paper the next day that it was about wages). Thankfully, traffic laws aren’t quite as strict here as in the US, so really, you don’t even have to think twice before detouring into the oncoming traffic’s lane (people expect it, so it’s not as dangerous as it sounds).

Once we got up to the labor and delivery department of the hospital, I was so relieved (but only for an instant – until the next contraction hit) to find that our room was air conditioned! The day after Max was born, the city we were in hit the all-time record high temperature for the country at 103° F – and, while this may not compete with records in Texas, this is a humid place where AC is not commonplace, so we feel every bit of the heat, alllll the time. And after 9 months of being pregnant in the tropics (not to mention that labor makes it feel a good 20 degrees hotter), you can imagine how welcomed it was.

Max was born about 1 hour after we arrived. Thankfully, Jim and Marie were right there to snag little Max when he came out, because it was another hour before the Obstetrician and Pediatrician arrived. There was a nurse there, but she had stepped away for the moment, not realizing his birth was quite so imminent.

I really cannot tell this story without acknowledging how much God’s hand was on little Max and myself from beginning to end. He knew all the little concerns that were close to my heart (none of which had to do with our location), and He tenderly took care of all the details, just like He does.

Rachel and Max in hospital
He always sleeps with his hands up by his face :)

We stayed in the hospital until the next day, and let me just say that it was much more relaxing than staying in a hospital in the US after giving birth. They don’t feel the need here to come in and check your vitals every couple of hours – they actually let you sleep! Jim had his own full-sized pull-out bed. They bring you food at meal time, come in to change the baby’s diaper from time to time, then the doctor comes in to shake your hand when it’s time to leave.

Below is one of the meals that was served. This is a traditional meal that is often served at times of thanksgiving – one of those times being after a birth. Clockwise, it’s carrots, fried tofu, tempe (which is a fried soybean dish), grilled chicken, coconut sambal (a condiment), eggs and vegetables, and in the little bag is a dried fish to sprinkle on for flavor. The spiced, milky drink is flavored with a root that’s similar to ginger, and having jellied floaties in your drink is a special treat.  Thanksgiving meal

When you leave the hospital, they send you home with the placenta in a clay pot. You actually cannot leave the hospital without it…but of course, what kind of person would even want to? The typical practice on our island is that it is taken straight home by the father, washed, and buried outside the house. A small lamp is placed above the burial spot to protect it from darkness. Many people include in the pot things like a pencil, some fuel, a needle and thread, rice, and other small things to help ensure that the child will be healthy and successful.

Pot

Around four days after the birth, a gift with a birth announcement is given to the neighbors. This gift often consists of a variety of traditional cooked dishes, cakes, or fruit. My dear friends helped us pull all this together. It was all hands on deck.

Preparations

 

Gift baskets

In the days following a birth, neighbors and friends come to visit and see the baby (Similarly, when people know your household is celebrating other joyous occasions, such as Eid-al-Fitr or Christmas day – they know which ones you’ll be celebrating based on your religion – they come to give their greetings).

Some common questions people ask when they see Max are, “Why do you not wrap his legs together (to correct the newborn bow-leggedness)?” “Why do you not wrap his tummy (to pull in his pot-belly)?” And the hotter it is, the thicker the blankets you tend to see people using to wrap their babies and protect them from the sun (and the heavier the coats that children and adults wear). People also wonder at the fact that we keep a fan blowing in the room where he sleeps. Almost everyone here will tell you that wind hitting and entering the body is a – if not the – major source of illness, not to mention he could get cold.

For now, Max sleeps in bed with us, and most people here would highly disapprove if he didn’t. People are shocked at the fact that our older boys sleep in their own beds, as most families sleep all together. They simply can’t believe that our kids are willing and able to sleep in beds by themselves.

It’s fun getting to chat and chuckle with some of my local friends about the differences in thinking from one culture to the next. Just as a saying here so aptly explains, “different field, different grasshopper.”

A Tale of Two Ibadah

Ibadah is the local word for religious ceremony. It’s a word we learned early and use often because the milestones in life on our island are commonly marked with the gathering of friends and neighbors for good food and a traditional ceremony. Each type of ibadah is specific to the circumstance: tujuh bulan (literally “seven months”) marks the seventh month of a pregnancy, and another ibadah follows shortly after the birth of the baby; traditional weddings are more like a series of ibadah involving various parties to the new marriage; and a death means not only the funeral, but ceremonies to mark seven days after death, forty days, one hundred days, and one thousand days. Events like these date back thousands of years and are steeped in the local cultural worldview. They provide a great opportunity for us to carefully and pragmatically participate in community life as language learners and observers.

But there is a fascinating nuance to these ceremonies as well: each ibadah is both cultural and religious at the same time. It reflects the traditional cultural worldview as passed down through the centuries, but also the religious worldview of the present. The two – the cultural and the religious – are so intertwined that the expression of one aspect necessarily reflects the other. A cultural ceremony cannot be merely cultural because the minds of the participants are not merely cultural – they are religious also. And a religious ceremony is never merely religious because the participant is not merely religious, but immersed in a cultural context as well. Here is an example:

In the past few months I received invitations to two events in different neighborhoods, one marking 40 days after the passing of a man in my neighborhood and one marking 1000 days after death of a man whose family attends a nearby church. These post death ibadah are very much particular to this island, rooted deep in the animism of ancient generations. And although the basic animistic, ancestor focused, foundation has long been replaced (or at least overtaken and obscured) by various more recently incorporated religious beliefs, the ceremonies themselves live on with their new faces. I had already observed several of these after death ceremonies in my neighborhood, all with families practicing the majority religion of the island.

The first event I attended, a forty-days ceremony was exactly what I have come to expect based on prior experiences. The neighborhood men filter in and find a spot on the rugs which have been spread out on the floor, and a family member makes an opening statement. Following this, a religious leader begins a prayer chant in Arabic and those who can join in do so. This goes on for a short time before a brief pause, and food is served (usually traditional snacks – various fried foods, fruit, etc.) and another round of prayers begin. When I asked what my neighbors were praying, they told me the prayers were offered in hope that the deceased person would be allowed into heaven. After fifteen to twenty more minutes of praying/chanting, everyone is given a small gift (usually food items or a meal for later) and the house slowly empties.

The second ibadah, a one-thousand-days ceremony, though derived from the same cultural bedrock,  was nothing like I was expecting. For this event I followed a local Christian pastor to the home where members of his church were gathering to remember a fellow believer and former member of the congregation. The event started with songs of praise to the creator. The pastor talked about the man’s love for God and his family, and the faithful testimony that had marked his life. Those who were present were given the chance to reflect on the hope that we have in the one who died for us – an assurance that cannot waiver – and to rejoice with one another at the life well lived and the One who gives life. There was no pleading for heaven, as the pastor explained, because we have a hope in the finished work of Christ who has already paid our debt. Finally we ate together and departed.

As I made my way home, I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. This was the same ceremony, and the two were nothing alike. Two ceremonies, two gatherings of people who share the same national identity and cultural heritage holding the same culture-derived event in incredibly different ways with vastly different themes. The sole difference was the gospel – not a gospel that eliminates the culture but penetrates it and reveals what it can be in the light of Christ. This is the impact the good news can have on a community.

And this is the reason we’re toiling away at language study right now: because hundreds of people groups (that use this national language as a second language) have never been given the opportunity to interact with the gospel. Proficiency in this national language will open up opportunities for us to dig in with one of those groups, learn their distinct language and culture, and eventually allow them to hear the Word of God for themselves in their own language and cultural context – and to glorify God within and through that context in new and exciting ways.

Chickens

I finally gave in.

Of course every kid wants a pet. I kept telling Hudson that all the little house-geckos on our walls and in our cabinets are our pets, but he didn’t buy it (he’s pretty smart, and that doesn’t always work in my favor). Then, I thought I was brilliant when I told Hudson he could seal up some worms in a box and those were his pets (no smell, no clean-up, and I never even have to see them!) – that seemed to have satisfied Hudson, but it later became clear that my husband also wanted a pet, and the worms just weren’t going to cut it for him.

So, Jim suggested we buy two baby chicks from our neighbor – one for each of our boys. A couple days later, our neighbor arrives to drop off 6 baby chicks and the mother hen (at least it wasn’t goats that were involved in this cultural misunderstanding).

My parents were here visiting at the time, so they got to share in the boys’ excitement.
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That mother hen…bless her heart.

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Lots of memories are being made around those chickens.

I’m glad I gave in. 
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Fun Festivities!

A few days ago we got to learn and participate in some new holiday festivities! This particular holiday celebrates the heroine of this country’s women’s emancipation movement, marked by kids dressing up in traditional costumes and adults competing in traditional food platter decorating contests.

Jim and I had certainly never done anything like this, but we had a local friend show us what to do, and we gave it some good effort. Tumpeng is the name of this platter, and it consists of rice in the shape of a volcano plated with some traditional side dishes and as much creativity as you can muster. Everyone else’s included much more elaborate elements, while we made the most of our limited exposure to the craft. Below, the whale with the blowhole was Jim’s personal touch on our entry (You’ll later learn how it saved me when I was in a tight spot!)

Whale

 

This was our finished product. Made from tomatoes, green peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and green onions. The only reason the rice looks as good as it does is because a sympathetic competitor saw I was struggling to make a decent cone mold from the banana leaves (like most people do), so she graciously loaned me her metal mold.

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Since everyone else knew the side-dishes that typically accompany the tumpeng, much more time went in to making theirs. Hudson’s preschool was the host of this event, so a few of the tumpengs had kid-themes, and each of the ladies was quite creative.

 

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Spongebob with Patrick

 

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This one was themed after an area volcano. I don’t remember all of the symbolism included.

 

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Can you see the swan made from eggs? She later added an elaborate palm tree carved from vegetables.

Finally, we all lined up with our tumpeng creations, and one of the judges came down the line and asked each of us about the theme of our dish. Pictured below is me saying, “The theme?……………uhhhhhh…………………………………..whale?” Jim said the lady standing next to him leaned over and asked, “Are there whales near volcanoes?”  He said, “Sure… after a flood.”  =)

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And the kids were as cute as could be! They dressed up in traditional attire from the various regions/islands in our country.

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Hudson is blessed with some wonderful teachers!

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Batik!

Fabric lovers the world round, be jealous. I recently got to participate in making batik fabric! Batik fabric has been a favorite fabric style of mine for years, and since we now live in the very part of the world in which this method originated, this was a thrill for me!

Here’s a rundown of how it’s made. First, blocks of a specific kind of tree wax are melted in a pan.

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Unique copper stamps are made and used to stamp the dye-resistant wax onto fabric. The stamps on the table below have a unique pattern of stacked rocks that is specific to the city we currently live in for language study.

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The tables on top of which the fabric is stamped are topped with wet cardboard covered by plastic. The wet cardboard makes a cool surface so that the wax hardens quickly.
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The stamps are dipped into the wax, the excess wax is shaken off, then [usually a master batik maker] carefully stamps the wax onto the fabric. The quality of the stamping, in addition to the quality of the dying, are important in pricing the finished fabric (mine would not have sold for much). Ironically, though, in America, we prefer and import batik that is less meticulously stamped and dyed, giving it a little bit of a whimsical and tye-dyed effect. DSCN3340

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An alternative method for applying the wax is using a special pen (same idea as a quill pen for ink) to apply the hot wax. As you can imagine, that is quite time consuming, but batik made well that way by an expert can sell for around five hundred dollars per yard!  Below, my friend is adding some additional detail to fabric that was stamped.

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After the wax is dry, the fabric is dipped into a bath of dye, or, alternatively, if more detail is desired, a brush can be used to brush dyes onto the fabric.

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The below fabric (not mine) was dyed with a brush, and is now being air-dried.

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The wax is then boiled off, leaving a white design which can be either left white or the fabric can again be dipped into dye (a lighter color than what was previously used) to fill in the white areas.

People don’t wear suits and ties here. Formal attire is shirts/dresses made from batik fabric.

I only stamped mine, then let the experts dye it. Here’s how it turned out:

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