Monday, August 29, 2011

Turtles and tanks - at what cost?

My eldest boy had a birthday during the week. And I will get to a blog about him...

But, today I think about turtles. The two turtles that our lovely pembantu (or 'maid' - seems like such an awful term) decided to give Caleb for his birthday. Did she not notice the distinct lack of pets in our family? Also the until-now-absence-of salmonella in our home? Apparently not. And yet kind and generous it was.

So we accept the said turtles with plastered smiles across our faces. Hoping we looked grateful. Knowing you can't quietly dispose of a gift when the giver works in our home every day. We did have a fun family meal listing and then voting on names - Zeke & Tilly it is!

Suddenly I am a concerned turtle owner, and realise I am most concerned about Zeke, who seems incredibly quiet in Tilly's presence. Tilly meanwhile is swimming around the plastic tub, looking decidedly thrilled to have four boys peering over at her every other moment of the day. Hhhhmmm...since I believe I have come to know these turtles in the past 48 hours about as well as my boys (oh, and done quite a lot of research), I decide they need to be in separate tanks.

Now our pembantu told us that she was also giving us a tank. When? Later. What does that mean? In Indonesia, no one knows, because 'yes' means 'no' and 'no' means 'maybe' and basically people say anything to keep everyone happy. So I don't know when a tank may or may not arrive. Nor do I know how big this tank is. Which worries me. Because I am a concerned turtle owner. And there is only so much room for two adults, four growing boys, and two turtles in an apartment. Too small - bad. Too big - worse. And I really believed that for Zeke & Tilly's mental health, two tanks was the only way to go.

So, in my best Indonesian, I explain to my non-English speaking pembantu that I am going to shop for tanks. I realise later that the word 'tank' is not understood in Indonesian. Big mistake by me.

After shopping endlessly for the perfect 'aquariums' (the word I should have used) for our some-day-off-in-the-future-will-be dearly loved turtles, the tanks appear on our kitchen bench.

And our pembantu is furious. Not just a little bit cranky. Seemingly very mad. Not-talking-to-me mad. And I don't know what to do. Other than feel like a little kid in trouble with the School Principle. And sick. I definitely felt sick.

I did try to talk to her. But to no avail. Since then I am concerned she will not come back to our house to work. Seriously. I may have offended her that much. And if so, I regret those tanks more than I can say! But it is so very easy in this land to hurt people, and it can be difficult for the relationship to recover.

I wait nervously to see if she will come. I'm not confident. I am saddened that such a seemingly small thing can matter so much. But that is the problem isn't it?

I thought it would be okay. In the process I discovered that we cannot always predict what is very important to another. Hurt abounds when we trample upon what matters to someone else, even when there is no intention to do so. It's not the first time. I like to think that when we are hurt, we should always consider the other person's motives, because people don't generally often hurt others. Before we start debating, I'm talking about everyday relationships with people we love - not governments, politics, history...

I'm glad for a God who is good, always loving, and intimately knows every one of his created beings. Because when I muck it up completely as I have on this occasion, I can pray that through his grace perhaps I will be forgiven, and the relationship will heal. This is a grace that brings hope to me, an imperfect woman, that I might be wiser next time.

The birthday boy, celebrating with his little brothers.

Giving thanks:

- My lovely pembantu.
- Wonderful generosity.
- Celebrating my oldest boy. 'Eleven' seems big!
- Zeke & Tilly.
- A God I can take failures to. 
- Reminders to trust Him.
- Bahasa lessons - apparently I still need to improve! 
- Grace and forgiveness in relationships.
- The freedom offered as a follower of Jesus - I don't need to hold on to things when I am hurt.
- Wisdom. Need more and more every day.


  1. grateful to meet a fellow missionary! lovely list! we really can trust Him, can't we? so thankful. blessings, all the way from Uganda :)

  2. I am so sorry about your pembatu. It is so hard sometimes when we deal with other cultures to learn how they view certain gestures. It is such a fine balance I have learned. Oh my goodness, every time I visit your blog I get a smile on my face when I look at your boys because they are just so happy! And I loved your list. So much to be grateful indeed.

    Maria @ Linen & Verbena

  3. There is something about turtles and boys! It's like shoes and socks - they just go together! I bet that through prayer, God will re-open hearts and bridge the cultural gap:) Things like that are so tough - especially when no hurt was intended!

    Hoping your turtles are happy in their individual digs!

  4. one of the fascinating aspects of Indonesian, Korean, & Japanese culture. (the only ones I have first hand experience of).
    To blatantly lie is OK, to keep the peace, save face, or supposedly keep everyone happy in telling them what they want to hear... yet what you have done is of great offence!
    - it something that I both stuffed up myself, and something I will never understand.
    Imagine how God sees & laughs at our cultural learnings :-)

  5. Oh, I know from experience how miserable an oblivious, unintentional, but serious misstep like that can be! Even in my home culture I have done similarly, but at least in that case common language offers more room for dialogue to reach understanding. May God work the reconciliation that you alone cannot; may He use this somehow for a better, stronger relationship with your pembantu and for the progress of the good news of Jesus. Visiting from Ann's list today.

  6. Thanks for your encouragement, and comments on the problems that can occur when communicating with other cultures!! The fantastic news is that my pembantu has returned, and it all seems to be fine. I am relieved, and VERY thankful!!!! :-)