This yak is a little overdue, as this interaction took place 6 weeks ago now. Its taken awhile for me to fully formulate my thoughts, but the following conversation has popped up in my mind almost daily since, which speaks to how much this moment struck me, as well as how big a role 9/11 has played in my life, both obviously and without my direct knowledge.
Almost every night after returning to my homestay and eating dinner with my ibu and bpak, I head to Omcil, the backpacker’s guesthouse my host brother and sister own.
Bringing in travelers from across the globe, I’ve been lucky enough to meet many people and hear each of their unique stories as to how they ended up here in Yogyakarta in a small backpacker’s hostel during the tourist down season.
Tonight, I went to Omcil planning to quickly email home before heading to bed because I hadn’t been feeling well over the weekend. Scrolling through my email, I caught a glimpse of a newsletter recapping the Oscars.
Midway through reading what seemed like The Shape of Water winning every other award, my host brother asked me if I spoke Spanish. Selfishly, instead of taking the time to reciprocate the kindness and generosity my host family constantly gives me, I sort of deflected the question. I briefly responded by saying, “Yeah, pretty well” and asking nothing further about if he had a question or why he asked, hoping to just finish my email and go home to sleep.
After a couple moments of silence, he explained that he had an upcoming interview with a Spanish cruise liner company and wanted to be able to introduce himself in Spanish. To think that I was even contemplating disregarding him still makes me feel sick to my stomach. The same family who have given me shelter, food and a family away from home, and here I was worrying about an Awards show back home.
I put down the computer, and started to run through the usual phrases, “Hola”, “¿Cómo está?”, “Cómo se llama?”, “Me llamo…” etc. Midway through this, a man staying in one of the guest rooms came out to the commons area. I’d previously seen him walking by and we’d exchanged smiles, but this time he came and sat down with us and asked if I was Spanish.
I responded no, saying that I was from the U.S. After talking for awhile, I learned that he lived in Jakarta, but that he works as a motorbike part trader, bringing spare parts from Spain and selling them in Indonesia. I asked him how he picked up his English, which was perfect. In some way (which is completely invalid), I expected one of the usual answers that I hear here, either that they picked it up talking to people on the street or learned some in school.
However, this man had a vastly different story. For 9 years, he had lived in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and 2 daughters working as a Japanese teppanyaki chef. When I asked why he made the decision to move out of the country and change careers, I was met with a chuckle and a smile, as if to signify my privilege of thinking that moving is always done voluntarily or to pursue a passion or career. However, this man was forced to leave the country after 9/11. After the attack, the US government notified him that he could no longer renew his work permit, meaning that once his current one expired, he had to leave. The life he’d built for him and his family and his dream of owning his own restaurant was crushed, and that is why he moved to Jakarta.
To add on, although being a chef is his passion, the wage in Indonesia for that profession is not nearly enough to provide for his family and allow for his children to receive the education he desires, leaving him to work a job that he said he couldn’t care less about. Further, his plan was to acquire his green card when his daughter turned 18, but now under the current US administration, he must now wait until she is 21. When I asked if he had lost faith in his ability to own a restaurant in the US, he told me that ever returning to the states is just a far away dream for him, and continuing the life he had built there for 9 years was unrealistic.
Now, this conversation may seem insignificant in the big picture, but it has made me think about what would’ve happened had I blown off my brother and his question about Spanish and left the guesthouse quickly. I never would’ve met this man, who in talking with him for only 15 minutes, taught me the importance of taking into consideration all perspectives in a situation before jumping to conclusions.
In my community growing up, dads and moms, other family members and friends were lost during 9/11, and that is what has shaped my perspective of the tragic event. Every time that day is brought up, I run through the possibilities of how it could’ve ended differently, and my siblings and I were the ones having to be told of what had happened to our dad, as others close to us had.
Yes, I had thought about those who were effected by the radicalism terrorism attack in my community. Yet, I had failed to give thought to the fact that others around me, outside of the victims and their families of that tragic day (such as this man and so many others), also had their lives uprooted and taken away just as I had seen around me in my own life.
To be able to see both sides even in the bleakest and darkest of times is a valuable lesson I hope to be able to bring into practice in my every day life. My way and my ideas about what is right and just are still constantly forming, and if I bring in a close-minded attitude into situations, the amount of knowledge I can take away greatly lessens. Even if I may not agree with what is said, I have the ability to piece together the full picture of a situation, which can be a useful tool in many facets of life, whether it be in the workplace, a relationship or skill I’m trying to learn.