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Low Tech in a High Tech World

What is the favorite subject of discussion for expatriates? Call them what you will, we love to talk about our employees/staff/servants. They are integral parts of our everyday life. Very few of us had the good fortune to have so much help before coming to Indonesia. That makes the experience a novelty and a hot topic.

The amusing anecdote list about staff could number in the millions. Expatriates constantly tell humorous stories, one after the other, about the silly things one of their staff did. My husband always responded to jealous friends and family during home leave by saying, "Imagine you have a house full of adolescents working for you. Now, do you think we have it so soft?"

If you look at their world from a certain perspective, so many anecdotes explain themselves.

The view of staff I would like to illustrate here is to "walk a mile in their shoes," or thongs as it were. Imagine the way many of them were brought up and it will explain so many of their actions we find (allegedly) stupid or lacking in common sense. If you were brought up in the village, living in a tiny house with a dirt floor, no running water and no electricity, how would you respond to technology? How would you take it if your employer tried to explain electricity, plumbing, computers, or high technology to you? And the employer doesn't even speak your language well.

One evening my husband's colleague, Paul, came home from the office. Through the pouring rain, he noticed one of the floodlights that shone on the garden from the house was burned out. He got out a spare floodlight and told his jaga that the light needed to be changed. He went inside, changed out of his work clothes, got a beer and settled on the sofa with the newspaper. He noticed a movement outside the window and looked up to see the jaga walking by. The jaga was carrying the spare floodlight, the aluminum ladder and was padding across the grass in his bare feet to change the light ... in the rain.

Paul ran out to stop him and instructed him to wait until the rain stopped. Paul, a logical Dutchman, could not understand why anybody could be so foolish to change an outside light in the rain.

There are two issues at work here. First, the jaga received an instruction and it was his job to carry that order out. His assumption, no doubt, was that the boss knew best. Secondly, the jaga didn't understand electricity like those of us who grew up with it and respect the danger. But it sure made for a good story at parties.

Paul's jaga furnished us with another funny story some months later. Paul was 'in between' drivers and drove himself home from work one afternoon. He tossed his keys to the jaga and asked him to wash his car. Inside the house later, Paul heard the little squeak the car emitted when the lock button was pressed on the key ring. He naturally assumed the washing had been completed. Later still, Paul decided to dash out and do some shopping to prepare for the arrival of visitors the next day. He walked out to the garage to find the jaga sitting in the driver's seat. No panic, no stress, the guy was just sitting there looking out. And waiting.

The explanation was very simple. While wiping down the inside of the car, the jaga inadvertently sat on the key ring, which was on the seat, triggered the lock button and locked himself in the car. You or I would honk the horn to get Paul's attention. This jaga never even drove a car before-how would he know where to find the horn? So, he just sat there, prepared to wait for Paul to come and rescue him. Paul has gotten howls over this story and he has repeated it many times. The poor little jaga has no idea how much he has entertained strangers by locking himself in a car.

But think about taking your great-grandparents or grandparents out of the world they knew, say off the farm in the early part of the 20th century and jettisoning them suddenly into the 1990s. Their reaction to technology could be very much the same as Paul's jaga. Or would it? We impatient expatriates can hardly be bothered to sit in a traffic jam for a few minutes, even though we know we will get where we are going. Yet this jaga was content to sit placidly in the car until Paul's return, which he knew was inevitable. Now, I ask you, who really needed to learn a lesson there?

by Susan McKinley

First published in Kem Chicks World magazine

© Susan McKinley