The Minor Frustrations of Everyday Life in a Third-World Country

Sometimes so much happens it’s hard to know which story to tell. I realized as I wrote that sentence that most of the events of the past two weeks can be filed under one heading: Frustration. Does that give me permission to tell all of them? Sure. Why not.

Ketut has been cutting the garden grass on hands and knees with his curved knife for years. The neighbor next door has a weed-whacker. She uses it far too often for about four hours at a crack. During that time you’d swear you were living next to a runway at JFK International.

The noise is the only reason I’ve resisted buying that tool of convenience for Ketut. But lately his back has been bothering him. The last flare-up was three weeks ago. I decided it was time to bite the bullet.

Lazada is Indonesia’s version of Amazon. I searched through pages of weed-whackers, some had murdurously heavy-looking packpacks that feed gas to the machine. Some were electric with long cables. Others ran on batteries, and a scant few were rechargeable.

The rechargable battery-operated ones appealed to me. I compared differing volts, wattages, blades, and reviews in an attempt to educate myself. I finally chose a brand from China that checked all the boxes. I was delighted to see that Lazada would accept my U.S. debit card. I entered it and clicked the BUY button. An email popped up:

WOW! Thank you for your order. Please use the number below for tracking.

I chuckled. Only in Indonesia would they exude such enthusiasm over an online order. It would be delivered within four days. Perfect.

The next morning I found another message from the company.

OH NO! Your order was cancelled because no payment.

Huh? Really? Maybe they wouldn’t accept my card after all. I returned to the Lazada site to re-order the machine with a different method of payment. The process was not user-friendly and after trying for half-an-hour I sent a message to my neighbor:

“If I pay half of whatever your grass cutter cost, and share expenses for maintenance, can Ketut borrow it twice a month?”

The answer was immediate:

“It’s old! You don’t have to pay. Just borrow it when you need it.”

I love my neighbor.

Two days later there was a message from Lazada in my inbox:

HURRAY! Your order has been shipped!

What? Huh! My cancelled order has been shipped? What if I’d reordered…

It arrived on scedule. Of course, it required assembly and of course, the instructions were in Chinese. But Ketut worked his magic and the thing was operational in no time. The big payoff…it whispers!

Fast-forward another week. I ordered a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake for my son-in-law’s birthday from a company called GiftBlooms that I found online. It’s located in a town near their home. I checked my email inbox for confirmation.

Thank you for your order. You will be advised when it goes out for delivery.

Relief washed over me. I’d found a gift I knew he’d enjoy and it was ordered. Check.

The next moring’s inbox showed a message from GiftBlooms.

Your order is on hold. Please click on the link below for more information.

I clicked. In a nutshell, they were concerned that my credit card address (U.S.) didn’t match the location of my order (Indonesia) and they wanted a photo of my credit card. They told me to obscure the last 4 digits and send it in a reply email.

This was a new wrinkle. I’d never had issues with ordering anything in the U.S. But I complied. Within fifteen minutes, GiftBlooms sent another message:

Your order is on hold.

This time they wanted me to take a selfie of me holding the credit card along with a photo I.D. A low simmer started at the base of my skull. I pulled out my driver’s license and…what?! My license expired on my birthday two months ago? I had no idea! The simmer cranked to a low boil. My passport was handy. Holding it and the card next to my face, I tried not to growl as I took the shot.

Ten minutes later the inbox had another message from GiftBlooms.

Your order is on hold.

By now I was chewing tacks and spitting nails.

We have a mirror-image view of your documents. Please lay them flat and take another photo.

What did they expect? Documents will always be a mirror image when photographed beside my face. I’d done what they told me to do and they still weren’t satisfied.

That was the point where I came dangerously close to cancelling the order. Dangerously close. But it was also the point where the whole charade became hilarious. I took the shot, sent it, and held my breath. Ten minutes again and there was GiftBlooms in my inbox.

Order pending.

There were no further instructions. They were probably running my info through the FBI and IRS, just to make sure their cheesecake wasn’t being used to cover up an international money-laundering scheme.

I went to bed. The next morning my stomach did a bit of flamenco when I saw GiftBlooms had reached out to me yet again. I opened the email holding my breath.

Your order will be delivered between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the date you selected. Thank you for your order.

And so it was that my son-in-law got his Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake right on time. But what a circus!

And then…

Covid vaccinations are being rolled out in Ubud. The pecking order isn’t clear, but people in health care and tourism workers supposedly come first. Then local residents. There was no mention of ex-pats being eligible, but I felt certain we would be.

Then I heard vaccines were available to foreigners with a KTP – the kind of identification card evey Indonesian and a few ex-pats have. I don’t.

Several days passed and I noticed a post on Facebook. Got my vaccine at the wantilan across from Ubud palace. No KTP needed, just a KITAS or KITAP. Go now!

I grabbed my KITAP and hustled down Monkey Forest Road to the roofed platform where they hold special events in Ubud Center. Not a soul. Two taxi drivers were lounging at the curb. I asked them what they knew about the vaccines.

Yesterday finished.

I’d missed it by a day. I asked if they knew where they were giving them now and was told I could come back tomorrow, maybe they would be there again. Somehow I doubted it.

The next morning Facebook had another lead. They were giving vaccines in the Monkey Forest parking lot a few blocks from home. You guessed it. I grabbed my KITAP and trotted over. The two women attending the entrance were the only humans visible. I asked them about the vaccine.

Oh ya. Yesterday they were here.

So yesterday, while I was huffing and puffing my way north toward the palace, mere steps away from home in Monkey Forest parking lot they were doing vaccinations? The women told me I should check at the local Puskesmas clinic. Maybe I could get the vaccine there. I thanked them, gulped down the lump in my throat, and turned back the way I had come.

As I approached the clinic I saw hoards of motorbikes and heard numbers being called. My heart thumped hopefully. Maybe this would be it. After quick stop at the hand santizer station, I proceeded past curious eyes to an information booth. I explained that I have a KITAP and asked if I could get the vaccine here.

What is your dose? You already have first dose?

I said no, I hadn’t had any dose yet.

I’m sorry. Here we do only second dose.

I plodded home nursing a blue mood. Why did it have to be so hard? Later, sitting on the terrace under the bluest sky with a cool breeze licking my skin, Dad’s words echoed in my head. Don’t push the river.

And there it was. I’d done it again. I know with everything in me that when it’s my turn, it’ll be easy. But I’d gotten swept up in the urgent energy of others and momentarily forgot my truth.

These small things – little frustrations – are part of what I love about my life here. Perhaps not in the exact moment I’m experiencing them, but in retrospect they make great stories, and that’s what life’s about – our stories!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. healingpilgrim
    Mar 30, 2021 @ 20:17:09

    Oh I love that.. “don’t push the river.” Maybe you should come down to Sanur, where they seem ready to inoculate anyone (or anything?) that queues… 😉

    Liked by 1 person


  2. writingforselfdiscovery
    Mar 30, 2021 @ 21:13:06

    I’ve read that Sanur is distributing vaccinations liberally. The way my luck is going, the day I come will be the day after they finish!



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