Confession: I do not know how to clean my tub. The seemingly 500 gallon water basin that humbly resides in the corner of my bathroom delivers daily mocks and taunts with its tainted crimson, mosquito infested water and rust-colored ring of what can only be described as perpetually-moist-muck-that-must-somehow-be-imported-from-the-gator-infested-shores-of-Louisiana-because-the-texture-and-the-smell-both-scream-swamp. My enemy of a tub has no apparent plug in its massive underbelly, leaving me perplexed as to how to empty the darn thing to clean it out. Tactic one- dump the whole tub over. While quick and efficient, I could not bring myself to utilize this strategy due to my fear of initiating a Shining-esque bloodbath-flooding-my-halls-and-oh-goodness-creepy-twins scene, or, in a (slightly) less melodramatic version, creating a Noah’s Ark worthy deluge, and alas, I have not yet found an ark big enough to securely hold my myself, my neighbors, or their three cats while I merely attempt to clean my own bathroom fixtures. Tactic two, using the minuscule measuring cup of a bucket that serves as my tub’s companion, empty the villainous tub and its murky contents one tablespoon at a time. Picturing myself hovered over my tub for days, weary from the exhaustion of scooping droplet after droplet out of the basin, I quickly ruled out Tactic 2 and began to accept my fate of perpetually filthy water. I mean, it’s totally cool to take a bucket shower with mosquito’s, right? They make killer accessories when they get trapped in my humidity-mangled hair. And I have heard swamp smell is like the new Chanel No 5, so no worries on the odor front.
Regretting my creature-from-the-swamp look/smell, I begrudgingly asked my counterpart at school how to clean the tub and was informed that Tactic 2, while odious, is the favored basin-cleaning strategy of Indonesia. Saving the task for a day when I had more courage to face my rival (aka, procrastinating), I went off in favor of exploring my site and the nearby attractions. Infused with more energy, I returned, measuring cup in hand, ready to face my foe head-on only to find that, surprisingly, my tub, my villainous antagonist, was already clean. After pushing away mystified thoughts that perhaps I had a self-cleaning tub, I contacted my counterpart, thanking her for contacting someone to clean my apartment for me and delivering profuse apologies for my messiness. Finding amusement in my ‘naïve-bule-who-doesn’t-know-how-to-clean-her-own-tub’ ways, she issued a gentle, dancing laugh of ‘kotor tapi cantik’- ‘messy but beautiful’. My lifestyle, my apartment, my time in Indonesia- all are messy, yet beautiful. Three simple words issued as a joke between friends have somehow managed to reflect the entire spectrum of experiences that I have encountered in Indonesia. From the intrinsic factors such as culture shock, family emergencies, and cross-cultural relationships to the more superficial, external variables such as my cleaning abilities and the crumbling appearance of Medan itself, all are messy and flawed, yet all are beautiful. Beauty is not found in perfection, but rather, is found in originality, in the flaws and difficulties which give our lives and surroundings character and meaning, that serve as a bridge of connection with the world around us. Without messiness, we fail to appreciate beauty, and without beauty, we contain no hope to pull ourselves out of the mess and darkness that surrounds us. Beauty and chaos, intertwined and interdependent- ‘kotor tapi cantik’.