|Rain. The time when you expect to see an open umbrella.|
At first it seemed perfectly normal for people to be carrying and using their umbrellas. Or so I thought until the warm sunshine on my arms reminded me that it wasn't cloudy today. Strange isn't it, umbrellas are carried on cloudy days but open on sunny ones? This was my thought as we passed two young girls on their way to school carrying between them an open umbrella. Had I not lived in Indonesia for the past three years I may have continued to be baffled by what I saw.
You might be wondering "Why would people use an umbrella on a cloudless day?" The simple answer is to stay cool in the shade of the umbrella. While this makes sense it is only partly true. A more truthful answer would be to say that people, especially women, use umbrellas during sunny days to avoid becoming tan. Yes, in Indonesia fat means health and people don't want to be tan. It seems completely backwards to me as an American. We tend to want to be skinny and think people are sickly if they are too white.
In this case, wanting white skin goes a bit deeper than a simple case of vanity. Skin color is connected with status. Those who work in the fields become quite dark. Years of long days in the sun doing menial manual labor deeply tans a person marking them forever. In contrast, those who work inside or not at all remain untouched by the sun. They tend to be wealthier and more educated than those who work in the field. As a result, skin color is more than just a preference, it is a sign of status. The whiter your skin, the more status you may have. Interesting isn't it the things we think are important.
While it is easy for me to comment on the peculiarities of my Indonesian neighbors I wonder what they would see and say if they visited the US? I wonder what would seem strange to them? I wonder how I would respond to their critic? Would I have the ability to question my own life or would I vigorously defend the normalcy of my oddities? Today, the sunshine was more than just a welcomed change. It was a reminder to not hold anything of this world too tightly. So, consider opening your umbrella on a bright sunny day. It might teach you more than you think.