A Journey to AmericaMelawat ke Amerika Translated by: Megan Hewitt. Original language: Indonesian
From the Preface
These letters were not written at first for publication. When we were heading out of the country, one of my relatives asked that I write letters telling stories of our adventures. They wanted to know everything about our journey from beginning to end. Because our relationship was friendly and our tastes much the same, it was not difficult to know exactly what would interest them.
From the moment the wings of our steel garuda lifted us from the Kemayoran airfield, I began taking notes. Upon arrival at a restful place with time to spare, I began turning these notes into letters.
At the start, I only wrote these letters because of my promise, but after a while I became to write with more and more enjoyment. Over time, composing these letters became a great joy for me. A way to relax my mind and pass the day.
Even though we usually went together to tour, I would often be left alone when my husband went to review or to work at one of the big hospitals in the U.S. He would leave around 9am and usually return for lunch in the middle of the day. What else should I do just sitting around, not knowing anyone in a hotel with hundreds of rooms. Reading for hours can also be boring. At that time I wrote these letters for my own pleasure.
Walking around without accompaniment, because I am not used to it, is frightening. Raised in Tanjung-Pinang, the Malay land with very strict customs, where women from upper classes who rarely leave their homes without accompaniment, and never walk by themselves, I just simply couldn’t walk around on my own. Previously confined by custom, now by fear. It is a cruelty like no other!
These letters became my friend and my entertainment, and in two or three months I had quite a big collection of writing.
After leaving the U.S., several friends in the Netherlands suggested for these letters to be printed. That way other people can read it, they said, and will be of some use.
Such is the story of this work. Hopefully it will be useful and satisfying to those who read it.
I release this book by saying, “Farewell.” To the readers, I say, “Assalamu alaikum.”
Arriving in America
Monday evening – Tuesday night, June 25-26, we departed from Schiphol and Tuesday at one in the afternoon when the day was bright and very hot, we arrived at the “Idlewild” airfield in New York City. Once we arrived in New York, the thick coats we had needed in Glasgow we were now forced to carry on our shoulders because of the heat.
This is what America is like: crowded and incredibly noisy. Our friends who had been on the same flight from Jakarta had stayed in the Netherlands. They are going on to Paris before returning to Indonesia. Since the husband is an important person at G.I.A. (Garuda Indonesia Airways), for as long as we were with them, we were always well-received by the K.L.M employees, every time our airplane landed in an airfield.
Moreover, in Cairo, our honorable Ambassador himself met us on the airfield. We were increasingly well-regarded, which is why we were happy this whole time, never feeling alone in a foreign land. Arriving in Idlewild, only the two of us disembarked from the airplane. We were actually kind of stunned. We prayed in hopes that someone would come to get us.
Then we went to customs, and after finishing all of the checks, and after paying an immigration fee of $16 – for the two of us – we looked left and right in the hope that someone would show us the way. But no one came to get us. “Pleng!” Our hearts felt empty. Wah, how could they? Our friends in New York had the heart to leave us to our own fate. We had never before stepped foot in America.
Fearing this might happen, my husband had tried everything in Jakarta. He went back and forth to the Ministry of Education and Culture (Kementerian P.P.K.), asking them to send a telegram to our representative in the Netherlands and Washington informing them of the day we would arrive and the flight number. We were truly surprised that no one came to pick us up. Where were we to go?
With heavy hearts we looked around in all directions in disbelief, and wondered why not a single person came. We were surrendered to our fate. We endeavored to deal with this situation on our own for quite some time. We couldn’t ignore the fact that we had been left to our own devices. Oh well, what was to be done!
As we were thinking this way, a young American approached us suddenly and asked our names. After it became clear to him that this was indeed Professor Aulia, whom he, as the employee of the State Department, had come to fetch at Idlewild, he then very politely asked us to let him take care of all our affairs. He did everything smartly and easily because he was used to living in a large country.
After everything was settled, we were taken in a car to New York City, which seemed to be around three-quarters of an hour by car away from the airfield.
Wah, our hearts were soothed. There were people who cared about our arrival.
In short, we will not forget all of the people we came to know here. Hopefully some of them will come to our country. We would like to bring them places to have fun. There is much in our country that my sisters and I are sure will delight them.
Even though we arrived in New York at night, there are many parts of the city that are always bright. Even at our hotel, the Hotel Winthrop, many people were still sitting up.
On the night of Thursday, October 25, we left New York and America. Our hearts were saddened to leave behind the city of New York at night, because it seems as though there is no possibility for us to see such an unrivaled city again.
But who knows? In saying goodbye, my sisters and I recalled the following pantun:
If there is a farm well
Let us stop in to bathe
If there is a long life
Let us meet again