Other than handshakes from my students, an obligatory hug when my colleague B made his departure, and an “I’m so happy they let me back into Aceh” hug from A when she returned from getting a new Indonesian visa in Penang in early March, I haven’t been touched since I left Africa at the end of January. For a touchy-feely type of person like me, that seems like an eon.
I miss touching. I miss being touched. I especially miss good hugs.
I’m a hugger. I love to give and receive good hugs. Yes, there is such a thing as a bad hug and there are people who give wonderful hugs. I have a friend like that. He’s tall and lean and when he hugs me, he hugs me from head to feet and I feel surrounded by him and wrapped up in his love. I feel happy when he hugs me and the feeling lingers after we part.
Here in Indonesia, I feel like every person is a physical island. The most touching I see is from couples riding together on bikes and that’s minimal contact.
Two evenings before B left, we went to dinner with a local volunteer then came back to the centre. When she was ready to head for home, since this was the last time they would be seeing each other, B asked if he could hug her. She’s a Muslim woman living in a Sharia state so hugging an unrelated man is usually a no-no. But she had a crush on B and I think she was feeling just a little naughty so she consented to the hug. What ensued was 30 seconds of the most ridiculous, comedic hug attempts I’ve ever seen.
B went in for the hug with his arms wide open. She pulled back with, “No, no! Not like that.” Then she proceeded to try to demonstrate how they should hug, with her arms close to her sides. B went in again and again for the hug and she kept stopping him to re-demonstrate. By this time, A and I were laughing hysterically. Finally, the local volunteer tried to demonstrate on A, after which I think B got fed up, gave her an awkward 1 arm up, 1 arm down type of hug and that was that.
This ridiculous incident brought home to me what a solitary figure I am here. I miss all the ways I touch people on a daily basis without even realising it, and the ways in which I am touched. The hand on the arm or the brief touch to the shoulder; the quick shoulder hug ; the playful back slap or shove.
I miss the more intimate touches too. Sitting in someone’s lap, holding hands, hugging, snuggling, laying with my head in someone’s lap (I love to do that with my anam cara, she has the best lap ever) or having someone lay with their head in my lap.
This is 1 more unexpected thing for which I have learned to be consciously grateful. Thank You, Lord, for 1 more lesson!