Minyak kayu putih: directly from Indonesian to English, it means 'white tree oil', but the better translation would be cajuput oil. I was just leaning over to grab a bottle of hand sanitizer off the floor, but instead caught that familiar glimpse of green and red: the cap of my last bottle of minyak kayu putih, which has traveled over 10,000 miles with me, from home to home again. Now it contains just enough oil to last me about a lifetime here in mosquito-less Idaho.
Lifting the cap, the smell - strong and unmistakable, enough to make your eyes water - instantly takes me back to Indonesia nights, when my AC was on full blast and I was awake clear into the early morning hours, reduced to frustrated tears over the mess of mosquito bites spread all over my body.
I would say that anyone who's had a mosquito bite can understand that pain, but the level of torture a bule goes through at the hands of Indonesian mosquitoes is unimaginable if and until you go through it. It's maddening, knowing that the nyamuk are lurking everywhere; if you don't wear long clothes all the time or cover up in nasty-smelling lotion, you're guaranteed to be bitten practically to death.
Indonesians, for their part, don't suffer in the same way - or at least my host family never had a problem with them. Awesome for them, not so awesome for the one person who would become every mosquito's dinner in the natives' place.
I would slather on the minyak kayu putih, as much as I could tolerate. It works like a charm, but only for a little while, and much like aloe vera or an ice pack, has to be reapplied liberally. So I would stay up, the glow of my laptop playing Skins the only light in the darkness, nursing angry little wounds until they let me go and I could fall asleep.
Sadly, my phase of looking like I had smallpox because of all the red welts on my face and neck was over by the time Avery introduced me to minyak kayu putih. I remember the first time I dribbled some on a bite, rubbed it in, and felt the instant sting of relief. It was the kind of moment that could make anyone believe in God. I'm not even overselling this, it was one of the greatest discoveries of my year, the only downfall being that I stopped focusing on actually preventing the bites... thus, I ended up in the hospital with dengue fever on Valentine's Day. (Which is a story that I've already told but I plan on adding on to later because there's hilarious additions that I didn't know at the time. You guys will see what I'm talking about.)
Burning plastic, open sewers, Javanese night flowers, my host mom's perfume, laundry soap, strawberry essential oil, and especially minyak kayu puth - all of them trigger memories I usually don't uncover during my daily American life. For a moment, it's like I'm living abroad again, enjoying my time, feeling like it'll never end because I can't imagine any life that isn't as vibrant and painful as it is (was?) in Indonesia.
And then, just as quickly as it's brought up, the memory is replaced by some other thought or whim, and I'm brought out into the 'real' world. Maybe just for a second, or for the rest of the day. But those reminders will always be there, ready and waiting to take me back, and I'll always be infinitely glad to have those free one-way tickets to my Indonesia.