Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dreaming on Bali

I must admit I was skeptical. After nine months in Indonesia, I had seen enough of Indonesia to know it’s got more to offer the world than Bali alone. Stories of watching surfers at Dreamland, lounging on the beach Kuta, and soaking in the culture at Ubud left me hopeful, yet skeptical, about Bali’s Island- of-the-Gods reputation.

Well the truth is that Bali did cast a bit of spell. I loved the simple things that felt extravagant. Small woven offerings with petals, food, and fruits lying on the sidewalk in front of store fronts. Plumeria blooms resting between dark stones on pathways.

And then there are the lotus flowers.

One afternoon in Ubud I thought I heard rain, but it was just a bunch of ducks waddling their way through a newly planted rice field, webbed feet and beaks meeting the surface of the water.

After a day of surf and sun we watched a kecak dance peformance, the ocean and a spectacular sunset as the only backdrop.

In Tulamben, east Bali, I went snorkeling off a black stone beach. There in the middle of the coral was a solitary, indigo starfish, perhaps 18 inches in diameter, resting there as if it was waiting for me to show up.

Our break on Bali also felt a bit like coming full circle. Early in April when Todd visited, we passed thru Bali’s airport on our way to nearby Lombok and the Gili Islands. This time we came and stayed. We enjoyed the visit of our friend, Lyndsey. Seeing her felt reminded me of what it felt like begin life in Indonesia.

It’s no secret that beginning life in Indonesia is something I’d like to do over. Rewind and replay. I suppose it’s a good thing that I’ve loved it so much. I finally dreamt in Indonesian on Bali. In the dream I had a brief conversation with some Indonesian women. I told them I was a teacher (for some unknown reason) and I was preparing for my lesson.

The next night, the night before we left Bali, our hippie, Humbolt-dwelling hotel neighbor said “Hey guys, have nice dreams. The dreams here really take you places.” That, or the places here seem like dreams.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Oleh Oleh

As I was leaving my friend’s hometown a few weeks ago, her family members gave me parting gifts to remember them by. From her cousin who owns a shoe shop: red flip flops. From the sister who owns a clothing shop: a blouse and a jilbab (head covering for Muslim women). More often than not, this works in the opposite direction in Indonesia. When Indonesians visit relatives in other cities or villages or islands, they bring gifts (called oleh oleh) with them and these are distinctively from their own hometown. Many times Indonesians bring local foods to share. Which reminds me, I have one more bag of oleh oleh my research assistant had his father send from Sumatra.

As we near our time to return to the U.S., I think about the things I will remember Indonesia by and what I can share with friends and family upon return. It’s nothing I can really physically take with me or bring to you, as you’d probably expect. Rather, it’s a surplus of moments living in a place I’d never visited a year ago. A place where I now feel at home. Where a life is carved out. Where friends are found. Where my worldview has been met by many others. Ever since June I have dreaded the part where I leave Indonesia; and before that it seemed I had enough time not to think about it yet. While I am looking forward to reunions and resuming life in the U.S., there’s still a loss, a letting go, that awaits. And I am not looking forward to that.

A few days ago we waved goodbye to our friends, Nancye and Paul. They will be away until January, weeks after we return to the U.S. We would wander into their house almost daily and chat for a bit before heading home. You can do that here. It’s a place where doors stay open, where neighborly visits are not the exception, where life is more shared. I will miss that, and I will miss them. It was the first of many goodbyes.

Until it’s time to go, I’ll just try to take in as much as I can. My morning drive over the bridge and up the hill in the photo above brings me by this t-shirt design shop in the photo below. I know it’s cliché, so I won't say it, I’ll let the sign say it for me.

So there you have it--my sentimental post on how I am feeling about leaving Indonesia. I just don’t want to.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Traveling Companions

I have less than two months left in Indonesia. I promise to share some more meaningful reflections on how I am feeling about this. But, for now, I am posting on a more superficial topic. I want to introduce you to some of my companions. While they've not quite reached the relational status of Wilson in Cast Away (I only recently started calling some of them by name), they are very much a part of my daily life and on occasion I may be heard talking to them.

And here they are:

First, meet my Patagonia Atom backpack, which features an easy-to-access hp (cell phone) pouch. I don't have to hunt for my phone and I can pretty well guarantee nobody will try to snatch it from beneath my nose. There's an outer slim pocket where I keep my flash drive and flash cards. On the outside I can attach my beach towel, sarong, or extra shirt. The Atom is ideal for getting around by motorbike. I can swing it in front of me when I need to grab my wallet, rather than having to take it off as I would with a backpack with two straps.

My friend Katy sent me a SIGG bottle via Todd. I had decided not to pack my large SIGG because I figured I'd be stuck buying bottles of drinking water. But, as it turns out, we have dispenser in our place so the SIGG has seen its share of Java. It goes to the gym, campus, on day trips, and to restaurants with me.

Before departing, my friend Allison gave us a beautiful lime-green leather journal. It has become my language/field note journal and I am always glad for the times I remember to bring it with me. Looking at my earlier notes reminds me of how much I had yet to learn.

This sarong is a more recent purchase. It's lightweight and versatile and 100% Indonesian.

When it comes to research, my sweet Lenovo netbook has been clutch, as we say in So Cal. It's fallen from overhead storage on a bus and the case is as dirty as my childhood blankie. And, it survives the heat, intense electrical currents, and the daily grind. Yet another plug for Atom (the backpack): the Lenovo fits inside.

Finally, since I can't carry around my exhaustive dictionaries, this pocket dictionary has seen a lot of love in the past few months.

So happy together

Monday, October 12, 2009

Schooling in the Art of Jamu

They ride on bicycles with straw baskets strapped to their back. Behind them tall and short bottles filled with various shades of amber-colored liquid peak out of the top. Stop them and buy a glass of jamu, a traditional, medicinal drink containing a mix of spices including turmeric, tamarind, and palm sugar. Jamu gendong, or a woman selling jamu around the village, will have an assortment of jamu in tote. With the varieties of jamu comes a host of health benefits, many of which are intended for women. Jamu can increase circulation, cure a cough, or keep you looking young.

I buy jamu from a dear friend who makes it and sells it to her network of friends. Yesterday she let me watch her make jamu just in case I can’t kick the addiction when I get back to the U.S.

Ingredients are best purchased at traditional markets in the morning hours. A kilo of turmeric (about 40 cents), a bag of palm sugar cubes (about $1), and a bag of tamarind (about 50 cents). Anti begins by peeling the turmeric the root you see in one of the photos below. She then slices it into pieces and puts it in a strainer. She runs water over it into a large bowl. The sediment which forms is more sticky than glue and apparently is not good to ingest. That’s why she lets it settle overnight. The paste also stains skin and clothes.

The next day when I watched she poured the turmeric mixture into a larger stainless steel pot for boiling. She droped in eight or 10 cubes of palm sugar and wads of tamarind and added two pitchers of water. We waited for a half an hour for the jamu to boil. Meanwhile, she finished drying the soaked and cleaned bottles to fill her orders. She added a few more palm sugar cubes.

When the jamu had boiled long enough she removed the tamarind clumps and then poured it over a strainer again. She let it cool for an hour or two before bottling it. While jamu is mass-produced and even comes in the form of a pill, nothing replaces the earthy taste of Anti's jamu.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

To Borneo and Back

One week ago we boarded an eight meter boat for a three night, four day excursion into the Tanjung Puting National Park in the Indonesian part of Borneo. Todd and I and our crew of three snaked down the Sekonyer River mid-morning on Saturday. A few short hours later we found ourselves watching orangutans (from 'orang' which means 'person' and 'hutan' which means 'forest') emerging from the canopy of trees. We fell silent listening to the sound of their arms grasping branches or their mouths chomping into a banana. It was awesome in the most profound sense of that word.

We met some characters throughout our stay in the park. There's Pedro who chased down two females to mate with in the short time we watched him at Camp Leakey. On the dock we met Siswi who was in poor condition because she found some soap and ate it. We saw the suds on her arm. There's Tut who likes to hang out below the dock. See she is older and quite comfortable in the shade there. Princess and her two kids, Putri and Percy, are known as the genius family. Princess can row a boat. And, if you ask her what she wants she will tell you (with her hands) that she would like some water. Then there's Tom. He is the dominant, uncompromising king of Camp Leakey. Everyone knows when Tom is coming because the other male orangutans run the other direction.

These friends put a face to the forest. Sadly, Borneo's forests are rapidly disappearing. A UN report predicts that 98% of the orangutans natural habit will be destroyed by 2022 as a result of illegal logging and palm oil plantations. Deforestation accounts for 20% of the world's green house gas emissions. In Indonesia it accounts for four fifths of all carbon emissions. In addition to articles on deforestation in Borneo, you can also check out the Orangutan Foundation International website for more information.

Here's a slide show of photos from our trip, during which we also celebrated Todd's 30th birthday. The crew celebrated the end of Ramadan, Idul Fitri, aboard the boat.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beautiful digits

We passed a date with a beautiful number: 09/09/2009. Before it's a distant memory, let me just say if it was a hand phone number here in Indonesia, it would cost a bit more than your average sequence of numbers. A nomor cantik (beautiful number) is placed in a premium category, where the numbers are more appealing for the repitition, the order, the ease with which they roll off the tongue. It's not a huge difference in cost to buy a beautiful number, so it may be worthwhile for the one who will want to turn heads in hopes of hearing "Hey baby, those are some beautiful digits you have."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ramadan in Photos

As Todd said about a week ago, “It’s time to get our Ramadan on”. Ok, so no we are not fasting for the month, and we’re not even sure we will make it through one day, but we are experiencing Ramadan here in the world’s most populous Muslim country. Ramadan began on Saturday and will last through late September. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five basic tenants of Islam. Muslims forego eating or drinking between the hours of approximately 4:15 am and 5:45 pm. One should be finished eating by the time the call prayer comes in the morning, which is around 4:30. People eat around 3 am and then again around 6 pm and following. It’s a wonder to me that so many people can go without eating or drinking for so long each day over the course of an entire month, in a tropical environment no less. My amazement probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am an American, and well, as you know, that just wouldn’t fly where we come from.

Interestingly, while one would think that if all the country’s Muslims are fasting, the demand for food would be at its lowest level of the year. But, last week a newspaper surveyed people in the 10 largest cities in Indonesia and found that most people spend more money on food during Ramadan. I would be interested to know if that was the same for villages. The survey seemed to show people buy more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and snacks to sustain them during the day.

Some restaurants and streetside, portable eateries called 'warungs' do not open during the day. They adjust their schedules during Ramadan. One of our coffee spots opens at 5 pm rather than 3 pm and they serve dates (customary) and fresh juices for people to break the fast, or 'buka puasa'.
I’ve gone to campus to see how students break the fast. It’s a great scene—lots of stands are set up along the roads and there are people selling iced fruit soup and iced fruit drinks with rice. Hundreds of students park their motorbikes and meet to break the fast together. I saw some people waiting with bowls of ice fruit soup in front of them waiting for the evening prayer to come.
Here's Ramadan in photos:
Man selling Pisang Ijo ('Pisang' means banana, and I believe 'ijo' is a shortened version of the word for green or 'hijau')
Students selling donuts with ice-cream and sprinkles on top

I also came across a striking group. The majority had bleached hair and looked shall we say, alternative, for Indonesia. They were very friendly and insisted on a photo. As it turns out, this is the staff of Yogya’s most happening night club, Hugo’s. They were also breaking the fast together.
It is considered disrespectful to be seen eating or drinking while people fast. So if restaurants decide to open they often have strategically placed curtains, such as Starbucks in the mall.
We use the gym facilities at a local hotel. I’m amused by the camel scene they’ve created. Much like our winter wonderlands or manger scenes, I believe this is a reminder that we are in a special holiday season. I don’t think it’s worth overthinking this benign camel, but it is a little out of place seeing as the deserts of Arabia are a far cry from Indonesia's tropical landscape. But, then again, it doesn't really snow in San Diego either.