“If I had learnt one thing from travelling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.”—Alex Garland, The Beach
…though I’d much rather do my reflecting perched on rock on Parangtritis Beach…(Photo by Kevin Michael Briggs)
Now that I’ve been back at home for a little over a week and sufficiently bored my family to tears with anecdotes that begin, “In Indonesia…”, I figured it was time to try and consolidate some stray thoughts on this summer into one final (or not) post.
I have been fortunate enough to have travelled relatively far and wide in my nineteen years and have fallen in love with countless places. Indonesia, however is the most wonderful place I have ever been.
And now that I’m home I miss it terribly. I want to wake to the easily accessible sights of stunning, desolate beaches, greener than green rice paddies stretching far into the distance, and volcano after mountain after volcano looming over every view. I’ve been craving the simple and standard Indomie Goreng Telor, baskets of banana-somethings and the fresh pineapple juice available on demand. But what I’m really missing, more than Indonesia’s natural beauty or its scrumptious cuisine is it’s people. Jen puts it best when she wrote, “I feel like travelers tend to attribute the ‘nicest people in the world’ award generously to many a place, but never have I felt it to be so fitting as in Yogya.” And from my interactions in Bali and Flores on top of those in Yogya, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that “a smile is the default expression” across all the islands.
The Indonesian culture is beautiful. It has fostered a spirit of collectivism and caring I’ve never seen anything like. Warungs lay out baskets of treats which you help yourself to - they trust you to keep count and pay for however many you ate. When your sepeda motor doesn’t start, you don’t have to wait more than a few seconds for someone to run over and help you out. Even in the tourist trap of Kuta in Bali, when an taxi-driver suggests a ridiculous fare, he asks for it with a smile - it’s almost as if he is joking and really wants you to suggest a fairer price. When I moved to Chapel Hill, it was the renowned southern hospitality that sold me, but let me tell you that the South has got nothing on Indonesia. I got the feeling that people weren’t being helpful just to leave a foreigner with a positive impression of their country or because society has built in a pressure to seem polite and hospitable good, but rather because the people there are inherently good and acting in any other way would be completely alien to them rather than any kind of social taboo.
There would have been a culture shock wherever I ended up immediately after Indonesia but the contrast is particularly stark when home is the incredibly individualistic London. Just a few ventures on the tube where eye contact with strangers is out of place, let alone a smile, have left me longing to see the Javanese greeting of a handshake followed by the palm pressed flat against the chest. It a wordless gesture, meaning, “I am taking you into my heart.” How lovely is that?
The last two months have affirmed my views on how I want to travel in the future. I’ve always said that visiting a place means little to me, I want to get to a know a place and make myself at home there and that’s exactly what I did in Yogya. I loved it. The moment I realised that I could independently navigate the city, that I had it mapped out in my head, was a personal triumph and I was set smiling when the boy that worked at our favorite warung knew what Jen and I wanted to order before we opened our mouths, we had just eaten there so often.
Though I have wonderful memories from the weeks I spent actually ‘traveling’ in Indonesia, it was an entirely different experience. I made little use of the Bahasa Indonesia I had picked up as most of my interactions were with other foreigners rather than locals who really knew where to eat and what to do. Everyone (whether they regarded the Lonely Planet as a bible or had open disdain for its advice) seemed to be following the same, somewhat well-trodden backpackers route through South East Asia. Travel was about ticking boxes - the point became seeing, rather than experiencing. But for me, the must-sees and must-dos rarely end up being the things that stick.
A backpacker stopping in Yogya might spend a day exploring Malioboro and the Kraton, or use it as a base to see Borobodur and Prambanan. If they’re following the Lonely Planet to the T, they won’t spend more than three days in the city, because apparently, that’s more than enough time to see everything. I spent seven weeks in Yogya and I saw something new everyday. But then I had settled into life there and had met wonderful people who helped me explore my surroundings - something I only really managed because I was there, doing something, for a while.
As contradictory as it may seem, I have decided that from now on, wherever I go, I want the traveling part of travel to be secondary. I want to travel with a purpose, one that keeps me in (and interested in) a place for a long enough time to get to know it a little (or a lot).
Things one should do (and that Kevin and I did do) with a few final days in Bali and a couple of motorbikes:
accidentally run into, and be recognised by, someone you met for 30 seconds in a club in Yogya, because Yogya feels that small after two months there
spend a day beach hopping around the Bukit Peninsula, taking time to settle on a rock to read and search rockpools for the perfect shells
enjoy the company of the crazy cute monkeys at the cliff-top Ulu Watu temple - I had the added bonus of watching Kevin’s glasses being stolen off his face by an adorable monkey, this hilarity being followed by a spectacular sunset
enjoy good Indian food, good Italian food and good company at Sky Garden in the tourist trap of Kuta
drive North, with no map and no real destination in mind, over beautiful mountains, past lakes and temples and stacked rice terraces and through towns with pretty Colonial architecture before stopping for the night at the coastal village of Lovina (though, exhausted, I never made it to the beach)
drive South, literally through clouds, the next day
take advantage of warm showers after a summer without
And one thing to avoid:
braking on gravel - you might have a motorbike accident on your last day in Indonesia that causes you to scream, shake for 30 minutes and makes the 18hr journey back to London most uncomfortable
You know what’s worth flying to the beautiful island of Flores, catching a 4-hr bemo ride up the steep, winding, motion-sickeness-inducing road to the quiet village of Moni, waking up at 4am the next day so that an ojek can drive you halfway up the side of a volcano buried in mist and so you can stumble up the rest of the way in complete darkness?
A truly spectacular sunrise over Kelimutu’s densely (and beautifully) pigmented crater lakes, enjoyed while bundled up and sipping ginger coffee, is.
And do you know the one way to top that experience?
Sharing it with a friend you know from the other side of the world…
…and spending the rest of the morning frolicking in waterfalls you come across during the 15km hike back to Moni.
Last night, at the trendy Kedai Kebun Forum, our weeks of cultural exchange, long days of filming and all-nighters spent editing culminated (though that word really is too final for my liking) in a screening of the three films produced as a result of the Nourish International/Kampung Halaman collaboration.
After much deliberation, we’d titled our series ‘Kita Belajar’ (or, ‘We Learn’, though the English translation does not fully encapsulate the inclusive ‘we’ of the Indonesian ‘kita’). The name had been staring us in the face the entire time as Daniel had cleverly made it the title of our team blog in early May, but we hadn’t thought to use it until the very last moment. The official blurb:
In May 2012, seven US students joined the Indonesian NGO Kampung Halaman to produce participatory media stories in Yogyakarta, an academic and cultural hub of Indonesia. These students worked directly with Indonesian youth on stories in three different communities - Gama 55 (Dusun Krapyak, Wedomartani, Sleman), PMII UIN (Yogyakarta), Kobatte (Tembi, Bantul) - exploring culture, identity and daily life through their perspectives.
Though we faced a couple of obstacles - the most significant being the fact that due to all our incredibly last-minute editing, Dan didn’t get the boys’ film to the venue till two hours into the screening (!) - the evening was lovely. It was the perfect way to end our summer’s efforts. We got to share the fruits of our labour with representatives from other NGO’s working on community media projects, backpackers who had stumbled into our screening after dinner at Kedai Kebun and, most importantly, all the wonderful friends we had made in Yogya, - in the Kampung Halaman staff, the communities we worked within, in the little Yogyan expatriate community we formed and of course, with the lovely locals we met along the way who shared with us their city’s secrets.
After taking a million photos and being serenaded in a lovely gesture of gratitude by the entire staff of Kampung Halaman, we celebrated with a very very late dinner at the wonderfully weird House of Raminten.
The actual films will be posted here as soon as they are uploaded online. For now, below are their accompanying descriptions:
Kota Pelajar by Amirah Jiwa and Evgeniya Serdetchnaia
Yogyakarta is home to over one hundred higher educational institutes of different religious denominations, specializations and degrees of public ownership. We profile female students from the community of Krapyak in Yogyakarta at different stages in their education. Astri Larasati (Laras) has just graduated from SMK Negeri 1 Depok, a vocational public high school, and is choosing a university. Diah Arumsari (Ayi) is sitting her second year final exams at Sekolah Tinggi Ilmu Ekonomie YKPN, a speciality university for finance. Cici is working on her thesis before she graduates from the Universitas Islam Negeri. We explore the differences between college life in the United States and in Indonesia - the differences are often more subtle than they are apparent. Their families have given the students the choice to follow their dreams, but they all aim to use to use their education and careers to give back to their parents. They find education in Yogya to be both affordable and accessible but still, they have reflected on the ways in which the current system can be improved.
Jalan Tengah by Kevin Briggs, Greg Randolph and Daniel Turner
Developing a unique understanding of moderate Islam, preserving Indonesian culture and working as agents of social change, members of Pergerakan Mahasiswa Islam Indonesia (PMII) at Universitas Islam Negeri-Sunan Kalijaga employ the philosophy of ‘rahmatan lil ‘alamin’ (Blessings of all Creation) as a fundamental tool of moral navigation. Exploring the manifestation of this philosophy within the various outlets of PMII lifestyle and interactions, this film follows the struggle of actualizing academic social theory with the reality of life in Indonesia. From the campus to coffee shops to the rural village of Kepuhan, PMII’s core values of community and equality are exhibited through friendship, faith, political justice and their love of the nation of Indonesia.
Wayang Gaul by Grace Farson and Nicole Welsh
In the village of Tembi, wayang, traditional Javanese shadow puppetry, has long been considered to be a central part of educating, entertaining and sharing heritage with younger generations. Many children of Tembi however, find the wayang performances long and tedious, making it difficult for the elders to pass on the traditional stories and values. In order to bridge this gap, Mas Humam created Wayang Gaul, a contemporary spin on wayang, in Tembi. Wayang Gaul adapts the traditional plots and gamelon compositions of wayang to address current issues, such as corruption or the effects of modern technology. His main goal is not only to reconnect the children of Tembi with their roots, but show them that through the arts they can increase their confidence and become vessels of their heritage, bridging the generational gap. This film takes a look as the impact of Mas Humam and Wayang Gaul on youth in Tembi as they work to create a Wayang about the importance of their community and culture.
Pictured (from left to right): Cici, Ayi, Myself, Laras and Desta all batiked up (everyone donned the classic Javanese print for the occasion). Running on Indonesian time, the girls arrived just a few hours late - completely missing the showing of the film that they featured in - but of course I love them all the same!
Most of you reading will be quite familiar with my incredible ability to procrastinate any and every task. It will therefore come at little surprise that, when Kevin invited me along to Kepuhan for the day so he could grab some final shots for their film, I did not hesitate to take him up on his offer, despite the fact that I should have been editing my own film with our official screening just days away.
Unusually, I did not regret my procrastination in the slightest - Kepuhan was beautiful, it’s people were warm and welcoming and I had a lovely day.
The ‘community’ the boys have been based in over the past few weeks is an islamic student organization called PMII at the Universitas Islam Negeri. One of PMII’s latest community service projects is working closely with the village to promote education and market the handicrafts produced in Kepuhan. I understand the eventual goal is to see Kepuhan as somewhat of a tourist destination and I could easily see it as the site of an expensive eco-resort or incorporated into a not-so-off-the-beaten-path backpackers route.
The village was stunning, and I was there only to take it all in. As Kevin filmed women basket-weaving and painting, I spent time getting to know Navic, Hasan, A’an and Muiz, the PMII members who had accompanied us. While all the boys climbed up a (slightly unsteady looking) structure made of palm tree trunks to (prove their agility?) enjoy better views of the distant mountains, I lay on a rug below and sipped the sweetest fresh coconut water. When we were taken on a tour of the village’s surroundings, so that Kevin could capture some landscape shots, I had a ball exploring the rice paddies and rivers.
Before heading back to Yogya, we revisited the handicraft centre and hub of the village, where earlier we had been served tea and the spiciest Mie Goreng I’d ever encountered. There, to my absolute surprise and delight, Pak Wandi, the head of village, presented me with an armful of gifts to take away and remember my day at Kepuhan by. As well as a beautiful hand woven basket with a gift tag that read ‘a special gift for Amirah’ on one side and had a list of names for me to add on Facebook on the other, I received a stunning watercolor painting that I can’t wait to hang up in my dorm in Chapel Hill!
Pictured: My painting making an appearance in the boys’ film - It was being painted while Kevin grabbed footage of the handicrafts!
Just as it said on the tin, this blog has mostly functioned as a record of some of the more entertaining and ridiculous anecdotes from my life in Indonesia with a few touristy, envy-inducing photos and the occasional update on our work with Kampung Halaman thrown in. Alongside our antics however, Jen and I are in fact also working hard to produce our short film.
Unlike the other two groups, who have clear subjects and themes to incorporate - the boys are working to document the activities of student organization PMII at the Universitas Islam Negeri and the girls’ on a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production of a Wayang Gaul (traditional Javanese shadow puppetry) performance that they are also a part of - mine and Jen’s project came titled from Kampung Halaman as the vague and open, ‘Community Media Project’.
During our first we few visits to Krapyak information on what we were expected to produce was trickled in - we heard about the youth of Krapyak planning a set of games to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day (what we later dubbed the: the Hunger Games (1)(2)), about a disconnect between the elderly and the young in the village, and about Kampung Halaman wanting to be more engaged with the community in which they were located.
We then realised that there were no expectations, we were there to do what Kampung Halaman says it does on the tin, to engage the youth of the village of Krapyak through media, however we saw fit.
So we made ourselves at home in Krapyak, settled into a routine where we went into the beautiful, rice-paddy-and-river-surrounded KH office each day, integrated ourselves into the close-knit community of girls our age who we shadowed to glean information about their daily lives. What did we learn? Despite the fact that Cici, Laras and Ayi live in a ‘kampung’ in what the IMF deems the 122nd poorest country in the world (measured by GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power parity which I realise isn’t always the best poverty indicator but still…), they are just like us. They dance, they shop, they enjoy ice cream, gossip with their friends, spend too much time on Facebook, harbour dreams of travel and find time to fit in their education. At the same time though, they balance their own personal lives with the needs of their community - spending time chatting to the elderly who sit along the paths, playing with children in the village, going to the mosque, learning traditional Javanese arts and cooking for village gatherings and organising events.
This balance was the aspect of life in Krapyak that surprised (and impressed) Jen and I the most - the way that tradition and modernity are incorporated equally into the lives of the youth who live there. In contrast to the villages we have seen in India or China or South Africa or Uganda (combined, Jen and I have been (un)fortunate enough to witness poverty and income inequality across the globe), here the girls are quite aware of what life is for the richest Indonesians (or, to some extent, for the average person in a wealthy nation), and yet, they have no desire to live anywhere but in their hometown, their kampung of Krapyak. They recognize the beauty of the balance in the lives they live and they are happy.
These initial observations slowly grew into a film about the education of the girls put into the context of their lives and roots in Krapyak. The topic became an obvious choice as Yogya, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned a few times before, is home to most of Indonesia’s universities. Defeating our preconceptions (once again) of the state of education in a so called ‘third-world’ country, we observed an accessible, affordable system of higher education. Everyone seems to be studying something - and not necessarily so they can do their parents proud or pull their families out of poverty as one might (and we did) naively assume, but for the same varied reasons one would find amongst college students in The States: because they’re passionate about their subject, because there are good opportunities for future employment or because they chose on a whim when they needed to come to a decision.
Pictured: (above) Filming at Laras’ high school and (below) an economics review session at Ayi’s university - she’s in the middle of her second year final exams
Our hope that is our film will tick all our boxes and all of Kampung Halaman’s as well. Viewed back at home (in our case home could be the UK or the US or Canada) it might invite a re-evaluation of one’s ideas about the differences between education in the developed and developing world - namely that in the case of Indonesia, there are fewer than one might initially think. Viewed in Krapyak, it will allow the youth to show their parents and grandparents what they are doing when they are not in the village and why they are doing it - this part of their lives is not very understood by the elder residents of the village. For Jen and I, it allows opportunities to work closely with our Indonesian equivalents and be part of a community with a collective spirit we wish we could bring home and replicate in our Western societies. And, for the girls, they have the chance to share their views and lives with an audience which will span the globe while increasing their comfort in front of the camera and in speaking English (they are so fluent, but so shy!) - fitting exactly in with KH’s goals of increasing self-confidence and self-expression though media production. Smiles all round.
Our film was untitled until, as the pressure piled on with the flyer for our final screening moments away from being sent to the printer, I hurriedly asked Ima what the Indonesian word for ‘College Town’ was. ‘Kota Pelajar’ came the response, literally ‘city of learning’. Very apt, and with a nice ring to it. We ran with it.
Pictured: one “tribute” about to take out his competition.
Since our arrival in Krapyak, Jen & I had been privy to the ongoing discussion and planning of the Independence Day Games amongst the community’s youth. Though initially described to us as tree-climbing competition, details about the upcoming events slowly emerged: there would be prizes at the top of the tree, the men would work in teams, the trunk would be coated in oil and fat to make it slippery, the trunk was REALLY REALLY tall…
When Sunday finally rolled around however, I was still taken very aback by the sight that met me once I wandered over to the village volleyball court - the towering tree trunk topped with an Indonesian flag and surrounded by a ring of the gifts in the clouds pushed any thoughts of attempting the climb myself straight out of my head!
Jen and I spent the the next 6 hours in perpetual awe as we watched men, working in teams of five, clamber over one another, using the backs of knees, smalls of backs and the shorts of pockets as footholds…
While gushing over everyone’s good spirit, coordination and upper body strength, Jen and I realised that the impressive issue of climbing up the tree was no issue for many of these men, it was just the grease that was making the task seemingly impossible!
Eventually the teams simply dissolved (no one really minded making it clear that this really was only a friendly competition) and all the men worked together to clear the bark so that finally someone was able to claim victory…
(He kept the cash prize, threw down sweets for all the children and then cut down the other prizes to be divided between all the participants)
I was looking forward to watching the Olympics in London later this summer but my excitement has now waned a little - I’m not sure any of the events will be able to hold a candle to the ‘Panjat Pinang’ I witnessed!
NB. The most horrifying moment of my trip thus far also occurred Sunday when Ayi, surrounded by a group of children came running up to me and placed a live snake inches from my face. I proceeded to run away. They chased me with it, expecting me to want to take a photo with it. They explained it couldn’t kill me as its mouth was sown shut. I explained a snake didn’t need poison to kill me - it just needed to be in my vicinity to give me a heart attack. They gave up and one little boy then snatched it away and spent the next half hour playing around with it…
The aspect of living in Krapyak that I’ve enjoyed the most is the incredibly close knit community. One fantastic example of this were the set of Independance Games held in the village (Independance Day is actually in August but the games were moved up for our benefit) this past Sunday.
The series of competitions and races, ranging from the more standard (to us) sack races to the more surprising (again, to us) task of removing of coins stuck into a watermelon covered in (horrible) charcol paste using teeth alone, were entirely organised for the village children by the village youth…
Cici, Ayi, Laras and Ozi were the main coordinators and started their days at 6am to set up the courses and races and then spent the rest of the day making sure all the children were in their correct competing groups, ensuring everyone stuck roughly to the schedule and keeping participants and observers happy and hydrated with snacks (watermelon yum!) and drinks.
In contrast, our contribution to the day was limited to: making fools of ourselves as we attempted to compete…
…initiating a game of ‘duck, duck, goose!’ and forcing children to join in…
…and, most fun of all because ‘everyone who knows me knows I love babies’, playing with lots of adorable children!
Part 2 of the Hunger Games take place this upcoming Sunday where men of all ages will compete to scramble up a palm tree trunk made slippery with oil and vaseline. Oh and prizes including 400,000 rupiah cash and batik clothing will be placed at the top for whoever can grab them.
Grace and I went along with some of Krapyak’s strongest as they ventured into the jungle to cut down the palm tree that will be used - it took ten men to cut it down and carry it back to the village!
I’ve grown up knowing that my first name, Amirah, is Arabic for princess (thank you parents!) but it wasn’t until I was in a travel agent on Gili Trawangan booking my flight to Yogya that I realised that my last name, Jiwa, meant something too.
Since then however, I’ve been told consistently by any Indonesian who finds out my name that Amirah Jiwa is an Indonesian name, and that Jiwa is Bahasa Indonesian for soul.
For the first time, I’m in a place where I don’t need to spell my name out for people and where my name often appears on street signs and in song lyrics. This is fun and novel and weird at the same time.
Either way, I’m contemplating introducing myself as ‘Princess Soul’ from now on. Just thought I’d let you all know.
When deciding what I wanted to spend this summer doing, the very first thing I ruled out was teaching english, or teaching anything at all for that matter. Of course I’ve ended up teaching English (sort of) alongside filming here in Krapyak but it’s turned out to be a lot of fun.
Jen and I started out by holding a conversation/grammar class for Cici, Laras, Ayi, Angoun, Ozzy and Mulyadi, but during the Hunger Games (post to come!) on Sunday, some younger children asked if they could join the classes too!
So now I teach a second session of nine to ten year olds - they’re adorable! Yesterday they scampered about collecting objects from nature (we got a leaf, a feather, a discarded cigarette packet, a shell, a brick, a flower, a stick amongst other things) and played games to get the english names for things stuck in their memory.
Then, we moved the class to the river, where Yodi caught a tiny fish, a teeny crab and a teeny tiny (dead) shrimp and presented them to ‘Mrs. Amirah’ in a leaf filled with water. Hands down the best present I’ve ever recieved.
UPDATE: Today Yodi caught lots of little fish and presented them to me before class in a plastic bag filled with water - I love these kids! Ima helped me transfer them carefully into a water bottle which is currently sitting next to me.
Martabak (alternatively, the greatest thing on earth)
It started a few midnights ago. Jen and I were on our regular run to the local Indomaret to pick up tea biscuits, bottles of water, faux cheetos, apples and oreos to help us through our lengthly, enlightening conversations, when we spied the cart manned by two young boys.
All I was craving were a couple of pisang goreng (or banan fritters) but they weren’t selling that so I just ordered something off the menu with the words manis (sweet), pisang (banana) and coklat (chocolate) in it thinking there was no way I could go wrong with that. Turns out there was no way I could go more right…
Jen and I watched as the guys basically baked us a banana and chocolate cake from scratch…from cracking in the eggs to folding it over and coating it in butter.
Since that evening, Jen and I have repeatedly been unable to resist the Martabak on our way back home and on several occasions have left our beds to drive down to get cake. It is that good. I am currently working on a plan to sneak the two boys and their cart through UK customs, so I’ll let you know how that pans out.
For my family: Martabak is to Yogya what Grilled Sandwiches are to Mumbai.
Accompanied by Astri, Philipp, Cici and Laras, and running on very little energy after staying up till 5am only to see the Netherlands’ devastating loss to Portugal, Jen and I had an early start today as we spent the morning filming at Laras’ high school. Ravenous, we quickly agreed when Astri suggested grabbing breakfast at a ‘traditional market’ after wrapping up our shoot.
Soon we were following the two other motorbikes down beautiful winding roads past rice paddy after rice paddy with mountains looming in the distance. Expecting that the market was only a short drive away, I commented to Jen that we should try to remember the route so we could find it again on our own and kept my eyes peeled for any sign of it so I would be able to slow down in time to a neat stop…
One right turn later however, and we suddenly found ourselves on a terrifying motorway, zooming far beyond Yogya city limits and weaving between truck after bus after truck. Still hungry and tired, and now also confused as to where we were being led, we followed on as the overhead signs indicated we were heading in the direction of ‘Semarang’, a city of Java’s northern coast.
At one point, Astri’s bike pulled to the side, but when I pulled over, she only informed us that we had entered a new Indonesian province with different traffic rules and so had to have our headlights on, even in broad daylight, and then sped off again.
After an hour of driving we found ourselves in Magelang in the province of Jawa Tengah (Central Java). The market was lovely as was our breakfast (or more brunch) of Mie Ayam, freshly baked breads and juicy fruit but I’m not convinced that the same could not be found within Yogya city limits.
Though you American readers are likely used to driving ridiculous distances on a regular basis, any Brit reading this will be more sympathetic when I overlay the same situation to English geography - imagine being in Central London and thinking you were headed to Camden for breakfast but were instead led all the way to Cambridge…
No. of external freak-outs while driving despite running over a snake, a rat, and a lizard on three separate occasions: 0.5
No. of kickstarts: too many to count
This past week Jen and I have been successfully zooming around Yogya on our beloved motorcycle. Saturday and Sunday both saw drives through the busy city and then onto country roads as we made day trips to the beach with the rest of the group and this morning we survived an hour long foray weaving through high-speed traffic when we unexpectedly (story to come) ended up on a motorway leading to another Indonesian province…
Our bike seems to have a pretty shoddy battery and though its been serviced several times already, we usually end up having to kickstart it. Jen and I have our routine down to a T at this point:
We get on the bike and try to start it automatically, even though we know very well that this isn’t likely to work…
We feign confusion and frustration
Usually at this point someone has already come and taken over and our bike is rearing to go, but if not, we make motions as if we’re about to attempt kickstarting it ourselves and at that point a helpful parking attendant or passerby will most definitely take over
Yesterday morning however, no one was about as we were leaving for the day and so we had to get Solenna moving on our own. After a few feeble attempts from my side, Jen stepped up and we were soon ready to go. Since then, our self-sufficiency has impressed (and amused) many, including our landlord who today helped Jen refine her kickstarting technique in lieu of starting Solenna himself.
"Kickstart a bike for a woman and you get rid of her for a day. Teach a woman to kickstart a bike herself and you’ll get rid of her forever." -Our genius
Today, for the first time ever, I watched a movie entirely in a foreign language without English subtitiles.
Soegija is a historical movie directed by Garin Nugroho - who I’m told is one of Indonesia’s greatest directors - that tells the story of Mgr. Albertus Magnus Soegijapranata SJ, a national hero and the first native archbishop of Indonesia.
Jen and I decided to go see Soegija in the cinema after flicking through our friend Andreas’ book of stills from the movie and I didn’t really expect to I’d be able to follow the plot or even that I’d be interested in the storyline - I was mostly looking forward to the beautiful cinematography and rich visual detail the stills had promised.
Somewhat surprisingly, I quickly grew invested in the stories of those living in the decades spanning Indonesia’s independance from the Dutch, the Japanese occupation that followed and then, after that, the attempted return of the Dutch post-WW2. The themes of empire and colonialism have recently become more interesting to me, not least for the way that have contributed to my own international background, and the film revealed to me many parallels between Indonesian and Burmese history - the latter of which has always fascinated me, as most who know me will know.
Though the majority of the script was Bahasa Indonesia, I particularly enjoyed how Nugroho incorporated Javanese, Japanese, Dutch and even a few lines of English into the movie. Being able to understand the interspersed lines of Dutch - I was a little shocked at how much I understood seeing as I haven’t spoken the langauge in so many years - made it much easier to follow the plot. I also got to hear Dutch spoken in an Indoesian accent for the first time which was fun!
It is nearing midnight and I am currently sitting in the Kampung Halaman offices. Though I would love to tell you that I am hard at work, the truth is that I, along with some of Krapyak’s football fans, are enjoying some UEFA 2012 with the England v France match! I thought, however, that I might be somewhat productive during the half-time break and hammer out a quick blog post…
Jen and I have only been working independently of the entire Nourish team for three days now yet we’ve already managed to accumulate some anecdotes which, though not much fun at the time, make for some good stories in retrospect.
On Saturday for example, we managed to pick up a stalker for two hours. As we waited for our baby, Solenna, to be serviced because her battery was dead, we wandered from shop to shop on Jalan Kaliurang. When a short, drunk, disgusting man with bloodshot eyes and a head wound pulled up on his motorcyle beside me and gestured me on it, we ignored him, turned around and started walking in the other direction and thought that that was the end of the matter.
He, however, obviously had nothing better planned for his day and decided that following us from shop to shop, or screaming at us as we crossed the street repeatedly in an attempt to get rid of him would be a good way to spend it. Eventually we jumped into a cab and directed it to our new home. The man proceeded to follow our cab, at which point we started to feel a little threatened. Worried that he would follow us all the way home - which we were not going to allow to happen - Jen called Tom so he could explain what was going to the cab driver while I explained, in broken bahasa Indonesia, that no, this man was not our friend, no we had no idea why he was following us and, yes, he was completely crazy.
Our wonderful driver then decided that we more trouble than we were worth and dropped us off at a Hotel Ishiro where the man followed us into the lobby and began screaming in our faces. Since we were not guests of the hotel, the lobby staff had no issue asking us to leave and take the nut following us with us, but we were lucky to have Candra, who met us at the hotel to return our serviced motorcycle. He called us a cab to take us to the police station and hilariously (in retrospect), the same cab driver who had kicked us out of his cab pulled up outside the hotel, looking absolutely horrified when he realised that we, again, were his passengers. Candra somehow convinced him to drive us only to the nearby police station.
The crazy man, still following us of course, walked in with us into the police station and proceeded to scream his version of events, whatever that was, in Bahasa Indonesia. The police eventually managed to send him on his way after we called Tom and Ingrid and had them translate our whole story to the police, though when they came to pick us up the police expressed concern that Mr. Crazy might still be hanging around to follow us. We made it home perfectly safely though so alls well that ends well! That was really the only occasion that I haven’t felt safe in Yogya, and is not reflective at all on the city. Instead Saturday was just a reminder that there are crazy people everywhere and that Jen and I are so lucky to have a built up a great support network here!
We were blameless in Saturday’s events but unfortunately the same cannot be said of the trouble we got into today! After a morning of brainstorming, coordinating our filming and planning a timeline for our project at the Kampung Halaman offices, we headed to Dunkin Donuts so that Jen could get her coffee fix and we could both make use of their speedy wifi. After navigating through traffic to within 200m of Dunkin Donuts without any problems, we both spotted the black car trying to turn into the busy traffic. I thought I swerved to avoid it, but apparantly not because seconds later I had hit it head on. Shocked that the bike was still upright and that Jen and I were still on it…I hit the gas and zoomed off so as not to hold up the millions of bikes behind us (or deal with the driver of the car - we hadn’t damaged it!) Jen, who had maintained eye contact with the two bules (white girls) in the car, assured me that they had looked as horrified and unsure of Yogya traffic as we were and that she had apologised profusley with her eyes when it became clear that, yes, we were really going to drive straight into their car, so I guess it was okay…
Minutes after our collision, I parked outside a shop on the opposite side of the road to Dunkin Donuts to avoid having to do a U-turn and risk our lives yet again. We kept a careful eye on Solenna through the window for the next few hours and we walked past her at 9pm as we headed to dinner and enjoyed pasta, chicken tikka masala, bruchetta and cheese fries at Parsley, a restaurant right next door to where Solenna was still safely parked. When, however, we were ready to head home and headed back to where she was parked, we found the shop gated, Solenna parked on the street and our helmets no where to be seen. A parking attended ran up to inform us that the shop had been locked up, our helmets were inside and the owner had gone home. After quickly dismissing the idea of driving back in the dark without helmets, Jen and I started our girls in distress act - wide eyes an all. As it turned out, all it took was me pulling out 30,000 rupiah (approximately $3) for the attendant to remember that he did in fact have access to the building. He had our helmets back to us within two minutes…
A hit and run (I’m exaggerating - it really wasn’t that bad) and bribery…just a day in the life of Amirah and Jen.
The Indonesian word ‘kampung’ seems to be one with many meanings. The most common usage translates to village and Jen and I have relocated to a ‘Kos’, or boarding house, in a ‘kampung’ called Krapyak which is located in the Northern part of the province of Yogya.
Though only a ten-minute motorbike ride away from a main road in Yogya, Krapyak has a somewhat rural feel and a key component to the success of our work here over the next month is integrating into it’s supportive strong community.
Jen and I began yesterday morning with helping - though our contribution was limited to passing buckets of cement down an assembly line of sorts - the village men build a concrete road leading up to the Kampung Halaman offices. It was fantastic to see the whole community come together, something that has become quite rare in many societies of today.
Later yesterday, Cici, Laras, Desta and Angoun - girls close in age to me who live in Krapyak - took me to an abandoned field so that I could practice my U-turns . We then explored the surrounding area, full of winding roads through nearby villages and rice paddies, on motorbike.
As Jen and I learnt this morning while sitting in on a meeting with young researchers from a Japanese university, the work ‘kampung’ also translate to ‘hometown’ and, the organisation ‘Kampung Halaman’ gets it’s name from this meaning, translating to ‘My Hometown’. The organisation began with the goal of using multimedia to enable youth in rural communities to tell the stories of their hometowns and that is exactly what Jen and I will be doing with the youth of Krapyak by documenting their daily lives and producing a short film which will allow them to share their perspectives with elders in their own community - bridging the cultural gap between young and old - as well students on the other side of the globe as we bring work back home to share.
Indonesia is made up of more than seventeen thousand islands divided up into thirty-three provinces. This summer we are working and playing on the island of Java and within the province dubbed ‘the ‘Special Region of Yogyakarta’ as it is the only province to be governed by a pre-colonial monarchy. Yogya is the the cultural capital of Java and the heart of higher education in Indonesia - the home of batik and ballet and over one hundred institutes of higher education.
Now that we’re done with our intense intensive language training at Alam Bahasa, in two duos and one trio, we’re going to be fitting ourselves into three communities, sprawled out across the province.
Greg, Dan and Kevin will be working with students in the heart of the Yogyakarta City itself, while us girls will be working in the outlying regencies (there are four). Grace and Nicole with make their home in the village of Tembi the southern Bantul Regency and Jen and I will make ours in Krapyak, located in the northern Sleman regency (it’s the village where Kampung Halaman is headquartered).
As devastating as the separation will be, once we start zooming around on our ‘sepeda motors’ it’ll take no more than an hour to get from Krapyak to Bantul so we’ll still be seeing a lot of one another!
"Are you even working? Everything you report on is straight relaxing or having fun..."
A text from my UNC roommate Safiyah (who is currently in Nicaragua and writing about her experiences here) reminded me of the post I have been meaning to write explaining my work with Kampung Halaman - it is after all, my real purpose for being in Yogya this summer.
Kampung Halaman is an Indonesian NGO which uses media in communities across the country to enrich the education and foster personal transformations in Indonesian youth.
Nourish International’s UNC Chapter selected this organization to partner with and a team of seven students will be working in three teams on documentary projects with different focuses in different communities across this city. Our team blog, ‘Kita Belajar' will track the progress of each project.
The more I learn about their work, the more excited I become about working with Kampung Halaman. On Monday night we attended an event put on by Kampung Halaman in collaboration with EngageMedia, another Indonesian NGO which works towards social justice through media, which brought together filmmakers with similar goals from around the world. It was a wonderful evening which Greg has written up for ‘Kita Belajar’:
They came from all over the globe—advocates of community-based media from Indonesia, India, Egypt, Ghana, Sri Lanka, and Israel, among other places. But on that almost chilly evening—in the Kedai Kebun alternative art space of south Yogyakarta—diversity was defined in more than geographic terms. Diversity of voice was the evening’s priority—and people like myself and my Nourish peers came first to listen, rather than to speak.
To whom did we listen? Palestinian hip hop artists in Gaza. An abandoned single mother on the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border. Egyptian revolutionaries. Basket-weavers celebrating their craft. Slum-dwellers in Sri Lanka protesting the pollution of their local water supply. Their voices and stories were captured in short films, produced by the marginalized communities themselves, screened locally and spread globally.
The aim of this community-based media movement, of which I am a recent but enthusiastic supporter, is not to be “a voice for the voiceless.” Rather, the goal is to provide a platform for the voiceless to speak for themselves, to articulate their own identities, to heighten consciousness of community-level issues. The movement grows out of recognition that a democratic society requires not simply media, but democratized media—where corporate-owned and state-owned outlets are kept in check by an alternative media, produced by communities that both government and free-market institutions systematically squeeze out or misrepresent.
I will be working with Jen Serdetchnaia in the immediate vicinity of the Kampung Halaman headquarters, located in the northern outskirts of the city and surrounded by lush green forest and rice paddies - the area is simply stunning. So far, our first week has been spent preparing: intensive language training at a language school, fiddling around with video and audio equipment to familiarise ourselves with it, learning how to drive motorcycles (!) which are the primary form of transportation in Yogya and getting to know our colleagues at Kampung Halaman - they are all incredible! We move into our local homestay tomorrow and will spend the following weeks training and engaging with the youth (aged 17-25) in the community to help them document stories which they feel need to brought to light. I can’t wait!
Picture: The Nourish Team (minus Kevin) with members of Kampung Halaman outside the organisation’s office
In preparation for our work with documenting and facilitating multimedia workshops with youth within various Yogyakartan communities, the NGO we will working with, Kampung Halaman has organised for us to spend a few days in Intensive Language Training at Alam Bahasa, a local language school.
Besides this group of UNC students trying to pick up a little Bahasa Indonesia before trying to integrate into Indonesian communities, the other patrons of the school currently include an American finance lawyer who works in Jakarta, a Brit attempting to start up a clean technology firm in the country and a Dutchman who spends his holidays visiting language schools similar to this one in exotic locations. They are all interesting people, who all join me in complaining about the intensity of the course during our short breaks which we spend sipping water or coffee curled up in a sun lounger on the terrace.
It is intense learning - we’ve spent six hours each day for the last two days, and with a few more days to go, in groups of two and three studying Bahasa Indonesia. With the help of rotating instructors, a textbook designed to develop basic conversational ability, numerous flash cards, role plays using props and monopoly-eqsue versions of Indonesian currency, and tasks which have including negotiating the price of fruit at a market stall and interviewing the centre’s staff on their daily routines, I’ve already learnt how to introduce myself, how to order food and bargain for clothes and how to inform people of the date, time and colours of random objects amongst other things.
It’s amazing how much you can achieve when you focus on one thing for 6 hours (broken up into three two-hour sessions divided with breaks) though I’m shocked my attention span has made it through the last two days to be honest.
Favourite phrase I’ve learnt so far? Pasta Gigi. It means toothpaste.
Sometimes I power nap during our afternoon breaks. Photo by Grace Farson.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve fallen in love with this city. I had few expectations, all I knew before I arrived here was that Yogyakarta is Indonesia’s cultural capital - its soul if you will - and that, home to 700,000 people and located on the island of Java near the famous temples of Borabodor and Prambanan, it attracted some tourists but nowhere near the numbers that flock to Bali or Jakarta.
I’m shocked that more people don’t visit. I’ve found the city has a beautiful balance: bustling and yet you get the sense that people are living at a happy pace, clean and modern yet Indonesian culture is still very much felt and, most of all, the people here are friendly and welcoming while at the same time not treating foreigners much differently.
Because it’s late and because I have a penchant for bullet pointed lists, here are a couple of things I’ve learnt over my first three days here:
Motorbikes are the primary form of transportation - they come from all directions and never stop, choosing instead to swerve with purpose, which, combined with my tendency to not look where I am going and jaywalk as much as humanly possible is far from ideal
Indonesian women have style! I see adorable dresses and billowing, printed blouses on everyone - I cannot wait to get shopping
Yogya is very much a student city - with over 100 universities here there are young, fun people everywhere and the streets are lined with cafes and cute coffeeshops
I’m reminded of French ways when I see shops everywhere doing one thing very well - our homestay is surrounded by little shops dedicated to beauty treatments (I’ve benefitted from an incredible facial already), laundry and mobile phone repair. Today, we also discovered a fantastic bakery minutes away…
The food is goooooooood. I’ve enjoyed a variety of meals from $1 Indomie (instant noodles) with a fresh fruit juice from a streetside cafe, or Warung, to $5 dinners at trendy, expat-filled restaurants - so far we’ve tried Italian Pizzas at Nanamias (yum!) and vegan versions of classic Indonesian fare at Loving Hut (yum again!)
We just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave Gili yesterday - we were having too much fun. Instead we traveled back to mainland Bali this morning. Though we left the island at 10am, thanks to traffic we didn’t arrive in Kuta until past 3pm.
We’re planning to spend the remainder of today missing island life whilst running errands in preparation for our departure to Yogyakarta tomorrow. There we’ll be trading island for city, beaches for temples, backpackers from around the world for local friends and endless relaxation for long days working on our respective documentaries for Kampung Halaman - I’m looking so forward to it.
I fell in love with Indonesia while my flight was landing. Bali’s airport was just so close to the sea - one second we were flying over clear blue sea with no land in sight, and the next we had hit the tarmac. Grace came to meet me at the airport and after a short taxi ride into Kuta we checked into the sweet Suji Hostel where we got our own little bungalow by a beautiful pool for the cost equivalent of a meal swipe at Rams - success!
Kuta was great but incredibly touristy and 16 hours there was all I needed. So, at a ridiculous hour on Wednesday morning, we headed off to Gili Trawangon, a tiny island about two hours away from Bali by fastboat.
Life since then has been perfect. We’ve filled our days with lying out on the gorgeous white sand beaches, getting crazily tanned, enjoying simple but delicious food accompanied by fruity drinks (a Pineapple Lassi has been my winner so far), naps in shady beach huts, snorkeling in the turquoise waters (= hanging out with the full cast of finding Nemo, the sea turtles included) and dancing the night away with new friends from across the world.
The original plan was for us to leave to tomorrow (Saturday) at 10 am but we’ve fallen so in love with this island that we’ve postponed our departure to Sunday. After that we’ll try our hand at surfing and visit a few monkey-ridden temples in the South of Bali at Uluwatu before heading to Yogyakarta on Tuesday for the real purpose of our trip - our work with Kampung Halaman (detailed blog post on that coming soon)!
"Try to pull a Graham and pack BEFORE you get on the plane"
With just a little over 60 hours to go before I board my flight at Heathrow for a 17 hour journey to Bali, I’ve decided to take my friend (Kilo)Graham’s (follow his adventures in India here) advice and start packing.
Uncharacteristically of me, I’m not leaving this to the morning of my flight, but, in classic Amirah fashion, I’m having real trouble packing light. My bed is covered in mountains of clothes and I need to stuff some combination of things that are practical and modest but with which I can put together enough outfit variations to last me two months into my trusty (pink!) 65L rucksack. Wish me luck!
The Indonesian word for language which comes from ‘bhasa’, the Hindi word for language. ‘Kopi’. The indonesian word for coffee which has origins in the Dutch ‘koffie’. ‘ApaKabar?’. The phrase used in Indonesia for ‘How are you?’ which literally means ‘What news?’ - ’Kabar’ is the Arabic word for news.
With only a few days till I set of for Indonesia, I’ve been setting aside a little time each day to learn some Bahasa Indonesia vocab - it’s mostly made up of loanwords from a multitude of other languages - Arabic, Dutch, Sanskrit and its derivations, Portuguese, French, Chinese and Latin amongst others. Though I have a little familiarity with some of these, it turns out that that isn’t much help at all - my basic knowledge of Dutch, French, Arabic and Hindi has merely resulted in moments of ‘Aaaahh, that’s where the Indonesian comes from,’ after I’ve looked up the meaning of the word.
Despite this, I’m really enjoying learning Indonesian, partly because my being able to speak it will be another thing I’ll have in common with President Obama, but mostly because I have decided that Indonesian is the cutest language ever! I don’t mean that condescendingly at all - I just love how simple and organised it is:
you don’t have to conjugate verbs - indicator words are used instead for different tenses, a godsend after years of conjugating verbs in Latin and French
you can use reduplication to indicate plurals, for example, the Indonesian for ‘man’ is ‘bapak’ so to say ‘men’ you would say ‘bapak-bapak’ - I was however, disappointed to find that this doesn’t work for pronouns, so ‘saya’ (which means ‘I’) duplicated to ‘saya-saya’ does not mean ‘we’…
the words are pretty much pronounced exactly how they are written (in Latin script!)
Also, when spoken properly, Bahasa Indonesia sounds much more like singing than speaking - I’m still butchering it obviously but I can’t wait to become better!
Or, ‘Welcome,’ in case you aren’t conversant in Bahasa Indonesia (as I hopefully will be this time in two weeks…)
For those of you who don’t know me personally: (a) well done for stumbling on this blog - I’m not quite sure how you managed it, and (b) by way of introduction, I am a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from London (really originally from lots of other places) who will be spending two months this summer in Indonesia.
Those of you who do know me will know I am beyond excited about this. I live to explore and make myself at home in places far, far, away and this trip is the perfect blend of adventure, relaxing on the beach and attempting to make the world a happier place (in some very small way).
After a week of enjoying the seas and sights of the slightly touristy island of Bali with my dear friend Grace, we’ll be heading to the island of Java for seven weeks where we’ll be working on documentaries for Kampung Halaman, a Yogyakarta-based NGO that uses media production to engage and empower youth in villages across Indonesia. Then I’ll spend my final week in the country solo, hopping from island to island - of the thousands to choose from I only know I have to visit Flores to see Kelimutu, a volcano with three striking coloured crater lakes.
Though I do journal often, this blog will be the first time I’m writing for others to read. I’ll be using it to let ‘y’all’ know I’m alive, write about my adventures once I’ve survived them, reflect somewhat on my experiences and share the entertaining things I see or overhear. You can also look forward to anecdotes from the ridiculous situations that I will inevitably get myself into and the ways I continue to make a fool of myself on another continent - enjoy!