Family & Adventure in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, Bonderman Fellowship Week 3
I have just returned from the jungles of Sumatra, and am going too play some catch up from last week.
This week brought:
Being treated like a celebrity at a raging mall concert in the busy shopping district of Malioboro. A serendipitous run in to another Michigander, in a place where there is aren’t many tourists! Beautiful mountains, surrounding exquisite temples. Teaching English to an eager 15 year old atop said mountains. Encountering new challenges in less westernized places ( it isn't all bliss over here). A solo waterfall journey ( which due it being "dry season" was hardly as exciting as it sounds), slack lining(!!), meeting with a Fulbright scholar who speaks near fluent Indonesian, and a temple tour straight out of an Alan Watts lecture.
Here I'll highlight my ride back from Borobudor, the biggest Buddhist temple in the world! The temple quite the sight, but I think it is the ride back that has made a deeper mark in my memories.
To give a quick description of the setting: it's an awe inspiring, meticulously designed structure. Built entirely from stone, nearly all of its perimeter is marked in intricately designed 3D symbols from Buddhas, to monkeys, to men praying, to fleets of ships. In entirety the temple is composed of 10 levels, all which tell a unique story in their stone art. The whole setting is surrounded by lush green mountains. It made me question, “how people could possibly build it 1300 years ago?” And furthermore, “if we've really progressed as much as we think we have in that time frame.” But this entry is not about the sights and internal questionings arisen from being in the temple, rather the journey from the temple itself.
Always bring a rain jacket for long solo scooter treks. Or don't and form spontaneous relationships, and embark on enthralling adventures. I was deep in rural Indonesia, at least an hour away from home, with no accessible data on my phone , just as the afternoon was starting to fade. And that’s when the torrential downpour started.
As the first sheets of rain smacked the pavement, I realized I was in for a wild journey. With no rain jacket, and apprehensive about the now lack of friction on the road, I pulled over to the nearest place that could provided shelter. It is hard to describe the setting. It was a complex, of with no doors separating it from the outside, rather just a roof which was barely sufficient to shelter from the overbearing rain drops. In the makeshift shelter, lied scattered and arbitrary construction materials, from bricks to wood carvings, to metal beams of all kinds. In the side of the shelter there was an entrance way, which I learned was home to a Muslim family.
At the start of my rain delay, I started to journal. I was in rural Java, and I was getting copious looks of amusement and wonderment, seemingly signifying that I'm in an area rarely visited by non-locals. Though this time, my reaction to being at the center of everyone's gaze was different from usual. I began to deeply contemplate the consequences of not seeing other human races. Of what it may feel like for my counterparts to only see the same ethnicity day in and day out, and what reactions they may have when encountering people of novel origins. I started theorize potential negative impacts this may have had on the past and how we can transform this to positively shape the future. Deep in thought, and writing, my stream of consciousness was interrupted by a smiling face , and a welcoming gesture of hand.
I was welcomed into the families porch area, where I sat amongst the wife and husband, one of their fathers, and a middle aged man, whose relationship to the family is still unknown to me. I quickly learnt the wife was the only one who spoke a serviceable level of English, and she soon became the bridge from misunderstanding to connection. As the rain began to pick up, we started to engage deeper in conversation.
We shared in words, laughter and fruit with one another. We managed to converse about my story and journey, my family's background, their family's background, the husbands’ salary, their religion, and assumptions about the United States. (FYI Bonderman Fellowship advisors if you're reading this, fantastic recommendation on bringing pictures of your family, house and other things which showcase your domestic identity. This is a great way to give locals a glimpse of your identity, and reduce the mystical, stranger nature of you.)
When the rain subsided 2 hours later, we wrapped up our exchange. We closed with the all too familiar sentiments of "come back, you have family here," and a promise to help the husband find work if he ever makes it to the United States. Given their situation, it's a deal that seems ever so distant. Regardless of if I will be seeing them again, I left in an elated state, fueled by foreign connection, and the further confirmation that home truly can be anywhere.
Though the rain subsided, the adventure did not. My ride home was an off road trek, filled with euphoria, adrenaline, and risk. The setting was picturesque, palm trees, and rice fields during that magical time of night where the night sky shifts from shades of deep blue to its resting state of jet black.
I didn't seek adventure. It found me. Navigating my way through dark, rural villages, on my motorbike, I finally came upon a place, where I had enough data to map a route home. The data wouldn't last for long, and only if google maps could see the route they took me on. Google maps gives you the quickest ride home, which often means you're not on main roads. When one of the "roads", which seemed isolated from all signs of human development for miles, abruptly halted to a ginormous, impassable, pile of dirt, I was tasked with finding a new route home using only broken dialect with locals and intuition.
During these rides I get into these states. It's a state of laser sharp focus. Of everything else fading away besides what's involved in the immediate tasks of navigating home safely. I'm lucky I haven't felt fear in these situations but instead adrenaline fueled one- pointed focus. It's a different type of flow, it's euphoric, but more aggressive, less open, more honed in, sharper and narrower. The next hour was spent navigating and rerouting, in the drizzling rain, under what turned to starry skies, on narrow mud paths through shallow jungles, which I believe the locals call roads. And here I was thinking I was adventurous to take my bicycle off roading in Ann Arbor.
Upon arriving home safely, I was able to reflect, upon my feelings. Home and warmth. Something I have felt from the beginning, no matter which part of Indonesia I've been in. From Bali to Java to Sumatra, there is a feeling of warmth here that goes beyond the tropical climate. It is radiated from the locals. Almost all of them want to hear your story, offer assistance when needed, and a friend when wanted. For me, that warmth has given rise to a near consistent feeling of home, no matter how far away I may be.