(Here is a picture of us today, taken in the same spot as three months ago. Missing is Aaron, our program director, but we’ve saved his space!)
On a cliffside resort over the beach of Parangtritis on the island of Java, the group has spent two days – their last of the trip – thinking about assimilating their experiences back into their life at home. Dragons calls this part of the trip “transference.”
Activities geared toward thinking about the journey home included writing a letter-to-self that will be received two years from now; crafting a yak-yak for next semester’s participants; learning about “re-entry shock” and tips for how to deal with it; sharing personal gifts and compliments during “secret volcano;” using law of attraction principles to vision a transition back home; brainstorming goals for 2014; and exploring a “bag of wisdom” that included thoughts on beauty, the journey, keeping in contact, staying updated on international events, continuing language study, pursuing scholarships and grants, and finding other ways to stay connected to Indonesia.
When students were asked to put their attention homeward, they expressed they felt excitement tempered by sadness. We asked our students to share: what are you sad to be leaving behind?
I’m leaving behind every day being an adventure.
I’ll miss Indonesia’s timeless “rubber-time” culture.
14 diverse, crazy, insightful, hysterical, obscure and loveable people provided to me by Dragons.
I’m going to miss tempeh. Tempeh is so freaking good.
I’m leaving behind the lack of privacy that’s surprisingly refreshing, the gentle curiosity towards the small aspects of my life.
Horrifying but exhilarating traffic and incredible food.
I’m leaving behind at least a million smiles, 10 thousand laughs, 100 friends and endless obstacles overcome.
I’m leaving behind the exhilarating feeling of having no clue what sort of environment and culture I will find myself in next week.
I am leaving friends I made in Indonesia. I am going to miss Naldo, one of the most caring men I know. I’m going to miss Ganda who despite talking in circles, always has other people’s best interests at heart. I’m leaving behind Mudi from Sampela and the man we came to know as “Old Man Jenkins” from Toraja. I’m going to miss Pace, Lauda, and Zaki. I’m grateful for the chance to have forged a connection with so many different people.
I’m leaving behind 5 different families: in the city, jungle, over the ocean, in the mountains, and one that has been there through all of it.
I’m not leaving anything behind because I know someday I’m going to come back here for more.
As a family or friend, you may be wondering how students have changed. What has the impact of this trip been, these three months spent in such remarkably different environments. We asked our students to share: what would you like to tell friends and family back home?
I want to be asked a lot of questions about my gap year. Please be patient if Indonesia is the only topic I want to talk about.
Please help me to stay busy and feel included so that I can be content with where I am and not wishing I was back in Indonesia.
Other than affection, it is important too to ask me questions about what I did and to get involved in the stories I bring back.
I want to spend more time with my parents, my parents are amazing. But I want more control over my life. In being apart I realized I can make responsible decisions. Let me decide what college is best, how to take care of myself, and when to come home at night. I have realized I am capable and I want the chance to prove it to them.
I want to continue to travel.
I’m taking home a more confident thankful and loving self.
I’m going to take new experiences with excitement and curiosity.
Not a day went past in my last 3 months where I felt unchallenged and bored. At home the temptation to fall into a rhythm is so great that the prospect of adventure disappears – home is overwhelmingly comfortable. I know that at home, I can easily slip into a rhythm that will leave me adventureless.
I will try my best to teach everyone at least one thing they didn’t know about Indonesia – to help further educate people about a country and its walks of life.
I’ve learned the power of human connection and hope to bring that home with me.
I am eternally grateful for the experience – so to my family, thank you.
To everyone who has supported our students on their gap semester –office workers in Boulder, family members, friends, benefactors, supportive teachers, and in-country contacts – to all we all say Terima Kasih – Thank You.
Indonesia I-team, Fall 2013
I’m a visual learner and I’ve deduced that the best way to appropriately convey some of the remarkable things I’ve seen and done is through my TOP TEN FAVORITE PHOTOS. Actually, I’m indecisive so when I ran over my self-determined limit of 10 I played eeny-meeny-minee-moe to reduce my list. Thus, I present my TOP TEN WINNING (SURVIVING) photos from that game!
1) About a week and a half ago I was lucky enough to be one of the few in our group to travel to Wanci with some local teenagers from Sampela for the Bajao festival. Essentially, the Bajao Olympics. Bajolympics! The festival consisted of a carnival-like celebration at night and absurdly awesome competitions during the day. The contestants were typically middle-aged Bajao men, built similarly to club bouncers, who competed in things like canoe tug-of-war, diving contests, kayak racing and more. After each round or event finished, the younger spectators waiting on the edge of the harbor’s water would immediately jump in and frolic with joy so intense and heartwarming you’d think it was the first time they’d seen the ocean.
2) The hand of a woman who often shuffled by my batik house in Yogya with her weathered walking stick loyally beside her. She occasionally stopped to quietly ask for money, sit with Black (the Rastafarian neighbor) or just touch my shoulder. Whenever I would leave my ISP covered to my elbows in residual dye, the thing I remembered most of her was the hands. They were soft yet so tough and worn that I frequently found my thoughts in the taxi home lingering to imagine the life a human’s hand leads. I imagined what ages hands to such a graceful extreme. So I took her picture.
3) The day we left our place of orientation, Queen of the Sea, we visited a local fish market to pick our lunch out by hand. The market was a large, indoor hall with tall counters lining the center aisle. On top of these counters lay stacks of every kind of fish, shellfish, or sea dwelling creature imaginable. The fishy piles towered high, waiting for our choosing. But I must admit, when I stepped out of the sweltering sun into the tiled hall, the smell was so crude and intrusive that I could only think, “Well, I guess I’m getting food poisoning today.” Four hours later after adjusting to the smell, rounding up our meal and finding a local restaurant to cook it, I was beyond pleasantly surprised. The kitchen was quaint and dim yet lively with the colorful broths and vegetable bundles waiting for Wake and I to hack at with knives. I’ve found most Indonesian kitchens to have the same effect; simplistic with marvelous amazement.
4) I like this picture not because it looks like an advertisement for organic rustic living but because it’s the most encompassing and least gruesome picture I have from celebrating Idul Adha. In the United States, at least for me, it feels like there’s a disconnect between the animals we kill for our food and our food. But on the Muslim holiday of Idul Adha where animals like cows and goats are sacrificed to Allah, I saw many living, breathing animals transform from livestock to meat products in fifteen minutes flat. The animal was cajoled towards the small hole in the earth for collecting the blood and held down while a religious man with a sacrificial knife said a prayer over the animal’s death. Fast forward thirty five minutes: the animal is skinned and the meat is being fussed over by forty of the female volunteers. The raw meat was cut with petite axes, weighed with large brass scales and divided into small bags to be dealt out to the less fortunate and those in the neighborhood.
5) Oh the magical, mystical, subject-to-change-able Pelni! We heard of the Pelni; “There may be rats,” “I’m imaging it like human cargo,” “It’s a possibility you’ll be stolen from,” and “This article says it will smell like urine.” Luckily, only one of those prophecies turned out to be true! With little hope and zero firsthand experience to go on, we emerged from the sea of humans bustling through the archway to the open dock and saw our real life Titanic (not yet sunk). It had not enough life boats available for all travelers on board which is why all fifteen of us have been each lugging around a neon orange lifejacket since leaving Yogya. Seriously, you should’ve seen the looks of horror we saw from fellow air passengers when we stepped onto our airplane in the Yogyakarta airport with lifejackets in hand. The Pelni was immense and through Rita’s supernatural powers of slight bribery we were upgraded to our own rooms! The Pelni was an unparalleled experience. We hijacked a dining room for the duration, watched We Are The Millers on a laptop, did some thought-provoking creative writing, toured the decks bursting with passengers and celebrated a birthday!
6) The Sikunir sunrise. The first morning of X-phase we camped, yes to all Indonesians alike who doubted us, we camped in chilly Dieng and awoke before the sunlight. Sikunir’s sunrise was advertised to us by Aaron, our program director, as “one of the three best of his life.” We were sold. Sitting on a rock next to Sam, bundled in four layers so thick my arms could not lay flat against my sides, we waited for the sun. First sunlight broke just over the clouds we had camped above and washed our campsite in a blood-orange glow.
7) Where to begin to describe Peter’s wild, hyperactive, overgrown eight year old, five-minute breath-holding, occasionally intoxicated, Sampela homestay father? I guess there. Lauda is your guy for a great story to take home, a way to a catch a crazy fish you’ve only seen in movies or a good old -fashioned wrestling match. My first experience with Lauda came when he took a group of us to Hoga for a few hours to snorkel and play on the beach. I was sitting in the water just off the shore when I found the most amazing shell. It was larger than my palm and spiraled in on itself in vibrant orange and purple. It was smooth and perfect; I planned to give it to my mom in the States. Lauda walked over a few minutes later and asked me what I had found. I held out my hand proudly presenting my find and he carefully picked it up. He looked it over then asked me while grinning, “Suka?” which translates to, “You like this?” I nodded, beaming. Then he threw it. He chucked my shell away, far into the depths of the ocean. As I watched it soar away from me and my face fell realizing what had happened, Lauda laughed maniacally, pushed me over and ran away giggling. Two hours later he speared an eel the thickness of my thigh and the length of my body by diving down twenty meters with no equipment but a pair of wooden goggles. That’s Lauda.
8) Three different colors of rice represented land, sea and coral. The egg symbolizes the soul. This ceremony was held at the Shaman’s house in Sampela to help cure the recipient of any torso ailment. It was called the Crocodile Ceremony and in fact, my frequent back pain led me to be a participant! An offering was created twice on two large banana leaves as a sacrifice by an older woman who gracefully created leaf-like origami with her deft hands. Once completed, both were waved over my head and one was set out to sea in a canoe with Grace holding an umbrella over it for protection. It was then placed in the ocean for an offering to the sea gods. The event concluded when I chose three bananas and ate them. Although my back pain has persisted, I attribute that to my extreme over-packing.
9) This picture is simple. I just think it’s completely pure. This is Fish and his Sampela homestay grandpa who is the Shaman I previously mentioned. In this picture they had only been a Dragon-arranged, temporary family for two days. Though they live on different continents, grew up in different time periods and speak different languages, they both share identical expressions of appreciation and contentment as they looked out towards the ocean.
10) A small naked boy, surrounded by trash with a hopeless look. It seems appropriate for a Feed Our Children commercial: those television ads – a white-haired American man wandering through a desolate village picking up children with distended stomachs saying fifteen cents a month can feed them. From the look of it, this could be that place. Therefore, I feel the need to point out the facts and inaccuracies in this photograph. This was taken in Sampela and yes, Sampela has a lot of naked kids and even more trash. Constant nakedness lends itself to the never-ending slew of children that leap from the docks to the water below. The lack of clothes often seems to be a choice. The trash as well. It hasn’t been swept in by a monsoon or massive flooding as in the TV commercials but discarded there by the people themselves. Although the trash was a frequent topic of discussion among our Dragon’s group, the Bajao people of Sampela accept it. Yet, the most important thing I feel the need to clarify is the look on his face. This look is not one I ever saw replicated on a kid’s face in my eleven days in Sampela. This photo initially roused feelings of sorrow for me. I felt bad for the boy even though I took the photograph and saw him run away giggling not ten seconds later! In fact, Sampela is so incredibly loud because of the shrieking, laughing children playing all day and well into the night. This isn’t to discredit anything like Feed Our Children or to say that Sampela isn’t a poor community but rather to make the reader aware of how easily and wrongly one can draw skewed conclusions from photo journalism.
I didn’t mean to end my yak on a somber tone but I know these ten pictures sum up my experience in its entirety; good, bad, happy, sad, amazing or thought-provoking. This has been my Indonesia. So far.
This is my voice.
I heard a poet speak these words, and for better or for worse, these words are true.
I have no way of knowing where I’ll go from here, where I’ll wind up in a month or in a year, but I hope that wherever I am, I’ll still know you.
I’ve fought battles in my life, I know that words can cut deeper then a knife, but I have survived all this to be here, to find you.
You, who have been my constant friend, the echo in my head, you’re the one who’d never leave no matter how hard I’d beg or plead for it all to end, and in this way I’ll forever be indebted to you my friend.
I have climbed mountains, I have flown across oceans, I have seen distant lands, and met all different kinds of man, yet here is where I’ve come to rest my head.
In this spot, on this day, in this place I’ve never seen, feet dipped in water that is greener then it is blue, here is where I’ve come to recognize you.
This is my voice.
It may sound harsh at times, but I’m trying to be kind, not just to others but also to myself, for I find that even though my heart has grown strong it carries the harshest of my words, and I’m not sure how much longer it can carry all this hurt, so I’m trying to let it go.
I don’t know how long it will take or how many mistakes I will make along the way, all I know is that I’m trying and that’s the best that I can do.
I’m done with being quiet or watching what I say, afraid of being judged or left or lead astray. I’m weaker then I look or at least that’s how I was, people think that I am strong just because, I smile all day long, but in reality I’m just a girl trying to find her voice in a very large world, so I’m sorry if sometimes it may come off too proud or too loud or whatever it may be,
But this is my voice, and now that I’ve found it, get ready to hear me roar.
Its the last Thursday of November, so for all of you friends and family at home this day marks a lot of family, football, and turkey. For me however, this day marks just over a week before my trip here in South America ends. This realization evokes a wave of emotion that makes it difficult to identify any one feeling. On one hand my family’s faces have made regular appearances in my day dreams on long bus rides and silent nights before bed, so the idea of seeing them face to face always makes me smile. On the other hand, the students and instructors I have gotten to know on this trip are some of kindest and most intellectual people I have encountered in recent memory and the idea of leaving them is daunting. I hate to sound cliché but in many ways my peers and I have created an environment that is very similar to that of a family. After all that we have endured together family is the only word that seems fitting. We have trekked through the rain, somehow made each other laugh on 18 hour bus rides, and picked each other up at some of our lowest moments.
I’m not just describing my groups kindness and closeness from what I have witnessed, but also from what I have experienced first hand. Tomorrow will mark exactly one month since I dislocated my right knee cap while playing a friendly game of soccer with my group. It was truly a freak accident of just landing awkwardly after a jump but the injury was substantial. As I lay on the hot cement with my leg looking awkwardly twisted, my only question was why? I have experienced many injuries as a soccer player, skateboarder, and adrenaline fueled teenager, but why would such a horrible injury make an appearance now during one of the most adventurous and joyful times in my life? As far as I was concerned in that moment, my trip was over the only question was how soon I would be leaving, two days? A week? The pain in my leg was substantial but was easily dwarfed by the agony in my mind.
As I rode in the back of a cab on the way to the hospital my mind quickly spiraled into dark thoughts. The past two months had been an amazing mix of personal development, novel experiences and wonderful people, why was all of that being stripped away from me prematurely? I felt angry and scared on the long 10 minute cab ride to the hospital and by the time we made it to there I almost didn’t feel the pain in my leg anymore. After my knee was relocated, I had time to stare at the ceiling and just think about all of the things I was going to miss out on, all of the people I would have to leave early, and just how unlucky I was in general. Then, out of nowhere the faces of my wonderful peers were staring at me upside down and I got up to see all of the group standing at the head of my bed holding an ice cream for me. In that moment, my entire perspective changed on the situation. Sure it was terrible luck that such an injury would hit me at this time, but really how lucky was I to have had the chance to meet these amazing people and experience the things we did in such a short amount of time? In the following days my group played a huge role in keeping my mindset positive on my situation, from Elliot and Charlotte visiting me at my home stay with a blow up tiger and a donut, to lunchtime conversations with Andreas about staying positive and how lucky we are to have met through Dragons. Now, almost a month later not only am I still in Bolivia but I have also experienced the Amazon, the world’s biggest salt flat and the world’s highest city. All while walking without the use of a crutch or brace.
So as I think about the trips end close at hand, I try to remember that as difficult it is to say goodbye to Elliot, Charlotte, Kira, Andreas, Isaac, Ryan, John, Peter, Seth, Danny, Rosa, Pedro, Julianne, Jackson, Pablo and Ben, the opportunity to have met them and experience the things we did is such a blessing. It’s for that reason that even though I walk with a limp, I have a huge smile spread across my face. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.