Peace Out, Indonesia

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta.

I now depart Indonesia after 308 days of living here.  It’s been exactly 44 weeks of highs and lows, 10 months of ups and downs.  And it’s time to say goodbye.  To be perfectly honest, I’m ready to go but I cannot leave without acknowledging all the good that has been Indonesia for me.

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me-7-eleven-managerA big part of the good was made up of some really, really nice people.  Starting close to home, there was the 7-Eleven crew.  For months, I went there to get my coffee at least 5 mornings every week, and whoever was on duty greeted me with a smile and sometimes a cheery “Pagi!” (good morning).  My food purveyors have also been good to me, like the fruit cart where I bought whatever they were selling.  I know that they overcharged me but it was so little money when I thought about it that I accepted their price, whatever they told me.  The boys who usually man the cart were unfailingly polite and respectful to me, patiently helping me with my words when I had trouble communicating, and laughing with me when I said something stupid (yes, they were laughing at me sometimes but they did it in a nice way).  The mie aceh guy and the ayam bakar guy were also good to me, getting to know my order even before I could speak, and always serving me with a joke (mie aceh guy) and a smile (ayam bakar guy).

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My neighbourhood transportation experts must also be acknowledged.  All the Go-Jek guys who unfailingly shouted, “Hallo, meeeeees!” and waved when I walked by, and the Bluebird taxi crew who greeted me with, “Hallo, Krrrreeeeeestin, how are you today?” whenever they saw me.  They brought me little moments of pleasure, even when it was just a chuckle.

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Some of our local volunteers here have stood out to me because of their kindness and generosity of spirit.  Addina, who took me to her friend’s wedding; Nancy, who took me for nights on the town; Siti, who invited me to her home to eat with her family and meet her students and neighbours; and Sofwah, who let me ask her anything and answered it all so wonderfully.

Indonesia has restored my faith in the goodness of humanity, and it has given me profound experiences.  I have seen and done things here that never previously entered my realm of possibility to experience.  I have sat (or hung off a mountain) and watched erupting volcanoes, visited an island within an island, and meandered around ancient temples.  Indonesia has been a gateway to making lifetime memories in other Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Laos.

night-out-with-nancyIn Indonesia, I have had to confront the issue of colour and decide on how I should handle it; this was something I never had to deal with before and now I’m more prepared to deal with it in the future.  In Indonesia, I learned that I can adapt even to the point of learning another language, maybe not to expert proficiency but at least enough to get by in daily life.

Indonesia, being here has helped to expand my heart, and for that I say thank you.  I don’t know if I shall pass this way again but I can say with all honesty and sincerity that it was very nice knowing you.

Peace out.

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In The Shadow Of A Volcano

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

I was sick on my second night at Lake Toba and still can’t say exactly what was wrong.  I put it down to that dodgy pork I ate for lunch that afternoon.  It didn’t seem dodgy at the time, but in retrospect, I think that must have been it.  All night, my body ached and I couldn’t get into a comfortable position.  The bed and pillows that were like cloud 9 the night before were now like a torture chamber.  I woke up the next morning feeling exhausted and sick-ish without being able to pinpoint exactly what I was feeling.  Eventually I threw up a little and felt a little better, so I went to breakfast and had some fruit, then I was off.
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We were returning to mainland Sumatra so we got back on the car ferry.  However, this time, since I was feeling poorly and dying to sleep, I dozed in the back seat of the car for the 1 hour trip.  Once we got back to Parapet on the mainland, we headed the car in the direction of Berastagi.  We would be driving for most of the day, stopping to see different sights along the way.  At every stop, I felt well enough to get out of the car and snap some photos but I just wasn’t feeling the energy of the previous days.As we drove, the gorgeous views that I had seen on Samosir island continued on Sumatra.  We passed fields and beautiful lake views, and even in the late morning when we stopped at a restaurant for a cup of real ginger tea, the Lake was still with us.While I sipped my really strong ginger tea in the restaurant, I unintentionally eavesdropped on a conversation at a nearby table.  A man who seemed to be a tour guide was telling his clients that the evening before, he was washing his car and twice it got covered in volcanic ash from the continuously erupting Gunung Sinabung, 1 of the 2 volcanoes that looms over Berastagi.  We were heading right towards that and even in my slightly out-of-it state, I was excited to get closer to the volcano.

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But first, we made a quick stop at a king’s palace of some sort.  It was really a small village and a king used to live there with his 12 wives and his security guards.  My driver tried his best to explain it all but I didn’t really get it.  Google Translate helped a little but not much.  I spent about 20 minutes wandering around, including  going up into the wives’ house, which was a large, dark and creepy traditional Batak house.  They all used to live there together and I couldn’t get from anyone if they managed to do it in peace.  Maybe they did.  Whatever, I didn’t really care enough at that point to pursue the line of questioning too much.

Our next stop was a waterfall.  I planned to get a dip under the falls.  But I was feeling kind of weak and not at all prepared to tackle the million steps going down to the waterfall.  So instead I just took a few pictures.We continued our drive and finally made it to Berastagi in the late afternoon.  The entire town was grey and at first I thought how dirty it was but then my driver told me that it was layers of volcanic ash, and I remembered what the man in the restaurant had said about washing his car the night before.

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Finally, we got to my hotel, where I spent a good 30 minutes searching my room for the air conditioner remote so I could turn it off because it was so cold.  Eventually, I gave up and called the front desk to ask them how to turn it off and they informed me that there were no AC units in the hotel, it was all fresh mountain air.  I laughed and said thanks, had a steaming hot shower, snuggled under the covers and once again knocked out early.

I hadn’t felt well all day but I still had a pretty good day.  They views had made it all worth getting out of bed that morning.

Beheadings, Cannibals & Bad Pork…Oh, My!

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

I slept for 12 solid hours on my first night at Lake Toba.  Clearly, I needed the rest, having slept for only 5 interrupted hours since I had gotten up 36 hours before.  I would spend that day seeing some of Samosir and I was ready for it.  I spent a leisurely couple of hours lingering over breakfast with the lake just down below – with those views, who can blame me?

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My first stop for the day was Huta Siallangan, a traditional Batak village.  My English-speaking tour guide three was hilarious and informative and actually 1 of the best tour guides I’ve ever had.  She showed me what the inside of traditional Batak houses look like, and told me that they kept their animals under the house.  Then she explained all about the stone seats of judgement and the village’s cannibalistic history.  Yeah, you heard me right.  Cannibals.  But she said not to worry, they had already eaten breakfast so I was good.  Ha!  See what I mean?  That girl was pure gold.

Apparently, the criminal justice philosophy back in the village’s distant past was that there were crimes that you could make recompense for and those that you could not.  The first category of crime included things like thievery, in which case punishment might be slavery to the village’s king for a pre-determined period, or paying back what was stolen by some multiple, like pay back 4 pigs if you stole 1.  The second category of crime, the unrecompensable type, included things like murder, rape and adultery.  Those were things the apparently you couldn’t make up for and the automatic punishment was death.  Apparently, the stone seats of judgement weren’t about deciding on the guilt or innocence of an accused.  No, if the alleged criminal made it as far as the judgement seat, their guilt was already taken as a fact.  The judgement seats were about sentencing.

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So first the prisoner would spend some time in “jail”, which was under the front of the king’s house because, you got it, they were regarded as animals and under the house was where the animals were kept.  While he was shackled under the house, all villagers were free to walk by and spit on him, throw rotten fruit at him, hurt insults at him – basically treat him like crap.

Once the sentencing was done, it was time to move on to the execution phase of the proceedings, if death was the punishment.  The execution didn’t take place on the same day because the prisoner was granted a last meal, prepared by the villagers.  On execution day, everybody congregated in the execution area and the food was put on a stone table.  The prisoner, with his hands tied behind him, would be made to eat like, yup, an animal.  After he was done eating his last meal, he would be laid out face-up on a stone slab and tortured.  The executioner would use a knife to make shallow slices all over the prisoner’s torso and then pour lime juice into the cuts.  The aim was to torture the prisoner until he passed out so that he would be unconscious for the beheading.  They would therefore torture him for as long as it took for that to happen.  Once he was passed out, the executioner would chop his head off, and the head would then be posted on a stake at the entrance to the village, to warn enemies and its own villagers of what happened to criminals in Huta Siallagan.

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After the beheading, the prisoner’s torso would be cut open and his heart and liver would be pickled and eaten immediately (also, raw) by the king and villagers because they felt that the power of a dead person would be passed to them through these organs.  So ate the person’s organs for a reason, not for fun.  After all this, the body would be thrown into Lake Toba and no-one from that village would fish from the lake for 7 days.  Then everything was back to business as usual.

Uh huh.  Moving on.

We said goodbye to the village and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon driving around Samosir, seeing gorgeous view after gorgeous view.  Seriously, we couldn’t catch a bad view, no matter where we went.  We went up hill after hill, past fields and waterfalls.  It was just gorgeousness everywhere.  I can honestly say that the Lake Toba region is the most beautiful place I’ve been to in Indonesia.

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We stopped for a late lunch in Tomok, where I had some soup, pork and rice.  This would come back to haunt me, but more on that next time.  After lunch, I wandered up to another little village of traditional Batak houses that was nowhere near as impressive as Siallagan had been.  Late afternoon, I went back to my hotel and snuggled down into my comfy bed with an ebook and Whatsapp while the rain poured outside.  I was a snug as a bug in a rug.  What a lovely way to end a beautiful day.

A Long Journey North

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

I decided to go to Lake Toba for my August days off based totally on the recommendation of a friend.  I did a little research and made my arrangements to go.

Lake Toba is located in the north of the island of Sumatra – that’s the same island where Aceh is located.  Actually, technically Aceh is located in the northernmost section of the island but since they basically consider themselves separate and independent from Indonesia, Aceh is Aceh and the area below it is north Sumatra.  Go figure.

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Anyway, Lake Toba is located in north Sumatra.  In the middle of the lake, there’s an island called Pulau Samosir.  Yes, you read that right – there’s an honest-to-goodness island in the middle of another island.  Samosir isn’t a small island either.  It’s a properly large island with mountains and everything.  The entire area was formed by the eruption of a supervolcano tens of thousands of years ago.  Lake Toba is actually filling up the volcano’s caldera and the volcanic activity pushed Samosir up out of the caldera and formed an island.  Seriously, isn’t nature amazing?

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So this area was where I would spend my 4 days off.  Getting to Samosir would require a 2 and a half hour plane ride, a 4 hour drive and a 1 hour ferry trip so I booked a 5 am flight to Medan.  To get to the airport on time, I left the centre at 2 am.  Of course that meant I barely dozed for an hour before I got up again, worried that I’d sleep through my alarm and miss my flight.  After a thankfully incident-free ride to the airport (the cabbie drifted off once and I had to wake him up and eye-drive the car from the back seat for the rest of the way).

I had decided that to get the most out of my 4 days, I would have a driver.  So we found each other at the airport and, after a quick stop for a cup of tea, we set off for the long drive to Lake Toba.  I slept for the first 3 hours of the drive but I woke up for the best part – when we got near to the lake and the views started getting beautiful.  By the time we got to the ferry, I had found my second wind.  Since the car had to go with us across the lake, we would be taking the car ferry.  After an hour of waiting, the ferry came and we drove aboard, along with other cars, buses and trucks

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Before I knew it, another hour had passed and we were driving off the ferry and onto Pulau Samosir.  By this time, it was just after 3 pm so my driver dropped me off at my hotel with instructions for what time he would pick me up in the morning.  I had planned to wander around the area a bit but a heavy tiredness came down on me so I had some gado-gado at my hotel (it was loaded with lettuce and was pretty good) and went to bed at a ridiculously early hour because by that time I had been up for about 36 hours.The day had been long but I had enjoyed my travel process and I was happy with where I was.  I was surrounded by beautiful views, I was on an island in the middle of another island, my bed was comfy, my room was clean and my food was rice-free.  I had absolutely no complaints.

Let’s dance

written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta
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My last stop on my Jogja journey was seeing a performance of the Ramayana Ballet.  The show is usually done in an outside, open-air theatre with Prambanan as a backdrop.  However,  it was raining when it was time for the show to start.  The organisers tried to wait out the rain but they eventually decided to move the performance indoors.  This meant that I wouldn’t see it with a stunningly lit up Prambanan as a backdrop.  This was a little disappointing but didn’t dull my excitement.

whatsapp-image-2016-11-02-at-17-46-22The ballet was absolutely beautiful.  It’s not a ballet in the traditional sense but it’s just as good, in my opinion.  It is done in traditional Javanese dance with opulent costumes.  If you ever go to Indonesia, be sure to go to Jogja and see the Ramayana at Prambanan.  Five minutes after this 1 and a half hour epic drama was finished, I wanted to see it again.  After Borobudur, this was my second favourite experience in Jogja.  Unfortunately, I have no good pictures of the performance because my camera failed me and my phone camera takes awful night pictures so although I tried, the pictures I got were horrible.  But it’s all wonderfully burned into my brain.

I got back to my hotel at around 10:15 pm and I showered (divine!) and snuggled down into bed.  My time in Jogja was just about over and it had truly been a joy.

Another day in Jogja

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

The day after my magical Borobudur morning in Jogja, I started out at about 9 am, headed for Taman Sari.  Wow, what a rundown, poorly maintained, nothing-to-see-here disappointment.  On top of that, I had a guide who spoke terrible English (I understood maybe twenty percent of what he said) and who actually told me to tip him after the really bad tour was over (side eye).  I tipped him, not a lot because he did a bad job, but people are in such need and every rupiah counts; I just couldn’t bring myself to not tip him at all.

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I hotfooted it away from Taman Sari and headed out of the city to Ullen Sentalu museum.  This is a museum in the woods, on the way up to Mount Merapi, that houses the recent history of Yogyakarta and Solo’s royal families.  I wasn’t impressed by the royal people but I really liked the museum itself.  It was so cool (temperature-wise) and quiet and tucked away in the woods that I could easily have spent all day there sipping hot chocolate and reading a book while lounging in a deck chair.

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Prambanan was my next stop.  Like Borobudur, this is also a 9th century temple but this 1 is Hindu .  I was impressed by the architecture – building these huge temples back in the 800’s could not have been easy – but I didn’t get the point of it.  Basically, these temples are huge structures that have a very small open chamber about two-thirds way up, in which there are 1 or 2 statues of different Hindu gods.  My question is, what else is under this huge building?  What’s the point of building it so big if you’re only going to use 1 small chamber?  There are no other openings, so what’s the point?  I still have no idea so in the end I wasn’t overly impressed.

taman-sariBy this time it was almost late afternoon and I was starving so I got mie ayam to eat while I made my way to Candi Ijo.  I was trying once more to see the sunset but again got beaten by the rain.  Still, before the rain came, I got a stunning view of the province of Jogja spread out below me.  I was only there for a few minutes before the rain forced me to leave, but the view made every minute getting up there totally worth it.

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A Beautiful Sunrise in Jogja

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

A couple of months ago, I spent a few days in Jogja – proper name Yogyakarta – and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  But my favorite time there was the morning of my first full day absorbing all that is Jogja.

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That morning began for me at 3 am, when I got up to get ready because I was heading to Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple, to watch the sun rise.  I was driving away from my hotel by 3:40 am and I got to Borobudur at about 4:30 am, where I paid the tourist entrance fee (locals get in for cheaper) and was given a flashlight and a map.
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Off I went, following well-placed signs and other bobbing flashlights, climbing up the stupas of Borobudur in the darkness.  I climbed up to the 8th stupa (there are 9) and since I was ahead of most of the huffing and puffing tourists climbing behind me, I found a great spot facing the east.  I settled down to wait.  After about an hour, the sun started to make an appearance.  And I unexpectedly experienced the highlight of my time in Jogja.  I watched the sun rise behind Mount Merapi, an active volcano which was smoldering and smoking as I looked on.
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Slowly, the day crept up on us and I saw the mist in the valley below slowly disappear.  It was breathtakingly beautiful and all I could do was soak it in and be thankful for the awesome privilege of witnessing this beautiful sunrise in this beautiful place.
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Once the sun was properly up, I wandered around the temple for a while, then I checked out the museum, had a cup of coffee and some refreshment (fried banana and a sweet treat) and I was off again.  But I went with my Borobudur experience safely tucked away in my heart.

What Indonesia Taught Me..

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

I have now finished more than half of my time in Indonesia.  It seems so long ago that I arrived here, but also like it was just yesterday.
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During my first few months here, I had a mild case of culture shock. Thankfully, I got over it and finally started seeing the beauty of the people and the place; I finally began enjoying being in Indonesia.  And even though I spent a few months wondering what the heck I was doing, I still learned so much – about myself, the world, and others.
First, I learned a new level of gratitude from witnessing in new ways the fact that many people have life far harder than I do.  I will never again take for granted a solid roof over my head or a clean, pest-free environment.  I’ve also learned how to be more flexible.  From changing cities to changing rooms to changing teams, I’m learning so much more flexibility than I normally need to have.

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When I arrived in Indonesia, I didn’t expect teaching to be something that I actually enjoyed, since I’ve never seen myself as a teacher.  I always thought I was too impatient for that job.  Yet, here I am, liking teaching my students and learning to be a good teacher.

A shining jewel among the many lessons I’ve learned here is the basic kindness and generosity of people.  It may seem to go without saying that people are basically kind and generous, but examine your life and see if you really believe that.  Don’t focus on what you say; check what your actions are telling you.  My actions were telling me that I cynically believed that people always had an ulterior motive, that they were only oc45a7f0e-2ff6-46c5-81fd-3ce9e9f14ea6ut for their own good and that there was really no such thing as a stranger with a truly kind heart.  I was so wrong!  From the start of this journey, I have been inundated with the kindness, generosity and friendliness of people: fellow co-directors, local volunteers, friends of volunteers, cab drivers, guides, tourists, the fruit guys…so much kindness everywhere!

I already feel so different from when I arrived here a few months ago.  I feel like the same person but somehow different…better…new.Thank you, Indonesia, for helping me grow in so many ways.

Climbing Mount Rinjani in Indonesia.

by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

I find that being in Jakarta really opens up options of places to go around Indonesia for me.  Because it is basically the hub of the country, I can easily catch a flight to just about any other place in the country.
And so it was that a couple of months ago, one Saturday evening, I caught a flight to Lombok because I had convinced myself that climbing Mount Rinjani was a great idea.  Forget the fact that I hadn’t exercised in months, since arriving in Indonesia, in fact.  For some reason that I cannot fathom now, I thought it was a great idea.  I think it was maybe something to do with Indonesia being a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and I thought it would be cool to climb an actual active volcano.  I wasn’t nervous before I started; all I felt was great anticipation for what was ahead.
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I booked a 3 day/2 night Mt. Rinjani climbing package and, I must say, my tour operator and climbing guide and porters offered excellent service.  But 2 hours into the climb, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. At first, it was idyllic – gentle slopes, grassy fields, and a herd of cows with bells around their necks gently clanging as they mooed and meandered and grazed; I felt like I was in The Sound of Music.  But then the slopes became less gentle and the cows disappeared and I was sweating and heaving my way up the mountain.

This would mark the next 3 days of my life.  Going up, there were parts of the trail that were so steep and slippery that I genuinely didn’t know how I would make it because I kept sliding back down.  Like everyone else on the mountain, I slipped and slid my way up and was relived to make it alive and with all my limbs intact.  Descending was just as difficult, and I confess that by day 2 as I stared at yet another ridge to climb in order to get off that darn mountain, I passionately hated myself, since I could have, at that very moment, been binge watching Game of Thrones in a luxurious hotel room somewhere.

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Eventually, after much misery, slipping, sliding, scrambling, and American Ninja Warrior style rock-climbing, I made it off Mt. Rinjani.  I hated every minute of those 3 days but I’m still glad that I went even just because I heard the volcano rumbling like thunder then saw it belching out smoke, while I clung to a broken railing trying not to break my fool neck as I snapped a photo.

Sigh.  It was beautiful.

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Education is Life Changing

By:  Sylvia, Voluntourist Jakarta

You might ask what difference can you make in two weeks? As a voluntourist in the Jakarta IHF center, I have been trying my best to help the center. Basically I work for four hours each day, and the timing of the work is unrestricted for voluntourist to arrange their time. With a flexible schedule, I work more effectively.whatsapp-image-2016-09-03-at-13-26-11
My main mission has been to simply make them understand the importance of education. I believe in the short term, my impact on these children’s lives is temporary. Therefore, I hope to mainly focus on my mantra, that education is life changing.  As learning is a life long process, I have been promoting the importance of education in these children’s lives.
whatsapp-image-2016-09-03-at-13-26-08Besides work, I have a day off every Sunday. I spend my time travelling with my friends to local destinations. I’m glad to meet friends and experience the Indonesian culture!
This summer of 2016, I am having the best summer of my life. I have backpacked to many countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Mexico. Jakarta, Indonesia is my last stop for this adventurous summer! I will always remember every journey taken and all the people I’ve met along these trips. I’m very grateful to be part of the team in such a short time. So what are you waiting for, get out of your comfort zone and be strong, smart & courageous!
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