Friday, November 21, 2014

Days 65-70: Experiencing Sumatra

The largest Indonesian island. 50 million people. 4th most populous island in the world. Home to over 52 indigenous languages. Sumatran tigers. Sumatran orangutans. Sumatran rhinos. Sumatran elephants. Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire - powerful earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, including the 2004 disaster in Aceh. Lake Toba, largest volcanic lake in the world. Flora and fauna seriously threatened by large-scale deforestation. Largest producer of Indonesian coffee and rich in natural resources like oil and gas.

Sumatra, complex and beautiful, where I spent last week traveling and working in Aceh, Medan, and Jambi.


It was a whirlwind week of early morning departures and long days of visits, and I spent plenty of time in airports, trains, and cars going to and fro. Obviously, I need to go back for more exploration (and to see some of Sumatra's natural wonders), but here are some highlights...

http://www.antarafoto.com/peristiwa/v1235555649/kopi-solong
  • A strong cup of coffee (and subsequently purchased beans) from Banda Aceh's most famous cafe, Solong Coffee. I was so enraptured with my caffeinated beverage and local snacks, that I did not snap a photo. Clearly this local establishment is the place to meet with friends or to do business over a cup of coffee - it was bustling and busy the entire time I was there.

  • Acehnese food served in a local restaurant, full of flavor and spices. I was seated in an open-air restaurant and promptly brought 5-6 dishes full of scrumptiousness and surprises. Fried chicken pieces with fried greens, fried squid filled with egg and spices, mussels and vegetables in sauce, chicken and potatoes in curry, and, of course, rice. Spicy. Delicious. Wonderful.

  •  Nighttime festival in Jambi to which we had special, front-seat invitations from the governor to view the song and dance. My favorites were a fusion between modern music styles (rap) and traditional singing. All accompanied by hundreds of drummers.

  • Picture with the traditionally dressed Jambi beauties -  festival royalty.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Day 64: Queen for three days

Indonesians do know how to make you feel extra special. They are lavish hosts and ensure that their guests feel like royalty. During recent visits, I've been treated to banners welcoming me to local schools, conferences, and even the mayor's office. It's a bit disconcerting to know that not only do the participants know your name--they know exactly what you look like before you arrive.



At the entrance to universities, conferences, or schools, dancing and music ceremonies greet guests. These pictures are from a local high school where a banner with my name (of course) hung outside, student dancers and musicians met me, and they even threw rice as we entered over the threshold.




Entire assemblies of people are gathered to pay respect to guests. Microphones and emcees appear to formalize the meeting. One visit this week involved over 200 students, the Vice Mayor, and entire administrative and instructional staff of the Islamic boarding school.


Adding to the special welcome are the interest in a foreign visitor. You are a VIP by virtue of the visit (and this sometimes feels like a lot to live up to with any integrity). This gracious and well-meaning attention is sometimes a bit bewildering to an American not of the Hollywood sort. A funny recent encounter at the airport left me grinning and feeling more like a movie star than a government official.

Because of the timing of my flight and Friday prayers, I ended up at the airport quite early. Actually, I was content to sit in the air-conditioned lounge with my computer and to catch up on some work. As soon as my hosts departed, I sunk back into the chair, opened my laptop and mobile phone and started away. After three days of busy activities, I welcomed the opportunity to retract, contemplate, and wipe some to-do items off of my list. However, the airport staff had something else in mind. Seeing I was alone, a wholly unacceptable state, the two women and man working in the lounge room swooped in to ask questions, nevermind that to another eye I might have appeared engrossed in a task.

We exchanged pleasantries. Even with my floundering Indonesian language skills, they were not deterred. "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" "Where do you live?" "Do you have a husband?" "Do you have children?" "How long have you been in Indonesia?"

It ended where every good exchange ends... with a photo. The two women insisted that we take a picture together (with my camera). I have these memories of being a special visitor to the Bima airport.



What I thought of as time to soothe the introverted side of my extroverted nature turned into a lively parade of characters. A police commander came in and sat with me to repeat the same series. Someone from the mayor's office appeared and sat with me. Another guy from the airport appeared with coffee and questions.

Yes, even in your grubby travel clothes or your grumpiest mood, Indonesia greets you with a smile and humbles you with its hospitality and warmth.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Day 63: Woven in Bima

Tucked away in the streets of Bima is a district where the traditional cotton-made cloth is still manually woven. The process is painstaking and it takes many hours of tedious work to finish a piece of cloth. The product is stunning with bright colors and golden threads.

A street in the weaving district of Bima

Photo op with a local weaver
Perusing exquisite cloth

After much deliberation (those of you that know me well know how overwhelmed I get when shopping with too many choices), I purchased this pretty blue and gold swatch.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Day 62: Napoleon fish



Seafood and fish abound in Indonesia. While in Bima, I had the heavenly experience of eating fish for every meal. My favorite is pictured above, the sweet meat of the Napoleon fish. More mouthwatering seafood, a special treat to this land-locked native, was served throughout the visit. Shrimp, fish, crab... seafood paradise.


Cultural note: While dining with my hosts, we had a long discussion about food customs and rice. Rice is grown throughout Indonesia and served with every meal, at least three times a day, even breakfast. I've seen rice served together with noodles or in addition to potatoes to complete the meal. The thought is that unless you've had rice you will still be hungry!




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Day 61: Island hopping



Looks like simple skip and jump, right? This week I traveled to West Nusa Tenggara.  A small town by Indonesian standards with 150,000 inhabitants, Bima is located right on the coast of the island of Sumbawa.

Indonesia is deceptively big, and it is easy to under-estimate a simple journey. Thanks to the cancelation of my morning flight, I had to fly out late Tuesday evening, stay overnight in an airport hotel in Lombok and get up at 4:30 a.m. for the early morning flight to Bima. Although the travel is not uncomfortable at all, it can be time consuming. I left my home in Jakarta at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday only to arrive in Bima at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. I plowed through almost an entire novel, answered countless emails via blackberry, and was rewarded with a grand welcome, tropical island treasures, and new friends.


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Day 58: Signs

On the way to meet a friend this morning, I breezed past several flower-decorated signs on the street where they are made. These flashy signs are used to post congratulatory messages outside of hotels and restaurants for wedding couples or to welcome foreign guests. In my short experience here, I've noticed the importance of signs - framing an event or hung above a conference venue in full color with pictures and recognizing invited guests.

Perhaps something to consider for celebrating my husband's visit the next time he arrives?



Saturday, November 08, 2014

Day 57: Saturday

Today was one of those Saturdays when one thing leads to another that leads to another. Starting the morning with a leisurely brunch with a friend and then exploring a bohemian, upscale artsy district of the city. It was one of those Saturdays that swept me away and was a completely satisfying break from start to finish.

Check out my partner in crime and newly acquired trendy specs!


Friday, November 07, 2014

Day 56: Friday Morning Teacher Workshop



Yes, it was as much fun as it looks. Enthusiastic teachers were a great finish of my week in Ambon. Sigh. This is one of the days I love my job.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Day 55: Rujak Natsepa

Today, my taste buds had a beach party in Ambon. En route from a university meeting to a graduation ceremony, my hosts insisted on a stop at Natsepa beach to taste their famous hometown treat, Rujak Natsepa. It is really kind of inexplicable but a culinary explosion of tropical fruits combined with a freshly made paste of palm sugar, tamarind, chili, and ground peanuts. The taste is incredible, especially when combined with good company and view of the sea.

Local food stall - the making of rujak


Rujak on top of a mix of tropical fruits

Natsepa beach




Washing the rujak down with fresh coconut water
Ah! The perfect "work" break - I'd love to do this every day!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Day 54: Maluku, the Spice Islands

Today, I took off from Jakarta to visit the infamous Spice Islands that put this country into the middle of trade and conflict with the Portuguese and Dutch (amongst others) over its nutmeg and cloves. About a three-hour flight from the capital, the city of Ambon could not be more different. As the plane landed, I leaned over and hogged the window view of lush land and seascape.



First impressions? It's really green and the air is fresher here. It feels far away from the hustle of Jakarta and as if it is a place where people take time to live and breathe. Ambon is a place with a complicated past - not only because of its role in trade but also because of its recent history of sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims. My first impressions were entirely positive - verdant foliage and colorful orchids met me upon arrival... and friendly locals on the street were eager to greet and show me around town. Each place I visit in Indonesia seems to prove the same point about the country's diversity of perspectives and people. The Ambonese being distinctly another region and culture... and yet part of this massive country.  I remain eager to learn more.