In Indonesia, all of my senses were heightened– from taking in the spicier food, the louder streets and even the brighter and more abundant fruit. It's a place where love and hospitality are the main focal point.
We experienced Indonesia in both its glory and its struggle; we trekked through the Leuser National Park, one of the most biodiverse jungles in the world, finding wild orangutans and boiling eggs in natural hot springs. We lived in the bustling city of Yogyakarta, known for its renowned universities and ancient arts of batik, gamelan, and Javanese dance. Apart from Latin, I had never really learned another language, but the full immersion of living with local families made all of us want to use the nation’s binding language, Bahasa Indonesia, as much as we could. Diving into the local lifestyle with my amazing host family, I made some of the most profound relationships I've ever had with my host mom and brother in particular (Image 33 with her mother; Image 22 with his best friend.)
From Yogyakarta we travelled to a village tucked away in the mountains of Flores. I lived with my sister, a woman who started one of the only public libraries in the area (Image 43 in front of her library), and the rest of her family. She taught me the local language and told me her dream of starting a school for kids who can't afford the few choices available. My bond with her truly became a relationship that feels like it will last a lifetime. In Flores, the main source of income is growing and selling coffee. Our families taught us the process involved in roasting coffee beans, led us on hikes up sacred hills, and always offered our friends coffee when they stopped in to visit.
Unfortunately, while we were in Flores, two funerals took place simultaneously within the village. With over thirty pigs sacrificed and dozens of family and friends joining together from other villages to celebrate the lives of their loved ones, it was an experience that is hard to put into words. As heartbreaking as it was to see so many people grieving, I feel it was so impactful being present and involved in such a raw moment.
The last community we lived in was the village of the Bajau, or nomadic sea people, located about a kilometer out to sea in the Wakatobi National Park. All of the houses were built on stilts over the water; rickety boardwalks with missing planks and loose nails connected the buildings. The residents who worked outside of the home were either employed by the local government office or by the sea. My host father woke up every morning at four to go out fishing, no matter the weather. When he came back a few hours later, my host mom would take all of the fresh fish in the family's small motorized canoe to the mainland to sell in the market. My family gave me the only bedroom that they had, with the rest of the household in an area with one television with the kitchen and bathroom in another shelter. The power in the village turned on at sunset and turned off around eleven every night. Other than that, there was no electricity within the village. They had no running water and had to buy it from the market on the main land, and as for bathrooms– a hole in their planks looked down into clear blue ocean water. My family showed their love not with souvenirs or gifts, but with the generosity of food and clean water to shower in, a gesture I am so very grateful for.
Indonesia has some of the most stunning natural beauty I have ever seen, from volcano peaks to walls of coral reef. But the country's beauty lies in the kindness of its people, who have so much love and passion to give. Being able to simultaneously learn about each other and our unique cultures, my families and I were able to share the warmth we felt without the hindrance of a language barrier and the ten thousand miles between our homes.