Gorontalo Girl

Last year, the first trip I took off of Java was to Gorontalo, in the Northern part of Sulawesi[1].  I fell in love with its overabundance of cows and rice paddies and tuna sate, and hoped that eventually I might be able to visit again.

IMG_1232This year, through a series of mysterious and frustrating but ultimately lucky happenings[2], Gorontalo is my new home, and I am rapidly falling in love with it all over again.

I’ve only spent one week in Gorontalo thus far, but it was been a wonderful one. Because I do not yet have my Kitas, there is very little I am allowed to do in the classroom, but I have tried to spend my time getting to know the area I live in to the best of my ability.  I am working on getting to know my neighbors (from the older Ibu who is always working in the garden behind my house to the tiny children who race me on their bicycles), and completing the challenge set by one of the AMINEF staff to count all of the cows in my area (answer: too many to count).

I live in a small neighborhood on the edge of the city of Gorontalo. I have not ventured into downtown Gorontalo yet, because it is a bit too far away to travel by bentor (similar to a becak, or rickshaw, but replace the bicycle with a motorcycle), which is the main public transportation in Gorontalo, but I have made it a point to go for a walk every afternoon (soon I will acquire a bicycle and then this will become my afternoon bike ride), a few hours before sundown when the heat is only mildly insane, rather than I-am-going-to-be-a-burnt-slice-of-human-in-about-two-seconds insane.  By doing so, I have been able to explore my more immediate area and all it has to offer.

Essentially, if I walk in one direction down my street, I get closer and closer to the part of Kota Gorontalo that actually resembles a kota (city).  There are an abundance of toko (shops) and warungs (food stalls) in this direction, as well as a space for a pasar (market), which happens every Wednesday and Saturday.  All of this is rapidly going to become essential to my everyday life here.

IMG_1208But if I go in the other direction, the city ends and the sawa (rice paddies) begin, and is this direction I already find myself wandering in most often.  My site mate from last year always said that rice paddy green should be a Crayola crayon color, and I couldn’t agree more; there is a lively, young sort of alive that is somehow perfectly embodied in the green of blades of rice submersed happily in water, lined up in perfectly strait rows but somehow never stiff.  The paddies near my house stretch off into the distance, dotted with palm trees and rustling peacefully in the breeze.  In the distance are the gentle curves of the mountains that surround the valley within which Gorontalo is located, like a reassuring arm wrapped around the city’s shoulder.  I’ve seen the same vista every day for a week, and it still overwhelms me with its beauty every time.

I can’t begin to express how lucky I feel in my placement.  Indonesia is full of beautiful and wonderful places, but there is something about Gorontalo that just feels an extra level of special, and I cannot wait to explore exactly what makes it so.  I’m sure the next nine months will be filled with challenges, and I know I will have days when I am frustrated and wish I could return to the States, but overall, it already feels as though this farm-girl English Teacher will be very happy in Gorontalo.

One of my neighbors, who is also an English teacher at my school, asked me the night before I left for orientation in Bandung if I was “betah,” in Gorontalo.  Betah means “to feel at home,” and I have to say that even after only a week, I am indeed betah in Gorontalo.


[1] But not in North Sulawesi; that’s a different province.  The city of Gorontalo is in the Province of Gorontalo, right below North Sulawesi.  (As a side note, the fact that Gorontalo has the same name as its province has made it significantly easier this year for me to explain that I live in New York, but not NYC. It’s just an unexpected bonus of my new placement.)

[2] Originally, I was to be placed in Bima, in Sumbawa, but the site ended up not being approved by one of the Ministries of the Indonesian Government, and the fabulous people of AMINEF, the organization who runs the Fulbright ETA program in Indonesia, found me a new school in Gorontalo.