Shortly after arriving back in Indonesia, I had the opportunity to travel to several cities across the archipelago, as part of inspecting and preparing sites that had not had an ETA before this year. This “Snapshot” series is composed of short pieces about my all-too-brief visits to these beautiful and fascinating places, which are now the temporary homes of ETAs from the 2016-17 cohort.
My first site visit was to Kendari, in Southeastern Sulawesi. In many ways, going to Kendari felt a bit like returning to my second home in Indonesia, Gorontalo. Boarding the same flight from Jakarta to Makassar that was so often part of my way back to site after training or travel to other parts of Indonesia, I was unprepared for the way nostalgia would crash down upon me, so soon after leaving Gorontalo. After arriving in Kendari, I was constantly struck by how similar the two places were. The way the sun beat down upon us and The way smoke billowed up against the background of a clear blue sky (so different from the haze I am now more accustomed to seeing in Jakarta) from the ikan bakar (grilled fish) stands lining the streets took me back to nights at my favorite warungs (hole-in-the-wall restaurants) with friends. The way the tones of their Bahasa Indonesia danced up and down like children jumping rope echoed the lilt of my teachers’ joking in dewan guru (the teachers’ room) at MAN Model, the very accent I also had developed during my time there, for which my coworkers still tease me on occasion.
Kendari and Gorontalo do in fact have a lot in common. Both are coastal towns in Sulawesi. Both are the ibu kota (capital) of their province. Both are Muslim-majority areas. Both are fairly conservative. Both are stopover points on the way to popular tourist destinations, but are not often considered tourist destinations themselves.
But of course, Kendari and Gorontalo are not one and the same. Kendari is significantly bigger than Gorontalo, with more than twice the population size, and this changed the feel of the town considerably. The bits of local language thrown in were not Bahasa Gorontalo, and even certain mannerisms were different, reminding me that I could not so easily slip into my Gorontalo ways and pass as someone familiar with Kendari. These differences only made me enjoy my time there more, and I am excited to talk to the ETAs who will live there when they return to Jakarta for their MidYear Enrichment Conference, to learn more about these differences from folks who have had more than a few days there.
Nonetheless, there was something very universally familiar woven into Kendari, and I loved that. I’m excited for the three ETAs who are placed in Kendari this year, and I hope that someday they might feel the same way I did, boarding that plane out of Java, headed for Sulawesi, headed for home.