Snapshot: Bandar Lampung, South Sumatra

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Beautiful Bandar Lampung, from the top floor of the hotel where I stayed.

I have been bouncing around Indonesia quite a bit recently, as anyone who follows my Instagram might have noticed.  Most of these visits have been for research, but a couple have also been to assist with the WORDS Competitions at certain schools.  One of the sites I visited for WORDS Competitions was Bandar Lampung, at the very southern tip of Sumatra.

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Ancient writing from Museum Bandar Lampung

Bandar Lampung is a medium-sized, extraordinarily diverse city, and I wish I had had more than a few days there.  The driver who took me around was a fountain of information about the history and politics of the area (elections for a new governor had just occurred before I arrived, so the latter was a very hot topic at the time), and he would pipe up every time we entered a new part of the, letting me know if the population there was majority transmigrasi[1], Chinese-Indonesian, orang Palemband (the people of Palembang, a region north of Bandar Lampung), or one of the ethnic groups native to the region.  I learned later, while visiting Museum Bandar Lampung, that while the city encompasses the whole area now, there is apparently still to this day a significant difference in the traditions of those ethnic groups who live close to the sea, compared to those who are from the hills.

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The Butterfly Garden.

Bandar Lampung is very much situated in a beautiful space.  With the mountains on one side, and the ocean on the other, it really has the best of both worlds for anyone interested in escaping city life.  My driver told me that a large number of tourists from Jakarta frequent Bandar Lampung on the weekend, and that most of them go to Bandar Lampung for the snorkeling and diving near the many small islands right off the coast.  However, as I was there for tugas (an assignment, or work), that was not something I planned for.  But the teachers at the schools I went to happily took me to more in-land tempat wisata (tourism spots), such as the butterfly garden and the deer sanctuary, and, especially after having spent this grant period in Jakarta, I was so thankful that they took the time to accompany me to such beautiful green spaces.

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Some of the SMP dancers, and the wonderful ETA

I was also lucky enough to be in Bandar Lampung during a festival budaya (cultural festival), and was invited to go by the ETA placed there. where I got to see beautiful examples of tapis (a fabric native to this region), taste local kopi (coffee), and watch part of a SMP (middle school) traditional dance competition.  This was my favorite part of the whole trip.  I have always loved dance competitions in Indonesia, but have not attended one since I stopped being an ETA.  Being able to see dances from all over the region (some students were from as far as Palembang), and performed by such talented students, was such a privilege.

The hospitality of the teachers and the ETA of Bandar Lampung meant I got to see much more of the city than I ever thought I might on a mere work trip.  I am ever so thankful, and hope that someday I will be able to return.

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Some of my favorite little dancers.  These lovely ladies are actually in SD (elementary school), and had performed earlier that morning.

[1] Java is the most populated island in the world, and over population was such a problem that as one point the Dutch Colonial Government (and the Indonesian Government later continued this program) moved the people from entire villages on Java to other places around Indonesia.  Or at least, that’s the official narrative.  Many people say that the real goal of the program was to spread Javanese culture, as it was seen as superior to the culture of the people who already lived in those areas: these villagers were to integrate into the surrounding community, and instill Javanese language and values, replacing that of the people native to the region.  If this was, in fact, the goal, it wasn’t particularly successful.  Many transmigrasi sites have become very insular communities, which maintain their own language and culture, without necessarily integrating fully.  Opinions abound regarding these communities, both from those who live near them, and those who live (or lived) in them, and it has been a fascinating topic to explore since coming here.

Snapshot: Balige, Sumatra Utara

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.

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A series of sunsets over Danau Toba.

Sumatra has been on my list of places that I have most wanted to see since coming to Indonesia.  Whenever I attend a dance competition with my students, it is the Sumatran dances I find most beautiful.  When a love song to Nasi Padang was recently put on YouTube by a Norwegian traveler to Indonesia, I identified with the song on a level that might just be unhealthy.  Images of the mountains and jungles in the heart of the sixth largest island in the world instill in me an urge to hop on the next plane to Bukittinggi or Banda Aceh… wherever, so long as it is Sumatra.  I can’t explain this fascination.  It just is.

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We went to one of the highest points to try to get a better view, but even then we could not capture the full majesty of Danau Toba.

But somehow I never made it to Sumatra during my first two years of living here.  This is mostly because I wanted to spend sufficient time in the places I wanted to visit in Sumatra, and I could never find that kind of space in my schedule.  I kept waiting for the perfect time to visit, and it never really came.

But this year, one of the ETA sites is Balige, North Sumatra, a small-ish town south of Danau (Lake) Toba, which has been on my list of places to see for two years now, and you can imagine my excitement when I found out I would have the opportunity to visit.  I was practically bouncing in my seat the on the plane from Jakarta.

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A morning stroll along the shore.

Sometimes you build up places in your mind and when you finally see them in real life, you find yourself disappointed: your imagination gave you expectations that reality, as incredible as it might be, could never meet.

Danau Toba did not disappoint.  Danau Toba was beyond anything I could have imagined.

Danau Toba is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, and this title always made me imagine a wildness and a rawness to the area, but in reality Danau Toba holds a quiet power, it’s mirror-like water stretching away from the shore where children play and old men fish: its presence dominating its surroundings most powerfully in that it is so much a part of everyday life.

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Blessed with color.

I was lucky enough to go to Balige with a colleague whose family is from North Sumatra, which meant I had an expert guide to all the best foods, the most colorful fabrics, and the best places to explore in the short time we had.  She has always talked about how beautiful this area is, and I feel so privileged to be able to confirm how right she was.

I was only in the area for a few days, as this was an office trip, and that certainly was not enough.  I can’t wait for the next opportunity I have to visit Sumatra.

 

Choking on Smoke, While the Western World Fears Smoked Bacon

I recently had the chance to talk with a friend from home, and amidst all of our general catch up talk and laughter, we also ended up talking about our varied frustrations regarding the dangers of bacon and the dangers of smog.

The two are related, believe it or not.  Recently, various social media platforms I use, as well as various newspapers I follow, blew up with the news that WHO had declared bacon just as dangerous as cigarettes.  And to be honest, seeing how pervasive this news was, I found myself a little angry.  Now, while I’ m sure this news will have effects on the agricultural industry around the world and will create great controversy among dietitians for some time, none of this is why I was upset by the article (though, as a farm-girl, I do care about how media coverage affects agriculture, as well as well-thought advancements in health).  I was angry because while I saw numerous articles about smoked bacon in various newspapers, what I wasn’t seeing was articles about the smoke that almost completely obscures Indonesia when viewed from space.

This smoke comes from the burning of forests in order to “improve” the soil for paper pulp and palm oil production.  This practice, combined with the fact that the rains have come late this year, means that the fires have been even more damaging than in previous years, even though they are generally pretty awful every year.

Meanwhile, the Facebook feeds of my fellow ETAs in Indonesia, past and present, fill with articles about the haze in various parts of Indonesia, from the Mogabay article that talks about officials in Palangkaraya wearing face masks inside parliament, to the Jakarta Globe article that calls the fire crisis the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century. There is the BBC article about potential child evacuation, and the Jakarta Post’s article which calls this an humanitarian crisis.

For us, here and now, it is personal.  Two of our fellow ETAs have been evacuated more than once from their site (and have maintained blogs about their experiences, here and here), due to the smog being so hazardous.  This means they have been significantly delayed in being able to immerse fully and connect with the communities in which they are supposed to be engaging.  (And they are the lucky ones, by comparison–many residents do not have the means to leave these smog-filled cities.  It is only because we are fortunate enough to be part of a program with people whose job it is to consider our well-being that we are able to leave places deemed too dangerous to live in…everyone just has to try to keep on living.)  Other ETAs live in cities not filled with enough smog for them to be evacuated, but their lives are still defined by its presence.  Their friends, their coworkers, their students, are living in a place that is choking… pictures of smoke from space cannot speak as loudly as the distinct relationship this smog has to people’s everyday lives.

In some ways, it is a weird, twisted privilege that we are living here at this time of crisis.  If we did not live here, and did not have the connection to this place that we do, I wonder if we would have any idea this was happening.  We would probably be just as clueless as many of our fellow American’s back home.  Because so often, this part of the world simply does not make the news in Western countries.

I do not blame my friends or family members back home for not knowing the details of what is going on here.  If I did not live here, I would be guilty of just as much ignorance.  My news feeds are filled daily with articles about the U.S. presidential race (which really isn’t even yet underway), but nothing regarding the fires that are burning beautiful, necessary jungles to the ground.  And even as I try to expand the news coverage I receive, and I begin to learn more about issues and triumphs in Asia and South America, Africa, the second largest continent in both area and population, remains a blank space in my understanding of the world.

My friend tries to comfort my inane Western guilt: “If we tried to keep up on the news in all parts of the world, it would be a full time job.  That’s why we have the media: it’s their full-time job.” It’s a systematic issue, I know, and one I have no power, or qualifications, to change.

But I cannot help but fume–sometimes silently, sometimes quite vocally–when the world gets up in arms about bacon, while meanwhile… Indonesia is burning.

17,508 Islands, and Not Enough Time

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Taped to the wall above the couch where I place my students when they come to me for advice, homework help, and sometimes just to chat (when I’m alone in my room I’m usually either working at my desk or sitting on the tile floor… it’s cooler there), is a map of Indonesia I found in a tourist shop.  I’ve always had a love for maps (there is also a map of the U.S. and my trusty beach-ball globe in my living room, and I turn to both constantly when I’m sharing fun facts and stories about friends with my students), and this map of the incredible country in which I find myself is probably my favorite part of my décor.

It is also a constant reminder of how vast and diverse Indonesia is.  Though I want more than anything to be able to explore the far reaches of this country and find some way to piece together my understanding of its various complexities, there are not enough months in a lifetime, much less my grant period, to be able to do so.  However, I have been able to catch glimpses of others’ experiences in different parts of Indonesia, by reading blogs not unlike my own.

There are a total of thirty-five ETAs in my Indonesian Fulbright cohort, and many of them also keep blogs about their own experiences.  If you would like to check them out, I have listed them below, organized by the island on which these ETAs find themselves.

There is also a website, entitled Indonesiaful, that was started in 2012 and is maintained by current ETAs that includes articles of various kinds regarding our experience in Indonesia.  I highly recommend it, as some of the ETAs who do not keep personal blogs have submitted articles, and because Indonesiaful is an ongoing project, and will offer perspectives on Indonesia for years to come.

Java

Anna, Wonosari

Ben, Yogyakarta

Elisa, Semarang

Clare, Semarang

Lauren, Kendal 

Kalimantan

Chris, Benjarmasin

Sulawesi

Rebecca, Gorontalo

Emily, Gorontalo

Sumatra

Moniek, Pekanbaru

Stephanie, Pekanbaru

Laurien, Medan

Sarah, Medan

West Timor

Katy, Atambua

Raul, Atambua

Jay, Kupang

Josh, Kupang