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.

The Art of Pulkam

Pulkam is short for pulang kampung, a phrase which roughly translates to “go home to your hometown.”  My recent travel for research happened to bring me back to both of the sites where I used to teach and live as an ETA (Fulbright English Teaching Assistant): Malang in East Java, and Gorontalo in Northern Sulawesi.  I made sure to sneak in time to visit my own people while in both of these places, though of course most of my focus was on research.  These were whirlwind trips, and while I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, I did get to spend at least a little time with most of the people who are the reason I was so thrilled to be headed back to these places.

Last year, while I was an ETA in Gorontalo, I also had the opportunity to pulkam to Malang.  I have been so blessed to have been able to re-visit the various places that I have called home here several times, something not many ETA alumni have the chance to do.  Over time, I’ve noticed a few consistencies in the act of pulang kampung, regardless of when and where I have returned.  And so I offer my observations as a sort of “Grace’s Guide to Pulkam,” with the caveat that I am not an expert in anything at all (except maybe drinking jus alpokat), and these are based only on my own unique experiences.

Expect to eat a lot.  It sometimes seems as though Indonesians express their love through food (this is one of those things that I have found true across the archipelago).  Ibu-Ibu have always insisted that they simply cannot send me back to my mother thinner than I was when I arrived (regardless of how I might be feeling about my own bodyweight), because that would mean they had not properly cared for me.  Every time I pulkam, it feels almost as though people are trying to feed me as much during the few days I am there as they did during my nine months as an ETA.  Not that I necessarily mind.  Each region of Indonesia has its own special foods, and heaven knows I miss the foods from the places I lived in.   I have been craving the ikan bakar (grilled fish), binte biluhuta (a fish and corn soup)[1], and tinutuan (a sort of pumpkin “porridge” with lots of greens)[2] of northern Sulawesi ever since I left (I have found a place that makes almost passable tinituan in Jakarta, but let’s face it: it’s better in Sulawesi).  And unless you have been to Malang, you will not understand why I think bakso (meatballs, usually served in broth) is the best thing since sliced bread (which really isn’t all that great, in comparison), or why I worship tempe as the goddess of all proteins, or why I feel I can make the best apple crisp in Indonesia–even with just a toaster oven–because those apel Malang are just magical.   Just like I generally miss American dishes when I am here, and generally miss Indonesian food when I go back to the States, I also miss these daerah (area)-specific dishes when I move from one Indonesian city to another, and I am not all that bothered by the excess of lunch and dinner invites I receive (so long as I get to pay for one or two) or the few pounds I put on every time I pulkam. 

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A few photos from my pulkam to Gotontalo.

Bring gifts, but more importantly, bring stories.  I haven’t been able to pin down whether or not this applies to anyone who goes on pulkam, but at least for ETAs, there is definitely the expectation that you will bring gifts or oleh-oleh (souvenirs) back for people, and I have always tried to oblige as best as my budget and suitcase-space will allow.  This gift-giving is a way to show people that you have remembered them, and I am 100% for that.  But because I’ve always struggled with what I perceive as the materialism so prevalent in Indonesia (why do physical gifts need to be brought everywhere? and why does the size and cost matter so much?), I try not to simply bring gifts, but gifts that come with a story.  Last year I brought kerawang, the traditional fabric of Gorontalo, to my friends in Malang, because it gave me an excuse to talk about the ways in which Gorontalo culture differs from Javanese culture, something which was so influential my second year.  And this year, in addition to some little trinkets from Jakarta (the capital city is notorious for not having good oleh-oleh), I also brought small souvenirs from Korea, which allowed me to talk to about my time there visiting the South Korean Fulbright Commission, and just generally how much I have learned about the ETA Program this year, since I am seeing it from a different perspective.  In the end these stories still matter more.  Even if you bring oleh-oleh that doesn’t necessarily come with a story, you will find it quickly set aside as everyone asks you a million questions about what you have been up to, and fills you in on the latest gossip on their end.  There is a cultural expectation that you bring something material, yes, but do not confuse this with a prioritizing of objects over a person.  People are still more excited about you than anything you bring.

Anticipate a lot of selfies.  Selfies are a bit like food.  They are a way for people to show you that they missed you, that they are excited to see you again.  While teachers and other adult friends will definitely request these, you will probably get these requests most often from your students.  Don’t say no.  Be prepared to smile for so many selfies that your face hurts.  And then make sure that someone sends those photos to you.  One of my housemates, a Fulbright Research Alumna and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (in Indonesia both times), often says that no matter how many photographs she has of beautiful vistas, it is the foto-foto of people that she values the most.  And it’s true.  At home I have many beautiful fabrics from the various places I have visited in Indonesia, and USBs full of photos I have had the privilege to visit.  But it is the class photos I took at the end of each year, and the group shots I have with fellow teachers and friends, that I treasure most from my two years as an ETA.  Having the opportunity to add to that collection of photographs of the people I love brings far more joy than seeing Komodo Dragons or hiking a mountain.  And though you might have the opportunity to pulkam once, the fact is that you may not have the opportunity to do so again.  Those sweaty selfies will be priceless later.  Make sure you get copies.

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A few photos from my pulkam to Malang.

Prepare yourself for the less-pleasant parts.  It won’t all be joyous.  There may be people you never wanted to see again.  I know I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I narrowly escaped meeting a particular teacher during my first pulkam to Malang, and had a moment of panic when I did run into this guru during my most recent pulkam.  My pulkam to Gorontalo also had its share of awkward interactions with men from my neighborhood.  And, let’s be honest, I do not think that either of the cities I lived in as an ETA are perfect.  There are parts of them that drove me insane when I lived there, and those exasperating characteristics have not disappeared just because I moved away.  The bentor (becak motor, a rickshaw with a motorbike instead of a bicycle) drivers in Gorontalo are still amongst the most persistent harassers I have come across in Indonesia, and it only took one bentor ride on my way to rent a motorbike for my visit in the city for me to remember why I had chosen to ride a motorbike as an ETA, avoiding bentor drivers as best as I could. I spent my nine months in Malang navigating the politics of my school’s two campuses, including the poor treatment of my Papuan students, and was yet again smacked in the face with the Javanese idea of their own superiority when during my pulkam an entire teacher’s room—mostly full of new teachers who did not work at the school when I was an ETA there and did not know about my fiery responses to racism—immediately began making derogatory jokes about orang Sulawesi (the people of Sulawesi), after hearing where I had been placed my second year as an ETA.  But in the end, all of these irritations were like mosquito bites from an incredible hike: I noticed them, and was highly displeased, but it did not cause me to regret my decision to go.

Assume there will be changes.  Whether you were gone for a few months or a few years, you will not be going back to the same place you lived in as an ETA.  In Gorontalo, one of the few placements last year at which ETAs could boast that they had the ability to live without an Indomaret or Alfamart, because there simply weren’t any, there is now one or the other on every corner, and this change has happened in the mere nine months I have been gone.  It also has an increase in stoplights, some of which even have the recorded reminders to wear helmets that I am accustomed to hearing only in larger Indonesian cities.  “Gorontalo so mo jadi kota besar!” (“Gorontalo is already becoming a big city!”) came out of my mouth more times than I care to count.  In Malang, at the end of this academic year the two campuses of my school are actually going to split into two schools, one of which will be a military academy, and so if I do have the opportunity to visit Malang again, SMAN 10, as I knew it, will not even exist.  In both places, some of the teachers I loved no longer teach at my schools, and a few friendly faces have even sadly passed away.  And of course, my students are older, some of them even graduated.  And I have changed.  I’m no longer the fresh-faced ETA that came to Malang her first year in Indonesia: I’m a little more haggard, a little wiser, though somehow still just as stubbornly optimistic about the futures of my kiddos in spite of what other teachers may say (some things never change).  And I’m certainly not completely the small-town girl of Gorontalo anymore: though I’ll never call myself a city girl, I have changed in certain ways in order to survive Jakarta, and it shows in everything from my confidence to my accent, as noted by my friends in both my old sites.  These changes—in your school, in your community, in yourself—are often positive, though not always, and they are almost always jarring.  Take them all in: you’ll have time to digest them when you are finished with your pulkam.

Know that it will not be enough time.  You might not get to see everyone.  Even if you do, you will probably feel you did not fully get to catch up with them.  You will not be able to visit all of your favorite haunts.  You will not get to eat all of your favorite dishes.  The fact is, there is a reason this is pulkam: you no longer live in this place.  And you cannot fit nine months of an ETA experience into a few days.

Pulkam is bittersweet.  If you are the crying type (and I am) you might cry harder when you leave from your pulkam visit than you did when you left your site at the end of your grant.  Highs are high and lows are lows when you are an ETA, and that doesn’t end when you find yourself an alumnus.

Breathe deep.  Take it all in.  The smiles, the tears, the laughter, the grimaces.  It is an emotional rollercoaster, but it a privilege to be able to go along for the ride.  In the end, my only real advice is this: feel what feelings come, and then feel lucky to have felt any of it at all.  That is the art of the ETA pulang kampung.  Perhaps it is the art of being an ETA at all.

[1] Binte biluhuta is Bahasa Gorontalo; in Bahasa Indonesia, this dish is known as milu siram.

[2] Tinituan is Bahasa Manado; in Bahasa Indonesia, this dish is known as Bubur (porridge) Manado.

Snapshots: PangkalPinang, Bangka Island

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One of the many beaches in PkP.

Throughout my grant as the Researcher/Coordinator, I had the opportunity to visit PangkalPinang twice, once for a site visit (folks from AMINEF tend to visit a selection of schools during the first half of the ETA grant) and once for a research observation and interview.

PangkalPinang is, to me, the quintessential small Indonesian city.  Warungs line the streets, and mosques, churches, and temples crop up every few hundred meters, depending on the part of town you are in (PangkalPinang is actually a fairly diverse city).  School children cycle past in their uniforms, while women and men settle into front porches, street corners, and kitchens to gossip and perform their “daily activities” (as the Indonesian English Curriculum would tall these tasks).  I have a special fondness this type of Indonesian city: not overwhelming like some of the crowded larger cities, but not as potentially claustrophobic of the smaller villages.  There is something about this kind of city that just makes me feel… comfortable, and I was happy I was able to go to the PkP (as it has been nicknamed by ETAs) their twice during this year.

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Some of the tin mines, as seen from the plane into PkP.

PangkalPinang is located on Pulau Bangka, a fairly large island which neighbors Pulau Belitung, the island probably most famous for its picturesque beaches and for being the setting of the well-known Indonesian novel Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), a book I would recommend to anyone.  Bangka itself has its own lovely beaches as a claim to fame, alongside its white pepper and… tin.

Flying into PangkalPinang, the land outside of the city seems to be covered in lakes, but in reality, these are tin mines.  Mining has been a key part of the economy of this islands since Dutch Colonialism, and to a certain extent even before that.  There is an entire museum in the town dedicated to the tin industry.  And while some of the old mines have since become bright blue lakes that glow almost alien-like in midday sun, the tin industry in general seems to be completely contrary to the growing natural tourism many are pushing to develop on the island.

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One of the lakes which used to be a mine.

But the tourism is relatively new, and the tin industry is familiar, so it may take some time for the tourism industry to take over.  But there seem to be some people who believe it is possible and are willing to work to make it so.

On the outskirts of town there is the Bangka Botanical Gardens, a wonderful place full of trails, gardens, and even some dairy cows.  According to some employees I spoke to on my second visit to PangkalPinang, this entire complex used to be part of a tin mine, and was somehow reclaimed in order to become botanical gardens.  If this is true, this only gives me more confidence in the future of Bangka, that the people there will protect the beautiful scenery that surrounds their towns.

Only time will tell.  Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to go back someday, to see for myself.

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Some of the trails in BBG (Bangka Botanical Gardens).

Sharing Stories of Home: Andrea Comes to Indonesia!

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Borobudor was still just as magical the second time around.

It’s been three years now since I first learned that I had been privileged with the chance to teach English abroad as a Fulbright ETA.  Through a surprising series of doors of opportunity that somehow opened for me, I am still here.  I still wonder at how lucky I am, to have been able to live in Southeast Asia for so long.

Living abroad does have its challenges, and one which has only become harder to deal with the longer I am gone is trying to share my experiences with folks at home.  I did blog fairly regularly when I was an ETA, and as someone who loves snapping photos of everything I tend to share visuals of my adventures across all sorts of social media platforms.  But my stumbling sentences and blurry selfies can’t really capture all that life in Indonesia has been for me, but it is hard to really share it in all of its intricacies unless someone can actually come and visit me.  And when you live on the other side of the world from family and friends, it’s not an easy task for people to plan that kind of a trip.

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Andrea tries her hand at Batik.

So I was bouncing-off-the-wall excited when I learned that one my roommates from college and closest friends needed to spend a few months in South Korea, and was able to swing a week to come down and visit me.  I had a blast figuring out where it would be best to take Andrea (I wasn’t about to have her spend that week in Jakarta), eventually deciding, based on her time frame and the time of year, that Yogyakarta was our best option.  (Though I would have loved to have taken her to Malang or to Gorontalo, one of the places I had actually lived as an ETA, both were a little too far given the short time she would be here.)

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From a visit to a monastery, a new stop for me.

I had visited Yogya once before, as a first-year ETA, but very, very fleetingly.  Still, as I had visited while one of my close friends from my first ETA cohort was teaching there, there was something familiar about Yogya, and it held so many significant and lovely memories that I still felt as though I was showing her a little piece of home.  We stopped by my favorite places again, and saw a few my ETA friend had loved but I had not had time to see.  We met up with a Fulbright researcher who had just started her grant, and well as the two ETAs currently teaching in Magelang (a town next-door to Yogya), giving Andrea some idea about the folks I have been working alongside in my program over the past few years.  We were also able to meet up for supper with my Guru Bahasa Indonesia from my first orientation and her family, giving Andrea a taste of the incomparable Indonesian hospitality I have been blessed to experience over the past two.

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Getting whiplash in a jeep has never been so much fun.

We took selfies with Indonesian tourists. We rode motorcycles taxies through the crowded streets of Jakarta.  We ate at warungs. We rode the train from Jakarta to Yogya through towering mountains, rolling hills, and rice paddies that seemed to have no end.  We bartered at markets.  We stood in awe of temples and mosques and rice paddies.  We got a little bit ill when we ate too much spicy food, but kept trying different dishes anyway.  We went to bed exhausted by the heat, but woke up ready for more incredible adventures.

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When the “tourism police” give you a heart attack by stopping you outside a candi, but then just want a foto. 

I might not have been able to take Andrea to either of my previous homes in Indonesia, and we might have only spent one day in the city where I now live, but I was able to take her to a place that was familiar nonetheless.  I might not have been able to bring her to one of my classrooms, but I was able to bring her to the sorts of markets and food stalls that I might have frequented at either site when I wasn’t on my school’s campus working with my kiddos.  I was able to give her a taste of what Indonesia feels like: the constant barrage of different noises and smells that once overwhelmed me, but now provides the comfort of home.

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The Water Palace, which I had passed before but never entered.

I was so happy to have the opportunity to act as Andrea’s tour guide while she was in Indonesia, and so grateful that she took the time to come to see me.  She was the perfect travel companion every step of the way.

So, if anyone else from home is headed my way and needs a tour guide, hit me up.  This experience is far richer if shared.

Snapshot: Labuan Bajo, Flores

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 final site visit was to Labuan Bajo, in Flores.  It was not my first visit to the city: during my first ETA grant I visited Pulau Komodo and briefly explored the area around Labuan Bajo during my December break from teaching.  This small city in Flores is fascinating and beautiful, and I was tickled pink to have the opportunity to visit it again.

20160809_181804Due to its proximity to Pulau Komodo and Pulau Rinca, and because of the excellent diving and snorkeling in the area, Labuan Bajo is definitly a tourist destination in Indonesia, which makes it a bit different from many of the other ETA sites.  There is certainly a strong tourism influence in the actual city of Labuan Bajo, and some parts have even come to resemble a resort town, with western-style restaurants overlooking the harbor and the overabundance of dive shops that line the main street.

But Flores, in general, remains one of the poorest parts of Indonesia, and while that is still noticeable within the city of Labuan Bajo, it is quite obvious as soon as you leave town, and everything becomes smaller, a bit more traditionally Indonesian, a bit rougher around the edges.

When I visited Labuan Bajo in 2014, it was not nearly as touristy as it was when I visited in August.  As we talked to the co-teachers of this year’s ETAs, we learned that tourism in the area has increased quite rapidly, far faster than anyone can really keep up with.  This is especially felt, with equal parts excitement and trepidation, by the SMK (vocational) schools in the area, many of which have a tourism track.

The split between these two worlds, and the ever-changing tourist season, will most likely play a significant role in the grant of the two ETAs who will call Labuan Bajo home.  This is a dynamic transition period for the area, and while that is certain to create areas of confusion and frustration, it is also extremely exciting to bear witness to.  I cannot wait to hear the stories they will tell.

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Snapshot: Semarang and Kudus, Jawa Tengah

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.

After visiting Balige in North Sumatra, I hopped on another plane and headed to the north coast of Central Java, where I visited Semarang, the capital of the province.

Semarang is not often favorably spoken of by tourists in Indonesia: the words I hear most often associated with Semarang are “small,” “boring,” and “dirty.”  Even on the plane to Semarang, the woman I was sitting next to, who was staying in Semarang to receive Bahasa Indonesia training before going to East Indonesia for missionary work, told me, “there isn’t a whole lot going on in Semarang.”

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Lawang Sewu, or One Thousand Doors, one of the most iconic buildings in Semarang.

I found myself pleasantly surprised by Semarang: the reports I had heard were simply not true.  Semarang is actually the fifth largest city in Indonesia, and while it is certainly not as large as Surabaya or Medan, it wasn’t exactly what I would call small.  And Semarang seemed to be a fairly happening place.  There is an historic district, with many impressive buildings left over from the Dutch Colonial era.  The Indonesian food scene seemed to be strong, and there is a growing cafe scene which has a very modern, hip feel to it.  With a mix of the old and the new, of the very much Indonesian influences and the fusion of outside influences, Semarang seemed a very interesting city, which I wish I had had more time to explore.  There will be two ETAs in Semarang this year, and I hope they enjoy Semarang as much as I did during my fleeting visit.

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Masjid Menara Kudus, or Kudus Tower Mosque,  a famous mosque in Kudus which is thought by some to have been built upon the remains of a Hindu temple (which explains the tower on the left).

But I wasn’t actually in Semarang to visit any of the schools there, as Semarang has been an established ETA site for a few years now. Semarang was, for me, a stopover point on the way to Kudus, a small city around one hour from Semarang.  Kudus is an adorable city, simply put.  It has wide sidewalks in the city center, and plenty of greenery all about the city.  Though it is not large there seemed to be plenty of cute corners to explore, and I hope the ETA who will be placed there comes to love it.

My visits to both of these cities were far too short, and I look forward to hearing stories from the ETAs who will make this pocket of Central Java their home.

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.