I cannot believe that it has already been a little more than a week since we all arrived in Jogjakarta (Jogja). We have done so much already. In the mornings we have four hours of Bahasa Indonesian language class and in the afternoons we have been visiting all the different NGOs that we will be interning with in the coming weeks. We have four wonderful teachers who work with us every morning. Their names are Ade, Ayu, Aci, and Dani. They have all been pushing us to learn Bahasa Indonesian and have been really supportive and encouraging. I think we have all been grasping the language pretty quickly. You do not have to conjugate verbs in Bahasa Indonesia, so really it all boils down to learning vocabulary and understanding placement of words. Most of the time I spent learning Spanish was spent learning different conjugations of verbs and understanding when to use the conjugations, so learning Bahasa Indonesian has been a welcomed change of pace.
I have found traveling in Jogja to be quite a shocking experience. The most uncomfortable part of driving in a major city like New York or Philadelphia for me is that awkward moment when I have to pass someone who is on a bicycle. Unfortunately, for every car in Jogja, there must be at least 10 motorbikes. Whenever we drive, motorbikes surround us. Often times there are two or three and sometimes four people sitting on one motorbike. It is a surreal experience to watch a mother drive a motorbike with two babies, one strapped on her back and one strapped on her front, and swerve in between lanes while passing cars and other motorbikes. Somehow millions of Indonesians commute using motorbikes everyday without an accident.
Over the weekend, we made visits to both Prambanan Temple and Borobudur Temple. Prambanan is an ancient Hindu temple built in the 10th Century and Borobudur is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in the 9th Century. I wish I could post some pictures of our visits, but unfortunately, my Internet connection is too slow right now. The temples are beautiful. It is amazing what simple manual labor can accomplish. For me, walking around the top of Borobudur was one of the most meditative and peaceful experiences of my life. The view of mountains was by itself an awesome moment, but I think it was definitely enhanced by the fact that I was surrounded by Buddha sculptures built over 1000 years ago.
Our weekend also included a five-hour batik lesson and an Iwan Fals concert. Batik is one of Indonesia’s traditional art forms and “batik” literally means “process.” The process includes placing wax over a design on a cloth, and then dyeing the wax so that the area under the wax does not become the color of the dye. It was pretty challenging to place the wax on the cloth exactly where I wanted to put it, but my design came out ok overall. Eventually I’ll post some photos of our batik making classes to demonstrate the different stages of the art. Iwan Fals is a famous musician in Indonesia. Many people we have spoken to here refer to him as “the Bob Dylan of Indonesia.” His concert was a lot of fun. I was a little tired and I wish I could have understood his words, but I thought he gave a great performance. Here is a link to some of his music.
We have also spent some time exploring the city of Jogja, including trips to Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro street), a famous shopping street in Jogja, and Pingit, an impoverished neighborhood where Amanda will be working later this summer. I really enjoyed visiting Pingit. There were lots of little kids there who were really excited to see us. They were really impressed by Alex’s leg hair. Sometimes, it feels like we are a spectacle in Indonesia. At one restaurant I realized that a flash was going off and I turned to see a few young children taking pictures of us with a camera. Many adults watch us as we walk by, and every once in a while, someone will ask to take a picture with us. It is an uncomfortable feeling to stand out. I have become very conscious of all my actions. When I struggle to order food in Indonesian, do the waiters judge me? When I walk through Jalan Malioboro do the merchants view me as a genuine person? Or, do they view me as an ignorant foreigner, as a remnant of colonialism? I think we are perceived differently depending on whom we are interacting with and where we are. Overall the people of Jogja have been incredibly warm and welcoming.
Tonight we are visiting Elizabeth’s NGO, Kotak Hitam, a documentary film organization that works to promote alternative perspectives of Indonesian history. We will be going to a film viewing and then have an opportunity to learn more about the organization’s current efforts. I promise more posts soon on topics ranging from what each of our NGO’s are and how our language classes are going to the different types of delicious Indonesian food and juices that we have tried. But for now, sampai jumpa (see you later)!