Greetings from Yogyakarta!
We’ve been in Yogyakarta, or Jogja, for almost two weeks, time that’s gone by both fast and slowly. My sense of time here is warped for a variety of reasons, not least the jet-lag and the challenge of following baseball games some 10,000 miles away happening, by Indonesian time, yesterday. Or the fact that on my return journey home, I’ll be leaving Jogja August 10th, arriving in Hong Kong on August 11th and then arriving in Vancouver on August 10th before finally landing at JFK on the 11th – again. Do they count all the days, lost and gained to travel, in the final tally of our lives? Temporal disjunction aside, time here does seem to move at a different pace. It can be slow, with long lunches you linger over that don’t leave you feeling pressured or rushed before you get to your next class, meeting, whatever. And in the blistering heat (even worse, the humidity) of the afternoon, I doubt there’s any way your body can move other than at a sluggish, snail-pace. Recommendation #1: don’t go for a run with the sun out unless you wont to bonk or burn within the first two miles. Yet some things here also seem to move much faster than at home in the Philadelphia suburbs. The most common language here, Bahasa Indonesia, blurs before my ears, with seemingly no breaks, breaths, or pauses. Then there are the hundreds of mopeds, motorbikes, and Vespas (which I have quickly learned are different from each other, lest you dare confuse them) quite literally speeding by at every time of day. When I say every time of day, I mean every time of day, as most Indonesians, at least on predominantly Muslim Java, get up before the sun at 4 a.m. for both the pre-dawn’s practical cool and the muezzin’s first call to prayer. Recommendation #2: for the secular or just plain sleepy visitor, bring earplugs – in the world’s most populous Islamic country you’re Muslim until proven otherwise.
By some measures – such as those provided by that unproven, un-citable wonder known as Wikipedia – Jogja is Indonesia’s second largest tourist attraction after Bali. Bali has beautiful beaches, clubs, killer pork dishes (missing, alas, in Muslim Java), and, according to at least one Indonesian friend, a peculiar sub-culture of dreadlock-sporting, Rasta-loving Australian expats. With all that to offer just a few hundred miles to the east, why would anyone come to this small city in central Java? Again according to Wikipedia, “Jogja is a center of Javanese culture,” with batik, a special wax-dyed fabric, and gamelan music oozing out of every city pore. The other fiver interns and I have gotten a taste of Javanese culture – literally, with respect to the food (oh the food!), but also in our unsuccessful 5-hour-long lesson on batik making this previous weekend. All I have to report from that particular day is that I now have an immense respect for any practitioner of batik. The hours upon hours of dyeing and drawing and dyeing and drawing, in wax, the intricate and interweaving designs unique to batik pains my mind to consider. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
We’ve also experienced the rich religious diversity and history of these islands. Beyond the ubiquitous mosques and calls to prayer, still so foreign to my American ears, there are Hindu and Buddhist shrines throughout the city. Whenever we pass one and I see the telltale swastika painted on its front, I have to remind myself that the symbol’s history is much longer and decidedly less odious than its brief turn as the Nazi party’s emblem. On the outskirts of Jogja we visited, on two different occasions, the 1200-year-old Hindu Prambanan temple compound. Majestic and otherworldly are the only words to describe the temple. Just as old, but perhaps even more impressive, if only for its rural setting wedged between multiple mountains, volcanoes, and rivers, was the Buddhist Borobodur temple compound we were lucky enough to visit this past week. The temples, though different in their geography, age, history, and though serving different religions, unexpectedly reminded me of sites of worship in the West, from Washington’s National Cathedral, to Westminster Abbey, to Notre Dame in Paris. Whether on the slopes of Mt. Merapi or residing on the Banks of the Seine, these paeans of brick and mortar were built from a universal spiritual awe felt by men and women for millennia. And even though I’m not the most religious person (recall those earplugs), I can’t help but feel some of the awe the builders must have felt, marveling at their world and existence.
But what about the reason the CPGC has sent has to Jogja? We are here as budding “social change agents” and as fledgling researchers, jumping into the sometimes-chaotic world of non-profits and NGOs (or, as they say in Bahasa Indonesia, LSMs). We have visited all of the organizations the six interns will be working with research with this summer. From LKIS – an Islamic organization trying to check the power of fundamentalist Islam in the Indonesian education system – to WALHI – a collection of environmental activists combating the degradation of the slopes of Mt. Merapi – to my own organization, Planned Parenthood, the groups we will be lending our efforts to are all doing praise-worthy and challenging work. My favorite moments thus far have been those when we’ve been able to see, on the ground level, the kind of work these organizations do, and the devotion they bring to the job everyday. I cannot wait to being working with PP, and look forward to updating you all with some more adventures in the upcoming days and weeks.
Until next time, sampai jumpa!