We just moved into our homestays yesterday. It’s strange to realize that we’d already been in Jogja for about six weeks now, and we only have a few more weeks left. I’m starting to think about missing this place already. Not to mention the fact that all six of us are now in separate places, except for Alex and me. We’re living in a Joglo, a traditional Javanese house, with a bunch of artists and musicians. I’m so excited to be here – it’s very peaceful. I woke up today to the sounds of birds and crickets chirping in the early morning – it’s like being in a farm in the middle of the city. Honestly, though, since last weekend, everything’s gone so fast. From our daily activities and encounters, we’ve discovered so much about Indonesia in the meantime.
We went to visit Sari’s village in Ngawi. With amazing bahasa Indonesian, we’d successfully purchased our own tickets, and got ready to leave with Sari and Rose. On the train ride, we saw the beautiful countryside and the setting sun touching the tip of Gunung Lawu, a sight forever tattooed on my mind – because the next day, we climbed it.
Gunung Lawu is one of the sacred mountains in Java. According to Bram, it’s a property of the Queen of the South Seas, just like Parangtritis beach (so, we can’t wear any green since that’s her favorite color; nor can we kill any of the brown feathered, yellow-beaked birds that inhabit its forests). Many Indonesians climb the mountain as a sort of pilgrimage. Near the top, there’s a well that, supposedly, if you bathe in its water or even just wet your hair, you will achieve high status in your career and life. When climbing it, though, this is the farthest thing from your mind. We had to wake up at 5 am to drive up to the mountain and start climbing at around 6:30.
Setting a goal of reaching the top at 10 am (Colin, you beast athlete) was probably setting the standards high, especially for Jacob and me and our first mountain-climbing experience. The first two hours were quite charming, seeing all the different kinds of flora and fauna and views on the way to the top. Despite my layers of clothing slowly getting soaked in sweat and dew, I happily snapped photos of anything interesting, and proudly took about 300 during the whole climb. To the top, there are 5 posts (Pos), and then the summit. And between Pos 2 and Pos 4, the grueling, brutal work suddenly and gleefully tortured us. In our many pauses, I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears, and my panting breaths puffed out small clouds in quick bursts. My legs weren’t burning, but I developed a weird tick on my left thigh that moved every time I raised my foot – uh oh, thanks for introducing yourself now, cramp. My photos were few and far between in this period, but once we reached Pos Empat (4), everything melted away when we saw clouds interspersed with the mountain’s body, so near that we could touch them. Cool wind soothed us, bringing with it the pungent smell of sulfur from the far reaches of the mountain. The climb was much easier after this point – and the sights were absolutely breathtaking. At the summit of 10,217 feet, we discovered this hidden path between some bushes that led to a ridge overlooking several other mountains in the distance, the valley down below, and the hills around the mountains, clouds and fog covering their bodies but the tips, the shining sun seeming so near. Needless to say, it made me wanna climb another mountain.
The next day, I witnessed the blessing of Bram and Sari’s rice fields before harvest. It’s a traditional Javanese ceremony, more pagan than related to any religion, wherein a piece of dried coconut husk is burned, an offering of flowers, herbs, leaves, and an egg are prayed/sung over and scattered around the area where a few stalks of rice are harvested and tied together to be protection in Sari’s house. A meal of tofu (the best I ever had in my whole life), chicken, tempe, rice, and spicy vegetables awaited all the men and women who will go and harvest – I was lucky enough to partake of this supremely enak meal. I loved how the tradition created a time to be thankful for family and food and to share this moment together. I felt like a part of the community, even though I knew only my hosts and the children who learned computer science from Sari. I walked among the grass and trees with the children, listening to the swish of the scythes through the rice stalks, resting under the cool shade of bamboos and trees, and listening to the water from the flowing river. My heart was in two places at once – there in Ngawi and back home in my grandfather’s fields in Libas, Tantangan, Philippines.
When we got back to Jogja, our research took over. For the past two to three weeks, Elizabeth, Shandy Jessica (one of the Indonesian participants), and I have been working on a project involving waste management and perception in the city. We began by interviewing a bunch of warung owners and students around the USD about their waste management practices and whether there’s a waste management system in Jogja. We also wanted to know whether we could find some form of environmental awareness (as defined, perhaps, by segregation and proper disposal of waste) in the city. It’s been a lot of fun, since we got to practice our bahasa, make friends with the cooks of our regular haunts, and take loads of photos of kitchens – the production processes. Most kitchens boil their water and keep their surroundings clean, no matter how unpolished they are. They also had very strict practices of isolating their clean food from their waste and other harmful materials. Field research of this type makes it feel so much more real and human than the paper research we do in university – you’re talking to actual people, learning about them, interacting with them, and seeing their reactions to your questions and responses. The best part is how open and kind our interviewees were. I especially adore the cooks at Bu Bagyo’s lotek and gado-gado place, where I still get a squeeze on the arm every time I order. Though we’re not saints, it’s gratifying to know that we’re working to know about something that might benefit them in the future.
We also interviewed a government representative for their environmental department, an academic, and the director of WALHI. Each of them detailed their own programs for reduction of trash. The government itself has its own waste reduction program. However, we found that overall, there is little management. In addition to this, perception of trash is localized – more aesthetic. There’s a general feeling of disgust for trash but once it’s ‘out of sight, [then] out of mind’. Since we were ‘following’ the trajectory of trash, we found (and took photos of) several agents of waste. Within the city, there are small-time collectors: some who collect certain objects such as bottles, cardboard, metal, etc. to be sold to companies for recycling; some who collect trash in the streets to be taken to focal points in the city where the dump truck picks them up to be taken to the dump; some wait for the dump truck to collect their trash; while some simply burn their trash or throw it in the river. However, all trash collected is usually just brought to the dump – segregated or not, organic or not, etc.
One of the most interesting parts of the research was when we’d followed dump trucks to TPS (Tempat Pembuangan Sampah) Piyungan – the landfill. We had to go twice, since the first time we went, they would not let us in not interview any of the officials without a letter. They allowed us to go around the dump, however, and I secretly took photos. It was a sight – but far from the beauty of Lawu. When we opened the taxi window, the smell of decay was so strong I almost choked. There were houses and rice fields around the area as well, and I could not imagine even staying there for more than a few hours. There were hills and valleys of trash, and walking among them were cows and calf, eating plastic and who-knows-what-else. With the animals, people roamed here and there – scavengers or pemulung, bending down to pick up a piece of plastic or cloth or metal that may be useful and sold later. The ones leaving the landfill were bent under humungous hand-made backpacks of ‘useful’ loot. The landfill had 3 zones, but trash overflowed into the forest and houses at its sides. Determined to get out interview, we came back on motorcycles and talked with the head of the landfill’s office. We learned that clay and sand are dumped on the landfill every three days, and that approximately 150-200 trucks come from Bantul, Yogyakarta, and Sleman to dump 350-400 tons of trash daily. Significantly less than Jakarta 6000 tons of trash, this amount should still be addressed when there’s no other waste management practice.
Admittedly, I became more interested in the scavengers during this time. We learned that about 450-500 pemulung live there, and that they need to get permits from the government to be able to scavenge in the landfill. They sell the trash to their pengepul, the head of a group of scavengers. Many of them own cows, which will be sold to markets. This is quite a creepy idea. Elizabeth said, “The cows are like a symbol of the cycle.” Without proper waste management, all this trash becomes a direct and indirect health concern, and not only for environmental sustainability.
On Thursday, we presented all this with the GMU students, where the topics ranged from the family perspective of waria (males with the souls of women) to domestic violence in Indonesia to the Prabowa, one of the candidates in the upcoming elections, and his many human rights violations to the process of making art in Jogjakarta. I’m ready to start the next phase of the internship – working with my NGO. Though I’m missing Amanda, Elizabeth, and Tiwi’s little quirks that you only know once you start living with them and all the daily lunches and dinners that our group of 7 (with Jacob, Alex, and Colin) usually have, I’m excited to get to know the people in my new community in the Joglo and WALHI.