A Travellerspoint blog

Sleeping with the Enemies 2 - An end note

semi-overcast 26 °C

After a few months in the region, I decided to go home for a change. On my transit night in the small town outside KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), to keep my budget minimal, I settled in a cheap motel run by a friendly Chinese. The room is nothing to be excited about, but its other residents, two huge cockroaches, are enough to keep me awake with the light on all night. Since they are the original habitants of this room, I kindly ignored their obvious presence by pretending to sleep. If I were to travel all these times to see and help wildlife to live in harmony with human, I were not going to give up my principles on my last night. Once again, I lived to prove that wildlife had no reason to disturb their human counterpart if they do not felt threatened. After couple hours or so, I fell asleep and my ‘roommates’ moved on.

Posted by shinenyc 17.09.2008 07:52 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Paying for Vote

overcast 29 °C

Tradition is always difficult to change, especially when it comes to political reforms.

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My friend, Wahyu, invited me to see the election of his village’s chief. One of his uncles, with the support of his entire extended family, is a candidate of this year’s election. Elections like this are held once every four years. Therefore, people with proper ID cards but who had left and worked elsewhere can come back to participate in this process.

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We took a local bus from Yogyakarta to Magelang, then another one to Samerang, finally one to Derma, a village 25 km east of Samerang. The trip took only a few hours but the humidity had exhausted me. Fortunately, once I arrived, I was greeted with many smiles from the elders to the small children.

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Any special events in any villages are always a reason for feast. Preparation and promotion of this election had been going on for months. Everyone is eager to see how their efforts will pay off and the results in these final days. At nighttime, family members gathered outside the candidate’s house after dinners for chatting and greeting of potential voters who stop by to show support under the big tent.

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The next morning, I woke up to a strange sight – family members stuffing small envelopes with small bank notes, about 25,000 rupiah each ($2.5). Photos of the candidate and names of the voters are then stapled neatly on each envelope to avoid confusion. These envelopes will be given to each and every potential voter in the village on the night before the election, to solidify their support, in a way at least. It takes all day and night for the committee (family) members to finish this entire process. Since having a village chief in the family can bring prestige and honor, entire extended family will contribute to this election. I was told that his family for this election spent between 15 to 20 million rupiah. Are these efforts worth it? Only time can tell.

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We escaped some of these activities during the day by going to Kudus, a nearby town famous for cigarette making, in a 20-year-old Vespa. After inhaling a considerable amount of pollution on the first major highway built in Java (connecting Jakarta to Surabaya), we arrived at the Cigarette Museum. As a non-smoker all my life, I felt strange walking into a museum that I have not much interest in. The notion of buying poison to put in one’s body is unthinkable for me, not to mention the politics behind the huge tax support of large companies to the government.

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Anyhow, I strolled through the museum’s exhibition of an entire Indonesian family rose to fame and make history in this industry. It is amazing to see that nowadays hundred of brands were actually evolved from the original few.

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On Election Day, we woke up bright and early and walked to the large field behind the school before 7:30am. Three of the five candidates had already arrived. They sat on the beautifully embroidered sofa in the center of the giant tent. My friend’s uncle stood next to his wife looking very nervous, while the others two looked more serene and confident. Another candidate arrived with his wife shortly afterward. Last but not least, the final candidate, in his 20s, waved and walked into the tent with his own encherages and overconfidence. All of them now sat across the stage watching and wondering who is going to make it to the final finished line.

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The lines of villagers eagerly waiting outside the tent continued to lengthen until the voting process actually started after a list of announcements. Everyone waited patiently for the officials to check their Ids, then proceeded to go inside a curtained room to check off their candidates on the voting paper. Immediately after, they put the same piece of vote into the large wooden box.

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Man gathered to chat. Women and young girls gossiped. Children kept staring at the balloons and paper toys until their parents buy for them. Hungry souls visited the few food stalls for iced drinks and snacks. I just tried to feel invisible among the crowds.

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Voting was halted during midday and resumed around 2pm. By late afternoon, the results were obvious. The quiet but young candidate with a rich wife, who had stuffed the most money into his envelopes, won. The arrogant candidate left before the voting count due to low turnout embarrassment. My friend’s uncle and the other two older candidates, although disappointed, generously receded after the results came in.

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On that day, all the villages in the Derma Regency had elections. The victors will bring great prestige to their families. These chiefs will receive many rice fields as rewards. They will decide to support or reject policies from the village committee and proceed to ask for funding from the national government. The losers will try again, if chances allow, in the future. This is ‘democracy at work’ - in a country that had come a long way from Soeharto’s iron fist until 1998, now finally achieve true democracy - popular vote for its own president (which many Indonesians can now proudly proclaimed as achievement over the US, a so-called democracy.)

Posted by shinenyc 14.09.2008 22:39 Archived in Indonesia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Sleeping with the Enemy

sunny 25 °C
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Indonesia is a geological hotspot, in which the Indian and the Australian tectonic planes collide. Since the devastating tsunami in December 2004 in Aceh, North Sumatra, several actives volcanoes started spilling lavas and ashes, including Mount Merapi in Central Java and Mount Semeru in East Java. In June 2006, Merapi finally erupted, followed by an unexpected earthquake in the village of Bantul, South of Yogyakarta, in July, causing numerous losses of lives and damages.

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My friend from Kappala Indonesia, a NGO made up of environmentally and socially conscious university students (specializing in disaster preparation management) took me to the site to see the half a km wide path of lava from Merapi’s crater to the nearby village.

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I walked along the deserted path where the lava spilled more than two years ago, admiring the young trees and bright green leaves, butterflies and birds next to all the truncated trunks and vertical cliff. Even the famous Javanese eagles were witnessed back here already building their nests, proving the return of the fertility in this area and the adaptability of wildlife in nature.

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The reflection of my tiny shadow in the huge lava path only make me feel the insignificance of human beings when compared to the forces of nature.

This feeling didn’t end at the destruction site. It came back just a little while later when we greeted Mbah Maridjan, an elderly man who lived in the village about 15 km from Merapi’s crater, also keeper of Mount Merapi appointed by the late Yogyakarta Special Province's Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX in 1983. With a gentle smile, he led us into his living room with a dusty guest book and portraits of himself all over the walls.

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Rumor was told that Mr. Maridjan, 79, climbed up the volcano and prayed for the safety of his villagers during the last eruption on 8 June of 2006, despite of repeated warning from the officials. Traditions believe that eruptions happen because the spirits are angry. Mr. Maridjan’s courage and determination had finally touched the spirits of Merapi and spared his village of any damage, whereas the tourists and government buildings nearby were all flattened and burned.

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When he was told that I only know limited bahasa Indonesian, he immediately described himself as a monkey from the jungle, which is so backward that he cannot speak English. His selflessness and humbleness made me feel so small and shy that I lost my words. Mr. Maridjan is a national hero nowadays, even being used for energy drinks advertisement. But when confronted with these achievements, he simply expressed his confusion towards his fame. ‘I just put the unexpected income in the development of my village,’ he said.

Posted by shinenyc 11.09.2008 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

KAPPALA to a better life

sunny 28 °C
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Once back to Yogya, I contacted my friend at KAPPALA, a NGO headquartered here. Staffed by a group of dedicated volunteers mostly university students educated in related fields, the focus of KAPPALA is disaster management in a country that geologically prone to earthquakes and tsunami. They had contributed much effort in the devastating destruction of the village of Bantul in May 2006 by an early morning earthquake of 5.9 Richter scale. Besides, it also involves daily in local community empowerment using environmentally responsible approaches.

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A recent project of KAPPALA includes the rediscovery of a lost dance and music tradition that had not been practiced for over 50 years. Members interviewed elders from different villages and finally found someone who had distant childhood memories of this particular art form and willing to teach newer generations. A festival was held with the tourism officer from Jakarta and hundreds of villagers attended.

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I was honored to be invited to join one of their activities in Gunungkidul, an area about two hours southeast of Yogya. A wonderful university student major in international relations and environmental science took me on his motorbike to a village called Purwodadi through the winding roads around beautiful karst/limestone mountain. We arrived at the house of the village head. To my surprise, she is a young muslim woman in her 30s, elected democratically by her village and can stay in her office for life although she is likely to retire in her 50s and pass on to someone more capability at that time. As a matter of fact, two of the four sub-villages had female village heads, a rarity in Muslim society. We will escort her and a woman group to another village an hour away for a meeting to exchange knowledge of crops the next day.

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We spent the late afternoon walking around the dry fields of kasafas among beautiful limestone hills, paying tribute to Bukit Pacang, a legendary hill where locals climb up and pray when problems arise. Since the government already have plans next year to expand the small road here so large trucks to come into this area for the high quality limestone which can be turned into cement. KAPPALA is preparing villagers in case their resources and more importantly, their natural environment, are taken away with little compensation.

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Another 10-minute drive took us to a quiet beach called Siung beach which, like most south java beaches, is not suitable for swimming or even fishing because of the strong waves. Nevertheless, the remoteness and serenity add to the beauty of this coastal area especially during sunset. Sitting on a small limestone hill, we discussed current politics - how parties with conservative islamic agenda in indonesia are gaining power with the support of similar movement in Malaysia, how this lead to increasing foreign involvement in law-making and this potential devastating long-term effect of many natural resources and diverse environments in local communities.

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Back to the village head's house, she prepared fresh tuna we bought from the tiny restaurant by the beach for dinner. While waiting for her family to cook with kasafa wood, we sat next to the stove in the large traditional kitchen and chatted more about family, relationship and the amazing differences between east and west culture even in the 21st century.

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Early next morning, we met with over 20 women villagers and boarded them on a small bus to another village called Pacarejo. Since most men make their living by working in nearby town while women attend the fields, KAPPALA feels that this is a great opportunities to empower and give hope to many of these women by exchanging experiences with other villages. Today's focus is for them to learn new technique from other villages which had successfully planted and used umbi umbian (local form of root plants like ginger, potato or taro) for selling at the market especially when demand is larger than supply at this point. Villagers can make $2-3 per kilo if they turn these into chips.

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A long meeting and several hands-on demonstrations later, we had lunch. Then we went to another village and visited the local radio station that KAPPALA set up several years ago. More demonstrations and meeting followed. Agreement was made to help each other on distribution with already establish network at supermarkets domestically and perhaps even export through larger companies from Jakarta. Back to the first village, the friendly elder showed all of us how to make organic fertilizers using material around the farm such as cow or goat dungs, certain plants etc...

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Finally, we took the tired group to the only natural reservoir that still functions in the area today, one that soil is still compact enough to store rain water for local use and refill itself by absorbing water from the surrounding fields. Chemical fertilizers used over the years had deteriorated soil in the field making them very loose, therefore many reservoirs were not able to store the rainwater more than a week. Some villagers even stated that chemical fertilizers accelerate their aging process. By using organic fertilizers on more profitable crops, the villagers can be benefit financially by working together using their natural resources in an environmentally responsible manner.

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By this time, being the only woman in the group, I made friends with many other members of KAPPALA. We had great fun and joked around while we worked. Big thumb up for KAPPALA! Stay tune for their new website in October 2008 - http://www.kappalaindonesia.or.id.

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Posted by shinenyc 31.08.2008 01:48 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Gardens of West Java

sunny 25 °C
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Back to the Bandung bus terminal early in the morning, I boarded another local bus for Cibodas after bombarded by sellers trying to unload their drinks, bread, cigarette, towels, books, snacks on passengers one more time. Their tactic is to place what they are trying to sell next to you and if you don't keep and pay for it, they will take it back. After crawling for two hours, we arrived in Cianjur and changed into an AC bus. We waited further for the driver to finish lunch before moving on to Cipanas. My patience was running out after over four hours on the road, got off before the proper stop and took an ojek up the steep winding road up to Cibodas trying to balance with my backpack at the same time.

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Cibodas proved to be a lovely place with its cool, misty weather and potted plants amid small gardens along the village's major road. I checked into my homestay, then walked to the famous Cibodas Botanical garden next to the entrance of the Gunung Gede National Park. Situated inside primary rainforest, this botanical garden hosts many species of plants from all over the world including many trees hundreds of years old. I walked around aimlessly from the Sakura garden to the herb garden, crossing over the large lawn with pond and fountain where young couple camp overnight.

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Before dark, I left the botanical garden and headed for the internet cafe. Over the next two hours, I chatted with Ipai, the owner, also a mountain guide about everything including the notorious spirits that exist in many mountains of java. His last encounter happened during a week-long cleanup trip at the summit with other rangers when they saw a circle of villagers on the plateau below. Another time he saw the legend of Gede in a fireball floating in the dark sky at 2am towards Bogor and joked that this spirit was annoyed by all the young boy scouts camping in the park.

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The next morning, I registered and paid at the office and started the hike an hour away to the waterfall with groups of teenagers. After letting the impatient youngsters pass me next to the beautiful turqoise lake with fishes the size of one's arm, the waterfalls finally appear saturated with bodies playing in the water and laughter.

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I left the crowded waterfall and kept trekking up along the rocky trails to the air panas (hot spring) about two hours away. 'Now I can enjoy the jungle by myself', I told myself and at the same time, strangely wary about the daytime spirits which might just happen to hover around me. At noon, I finally reached the steamy forest high up in the mountain and held on to the rope tip toeing on the hot rocks to the rest area where a few local campers was having lunch. I enjoyed the serene atmosphere amid the humid air for a while and made a wish.

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Another long and crowded minibus ride with a friendly driver later, I arrived at Bogor which like other indonesian cities, filled with too many exhausts choking the air. I took another ojek on the highway with my backpack to another homestay and headed to the famous Bogor Botanical Garden early on the crowded Sunday morning. Students and families from nearby Jakarta made this otherwise quiet park very lively. To beat the crowds, I walked among ancient trees and their roots. While elementary students asked foreigners for 10 minutes to chat in English, I was interviewed by high school students who are overjoyed by their 'discovery', a tourist who looks just like them.

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A short stroll in the orchid greenhouse and the main lawn filled with families and karate students later, I walked back to my guesthouse and headed to the bus station back to Yogya.

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Posted by shinenyc 26.08.2008 09:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

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