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Sleeping with the Enemy

sunny 25 °C
View Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia 2008 on shinenyc's travel map.

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 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking

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