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Photo by Emily Shahrzad Rahravan, Indonesia Semester.

Day 10 in Indonesia

June 24, 2008

Day 10 in Indonesia. Day 3 in Sampela

Since I arrived in Indonesia, I’m getting somewhat accustomed to my sleep being disrupted multiple times a night. At first it was the jet lag. And then it was the 3am calls to pray, the roosters that have seemed to want to unleash all their fury onto us and conveniently live either directly above or below us, and the cats which, in Matt’s words, “were either killing each other or having sex with each other.” And then there are the human noises – the 1am motorboat engine starts (off to tuna-fishing in faraway parts of the sea) and all the chatters and talks that go straight through the wooden and rattan walls across the neighborhood. For the last two nights in Sampela, I had to deal with the light bulb shining in my face throughout the night. Apparently for the wealthier families who can afford a small generator so that they can have electricity beyond the 7-11pm period for everyone else, they like to have one light on the whole night in the common spaces so folks can go to bathroom at night more easily (and who can blame them – the bathroom is literally outside the house). With my eye mask on, I could sleep most of the time, waking up from time to time when my eye masks falls off and wondering if it was daylight already. Jeff, who is in the same situation as me but without an eye mask, called it “torture.” Which made me wonder whether needing darkness at night to sleep and light in the morning to wake up is a biological or cultural necessity. Is it something that is learned, or is it something that is a basic human condition? (This is when I wish my colleague and friend Andrea had come on this trip since she is a Biologist.)

So to make up for the constant disruptions, I have been going to bed much earlier than I would at home (of course, for someone that works at a boarding school, sleep deprivation is a real thing also). To make things easier, I can’t seem to stay awake past 9:30, but then the whole town seemed to be wide awake well before 6.

But last night, I was woken up, through my heavy duty ear plugs, by something else – the sounds of heavy rain and wind, and what sounded like crushing waves. I felt like I was in the middle of the ocean! The house shook ever so slightly, and there were moments when I swore I felt little water droplets on my face through the mosquito net and the cracks in the tin roof (though there is another layer of tarp under it). In my half-asleep delirium, I wondered if the house would drift away and we would have to be evacuated. And then I laughed quietly to myself – how ironic that would be since during the Q & A with Andar yesterday Jeff had just asked him about natural disasters and how the community would respond, and he said that natural disasters didn’t happen much here. Andar also said that the Bajo people don’t have savings and traditionally they believe that “the sea is their savings.” Therefore, a disaster response plan would be something that only the “land people” would think about, and not for the folks of the sea like the Bajos.

I am a “land person” through and through.

This fact also manifested itself in how ungracefully I was dragged into the canoe after snorkeling in the ocean for two hours. This was at the end of our spear-fishing lesson, which consisted of Pak Rajuni taking Sandy, Jeff and me to the Hoga Island (aka Snake Island, unbeknownst to me at the time), which was beautiful, had us practice shooting arrows into the sea, and then had us snorkel (with our life jackets on) deep into the ocean. We didn’t actually see him spear fish in action, which was somewhat disappointing. Jeff, of course, with his “laki-laki”ness gotten to his head (inside joke), shot a puffer fish right off the beach on the second try! While we praised him for his natural born spear-fishing talent, Sandy and I (and Pak without saying anything that we could understand) also gently chided him for killing something that is not edible. To be fair, we don’t think Jeff had even thought he would be able to shoot it – but the poor thing did have a pattern that looked like a target. Darwinism has not been kind to this creature.

We did see some beautiful small clusters of coral, bright-colored fish and starfish. But overall the bottom of the ocean seemed to be covered by mostly dark green sea weed. I’m sure there are more beautiful sections of the sea in this area, but are they able to rival those in places like Thailand and Hawaii? While Indonesia is known for its natural beauty, it seems to me it’s more known for cultural tourism. Would Bali, the most famous tourist destination in Indonesia, survive on tourism based solely on its beaches? I doubt it. Then, what if it is tourism and human activity that are destroying the natural habitat of the local people?

Sampela, to me, is a microcosm of Indonesia, which, just like every other developing country in the world, is stuck on a pendulum that swings between maintaining its unique cultural diversity and identity, and achieving economic success and securing a better footing, literally and figuratively, for its future generations.