HUT RI KE 61! Viva Independence!!

The mosquitos, or nyamuk, seem to be of a hardier, craftier sort here in Depok, on the Southern end of the Jabotek metropolitan region. Perhaps it reflects that sink or swim mentality of Indonesia that has such an impact on me, a native of a land of easier living. Not that the Minnesotan mosquitos are second quality, believe me. But that fact doesn’t make the story of my weekend trip more exciting whatsoever, so I won’t go there.

As amazing as this adventure that I am on is, there are those quiet moments when, not bombarded with the overwhelming stimulation of new things and places and words, I remember how much I miss my home, family and friends. I really wish I could have been back in Perham, MN this past weekend for Emily’s wedding, for example. Check out the great website that my dad put together.

August 17, of course, is the day that the great nation of Indonesia celebrates its indepence, Hari Merdeka. I was in the capitol for HUT RI ke 61 itself, seeing the masses of government workers and students participating in their early morning ceremonies, muddy youths attempt to scale tall pinang trunks to claim the prizes at the top.

The holiday also gave me the opportunity to get away from Jakarta for a few days, taking advantage of the university holiday. I boarded the nice train from Jakarta to Purwoketo on Friday afternoon, and while the luxury may have given me negative points in the pursuit of solidarity with the masses, I will admit to appreciating the AC and the legroom to take a nap. Going out to a late dinner with Suroto in his town, we made our plans to catch the early bus to Jogyakarta the next morning. Of course, we both slept in, but that did not prevent us from making it to Suroto’s meeting more or less on time.

Suroto was a special guest speaker at a conference of the student cooperative movement in Jogya, having been an active participant in Indonesia’s important youth movements for a long time, and having established a successful cooperative near the University in Purwokerto.
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web jogya coopers.jpg Young activists like these are an important force in Indonesia, especially in this crucial period of transition for the harrowingly diverse and frighteningly fragile democracy.

After Suroto’s successful presentation and rousing call to arms, he commissioned two of his buddies with motorbikes to give us a lift out of town to his home town of Klaten. This small village, about an hour away, is built on the slopes of notorious Mt. Merapi, as I found out when we arrived, Suroto’s cousin pointing with pride to the occasional blast of lava from above.

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Suroto considers it his mission to make sure that this bule, this outsider, does not simply see the surface, Indonesia’s pemukaan. “Hanya tahu Indonesia saja, Ted!” Just to know Indonesia. He has been committed to bringing me into his family and into communities that I would never ever have access to, and I am so greatful to him.

The next morning we took the bikes as far as we could, then parked them on the edge of the cliff. It was about 20 minutes from his cousin’s house, though it could have been 20 meters away for all the winding round clusters of houses and small family clove and tobacco farms and up and down sharp ravines carved in the slope of the mountain. We scaled down the steep slope of this canyon,web gir pasang road.jpg

then up the other side to find that seven family kampung of Pingir Pasang, or Gir Pasang for short.

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We were advised to bring some candy for the children living there; and, as soon as they got over the initial fright of this tall white boy, we were warmly received.

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The town of Klaten has so many stories to tell. It is one of the things that always delights me and saddens me when I go to a new place like this, the fact that the layers of lives and experiences to be found on any square foot of the place of beyond measure. In one vein, it is an amazing reflection of much of Indonesia’s experience as it has interacted with foreign colonizers and multinational corporations. Clove and tobacco farms, which the farmers there were forced to plant during the years of Suharto’s tobacco monopoly, still dot the side of the volcano. For the past ten years, trucks have rumbled noisily up and down the paved road; to be honest, I’m not sure how long I could resist the impulse to firebomb them as they roar by every few minutes, kicking up clouds of volcanic ash and painting the fronts of houses and peoples faces with it, robbing the mountain of its peace and quiet while also hauling away the very trees that cover its surface and the minerals that are being torn from its heart.

I have this awefule thought that there is at least one American somewhere making a hell of a lot of money off Klaten and Gunung Merapi.

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