I’ve been in Indonesia for almost 2 weeks now and my Kilimanjaro series is over so it’s time to give my first impressions of this place where I am.
When I’m visiting a new country I try not to do too much research before I go. This is so that, as far as possible, I avoid getting tainted by other people’s impressions. The most research I’ll do is on the security situation; after all, I’m a woman travelling alone and I like to think that I’m not stupid.
I stuck to this approach when I was coming here so I believe that my first impressions are as untainted as they can be. Here goes.
Time is relative here. If a one hour class is supposed to start at 2 pm, I have quickly learned to expect the majority of students to stroll in around 2:20 pm, with a couple of stragglers arriving somewhere around 2:40 pm. (More on what I’m doing here in a post that’s coming soon.) As a stickler for time, this is an adjustment that I’ve had to make but it hasn’t been a hard one since there’s always something that needs doing, so I always have a way to fill that waiting time.
My flight from Jakarta to Aceh (pronounced ‘Ah-cheh’) a couple of weeks ago was supposed to depart at 12 noon. In my experience everywhere else that I’ve travelled, this means that all passengers are already seated on the aircraft and the cockpit crew are ready to push back at or just before noon. Not so this flight. At noon, they were just bussing us across the tarmac to the plane and everybody seemed cool with it – and as far as I know, it wasn’t a delayed flight, just business as usual.
I have heard that the people here are very friendly. I have met some friendly people and no-one has been unfriendly but I haven’t found that, in general, people are particularly friendly. When I am on the street, they mostly stare at me and I ignore them. The same happened on the airplane ride over here from Jakarta – I felt like about 150 people were staring at me for almost 3 hours.
A parent came to register her 2 daughters for classes 1 day during my first week. She was very friendly towards me and in her very limited ‘Ingriss’ (Indonesian for ‘English’), she asked me where I was from. I told her Jamaica and she said, “Ah, ya, ya!” and pointed to my hair, like she should have guessed that I’m Jamaican based on my hair. But I knew that she was being polite and likely meant, “Ah, yes! ‘Cause you’re Black!” She wanted to take a group picture with my Asian-American colleague, herself, her 2 daughters and me. Even as I smiled for the picture, I couldn’t help but feel that she was planning to share it with all her neighbours to show off that she knows a Black person and they don’t.
On the other hand, the local female volunteers and the teen-aged students here at the centre have been generally warm, welcoming and friendly. They ask me questions about myself and where I’m from (most locals seem to think Jamaica is in Africa because, you know, I’m Black and Black people only come from Africa; if I’m at the centre, I take each and every one of them to the giant world map pinned to the wall and school them). They also try to share a little about themselves. The younger children are obviously curious but, for now, seem too shy to ask me anything.
Bikes, bikes everywhere! Everyone rides a motorbike here…everyone! Not big bikes, more like scooters. I’ve seen a family of 4 on a scooter – toddler in front of dad, who’s in control of the bike, and baby between dad and mom, who’s last on the back and checking her cell phone. I’ve also seen some women riding sidesaddle as a passenger. Kudos to them! I’ve ridden on the back of a scooter almost every day since I’ve been here and I can say for sure that sidesaddle cannot be easy! Excellent balance is required for that.
I understand that children as young as 8 years old ride bikes alone here. I haven’t seen that yet but I’ve seen boys and girls who I guesstimate to be about 12 or 13 years old riding their bikes to and from school.
Am I going to start riding a bike? I’m not sure yet. We’ll see soon enough.
As boring a topic as it is, we should talk about the weather. It’s been really nice. One of my colleagues told me before I got here that the weather is either hot or rainy; she was right. It’s rained or been overcast more than half of the time that I’ve been here and, since that’s my favourite type of weather, I’m loving it. This means it’s comfortably cool most of the time (so far!). There have been a few sunny days and so far the heat is not too bad for me. That’s likely because I come from Jamaica so my body is already acclimated to heat.
I’ve eaten out a lot since I’ve been here, almost every night, in fact. In my opinion, the food is decently flavoured and not too spicy. Though there is a Pizza Hut and a KFC nearby, I’ve been having only local food and I honestly cannot tell you what most of the various dishes are called (I’m just now starting to put an effort into learning the local language, Bahasa Indonesian) but nothing has disagreed with me and everything has been…OK. My most delicious culinary experience so far has been a rice noodle dish called mie hun (pronounced ‘mee-hoon’). I have high hopes for a truly mouthwatering meal.
The fruits are similar to what we have in Jamaica – bananas, watermelon, papaya, guava, jack fruit and much more. There’s even soursop here, though I haven’t seen the fruit myself. However, I had a taste of a natural juice blend and identified the soursop flavour. When I googled a picture and showed it to a local volunteer, she confirmed that it was what I tasted. It’s called ‘sirsak’ (pronounced ‘seer-sack’) here. I was eager to try dragonfruit just because it sounds and looks so exotic; it was actually kind of bland.
Music is the background of life in Jamaica. If I’m walking or driving down the road at any time of the day or night, I’m sure to hear music pumping, even if I can’t identify where it’s coming from. It’s so much the background of our lives that we probably don’t even notice it anymore, unless it’s pounding away right next door when we’re trying to sleep.
The only music I’ve heard in Banda Aceh are the call to worship (which goes on for 2 hours for the 4 am call and 30 minutes to an hour for the other 3 calls of the day) and drumming and singing from a nearby religious ceremony. Surprisingly, in less than 2 weeks of being here, these sounds that seemed overwhelmingly loud at first have faded into the background of my mind and I’m hardly conscious of them anymore. So, for me, the background noise of life here is the call to worship and the sound of motorbikes.
These are my first impressions of this part of the country. I’ll share more as I learn.
I know this post wasn’t as exciting as my Kili series but it was necessary in order to set some ground work. We’ll get back to the excitement soon…promise!