Recently, I was in Makassar, a 5 million people strong city, mainly muslim, with a huge mix of rich, poor, local and other Indonesians all on top of each other on the island of Sulawesi. Its a very dense city, with rubbly shacks next to huge shopping malls! Its a coastal city, with a big active port from what I could see with a lot of cargo ships.
I was there for another VSO workshop, with four other Government placed volunteers. Each volunteer was invited to bring two facilitators (people who’s job it is to get the views of the villagers and communicate them to the Government) from our regions and a co-worker from our office. The material was aimed at equipping them to represent the village further up the government chain than they usually manage to do today. It was run by a local NGO, which I thought was good because it meant the facilitators could relate to them and it showed VSO trust the ideas and thinking available locally.
I was really happy with the opportunity to catch up with volunteers on the Sulawesi island and was surprised at how different their social life was to mine in Ende. They were living city life, with Heinz baked beans in the supermarket, posh coffee houses and a MacDonald’s to fend off western food cravings we all have suffer from. In Ende, you will more likely finding me eating bbq’d sweetcorn sitting on the ground, in the dark with a circle of friends and a gas lantern or at the seafront market jumping over the fish water puddles trying to buy my fish and vegetables. It was great to experience the difference and really nice to see the sense of community between volunteers there.
I had a very fun experience while in Makassar, when I got to drive a baycek (pronounced bay check). These are bicycle taxis, not unlike the ones you can find in Edinburgh or India, with a 2 person seat at the front and a pedalist behind steering the three wheeled contraption. I was so excited when I was allowed to harness the hot seat and steer us shakily down a quiet street, I filled the street with laughter and us, with my zig zag driving! It was after 2 in the morning when we took the ride, and the streets of Makassar where serene and empty, allowing me to really see the city and its architecture away from the usual distractions of traffic chaos.
From Makassar I went straight to Bali for my first VIWG duties. We had a meeting with the VSO office and then organised the itinerary for new volunteers. It gave me time to get to know fellow volunteer Pete better and see returned volunteers Anouk and Mark again so it felt a bit like a holiday having spare time with friends and the Bali sunshine.
We went to some places I spend a lot of time when I was new and studying language and I met some of the waiters that I used to talk to. This was really nice as they all mentioned with surprise at how good my Indonesian had gotten. They seemed genuinely impressed that I was able to hold a decent (chit-chat) conversation with them in their language, and I was genuinely pleased with myself for the first time being able to see a marked improvement in my language. I still say I am in the bottom quota of ability in comparison to the other volunteers, but in terms of personal achievement, its a big one!
It was great to meet the new volunteers, and see the excitement, enthusiasm, wonder and intrigue on their faces as they asked a million questions and tried to take in the huge change their life was about to take. We didn’t get very long with them though since their flights were delayed due to visa hold ups but I hope I represented volunteers well and gave them a friendly welcome!