Sunday, 23 January 2011

The funeral

This week (10th Jan) has been quite mixed. I have been chatting a lot more with the young staff at the office since our workload has cooled down from the mayhem of December budget submissions. It has been great to see them relax a lot more around me, knowing I can speak a little Indonesian with them or that I am willing to help them with their English. They have been telling me that I should take time to chat more, and work less and we have laughed at each other discovering they don’t like to disturb me when I am working, and I they, resulting in a polite standoff! We have a better balance now, although I notice when the boss is around, they never chat, or at least, they leave the room to do it.

However, on the low side, my neighbour who is also my landlord died. He was an older gentleman who had already suffered a stroke, which meant his youngest (I think) daughter came back from Java to look after him. He was a very nice man, very considerate, quiet, calm and intelligent man, who kept an ear out around my house to know that I was fine, who got up at 4:30 am to wash before prayer, who offered to keep my motorbike in his living room so I didn’t have to put it in the neighbours garden.
I had some friends round at mine for on Tuesday, when we saw a lot of bikes and people going into the neighbours house. It seemed odd as I’d never seen that before, and the next thing I knew, I was told he had died. I got a real shock, and my friend Arie said he would join me to visit and pay our respects to the daughter.
So, we sat in their garden, on plastic seats which were laid out as if there was a garden wedding going on. Plastic canopies were raised for the imminent rain, and outdoor lighting put up, it was all so efficient, I was shocked. Everyone was chipping in to pass round water, or trays of tobacco and people sat outside to give strength to the family, respectfully chatting in whispers.
At about 11pm we left, and I went home to have a good sleep.
The next day we attended again, this time in the afternoon, for the departure of the body to the tomb at the mosque. We had to sit three hours because the man’s wife was delayed in the air from Java. The family had to beg the ministers (not sure what you call a muslim religious leader), to allow them to keep the tomb open long enough for her to be there, and it wasn’t very pleasant to see a proud adult man pushing back tears begging some angry sounding elders to respect his family wishes.
They had to rewash the body during this wait, and the smell blew out to the garden where we sat and startled me. I found it a bit stressful, I didn’t really know what was going on, I hadn’t seen Yanti, the daughter I knew from the house and was worrying about her as she has been looking skinny and ill lately anyway, I didn’t understand why some people were sitting and others hanging around smoking on the street. The time to contemplate made me think about people from home, and generally I felt sad and unable to talk. It was therefore a long three hours.
When the wife finally arrived, things turned frenzied. The crowd stood from the chairs, oohing and gasping, peering over each other trying to get a view of the old lady struggling to get out of the van. Then she yelled and cried loudly as she was aided to walk into the house, past all the staring faces, and then it set others off. It was the first time I had seen anyone in the crowd show sorrow, and it confused me, death is a different thing here.
So no sooner had she arrived then they had to get her husband to the tomb because the sun was starting to go down. I averted my eyes so as not to see the body being laid on the wooden bed, but looked back round in time to see that he was wrapped in white cloth, just as they covered him with the cradle and cloth cover. Then the men lifted him onto their shoulders and his grandchildren ran, crying, through the middle of them, underneath him. The crowd were really all over the place now, taking pictures, trying to get close, showing concern for the children and the body. One girl even fainted and collapsed on the floor. The neat lines of chairs were all squashed up or stacked to be out of the way of people who wanted to be up close and part of this tradition. Then they loaded him into a car and we all dispersed.
A lot of people were hanging out on my porch because the tradition is that people are there for three days. I tried to stay in my room with the curtains shut and no music on to be respectful, but it was an uneasy feeling because I wasn’t sure if I should be bringing them tea, chatting with them or what.
The next day, on my way home from a relaxing walk on the beach, to get some space, and give some space, I was invited to meet the wife. She was very proud to introduce me to all her children which was nice and I thought its probably the first time in years they have all been together and at least she could find comfort in that. I only met three of them before because the others live on Java island. Before I left, they invited me to join a service at their home the next night.

NOTE: if you are squeamish, stop reading here and scroll down a bit.
The family were given two goats and a chicken, who have been living in our shared back garden / drying green the last couple of days. However, as I made my peanut butter and jam sandwich this morning, I heard a very disturbing sound from a goat and wondered, did they just slit its throat? A lot of people were going back and fore past my kitchen window and I decided my instinct was right. I admit it crossed my mind to peep out of my toilet window to see, but then I decided I wouldn’t really like to see a bleeding animal so despite curiosity, I didn’t bother. When I left the house to head to work, I said morning to a few men sitting on the porch and saw behind them an almost fully skinned goat, hanging from the clothes pole with a bucket of blood below. I was glad to already be prepared for it by being aware of what was going on, and I was surprised at myself for not totally jumping or dropping the keys. I think I didn’t really look once I saw what it was, and just walked on, without chatting to the men. I’m not a vegetarian, and I eat meat, so I shouldn’t be upset by the scene. I’ve heard it’s a humane way to kill an animal, and I think if they are going to eat the animal then it’s just a fact of life....but I probably won’t hang my washing there for a while! 
**** Start reading again squeamish peeps!
After work I offered to help because about 20 people seemed to be busy with cooking duties in the garden, the drying green and in the house. One old lady decided to give me a tour and explain to me what all the food was, and asked me to try it all...which included the satayed goat, poor goat. It tasted like liver and was probably the freshest meat I’d ever eaten, but I couldn’t enjoy it. No-one would let me do anything though, so after the tour I just headed to the house.
I joined them later in the evening and was introduced to a grandchild of 14 who had very good English so passed some time talking to her, at first with an intrigued audience and much to the delight of her proud mother. She was a very bright kid with ambitions I am sure she will achieve to be a doctor. We ate the feast that had been prepared over the course of the day and then I went home. I wondered as I got ready to sleep where did they get all the plates from for all those people? And where did they get all the giant pots from? Did Yanti always have 3 ovens on that table in her kitchen? People in Indonesia are really self sufficient when it comes to food.
RIP old neighbour dude.
My neighbour Yanti, her mother and one of her brothers, Erwan.

I want to be a tree!

The first time I hugged a tree was back when I lived in bridge of don, Aberdeen, and named all of the silver birches planted in a “grassy bit” just opposite our cul-de-sac.  I got a set of stickers, most likely from a magazine, and decided to use them on the trees. They were eyes, ears, noses and mouths so I made the trees into living things, with names and documented them in a table with names and distinguishable features. I did this one day on my own, when none of the others were playing football or hide and seek like we normally did, and went back out periodically to record anything of interest, but also to send good vibes to the trees of growth and health since at that time i had a fascination with the idea trees lived longer than people by potentially double or more, so they got to see the changes nature and evolution of man brought from a stand still point. I thought that therefore trees should be respected and admired because of their strength to live so long, because of all they have to endure and take in and because of their ability to give life. I loved those trees, since they were there every day reflecting the seasons, they were young like me and they had a future of enormous potential and probabilities just like me so they were inspiring.
But I cant remember that I actually hugged one of those trees, more like gave them a rub like a genes bottle or a good doggie or something. The first time I actually hugged a tree was on a camping trip with friends.
After hours of driving and an inability to find a campsite someone knew about we agreed to stop at Burghead nature reserve. It had a forest trail which gave a glimpse to a beautiful and vast area of pine trees which we veered off to find a clear area in which to pitch our tents. Some of us went exploring after that, and discovered over a ridge that the forest backed up to the beach. It was beautiful, two of natures most relaxing landscapes hand in hand with each other, giving us an idyllic spot to sip tenants, light fires, sing and be merry.
I must have been exclaiming as I often do about how beautiful it was, and how nice it felt to be around trees. We dont have many in my home town so its really something I notice and feel. One of my friends was laughing and calling me a tree hugger, when another asked had I ever. I said no and he said I should, his ex made him do it once and it was fun. So there we were, hugging trees in Burghead park. I feel really glad Gary got me to do that, because actually, I do love trees and it was nice to give a hug as a symbol of love!
All this reflection on trees is a result of finding myself sitting under the first coconut tree i noticed in Indonesia, 4 months ago. I really think the trees are the thing that makes Indonesia jaw droppingly gorgeous. There are so many, so deep green, so relaxing. They cut out the sound of the wind, provide shade from the suns heat and brightness and bear so much diverse and interesting fruit, I never cease to be amazed by them. They are nothing like you would find in Scotland, with huge green leaves to be found 365 days of the year, they really are cool.

amusing for all the wrong reasons....

Me: “I thought with all the trees that there are in Flores there would be a lot of birds, but I’ve hardly seen any!”
Friend: “Yeah! We shot them!”
Me: speechless.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Well first off, Happy New Year!!!!! 2011, wow, who can believe it?!

Changing colour volcano lakes...torquiose turning green at the edges. Its so weird, cause it looks like thick water because the colour is so dense and its so quiet up there, its a very surreal place.

 Woo, tiny road obstruction there! I conquor the boulder and offer peace man!
My Flores house, on Radio Street! On the left is my mango tree (yet to bear fruit) and the mat at my door says "welcome"!

A beautiful view to the south sea from the mountains.

This time of year always makes me excited. I find time for reflection and to consider what the year ahead has in store. It does me good to have this annual landmark, as I find energy in wiping the slate clean and starting again. This year’s first big new thing is cutting down on carbs. Despite being in a poor country the last four and a half months, I have gained weight, which isn’t very good considering I deliberately allowed myself to gain weight before coming, just in case I got ill. So rice and bread will be shrunk in my diet and water added. I’ve certainly not been drinking enough considering how hot it is and the malaria medication I am taking, so its a win-win, replace the bad food with the good water...lets just see how long my will power holds up!
I’m feeling quite positive on my second day back to Flores, and have just done my first healthy shop at the market, fish, veg and fruit. No rice, no bread, no sweets, it’s a good start. I got up early enough to go to the market before work. I was nervous about it as I had forgotten words with being away and the last time I went it was very crowded. I am pleased to say, I am starting to know where to find what and I had a few decent conversations with the ever curious locals who like to crack the mystery of what on earth this white girl doing on their island, in their town! I think they can’t imagine why I would be here, and I have to admit, sometimes when they ask me like that, I question myself!
 I had time to clean up the house and was able to realise I feel quite comfortable in my little house, which was a nice feeling, because I was worried after coming back to it from all the luxury in Australia I wouldn’t like it as much as before, but I like it just as much. The only thing that was different is the water is even dirtier. My friend told me this is because of the heavy rain they have been having, which slides a lot of soil off the hills and into the river. It made me think the water processing facilities are not very good. This is not something I can do anything about, even though I am working in the Government, because the water department sets their own objectives and are a department out with the Bappeda where I work. What Bappeda can do is set them performance indicators on the budget they agree with the Bupati. I think it might be more effective to have my placement at the Bupati, but that’s not where it is.
Through the reflection, and time away I have discovered that the changes I can make here are limited. I am definitely making small changes, but they are within the box. If the Government hasn’t prioritised clean water, I’m not going to change that. What I can change is the measures that monitor performance of the water department, and try to make them focused on number of households with clean water for example, and find stats from other countries to compare standards, so they can see how behind they are in this area. This is the kind of change I can accomplish in this job.
I had a good first day in the office, and was happy to see everyone. I was welcomed with handshakes and wishes of “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”, which made me chuckle, because we drop the Christmas part at home after December 25th, but its hardly a big deal. My friend Arie came back to my house after work to fix my garden fence that had been blown down by the rain, which is heavy most days as we are fully in the rain season now. It felt good to get things in shape and I cooked dinner for Arie in return. I thought I bought tuna, but on cooking it, Im not so sure. I also thought I bought salad leaves but found out when I tasted it that it was leaves to be cooked, they were really fiery raw.  We ate it then the kids arrived  in time to share the banana and pineapple.  Arie made a dash at the first rumble of thunder to get home before the storm and the kids went at nine like he made them promise.
The next day I was invited to visit a village, Wolojita, where the government were presenting rice farmers with new, motorised cutting equipment. There was a long ceremony and then about 30 of us went into the field to have a blessing of the field and cut a batch of rice each. We used the old method of the hooked, toothed knife to do this and then moved to the next section of rice to try out the motorised bad boy! The farmers seemed impressed with its speed and with no training took it in turns to chomp through the field. One of them had the thing above his head and everything, I was just imagining an accident. It was still a manual tool, much like a grass edge strimmer but with a real disc saw with big teeth. We ate lunch before driving back to Ende, and I enjoyed the view, the peanuts and the chatting.
The next few days were back in the office and I am pleased to have prepared a couple of work plans and got some meetings set up to take projects forward as well as get some good work done. I went home early on Friday, as people seem to be working less crazy hours than the run up to Christmas, and ended up dancing in the rain with the kids, with much hilarity, well, if you can’t beat the rain, enjoy it! I haven’t been able to go jogging because of it and my inability to get up at 05:30am when its not quite light.
I’m glad that without my hard drive full of movies and TV shows, I am still able to keep myself busy in the evenings, and am actually surprised at how much I find to do. Aerobics, yoga and, shh, don’t tell anyone, cross stitch are the big hobbies at the moment.
Here is to great year for all!

Cutting the rice. In black, the Head of the Bappeda where I work, Dr Domi and in the locally woven coloured shirt, the Head of the Agriculture Dept.

One of the farmers with the new rice cutter - it allows them to get the rice cut in waaaay less time!