I landed in darkness, motor scooters and traffic my welcome. The heat throbbed in the night and I shook with jetlag and adrenaline. This is Indonesia, an archipelago of over 17,000 diverse islands, easy smiles and fresh chilies ground in a volcanic mortar and pestle. The congestion of Sanur, Bali during my first 24 hours was oppressive and the fully developed beach lacked real natural charm.
So I boarded another plane for Yogyakarta, Java, a capital of culture, language and kindness. It was there that I studied Bahasa Indonesia for 6 hours a day at Alam Bahasa, a wonder of a school with the most patient teachers.
I stayed at a local homestay where I met fellow anthropologist Tim, my comfort for the week and a truly humorous soul who adopted me like the bewildered bule (white person) I was. I’ll admit, the intricacies of Indonesia escaped me during those first few days. The tastes were too bold, the streets too loud, the intrusion of bugs and the threat of dengue genuinely freaked me out. Yet day by day, the layers of peeling paint of Jogja revealed the soulful heart of a city.
My Indonesian is struggling, but with each day it gains strength. It grows in conversations with children. It fortifies with each good morning. It loves the process.
The food in Jogja is sweet in comparison with other Indonesian islands. In Bali they love spice. In Lombok, they live spice. Regional flavors are topped with the ever present sambal, a spicy paste. I have a favorite already. I am already sick of rice.
One of the 7 wonders of the world, Borobudur, looms large in Jogja. The massive square temple revels in the beauty of the intricate stone carvings on every square inch. Faces of Siddhartha and other Buddhist tales mark the sides. The top is adorned with iconic domes. It is swarming with tourists, yet there is peace here. The mountains of Central Java are a lush and dense green. Bird can be heard through the heat. This is not a city anymore.