Indonesia: Going Home

Batak culture, culture, Indonesia, indonesian culture, Peace Corps, story, travel

When I finally set foot on Indonesian soil again this past August, after nearly three years, I knew I was home again. This post describes my short 10 days in Indonesia during the latter part of August, returning to the North Sumatran province.

My first destination was Bukit Lawang, a mountain village next to the Gunung Leuser National park. Here one can find the Orangutan, or in the Indonesian language Orang Hutan which literally means Person (orang) Forest (hutan). I hired a guide, as one must do in the park, and set off on a day-long hike through the jungle. Though it was not far in distance, I saw Orang Hutan and other wildlife and enjoyed the nature around me.

I also spent time in Pematang Siantar and Balige, the two towns in North Sumatra where I taught English from 2012-2014, and spent a few days relaxing at Lake Toba, the world’s largest volcanic lake.

My time was short, but I filled it with many things. I saw old friends and made new friends; I ate my share of the amazing Indonesian and ethnic Batak food I have missed so much; I visited former students, and even popped into visit the English course of one of my former students; and I once again dipped my feet in the waters of Lake Toba.

It was like another homecoming.

I used to balk when people asked me about my favorite place I’ve traveled. There are so many amazing places that I didn’t know how to choose one. I have, however, since decided it has to be Indonesia.

My heart still lingers there.

Lake Toba is the site of a supervolcano, and was formed some 70,000 years ago after a  eruption so massive, it caused a volcanic winter.

I will always find peace there, and I’m glad I had some time there this past summer.

Life in Indonesia

Batak culture, culture, Indonesia, indonesian culture, travel

Here is a image gallery of photos that show a little of what life was like in Indonesia. Most are from Balige and Siantar, the two cities in the province of North Sumatra where I spent most of my time. In 2 of the photos, you’ll notice a pig’s head. Although most Indonesians are Muslim, I lived among the ethnic Bataks, most of whom are Christian, and regularly eat pork. Indonesia is amazingly diverse, and therefore, my life in the region around Lake Toba was different than someone who experienced Java, Bali, Nias, or Sulawesi islands. I hope to make more galleries about different aspects of life there, as well as other places I’ve traveled.

Lake Toba, Samosir, and Batak culture

Batak culture

I am catching up on posting, so this story is from a week and a half ago, just after Easter. For now I’ll write details, and later I can write more reflection about my experiences.

Relaxing at Lake Toba

On Easter Sunday, after lunch, I traveled around Lake Toba with some of my sisters from the school. From Balige we drove to Parapat and took a ferry across the lake to Samosir island in the middle of the Lake. After a restful night at a beautiful spot by the lake, we drove on a windy road up the mountains.

Traditional Batak houses

On Monday, the 9th of April, after some sightseeing, we were invited to lunch at the home of one of the students. The Ibu (mother) had prepared a meal of chicken, boiled eggs, dried fish, and soup, together with rice that I’m told had just been harvested. All together, we ate in a circle on large mats on the floor. I was asked to pray in English before the meal, but because I do not speak the Batak language, most of the time I listened but did not understand. The food was prepared in sauces, and all tasted very good, but it made my lips and mouth burn. I have heard it said that in Indonesia, they are not satisfied if the food does not have hot chilis in it.

Sitting after the meal

As is custom in Batak culture, I was treated well as a guest. They are welcoming, and always offer and make sure I have enough. After lunch we drank coffee. I formally thanked Bapak and Ibu (father and mother) for the meal and their generous hospitality and prayed for God to bless them. I told them I was looking forward to teaching their daughter. The family invited me again to be a guest in their home and they gave me an ulos. An ulos is a special woven blanket used by the Batak people in parties, ceremonies, or even as decoration. There are many different kinds of ulos, and variations depend upon the the different tribes within the Batak people. This ulos is of Toba Batak.

It was a great honor for me to be welcomed so warmly. They opened their home to me, and although we do not speak the same language, we are family in Christ. I am so grateful for this experience and for their gift of the ulos.