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An Adventure in Indonesia, Stephen S. Haynes February 2007 unpublished article.

We arrived in Indonesia midday, the sun hot overhead during the short walk across the tarmac. Upon entering the terminal we were faced with a chaotic scene: a small room, at least relative the number of people in it, greeted us. The floor was plain cement, and the baggage claim to our right was merely a hole in the wall with a slide for the bags, partitioned off of the rest of the room with office dividers. To our left was the visa counter, staffed by important looking people in uniforms, and straight ahead was the customs desk. After paying for our four single-entry visas, we headed in this direction to be hurried on our way – next stop baggage claim. After slipping through the crowd as best as we could, we picked up the eight large boxes and suitcases we had checked from New York City and headed down the hallway, baggage carts overfull of our personal bags as well as the myriad of school supplies that had flown with us. After a short walk down a hallway we emerged outdoors on a small cement landing surrounded by a throng of people peering around each other and asking if we needed help carrying anything or a ride, or any number of other things that they could be paid to be of assistance with. After a short while we connected with the friends who were picking us up, and headed off through the streets of Medan.

Though the whole thing was a bit startling at the time, it seemed that this kind of chaos was fairly commonplace, and so I grew used to it rather quickly. The four of us – myself, Molly, another young adult from the region, Pamela, a videographer and professor from Alfred University, and finally our fearless leader Nadine Hoover, who has done work in Indonesia for quite a few years now including tsunami relief and AVP workshops – packed into a van with Nadine”s daughter Sarah, who was acting as a translator for the trip. Also traveling with us was Sarwani, the Muslim religious leader from the village to which we were headed, Salamun, our driver for the first leg of the trip and a close friend of Nadine”s, and a handful of preschool teachers which were from a couple of different schools from other areas and were coming with us to help train the teachers at the new school that we were about to open. Some of them came from a village called Jaring Halus where Nadine set up her first preschool, and some of them came from a large school called Al-Fallah in Jakarta, the capitol city of Indonesia. The Al-Fallah teachers were led by the head of the school, named Wisme, who was a very good friend of Nadine”s and had also helped set up the school in Jaring Halus.

We headed out on our day long drive through the hectic streets of Medan to another town north of Medan to pick up more teachers, and then up into Aceh. Aceh, for those not familiar with the geography of Indonesia, is the province on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. It has been in a civil war for the past 30 years; peace accords were just signed in fall 2005. The people there are very much still unsettled and most of them severely traumatized, to the point of sleeping with the lights on every night because of an overwhelming fear of the night. After crossing into Aceh we would drive north through the smaller city of Langsa, which we would come back to later, to a small rural village called Bagok, which was our destination.

In Bagok, there was no preschool. Nadine had set out to help them with this issue, as she has done quite a bit of work with early childhood education and also helped set up another preschool in a village to the south. The teachers were with us to train the Bagok teachers in their craft, and the Bagok preschoolers even volunteered their summer break so that the teachers had students to practice all that they were learning on. The training went well, with the three of us who weren”t fluent in Indonesian covering more mundane tasks that didn”t involve so much communication such as sorting blocks and other school supplies. The first real challenge of the trip came when, after we had been there for a while, we took a short day trip out to an area that had been damaged by the tsunami. Molly, Pamela and I all got food poisoning from unclean ice, which was a fairly interesting experience.

On that particular day we had begun by heading out to a “Wartel,” the Indonesian term for small shops containing phones which you can use for a small fee. After all of us making a call home and hearing the voices of our loved ones for a few minutes we asked Nadine if on the way home there was an easy way to go see some of the tsunami damage, while we were in the area. The driver spoke up and said that his cousin lived at one such village, doing reconstruction work there, and that he would drive us there for lunch, so off we went.

Our arrival was a surprising one, because as it turned out Salamun”s cousin was married to a woman who Nadine had brought along with her to help with translation on a previous trip, and so many greetings ensued. This was a pleasant surprise, and the couple asked us to stay for lunch, which ended up being fresh fish caught not an hour prior and roasted over a fire, as well as rice of course and various other smaller Indonesian dishes, as is standard for Achenese food. We then all said our goodbyes, and headed back toward Bagok.

The sickness hit me hardest, and put me down within a matter of a few hours. The Indonesians were quick to diagnose me with quite a number of various common Indonesian illnesses, including heatstroke and a sickness having to do with ionization in the air, before it was determined what was really wrong with me. I was treated accordingly, some remedies more pleasant than others – including a wonderful cup of jasmine tea with honey provided by the incredibly generous Wisme, and as well an incredibly tasteless protein drink, which I was unable to finish completely. The next morning it was obvious that Molly and Pamela were sick as well, and the three of us kept each other company and slept most of the day in the house in which we were staying with Sarah checking in on us regularly throughout the day. The most any of us ate was a slice or two of bread.

By the end of that day I was the only one feeling better, and I was incredibly glad for this. After a night”s sleep we were headed down to Langsa, a few hours south, to help run two AVP workshops at the SHEEP (Society for Health, Environment, Education, and Peace) office. Because the English speaking members of the group would have a very hard time facilitating, the plan was for us to participate and be present in the workshops, which ended up making a huge difference. Also, we could give the facilitation team support if they needed it, which they appreciated as they were relatively unsure of themselves. However, the drive could have been pretty awful if I was still feeling as I had been the day before, and I felt sorry for the two who were. The drive was made successfully, however, without any mishaps, and we were all glad to arrive and climb out of the vehicle.

It took a while for the facilitators of the first workshop to get everything all planned out, so the rest of us had some time to rest, and it”s an understatement when I say we appreciated it. While the team worked on preparing for the workshop, it was decided that Molly and Pamela should go to the local hospital and be treated for whatever they had, which ended up being a little bit of an adventure. I stayed back, however, as I was feeling well again and was in no need of medicine myself.

The facilitation team was made up of four men that Nadine had trained on a previous trip. They were new to facilitating, which meant that the idea of facilitating a training for trainers was more than a little intimidating to them. The idea was that they could train more Indonesian facilitators and Nadine would no longer have to be present all the time for them to run workshops, and in this way AVP in Indonesia could continue of its own accord and eventually become self sufficient.

By the end of the day the team was ready to start, and the participants had arrived. The workshop started that evening, and went for the next day and the day after that, finishing on the following morning. It went well, and by the end there was a whole crowd of new facilitators, including our own Pamela and Sarah. The grueling schedule had just begun, however, as the first basic workshop of the trip was to begin that night and the team, made up half of new facilitators and half of more experienced ones, had only the afternoon to rest and prepare.

The team was ready by the time the evening rolled around, however, and the participants arrived fairly promptly. This was not a guarantee, as Indonesian time seems to be quite flexible, but that didn”t end up being a problem this time around. Thus the workshop began on time, and continued for the same length of time as the previous one, with pauses only to eat and run downtown to buy water, as well as stopping to sleep at night briefly. The participants were made up mostly of workers from small NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). They were very dissatisfied with the content of the workshops at first, and the first half of the workshop dragged on endlessly.

Then, within the space of about a half hour, the entire atmosphere changed completely. Nadine stepped in and talked for a while about the principles of AVP, and it was as if everything finally came together for the group. All of a sudden, everyone was accepting of everything that was going on, and there were smiles and laughter all over the room. It was a transformation that I don”t think I”ll ever forget – and what more perfect place for that than an AVP workshop?

The workshop was completed on a very positive note, and though I was glad to be done with it and not be surrounded by throngs of people constantly, it was sad to see everyone go. The five of us stayed in Langsa until the following morning, when we all packed up for the trip further south to Langkat, where the third and final workshop was to be held with the rest of the newly trained facilitators.

The morning was spent packing and making sure we gathered up all of the various pieces of equipment, mostly video cameras and cables, that we had brought with us. The car arrived to pick us up midmorning, and though getting all of our bags into it was a trick – let alone ourselves – we did manage to fit everyone and everything in the vehicle with us. We left maybe a half hour later, waving goodbye to all of the staff of the SHEEP office, and were on the road again.

The drive was long and fairly unexciting, however we reached our destination without a hitch. The site of the workshop was to be a good sized house, at least by Indonesian standards, which meant that there would not be enough space for all twenty five or so of the participants, who were to sleep next door. After stopping for a quick bite to eat, we all headed out to Jaring Halus.

Jaring Halus is a small, rural, traditional fishing village off of the northern coast of Sumatra. It is built over where the tide washes in, an entire village on stilts. It also has no sanitation, so though the people there have very clean personal habits, it is completely devoid of any kind of waste management system or sewage system other than the tide rolling in and out. This makes visiting the village quite the cultural experience especially at high tide, leaving a heavy impact on all of us.

The reason for this short break from our schedule of AVPs was to visit the first preschool that Nadine had set up in Indonesia. She had seen the crowds of children running around with nothing to do after the tsunami, which hit Jaring Halus quite hard. It also made most of the fish flee, making a very serious impact on the amount of fish being caught by the fishermen and causing economic disaster for the people there. Seeing this as well, Nadine set up cooperatives of fishermen so that they could buy more advanced boats in groups and hopefully improve their income. Thus, she also visited with them and checked on their progress.

After sleeping a night in the school, we headed back to the mainland so that the facilitation team for the upcoming workshop could prepare together. Both Sarah and Pamela, as well as Nadine, were on the team, making it vital that we return in time. The boat ride was about an hour on the return trip, followed by an hour long car ride back to the house. Upon arrival it was decided that the workshop itself should be held in a very long thin room that was the largest room in the house however was only barely large enough for the whole group to sit in together. The group set about preparing, and the rest of us took some time off to relax a bit.

This second basic, probably by some act of divine intervention, also started on time, with everyone present when and where they were supposed to be. The participants this time around were made up almost entirely of misplaced Javanese conflict refugees, who took immediately to AVP in its entirety. Typically, Indonesians hold a very strong prejudice against the Acenese for a number of reasons, however this did not get in the way of the community developed by the workshop in the slightest. One particularly memorable time from the workshop actually took place over a break between sessions, when one of the facilitators, who was Acenese, pulled out a guitar and began to play while two of the Javanese men sang songs, and everyone was clapping and dancing together. The knowledge that this could never have happened if we all had met each other on the street, but because we had built such a strong community we were able to have that good of a time together was a pretty amazing experience. All in all it was a wonderful and moving workshop, right up through to the end.

After the completion of the workshop we had a day or two to relax at the house. Most of us spent our time taking a breather and slowly beginning to work out way through organizing the forty-something hours of video that we had recorded over the trip. We also pitched in to working on putting together an AVP manual in Indonesian, which was mostly Nadine”s project as she knew the language. She received assistance from the Indonesian facilitators that were still around for the translation, and managed to finish a final copy of it while we were there.

Nadine also had a meeting with a few of our friends from around the area, who were human rights workers, and left for a day to buy coffee that was produced locally and handbags that were beautifully sewn and embroidered by local women”s sewing cooperatives, to bring back to the U.S. with us. She takes donations for them and all of the proceeds go to the producers of the goods, which is very profitable for them. This meant that we flew home with six huge boxes packed to the brim with bags and coffee, making for quite an interesting time at customs. First, however, before going home, we stopped for a weekend on Java to visit Al-Fallah, the school that had sent the teachers over from Java. Also, we would meet some of Nadine and Sarah”s Indonesian family and give Nadine some time to meet with Wisme, the head of Al-Fallah, who she had not gotten enough time to talk to while in Aceh.

Soon it was time to leave Sumatra, and leave we did, with a certain amount of sadness. We arrived at the airport in Medan after a short drive and caught our flight, which went as smoothly as it possibly could have. We met a driver from Al-Fallah at the airport in Jakarta when we landed, who drove us through the city to the school after we loaded all of our boxes and backpacks onto the bus. On the way to the school we dropped Sarah and Molly off at the train station, and they caught a train out to Bandung to stay with Nadine”s family while the rest of us were to meet them there the next day.Nadine”s other daughter Fenna met us at Al-Fallah. We spent the afternoon at the school, which is very large and actually includes preschool all the way up through sixth grade, as well as some middle school. Near the end of the day we drove back to Wisme”s house. We spent the night at her house and we all took a very welcome shower, as well as enjoying a real mattress for the first time in weeks and some excellent food. Nadine also became very ill at this point with an illness having to do with ionization in the air,, which apparently is fairly common near the equator, and is one of the meany things I was diagnosed with when I got sick. This meant that she stayed home and rested the next day.

While she rested, however, Fenna, Pamela, and I took a train to Bandung to join Sarah and Molly and a few of Sarah”s cousins. We spent the day seeing a little of the city, and shopping a bit, before heading out to dinner. In the evening we went and played some pool, before collapsing at Sarah”s aunt Rosa”s house for the night.

The next day we all went back to Jakarta together, and spent our last day in Indonesia at Wisme”s house enjoying a last bit of down time before two days of airplane travel home. The next morning we were up and out fairly early, waving goodbye again and heading to the airport. We were early, and had left ourselves plenty of time to shrink wrap our various boxes and not rush through check-in. As we boarded our plane a feeling of sadness came over me, as it felt like I was leaving behind something huge – but, on the other hand I looked forward to the comforts of home, and the love of friends that I could speak fluently with.

We returned from Indonesia with a number of things. All of us carried presents and things for friends and family back in the U.S., and also things we had bought for ourselves. We also came back with quite a bit of documentation of the trip, from the nearly 50 hours of video that was taken to over 800 pictures, some of which are posted at However, most importantly, we came back with memories. All of us were powerfully effected by the experience, and I personally felt that I gained a lot from the trip. I”d like to think I have quite a new appreciation for just exactly how much we take for granted, though I know I still cannot appreciate just exactly how much is simply given to me. Also, it came into perspective for me just how ignorant we are of life in many other places of the world. It was quite a worthwhile adventure for me, and I wish that everyone could get the opportunity to experience something similar for themselves.