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2015 Feb • Autumn Star returns to Indonesia

Autumn Star has returned to Indonesia and is sharing her experiences through her blog. Here is an excerpt from a recent post:

Five years ago I went to Indonesia for the first time. I had never before traveled outside of western culture. I had major critiques of the USA and western culture, but I did not fully understand what it meant to truly critique it having never left it. Not until I ended up in Indonesia, a place that opened my eyes. What I learned in Indonesia were simple but ground altering differences that exist between what we consider to be a “developed country” and a “third world country.”

My time in Indonesia was spent in communities that have experienced extreme violence and trauma — from war, corruption, poverty, and the aftermath of colonialism. They were communities who had been offered resources for healing through the support of a Friend named Nadine Hoover. Nadine had been traveling from the USA to Indonesia since 1980. She was there first as a college student, then as a family member (she married an Indonesian man), then as a consultant to the Indonesian Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the Department of Early Childhood Education. She eventually left international development consulting and in 2004, after the tsunami, she started working in communities. As she says in her bio:

“I began voluntarily traveling to Indonesia twice a year to build friendships with people most affected or displaced by the war [the Independence war in Aceh fought between the Acehnese Independence group and the Indonesian Government]. As we get to know each other we experiment with living out our basic principles and conduct collaborative training in nonviolence, trauma healing and basic human development, especially for young children.”

What I found when I arrived in Indonesia were people who knew what it was to have nothing but the skin on their backs, the people who walked alongside them, and whatever they could carry with them. They had an understanding of life that I have never found in the USA. Through their exposure to the tools AVP offered they had become invested in growing, because they knew what it was to have nothing left to lose. They were open to sharing because they knew the power of community. I had found a community where people listened to each other, carried each other on their backs, and were willing, with the right tools, to face their enemies with words of healing.

What I started to notice was that in Indonesia there was pain, just as there is in the USA or anywhere in the world, and often they did not have the tools to deal with this pain. Yet, in the rare cases when they were presented with tools, many of them would stop at nothing to work on themselves and try to be a better person for their community. This is not what I have usually found in the USA. In the USA it is much harder to bring people around any common work or practice because of how self-oriented, busy, exhausted, overwhelmed, and adverse to pain we are.

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When I left Indonesia the first time, I left knowing that my new family had given me more than I could ever give to them. The second time I returned to Indonesia, I went knowing that I had to create a way of living in the USA that held beauty and pain in the same breath, but I did not yet know how, and in the meantime I wanted to see my newfound family again. When I returned from Indonesia the second time I was not so shut down by distress, but I was still unsure how to proceed. So I decided to explore. I needed to know more about myself in the world, know more about the country I lived in, and know more about the people who I coexist with. I knew that through exploring I would learn things I would not have known to look for, and I would happen upon people who would influence and expand my world.

I knew that I would return to Indonesia, because it had become a part of my journey in figuring out how I was to live in the world, it is where part of my family lives, and it is where a large piece of my humanity was born. I also knew I could not continue traveling to Indonesia regularly if I was going to commit to facing the impact my actions have in the world instead of living in denial.

Four and a half years after my first time to Indonesia I decided it was the right time to return and I planned a trip for six months later. As I began the preparations I felt a heavy weight in my body, tugging at my heart and seeping through my eyes. I knew that this trip to Indonesia would be the marker of many new beginnings, but also the marker of many endings. I knew that this trip would make me hold beauty and pain in the same breath, and I was scared of the pain. I did not want to face it, and so I did what my culture has taught me so well, I hid. I was able to keep busy and distracted up until a month and a half before my departure to Indonesia.

But it is time to face myself.

I live in a world of pain, but I do not want to shut down to this pain. I do not want to hide, but want to look directly at the poverty, despair, and hurt that we are. I do not want to try to find false hope, but want to find something alive, possible, real, like when you meet the person on the sidewalk who is begging for food, and instead of walking by, sit with them, talk with them, and without judgement, witness and love the connection between beings. I want to feel sadness and know pain and never let my laughter be taken from me, but lift up my voice in songs of sorrow, love, affirmation, earths cycles, and loss. I want to feel anger and know disgust, and learn how to create mulch from the fruits of their labor so that my community can plant new seeds and celebrate their growth. I want to use the power of my feelings to grow myself, to offer compassion without judgement, and to create a lifestyle in which I try to live in harmony with my world community.