One connection always leads to another and that’s how I met Bonzai, who is close friends and ocLean partners with Ricky. It was no surprise to me that I was also welcomed into his family. Bonzai is a crazy character, always laughing and having fun. He also has a gentle and peaceful side which I was able to get to know as I spent more time with him.
After the ocLean boat trip, I wasn’t ready to return to Jakarta, get my bag, and carry on my way. Bonzai’s main source of income is as a tour guide for foreigners, so he planned some trips for Kyra (another traveller) and I. The first trip was river tubing with some locals. The water was too shallow, but we laughed and had fun anyway and ended the ride with a traditional banana leaf lunch, which consisted of rice, cooked vegetables, and sambal (the local salsa). The next day we took a boat to Anak Krakatoa, the caldera that recently triggered a tsunami in the same area. It feels odd to know that I walked on her slopes unknowing of the power she possessed. The last trip was to a small, untouched village where foreigners are not allowed to enter, unless you know somebody there. Luckily Bonzai has connections there and invites us to stay a night.
The experience in the village was incredible. There is no access to motor vehicles. You have to carry everything and walk on dirt paths. People live in the jungle in bamboo huts elevated off the floor that are beautifully crafted. Meat and alcohol is forbidden. They bathe in the river that flows along the perimeter. It is the same river they use as a toilet. Walking through the village we saw handcrafted items made from the supplies they have around them. Nothing says “Made in China,” as I am so accustomed to. We slept on a bamboo mat on the floor inside the hut which was one large room, about the same size of one of the rooms I had when I was a child. Putting things in perspective like this made me realize that everything is relative, and many things are excessive amounts of space containing unnecessary amounts of stuff.
After leaving the village we returned to Bonzai’s home. As usual, he had a crazy idea. He asked me if I wanted to go on a motorbike trip with him to Sumatra, the next island over. I was already on a roll, so I figured “Why not?” And so the trip was planned.
Bonzai had some other work to do, so for 1 week I stayed with his family, who soon felt like my own. I exchanged english lessons for Bahasa Indonesian lessons from his 7 year old daughter. I also spent time with their relatives who lived on the same street. One was an english teacher at a small rural school and he took me there a few times to give the kids english lessons. Another family member invited me to visit a different school that primarily taught english. I met with the head teacher and the students who were all excited to see a foreigner in their classroom.
I was overwhelmed by these experiences because there were so many voices trying to speak to me in a language I did not understand and all I wanted to do was connect. It was difficult and exhausting at times, but it helped me grow by pushing me outside my comfort zone. Slowly I learned some of the language and I had a wild idea to stay in Indonesia and become an english teacher for a rural school. I saw the lack of structure, supplies and knowledge in the education system. I wanted to help. I also wanted to raise awareness to the kids and teachers about the environmental effect of throwing garbage into streets and oceans, but like the school system, there was no strong foundation to fully allow them to change and adapt to a different lifestyle. It became too heavy for me, and the thought of staying quickly faded.
I knew I could not help everyone in the way I wished, but I could support the locals through the way I travelled and interacted with them. By going on this bike trip with Bonzai, I was helping him support his family. The journey took us about 8 days round trip and many hours spent on the back of Bonzai’s scooter admiring the lush and dense jungle of Sumatra. We went as far north as Krui, a small surf town, where we decided to stay a few nights and give our butts a break from the bumpy ride. We stayed at his friends home who kindly welcomed us. I remember one day walking in and the wife was wearing this beautiful and simple dark red dress with blue elephants along the trim. I openly admired it and without hesitation she went into her room, changed, and handed me the dress. I was baffled. She literally gave me the shirt on her back without expecting anything in return. Before leaving I gifted her my greenstone bracelet from New Zealand. At first I was hesitant because I had bought this bracelet with another matching one for my mom and I, but I saw the same unconditional generosity in this woman as I saw in my mom, and so I let it go.
On the journey back, it felt like I was going home. Bonzai and his family had become my family too. Although little communication through words were spoken, we were simply present with one another and that was enough for me. Blood does not define my family, but the way we treat each other.
A month had almost passed and my visa was about to expire. During this time I had missed a flight to Bali and a flight from Bali to Singapore. And oh, how it was worth it. That was the last time I planned anything that far in advance. I knew what opportunities awaited if I kept the doors open.
Reflecting on my time spent with Bonzai and his family allowed me to see people differently, knowing that we share more similarities than differences. Our differences stem from experiences and perceptions of reality, but the essence of the soul is the same. We are all striving for happiness, and this man showed me that happiness can be found in the simplest form. We all have and are enough and until this is realized, happiness remains out of reach.
My perspectives began to change while living the life of a local whose culture was vastly different from the ones I knew. Rather than being an outsider looking in, I felt as if I was seeing and experiencing life authentically and honestly. One female teacher asked me, “Aren’t you afraid to travel here alone?” I responded, “No, why should I be?” As if the answer was obvious, she stated matter of factly, “Well, we’re Muslim.” Her answer hurt. This had never even crossed my mind before as something I should fear, but I see how it has been conditioned in some people’s minds to fear a religion, a government, a race, or a political party they don’t understand. Through experience we learn to understand.
Slowly, slowly I was beginning to understand more about myself and the larger world beyond. So I said my farewells and carried on.
(Banten, Indonesia, March-April 2017)