In many ways it seems strange to describe Indonesia as a homogenous society because of the rich diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages. On the other hand, Indonesians are united by many things, including a love of bules (foreigners, or people of different nationalities). Here in the rural Indonesian community of Mattone, the Australian participants of AIYEP stand out. This may, or may not, be considered a good thing depending on your personal preference towards being constantly photographed and/or gawked at.
Firstly, if you are not inclined towards the constant spotlight then you will either (a) not enjoy your time in Mattone, or (b) alternatively, you will have to come to terms with the attention pretty quickly. Coming to terms with your status as a bule (which is the rough equivalent of being a D-list celebrity or having very mild super powers) is the first step in this guide. Although posing as a kangaroo for an hour straight may not at first seem appealing, eventually you will realise that the motivation behind the photography/staring/etc is generally genuine. A genuine curiosity of difference and of new things. Remembering that as tourists we often undertake the same exercise by photographing new landscapes, people and things. In this way, it is all part of the cultural exchange that we are participating in as part of AIYEP. After we’ve posed for the 100th photo the photo-shock should wear off.* After this initial shock wears off, it will be time for us to do what we came here to do: reciprocally engage and learn about a new culture, driven by the same curiosity that is behind this whole bule show.
(* 99 photos and counting and it still hasn’t worn off but here’s to hoping).
My first two days in the village were spent with a high fever. To every one of us who will, at some stage, fall ill – Jangan khawatir (Don’t worry). Because during these two days I couldn’t have been surrounded by more love and support. Every single AIYEPer contributed to my recovery. Either by visiting me, sending medicine or more intangible well-wishes and support. This was a reflection of what we have achieved so far in AIYEP, by building such a strong keluarga (family) unit. So, this blog is in part just a thank-you to my Indonesian and Australian family for looking after me these last few days.
Post-script: Also, as today is Christmas, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish a Merry Christmas to all our friends and family back home and re-assure them that even though we are not home for Christmas and miss you all, we are happy and celebrating. We are having a huge Christmas lunch (Indonesian style), exchanging hand-made gifts and also continuing to learn as we engage in religious tolerance of each other’s beliefs on this day. We come together, despite differing values, to celebrate, in simple terms, the fortune of being here, together, in Indonesia. So a Merry AIYEP Christmas to all from Mattone.