We packed up and departed Bali for Maumere on the island of Flores. We planned to volunteer and participate in YDD development activities on the island, which mainly consisted of health and sanitation initiatives and launching an effort to promote the use of latrines. We arrived in the afternoon on a balmy day. Our YDD colleague and friend Edu picked us up at the airport, and we headed straight to the port to have lunch.
Flores is a tropical island with lush green hills and miles of beautiful, natural beaches. The island is about 10 degrees hotter than Java and Bali. Maumere, compared to Bali and Java, was another world. The people are a different ethnicity, and the majority of the island’s inhabitants are Catholic due to the legacy from the Portuguese Dominicans that traveled there 400 years earlier. The look and the feel of the island were very different. As far as tourist destinations go in Indonesia, Flores is completely off the grid.
As we drove on the dusty main road, we noticed that almost all of the vendors’ stalls were closed. Since the blistering sun and humidity rendered the afternoons unbearable, most activity shuts down at midday and recommences at dusk, which is the exact time when one’s risk of contracting malaria is the highest. Night time is not the only time to be on alert about mosquitoes since during the day you run the risk of contracting dengue fever. I will spare you the suspense and tell you that we neither of us contracted any kind of disease, and we had a wonderful trip without any complications.
The most pertinent and devastating event in Flores’s recent history was a 1992 tsunami that killed roughly 2500 people and destroyed about 90% of the infrastructure. Much of the affected infrastructure in Maumere and surrounding areas is still in a state of disrepair, while other areas had little infrastructure to begin with. Reports state that the tsunami left roughly 90,000 people homeless, and the rampant spread of malaria, dengue fever, and dysentery compounded the human suffering among tsunami survivors. YDD volunteers had been some of the first to respond, as they were following the major 2003 tsunami in Aceh, Sumatra.
But the takeaway is that while there are plenty of things across Indonesia, which is in the Pacific Rim of Fire, that could kill you, life pretty much goes on. The tenacity of the people in all of these major disasters that we have witnessed or heard about is remarkable. In Java, there are earthquakes or volcanoes. In Sumatra and many other islands, there are tsunamis. In Bali, well, you’re pretty safe there. And in Flores and many other more remote islands, there is the added risk of mosquitoes carrying malaria or dengue fever. And did I mention that there are Komodo dragons and giant rats that live in Flores too? Good thing they are on the far west side of the island.