On to Maumere

3 May

ImageWe 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.

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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.

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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. 

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Reviving the Coral Goddess

2 May

The next day, we went to Pemuteran, a peaceful bay which is the site of a very successful coral reef rehabilitation project. The project is called “Biorock®,” and it utilizes a method of channeling low voltage currents of electricity into the water, initiating a “mineral accretion” process where dissolved minerals crystallize on manmade structures submerged underwater. The dissolved minerals will grow into limestone, a natural element in coral reefs. The electrical current accelerates the process of coral growth.

Interestingly, in Pemuteran, the Marine Foundation for Karang Lestari, the NGO spearheading this effort, is greening the process by shifting to a wind turbine/solar powered hybrid system to generate the electrical current for the project.

We went out for a dive to see the status of the rehabilitation process, and the progress is remarkable. In much of the area, the manmade structures upon which the limestone grew were no longer visible. Coral and fish of all kinds flourished in their new environment.

Bali Barat

1 May

ImageDuring our time in Bali Barat, we stayed in Gillimanuk, a town that is the entry point for ferries coming from Java. The following day, our group rented two long wooden boats for the day. The scientists and their research staff went on the first boat along with most of the scuba diving gear, and the other would transport us along with Bu Tami’s family.

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The scenery was so serene and beautiful. We saw mountains across the water on the Javanese side. Our boats docked on an island surrounded by graceful mangroves. We visited a bird sanctuary on Pulau Burung (literally Bird Island”) and spotted the famous Bali Starling bird before hopping back on the boat and heading toward Menjangan, the major island where most snorkelers and divers go.

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Menjangan Island is renowned for the coral wall that surrounds it. The water was crystal clear, and even from the boat, you could see deep into the reef and witness an array of vibrant colors from the schools of tropical fish of all kinds. The snorkeling was magnificent, and you could dive down with just your snorkel to get a closer look at the wall. The plan was to go for a quick snorkel before going on a dive.

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In the middle of our picture-perfect sunny day, storm clouds came in, and the heavens opened up and unleashed an apocalyptic deluge. We were 30-40 minutes from the mainland at this point. The team of scientists decided to continue with their dive, but I shied away since this would have been my first dive in six years and only my fourth dive ever. Tyler, intrepid as always, hopped onto the scientists’ boat to dive as planned. Our other boat made it to shore without capsizing, which was a minor miracle. By the time Tyler and the scientists came back, I was told that diving in heavy rain is not a problem at all, and if anything, it is more peaceful underwater than it is above it in a storm.

Bus to Bali Barat

30 Apr

Our colleague and dear friend, Bu Tami, invited us on her family vacation. They were headed to a national park in Bali Barat where there were wildlife sanctuaries and protected a coral reef. Bali Barat national park was established under the Dutch in 1941 to protect the Starling bird and an animal called the wild benteng. Bu Tami’s family planned to join their close family friends are marine biologists who were traveling there to study a new species of sponge.

Tyler and I planned to take a bus to get to Bali Barat from Denpasar. That sounded slightly more affordable and more pleasant than riding 20 hours in the bed of a truck from central Java and then taking a ferry over to Bali, so we piled onto a packed bus for the 5 hour ride. No AC. Every seat was taken, and the bus even had fold-down seats with no backs in the aisles to accommodate additional passengers. Thank God I got a window so I could stick my head out of it to get some fresh air.

Our bus driver was fearless. Or some might say reckless. We barreled down a winding two-lane road, and the driver showed no restraint in passing slower traffic, even when oncoming traffic would make it imprudent to do so. In one instance, an oncoming truck pulled onto the shoulder because our bus driver cut it too close. I was doing my best to distract myself by looking out at the picturesque rice paddies out the window.

Let’s say the Indonesians have a ways to go when it comes to cultivating a culture of road safety. It is a wonder that I have not seen more traffic accidents. We did, however, see one half-baked attempt to increase safety for motorcycle drivers. On the side of the road, we saw a sign that said “Pakai helm dong,” which essentially means “Wear your helmet, man.” Hey, you have to start somewhere.

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A Day in Denpasar

29 Apr

ImageWe returned to Denpasar from Muntigunung. One afternoon, our YDD colleague Ary took us to the “pasar” or local market in town. He had to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to bring back to the YDD staff living in Munti. Unlike the touristy beaches nearby, Denpasar is a dusty, inland urban center that is not generally frequented by foreigners. We wandered through the delicious aroma of fruit stalls and paused to admire the individual Hindu offerings that each stall owner had put on display that morning.

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Most of the vendors at the pasar were women. Additionally, there were women porters who for a very small tip would carry your fresh fruit and vegetables in bags on her head as you continued to shop.

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I enjoyed watching the daily comings and goings in this busy place. It also became clear that our friend Ary had sacrificed his ability to pay “local” prices for produce since he brought two “buleh” with him.

The Versatility of Lontar Leaves

28 Apr

ImageAfter a long night of karaoke at the YDD staff guesthouse, we woke up refreshed and ready to visit a lontar project site in a different area of Muntigunung. We drove as far up the mountainside as the road permitted, and then we walked up the steep and winding road toward the project site. The hillside was speckled with tropical flowers, and one could see villagers’ homes and the adjacent “candi” or Hindu temple. I was amazed that in a place where poverty was so severe that villagers would still find ways to build a beautiful family temple on their land.

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We arrived at the project site, and again we were greeted by a smiling group of women of all ages. This time, they were weaving handicrafts such as baskets, boxes, hats, and placemats, out of strips of dried lontar leaves. I got to try my own hand at it, and I knew I was not pulling my weight in the group as my clumsy fingers had trouble interlacing the delicate strips of lontar. As a rewarding break, one of our local hosts climbed up a nearby palm tree and returned with three coconuts. Fresh coconut milk on a hot day was the best thing imaginable. I could really get used to this!

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Considering Culture in Promoting Change

27 Apr

The first afternoon in Muntigunung, three of our YDD colleagues arranged for us to go visit one of the project sites. After initial resistance, I agreed to hop on the back of a motorcycle–on the condition that I would have a helmet–since I was told that would be the only way we could make it up the steep road. Image

Our three motorcycles made our way up the hillside and arrived at a large rainwater catchment tank that the NGOs had built. The catchment tank would serve as a cistern for maintaining a supply of water that could be filtered for drinking. The tank itself was huge, and it supplied shade and shelter for the tens of women who sat on the cement platform supporting the tank. The women were painting dried gourds to sell on the local economy. The women were laughing as they worked, sitting in small clusters with young children and a few chickens running around them. As we learned from our YDD colleagues, a central element of developing these social enterprises is the requirement for all local participants to sign an agreement to work regular hours and pledge not to revert to begging.

As an outsider, it seemed to me that working in a local business would be vastly preferable to begging, but we learned that many in Muntigunung favored begging as opposed to creating local industry because they could make more money that way. The NGOs are working to raise awareness in the local community to embrace efforts to promote social enterprises since they foster long-term economic development, promote a better future for villagers and for future generations, provide them with a dignified way to earn a living, and permit them to do so while remaining in their home village.

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