Lately, when I travel I am often asked the question as to where I live and, when I give my answer the reply is almost always “why?”
Now, I do tend to find this question to be a little strange as for many years I lived in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and France and I was never asked: “why?”
About a year ago I wrote an article on the wonders of Indonesia and, as part of this piece I shall reproduce some of the musings that I wrote then as those self- same thoughts are as strong today as they were then.
Indonesia is a puzzle, an enigma, a complex algorithm, a place full of wonder, a Pandora’s box, whose contents baffle and confuse those who are not native to the country but choose to make it their ‘home.’
For the uninitiated, Indonesia is a lot to take in; seventeen thousand islands, five thousand one hundred and sixty kilometres east to west, over sixty archipelagos, that lie like broken spines in seas so azure, so unbelievably vibrant they are almost too beautiful to look at.
The spectacular landscapes dotted with majestic mountains peppered with volcanoes whose sole purpose seems to be to try and reach up and touch a sky, delicious with stars.
Indonesia has the ability to seduce and, when one has succumbed to her charms she will call like a plaintive siren from the sea each time you try and leave her. It takes no time at all to become ensnared in her intriguing web. So, what is it that makes her so appealing, so intriguing so beguiling and at times so tortuously frustrating? I ponder this point a lot lately.
I suspect my initial feelings of intense desire have, after a few years living here moved into what has become a long-term love affair complete with all of the baggage that comes with it.
I have been a wanderer for most of my life, drifting aimlessly like flotsam from county to country sometimes putting down tentative roots while children were raised and careers pursued, yet there was always the voice in my head that asked, “where to next”? The taproot seemed never to be strong enough to hold me in that particular place’s soil and now I have come to test Indonesia’s to see if she will take me to her heart.
So, “Why Indonesia?”
The simple answer I guess is, its people. Indonesia has nearly three hundred million souls occupying over six thousand of its islands.
The diversity of cultures, religions, languages and thousands of dialects go a long way towards the making up the complex puzzle that is at the core of this great nation.
If I lived here for the rest of my life I would be able to glean only a tiny glimpse of how it functions because, quite simply, it just does! To an outsider, it’s customs, it’s way of life is a little like trying to decipher an intricate map that can only be navigated the “Indonesian way,” for any other way will lead to paths that head nowhere.
Now, of course, virtually everybody will try to help guide you through your early, torturous years and naturally each one will have a completely different view and an even more confusing set of instructions to follow.
Lately, I have come to understand the two basic fundamentals that dominate every stratum of society throughout this great country, faith and family and not necessarily in that order. These two values are the glue that binds together hundreds of millions of people, many of them so very different in terms of language, beliefs and even appearance and yet, they are all one thing, ‘Indonesians.’
I am a foreigner in a foreign land and no matter how long I stay here I will always be a foreigner but not necessarily an outsider. The spirit of giving and acceptance must be part of the nation’s collective DNA and I encounter such genuine hospitality and generosity of spirit virtually every day.
The majority of my life to date has been spent in countries where its citizen’s worship at that altar of ambition whose goals are the pursuit of money, power and status and beware those who happen to get in the way. Age is not revered in the way it is in Indonesia. In the ‘west,’ the old and the infirm become an irritant, to be stashed away in soulless institutions with dishonest names like ‘Tranquility Gardens, or ‘Peaceful Meadows. There the aged will live out their twilight years surrounded only by those as ancient as they are, bereft of family in a world that becomes ever smaller.
It’s easy for a newly arrived resident to don a pair of rose -coloured glasses and gaze through the tinted lenses at this strange new world seeing only the things one wants to see.
It’s not ‘perfect’ here, for no place anywhere can attain that lofty perch. I still battle with the ups and downs of learning a new language, I struggle to make sense of what should be simple, straightforward paperwork but never is. I ride a scooter in traffic that on the surface is like riding the wall of death. Indonesia is teaching me the ability to have infinite patience.
Should I stumble when confronted with what seems to be an insurmountable problem a few will gather, then a few more, a long chat will ensue and with smiles all around, they will look at me and say, Don’t worry Papa, “ “Samua bisa di atur” (anything can be arranged”)
What more could one want? I do so love it here!
Paul V Walters is the best selling author of several novels. When he is not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he also scribbles for several international travel and vox pop journals.