Sunday, April 26, 2009

Happy Belated Earth Day

On Earth Day this week I was teaching and played "An Inconvenient Truth" for my students. They were captivated by the data and the images they saw. Everyone here knows there is a problem, it's in the news and we see the signs such as flooding, the seasons seem to be flipping around, but I see a similarity here to what I see back home, people don't always seem to make a connection between what they can actively do to create change. So we all passively are guilty at times for throwing our hands up in the air. We human beings are creatures that are attracted to convenience and it's hard to actively change. I'm guilty as charged. I've bought import foods to comfort myself during my acculturation process and I've been noticing how much non-biodegradable trash has gone through my hands. We don't have a recycling program here in Banjarmasin. Nobody comes with their trucks picking up your blue bin; there are no blue bins here. What used to be wrapped in banana leaves are now wrapped in plastic. Conveniences in little cellophane packages are all over the world, and sadly strewn all over the ground.

About a week ago I was at my friend Yetty's house. Her cat just had two very cute kittens. After seeing these adorable tiny critters with their eyes still tightly shut, we went for a walk in her complex. It was the end of the day, Magribe, when the mosques begin to wail the call to prayer around sunset. The light here can be amazing at that time and this was one of those particular evenings. The colors were so vivid the greens of the plants were practically iridescent while reflecting the low amber colored light from the sky. I captured some amazing cloud formations on my camera and we encountered a vivid rainbow in the South Eastern sky. It is a beautiful country here that has been pillaged by human desires. Logging which was once rampant and legal is now continuing and illegal in many areas. Open pit mining is destroying large parts that were once jungle and my fabulous country is one of many that is benefiting from these practices, if not directly, indirectly through China, Australia, India… many hands, many greasy palms and it's hard to know who's on the corrupt side and who isn't at times.

I try not to be depressed about this. As I say, people here are very aware and concerned and much of it isn't happening in our general region. Borneo is a large island, 3rd largest in the world. I remember my aunt telling me once that sometimes we can only do what is directly connected to us, our own habits, our own environment. In this vein, I'm blogging my annual Earth Day resolutions that I've sent out in my annual Earth Day emails of past and declaring what I've done for my part and what I plan to do this coming year. One thing is I don't drive here. I either ride with a friend on their motorbike, I take an ankot (a small colt wagon that, I noticed one day while gasping for air, can pack in as many as 14 people). I also walk a lot and much to the shock and concern of my Banjar friends. The song "Nobody Walks in LA" really could apply here. Everything is "quite far". I've learned how to make my own peanut butter here and I will continue this practice when I get home. (It's easy: Roasted peanuts in the blender with olive oil!).

So here's to the Earth! I'm interested in what you; my friends have chosen to do to respond to the climate change issue and pollution. I'll share them with my students; maybe our movements will inspire them to make changes here in their own community.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Shifting Perceptions

I went home for 10 days. Home means San Francisco, California, the U.S. It was San Francisco I missed. I was reminded why there are so many movies and songs that center in SF and of course I got to see family. I couldn't have gone back at a better time. The city was just getting out of colder days and exhibiting signs of spring. The sky was clear, the air brisk, blooms everywhere… it was most definitely worth going back and symbolic. Springtime is about renewed spirit and growth. I had no idea how deeply grooved my culture shock and sense of isolation was until I got there and immersed myself in familiarity and comfort.

At first It felt like cheating, as if I didn't really live up to this 10 month adventure. However, now that I'm back in Indonesia with new strength and a sense of energy and excitement for my work here, I know it was the best thing for me. My next and last three months here for this project is the perfect amount of time to finish what I've started. By leaving and coming back I could see much more clearly what I have started and where I am going.

Some highlights of going back to the U.S. included seeing the new Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, Andy Warhol in the De Young, Kitridge in the SF MOMA, pizza from the western world, fabulous wine and cheese, coffee/tea with friends, coffee shops, eves dropping in on random snippets of conversation in English, baking lasagna in my own oven… and the list goes on and on.

Yesterday here in Banjarmasin, my friend Yetty took me out on her motorcycle for a tour of the town. We went to the Kayu Tangi district which is near the main public university in town, UNLAM (remember I'm at an Islamic institute not the big Uni). I was able to see all these interesting places I've never had a chance to go to before. Without a car or motorbike of my own, I'm pretty limited to my walkable region or taking the public taksi kunning (yellow taxi) which is a small colt that has u shaped seating which one evening 2 months ago I noted I was riding in one that had 14 people stuffed inside (counting children on mothers' laps).

In Kayu Tangi we stopped by the cultural center to look at the Banjarese traditional performance calendar and noted there will be some traditional dances next month… but as to the exact date not listed, hopefully while I'm in town. She showed me a good place to stop and get ice cream, she pointed out the Arabic restaurant I heard about that I still need to try and then we stopped at a smaller Indo/Arabic food place where we just ordered drinks, grilled bananas and a roti (bread) that looked similar to a cinnamon pastry but was just a buttery and savory spiral of dough served with grated cheese. Here we holed up until the big rain of the day stopped which luckily didn't start until we were already comfortable inside. I looked out the window under the big umbrella shaped awnings and it was if mitosis was taking place with motorbike riders. Every time I glanced in that general direction, the pack of motorbike riders who'd stopped to take shelter from the pouring rain had multiplied… like the ants in my kitchen.

Although we are coming out of the rainy season, Kalimantan still will continue to have rainy days. It just means it's not as non-stop as was during the months Oct-March. But when it rains, there is usually no mistaking that something is falling from the sky. I've said it before but it begs to be said again, the rain here is intense, tropical, and wild, much like the perceptions of this island. As I've travelled to other places in Indonesia, only one other place has rivaled this rain and potential for flooding: Sulawesi, a neighboring island that too is divided horizontally with "the line."