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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

The Things I See

I reluctantly drag myself off my mattress. It’s 4am in the quaint rice-farming village of Ngrambe. Lutfi and Yudha, my host brother and sister, are already up and ready to go watch the sun rise over Mount Lawu. The three friends they brought with us on the 5-hour drive up here are not as enthused, but they follow us out the door anyways. Slowly but surely, the sun peeks over the horizon. The valley is bathed in a warm glow; the sun wraps its rays around the mountainside. I must admit, the early morning is worth it. We go back inside and I sleep for another three hours.

Once again, I wake up to the sound of friendly Javanese banter and the light of a ceiling bulb that has stayed on all night. This time, I feel well rested and anxious for a breakfast that I know will be delicious. I am not disappointed. I clean up my plate and head back to our room. While the rest of the group takes a smoke break near the rice fields, Lutfi asks me if I want to go visit the tea plantation up the mountain. I hastily agree; to me, the question is just another invitation to adventure.

Lutfi and I drive up the mountain. We stop near the plantation factory and begin walking through the seemingly endless fields of tea trees. Lutfi tells me about the tea trees. She teaches me about how the trees are harvested. She tells me about the strictly devout Islamic family that owns the plantation. She tells me about the Dutch colonist that founded the plantation in 1828, and I can’t help but remember what I’ve learned about the Dutch colonists’ exploitation of natural resources and of local peoples. I see it in the western-style factory down the road. I see it in the workers scouring each tree for fresh leaves. I change the subject.

We walk over to a ledge overlooking the valley below. The expansive valley below is covered in neat rows of rice fields that color the valley a deep green. The sight is breathtaking and even meditative. I take a deep breath. Something here is familiar. Initially I am confused; Colorado doesn’t have rice fields. Nor does it have tea plantations. Colorado is a desert, whereas the air here is thick with humidity–ah. Of course! I am on a mountain (there are plenty of those in Colorado) and the air is thin and fresh. It is as though we have stepped just above the trash fire smoke and unregulated exhaust fumes that have been stifling my olfactory senses since we landed in Jakarta. There is nothing like a deep breath of clean, refreshing mountain air. The air brings with it a wave of nostalgia and maybe a little homesickness. It fills me with memories of home. I remember all the backpacking trips I’ve done with my dad, excursions I’ve done with friends and family trips to Keystone. I enjoy these warm memories as I enjoyed the warmth of this morning’s sunrise.

Lutfi suggests that we go back down the road a ways to buy some of the tea. I agree. We arrive at a small collection of shops that stock the plantations products. We buy several packs of green tea and I taste test some “teh putih”, or white tea. It is made with a specific part of the tea branch that Lutfi taught me about earlier. The tea is subtle but still delicious. I go up to pay for my tea, and find that the shop is being run by a small 12-year-old girl. She dons a black hijab and conservative Islamic attire. When I hand her a 20,000 rupia note, she takes a small step back. The sight of a bule approaching her is likely intimidating, but I can’t help but be reminded of the strict and devout Islamic family that runs the plantation and the surrounding shops. I see it in her clothing. I see it in the distance she keeps from me.

Lutfi and I begin driving back down the mountain. My window is rolled down. I enjoy the mountain air filling my lungs and my mind. Very suddenly, I sense a different smell wafting through the air. It too is familiar. I am nearly brought to tears. We are passing pine trees. We stop to take another picture along the side of the road, although my mind is far from the snapping of my cameras shutter, or the pictures flashing on its screen. No, my mind is dancing with the pine trees and the cool mountain air. I relish the flood of memories they recall. I see my home and my element. I see it in the silvered green clusters of pine needles that clothe the trees. I see it in the way the sun dances through the branches and speckles the derelict concrete road below my feet. I see it in my mind.

Lutfi seems anxious to get back to the guesthouse. We have to leave soon if I want to be back in Jojga before our X-Phase meeting starts. I have already spent too much time in the past, it’s time I turn my gaze back to the present.