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

Sumba, Indonesia

If there’s anywhere in the world where it’s possible for the air to smell like sweet grass and sunsets, it’s the island of Sumba. Located on the southern-most edge of the archipelago, Sumba is home to an overwhelming array of awe-inspiring natural wonders.

Picture lime-green hills that roll towards the horizon, fishing skiffs passing through old mangroves at sunset, a golden field spotted with wild horses. On a twenty minute drive, you can easily pass through a dense tropical jungle, exit onto rolling grasslands ending abruptly in steep peaks, drive through a densely packed market, and end up next to a beach with the whitest sand and bluest water you can imagine.

The rain may hit at any given time, unleashing a torrential downpour that can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours. During the rainy season, these storms fill the rivers and streams that feed into the island’s many waterfalls and form some of the most impressive cascades I’ve ever seen. The people we’ve gotten to know in Sumba are perhaps among the nicest and most hospitable Indonesia has to offer, in spite of the Kabeala knives strapped to their waists.

One day as we sat on Mama Ule’s porch, surrounded by Ikat weavings, she mentioned that there is no word for “thank you” in the Sumbanese language. In Sumba, there is a belief in a kind of cosmic balance. A belief that by the time you die and start the next part of your existence in the “Right Place”, your actions towards others will balance out with the favors you received during your life on Earth. There is simply no need for “thank you”.

So to the island without thank yous, I send my gratitude. I am grateful for the rolling hills, the blue oceans, the grand waterfalls tucked deep into thick jungles. I am grateful for the wild horses grazing in infinite fields of gold, for the water buffaloes lazing in green rice paddies, and for everyone who welcomed us Dragons into their lives. I will never forget.