Ribbons of light illuminate our land where the sky meets their sea
And if that line is a 90 degree angle, maybe we’re the still life inside a shadowy cardboard box,
and those very shadows gave way so as to bring you and me together
in this time and this place.
We sailed atop that golden foil, as though we were the hopes and dreams gliding over minds of little ones, while their chocolate-covered, pudgy fingers grabbed on to our ticket stubs for what they knew to be dearest desires
And above us, in the clouds, a bunny sat, peering down onto our story, into our hearts, through looking glasses of its own. It read aloud feelings which I could never really know.
And being in the ocean, seeing those reefs, where the coral drops off, giving way to nothing seems almost conducive to feeling. Where all colors and passion turns white, the semblance of a hollowed ghost and yet also the foundation for a new generation.
After being told to give a snapshot of winter excursion in Sulawesi, the above mesh of words was the first to come to mind. This, my personal window into the memories I have of Sampela, probably doesn’t even begin to grasp at the beauty and spirituality of the place, but nonetheless, I keep trying to capture the feelings through all the nonsensical thoughts permeating my being after leaving Sampela. I do not think I ever will understand the gravity of what Sampela meant to me. About a month later, and I’m still flushing out the experience.
But of what I can put into some sort of cohesive writing, is a few short stories about my personal accomplishments in Sampela. And so, besides the aforementioned tangent, here’s my beginning: Sampela was a conglomeration of wins for me.
As someone deathly afraid of the ocean (Yes, perhaps Indonesia, a giant island chain, might be anxiety inducing for me…), I overcame my fear in absolute embarrassment, tied to the front of a boat, with both life jacket and life buoy, snorkel and all, just to catch a glimpse of the coral reefs (which in retrospect, you can see sitting on the dry boat, because the water is so clear). I felt ridiculous. I was a dog tied on a leash surrounded by a really cool wolf pack, but even those feelings could not deter my curiosity and wonder as I floated atop some of the most beautiful reefs in the world. Vibrant blue starfish, fish friends, and semi-bleached coral greeted me, offering me a taste of a world I will never really know.
Joget was the talk of the town. People seemed obsessed with this celebratory dance, giving thanks to Allah and the ocean gods that helped cure a child of nearly fatal illness. The parents spent a fortune to put together this party, hauling in big speakers from land, loud enough to keep the whole village awake, and it did. I, along with most everyone else in Sampela, was intrigued and eager to participate in the dance. Little did I know, only a few people would be dancing, and large crowds, instead of dancing along, would be staring on the sidelines, watching your every move. Three nights passed, always beginning with the intention of dancing, but always ending with my shying away from the opportunity. On the last night of the trip, I finally dragged myself to the dance floor with Oscar, his father, and a stranger. While Oscar had some nice bonding time with his father, I danced with the strange older man, and although he seemed slightly intoxicated and it was not exactly how I had pictured my first joget, I enjoyed myself. So much so that I went back, forgetting about the world around me, if only for the length of one dangdut song (which can honestly be pretty long…). I lost myself, releasing the insecurities and embarrassment that held me hostage.
More frequently than what was probably healthy, I made fried bananas and 75% sugar tea with my grandmother to serve to my father and grandfather. Even while my language skills have improved substantially since orientation in Sumatra, I had initially felt it much harder to connect with my homestay family this time around. But through seemingly endless batches of floured bananas and hot oil splashing on the wooden board floor, I broke through. These sessions led to my grandma telling me stories of desperately waiting for her husband to come home from sea after a storm overtook him during his tuna expedition. She told me how after a three more of these occurrences, she traded his ship for a smaller one, so that he could no longer go hunting for larger tuna. She repeatedly explained to me her entire family tree and the gossip between the family, how she was the oldest of four, and how by simply being related to lots of people, she was able to get the better quality bananas we were currently frying for free. But what she relayed to me most often was, “Asri, you’re going to miss fried bananas when you leave. Stay here for the rest of the year or eat more now!” And so I did. I savored every moment of Sampela, coming home to new bananas to fry and even more to eat.
And while I may no longer be in Sampela, I still carry the personal achievements with me, continuing to unpack the experience and find ways for memories like these to impact the next and last four months of my time in Indonesia. I hope to continue facing fears in ridiculous ways, losing myself to music and the like, and eating delicious bananas.