Back to

4:00 A.M.

Sunday, September 22, Dieng, Indonesia

Every morning, I wake up to the sounds of the mosque that adjoins our homestay in Dieng, Indonesia. Piercing the pre-dawn dark, a man’s voice booms through the house, sonorous and powerful. It is electronically amplified by a megaphone, and as I groan and turn over in my sheets, he is joined by other voices, voices from near and far across the rooftops of Dieng, their individual exultations coming together in a marvelous chorus. Though the words themselves are largely incomprehensible, their meaning is all too clear: “rise and shine!”

As the voice echoes through the building, I drift upward into consciousness, blinking sleepily in the pre-dawn dark. Awake now, I listen to the echo of the man’s voice, and take in great, slow lungfuls of air. I am reminded once again that I am no longer living in the United States. Here, I will rise at 4:00, to the sounds of the Islamic call to prayer.

We arrived here in Dieng — a little mountain town about 375 miles east of Jakarta — on Tuesday. Dieng is about 6,000 feet above sea level, so the weather is fairly cool, and lacks the trademark humidity of the tropics. There’s even a stiff breeze that crops up here sometimes — an angir, (pronounced ahn-eer) one of my favorite Indonesian words thus far — but mostly the sky is clear, and the trees stand still under the sun.

We will enter our first homestay two days from now, and begin the program in earnest, living with local families in the coastal city of Jogjakarta. Tomorrow, we will descend out of the highlands, armed with all the information our instructors have managed to pack into our skulls. It’s hard to say exactly what lies ahead, and for my part, there’s no denying the nervousness that goes along with my excitement. There is so much that we don’t know, so much we have yet to learn; it feels almost like a leap in the dark, and I can’t say whether I will land softly.

I will grow used to the early morning wake-up, to rice or noodles with every meal, to weather so hot and humid that my shirt is permanently stuck to my skin. A week from now, it will all feel natural. The strangeness of it will dissipate, and things that were once mysterious and fascinating will take on the duller cast of the ordinary. The days will pass, one by one, becoming weeks, and then months. And somewhere in there, a morning will come when I open my eyes to the swelling sound of prayer, and wonder: how will it feel, once three months have passed, and I wake instead to silence.