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The definition of serenity. Photo by Hannah Richter (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Finalist), Indonesia Semester.

(Water)falling for Indonesia

After three weeks of travel, we settled into Jogja this week. Switching from being cocooned in nature to sleeping inside the walls of a bustling city is a big transition, yet as I gradually form a first mental picture of Indonesia, I can’t help but draw parallels between the two.

There’s something about Jogja that is inherently wild.

In the US, cities can be sterile; cars, buildings, and even people stay within lines, avoiding each other and conforming to some sense of order. This can be comforting and safe but also unnaturally cold.

In Jogja, the city seems to have grown more out of human desire than strict rules. Waves of motorbikes coat the streets, weaving around cars and on sidewalks to get where they need to go. Food carts seem to spring up organically out of the concrete, and their sweet, tangy smells follow you wherever you walk. And people are naturally drawn to each other, calling out friendly greetings and questions. A network of human connection has grown over everything; our local instructors run into friends wherever we go.

Maybe you can tell we’re in the honeymoon phase — I’ve fallen in love with the city even as I’m just getting to know it.

In my head, our first month in Indonesia is classified by nature. The endless trees of Alas Purwo that stretched for the clouds. The stream of flickering blue fire in the Ijen volcano. The long, quivering lines of fish just beneath the water’s surface at Bansring. I could effortlessly float on the gentle waves there, hearing the sloshing water and the distant chatter of the group, drifting until I was drowning in a feeling of being a small part of this great big wild earth.

Perhaps the image that sticks with me most was from our first days here, at a cultural house in Tembi. I would wake up early hearing the call to prayer and go journal by the pool there, sitting on the rock walls and letting my feet swing in the water. There was a still pool; a small, noisy waterfall; and right in front of us, a rice field, where farmers worked by hand from sunrise each morning. That was my first picture of not only the beauty of Indonesia, but also its duality and complexity. Nature and order, big and small, trends and routines, new yet familiar. As I walk through the streets of Jogja, I see a broad sense of nature, culture, and beauty as well as the simple human acts of daily routine as we watch people talk, sell food, or dance.

Moving forward, we’ll move into our homestays this weekend and start to tap into that human rhythm – sleep patterns, sizzling pans, natural chatter, rice and sambal, and so much more.