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Transference

We started out in Dieng, in the chilly, misty, geologically active highlands. Amid steam vents, ancient temples, and terraced potato fields, we got oriented to each other and to Indonesia. Now, ten flights, a dozen islands, 100 mangoes, 750 es jeruks, and almost three months later, we are experiencing disorientation in Bira, South Sulawesi.

On a white sand beach with turquoise water, between swims with parrot fish and sea snakes, we reflect on our travels together. We reflect on how fifteen former strangers became travel-mates, and then friends, and then family; and on how, in spite of language barriers, we continuously expanded our community from village to village, island to island. We reflect on the things that initially challenged us that we now handle ease—eating rice with our hands, separating out fish bones, making the perfect mug of kopi tubruk, loading and unloading fifteen packs in a car or a boat, sitting in silence when we don’t share a language, ordering a group meal in Indonesian, using squat toilets and taking bucket showers, spearing a fish, and so much more.

In addition to reflection, we start to imagine traveling our final legs, or what will be a slow process of disentangling ourselves from the place and the cultural norms that have defined every moment of our lives for the last eighty days. It is also a process of separation—of saying goodbye to our friends, our support, and our co-conspirators on a path of exploration and self-reflection. It is a disorienting process to reflect on what has become normal for us during this voyage, and how it might be dissonant with elements of our lives back home. And it is disorienting to think about re-adapting to our former lives. This is a disorientation that we feel in our nerves, simultaneously a kind of sadness as well as excitement. While our time together is coming to an end, we also get to reunite with the family and friends who gave our life direction up to this trip, and who will once again be present and active parts of our compass.

In this disorienting time in our final days of waking to the call of prayer along coral reefs, we think about leaving behind this amphibious life. And in this liminal moment, we are embracing fluidity, and we feel a special resonance a quote from the group’s favorite philosopher: “let’s be like water” (K. West).