Dec 31, 2011

I'm so proud of my cousins!!

'Tris Je o Koukos' were playing last night. Because I've been away from Cyprus, I have missed my cousins performing but now I'm making up for lost time by going to see them play whenever I can. 

The venue is small but the acoustics was good. The place was packed so that some people were standing or sitting on the steps. The close proximity, the old gas heater that sucked the oxygen out of the air, the relaxed atmosphere and the drinks aided the wanders of the mind to the past, to the old hashish-scented coffee-shops in Piraeus, across the Aegean sea, to the coast of Asia Minor and over Istanbul.

I don't know much about the music they play, the 'Music of the Eastern Mediterranean'. Some of it is easy to listen to but most of it is not. It is difficult, because it appeals to the darker sides of our soul, and explores things it pains us to look into. 

My cousin Maria plays the Oud. Its sound fills up the room and for me it is like the earth: without it, the music has no ground to stand on, it lacks its stability, its balance. But it is also like the rain: when the strings are plucked, our sadnesses, our longings, they come showering down; every striking of a chord is a single raindrop.

The Oud can stand on its own, but it can also melt behind the other instruments and brood privately in its corner. The Oud brings Depth to the music. It is like a water well you stand over and shout in to let your troubles out. To hear their echo. 

No other instrument can make me look into my soul like the Oud.

My other cousin Stavroulla plays the Ney. The Ney is sorrowful but powerful. It is a loud cry, a wail, whose breath lifts me up and places me on top of the tallest minaret in Istanbul. And from there I can see the whole world: it is frightening and strikingly beautiful. From within its hollow body emerge both chaos and precision. Both destruction and the love of life. The Ney is the Passion in the music. 

No other instrument carries the threat of the Abyss and the promise of Truth like the Ney

Though the video does not do justice to the band, I have put together some of the clips I managed to film last night. Evros plays percussions and Elena sings with her heavenly voice.


Goose perspective

So beautiful! Happy New Year everyone! 

Dec 19, 2011

Tris Elies

Recently, we visited Tris Elies, a village nestled in a corner of the Troodos mountains. We stayed in an agrotourist lodge run by a really cool lady called kiria Androulla, who renovated an old estate house into a beautiful traditional haven of peace and serenity.

This is an area of Troodos I had never really explored before. It is here that my great-grandfather travelled to from Lefkosia with his daughter, riding on the back of a donkey through the villages of Kalopanagiotis, Kaminarka, Tris Elies, to buy walnut wood for his carpentry work.

The village was very quiet. There are only a few old people still living there. 

From our balcony, they looked like little cracked brushtrokes on a quaint wintry backdrop: the village priest harvesting the olives from the trees in the church courtyard, the plump old lady with her flowey headscarf carrying a massive log on her shoulder, the few shrunken, bent old women and men sitting inside the coffeshop, the mustashioed grocer unlocking his tiny dark dusty store. 

From the balcony perspective, there seems to be something aesthetically sound about the way the village is built- it is always the case with houses packed tightly on slopes; I found the view very satisfying.


We walked along the nature trail that starts by the village. It was a beautiful, crisp morning, and it took us ages to get to the end because we stopped every two seconds to take pictures or look at things.

There were grapes hanging from vines in people's gardens, but there were also vines growing wild.



We passed by two Venetian bridges, covered in brown plane tree leaves.


We spent a long time admiring the wild cyclamen emerging from among the leaves and cracks in the rocks.



We saw many trees on the way: some wild, like latzia, the Cypriot oak tree, and some cultivated, like this lotus tree.



 We admired the colours and textures of winter.














By the time we were finally homeward bound, it started raining. We got soaked and breathed in the smell of fresh pines and wet earth. 


 We went home to our fireplace and wine, and made a warm plate of food.

Olive picking

My father and I wanted to learn more about olive-picking. We decided to harvest the olives from the trees my grandfather planted 30 years ago in the small field behind his house in the village. My granfather was not a farmer; he was a superintendent in constructions. The family owned a small number of vine fields which were cared for by my grandmother while she was still healthy and the village was generally a wine-producing and apple-producing village.

Therefore, while my father knows a lot of things about constructions, some things about apples and a few things about wine-making, he knows very little about olives.What is more, my grandfather died before having the chance to witness the trees grow and bear fruit, and they have been left there to their own devices for all these years, feeding the blackbirds and the worms and growing old, grumpy and dishevelled. 

So last week, we set out to see what we could do. Old skool. We had no nets so we used sheets and old tents to catch the olives. We bought two plastic "combs" to make it easier to collect the olives and thick gloves so that our hands didn't get scratched.

We woke up at 6 to drive up to the village and prepare for the harvest. We collected our tools, cleaned the ground from pine cones and logs and spread out the sheets under the the olive trees.

This is how it looked in the beginning.


Slowly, we started identifying some of the problems- The olives hadn't ever been pruned so they were too thick for us to work through, the sheets caught olives as well as branches, leaves and other material that we had to separate the olives from, which was very time consuming, some of the olives were infested with little worms or had already matured and shrivelled up.


As time wore by, we subconsciously separated the tasks: My dad was on the ladder throwing the olives down from the tree and I was under the tree picking the decent-looking olives out and throwing them in a carton box.

As my father says, if you work with the trees, you develop a special relationship with them.

At two o'clock, after about 5 hours of non-stop work and chatter, we realised it was time to take a break for lunch.


I think every time my dad visits his village, he gets a bit nostalgic about the way of life he had when he was a kid, and the small things that made up those beautiful times. I might be wrong, but I think a humble meal of halloumi, tomatoes and arkatena - a traditional kind of hard bread made out of a particular kind of yeast mix- is one of the ways he immerses himself into the old feeling of 'home'.

In my mind, dipping my arkatena in a warm cup of Nescafe to soften it down to a delicious, chewable, semi-crunchy consistency marks memories of hanging out with my dad on the front porch of his crumbling natal house, looking out on the beautiful spreading branches of his auntie's giant oak and recounting stories of old.

After our meal, we fed the cats.


After a hard day's work, we had only harvested 2 trees. We had to return the next day to harvest the remaining two. Papas took the olives to the press yesterday. He came back with a tank merely two thirds full. Looking at this tank of oil, whose quality is questionable, I look at 2 days of sweat and muscle strains.

We have been using the oil in salads and to cook. It's not the greatest oil in the world, but at least we got to appreciate the effort that goes into producing it and can be smug about it to people who visit our house.

Indonesia: Last email

28th Oct:

Hello!

This is my last email from Indonesia. I have two weeks left and hopefully I will be spending them away from the computer and the internet, of which I have been saturated with lately!

My latest and most exciting news is that I have had my first tropical disease! After my exciting adventure with my first parasitic worm for two months (that's how long it took me to realise that the growing itchy trails on my skin were actually a microscopic worm happily progressing in life by eating away at my flesh), an experience which I had looked forward to ever since taking a parasitology course in third year, I have contracted my first mosquito-borne virus: Dengue Fever. 

It sounds like something out of a colonial account of life in the East Indies, and it's shit. As the name suggests, Dengue gives you fever, and makes you feel like you've been run over by several trucks. It's not fatal but the severity varies between different people according to the strain and your immune system. My illness started suddenly, while I was on an expedition in the forest. I woke up on the first day and couldn't get out of my rice sack. Back in town, on the morning of the expedition, we had left behind one of our expedition members, the lovely man that I call Boydie. He looked like shit the morning of the expedition, with really high fever and blood-shot eyes. I was really worried about him and as I got worse I was really anxious to hear how he was doing and what he had gotten ill with.

Being in the forest felt really claustrophobic, because all I could see from under my mosquito net in my brain-frying, eye-poppingly painful headache and muscle-aching, bone-aching, hot-cold sweating state was: Trees. Tall and beautiful trees to the left, tall and beautiful trees to the right, in front, above and all around. I knew that if I had to see a doctor, I would have to walk back 12 kilometres through the dreaded peat-swamp and its treacherous wet logs and muddy holes and sticky-out roots. 

At the end of the first day, I managed to drag myself to the water-hole used as a bathing place to dip my head in the peaty water, in hope of some relief. A frog leaped past me and a bat kept swooshing around me in the darkness, which made me smile among my steaming tears. 

To my surprise, I managed to walk back to camp the next day, with the help of the amazing Indonesian guys and the encouragement of the remaining of our team, of which one suffered severe chaffage and the other was exhausted from having to do everything because the rest of his team currently sucked.

To cut a long story short, after a week in bed with nausea and a tremendous disgust of everything allegedly edible, several blood tests- a few days in an amazing hospital in Jakarta- a whole series of America's Next Top Model- a few episodes of Oprah-a night in a business suite courtesy of the insurance company and a fateful meeting with a plate of spaghetti bolognaise-later, I have emerged, Dengue-immune, several kilos lighter and happy as ever. 

(Unfortunately the kilos are piling back on as we speak, as my appetite has reinstated itself with a vengeance)

All 5 of us infected with it are all healthy and happy now, including the lovely Nicky-Long-Lashes-Boydie. Basically we have waged war against the mozzies by putting wire mesh over all the windows in the house, carrying with us mosquito repellent at all times and equipping the house with litres of stinky deathly spray. Sometimes I think everyone has gone crazy because I see them running after invisible things in the house with a spray can or hitting the walls or the furniture or themselves and then either being very angry or very happy about it. The mozzie blitz seems to be working though and no one else has gotten the Fever since.

Anyway, I was planning on travelling after my contract ended in 15 days, but DengueRama made me really miss my family and my friends and fresh salads and freshly poured pints of beer, so I guess I'll be heading home, even if home is Cyprus (which none of the Indonesians I have ever met- at work, in my travels, in corridors, in buses, on the mountains, at the sea, in the hospital, in taxis or anywhere- know of or could care less about, and which kind of puts things in perspective (OK apart from Alfie, the crazy pastor who thought Cyprus was the birthplace of Jesus)).

Maybe Oprah played a part but lying in my bed in Palangkaraya or in that hospital room in Jakarta by myself made me realise yet again how much I depend on my family and my friends and how lucky I am to have all of you in my life. Without you I would be completely lost, like a single foreign girl on foot among the buzzing traffic and back alleys of Jakarta or the sprawling rooty jungles of Borneo! All the texts, phonecalls, skype calls, facebook chats (and even chocolate that came through the post from Edinburgh!) were devoured like paracetamol all these days! :)

I know Indonesia is a place one can't stay away from for long and even with all its rubbish, corruption, power-struggles, pollution, poor infrastructure, deep divide between rich and poor, greasy fried food, cutting-down of the rainforest, tropical diseases and drunk Australians, it is still a rich, beautiful country with beautiful, friendly and funny people and one that I will be coming back to for sure. The coral reef wonders, volcanoes, temples, beaches and animals will have to wait for my next escape from my predictable, structured and cosy warm-fuzz-pajamas-and-hot-chocolate-under-the-duvet-no-malaria-world.

Love and miss you all.

Lilia xxxx

Indonesia: Salvador

Impressions from my first orangutan follow (Sabangau Forest, 07/08/2011):

The other day, I had the chance to follow a wild orang-utan with Ben, who’s doing his PhD on male orang-utan home ranges. We were following Salvador, a large flanged male who is doing well for himself in the forest hierarchy.

We woke up at 4am and walked in the dark to find him sleeping in his nest where Ben had left him the previous evening.

I hadn’t realised how close to him we were or how low the nest was until it became light. With a crashing sound, he emerged from the leaves, a massive bulk of orange hair and cheekpads.

To travel about in the canopy, the orang-utan uses his weight to bend the tree he is on and reach out to grab onto the adjacent one-once he has moved onto the next tree, he releases his grip, sending the bent tree springing back into place, with a tremendous tremble and shake of the branches and leaves.

Salvador quickly left his nest, swaying from tree to tree. He soon came across a big ahang tree and stopped to feed for a couple of hours, allowing us to take out our packed breakfast and talk for a while, enjoying the coolness of the early morning. Around us, the dreadful sound of hornbills- (magnificent birds that were somehow cursed with a phlegmatic 70-year-old-Bob-Dylan shriek) - and the distant sound of klotoks motoring down the Sabangau river on their way to the fishing posts.

As if Salvador knew I was a rookie in the forest, he decided to travel very far through difficult areas of forest for me, full of muddy holes, sunny and swelteringly hot canopy gaps and dense undergrowth. Ben ploughed on first with his parang, slashing through the branches and pandan, which kept hooking onto my shirt and trousers and cutting my skin like razors.  

Occasionally, Salvador would stop briefly to eat some leaves or fruit, allowing me to take a breath and a closer look. I was amazed at the way he hung from the trees, supporting all that weight just with his powerful arms, looking out onto the forest as if looking out on his vast kingdom.

At these moments, especially when he stopped in a sunny spot and the light caught his beautiful orange coat, Salvador looked magnificent. He seemed to me like a proper monster, with his massive cheekpads and his thick orange beard- a proud and incredibly strong creature that I couldn’t believe I actually had the honour of sharing the same space and oxygen with that morning.

At other times, Salvador would come down on the ground to eat termites. When he is on the ground, the orang-utan is easy to lose- much like his human syntopites, he disappears into the thick forest without a trace, his orange hair blending in with the greens and browns of the forest in a mysterious way.

In such a manner, Ben and I lost Salvador, in one of the tough parts of the route- lots of fallen logs and branches were blocking our way and we couldn’t see clearly beyond a few metres. At one moment, we came upon a big fallen tree. As Ben peered over its trunk, he saw a massive black dark face emerging from behind it. In a flash, I saw Ben turning around and falling on his knees, covering his head with his hands, so I crouched down too- I was 2 metres away from Ben, and though I couldn’t see the orang-utan behind the log, from his monster growl and branch-crashing, I knew he was only a breath away, and he was pissed off.

We stayed there for a minute or two- that felt like far longer obviously- trying to make ourselves look as small and insignificant as possible. I could hear my heart struggling to escape my body. I could almost taste it in my mouth. Ben was facing me with his back turned on Salvador and I tried to decipher from his face if we would get out of this one and what should I do if the orang-utan comes closer. Ben’s face, however, bore the slightly stupid smile of the PhD student who has spent too much time in the field and is on the verge of a permanent eye twitch and thumb-sucking behaviour.

Salvador finally walked away; Ben just stood up and resumed the follow. Ten minutes later, I was still trying to understand the amount of fear I had just experienced and the fact that I felt very intensely alive. My legs still shaky and my body stiff and tense from the effort to stay absolutely still (and my insides quivering like the leaves of a tree that an orang-utan has just catapulted in the air), I stumbled behind Ben. He’s been doing this for the past 3 years.

Ben does this everyday.

It was clear to me that Salvador was making the rules. Despite tolerating our presence there- and very annoying we must be- he had a limit on physical proximity. I know orang-utans have never harmed any of the behavioural staff and as long as they are not challenged they are not likely to attack. I guess they wouldn’t want to waste their valuable energy on such unworthy opponents (Salvador could definitely swat me like a fly). They just make themselves look as intimidating as possible to warn you and let you know who’s boss- it’s what male orang-utans are built for and oh what an AWESOME way to experience one! My only regret is not being able to see him properly during the incident- although I suspect I might have shat myself at the sight of the wide flanges and flashing canines.

At about 2 o’clock and with no break for lunch I started getting tired. Ben was still powering on ahead and all I could do was pray to the forest spirits that Salvador finally finds another big tree to feed on and gives me a fucking break for a few minutes.

After travelling all morning, Salvador finally reached a big Nyatoh Gagas tree at 3 o’clock and fed there for two hours. I could no longer keep my eyes open so I just surrendered to sleep, leaning against a log, a swarm of mosquitoes feasting on me even through my thick field clothes. As I was just the GPS bearer and had already marked the last point on the route, Ben, who collects the main behavioural data for his project, let me indulge in a few moments of forest dreaming.

When I woke up, Salvador had already made his night nest next to the feeding tree (what a blessing for the exhausted research assistant) and was getting cosy and ready to sleep. With my eyes glued together, I wished then that he would let me climb up into the nest too and curl up under his thick orange flokati.

But, alas, I had more than 2 kilometres of forest to walk until camp (which, by the way, is nothing for the people who are not completely useless in the forest like I am). Luckily, Ben was kind and really patient and waited for me while I dragged my body across the forest, stopping every two minutes to dislodge my wellies (and occasionally my face) from the squelching muddy holes that are strewn along the transects like old-skool-cartoon traps.

On the whole, this has been one of my best days here so far and one for the long-term memory cache. I can’t wait for the opportunity to go on a follow again and hope it arises soon.






*Update:  The following video of Salvador was taken by Nick Marchant, a researcher in Sabangau.

Indonesia: Chasing Monkeys

The email I sent out on 27thSep:

Hi y'all.

At the moment, I am busy helping people out with primate follows (in other words, i am chasing monkeys). 

Though the data we collect is essentially the same, every primate species is different. Every primate is unique, and so is every follow. I love gibbons because they are so elegant when traveling through the canopy, and their song is otherworldly. I love led langurs because they are cheeky and have really long and funky tails. Lastly, I love the orang-utans because they are so impressive and peaceful and beautiful.

Though we write down codes and numbers to describe their behaviour, I can't help looking at the animals from Lilia's perspective instead of a scientific one sometimes and empathising strongly with some of the things I see.

My favourite moment so far has got to be during a gibbon follow, a week ago. Gibbons are apes, like us, and they form monogamous pair bonds. They have territories and they defend them with singing. We were following a group called Karate, with alpha-male Bruce-Lee, his pregnant mate Chun-Li and their kids, subadults Zhyang and Jet-Lee and juvenile Brandy-Lee. 
 
In the middle of the day, the family stopped at a big tree to rest. The parents lay down with their arms and legs hanging down from the branch, while the subadults swung about nearby trees playing, and kid Brandy was jumping around her parents, pulling at their arms and tugging at their fur (pissing them off, I would imagine, much like I pissed my parents off when I played noisily during siesta hours as a kid). 

At some point, Chun- Li reached out and grabbed her mate's hand. The sun was filtering through the trees in front of them, so all I could see was a silhouette of clasping hands. They held hands like that for a few minutes. I took a picture.

Another great moment was watching two of our orang-utans, Indy and Hades, mating. I have to admit, even though I was watching them for the purpose of a scientific study, I felt like a perv. Having two Indonesian guys there who behave like teenage boys with these things also didn't help with my embarassement. As the Lilia that I am though, I couldn't help but romanticise the whole thing. A massive tree with a spreading, spatious canopy and thick, broad branches heavy with fruit, leaves showering and small flowers falling like fairies from above and a pair of endangered wild orang-utans, their orange coat catching the morning sun. I giggled, and scribbled down: "Primary Activity: Social. Secondary Activity: Mating. Interaction distance: 1."

As for the red langurs (or kelasi as they are known here), I had an awesome time following group Kaki Basa, cause they have 2 juveniles, Terence and Georgie. Terence and Georgie always chase each other and try to push each other off trees. Watching them is like watching an orange tornado, snapping branches, crashing down tree trunks, racing across the canopy and causing general chaos. Occasionally, they come down to check the humans out, observing the observers with, what I feel is, the same curiosity with which the observers look at them. I love their little faces, and their quick eyes, they make me smile.

Below is a video of Terence or Georgie (can't recall which one!) and a video of Hades eating termites. Even though he is a small male, still unflanged, you can really see his power. It was truly magical to be so close to him while he was ripping that log apart!




 

I love and miss you all! 

Lilia xx



*Update: The following video of Kelasi was taken by Nick Matchant, a researcher in Sabangau.

Dec 18, 2011

Indonesia: Sulawesi

My email from Sulawesi (11th Sep): 

Hi y’all. Loads of things have happened here since my last email: a wonderful trip to Tanjung Putting National Park, the departure of my volunteers, the flaring up of fires all over Kalimantan that made the air choky-smoky and the moon red, the eventful arrival of a baby bear in camp, my first very close encounter with a wild male orangutan, my introduction to bird surveys and the microscopic world of ants and my trip to Sulawesi for a week and a half with Eric, a friend from Sabangau. 

I am now still in Sulawesi, and I can't really believe the amount of things I have experienced in a few days. I visited Torajaland, a place where people treat their death with as much importance as they treat their life, spending vast amounts of energy and money in their funerals and their burial sites. I attended a funeral ceremony in the most stunning of landscapes, among mountain lines and valleys streching out with rice paddies strewn with the wonderfully strange boat-shaped houses of the Toraja people. There, I watched people coming together to celebrate life and death with loads of palm wine drinking and pig and buffalo slaughtering and learnt about how closely tied their wise ancestors used to be to the land, the animals, the spirits and each other. 



After Tana Toraja, I travelled up to Central Sulawesi for 16 hours on a bus crammed full of people and rice to reach Tentena, a town where people eat the most bizzare things, like pythons, bats, eels, cats and dogs. Here I met Alfi, an assistant pastor to a church, who guided us, with a wonderful ranger called Puli , for 2 days through the mountain jungle of Lore Lindu National Park. As I was ill from the food and exhaustion from travelling on that bus for so long, I thought I wouldn't make it to the top, but the sight of black macaques and beautiful hornbills on the way kept me going to the top, and Puli's cooking of noodles with carrots and rattan (which is good for everything!) made me regain my strength and enjoy a deep sleep under the jungle canopy to the sound of cicadas and the river flowing close by. 


Puli invited us for breakfast to his house the next day, which overlooks his rice paddies and cocoa plantations. He made us sweet Indonesian tea, and let us try some of his homemade arak, a strong spirit made of palm, together with our warm cassava. Both Alfie and Puli said that I am the first Cypriot in the area EVER and they insisted on calling me Siprus, despite the fact that they think I come from Jerusalem and I speak Aramaic and am therefore a bearer of all knowledge relating to the Bible. After correcting them for the 50th time, and trying to explain my humbler origins, I decided to accept my new identity and joined Alfie today at his church, where people celebrate their love to God with music, singing and dancing (and a bit of preaching too).   

I will remember Sulawesi as the place where I have met some of the friendliest people ever, and a land of spectacular landscapes with stunning rice paddies and grazing buffaloes, mountains covered with forest, colourful birds, wild orchids, cocoa and vanilla, and waterfalls.   My trip ends in a few days, and I will be back to Palangkaraya and my temporary home in Sabangau very soon.

I love and miss you all,  

Lilia

Dec 12, 2011

Indonesia: Megarice

From time to time, I will be posting some of my thoughts from and about my time in Indonesia. Some of them you will have read in my emails, some others I will be sharing for the first time. This is the first email I sent out (30th July): 

Hi y´all. I got the chance to use the internet for a while so I thought I´d send a general email to let everyone know that I´ve survived the bureaucratic hell in Jakarta (that even Douglas Adams would´ve probably found hard to humour) and I´m doing great!
I spent last week away from our beautiful base camp at Sabangau forest, where we are, constantly it seems, surrounded by orangutans, kelasi (red langurs), gibbons, sunbears, birds and cats ( a clouded leopard was seen by staff sleeping in front of our lab the other day!). Trees are in fruit here now so Sabangau is like a small paradise.  

To witness the other side of the story, the one where things go wrong, we left our camp to go to a massive area of destroyed forest. This is Megarice, the horrific dream child of dictator Soeharto, who in the 90s decided to chop down 2 million hectares of peat swamp forest to plant rice and make Indonesia self-sufficient in its production. 

  The Megarice Project: Destruction and degradation

Unfortunately, despite the scientists´warnings that rice doesn´t grow on acidic peat soils, he went ahead with it, selling the timber to companies owned by members of his family and making shitloads of money. During a drought in 1997, the peat dried up and caught fire, burning for months, and then annually until last year, leaving behind a scenery of utter devastation and one of the saddest sights I have ever seen in my life.

The pondok
We went to Megarice to help with forest regeneration studies, orangutan abundance and density surveys and general biodiversity surveys. We slept in rice sacks (the Indonesian version of a hammock) under a tarpaulin for a few nights. A small pondok (wooden hut ) housed our two tiny cooks (aptly named little Aunty Tini and her friend Mini- i´m not making this up) and all the transect cutters from the nearby village of Kalampangan.

The forest there is difficult to walk through, because of all the tree falls and a thorny plant called pandan. It´s more like a jungle gym where you constantly have to climb over and under logs, up and down tree roots, while all the while dodging fire ants. Working in the forest can be physically and mentally draining so I have to be armed with humour and the magnificent Indonesian expression " Tidak apa apa" (It doesn´t matter). Ofcourse being tall and clumsy is a source of endless entertainment for Indonesians, who can at any moment disappear into the forest without a sound or a trace.

Though it is hard work, the people here are always laughing. We came home everyday to a pondok whose logs shook with laughter and it´s hard to be miserable, especially around a tiny woman the size of my leg, dressed in bright fuschia pyjamas, putting a whole room of wifebeater-clad, machete-bearing, Indonesian men in their place with her wit and humour.

We spent the afternoon inside, escaping the (near) equatorial sun and scorching heat, playing chess, dozing off, laughing and watching the amazing sunsets over a wasteland of silhouetted dead trees, just as the local population of orangutans built their night nests, crowded in the remaining patch of forest. 


One lonely nest on the edge of the forest is a reminder that our love of money is bringing other creatures to the edge of existence.

At night, an oil lamp helped us pick out bugs from our food and sing Indonesian pop songs on the guitar, played by a bunch of the Indo guys (who have immaculate Emo haircuts and call themselves Ricky and Jimmy- aren´t teenagers the same everywhere?). Despite working so hard cutting through the dense undergrowth in the tropical heat and humidity for hours on end for a living (mostly spent on cigarettes), an 18 year old will always find the energy to sing a couple of songs about love and dream a little at the end of the day. 

I was sad to leave Megarice and all these people behind, and the lonely tree trunks and the breathtaking starry sky with its splitting lighting and rolling thunder, but I was kind of happy to be back in a dry sleeping bag and mosquito net and solid ground. After a few days squelching in black peaty mud at the camp I´d forgotten I had feet with toes and nails that weren´t stained black. I am now back in the comforts (!) of base camp, reunited with my team of volunteers and Indo staff and our amazing cook, Lis, and our beautiful badminton court littered with fluttering butterflies and our cat, Ballpen, our mysterious and smelly dog, Blacky and all the animals that visit camp from time to time, like the little morning tree shrew, the resident   malaysian brown snake and the vine snake (that drops from the ceiling into people´s laps!), the (really loud) geckos, the troop of curious kelasi or the big male orangutan called Ulysses. And ofcourse all the types of bugs and flies and wasps one could ever imagine that may as well have come from another planet onto Earth on a meteorite.

I could talk about this place forever, but I need to go now! I am back in town and I am dying for an Oreo milkshake (hey,everyone needs their sinful fix of palm oil goodness).   

I love and miss you all! 

Lilia