Who am I?: Indonesia

I think: Indonesia was so magical. How do you explain the massive butterflies, the eerie sounds of the forest, the edible colour of people's skin, the smell of clove cigarettes and their crackling fire like tiny lighthouses in the darkness of night, the myriads of metallic coloured bugs and moths, the shapes of the leaves, the waving children, the canopy, the landscape...

Indonesia was so magical, I left a part of me there. I know because I go there in my dreams. I fly above the world on the back of a giant Hornbill, whose loud beating wings stir oceans and bend trees. Indonesia changed me, as I questioned my notions of time, normality and among others, freedom.

I saw cocoa fruits hanging from trees, and wild orchids growing on the side of the road. I saw a hornbill's nest with a little hornbill chick's head poking out, and a langur monkey dying alone on the soft forest floor. I heard stories of spirits entering people, and of brutal beheadings carried out by flying parangs. I saw eels slithering in the shallow waters of a river eel farm, and fell asleep on a boat at dusk to the sound of a hundred muezzins calling the faithful to prayer. I was kissed under a cascading waterfall of an undiscovered Eden, and made love on a floating house while the tides rolled out to reveal a glistening treasure of crabs, shells, creatures. 

And now I am here, co-inhabiting with my grief, struggling with human relationships. I am the same person, carrying those same things. I once showered in the company of a frog and a bat, and now I search in people's faces for something familiar, for something lost. 

Without knowing, I trailed in the path of a clouded leopard who hid watching in the trees. I hid watching in the trees as a sunbear blindly intercepted mine. I caught the skins of fruits falling from an orangutan's mouth as I sat under his tree, and was once confronted by his angry fangs when I followed him too closely. The forest showered raindrops, sticks and tree-flowers on me, and I saw both the sky through the forest, and the forest from the sky. 

I got bit and stung and invaded by mosquitoes, caterpillars, parasites and viruses, and had my hair gently combed by an Indonesian nurse who had no common language or culture with me. I endured loneliness, and flourished in friendship. I struggled to hear my loved-ones' voices through storms and cables spanning continents. I got lost in the forest and panicked - I got lost in a village and rejoiced. I attended a funeral where white buffaloes were slaughtered to honour the dead, and black vultures were ominously circling overhead. I attended a wedding where I dwarfed both of the dressed up, powdered, decorated and stiff-looking bride and groom. I spent a whole day celebrating the end of Ramadan in people's houses, eating fluorescent-coloured sugar cakes and candy, and drinking sweet tea cross-legged on the floor. I traveled in a rickety car, a rickety bus, a rickety boat, a rickety train and finally a rickety plane, all the time praying I would make it out alive. 

And now I am here, searching in people's faces for something familiar, for something lost.


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