A Year of Living Dangerously

Friday, August 26, 2005

The plane ride home

I’m on the plane on my way home. I figured that since I really started this blog on the plane ride to Indonesia, this would be an appropriate time to write this final entry. It also happens to be convenient – since I’m stuck in one place for 18 hours (that’s just the Hong Kong – Toronto flight, the longest leg).

I’m not really sure where to start. Would I do this again? Yes. Definitely. I wouldn’t hesitate for an instant and, if possible, I would extend the stay. I began to feel like I was really beginning to have an individual impact on things about halfway through the stay. It would be nice to have longer to make that impact more lasting.

How am I feeling?
I was nervous on my way over. I’m kind of torn on my way back. Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing family and very much looking forward to school (Sloan rocks). But there is so much here that I still want to do. And I really love working with Frans & Gina.

Also, for the record, at no point while I was gone did I feel like I was in any danger. I’m sure when I get home, I’m going to get a lot of “I’m glad you’re home safe.” But to be honest, Indonesia is a big country – one of over 200,000,000 people. There are a few dangerous parts – but what country doesn’t have that? In the US, I know there are parts I should avoid. The problem with Indonesia is only that we, being so far away, don’t know which those parts are. As long as a person uses their head, they should not let fear of the unknown stop them from doing things or going places. Anyway, I didn’t feel like I was in any real danger at any point.

Best parts/worst/hardest parts?
Best part was probably walking quietly and alone down the dirt road in the Monaco complex in Sirombu and watching the children play between the houses, seeing how happy the villagers were and knowing that Sirombu will be a real community again.

Worst was realizing how slow projects go and that it is not because of resource constraints or geographical barriers – it is entirely due to bureaucratic crap.

Hardest part having to realize my own limitations for help and to stop and think through gifts – not just jump into them. In other words, my immediate reaction is you need a teacher? I can do that! But in reality, with my education and skills, I can do more for people in administrative capacities.

What did I miss most from the US?
The food. It’s not that I didn’t like the Indonesian food – because I did. Rendang is a new favorite. And the sea food restaurants ruled! But the lack of bread and vegetables created a different diet base that I just wasn’t used to.

What will I miss most from Indonesia?
Besides Frans, Gina & Maggie? And besides the work and especially traveling to Nias? Uh, my maid! You know, I only ever met her once – the day after I arrived. Since then I have actually never seen her. But my clothes magically appear in my closet – clean and pressed.

Did I meet my goals and expectations?
My personal goals for this trip started with using my skills in ways that add the most value to the victims of the natural disasters. Early on, we received a request for volunteer teachers from a school in Aceh. Reading the report, I was hit extremely hard by some of the facts and my initial reaction was to volunteer myself to be the teacher. Thinking about it later that day, I realized that with my education and background – I could provide more value to more people by applying my business knowledge to projects than by going immediately to the front line as a teacher. My background in operations finance and my education from the MIT Sloan School of Management are unusual assets and I that I can do more good for more people by not jumping at the first opportunity. I hope that the path I choose going forward will be one that takes advantage of what I can offer.

Secondly, my background is in operations finance and my goal is to transfer into relief operations after completing my MBA. This summer is an opportunity for me to experience working in the non-profit/international relief world. Is this an industry I really do want to work in? Can I handle seeing and working on projects that are emotionally heart wrenching? Yes. And I love having work that has meaning.

Lastly, and this is the area that I believe I have learned the most, I wanted to learn how to work directly with people who have been affected by the natural disasters. It sounds a lot more simple than it is. These people have lost everything and you need their help in order to help them. If you give boats and they are a shape that don’t work with the currents of the local water, they won’t be used. Or if you build them a house and put a western style toilet in it (which they may not have ever seen before and is not their custom to use), they may believe you are trying to change their culture. Learning how to help people effectively (giving them what they need and will use) is important for understanding other people in general, as well as learning about international relief work.

What did I learn? Did it complement b-school studies?
I think I already covered what I learned. But did it complement b-school? Yes, very much so. B-school teaches a lot of how to run a business efficiently. It does not teach how to work with people – especially ones with different levels of education or political agendas. (Well, you can take 1 or 2 classes on this stuff, but it is not the primary focus of school). The project management side of work was not challenging for me this summer, nor the business proposal creation side. What I learned was how to socialize ideas, deal with bureaucratic obstacles, and how to translate for 2 parties speaking the same language but not understanding each other. This was an extremely practical addition.

What now?
Oh man. Well, besides the obvious of moving back to Boston and starting classes, I will be looking for a field administration/operations/project management position. Granted, these don’t recruit at business schools and I don’t have a ton of industry experience to offer, so this will be a challenge. I guess I’ll start by talking to anyone and everyone I meet, see what I can learn and where I can go.

Wolfgang has also asked me to help him. I am not exactly sure what he will need and how I can fit in, but I have volunteered to do what I can. I know he talks a lot to potential donors and it would probably be very helpful to have another person who has been on the ground for people to ask questions of. What else he’ll need help with, I’m not sure.

Anyway, I’m going to go take advantage of the movies. If anyone has any other questions they would like to see answers to here, please feel free to send along!


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Waka Shorea at night, looking back from the pier Posted by Picasa

The beach and pier at WS... Posted by Picasa

my bungalow at Waka Shorea Posted by Picasa

PLEASE - No Massage!

People often ask me why I’m alone, to which my response is that no one else wanted to come, but I still wanted to go – so there I am! This surprises a lot of people. They say I have a lot of courage. I don’t know if it is courage or just plain stubborn – I want to see something and dammit, I’ll do it all by myself if I have to! Well, this was exactly the situation with Bali – so there I was all alone for 7 days.

But, traveling alone is always a great adventure. If you keep an open mind, you often end up having great conversations with really unusual people. And people, in general, are incredibly open and friendly, as long as you smile and say hello.

This past trip to Bali was certainly no exception. I let a lot of nice people and ended up doing things and seeing things that wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t friendly and keeping an open mind.

Leave Jkta Monday morning
Picked up at the airport, drive to Waka Shorea (4 hours)
3 nights at Waka Shorea
Thursday - transport to Ubud (4 – 5 hours)
3 nights Guci-Bali Homestay
Fly home Sunday night

The Waka Shorea resort (www.wakaexperience.com, www.wakadive.com) is a tiny, exotic place located in northwest Bali, in the middle of a national park. It is the only resort in the park and there is no road leading up to it. There is one small track that a motorcycle could use, but otherwise, everything needs to be brought to the resort by boat. There are a total of 14 bungalows (sleeps 2) and 2 villas (sleeps 4?). That’s it.

Because it is in the middle of the park, the resort developers were very restricted in what they were allowed to affect. There is no gardening – everything is left completely natural. Pathways to the restaurant, activities (dive) center, the spa, and to the bungalows have been cleared. Aside from that, everything is exactly as it was before the resort was constructed. (It must have been difficult to build without affecting things.) And let me tell you, the natural environment there is drop dead gorgeous.

The climate is very different from what I was expecting. It is not in a tropical rainforest. The northern side of Bali is actually dry half of the year. The southern side is less effected by seasonal weather changes – they enough rain year round to keep dense, thick foliage blooming. The northern side has monsoon season and dry season. This is the height of the dry season and it hadn’t rained there in the past 2 months.

Because of the climate, the ½ dry, ½ wet years, the foliage is really unique. The plants have to be able to deal with not getting any water for a year. Many of the trees loose a lot of their leaves and then come back to life when the rain hits. This and the breeze off the ocean means that there are very few mosquitoes. Very nice.

Since it is in the middle of a park – there is a lot of wildlife. The embroidered wall hanging in each bungalow politely clarifies the do’s and don’t’s of dealing with the animals. All over the resort, there are deer trails. But the dear are shy and will run at the site of you. If you do run into a wild pig though, just keep still and they will leave on their own. Tuck your mosquito net under your mattress – this will keep snakes and lizards out of your bed. And always close and lock the door to your bungalow – to keep the black monkeys from stealing any shiny objects.

The staff is small and extremely friendly. And they know your name before you even step off the boat onto the dock. “Hello, Miss Nathalie! Ibu Nunung called us and we spoke about your diving instruction in Jakarta and your open water experiences here. Would you like to plan your dive? How about tomorrow at 10?”

Most of the guests are European – mostly Swiss and French. This was fun because I was able to speak German with many of the Swiss. I was the only single person at the resort. There were a few families, but mostly the people were couples – many on their honeymoons. And, this would be a really beautiful place to spend a honeymoon.

Oh I found the resort just browsing on-line and was attracted by its isolation and proximity to really good diving. I then subsequently emailed and asked about rates and the owner (Andy) emailed me back and offered a really good deal. He also organized his own driver, Paul, to pick me up at the airport and transport me to the resort AND introduced me to Ibu Nunung in Jakarta, from whom I took my scuba lessons. Very nice.

The first day, I arrived. I learned that Andy, the owner, would be showing up that Thursday. So, upon arrival, I spoke with the manager and extended my stay at WS for one night so I could meet him. No problem. I’d be spending 4 nights at WS and 2 in Ubud.

I showered, changed, sat down by the pool, ate a club sandwich and promptly fell asleep for 3 hours. It was so pleasant.

Dinner was awesome and served down on a deck, among trees bordering the beach and 20 feet from the water. Despite the high prices charged for the hotel rooms, the menu was quite reasonable – and really good. I bought a bottle of decent white wine ($15 - made in Bali), which I had a couple glasses of that night, and finished the next.

I passed out by 9 PM and didn’t wake until 8 the next morning.

I woke up in the morning because I thought there was an animal in my bungalow. I slowly peaked out from behind my mosquito net and, nope, no animal in my bungalow. There was, however, a bunch of black monkeys playing on my roof and on the deck outside. Then I saw this shadow leap up and slap itself against the window three times, screaming, and then jump away. Yep, national park. Black monkeys are very shy though and not aggressive at all, where grey monkeys can be periodically. And they were just playing. I was not worried at all. I did get a good video of one of them though.

Breakfast, also served on the beach deck, was great. Fruit, juice and pastries come with the room, but eggs and such are á la carte. Of course, Indonesian prices - $2.50 for a mixed omelet with roasted potatoes, toast, a piece of bacon, a sausage, a roasted tomato, and a slice of ham. SO good.

Went to the dive center and met my dive instructor – July (a man, but pronounced like Julie). The dive center, by the way, has 2 baby turtles in buckets on their deck. They rescued the eggs and helped them hatch, but the turtles are still too small to be released into the ocean. Another month they said. The little guys were each about the size of a Big Mac.

Thirty years old, Indonesian, with shaggy, longish hair. Walks around all day barefoot, in board shorts and no shirt. Multiple tattoos. Permanently bloodshot eyes. Speaks good English. Big smile and loves to laugh and joke. Has been the head dive instructor at Waka Shorea for the past 5 years (since it opened). He is from a local village and lives there with his girlfriend – coming to the resort every day by boat. July is awesome.

Anyway, I stayed at Waka Shorea for 4 nights – 3 full days. Each of the full days, I had a great breakfast, went scuba diving at 10 AM (2 dives), back by 2 or 3, showered, cleaned up, relaxed and had dinner. It was really a great life.

Scuba diving rocks. It’s a totally different world. And this area literally rivaled Finding Nemo. There were so many fish, it was so cool. There were millions of fish all over, big, small, so many. Lobsters. Sea horses. Bright colored fish. Camouflaged fish. Corals of all different shapes, sizes and colors. Garden eels. Garden eels are really cool. The shrink into their holes as you approach and then come up again slowly after you pass. I’m going to look to see if I can find a picture of them on the internet.

Oh, and lots of my favorites – clown fish. I love watching them play in anemones, in and out, and so brightly colored. And some of them were friendly! I got close enough slowly to a few that they let me touch them and say hello. They swam up to my mask, almost as if they were saying hello. SO GREAT! Unfortunately, at one point while I was checking out a clown fish, my knee accidentally brushed some fire coral. I got a pretty severe burn that blistered over on my right knee. It was worth it though. I love clown fish.

I was only supposed to do 4 dives, but since I extended my stay a night, I got to do an extra 2 dives that 3rd day. So great. I have a new passion!

The third evening/late afternoon I was there, I went walking on the beach in the afternoon. I went down along the shore and sat under a tree. I sat there for at least an hour and a half, just pleasantly enjoying the fresh air and thinking. I was out of sight of all man-made objects and people. It was just me, the water, and the beach. It was very soothing.

Unfortunately, it started to rain. So I went back to the dock and sat on a chaise lounge under a bamboo awning, and continued to be idle. One of the activity center guys, Supar, came over to chat and I invited him to sit down.

Supar is really tall for an Indonesian – probably 5’ 11”. 26 years old. Decent looking. Totally single. He speaks about as much English as I speak Indonesian – which made conversation fun. We taught each other a lot of words. He has also been working at WS for 5 years – as a snorkeling and mountain biking guide.

We talked about his family and his work at WS. He invited me to go mountain biking. I told him I was planning on diving the next day, so it would have to be early in the morning. He said that was no problem, what time? I said, uh, 6:30 AM?

Well, 6:30 the next morning, I was on a mountain bike, off along a trail with Supar. The trail we took was flat with the exception of a few little dips – so it wasn’t a lot of work going up and down hill. But, it was really bumpy and rather slippery. There are a lot of land crabs that make baseball-sized holes all around – that resulted in the majority of the bumps. Then there was one short portion that had a lot of roots.

First we went down one really narrow path (I got scratched enough by the bushes to draw blood on my left arm and leg) and saw the sun rise on the beach. SO beautiful.

We saw monkeys and deer and then, 2 iguanas! So cool. Supar said that was very unusual. It was probably because it was very early morning. One of them was really big.

Then we went all the way down to the closest village and through farm land – banana trees, coconut trees, chili bushes, and a bunch of other crops I didn’t recognize. Past some cows. On to the main road and we stopped at a temple.

Then, much to my surprise, Supar introduced me to his father. His father tends the temple. It’s their family’s temple. His father has a really really great face with lots of character. I wish I could have taken a picture. It was so naturally friendly and wise. And then his mother came around the corner and said hello as well. She then cooked us breakfast of fried rice (most Indonesians eat fried rice for breakfast), served with Sprite. So thoughtful. Not part of the standard mountain biking tour I’m sure.

Did I mention I haven’t ridden a bike since high school, at least? I really don’t remember the last time I rode a bike. Getting started, my right foot slipped and I now have 2 big bruises on my right leg (in addition to the coral burn). Well, I was totally fine all the way out, and all the way back – well, at least until we got back to the resort. As soon as we got back, I promptly took a header. Handle bar in my chest. Also jammed my shoulder and that was stiff and sore for the next few days.

After mountain biking, took a quick shower and then went scuba diving for the final time. I was totally beat that afternoon.

That last night, I went down to dinner and met up with Andy, Ari (Andy’s cousin), Maurice (general manager of all the Waka resorts), and Rafeal (visiting from Spain, a friend of Maurice’s). I was not expecting such a large group.

Andy is Indonesian – a mix of Indonesian and Chinese blood though. About 5’ 9” and 37-years old. Another friendly smile. Went to boarding school in the states, followed by both undergrad and MBA from George Washington University. Quite the entrepreneur and comes from one of those Indonesian families that have all sorts of businesses. His family has an elevator business, a couple of steel mills, a resort, and a few other things. He and his brother run the business. What’s nice is all of the people who work at the resort really liked Andy and kept talking about how much integrity he had – a demanding boss, but rewarding as well. That was very cool. He loves outdoors sports, partying and meeting new people. Always buying drinks for people sitting near or around him or just filling up their glass with the bottle of wine on the table.

We enjoyed the great barbecue served down by the beach and then took a couple bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne out on the dock. We sat on pillows, drank wine and talked. Much of the conversation was about business and ideas about the resort, but it was all interesting and fun. It was a really great evening and I finally retired a little after 1 AM.

Andy had been insisting that we all get up at 7 the next morning for breakfast and then snorkeling (at his favorite snorkeling spot) before I took off to Ubud. I got up at 6 so I could pack and prepare. Of course, everyone was hung over and moving slow (me included) the next day. We didn’t make it to snorkeling before I left – but the (the 4 men) saw me off and went afterwards.

The road to Ubud was very windy. Being hung over with 5 hours of a really twisty road sucks. Andy’s driver, Paul, also took me to Ubud. He’s another cool person – friendly, honest and efficient.

By the time I got to the Guci-Bali homestay, it was about 4 PM. From the street, I was a little concerned that I had made a mistake. There is a tiny cement path pointing the way down a walk and there was a huge tree in the path. The whole thing looked sketchy. But I decided to at least have a look before bailing. The place is totally cool! Gorgeous on the inside. Beautiful gardens.

I met Yuaman, the artist/owner guy (he walks around in a sarong around his waist, no shoes, no shirt). He was watering the garden when I came and promptly showed me to my room. I was supposed to have a bungalow, but they were all full – so I was to stay in a house (normally 40€ per night where the bungalows are 12€). I took the upstairs room in the house – fully open air. Table, chairs. Queen sized bed on one side with mosquito net around it. View of the gardens to one side and un-tamed jungle-y land to the other. It was gorgeous. And the 12 € includes breakfast. Wow. www.guci-bali.com (found through Lonely Planet)

I promptly took a nap on the couch. I really wasn’t feeling very well and think I even had a low fever that afternoon, followed by stuffed-up, coughing and sneezing that night. I think it was just too much sports (diving & biking) the day before followed by a long night and an early morning. I went out that evening just for dinner and then came back and went to bed early.

Ubud is an artists colony in the higher, mountainous area of Bali. It is known for not being touristy, but for being more quaint and for having great shopping. I had no particular goals for visiting Ubud except to enjoy the atmosphere. Well, that and shop of course!

The one thing I did want to see though was the Monkey Forest – a park in the center of Ubud, which is a sanctuary for grey monkeys. Tourists (and there are a lot of them) are warned not wear any jewelry, not to tease or provoke the monkeys and not to hide any food from them (they will find it).

I didn’t wear any jewelry the next morning when I set out from the homestay. And I didn’t buy any food. It was just me with a small purse and bottle of water. I bought a ticket and quietly walked into the forest. Nothing was in view as I came in, but then I turned a corner and saw tourists gathered around an area and monkeys just all around them. Like a hundred of them. Old ones. Young ones. Mothers with babies. They hung out and scampered around, fighting for bits of food brought by other tourists.

I went to a benched area, sat down and just watched. I set my water bottle and papers down next to me on my right side. I hadn’t been there 2 minutes, when one of the older monkeys came up and took the water bottle. He clearly knew to take the plastic top off to get at the water. I just sat and watched. Stunned. I didn’t realize that the monkey would be interested in my water bottle. I thought about helping the monkey open it, but decided against that – it was a wild animal and there was no way to know how it would react.

Well, since I didn’t move or back off, I think the monkey was concerned I might try to take the water bottle back. The next thing I knew, it attacked me! It grabbed my right arm, bit it, and scratched my face. I, of course, shouted “Hey!” and the monkey took off with the water bottle.

One of the local men (a sort of Monkey Forest park ranger – dressed in a sarong and an embroidered polo shirt) came around and surveyed the situation. Looked at me, decided I would be just fine and kind of chatted with me for a bit.

The bite on my arm didn’t break the skin at all. My face kind of stung a little though. A few minutes later, I put my finger up there and felt it – it was bleeding very lightly. I would go seek out some attention after the park. I did sit there and watch the monkeys for a little while longer – all the while being very careful not to all one to come within 6 feet of me. Some of them were really cute though – especially the babies. But not the older, mean ones. Grrrr. Damn monkey.

I stayed maybe another 20 minutes and then walked to the nearest pharmacy. The pharmacist lent me some rubbing alcohol and a mirror and then sold me some iodine. I also just happened to have some antibiotic ointment in my purse (left over from Nias – Wolfgang gave it to me then for my leg). Alcohol, iodine and ointment later, I was all cleaned up. Since it was just a scratch from the monkey’s paw, he said I had nothing to worry about. If it were from a bite, I would need to get a rabies shot and be highly concerned about infections. The scratch would be just fine.

Side note: It is now 5 days later and the scratch is healing just fine. It won’t leave a mark at all.

I spent the rest of the day poking in and out of shops and bargaining at the market place. I did stop and have a really nice lunch including a seared sea scallop asparagus salad, a tempura noodle dish, dessert and a mai tai ($25 total). It was lovely.

Tracy – I ordered the mai tai only because I was thinking about the lunch we had on the north shore of Kauai.

Andy called around 4 and asked me if I would join him for dinner. He would come pick me up in Ubud. I said sure! We were supposed to meet some of his friends, but they ended up being busy. We went to a hole-in-the-wall rib shack just north of Ubud. He said he hadn’t been there for 2 years, but remembered loving the place. It was really good.

We enjoyed beers and ribs and before we knew it, we were hanging out with people from all the tables all around. We had Australians, Brits, Austrians, Indonesians, locals, expats, just a whole big group. We ended up talking and having a wonderful time until 1 AM again. Then Andy (with Paul driving) gave me a lift back to Guci Bali.

Next day, I squeezed more shopping in before hopping a shuttle back to the airport. I loved popping in and out of all of the stores there. Really great boutiques. And I think I pretty much finished x-mas shopping for the year! I know it’s early – but very good prices + cool items = great presents. Plus I won’t have to worry about it in the fall.

Side note: I was chatting with Nenns on IM when I got back and talking about the cool things I picked up for people. She was concerned that I was thinking too much about other people and not getting anything fun for myself. I said, “oh no, don’t worry. One for me, one for the fam, one for me, another for me, one for the fam, another for me!” Just kidding. I did get myself a couple of cool items though.

So, let’s re-cap. On a vacation I planned for relaxation, I have:
- sunburns (really not surprising despite the waterproof 30 SPF coppertone) (also, the sunburns are healing now, so I itch all over)
- 5 open blisters on my feet (the one on my left 3rd toe is infected and orange from all of the iodine I keep putting on it)
- cuts on my left arm (biking)
- a BIG black bruise on the inside of my right thigh (this one looks the worst, but really doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as many of the others) (biking)
- a cut and large bruise on the outside of my right knee (biking)
- a severe coral burn (gotten from a poisonous coral when I was distracted by clown fish) just above my right knee (size of a grapefruit) blistered & swollen
- cuts along my left shin
- cuts on my left arm (bushes while biking)
- tender spots on my left hand where I had to dig 5 small splinters out from under the skin (the dock and the ribs shack)
- my butt (among other things) is really sore from the bicycle seat
- an abrasion and baseball sized bruise just below my right collar bone (biking)
- a very stiff and sore left shoulder (biking)
- AND scratches above my right eye from the monkey

Andy offered me a free massage at the end of my time at Waka Shorea – and I turned it down. It was very thoughtful, but with all of the bruises, cuts, blisters, swollen, and tender spots – I’m not sure what the masseuse would do for an hour. Oh, well – the outside of my right thigh seems to be fine. Maybe they could just work on that for an hour.

Bali was a lot of fun. And I’m proud of my war wounds.

An exhausted, happy Nathalie finished up her vaca in Bali and headed back to Jakarta. Only 1½ weeks left. Pretty crazy. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone and I’m a little nervous about the crazy amount of work I have to finish up. I don’t know really how I’ll accomplish it all.

Bali was an absolutely beautiful place. And if I ever get married – I could see myself renting out all of Waka Shorea and having a very private, small ceremony there, on the beach. That would mean that I have to meet someone I want to marry, but that is just a small detail. The resort is really extraordinary. And Ubud is beautiful and fun as well. I highly recommend both places to people who want a great vacation.

But, what is interesting, is that despite how beautiful it was and how relaxing (and I was catered on hand and foot), it was anti-climatic and almost a bit disappointing after the trip to Nias the week before. The vacation in Bali was beautiful. Nias was really magical. And Nias had so much meaning. While I walked around Bali, I mostly found my thoughts back in Sirombu, re-living moving the families in and seeing the Hinako islands.

Well, I have another week and a half to see what else I can do to help. Indonesia is not over yet! Speaking of which, what am I doing dallying around here? I need to get back to work!

This is your key. Don't lose that! Posted by Picasa

Gina & I help a lady unlock the door to her new home... Posted by Picasa

Welcome home! Posted by Picasa

a wet but happy Nathalie! Posted by Picasa

View from Hinako Posted by Picasa

Wolfgang Posted by Picasa

Erwin Posted by Picasa

PJ Posted by Picasa

A Million Star Hotel

I have to admit I’ve been avoiding writing this post. This post is about my final trip to Nias – which ended over a week ago already. Granted I’ve spent the last week lounging in Bali, but I’ve sat down to write this a few times and haven’t gotten very far. I’m not struggling because the trip was bad in anyway. Quite the opposite – it was truly extraordinary. And maybe because it was so unbelievable, I’m not sure how to vocalize it. Maybe it’s because I’m worried that actually trying to explain my feelings, they words will not do them justice – perhaps even make the events seem trivial. I’m not really sure, but I have been avoiding writing this.

I know I posted the itinerary just before we left. If you look at that – you can see we had our work cut out for us. It was a very large group going:

Gina, Frans & I
Fiona (UBS – United Bank of Switzerland)
Fiona’s bodyguard
Ibu K (I never got her name right – from Singapore)
Phillip Johnson
Erwin (from Conservation International)

And we would be meeting Wolfgang and Kris in Sirombu.

Tuesday – travel to Medan
Frans left early in the morning and spent the day in Aceh. He met us in Medan that night. He needed to go to Aceh to check out potential manufacturing sites/workshop locations for the project with Warwick Purser – handicraft production.

PJ arrived in our offices around noon. We hooked him up with internet while Gina and I finished the few last minute things we needed to do before we could leave.

PJ very clearly has been burned by big corporations using his knowledge and throwing him away in the past. He is therefore very skittish and worried about loosing knowledge when he doesn’t really know a person. F, G & I have managed to gain his trust. It took a while, but he completely understands now that the only interest we have in VCO is if it can help the Sirombu community. Anyway, the point is, now that he trusts us and we’re taking him to Sirombu – he was like a little kid. So happy and excited for adventure. It was really fun hanging out with him.

It was also obvious that he really has been broke and hasn’t had many luxuries in his life. Gina went with him to his hotel room to make sure he understood everything. The novel concept of using the plastic card to open the door and turn on the lights, etc.

Anyway, on the plane to Medan, PJ & I got right to work. He told me all about his successful tests using a cold process for VCO extraction – in other words not drying the coconut meat before expelling it, but instead expelling it and then spinning the oil out of the milk using a centrifuge. This is awesome because the driers were the bottleneck in the last process and that could be eliminated. Also, ¼ the electricity is needed for the new process. This is all good news.

Met up with Frans in Medan and we all went to KFC for dinner. We then went to Fiona’s hotel to meet her, but she arrived really late. By the time she got in at 11PM, we had time for introductions and then went back to our hotel room and went to sleep.

Fiona (27) is British, about 5’ 10”, with curly short blond hair and green eyes. She went to university in Dunkirk, where she studied French, Spanish and Linguistics. She said she was very anti-big corporation when she was in college and never expected to end up working at a place like UBS (United Bank of Switzerland) in Corporate Social Responsibility. She now has a 6-month contract in Hong Kong coordinating the bank’s donations to tsunami-recovery projects. She is interesting, nice, and young – we spoke the same language.

Wednesday – UBS and PJ meet Sirombu
Oof, early day. Flight is at 7AM, so we met at the airport at 6AM. This is also where we met Erwin for the first time. He showed up with a small backpack and a CI vest and hat.

Erwin is Indonesian, thin, about 5’ 8”. Big wide smile. Smokes. Very quiet. He works for Conservation International as a “policy maker.” That’s what he said. I’m not entirely sure what that means though. He’s been with CI for 5 years now and says he really likes his job. Erwin is a funny guy, because one minute he’s right behind you and the next he’s completely disappeared. Throughout the trip, I really had to keep my eyes on him because we periodically lost him. At one point we even had to send a task force member to search an area for him. But, very concerned with his job and the environment – very serious about inspecting the coral and the trees. Oh, and he could sleep anywhere.

On the flight to Nias, I ended up sitting next to Fiona. It was nice because it gave us a chance to chat, where we really wouldn’t be spending much time together for the rest of the trip. We had different objectives and she would be working more with F&G, while I focused on VCO with PJ & Erwin.

We talked about our respective pasts and I told her a lot about UID and some of our other projects and what the organization is doing from a broader perspective. I showed her the VCO proposal and then also showed her the videos that Frans & I had put together.

We had quite the caravan going to Sirombu from Gunung Sitoli – 3 vehicles. PJ, Erwin & I in one, F, G & Yedi in another, and Fiona, bodyguard, Ibu K in the third. We could have gotten by with only two vehicles with the number of people, but we needed more because of the various departure times. PJ & I talked coconut the way there as well as a lot of other things.
So great to drive into Sirombu and see all the roofs of the houses. The houses looked really good – all with doors, all painted, electricity, etc. The flooring and the furniture still hadn’t arrived and the water wasn’t hooked up yet, but aside from that, the houses looked really good.

It’s funny, when Fiona was first planning her trip to Sirombu, her secretary emailed Gina and asked if there was a resort or hotel in the town that could be reserved. Gina told us all about this – so funny. Gina of course replied politely that she would arrange accommodation for Fiona.

This story about the resort had been shared around and I don’t know who was the person that said it – but someone commented that “Fiona asked for a 5-star hotel, but instead she got a million-star hotel.”

I think that is the nicest way of saying that you are so far out in the boondox that you have no choice to sleep under the night sky – one that beautifully shows millions of stars and no pollution.

I like million star hotels. Sirombu certainly has a beautifully clear bright sky at night.

Oh, the houses were also where the whole group would be staying for the few nights that we were there. We could sleep there until the move in day, no problem. To many of us to stay at Fona’s Aunt’s house. They (ZTO) even had AC hooked up in the few bedrooms we would be sleeping in. J

Wolfgang and Kris were snoozing in one of the houses when we pulled up. They seemed to have learned a lot and enjoyed the past 4 – 5 days learning about potential economic recovery work in Sirombu.

We had lunch upon arrival with the principles of the schools. PJ and Erwin explored around the houses and talked to the task force members while the meeting was going on. I was called upon to video tape.

The scholarship program that we UBS is sponsoring through us actually only covers 10% of the students – just the students who were affected (lost their house/family) from the tsunami. The other 90% of the students live inland enough that they were not affected.

One of the questions that the principles asked Fiona, of course, was if she could help the rest of the students. The unfortunate response was that the money she had to give had been donated by UBS employees to help the victims of the tsunami. Therefore, it unfortunately is out of her control, but it cannot go to the other students, because they weren’t affected.

It was difficult for me to hear this answer, as I’m sure it was for the principles. I understand it of course, but is just a side of humanitarian work that I hadn’t experienced yet. I’m sure I will see a lot more of this – money being left in trust for specific uses – as I continue work in NGOs.

After lunch, we headed down to the pier to start a tour of Sirombu. “We” included Fiona, bodyguard, Ibu K, PJ, Erwin, Wolfgang, Kris, various task force members, Yedi, the drivers for all of our cars, F, G, & I. Quite the group.

It was perfect timing for PJ & I, because a shipment of copra was just coming in from the Hinako Islands.

Kopra (a.k.a. copra) is smoked, thick coconut meat. It is de-husked, de-shelled, smoked and then bagged in the islands. It is then shipped in bulk format to some central industrial hub, where it is then processed into coconut oil. It is different from VCO though – in that it is highly processed and bleached and all-sorts of things are done to it. Through the process, it looses its aromatic quality as well as the majority of its nutrients. It smells.

I’m really glad that we got there at that particular time, because I was really able to see what kopra is. Up to this point, I was rather confused about what kopra really is and how it is processed. We also got a view of how the bags were brought up to the pier. It took 2 men with a weird rope pulling system to pull a bag up from the small ferry-boat that brought the bags to the pier from the larger boat.

F&G spent time showing Fiona et al the pier and explaining its uselessness. I had a few minutes to catch up with Wolfgang. When Wolfgang had come to our offices, we had shown him the videos we had made of the Sirombu schools. I remember watching his face and the shock/disgust at the school conditions was very apparent. So, I was curious how he was handling the last few days in Sirombu – how he was dealing with seeing the living conditions first hand.

Wolfgang, who had been all smiles and friendly up to that point, turned with a very solemn expression and said, “I watched a boy die yesterday.” Wolf had been doing research, and in the process, passed close to the nearest clinic. He decided to stop and check it out. In the clinic, there was a man with a rather blank expression, who had brought his son in for treatment. Unfortunately, there were no doctors or nurses on location that day. The next nurse would be stopping in that evening.

The man had brought his son in and the boy had malaria. He was clearly very close to death. Wolf said the boys eyes were rolling back into his head and then would come back and then would roll again. The only thing that the attendants at the clinic could do was give him an IV with fluids. They had nothing else they could do.

Wolfgang & Kris asked the father if they could take the boy to the hospital in Gunung Sitoli. They though this might be the only chance for him, but it would be hard long ride. The man was willing to sign a release giving Wolfgang all necessary authority and no liability, but the man wouldn’t come. Apparently, the man had 6 other children at home and all of the other children and his wife all had malaria. His entire family was dying around him and there was nothing he could do. And the mosquito didn’t even have the grace to bite the man too and put him out of his misery.

The child died within 10 minutes of Wolfgang’s and Kris’ arrival at the clinic. They didn’t even have time to get the boy into the car.

By this point, talking to Wolfgang, I was in a state of half shock, half bawling. The poor boy. The poor man!

Wolfgang said he hadn’t shared this with anyone else yet. I was the first. It’s not the kind of story that when people meet up and say “hey! How are ya?!” you can just lay on them. He told me because I had expressed a real interest in how the past few days had been and what he had experienced.

I think Wolfgang’s experience at the clinic was similar to my reaction to the little albino boy last visit – one that just totally rips your heart open and changes your perspective for the rest of your life. I think of the little albino boy every day and hope we can find some way to help him.

We both managed to regain our composure after about 15 minutes – at least well enough to focus on the work we had to do right then. I think my spirit was kind of shot for the rest of the day though.

We, then entire group of 15 of us, then walked further up the point towards a group of villagers processing kopra. We got a good first-hand view of them de-husking, de-shelling and then tossing the meat over their shoulders into an elevated shelf where it was smoked. They burned the husks underneath to create the smoke. They were really efficient at extracting the coconut meat.

One of the task force members, Peni, spoke to one of them and then next thing we knew, he was 40 feet in the air – up a tree getting coconuts for us to drink the water of. So cool. He just flew right up the tree. Peni (who I had met on my first visit to Sirombu and we had already become friends) turned to me and said that the man, the one in the tree, is both deaf and dumb. What a day of reality checks.

PJ oohed and aahed over the fragrance from the coconuts. Good quality coconuts. Will make good VCO. He then commented that the empty government building at the end of the pier would make a good factory.

We (the whole big group of 20 or so) then walked through the ruins of Sirombu Village – where the tsunami destroyed everything. After that, we headed to the tent village, where Fiona spoke with a few children. And after that, we all went back to the houses to relax a bit after a long day, mandi if desired, or whatever before dinner.

After dinner – Fiona, F, G, Wolf, and Ibu K had a meeting about the scholarship program and the economic recovery proposal. PJ and I sat on the porch and discussed VCO.

Top things we needed to focus on the next day:
1. health of trees
2. coconut acquisition – process and price
3. logistics of delivery of coconuts
4. logistics of transporting finished VCO
5. manufacturing site

Another big concern is on-going management of the facility and on-going ownership. Obviously, the donors will want the facility to be owned by village, but it needs to be under the control of someone with management experience and interest in seeing it be profitable. This is a going to be a mind-bender for me. Certainly not something we could solve that day.

Thursday – Hinako Boat Trip
Thursday the crazy entourage of the day before split into 2.

Team 1:
Led by F & G, the team included Fiona, bodyguard, Ibu K, and Yedi. They took Fiona to the schools to see them in session. After that, they returned to Gunung Sitoli for a meeting with local government officials there. Fiona then flew back to Medan that afternoon. F & G then met with Ama Herti in Gunung Sitoli.

Ama Herti
Ama Herti is a member of the task force and about 50 years old. He is also a local government official in Gunung Sitoli and has played a very important role helping UID work with the government and also socialize the projects with the villagers.

After meeting with Ama Herti, they (F, G, Yedi and Ama Herti) came back to Sirombu and met with all of the task force members and Peter and some other ZTO workers. They planned the activities for Friday’s moving in ceremony.

Team 2:
Led by moi, included PJ, Erwin, Wolfgang, Kris, Peni, and Ama Vike. We hopped a charter boat out to the Hinako Islands to inspect the coconut trees on the islands.

Man was it a gorgeous day. Sitting on the roof of a boat, cruising out over the ocean, it was just stunning. The boat can hold 25+ people. It was a substantial boat that we chartered. $60 for the day.

PJ forgot his flip flops on the mainland. We get off the boat, “where are your shoes?” He had taken them off while waiting on the beach, and forgotten to take them with him while he boarded the big boat.

Ama Vike tried on my sunglasses while we were on the boat. He really liked them. I said he could keep them. He was really touched.

Like the west side of Nias, the Hinako Islands were also raised about 2 or so meters out of the sea during the earthquake of March 28th. As a result, all of the islands now have a new beach of coral rocks around them. Makes a rather unusual landscape.

The Hinako Islands are also famous (besides for their coconuts) for being fantastic surfing, in fact some of the best surfing in all of Indonesia. The smallest wave is 5 meters apparently. Surfers come from all around to go here and they love it especially because it is so remote and unpopulated – no competition for waves.

Interestingly, the rise of the islands has changed the locations of the best waves because the face of the ocean floor is now different – so the water reacts differently and breaks in different places.

The islands are cool and breezy. They are on the Indian Ocean side of Nias.

The tsunami didn’t affect the islands very much. The water just passed right over the islands in the form of a big swell. The villagers told us it came up to their waist. They were all able to get to high ground before the water came. They were lucky.

We landed on the island and had to walk a kilometer to the village. Along the way, we passed the remains of a cooking oil facility. The facility had stopped production before the tsunami hit, for unrelated (and also unknown) reasons. The facility had it’s own pier. It had been in production for many years, so we know that the village could support a facility.

What surprised me as we walked along was that the houses looked really nice. Many of them were trimmed with carved wood and clearly buildings that people had loved and cared for. Additionally, many of the women we met were wearing gold jewelry – and no small pieces.

We reached Ama Vike’s house in the center of Hinako Village and sat down on the porch. Slowly, men from the village gathered, including the village head. PJ led the discussion, mostly in bahasa, asking all sorts of questions and extracting the information he needed from the men.

PJ really is an impressive guy. He had all of the men captivated and involved in the conversation. He was so friendly and honest and also effective. Good at working with people. He really impressed me.

We learned that the people of the Hinako Islands are relatively wealthy when compared to most of Nias and they are the wealthiest of everyone in Sirombu District. They are land owners – and it is very profitable land with lots of good quality coconut trees.

In fact, the people of Hinako do not know how to climb coconut trees. They consider themselves above that. They hire tree climbers from another village to climb for them. The tree climbers are the sort of migrant workers of Nias – they work in the rubber factories when needed, climb trees when the time is right, etc. The tree climbers either get 2,000 rupiah for climbing the tree and cutting down all of the coconuts OR they get 1/3 of the profits from kopra sales (but that means they have to do all of the husking, de-shelling, smoking, bagging, and transporting themselves). The land owners get the other 2/3.

Interestingly, production of copra from Hinako was estimated at 150k kilos of copra per month pre-earthquake. If you estimate 4 coconuts per kilo of kopra – that equals 600,000 nuts harvested each month. That’s a lot of coconuts. The volume we are talking about for the VCO is 3,000 nuts per day – or ~60,000 nuts per month. Learning about the capacity for kopra production at least eased us of any concerns about being able to support our coconut requirements.

However, kopra production has dropped to approximately 80k kilos per month (320,000 coconuts) after the earthquake. Apparently, the tree climbers are suffering from trauma, or in other words, they are scared of something further happening and are therefore avoiding the island. Ama Vika assured me that if we offer a good price for the coconuts, that enough climbers would come to support our needs.

A few minutes later, out came a glass with a slightly yellow-ish liquid in it. The villagers press their own coconut oil – for cooking and consumption at home. They do not market it. PJ got ahold of it and immediately started swooning over the aroma. Ina Vika (Ama Vike’s wife) had pressed it. She immediately started prepping water bottles of the stuff for us to take back with us.

While we were talking, Wolfgang and Kris left and went and examined the town and the school. They took my camera with them and got a good look at the post-earthquake conditions of all of the buildings.

Wolf and Kris told me later that they spoke with a teacher at the elementary school and the teacher said that they didn’t need any help. Wolfgang took a look around the school and saw broken ceilings, floors and desks. The conditions were much better than those in Sirombu, but none-the-less not good.

I didn’t get to see the school (only the pictures), but 2 things frustrated me about this. First, that the teacher wasn’t more concerned about the conditions. Secondly, with all the gold jewelry and money in the community – why do the villagers let their children go to school some place like that. Gina explained to me later that the villagers feel the school’s condition is the government’s responsibility.

After a while, I thought about this second point more and realized how hypocritical I was being. How many well off families let their children go to a school that is hurting for money and don’t help? Granted I’m not a parent yet, so the scenario is not directly applicable. But it just hit home that it is not really a problem in Indonesia, but really a problem world-wide.

Also while PJ & I were talking to the men of the village, Erwin was off somewhere. Who knows where. But he did show back up with some palm leaves. He must have found someone to show him where the bugs were getting at the coconut trees. He said that it looked to him like some sort of worm was eating the tree and that he would take the leaves back to Medan for analysis.

Finally, also while we were talking, one of the task force members was standing not 10 feet away poking at a tree. The next thing I knew, he handed me a fresh star fruit – right off the tree. Very cool. Tasted great!

Ina Vike made us lunch – rice and fried chicken. Funny thing, Wolfgang and I were both disappointed that we were served chicken and not fish. Good fish is not common in the city, so we get excited for it. However, for the villagers, it is every day food. To honor guests, they serve chicken. By giving up a chicken, they are also forfeiting all of the eggs that would be produced by the chicken. It’s a big honor. Different perspectives.

After lunch, Ina Vike presented me with a straw bag – purple and yellow colored with red corners. The weaving of straw bags like this one is a traditional handicraft of Sirombu and the Hinako Islands. She had made this bag herself. I was totally touched. I think it may be the nicest present I’ve gotten in a long time!

We made our way back through the Hinako Village after lunch, towards the boat. We stopped to examine a well – now dry. Because the island is lifted, where there used to be water, there now is none. They are working on relocating water sources and had found a good spring out on the coral beach. An open air mandi was constructed down there around it. It was more open than anything else.

It was such a beautiful day and the water was such a gorgeous, crystal clear blue, all of us non-native-Nias people swam out to the boat. The task force members and locals watched in amusement. It was glorious. Once we got to the boat, we proceeded to climb on board and then dive off the roof. So much fun. I, of course, cut my leg on part of the boat and ended up with all sorts of bruises from this. Completely worth it.

We didn’t get back to Sirombu until rather late. We made a couple of stops along the way and at one point lost Erwin. We had to send someone with a motorcycle to find him.

The group that went to the islands had really good spirit. It felt like a team and like a coherent expedition. We had learned a lot and had a really great time in the process.

The day was also special for me because it was the first time I was out and about in Nias with out Frans and Gina. In a way, I almost felt like a teenager allowed out of the house by herself for the first time. And it was because of me that PJ and Erwin were visiting the islands – because of a project that I had done all the research for, the writing, everything. This was my trip. And it felt really good! Not to mention the fact that it was outdoors in a stunning place on a gorgeous day – the types of days I dream of.

We had fish for dinner that night. J And PJ and I sat up late talking about the proposal and what else needed to be done for it to be completed. F & G got back really late from Gunung Sitoli and then proceeded to hold a meeting. They didn’t finish their preparations for Friday until the wee hours of the morning.

Friday – Moving Day
Goodness, I’m sitting here thinking about how great this day was and I’m already getting choked up. Okay. Here goes.

I actually got to sleep in a little – this was a nice break for me.

I woke to find Gina performing traditional medicine in our bedroom. Her neck, she said, was really tight and she couldn’t turn her head to one side. She said it was really painful. So, she was using a peppermint balm, putting it on her skin and then rubbing it with the edge of a coin. This resulted in big red lines. I don’t have any clue what it is for or how it works, but I hope she feels better.

I spent the morning downloading and editing photos from the 2 days before. This way my memory space would be completely clear for that afternoon.

Frans went with Ama Herti and talked to the local government. With the help of the local government, they chose 14 families to move into the new houses that day. The families were chosen based on need – starting with widows with children, then elderly and then families with really young children.

Each of the families then had to be visited individually and told the news. Frans said that he cried at each house – just so happy to tell them and they were so happy to hear. They were requested to be at the houses at 4 PM, when a signing ceremony would take place. After the ceremony, they could move in when ever and at whatever pace they would like.

A couple of the families were also asked to be packed and ready. We wanted to capture some video of families moving out of their tents and taking the tents down and moving all of their belongings. People were more than happy to help with that. After lunch, I helped prep the ceremony site – putting out the chairs and picking up the garbage from around the buildings.

Side note: I did the garbage collection naturally because it needed to be done. But I think it made a big impact with the task force members and the people I work with there. I think they were all surprised that I (a westerner and a woman) was willing to stoop to that – simply because it needed to be done and the site would look better with it complete. It’s a small thing for us, but several remarked afterwards.

I also noticed that this trip, all of the locals had been treating me as one of their own – no longer a stranger in a strange land. It was a really great feeling. I was included and people were happy to see me. Even one of our drivers immediately asked if I had come when F & G got off the plane. It was nice to feel so accepted.

Around 3 PM, Gina & I piled into one of the cars and drove to one of the family’s tents. They were packed – they had less belongings as a family than I took to Indonesia for the summer – and ready to go. 3 children, a husband and wife. Their tent was a gigantic blue tarp held up by bamboo poles. The local children enjoyed helping to rip that thing down.

We went to a second family and picked them up as well. They didn’t want their tent to be touched – they decided they didn’t want to touch it, not even look at it. And they had a relatively nice tent. There was a husband, his wife, her sister, and 3 children again in this family. So nice.

That second family also happened to be tented right next to the oldest lady we were moving. She was to get a home too. She was partially lame and taken care of by her only son. He was deaf and mute. After the ceremony, Gina and I helped this lady walk and find her new house. We got to help her turn the key to her new home. It was really really great.

Okay, I’m tearing up again. Breathe in. Breathe out.

The “ceremony” wasn’t extravagant. A few local officials made speeches. Frans spoke. Forms were signed and keys were passed. Finally, a blessing was said both in English and in bahasa, blessing the new houses and the tenants.

Afterwards, the families were allowed to walk and find their new homes. They could move in whenever they wanted.

After helping the elderly lady to her home, I kind of walked quietly up the road between the houses and just watched everyone. I saw kids playing between the houses. One was running around, holding the keys in his hand, waving them in the air.

It’s a real community. It’s not just for walls and a roof. These are nice houses and the people like them. They looked happy.

I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of really expressing the magic of seeing people – people who had lived in a tent for more than 7 months – entering their new homes for the first time.

That night, as F, G, the task force, and I all feasted on 2 gigantic fish (roasted over an open fire), we could see lights on and people going to sleep in the houses. They had already moved in. This was now their home.

The housing project – 240 homes + a clinic + a school + new piers – is a BIG project. Frans is managing the entire process, with Gina by his side all the way. I had the opportunity to help with it this summer by writing many of the updates and participating in the planning meetings, etc. But, I just helped. This day meant a lot for me. I can only imagine how much more magnified it was for Frans & Gina. They have worked so hard to make this happen. Seeing people move in was amazing, knowing it’s because of F & G (and a little me) made it magical. It was magical.

This was now definitely my last trip to Sirombu this summer. (Notice I did not say ever!). I really can’t imagine a better way to close it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On the road again...

Yesterday we got some great news. Phase I of the virgin coconut oil production proposal was approved. Phase I entails full, in-depth research about the site, logistics to and from, financials, etc.

Because it was approved, we are able to bring Phillip Johnson (PJ) with us to Sirombu today, as well as an environmental expert from Conservation International. We will take a good look at the environment and the health of the coconut trees – make sure they can sustain long-term health through harvesting.

This was particularly exciting for me because it has been a project I’ve been spear-heading since I arrived in Jakarta and it will also mean that I can complete the Phase II proposal before leaving Indonesia.

Excerpt from Phase I proposal:
Virgin coconut oil (VCO) production is a simple process that is only possible where there are abundant natural resources of coconut trees, which Sirombu and the outlying Hinako Islands have. The process requires relatively minimal capital investment and it creates a healthy product with reasonable profit margins. The process will also provide employment and training for the necessary skills is minimal.

With the profits from production, UID is considering establishing a micro-financing program in Sirombu. This would allow villagers to take out small loans for things like a sewing machine or fishing equipment.

The Phase II proposal, which will take the production facility through start-up, is going to require a lot of work.

SO, we’re leaving today for another (and most likely my last) trip to Sirombu. We have a very busy agenda:

Tuesday 2nd:
- fly to Medan

Wednesday 3rd:
- fly to Gunung Sitoli
- drive to Sirombu
- lunch
- tour of the village, tents, ruins, pier
- tour of housing, schools
- scholarship program discussion
- viewing of potential manufacturing sites
- viewing of coral beaches

Thursday 4th:
- boat trip to Hinako islands
- view villages
- view coconut tree groves
- check health of trees

Friday 5th:
- move first 18 families into new homes! Yay!
- drive back to Gunung Sitoli

Saturday 6th:
- fly back to Jakarta

I’ll be back in Jakarta on Saturday and Sunday and will tell you all about it then! Signing off…


Friday, July 29, 2005

You know you've been living in Jakarta too long when...

So last week, my maid didn’t show up one of the days she was supposed to. This wouldn’t really have been a problem for me, except it was right after the weekend of scuba diving lessons and right before I was to leave for Nias. In other words, I needed clean t-shirts for Nias and I didn’t have any. I was a little flustered because I had to re-think what I would take with me to Nias.

It wasn’t until this week, when I was home, that I realized I know where the washing machine is – it’s in my apartment. And I know where the soap is. AND I know how to use washing machines! If I had really wanted my t-shirts, I could have just washed them myself. It’s not like I don’t do my laundry all the time back in the States.

I think what shocked me most was the fact that the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. It was the first sure sign that I had become too used to having a made and very accustomed to this lifestyle and culture.

Of course, I was chatting with Tracy over IM that night and told her about this. She offered to do my laundry for me for a few weeks after I got home, if it would help me re-adjust to the American culture more easily. I told her to stuff it.

I was reading a humor book last night about funny real-life stories that happened here in Jakarta and quirky people who live here. It is written by an expat who opened and runs a bar here. At the back of the book, there is a couple of pages entitled “You know you’ve been in Jakarta too long when…” One of the comments is, “when the footprints on the toilet seat are your own.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember any more of them, although they were quite funny and I got 90% of the references. Well, I think this laundry situation fits into that category.

Frans and Gina used to have their own company before they joined UID. They were wedding planners. They said the largest wedding they have ever planned was for just over 4,000 people. I was floored. Then they said that the average was 1,200. How much does this cost? ~$35k USD. In Indonesia, that kind of money goes a very long way. They feed all of the guests and generally there are more than 5 bands and dance groups. There is always an MC and the event is practically a theater production.

I have been invited to 5 weddings since I’ve been living here myself, although I have not been able to make it to a single one. I also don’t know the people getting married, only friends of the cousins of someone who is married to someone who met the bride once. The family will send out 400 invitations and then triple the number to get the number of expected guests, because it is common for everyone to bring their kids and neighbors and friends. Unbelievable.

Frans said because the weddings are so large, there are always a few people a the wedding that do not know anyone. They crash the wedding for the food. I didn’t believe this until Frans said he had done it! He and his friends, back when they were young and broke, would put on nice batik shirts and go crash a wedding. They would go in a larger group, but enter the wedding in small groups of 2 or 4. Then they would meet up inside and act like they hadn’t seen each other in a long time. This way it would look like they know people at the wedding and that they belong. The bride-side would assume the groom new them and vice versa. He said on good days, they would even get pictures with the bride and groom! How many times have you done this Frans? So many he has lost count. I told him he could justify it as vocational training and market research for his subsequent career as a wedding planner. He laughed.

The early part of this week was absolutely crazy busy with work. Since we just got back from Nias, we needed to update the various donors on progress that has been made. Plus, we need to go back to Nias next week, so we’ve had to plan for that.

Next week when we go back, we’ll be bringing with us one of the donors for the Scholarship Program, as well as her body guard and translator. Also coming will be 2 gentlemen proposing an economic recovery and vocational education program to the same donor. They are from a different organization, Next Step, not UID. And finally, I’ll be bringing PJ and an environmental specialist from Conservation International. We are doing a deep dive on the VCO production facility. After this I hope we will have enough information to finish the full proposal.

On Tuesday, we were also taken off-guard by a request from one of our donors to meet with Warwick Purser.

Warwick Purser
White-haired older gentleman with fantastic style. He runs a handicraft business here in Indonesia that supplies lots of products to Target and other larger retailers back in the States. Lives in Puri Casablanca. Married, but not children. I did hear he’s in the process of adopting a 12-year-old boy from Aceh who was orphaned during the tsunami.

What is most interesting about this spur-of-the-moment business meeting was that Warwick and I did a double take when we met. Richard McHowat had told me about him when we met for lunch because we both live at Puri Casablanca. Richard thought we would enjoy talking and might perhaps want to meet for dinner. We hadn’t yet caught up with each other though. Being introduced to each other here at UID was quite a surprise.

The proposal we’d be working on – handicrafts in Aceh – has 2 big components. 1) It requires meeting the high shopping season in Indonesia, which is coming up in late October and early November. People buy each other gifts for the Muslim new year then. 2) It would provide more professional training around the handicrafts and skills that already exist in Aceh, bringing them up to a standard that would provide sustainable employment and industry long-term.

UID’s role will be to find/build and sponsor the workshop (the actual building) where production would occur. Frans is looking into this right now. One partner offered a potential location on some land where an orphanage is currently located. There is enough space to also build a workshop and the orphanage would be willing allow the workshop, if skills and training was provided to the children. This is very much just a possibility and no way beyond even initial thought stages, but it is a great possibility – and very much an integrated project.

One of the best parts of working with United in Diversity is the fact that the projects are not just a one-time hit. I mean, we don’t just donate boats and then leave. UID’s projects are meant to have a more long-term lasting effect. Provide a workshop with jobs, but that also teaches local children skills. Provide boats, but also nets and maintenance and also technique education. THAT is United in Diversity.

Similarly, we had another introductory meeting this week with an organization based in Colorado Springs → Next Step. The organization is a partner of YCAB (one of our partners) and they have been recruited to make a presentation on economic recovery for Sirombu. The leader of the team is named Wolfgang Fernandez.

Wolfgang Fernandez
Venezuelan by birth, but has lived all over the world. He speaks Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German and Dutch. He lives in Colorado Springs, where his children are, although he’s divorced. He travels here to Indonesia a lot. Very friendly. Very direct. Very smart. Very level-headed.

Side note: When we first met, Frans introduced me as from MIT. Wolfgang asked, “and MIT stands for?” He knew the institution but wasn’t really expecting me to be from the school. I think he thought that it might be some other organization with the same letters that he just didn’t know about. His expression when I said, “Massachusetts Institute of Technology?” was priceless.

They asked us a lot about our work in Sirombu and what we knew of the village. They have not yet been there and were trying to come up with ideas of programs and industries they can start. They will provide tools and training and more.

Wolfgang turned to me, just a few minutes in the meeting, and asked, “You’re the MBA. What would you recommend for starting for industry?” To which, I paused, and said, “Well, focus on the natural materials already in place. For example, cocoa grows all over the island. It could be harvested and organized. Another option is additional vocational training for the fisherman – teach them different fishing techniques. There is also a traditional handicraft of grass woven mats – organize the women to make those for sale. Also, look into patchouli oil. The plant can be grown there, bailed and processed in Singapore.” (These were all ideas that had been brought to my attention one way or another over the last 2 months. Also I found out later that Frans is already working on the vocational training for the fishermen).

One of Wolfgang’s other questions was whether we thought Sirombu was the right place for an economic recovery project, or if he should stick to Gunung Sitoli, the capital. Gunung Sitoli would, of course, be easier logistically. Our answer was that the people in Gunung Sitoli already have a lot of help and they naturally have a lot more options, just because it is a city. Sirombu villagers do not have many options. No companies come there. There is no tourism. To help the village, things need to be started there. So, of course, it may be a little more difficult geographically, but it will have a comparatively higher benefit for the community. It also adds another facet to the integrated community solution for Sirombu.

On that note, about the logistics to Sirombu, I’ve heard a lot of surprised comments about the work that we are doing in Sirombu. The village is extremely remote. It is often ignored because it is just “too hard” for the NGOs to get to or really work in.

What is interesting about that comment is there are a lot of reports about relatively little actually being accomplished in Aceh. It is said that the bureaucracy there is overwhelming and making work virtually impossible. Where as in Nias, a more remote location, we already have houses up and we’ll be moving people in.

It appears in development work that it is not natural obstacles that are the most difficult to cross, but bureaucratic and social obstacles.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

:) at Borobudur Posted by Picasa

The monkey god was the star of the episode of the Rama and Sinta story that I got to see. He was fantastic. Posted by Picasa

Ramayana ballet. This picture is my favorite from the weekend. I love the colors and the traditional costumes. Posted by Picasa

The Prambanen temple, at night. (My camera rules! I'm so glad I splurged on it beofre I left the States.) Posted by Picasa

A hand painted batik that I bought. This is me and the artist (or at least the guy who said he was the artist in order to get me to buy - I've become so cynical of tourist traps). It is beautiful though. Posted by Picasa

Ballet under the light of the full moon

So after the whirlwind trip to Nias, I went directly to Yogyakarta (pronounced joke – ja – kar – ta) for the weekend. Through the Lonely Planet guide I have for Indonesia (thanks to Nenns!), I booked an adorable little “home-stay” – like a cheap little family run motel, but in a house. It was about $15 a night (which is actually a lot for most home stays), but it had air-conditioned rooms, western style showers, old antique furniture, and loads of charm.

Link to photos for the weekend: http://www.clarkcolor.com/share/p=196251122297169232/l=54677346/cobrandOid=1003

The two nice girls that ran the front desk didn’t speak English, which was awesome for me. I had to work with them to plan my entire weekend, all in bahasa! They organized getting me a car and driver on both Saturday and Sunday, as well as a ticket to the ballet on Saturday night.

While Jakarta is the hub for business in Indonesia, Yogya (short for Yogyakarta, pronounced joke – ja) is considered the cultural hub. Specifically, it is home to the batik industry and art. Batik is made either from silk or cotton and it is painted on with bright colors. Different types of wax are used to stop or control the dye from affecting certain areas during the rounds of dyeing. The result is a painting or beautiful pattern. (see picture of me with a hand-painted batik I bought).

Friday, I went to the bird market and explored many of the batik shops on the main drag. The bird market in Yogya is famous for having an incredible variety of birds, including illegal ones. If you ask nicely and show that you are not police, they are sometimes willing to let you see baby eagles and such. I didn’t try asking. I was alone and a little shy and this was my first stop on my first trip alone in Indonesia. But I did see a lot of beautiful tropical birds.

The batik shops on the main drag had batik in all different sizes and shapes. I was just looking and browsing, staring at everything. There was so much, I had no clue where to even start. There were a few shops with some beautiful 3-piece, silk, hand-painted sarong sets. I kind of watched as one of the shop ladies helped a customer and saw how the different pieces were draped on a person. SO beautiful. I thought about getting one, but where would I actually wear it? C-function?

After spending the afternoon shopping, I used my guide book to pick out a café for dinner and man did I make a good choice. The food was okay, but the wall décor was just extraordinary. See pictures. One of the waiters, seeing how interested I was in all of the art, brought me around the corner to an art studio – the owner’s art studio.

The owner is a young man, maybe 25, obviously extremely talented and has enough entrepreneurial nature to be making a good living off of it. He does oils, batik, and tattoos. In addition, he owns the restaurant and has a small home stay.

He had one particular batik that I would have bent over backwards to have. Unfortunately, he liked it too and was unwilling to sell that one. It is the picture of the 3 masks in my photo album.

Dinner was lovely and I crashed hard.

Saturday, I started with exploring the Kraton – which is the sultan’s palace. Yogya still has a Sultan and the Sultan is the Governor of the Province of Yogya. It is the only hereditary title left in Indonesia. It was interesting and beautiful and very palace-like. After the palace, I visited Taman Sari, which is the bathing pools of the Sultan and also very beautiful. I expected to see Greek gods and goddesses lounging around eating grapes. See pictures, I bet you can pick the place out. A little more shopping and lunch and then I went back to the hotel and took a long nap.

That evening I went to the Ramayana ballet. Rama and Sinta are the Romeo and Juliet of Indonesian folklore, except it has a happy ending. The full ballet is performed over 4 nights and only done under the light of the full moon (so only offered once a month). I saw the second part. ABSOLUTELY amazing. And SOOOOOO beautiful. Behind the stage was the famous Prambanen temple, which is the biggest Hindu temple on Java. The light of the moon lit up the temple behind the performers. It was really quite extraordinary.

Sunday morning, I went to Borobudur, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia and possibly the largest in the world. It is huge and very cool. It was built between 750 and 850 A.D. and then was abandoned soon after. It wasn’t re-discovered until the 18th century by a Dutch explorer. It was covered by volcanic ash for a long time. It has beautiful stories carved into the sides and hundreds of statues of Buddha.

Many Indonesians stopped me and asked to take my picture. Felt like a movie star, but I hear the picture thing is normal for westerners in Indonesia.

After Borobudur, I had a time for lunch and a little more wandering around Yogya before I had to fly back to Jakarta. It was a beautiful and relaxing weekend as a typical tourist.

Now back to the chaos of the non-profit world…

Monday, July 25, 2005

The fish are our friends!

Gina announced before we even left Jakarta that she was not going to take a bath while in Sirombu. "You don't mind if I smell, do you?" She had not gotten over learning that there were fish in the well where we stayed last time. “You know what fish do in water?” I just laughed. I intend to bath. It’s so hot here and you never get away from it, plus mosquito repellent and sun block. Very sticky.

It’s been almost exactly one month since my first trip to Nias. It is amazing for me how accustomed I have become to Indonesia. The trip to Nias was now like clockwork. Well, not exactly clockwork, for there were a lot of hiccups, but I was completely comfortable with each phase.

We were delayed landing in Medan because of rain. And then bumped on our flight out in the morning because of rain. And then we were delayed again because of rain. Of course I’m looking out the windows and thinking that this is nothing compared to some of the snow storms during which I’ve landed in the Northeast. Anyway, I guess it’s all relative and what you are used to. I’m also not a pilot.

Under ordinary circumstances, delays are difficult to deal with when traveling for business, but this time it was worse. There was a holiday taking place on Nias – “Children’s Day.” I don’t know much about the holiday, but it meant that all flights were booked leaving Nias from Friday until Tuesday. SO, we were only scheduled to be in Nias from Wednesday morning until Thursday afternoon. Arriving Wednesday afternoon made it really tight to get to Sirombu, do our work and get back. We actually got to the airport only 15 minutes before the flight took off on the way back. They practically grabbed my bag from my hands as we walked in the door.

I did meet a very good looking, Australian surfer on the way over though. I noticed when we were first checking in and he ended up sitting next to me on the plane! I’m never that lucky. Named Adam, he’s a professional life guard and gets 8 weeks off every year. This year, he’s spending 5 of them in Nias, staying with a local family and spear fishing for his dinner. Maybe I should drop out of business school… (just kidding, Dad)

Of course, I have a horrific cold. So here I am sitting next to this tan, blue-eyed, Australian surfer and I’m sneezing and sniffling the whole flight. And then the pain in my sinuses was so bad as we were landing, I was tearing up. Such a great way to make a first impression.

Yedi, a member of our task force, met us at the airport. Our first stop when we landed in Gunung Sitoli was at Meta’s fathers’ house. Meta, again, is another member of our task force. This was where we spent our last night during our last trip. This also seems to be where Yedi lives. I was all confused for a bit, but Gina finally explained to me that most of our task force are members of the same extended family.

This is also where the well is being dug. Yedi told me they have drilled to 18 meters and have not yet hit water. They are going to keep going until 24 meters and if they don’t hit water, then they will try another spot. They weren’t drilling when we were there because it was raining.

Side note: I would have taken a picture, but all there was to see was a single pole, about 4’ tall, sticking out of the ground.

Meta’s father works for the local government in Nias. He recommended to Frans & Gina that the local government help choose the families to move into the first houses completed in Sirombu. This would help prevent jealousy between families. The government is also closer to people and has the means to determine which families most need. Additionally, it would foster good relations with the government.

Everything around socialization and politics of aid work is really fascinating to me. It is a side of life I’m very much not experienced in, coming from finance. It never would have occurred to me to ask the local government to make this decision for us, but I can see its win-win benefits. This is also only one example of the kinds of things I’m learning.

Next it was on to Sirombu – the 3 hours of turbulence.

Yedi was in the car with us. First couple of hours were pretty quiet, but towards the end we were talking and laughing. I don’t even remember what about, but we had a really good time. Oh yes, I did tell everyone the story that the first time I was in Sirombu, during the task force meeting, how the word “America” kept coming up. I, of course, didn’t speak Indonesian very well then (and still don’t for that matter) and thought they were talking about me. I had no idea why they were talking about me, but was cool with it.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I realized they were saying “Ama Ika,” which is the name of one of the task force members. Missed that one. When I told everyone this, they all completely lost it. I can appreciate the humor in it too.

Some how the topic of the fish in the mandi (well) in Sirombu came up. Yedi explained that if the fish are alive, then you know that the water is not contaminated. I was impressed. Very logical. If there is a dead fish floating in the well, you know it is probably not a good idea to use it to bath in.

Gina immediately changed her opinion about the mandi. She decided the fish were a good thing and loudly declared, “the fish are our friends!”

From the road, we could see that construction on the houses is proceeding very well. Houses are complete and look great. After stopping for lunch/dinner of noodles, we walked around the construction area. There are still a few things that need to be done before the houses will really be livable though: 1) furniture, 2) linoleum/vinal floor covering, 3) plate covers for the electrical outlets. Also, construction is still going on right next to the completed houses, so if we move families in – there is danger with the construction equipment and the children.

While it’s difficult to pass tents while on the way to inspect completed houses, I know that it is just plain unsafe for the families right now. Another month and we should be able to section off the completed area sufficiently to allow some families to move in.

Also, the donors are getting anxious, understandably. They have paid for houses and they know that the houses are complete. It is hard to understand why the houses can not be moved into unless you stand there and really see the danger.

We learned upon arriving in Sirombu that the seas/ocean was too rough because of the rain for us to go to Hinako. I was disappointed because we needed to do fact finding on the elementary schools in Hinako and see how many new houses are still needed. However, we were really crunched for time at this point because of all the delays getting to Sirombu. If we missed our flight back, we wouldn’t get another until next Wednesday.

We spent the night at Beni’s house (Beni is another task force member and Fona’s cousin). This is the house we stayed at last time – Fona’s Aunt’s house. Well it turns out it is also Beni’s house. Everyone’s related.

We slept again in bamboo shelter. I had real trouble sleeping because the mosquitoes were eating me alive. Even with insect repellent on, I couldn’t lay still.

Around 3 AM, there was an after shock – only 4.3 and it was over in less than 10 seconds. It was the first earthquake I’ve ever felt. Last visit, there was a 5.5 and I slept through it.

The next morning, Gina mandi'd. "The fish is my friend!"

Ama Ika (task force member) showed up with 4 coconuts. We spent probably 45 minutes examining the different ages, cracking them open and getting good visuals of the meat. One of my major tasks for this visit was to examine the coconuts and figure out how many we could get on a daily basis, sustainably. It looks like we’ll be able to get about 10,000 coconuts per day of the exact age we need for virgin coconut oil production. This is enough coconuts to produce adequate quantities of oil for a facility to function profitably.

Next steps for VCO is to obtain funding for a Phase I – which would be about a month of research. It would require bringing Phillip Johnson out to Sirombu, along with an environmental expert to check on the health of the trees. We would do a deep dive analysis on the optimum quantities and best logistical routes, etc.

After that, a Phase II (or final) proposal would be made – detailing the specific financial investment required and exact processes, logistics, outputs, etc. If Phase II is funded, then equipment would be ordered and the facility would be built, etc.

If everything goes well, we could have the Phase II proposal complete before I leave Indonesia (which is exactly 1 month away now). This would make me very happy. Initial reading on VCO was given to me the day I flew into town. I know more about it (right now) than anyone else at UID. It would be very cool if I could get it to fly before I have to leave.

We spent the morning visiting all of the schools involved in our scholarship proposal. Gina spoke with each of the principles individually about getting updated information. In the mean time, Frans and I got video footage of the schools and Sirombu village to put together for the donors. Frans did the shooting while I narrated.

Side note: As soon as I can get some of it edited into good clips, I’ll try to post it where people can download and see.

I had already seen the schools, but it was still disturbing. Some of the children don’t have real shoes – they wear flip flops. The high school has metal walls, dirt floors, and a palm-thatched roof. The teacher has a blackboard about 4’ x 6’ to work with, nothing else. There’s a big field in front of the middle school and apparently they don’t have a lawn mower. Instead, they get all of the middle school children out in a line with machetes to trim the grass.

Despite all of this, the children are so friendly and seem so happy. Maybe they don’t know anything different. Maybe they are content. I can only try to imagine how they do it.

While driving between the middle school and the elementary school, I noticed that there some children playing on the side of the street. I asked Gina why they weren’t in school. She said that they probably could not afford the “school fees.” School fees are only 20,000 rupiah per month – just about $2.

It breaks my heart to see kids not going to school because of that. It makes me want to jump out of the car and just give that kid the $2. At the same time, I don’t really know enough about that one child’s circumstances and also how other children and other children’s families would react. They have to struggle to put their kids in school. Who knows what they have to go through.

Our current scholarship proposal that is being funded actually only covers the children that were victims of the tsunami. In other words, only 10% of the students in the school. The rest of them live far enough away from the shore that they were not affected. Gina turned to me and said that she really wants to find donors to cover all of the students. But she’s starting with this and then working from there. A complete scholarship program for all of the children would get the few out of the streets.

Baby steps.

When we came to one of the elementary schools, Frans & I went into one of the class rooms. Children were diligently working on their exercises. One of the children, I noticed, had blond hair. I thought he was a western child, but when he turned around, the shape of his eyes showed he was Asian.

He is albino. I didn’t catch his name or get to look at him for long, but I just happened to briefly glance at his arms. The skin was red, scarred, crusty and flakey. It looked like he had suffered from severe, repeated sun burns. An albino child with no protection from the sun here must suffer extraordinarily under the sun of the equator. He’ll probably get skin cancer before he’s 15!

Frans & I had to continue taping and finish up to make it to the airport. We didn’t have time to dally at all around. In the car, on our way, I turned to Yedi and asked how many doctors there were in Sirombu. It turns out there is only one for the entire district (county). One!

I then asked Yedi if he would do me a favor. Would he please see if he could get the doctor to visit the little albino boy? I gave Yedi all the cash I had with me ($50) and told him to email me if it costs more. I also asked him to email and tell me if the doctor recommends anything. I’ll do what I can to get that boy help. Sun block? Long sleeved shirts? Poor little guy!

My second trip to Nias was successful in that it was productive. However, it was just as heart wrenching as the last. I hope it never affects me less.