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Indonesia - November 2017

Monday, 5 November 2018

Why Indonesia?
Unlike many people who seek out the attractions of Indonesia for a holiday, I went there to lead a Habitat for Humanity trip to improve the housing situation for a needy family.  From the west coast of Canada, it is a long journey to get there - a bit over 30 hours of travel from home on a Wednesday evening until arriving at the hotel in the city of Yogyakarta two days later on a Friday evening local time. The marathon flight routing was Victoria-Vancouver-Hong Kong-Jakarta-Yogyakarta. 



Yogyakarta airport

Yogyakarta (650,000) is located in the south of Central Java near the coast. The climate is tropical and the vegetation is lush. During my time there, the weather was what would be expected for November - hot and humid with high temperatures reaching 30C or a bit higher and lows of 22-24C. And, there was plenty of rain!

We (Habitat team) stayed in the Hotel Jayakarta which is comfortable with beautiful grounds, plenty of greenery, pools for wading and swimming, a good restaurant and a covered outdoor lounge overlooking the pools. In addition to the amenities, I found the hotel staff to be very friendly and helpful. I soon learned that a warm spirit of welcome and hospitality was characteristic throughout Yogyakarta.






Hotel pools and greenery



Hotel lobby


While the reason for the trip was volunteering with Habitat, there also were some excellent sightseeing and cultural opportunities.


A bit about Indonesia
Before planning the trip, I knew little about Indonesia. I knew where to find it on a world map and that it is a country comprised of many islands (over 17,000), that Bali is one of the country's most popular destination, is known for good coffee in a couple of regions, and has its share of volcanoes. I learned that it is the fourth-most-populous country - about 260 million spread along the equator for 5,000 km with many cultures. With 140 million people, the island of Java has the largest population of any Indonesian island and is the home of many large cities including the city of Jakarta with its 10.5 million people.





Local university students who wanted to take our picture 





Example of street side retail shops

A bit of local humour


The Habitat Project
I made the right decision to arrive a couple of days early to adjust to the time change and climate before taking on my team leadership responsibilities. The morning after my arrival, however, I had my first Habitat meeting that lasted about two hours. It was an excellent introduction to how HFH Indonesia works with teams like mine. Even before arriving in Indonesia, I had a strong sense that we would have excellent local support during our build and that certainly was the case HFH is very active in Indonesia so they have extensive experience hosting Global Village teams. 



The location of our HFH build was about an hour drive to a place outside the city called Selopamioro Village. The main economic activity is farming, much of it subsistence. The build site was located in a hilly area with thick, lush vegetation including many coconut trees with signs warning of falling coconuts! The housing need in the area is significant with people living in the area facing many day-to-day challenges linked to low income. Our project was to build as much as possible of a small house starting from the ground up. 


A lot of manual labour was involved with this project such as:
  • digging a trench for the foundation and to support the outside walls of the house
  • moving large rocks by hand that were used in the foundation
  • moving concrete blocks by hand that were used to construct the house walls
  • moving sand and gravel by wheel barrow
  • mixing cement by hand to use in the foundation 
  • mixing mortar by hand to use between the concrete blocks
  • carrying the concrete and mortar in pails to the places where it was needed
  • putting the concrete blocks in place to build the walls
  • bending and cutting rebar by hand; building rebar corner columns by hand  
Here are some photos of the build site. 



















Throughout the build, we worked along side several local people and the two young translators for our team were very much appreciated. Interactions with local people, even when there is a language barrier, is always a highlight on these trips. 



In an outlying place such as Selopamioro Village, the presence of people from another country, especially a far-away country like Canada, is always know to others in the area. In the neighbourhood, we received many smiles and much hand waving on our way to and from the build site.



At the start of each day, for lunch and at the end of the day, we stopped as what HFH Indonesia called "base camp" where we would pick up/leave our hard hats, eat lunch and hang out a bit. Our lunches were a much-appreciated highlight of each build day as we had home-cooked local food prepared by a few women in the village.


As you may know, Indonesia has a reputation for having excellent food reflecting several cultures and food styles. All our meals were good, but the dinners were especially good. HFH Indonesia had a long list of restaurants from which to select and all were good, some exceptional. In addition, the costs were very reasonable in comparison with what we would pay at home.



On a couple of days at the build site, we had extremely heavy rain and spent a bit more time at "base camp" hanging out. On our fifth build day (8 build days in total), we started working in the rain, but after an hour or so of working in what was an increasingly muddy and slippery work site, it was determined to be too dangerous, so we drove to "base camp" and spent extra time there. We filled a few hours with the swapping of stories and several fun rounds of the game “Heads Up” on the iPad of one team member. We also watched some of the local men weave their creations from the bark of coconut palms - very interesting. But, the heavy rain continued and we headed back to our hotel a few hours earlier than normal. Here are two photos of the area immediately around the build site.






After a weekend break doing cultural and related activities, we returned to the build site on another rainy day. However, the rain was not as heavy as on previous Friday, so we persevered and had a productive day. The main focus that day was on moving concrete blocks to the house by hand and building the exterior walls that had been started previously. We were able to advance the wall construction significantly. On build day 7, we were in a "holding pattern" at the start of the day due torrential rain and strong winds due to the convergence of two weather systems. Due to flooding, road washouts, mud slides and trees being across the roads in places, we were not able to travel to the build site for our last 1.5 days, which was a big disappointment. We were able to say our farewells to many of the people at the build site, but on our last evening we had a wonderful farewell dinner with the local HFH staff and volunteers including the two translators who we got to know really well over our time there. The following photos are of the build site showing the increasingly wet and muddy conditions.










The following photos show the road washouts on the road to the build site and also the water on the street in front of the hotel. 















Despite the weather challenges, this has been another great trip. I was blessed with a good natured and supportive team, strong and well organized support by HFH Indonesia in Yogyakarta, encouragement and support by local workers, warm and welcoming people everywhere. Our hotel was very comfortable in a convenient location with a good restaurant. 

 Celebrating our accomplishments at the end of the first week.

 With our HFH Indonesia friends after the farewell dinner

Showing off our certificates from HFH Indonesia

Cultural Days
After working for five days, we had two break days to do some well-deserved exploring. On our first day, we were up very early and left the hotel at 3:00 am on a two-hour drive for the sunrise at the Borobudur Buddhist temple. While the sunrise was less than hoped, Borobudur is an incredible structure and very important spiritual place for Buddhists. Borobudur is the world's largest Buddhist Temple. It was built in the 9th century and consists of nine stacked platforms, decorated with 2,674 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The architecture follows Javanese Buddhist design and also reflects some other traditions. After being abandoned in the 14th century, interest in the temple resurfaced in the 1800s and since then Borobudur has been preserved through several restorations. After the largest restoration project concluded in 1982, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lonely Planet guide describes Borobudur as Indonesia’s signature Buddhist monument. It is built from two million stone blocks in the form of a massive symmetrical stupa. Visitors can climb hundreds of stair steps to the top, where fabulous views are offered.  





After stopping for a light breakfast, our next destination was the Merapi volcano. It is officially Indonesia’s most active volcano out of 127 active volcanoes in the country. Merapi has erupted dozens of times in the past century with the last being a massive eruption in 2010 that killed 353 people and forced the evacuation of 360,000 people. We were dropped off part way up the mountain and then taken further up in classic Jeeps and Toyota Land Cruisers over extremely rough roads. This stop was the most popular of our cultural activities. 






Our second cultural day was more relaxed with a much later start at 10:00 am. We visited the Sultan’s Palace, which are located in one of the popular areas of Yogyakarta. We had a guided tour of the palace and its complex of building, many of which contain artifacts related to the various Sultans over the years, gifts from other countries and aspects of Indonesian culture. The Sultan is like a king for the special region of Yogyakarta. The palace was designed to be more than just a royal residence - it was built to be a focal point for the Sultan's entire kingdom. Wrapping up our time at the palace, we were treated to a dance performance with two men depicting good and evil - plenty of symbolism and humour.









Our next stop was at a local market that sells batik and a wide range of crafts made by local people. This was a look at day-to-day shopping and commerce for many local people. While somewhat entertaining, our purchases were limited and we were soon back at the hotel for some relaxation and dinner.

Heading Home and a Few Reflections
Being from the “west” this trip was an excellent reminder that there is more in life not in our control that what we think in our day-to-day lives. While the weather may have held us back from accomplishing more, it provided an opportunity to have one of the best trip debriefings of all my trips. As a team leader of HFH trips, this is important because I appreciate it when everyone on the team has an opportunity and time to share their reflections without us having hurry off to another commitment. I don't anticipate returning to Indonesia, but I am pleased that I got to visit this intriguing country.

On the morning after our farewell dinner, many of us started the journey home. The return flight routing was a reverse of when I to Yogyakarta. The longest flight was 11.5 hours from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Throughout the trip, I reflected on my entire Indonesia experience - the people on the team and what we accomplished, the challenge of the rain, the excellent food, the incredible hospitality of the Indonesian people especially our local HFH colleagues, and more. Once again, I was blessed for the opportunity to give “a hand up” to a family and a small village; and left for home with many warm thoughts of the Indonesian people. 

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