Hester in Yogjakarta, Indonesia
I’ve been back in the Netherlands almost two months now, but I still can't get Indonesia out of my mind. A very special time for me, in a very special country. It really got off the ground on the eight hour train journey from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, where Indonesia just comes at your senses like a solid wall; so many incredible things all at once. Every few seconds we would pass a mosque in the most fantastic bright colours, as if someone had placed giant Easter eggs on buildings. And between the urban spreads, miles and miles of rice paddies. When I think of Indonesia these two images are the first to flash in my mind; the ubiquitous mosques, that wake you up with a 4 am call (or shouts) to prayer, and rice paddies quite literally everywhere. Islam demonstrates the strength of its presence here. It was a remarkable experience to be in a country where the majority is Muslim. Ads for family package tours to join the Hajj were wall to wall, with most clothing stores offering matching hijabs with an outfit. Complementing the Muslim majority, the remainder of the population is made up of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Confucianists. Generally these groups live separate lives from each other, but at the university this was something else. I met many people who before studying at the CRCS (Center for Religious & Cross-Cultural Studies, the university) had never made friends with people of a different faith. It was wonderful to see how this had opened up a whole new world for them. Some even talked about how they wanted to ensure Indonesian children from a very young age should have lessons in school that teach about the diverse religions in the country; to embed a better understanding of each other. For me, this exactly sums up CRCS's aim and it's great to see how students gain an increasing understanding. It also made me think about tolerance in Dutch society. Studying at the CRCS was for me something very special indeed.
Of course there was more to my six months stay than just studying. Indonesia is a pretty big country and understandably I didn't get to see everything, but I have seen and done some amazing things. I climbed volcanoes in the middle of the night to welcome the rising sun. I've seen the world’s largest Buddhist temple and climbed it. I've seen blue fire spouting from a volcano! And I've seen legions of wild monkeys, including an orang-utan and a family of long-nosed monkeys, and seen dolphins shooting from the water. I was invited to drink tea with a lady who lived in a traditional Flores village, because she was so impressed with my Indonesian. And at the end of my stay someone convinced me to try for my diving certificate; one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, as it opened the door to so many other extraordinary experiences. I discovered a whole different planet below the surface of the sea; coral in colours I didn’t know existed, turtles nearly as big as I am and even manta rays at least 5 five metres wide swimming above me. It was a fantastic time and a trip I wouldn't have missed for the world.