I need to start this post by saying that I've never been a big supporter of supremely religious people of any faith. Due to historical and contemporary events, I've grown to see religion as a way to separate massive groups of people rather than to unite them. I almost view the most devote as members of high school cliques- using their religion as away to feel superior over others, using jihads, crusades and burnings just as the mean kids would use physical and mental bullying. Rather than people around the world uniting together to bring about social and environmental change, religion, money, commodities and politics stand in our way and create greed, racism, sexism and unwarranted anger. I've traveled all over the world observing these things and find that these negative qualities are the true unifiers.
Before coming to Indonesia, I knew each island had a religion, Muslim, Hindu, Balinese and more. I read up on the appropriate customs and policies, the style of dress for religious sanctuaries, the call to prayer, and where women stood in society. I was traveling with two other feminist women and we were honestly a little nervous about how we would get treated. A member of our group was a blonde southern girl and we brainstormed of ways she could conceal her hair and origin by staying silent and covered. Everything we had thought could not have been more incorrect. The Balinese people welcomed us with open arms, teaching us about their culture, people and land.
Multiple times a day, every day, women gave offerings to the private temples that had been constructed at their homes or places of work. In the mornings, women went to the market to purchase a variety of flowers and other items like incense for their offerings. In the afternoons they sat together to weave banana leaves together, forming different shaped baskets, depending on what part of the island they resided in. The leaf baskets are placed in front of the temples full of flowers, rice, coins and a burning piece of incense and a prayer is made to the holy trinity. The people taught us about their offerings and giving respect. Their ceremonies are filled with peace, beauty and appreciation. The people constantly give thanks for all that they have, even if they live in wooden lean-to's. Those who are able to work, use much of their income to support their entire extended family and sometimes their entire village. The working are proud of what they do and they work hard. They are happy and proud to take care of their people. Like many devote places, religion bonds the people, but unlike many other religions, these people invited us to take part in their rituals, be blessed by their priests and give thanks in their temples. We were treated like equals despite looking very different and having vastly different backgrounds.
In Lombok the people were Muslim and although there wasn't the same sense of sharing their religion, we were still welcomed like family by the people. Locals wanted to talk to us and hear our stories, then tell their own. We met their families and saw their homes. We heard about their jobs and villages. We learned to ride motor bikes and attempted to balance piles of sarongs on our heads as the women laughed. People from around the world had moved to Lombok because of the beautiful landscape and the welcoming people. Everyone had become a family, even the young girls who tried to sell bracelets to the tourists shared our dinner tables and sipped sodas the expats bought them. If it got too late, the expats would offer them motorbike rides home. It didn't matter the age, race, sex, or religion, the town of Kuta was one massive family and we were accepted into it on the first day.
Leaving Indonesia was the most difficult departure I have experienced through all my worldwide travels. I think about this country all the time. The places I went and the people I met. The other islands I wasn't able to visit and need to return for. I spent nearly a month traveling across the islands of Bali and Lombok a little over a year ago. Despite the time that has passed, seeing a photo from my trip brings the scene to life and I feel a pang in my stomach drawing me to return again. The colors, texture, culture, and people of this country were unlike any I had ever visited. Indonesia captured my heart in a way I can't quite put into words. I felt a connection to the land and the people that I had never felt while traveling. I know in my heart I will go back again, and hopefully many times.