The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Welcome to Indonesia

I am in Indonesia to help teach a class on Leadership with Dr. Ravi David, a friend from The Mission Society who has invited me.  I've arrived a few days early; let the adventure begin!  

  • is the world’s fourth most populous country.
  • has some 17-18000 of islands that together make up an area three times the size of Texas.
  • is the world's most populous Muslim country.
  • has an intensity like none other I’ve ever experienced. 

First of all Indonesia is 86% Muslim, and so when prayer is announced from every Mosque five times daily, it permeates everything.  It is also near the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food, water, sex, and smoking during the daylight hours, and traffic, which seems to be in a perpetually state of gridlock,  becomes more locked at 3pm when businesses lets out early so observers can rush home sit in traffic for hours  before preparing to break their Ramadan fast.

My first day in country, I am invited to attend Friday prayers in the Istiqlal Mosque which turns out to be the world’s fourth largest (by population).  I'm in a Bajaj (more about that later) and while stuck in traffic, am handed a sealed cup of water, 2 dates, and a cracker in a plastic bag. They are from the Mosque my driver motions, so I may break fast, and he invites me to prayers tomorrow.  During Ramadan, the Mosque is even more full I’m told, with some 5000 men worshiping, plus all the boys, and women, who don’t figure into the count. 

[Istiqlal Mosque]

The base infrastructure is equitant to Ghana (my comparison for developing countries), but there is an upper end of consumer development that has no equal in Ghana; so it is a land of contrasts.

I’m not sure how it happens, but pretty much anywhere I travel people help me, and by help, I mean attach themselves to me to guide me in the city I’m currently lost in.  It makes my family nervous, that in a few minutes of being lost, someone steps forward to be our guide.  Today is no different, but this guy is an actual registered guide (he showed me his credentials and everything).   Khairul is his name and he is a devote and rather quirky Muslim and so our conversations, when they are not about Jakarta are about Islam, Christians, and personal details of life in the USA.    

[Khairul Kamal, my guide outside the Mosque]

Khairul helps me with some of the travel chores that are just a pain to do when you don’t know the city, and then we get to seeing the sites.  Normally, there is a long wait, but this being Ramadan, the lines are almost nonexistent, almost I say. While standing in line, Khairul makes conversation with the other tourists, and in their language switching between German, Dutch, English and of course Bahasa, the local language.  “Your friend, he is a language box,” one tourist says after talking with him and answering questions.  Then the wait is over.  Later in Indonesia there will be payback for this “fast pass,” but for right now I’m seeing a lot, and seeing it efficiently.  

[Catholic Church]

[prayer station in rear of the Church]

We see the National Monument, the beautiful Catholic Church, and some other sites before we hear the call to midday prayers.  I’ve been in other Mosques[1] but never during prayers, especially Friday Prayers, during the holy month of Ramadan. 

Outside the Mosque there are women and boys selling black plastic bags—just like in Ghana—that are to hold shoes.  I’ve got a backpack, and he has his own bag, so we wash our feet, hands, face and then go upstairs, barefoot.  There is something very humbling about being one of 5000 barefoot; if feels like holy ground, and that we standing, as the saying goes, on equal footing.   

[dome, from inside]

[room, LHS]

[first floor, center]

Men are on the first floor, women, boys (and apparently infidels) are upstairs and around the edges of the main floor.  We arrive while the Imam is speaking.  We’ve heard about the upcoming election for Mayor and the ruckus that the leading candidate (who is a less conservative Muslim), has made by naming a vice-mayor who is Christian.  Apparently the Imams are speaking against this, and to vote for the existing mayor, even though he is well known to be corrupt, but since he is conservative, he is their guy.  Hmmmm.  We don’t know, but when he stops speaking, the room snaps to attention and everyone prays.  And faces Mecca.

[first floor, Imam (focus) compare to previous picture to see size of room...he is in that pic too]

[While the Imam is speaking, women]

[Praying, women]

[Praying men standing]

[Praying men kneeling]

[Praying women, standing]

[Praying women, kneeling]

[Praying women, bowing]

[first floor men, close-up]

After prayers, we go looking for some gold earrings Suzanne has requested.  We continue our conversation about Islam, and I figure out he is trying to convert me.  What a great change to use all that fancy new knowledge and expertise in Cross Cultural Ministry.  Suzanne has given me an encoded drawing on a yellow sticky note that only women understand.  If had it to a man, and he just grabs something near and shows me, but hand it to a woman, and she says “Ahhh, clasp” and calls over other woman, and they chat about the specifications and show me what they have.   I ask him what he thinks about Jesus, and he tells me about MuhammadI ask what Muhammad might have thought about Jesus, and he tells me about the QuranWe get close to Suzanne’s design on several occasions, but it becomes clear to me that they are selling by weight, not workmanship, and so after 18 shops we give up and go to a Muslim book store, which is just like a Christian book store, with lots of books and artwork, but instead of pictures of Jesus and animals, there is beautiful calligraphy of the Quran, but no pictures of humans or animals of any kind.  Just calligraphy.  In fact he shows me the whole Quran printed by hand to form a beautiful script within the calligraphy.  Of course there is also an iQuran, and other electronic Muslim gadgets.  I buy an English translation of the Quran for $5 and promise to read it.   

I’ve had to take water and rest breaks all day, but my guide pushes even though he is fasting.  It makes him strong, he says.  I think it makes him annoying because I’m eating and drinking water, and still he has run me into the ground. 

Its about 4:30pm, the sun will set in another 90 minutes, and I really don’t like being out after dark in a strange city, so I beg him to take his leave, but he hires a Bajaj and we enter the traffic to head back to the guest house.  A Bajaj is a crazy three wheeled contraption that darts in and out of traffic irrespective of traffic flow, danger, pedestrians, other vehicles, and road conditions.  The joke is that only God and the Bajaj driver know which way he will turn, and personally, I’m not so sure about God.   

 [my Bajaj from yesterday, and he was smiling right before and after this picture]

Back at the guest house I meet some Brits, who are escaping the Olympics, and an Aussie on a post-doc and we sit around telling stories of travel, eating strange foods and playing Texas Hold-em.  I lose bad, and as a Texan, I feel disgraced.

[1] , the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem, the Mohammed Ali Mosque, in Coptic Cairo, the Umayyad Mosque (or Great) Mosque in Damascus,


Anonymous Larkin said...

There is a campfire burning for you in College Station tonight.

3:50 AM, August 25, 2012  

Post a Comment

<< Home