Ginger: Visit 5, part 1 (Manado, Indonesia)

Thankfully, nothing dire happened in Indonesia. But it was certainly one of the most foreign places I’ve ever been. The accent was substantially more challenging to understand, they drive on the left, and we had to switch to another currency just as I’d got the hang of pesos-to-dollars conversions.

Indonesia is another country with a colonial past, and the historical connection to the Dutch is still evident. We saw many Dutch tourists, surprisingly (to me), especially in the Yogyakarta segment of the trip. But first, Syalom.

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To get to Syalom’s area we had to fly from Jakarta to Manado. Indonesia is made up of many thousands (between 17 and 18K) of islands spread out over a vast area. The largest and most populated are often known by name (Java, Sumatra, Bali, and Papua, for instance) and I confess it took me a while to realize those places are all part of Indonesia.

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And it’s a very culturally diverse country as well. The city of Manado (on North Sulawesi) is part of a Christian enclave within a vastly Muslim-majority country. The challenges of that situation became starkly apparent with our first real bump of the trip.

The Compassion center we were about to visit had contacted the US coordinator and let her know that it would be a risk for them to allow us to bring our possibly Muslim driver and guide along on a child visit. Their fear was that sometime after we’d returned home, someone might take action against the Christian community.

This left us in a tricky situation. I didn’t feel comfortable coming right out and asking our guide (who was also our driver) where his allegiance lay, if anywhere, assuming he would answer truthfully. Adding to the complication was our plan to continue on after the visit to a nature preserve a few hours away for a couple of days’ wildlife viewing.

We came up with the idea to check out of our hotel, leave our largest bags in storage, and be met by our Compassion host and their vetted driver to take us to the child visit in the morning. Then they could take us back to the hotel in late afternoon, where our tour company driver would meet us, collect the luggage, and drive on a couple more hours to the nature area.

A bit complicated. And incredibly difficult to communicate to those involved without explaining too much. I felt myself edging toward tears, but the logistics finally fell into place once the tour company realized the visit was a higher priority for us than the rainforest. Once again, backwards priorities from most tourists.

We drove down the coast for a couple of hours. Indonesia’s waters are that spectacular turquoise blue, combined with dramatically steep mountains covered with dense, lush green palms and other vegetation. Many of the people on Sulawesi survive by fishing, and all sorts of traditional and more modern-looking boats thronged the water.

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After a 2-hour drive and a little searching, we arrived at the church in Tumpaan. We met the pastor and student center staff, and it rapidly became apparent that this project was deeply honored to have us as guests and was pulling out all the stops for us. They served us snacks (savory pastries and chocolate cake, an exotic treat for them), bottled water in foil-topped cups, stored in a fancy metal rack expressly made to hold such containers, and other sweet drinks. The pastor had been to the US quite a few years ago for a seminary-hosted conference, and she proudly showed me her prized photo album from the trip.

I’ve learned to be prepared for a few things on child visits:

  • I will be treated as a visiting dignitary, something like being the Queen of England for a day;
  • I will likely need to make a short speech, maybe two;
  • Many many photos will need to be taken, primarily posed group shots (which I find less than gratifying to look at later, though it is helpful to remember who was there);
  • I will be asked to pray in a public setting, possibly more than once;
  • I will struggle repeatedly with doubts about whether I’ve done the right thing.
  • All of these things will happen in a very hot, humid climate, with little to no chance of a Western-style toilet being available along the way. A travel pack of tissues in my purse is essential. When they say a toilet is “dirty,” that’s a euphemism for it’s a hole in the ground.

More to come!

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