Wheel of Life 1


The weeks before the trip filled up with unrelated events.  There has hardly been a trip for which I felt so unprepared.  I did not even get through a single one of the history books I was going to read to have just a rudimentary idea of the complex past of this country… I have to read as I go and I know just how hard that is.

There were days spent with the Arts Club, unexpected meetings at school, an online class to get going (yes, I will be teaching from afar for the first time).  There were my grandchildren and the family, a graduation ceremony, a wedding, a funeral.  The list seemed to get longer as the days before the trip dwindled away.

At one of the more reflective moments at the wedding, it occurred to me that each of my trips is a bit like the life of a person: it is conceived at some point, has a gestation period, it is born (the flight there), it grows and is punctuated by highlights and failures and at some sad moment, its life will come to an end (the flight back).

And like a person, the trips are remembered, more or less.  The challenging ones become part of a near-legendary past.  Someday, I can tell my grandchildren. That I was there, at Tahrir Square when the Egyptian Revolution happened.  That I stood on the roof of the Baal Temple in Palmyra just a couple of years before ISIS blew it up.  That I went to Mali when for years no tourist had dared.  That I was in Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.  I might not talk that much about my trip to Japan.  It was a long trip and I saw an incredible amount of beautiful temples.  But it was an uneventful trip.  It was expensive.  It was smooth and easy.  And perhaps just like people — we don’t remember the good but ordinary ones as much as the ones that create trouble.  The ones who lived exemplary lives, walked the well-trodden road may be forgotten to but a few.  The ones who made us suffer, challenged, and changed us, are the ones whose memories we will carry forever.

What will this one bring?    

I don’t expect a political revolution or a volcano erupting.  I don’t expect a catastrophe of any kind.  But I also don’t expect completely smooth sailing.  I will not dwell at the destinations most typically associated with holidays in Indonesia: the pristine beaches and coral reefs.  I will not lie at the beach, snorkel, or surf.  I will, of course visit the Borobudur, the most famous UNESCO site in Indonesia.  It is a monument I am familiar with from graduate school, a Buddhist Stupa that has been part of my Monuments Class for many years.  But most importantly, I will make stops on several islands trying to get a feel for a few of the multitude of indigenous populations on this archipelago.  I will visit a  predominantly Muslim area as well as a Christian, and a Hindu one.  I had 10 weeks to explore a homogeneous county like Japan, a fraction of the size of Indonesia.  I will have only 8 weeks to prick this huge and complex country in a few spots… 

Let’s go!