Synopsis:  About hunting down a good sunset.  About meeting a local character in Borobudur Village.  This is another  guest blog by Nicola with a postscript by ET about our guest house in Borobudur Village and about Indonesian Muslims.


This morning we travelled out of the city to the small Village of Borobudur, which sits alongside the monumental Buddhist temple of the same name. This World Heritage Site is famed across the globe but, after booking into our charming guest house, we did not have time to check out whether it lived up to its reputation and instead tried to find our way along the surrounding roads in search of a sunset viewing point. In this we were only partially successful and ended up somewhere out of town where a solitary bench overlooking the paddy fields gave us a view of the ruins with the setting sun off to one side. We enjoyed the spectacle and then realized that we would have to get back to civilization pretty quickly if we were to avoid being caught out in the dark.

As we passed an apparently unoccupied guesthouse a smiling, snuggle toothed Indonesian chap hailed us and invited us to take tea at “his” hotel. The courtyard was quite charmingly laid out with a combination of lush vegetation, stone terraces, antique hardwood beams, rattan furniture and a carp pond (pretty much the standard package for hereabouts) but Jamal seemed more interested in our well-being than in attempting to get us to change lodgings. A perfect “character”, he seems to share many an unattractive man’s consummate skill in knowing how to make a woman laugh. His Australian colloquialisms (everything good was “super bloody beautiful”) contrasted so well with his native Javanese diffidence that we quickly fell under his spell.

Both our sons would probably be horrified to have seen us propelled through the dusk in the homemade sidecar of a 1974 Vespa scooter, navigating strange backstreets in an unfamiliar part of town to have dinner in a modest restaurant beside the mosque. Jamal dispatched his evening prayers so quickly that we thought he had just popped out for another smoke break and returned to take up his narrative again. He doesn’t exactly work at the guesthouse but seems to have got himself adopted as resident jester, acting as fixer for whatever the guests need with the help of his various customized vehicles. All, by the way painted custard yellow and emblazoned with some pretty un-Islamic nicknames. We had taken our ride in the Mad Buffalo, whose lighting consisted of a mobile phone torch pointed ahead by one of the passengers.

We heard the full story of his rescue of an Australian damsel in distress; apparently he had gone out and found her after she had wandered from the path somewhere and she had rewarded him with English lessons. After a fashion. Whenever he was at a loss for the next word he would say “blah, blah, blah” but in such an expressive way that the conversation seemed to flow on uninterrupted. He is really going to try to observe Ramadan this year but he says he just doesn’t know how people manage in Europe with the summer sunsets being so late.

We have made it safely back to our own guesthouse for the night and arranged an early morning pick up, no doubt in something custard yellow, to watch the sun rise over Borobudur.


If I would not have known that drugs are out of the question around here, I would have thought that Jamal is on a constant substance-induced high.  It is really hard to imagine as gregarious character as him.  As he told us, he used to own a house, but since his brother married and had two children and no house — obviously doing things in the wrong order — he gave up his house for him.  Now he is building another house in the hope that then, a woman will marry him.  I wonder if his time has not run out.  He is obviously not the youngest anymore but he certainly has a heart of gold which comes out in so many little ways. 

Jamal was a prime example of manifestation as I experience it so often on my trip.  For the entire 3 km out we had been on the lookout for a tuk-tuk or a taxi nothing.  And then we stumbled on Jamal.  For him we were the manifestation of customers and some unexpected income, out of season.  For us, he was a life saver!

Two times I have been wrong today.  I have made it a mental sport to guess a person’s religion.  When Jamal took us to the local restaurant, the women were cooking in the kitchen.  I asked them to take their picture and none of them from young to old, minded.  A Garuda bird sculptures graced the TV.  I put two and two together and figured they were Hindus.  Wrong.  They were Muslims.

Our guesthouse, called Metta Lokahas a lovely courtyard, filled with Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.  This is a family-run business.  Mishna, the father of the family, after a career as a pilot for Garuda Airlines, invested his retirement money into building the main villa.  It was meant to be a resort for his wife, who is a fiction writer.  As more and more people decide to stay in the village for a day or two (rather than making day trips to the Borobudur from Yogyakarta or night trips from as far as Jakarta), the demand for tourist facilities grew and the family decided to build a row of rooms and later the more traditional free-standing individual huts as a source of income.  Noni, their daughter, has studied communications and has a decent command of the English language.  Since a job in her field is scarce, she decided to manage the place. I saw a family picture in the main office showing Mishna, his wife and two children with both females uncovered.  When Noni invited us to join her for Vipassana Meditation, which she practices twice a day, once again I put two and one together and decided that this for sure would be a Hindu family. 

Wrong!  They too, are Muslims.  In fact I learned that everyone here is Muslim, except for the Buddhist monks in three surrounding Buddhist monasteries.  But in the Indonesian interpretation of what it means to be Muslim, Hindu sculptures, Buddhist meditation, and a contempt for the ever-going messages blasting through the loudspeakers of the nearby mosque that for the last 2.5 hours had disturbed the tranquility of the adjacent papaya plantation, are not incompatible with that.  Who needs this?  She asked, pointing in the direction where the noise was coming from. And then she added:  Saudi Islam. It is dangerous. In Indonesia we are open-minded.  And as if to underscore her point she gestured into one ear and out of the other.  I have to add that this particular mosque next to the guesthouse seems different — none of the others are blasting messages for 2.5 hours that sound like rallying the troops into battle.  The other mosques have been silent.  I know that because there are several within earshot which you hear when the rather pleasant call to prayer comes around. 

But as we know too well, not everyone in the world is immune to religious propaganda.  And several bomb blasts over the last few years in Indonesia tell a different and not so tolerant story.  More power to the Nonis in this world!  I wish Indonesia would stumble on some oil reserves that could rival the money power of the Saudis so they could start exporting some of their message.  I will keep on dreaming.

Good night.

3 comments so far

Add Your Comment
  1. You two should play cupid for Jamal- he sounds like quite the catch! It’s good to hear you’re having such great discoveries.

  2. Dear Carl,

    Thank you for your observations on our joint post. I am certainly not an Islamic scholar, or indeed a student of world religions but the experiences that we have seen, heard and felt in Indonesia are OURS and we are entitled to explain how they make us feel. Especially considering the amount we have both traveled in the Islamic world and the relevance to world events.

    I for one am not prepared to denigrate the customs and beliefs of over two hundred million people for not adhering closely enough to the text of a book written fourteen hundred years ago, half way around the world.

    Just look what a literal interpretation of the Bible has done for great swathes of middle America. True fundamentalism (of any persuasion) can only exist where there is a lack of personal freedom and a cult-like denial of rational thought.

    Is this really what God wants?

  3. Indeed, keep on dreaming. Even if the Indonesians has money to rival Saudi Arabia, the Indonesians could not export their “version” of Islam. The reason is that they do not have a different “version of Islam”. They merely do not practice Islam as the Koran and Muhammad require them to practice it. That is not the same as a different version. You could call it a watered-down, very incomplete practice of Islam. Therefore, they have nothing to export. The Islamic religious authorities will always point to the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad to prove that the Indonesian practice of Islam is very defective in terms of Islamic sacred doctrine. You cannot export a defective practice of Islam — alas! What she called “Saudi Islam” is the Islam of the Koran, and that is why the Saudi export of Islam is so successful. The bomb blasts you refer to were perpetrated by Moslems who follow the Koran and Muhammad. Noni does not follow those sacred texts.