There’s no better bonding than that over a meal. On the first night we were taken to a welcome dinner where we were given a range of traditional Indonesian dishes to share amongst our table. These included oriental noodle dishes, seafood and rice. We were also provided with live entertainment in the form of a musical band and singer, which was made entirely of the volunteers who were to show us around for the next 10 days.
We also had to present skits in groups we had made earlier in front of the entirety of the CommTECH participants and volunteers. This was an exciting and nervous occasion, where 15 minutes of preparation was all we were given before being shafted onto a stage and told to entertain the audience.
My group decided to adopt my idea of playing ‘The Macarena’ (free styling of course) and pulling everyone up onto the dance floor. Coincidentally enough, we were the last group to present and, with some coaxing, everyone got up and I lead the audience in The Macarena. This was an amazing experience to ignite an entire room of people into the same dance with barely any organisation and was considered by all attending a huge success.
Not much is more difficult than learning a language. I myself can speak a small amount of Arabic, my home language, aside from English, and find this difficult enough. As you can tell from our puzzled faces, learning Bahasa was not an easy task.
We were taught, and by ‘taught’ I mean repeated once or twice, the pronunciation of some greetings, numbers, colours and shapes. Some people picked it up faster than others, of course those from Malaysian and other students with Asian backgrounds found learning Bahasa much easier than the majority of the Anglo-Saxon and otherwise Western participants. I personally forgot how to say ‘thank you’, even after many repetitions. It was then that I decided to stick to English and simply nod or smile when greeted in Bahasa. I was however fond of repeating ‘Apa Kabar’ or ‘how are you’, as I enjoyed hearing the response ‘baik baik saja’ [phonetically pronounced: bike – bike –sa- ja] which I found hilarious.
During one of our many days on the university campus, we were shown around the extensive farming facilities the university refers to as its ‘eco-farming’ initiatives. ITS makes the most of its open space by conducing ecologically sustainable farming and distributing the organic produce grown for sale to locals. This was an amazing experience to see the importance placed on the use of sustainable agriculture, even in the heart of the city, within the university itself.
By far one of the most ‘traditional’ things we did on the trip was play the angklung. This is a historical Indonesian instrument made of hollow bamboo shafts which are shaken creating a musical key.
I’m by no means musically talented, but with very minimal practice (and very good conducting) we were able to orchestrate ourselves and form a band intended to perform in front of the mayor of Surabaya. This was an amazing experience as well as team building exercise as learning something new and intimidating with great success brought the group closer as a whole.
We were invited to dinner at the Mayors Residence, where we were asked to dress in clothes traditional to our country – or formal, for those of us who didn’t want to wear boardies and singlets.
As there were participants from Nepal, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and China, this was an eye opening experience to witness firsthand the traditional dress of so many nationalities in one place.
Unfortunately due to her duties, the Mayor regrettably could not be present with us for the dinner, but we were able to perform the music we had learnt on the angklung before the vice-mayor and other university officials.
During the dinner we were once again presented with many types of traditional Indonesian food, including a type of noodle/meatball soup, which I assume is the national dish as I had eaten it served out of a cart on the streets just the day before, and it tasted exactly the same.
Batik: a method (originally used in Java) of producing coloured designs on textiles by dyeing them, having first applied wax to the parts to be left undyed.
In Surabaya we got a chance to make our own batik, it was on a piece of cotton cloth approximately 30cm x 30cm. This was a great insight into their culture of arts and patience, as a full sized batik could take months to create.
However at a tourists market we found multiple batik-like patterned shirts (the difference is they were made with machines as opposed to hand made with wax and dye). We then decided it was a good idea to wear them around the streets at the same time and run around like hooligans taking selfies at random locations. This was great fun through, and simply walking the streets of Indonesia was so different to walking around in Australia. You could feel the different air around you and all the different sights and sounds and smells made you truly feel submerged in a different culture.
During a cultural tour of the city we were taken on, we had the opportunity to explore a museum which portrayed Surabaya’s struggle for independence against Dutch, French and Belgian forces who tried to rule the city in recent centuries. This tour of the museum and city gave us great insight into the strong sense of patriotism held by its citizens – who were willing to sacrifice everything for their homes, culture and sense of nationalism.
The museum displayed artefacts such as weapons, documents and famous figures during their war for independence.
The last weekend of the trip we had the pleasure of taking a bus-ride approximately 4 hours to a campsite, where we had a campfire, fireworks and midnight shenanigans walking through the woods. We woke up early the next morning to file into our predetermined 4-wheel-drives to take us to the plains surrounding Mount Bromo, a famous active volcano in East Java explored by tourists all year round. This was all a surreal experience as the adrenalin and fear of the night time activities had not shaken off by 3am when we were taken on a rollercoaster ride around steep slopes to the base of the volcano.
From here we were all mounted on horseback and proceeded up the mountain track, guided casually by the horses’ owner. Despite its small appearance in the above photo, Milo, my horse, can only be described as a glorious beast, as it hauled me up the mountainside with all due caution and excitement.
This photo depicts the breathtaking view at the lip of the volcano of Mt. Bromo.
There are few experiences that compare with riding a horse up a volcano. The view was amazing, the cool air was brisk and the sensation of having reached the top was dizzying. This moment was by far the highlight of the trip for me, and although the sense of vertigo I felt looking into the volcano itself stopped me from walking as far around as some other participants, I was equally awe-inspired.
There was an amazing sense of achievement when we reached the top of the mountain, possibly due to the many sleep deprived days and night full of activities, all in anticipation for this moment. This was a point in the trip where many of us were exhausted (not just a little from the shenanigans in the woods the night before) and reaching the top of the stairs only to feel on top of the world brought about a sense of rejuvenation that is difficult to describe.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read my reflection on the CommTECH journey, with the above photos, experiences and memories that they’ve left me with.
I’d also like to thank very much the entire UTS BUILD team who provided us the means to enter this amazing program, as well as nonstop assistance leading up until out departure.