Wednesday, August 30, 2017

East Sumba: Part 3 - The Reasons to Visit Sumba

Do not let my previous post discourages you to visit Sumba. Of course, there are many reasons on why you should visit Sumba. Here are just two of them... :)

The Scenery

No, I didn't get to see the Nihiwatu Resort, which is lauded as Indonesia's (or is it the world's?) most beautiful resort with private beaches. But I got to see many other beaches, and they are also very lovely to look at.

Lailunggi beach

Tawui beach. We have the beach all for ourselves :)

Rolling stone gathers no moss, they say. Well, rolling people results in blurry photos. Stay still, soak up the beauty of the night sky, and you'll get beautiful photos :P

Let's go to the place where the sea and the hills meet

Kakaha beach

The People

Some of the conversation I had with the local people were worth to keep as life advice. For example, a conversation with the wife of a village chief, also called as Mama Desa (the village mom) went like this:

Me: Mama, you still look young and beautiful 
Mama Desa (MD): Thank you, Ibu, but I'm 42 years old already.
Me: Ah, we are only five years apart, Mama
MD: Are you married, Ibu?
Me: Not yet, Mama
MD: It's much better to be single. If you're feeling cold, you can just put on more blankets.
Me: Ehhh, why did you say that, Mama?
MD: Sumbanese women have to take care of children, cattle and men. It's a tough life for married women.


On another occasion, I met with a woman and had a conversation that went like this:

Me: Hello Mama, are you waiting for your husband to pick you up?
Woman: I'm waiting for a young man to pick me up.
Me: Oh?
Woman: Every marriage has its own rule. Mine is different with the others.

OMG, such life wisdom imparted by real life Oprahs. I came back from Sumba a changed woman. Now excuse me, I need to stock up on blankets :D

Monday, August 28, 2017

East Sumba: Part 2 - The Tough Part About Living in East Sumba's Remote Villages

After I returned from Sumba island, I had many friends asking,"What is life like there?" To this question, I'd have to say,"Tough." Some of them, who have known me very well, were a bit taken aback upon hearing me saying it as I don't complain much. Here are some reasons...

Clean water and proper sanitation are scarce

Of five target villages, only two have a pipe network that delivers clean water to homes (or perhaps only homes of village chiefs? Because that was where I slept). I had to bathe in a river in one of the villages and had to take water from the water well in the other two villages.

Also, as a hijabi, I had a hard time when nature called. Four-walled toilet? Why bother building one? You have the whole backyard for the purpose. That is probably what is in the mind of most local  people. Argh.   


Here is me after taking a bath in a river. The water looks still, but it is actually flowing, albeit rather slowly.

Tips to bathe in a river for hijabi (or here's how I did it):
(a) Tie two ends of a sarong around your neck and you will end up wearing a halter-lookalike dress
(b) Take off your other clothes and underwear, but leave the sarong on
(b) Pour water all over yourself with gayung (small bowl with handle) and take a bath as fast as you can (yep, you're doing it in the sarong, there is no way you take a bath naked in the river, it's really open air)
(c) Throw an oversized shirt/jacket and hijab, and you're ready to roll

In one village, as boys and girls had to take bath in turns, the girls decided to take bath after 6 a.m. after the sun was up because...what if there was snakes lurking in the water and we didn't see them as it was too dark? But the funny thing was, we found the boys standing on the river banks with a black face.

"Have you guys taken a bath yet? Now it's our turn," we said.
"Errr not yet. We have just looked up for the manual on how to do that," one of the boys answered.
"Girls, could you please go away? We can't take a bath if you're still there," another boy said.

What we didn't know was there was a boy going naked in the river. Upon seeing our car coming, he hid in the bushes and warned the other boys,"The lionesses coming!" We heard the scream, but we failed seeing that boy. Hahaha.

With lack of proper bathroom, I've been growing a thick skin to ask permission to use the local people when I see one. Most of the time, the people kindly give permission.

A typical toilet in the villages is built by zincalume sheets and a piece of fabric that acts as the door. And it is located in the middle of a vegetable patch. 


Inside the toilet. You just have to use this toilet with lots of imagination, wild guesses and skillful maneuver.

No electricity

As my project is all about bringing electricity to the villages, the lack of electricity is evident from the beginning. Only rich people or village chiefs have electricity, through diesel-powered generator set or cheap solar panel.

The lack of electricity was not really a big problem as I don't need bedroom lighting. However, I have the habit of waking up at 5 a.m. to pee and it was still dark outside. Sometimes I had to wait until the sun is up, usually around 6 a.m., to pee.

Why didn't I just go to the toilet, I heard you ask. Well, the toilet is usually located far away from the main house. What if I accidentally stepped on a snake or other unknown venomous animals?

I don't need electricity to recharge my mobilephone because...

Only one mobilephone provider available

And I don't use that provider. So I turned off my mobilephone most of the time. How do other people contacted me? Well, I traveled with a group of colleagues, who use that particular provider. But honestly, I enjoy going off-grid most of the time, so it was not a big problem.

However, I went to Sumba island on a one-way ticket and I had to coordinate with the team on the field on their schedule for flying home and then asked the team at the Jakarta office to book me a ticket, which they would send via email. But how would I check email if I couldn't even have any signal.

Now, that was a problem. Everything turned out well, though, alhamdulillah. We went back to Waingapu one day before the designated flight, and all emails/Whatsapp messages, including an email containing my ticket home, came into my mobilephone like a gigantic tidal wave.

Trivia: if you use "the provider" and turn on your mobilephone in the five target villages, only Praiwitu that has the Western Indonesian Time (WIB). This is because the base transceiver station near the village is set into WIB, instead of Central Indonesian Time (WITA).

No breakfast culture and irregular meal time

This is probably the toughest thing for me to adapt. The local people usually drink a glass of coffee for breakfast, go to the paddy field/work in offices, back for lunch at 1-2 p.m., do other things, and close the day by eating dinner at around 8-11 p.m. Yep, you read it right, I once had dinner at 11 p.m. I forced myself to eat, because breakfast was an uncertainty.

Since there is no electricity (and no refrigerators), people can not keep food for too long. Everything is freshly prepared. But on the other hand, no electricity means longer time to prepare food. We have to get water from the well/river/nearest water spring, collect wood to boil water/cook, and...kill the animal.

(insert Edavard Munch's Scream painting emoji here)

Yep, we had to kill the animal because the local people understood that while they are Protestant, we were Muslims, who have different rules of diet. Now the problem is, none of us works as a butcher. So it has been quite a traumatic experience, for some of us who play the role as butchers.

Usually the local people started gathering the animals that would go to death row near dusk time. Killing, pulling out the fur/skin off the animals, cutting the meat, and cooking would take around 2-3 hours.

Friday, August 25, 2017

East Sumba: Part 1 - The Trip


Hello, sweeties! I'm back from the rapid assessment and awareness raising event on solar panel electrification program in five villages in East Sumba. It was my first trip to Sumba Island, one of the outer islands of Indonesia, and I must say that the experience was quite mind-blowing.

I've been to Flores Island and Timor Island, I even experienced an emergency landing in West Sumba's Tambolaka airport, but those trips didn't prepare me for this East Sumba visit. It was more than just the majestic view, but also its cultural values.

I landed in East Sumba's Umbu Mehang Kunda airport with my colleagues. We used Citilink (HLP-DPS) and Nam Air (DPS-WGP), with a night transit in Bali. There is another airline offering flights to Umbu Mehang Kunda airport, but the office already had bad experiences with that particular airlines, so we went with the other one.

After dealing with car rental and other preparation, we left Waingapu and went to the villages on the southern coast line of East Sumba. There are several routes, but we chose the one that passes Tanarara village. As we moved to the south, the view changes from dry and dusty savanna to red soil to green pastures. Sometimes we saw wild sandalwood pony, a local horse breed named after sandalwood.



Potable water source in Laiwangi Wanggameti National Park

We experienced two incidents during the trip, and somehow coffee is involved. How, I hear you ask? First, the ball joint fell apart. It happened just a few kilometers after we left Kananggar village, which has a small shop selling coffee. One of us wanted to sample the coffee there, but the majority of us opted out. Then the incident took place and we had to return to the village with the help of the driver's relatives (who live in the village). A cup of coffee was no longer a choice, it's a must.

The kind of roads we went through. Up and down, straight and circling, all the way. And I got the whole 3-D experience because I sat on the front seat

This photo was taken when the ball joint fell apart.

The incident allowed us to have a more intimate look to the daily life. We chatted with the home owners, and found that they studied in Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java. The husband now works as a farmer, while the wife is a stay at home mom. They both took Law and found that there was not much to do in the village with their degree.

After an hour or so chatting, the subject moved to wedding ceremony. I think it all started when a boar fumbled along our legs. I was startled to see such big animal, but the wife said there was another one bigger in the stall, which was kept for wedding proposal ceremony.

The wife (my bad, I forgot to ask her name!) said that during the proposal, the groom family comes to the bride's house and negotiates on the dowry, which usually consists of horned boars, oxen, buffaloes and horses. The number of the animals depends on the negotiation, which can last for days.

During the first meeting of both families, the groom gives mamuli, a set of pendant and chain representing female and male organs, as a sign of goodwill. There are more family meetings after the first one, and each meeting requires even more dowry. A Sumba guy talked to his friend (so I overheard) that he still needed to buy 15 more animals to complete the dowry and his oldest kid is already in primary school!

There are many cases of domestic violence in the area because the husbands think they have spent so much for their wives, so they can treat the wives the way they like it. The women also do most of the household chores: cooking, getting water from spring/well/river, getting wood for the fire in the kitchen, washing clothes, etc.

While many of them acknowledge that the traditions burden them, they keep saying that the traditions are good and actually protect the women because if the husbands mistreat the wives, the women's family can step in and intervene. In some cases, the women's family can return the dowry and bring back the women to the family's home.



A set of mamuli

But I digress, where was I? Ah yes, the second car incident happened when we left Tandula Jangga village. And how did coffee play a role in it?

We had been drinking coffee in the past few days and it started to take a toll on our stomach. So on that fateful morning, I made the team cereal drink. One person who is a coffee addict was not happy with the drink. I told him that we'd get a cup of coffee in the next village. But guess what, the host served him tea! He was upset that he couldn't get his caffeine fix, then suddenly, the one of the tires just blew up. So again, we had to stop and get a cup of coffee while the driver changed the tire.

That was my boss changing the tire, and yes we are evil employees. Ah, the advantage of being the only woman in a road trip.

Sorry I was a bit late in posting this. Drafting a long blog post takes up more time than posting a photo and two paragraphs of caption in Instagram, but I've committed to compile all experience here, so please bear with me.

In the mean time, if you want to keep up with my daily snapshots, you can check @tasrianti. Feel free to follow and drop comments (nice ones, please).

Thursday, August 17, 2017