I was chosen to go on a Muslim Exchange Program to Indonesia for a couple of weeks in May. There were five of us going form Australia. I knew two of the other participants but I guess they could only really be classified as acquaintances. So we were 2 girls and 3 guys and even though I tried really hard to avoid it, she and I ended up sharing a room. I was very anti- sharing but at the end didn’t have much of a choice. The boys also ended up sharing.
I arived in Jakarta five hours before them, I was sticky, tired and already over the traffic. We were to meet people from not for profit , Youth, Women’s, Government Organisations and many schools and universities across four cities. Generally our mornings started around 7ish and we got back to the hotel around 10ish. That’s alot of hours with the same people, saying the same thing at every appointment, spending hours just in traffic.
The first morning at the Embassy we were all really psyched. We were being briefed, we had our first radio interview, everything was new and we all had heaps of energy. I was talking to a women at the embassy and telling her I that I thought they should make this a reality TV show simply because it’s a social experiment in many ways. Taking 5 strangers varying in age from 24-39 from five different ethnic backgrounds and fields of work and putting them together for almost 24 hours a day over two weeks. I thought it was a great idea.
Boy, was it an experience. We basically had to say the same thing when introducing ourselves at every Organisation, It became monotonous and we could all introduce each other in our sleeps by the end of it. The long hours spent in traffic was sometimes tense depending on how the day went, sometimes jovial and full of taking the piss and just teasing each other. M and I had a theme song which we killed the rest of them with. We would both sing The Killers- Human aloud with the wrong words and often tuneless which made it worse. By the second last day we did get Em and S singing along. We sang A is for Allah and then made an adults version of it ( it can never be repeated). We slept whenever we could and all have blackmail photo’s of each other sleeping. I think the ones S has of us two girls leaning into each other fast asleep at one of the worlds best ballets is the worst.
We girls were always delayed, especially in the morning and Em always had to take photo’s and would be the last person to get back into the Van at every appointment and the boys would get narky, then they’d get over it. I got lost for an hour on Borabudur temple high up in the sky. I had to make my way down over 1000 steps to get back to the rest of the group while they sent love messages to me over the PA. It went like this ” If you see an Australian lady in a yellow dress, please tell her we love her and want her back. Shameema, we love you. Please come back, we won’t abuse you anymore” It was pretty funny.
We were fed chicken feet and every type of Offal you can think off. Fried stomach to braised oesophagus and fried everything with rice. By the end we were all abit sick besides S and H. We had toilet issues with most toilets being holes in the ground and just not pleasant in general.
We went to schools and loved every moment of meeting the Indonesian kids. The Indonesian people have a wonderful nature. They are always smiling, always hospitable and we truly felt at home. We visited mosques, beautiful breath taking mosques. We learnt so much about their way of life, we told them so many things about our way. We made friends, we made enemies and almost caused diplomatic unrest because we cancelled an appointment. We appeared on TV and radio and were in the newspaper every other day. We posed for millions of photo’s and signed pieces of paper thrust at us as if we were celebrities rather than 5 huge aussie nobodies.
But more than that, we were five strangers who became family. We annoyed each other, we came close to fighting, we took the piss of each other the entire way through, we leaned on each other, we relied on each other, we took care of each other, we looked out for one another, we laughed together, we almost cried together, we spent hours and hours with sweaty smelling bodies sitting next to each other lifting up each others spirits, getting each other through and experiencing it all together. We made concessions for each other that we didn’t really have to make. We bonded.
It’s two weeks since I’m back in Australia and I miss them. There is something so bonding about that experience, it’s hard to replace. You have your best friends here and your family and it’s great but there’s something missing. They took a part of my heart in those two weeks. They gave me a part of theirs too though. I made a real friend in Em. Sharing a room with her turned out to be awesome and a blessing in so many ways. As for S, he became my brother, he took such great care of us, especially us girls, he looked out for us at all times, from our need for food to our needs for shopping. He even conducted a full scale investigation when we thought that our hotel room was broken into. It was us being delusional with exhaustion but hey, he never even got annoyed even though he had to look through four hours of CCTV footage at 12am. He did more than any stranger or even friend needs to do. As for M, he was the baby in the group and a total crack up. His smiling face and innocent nature really did make some of those moments wonderful.
When we said goodbye on the last day there was a part of me happy to be returning home but another part so sad to say goodbye. I was going back to Sydney and will soon be off to America to join her husband. S stayed back in Indonesia for another week, M went off to China and H back to Melbourne for his wedding. We all went on our different paths and yet not a day goes by when I don’t think of them. We stay in touch, we remind each other of jokes only we get, we say we miss each other and only we know what that really means to each of us.
This is what the human connection really is. Nothing else can replace it.