Week 3-3.5: Attention
It’s been over a week since Ridho, our confused yet excited translator arrived on Sumba. I really never liked the sound of “our translator”. It was a necessary constant throughout all the Duke Engage forms and whatsapp messages that sailed across the oceans, but the idea of being entirely dependent on someone in order to complete my goal was somewhat ego bruising. I’ve always accomplished things myself; I studied hard, practiced harder, and achieved all that I have on my own! Yeah, right.
Unfortunately, after I tossed that foolish thought straight into a burning pile of trash and leaves, the stink of “our translator” still followed my thoughts. He’s not a translator. He’s a 21 year-old student studying Urban and Regional Planning at the best school in Indonesia. He’s an artist, musician, son, boyfriend, gamer, and is following his own impressive and generous master plan to improve the lives of rural Indonesians. Ridho was yanked from a group of other Indonesian students interning with IBEKA in Bandung, to come hundreds of miles away to a village with no wifi and oozing 2G. On top of all of that, Ramadan started a couple of days ago and he happened to be yanked to one of the very few primarily Christian islands in Indonesia.
I am happy to say that Ridho is now our friend, and I like calling him our partner instead of translator. He’s just as capable, if not more, of completing the task before us. He has been an incredible help so far beyond translation, and I look forward to spending the next several weeks with him.
One morning, we traveled along the “adventurous” route to Lain Bonga. Adventurous, meaning more bumpy than the other bumpy roads around. It looked like we were the first truck to take this 1.5 hour steeply winding path from Kamanggih to Lain Bonga in about a year. The overgrowth covered the tire tracks, and storm wash had pushed rocks into perplexing positions. I sat on top of the truck cab, trusting Ridho to alert me of any low hanging branches as my thoughts swirled into the dust behind us. As with many things here, we weren’t quite sure where we were going or why. Going with the flow has made for vastly more pleasant surprises than unpleasant so far. About 50 minutes through our butt-bruising truck ride, a man cuddling a goat while riding a motorcycle joined our tail. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sight, as many goods/people/animals/services are delivered on impressively make-shift motorbikes. I didn’t give it a second thought until the men in the bed of the truck with began laughing. Ridho laughed as well and told me, “that is likely our lunch!”
What a delicious lunch it was. I’m not sure what made the meal more satisfying, the personalized livestock delivery or the warmth with which it was provided to us. Before the feast began, the purpose of the visit was revealed in awesome fashion. Upon arrival to the village, our truckload of people was immediately ushered to seats at a long table in the back of what looked like a village meeting hall fit for 80 people. I sat down at the table next to Umbu Jangi, Ridho, Eti just as people began lining the room with chairs. Before long, the room was packed and the village chief arrived and began business.
The man who drove us and sat front and center was Umbu Jangi, head of the local cooperative and local government legislator. We also learned the night before this adventure, week and a half through our time in Kamanggih, that he owned the house we were sleeping in. Round 2 of sleeping in a home without knowing the host… His purpose in Lain Bonga was to discuss future opportunities for village development and to introduce a nurse who would be beginning here year-long stay with the village. The village chief, nurse, Umbu Jangi, and others led the meeting. While I can never understand everything that’s said, I’m beginning to pick up on words well enough to form a vague idea of what’s being discussed. Something that never really took practice was hearing “American” and having a room full of eyes stare straight directly at me. Even after my reason for being in Sumba was explained, all the eyes didn’t return to the speaker. Some lingered on me for the whole hour meeting. I tried smiling back, staring back, and then settled on acting normal and making eye contact again and again with the same people during the meeting. I began to think that I was unwelcome – that for some reason the people of Lain Bonga were unique from the rest of Sumba and truly did not like foreigners. I became scared that I was offending these people by visiting. My fears of incompetency and thoughts of “why am I here” which I shared towards the end of last week’s blog came rushing back. These thoughts worsened when the question and answer session began.
It sounded more like a “shout at the table” session, with two men standing up for roughly 10 minutes each and giving loud and emphatic lessons. I thought something was seriously wrong until the room burst into laughter halfway through the second speech. The longer he talked, the more people were laughing. I never found out what was so funny, but Ridho helped me understand that the men were never angry. They were shouting and looked intense because they were so incredibly thankful and wanted Umbu Jangi, the nurse, Ridho, me – me? – to know how grateful they are to have our attention. As I’m beginning to understand, these Q&A sessions are often more like full sessions of gratitude and encouragement from the villages we visit.
As the meeting ended, people rushed the table to shake hands and greet all of us. We were then treated to that delicious meal I mentioned earlier. While I ate, I thought about how my presence alone meant so much to these villagers. I, Tyler Wakefield, had single-handedly brought so much excitement to their eyes and gratitude to their hearts that they treated me with a feast!
Kidding aside, this week taught me about the power of attention. Of course it was not I who caused any excitement or cause for thanks. It could be any person outside Lain Bonga, Sumba, or Indonesia. An American was almost a like a cherry on-top. As much as I take issue with the reasons America is held in such high regard in places like Lain Bonga, I began to appreciate how powerful the attention of anyone looking to help could be. They were fully aware that I hadn’t actually done anything yet, they knew our work lay ahead and it wouldn’t directly affect them. That didn’t matter. What mattered to them was that someone took an interest in their 100 person village down the “adventurous” route.
This realization was humbling yet inspiring. It made me even more excited to be here, and excited to continue work like this in the future.
I have much more to write about from this week, but I’m waking up at 3AM tomorrow and was very delayed today getting into the main town. 15 people crammed into the back of a pickup truck made the going slow and flat tires frequent. I'll try to fill in later.
Other highlights: Trip to Lai Kombu to announce the beginning of a new Micro-Hydro project. Another warm reception full of gratitude and family.
We began administering surveys. People are excited to help. Can’t wait to look at the data next week.
A man looking to help IBEKA grow and adopt better/more efficient monitoring software visited Kamanggih and we showed him around. It was great talking over everything with him and learning about his life path which took him from Solar City to rural Indonesia.