Friday, June 6, 2014


I've learned at previous jobs that you don't truly belong in a new office until you know how to goof off with co-workers during important meetings. I'm glad I've now shared this experience with my colleagues at YDD.

And they have been nothing short of sweet to me lately. They are throwing a farewell lunch party for me next week, and I was also formally recognized for the work I've been doing. To be honest, the recognition came unexpected, largely because my personal self-evaluation led me to conclude that I didn't meet all of my professional goals. But maybe I've been too hard on myself?

I've also acquired something I didn't fully expect. These work friendships mean so much more to me now than I initially imagined they would (mostly because of my early struggle with self-expression), and while my Indonesian is far from perfect, I'm glad I've reached a point where I can make my co-workers laugh at my jokes. That might be my favorite accomplishment.

In addition to meetings and cool colleagues, I've had the opportunity to meet representatives from our partner organization in Cambodia. The other night we shared stories over Indian food in Jogja, and it was inspiring to hear about their experiences in the development sector. It's a world that's beginning to make more and more sense to me, but I am continuously amazed at all the complex challenges and considerations that need to be made.

It's been a good work week, but now I'm exhausted! Gotta catch some z's.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sukunan, desa wisata lingkungan

Thursday was Hari Waisak, a national Buddhist holiday, so I decided to spend the day off visiting Sukunan, a small village of about 300 families that has become quite famous for their community waste management program. It was initiated by a villager named Pak Iswanto in early 2000s but has since grown in scope and participation. In addition to separating trash for recyclables, and reusing where possible, the community also composts and treats household wastewater. Several organizations, including YDD, have also worked with Sukunan to develop the technologies in ways that are useful and appropriate for the community.

Of course, in order to ensure sustainability, it requires the participation of all people in the village. This means good leadership and education is needed, especially for children. It's this socialization effort, activated by the whole community, that I found to be really unique and impressive.

When I visited Sukunan today with my friend Matt, we were hosted by Pak Haryadi, a villager who spoke to us in Indonesian the whole time. We managed to pick up the most important parts, but I definitely want to go back once my Indonesian vocabulary on waste management systems has improved...

Bins set up around the village that separate plastic, paper, and bottles. The far left is hazardous waste.
Every household has their own system to separate trash, but they can go to any one of these public stations to deposit. 
An underground waste water treatment system, which was installed in partnership with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Yayasan Dian Desa (YDD) and Asian People's Exchange (APEX).
A diagram explaining the wastewater treatment system underneath all the houses.
Wastewaster is collected from 25-30 houses and is then passed through sedimentation and
multiple-stage biofilters before storage and eventual use for the rice plantations.  
A public composting station.
The entrance door is on the right-hand side (not pictured) and compost is collected from the rectangular hole at the bottom.
various composting bins
a beautiful kamar mandi!!
a urine-collecting station.
Urine, which is rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) can be used as fertilizer.
A central storage facility for the community's separated trash.
These piles will be collected and purchased by waste collectors and recyclable waste facilities.
Students often come to Sukunan to participate in projects and try out new things.
This charcoal briquette, made by a Papuan student, can be used as biomass fuel for cooking.
Unfortunately, I accidentally dropped and destroyed this briquette right after this photo was taken :(
a composting site. this pile is almost ready!
The community also reuses coffee sachets and makes them into fashionable bags!
A ceramic pot-in-pot refrigerator. According to Pak Haryadi, it can keep vegetables crisp for up to four days.
They also promote the use of reusable pembalut (pads) for women.
Reusing paper to make the frame of a mirror.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Summer

These next few months are going down in history. I can feel it. Here's what's happening:

- I will work my butt off and conclude my post at YDD. Hopefully the lab will be fully operational before I leave!

- Transition as a VIA staff member for the UCEAP summer program on community development (June 18-July 19).  It's going to be fast paced, educational, and simply awesome.

- Travel to Kuala Lumpur for a short visa run...hope to run into two of my college classmates, the beautiful Malaysian twins :)

- Spend Lebaran with my friend Novia and her family in Bukittinggi, west Sumatra. The Minang people have a rather unique matrilineal Islamic culture, and I'm excited to witness their celebrations.  Word on the street is that they cook rendang for days!  Yuuuum.

- After Lebaran, back in Jogja again. Soon thereafter, Ian, one of my closest friends from college, will fly in and we will spend three weeks traveling together in Jogja, Bali and Lombok. I'm stoked for Lombok, especially, because I'll run into some of my sanitation NGO buddies!

- Back in Jogja my Singaporean friend Lim gets in and we will travel also, around Jogja and maybe to Dieng.

- Finally, Mitch will arrive and we will cycle all over town, travel to Bandung together, return to Jogja, then pack up and head home :)

Afghan Pudding

My senses are telling me to update in the midst of all the busyness, exhaustion, and jaw pain. Santai saja. And so we will listen, we will chill, and we will write.


At 6:30pm I sat on my bed and I was faced with the classic dilemma: go out and meet people, or stay home in solitude. The latter option was so tempting, and all sorts of excuses began to fill my head. You're sleepy. It's late. You don't even know the host. There will be other parties.  I almost caved, when suddenly another voice entered my thoughts. It was my friend Charlotte.

"While I'm in Indonesia, I am going to accept all invitations to hang out."

She said this to me in 2012 when she was living in Indonesia for two months, researching women's bicycle culture. Then I stopped to think, wait, 2012?  Has it really been two years? And it suddenly dawned on me that I have less than four months before I go home.

So I decided to listen to Charlotte's voice and found my way to the dinner party. I'm glad I did, too, because tonight I met a wonderful new friend. We talked for a few hours over fruits and homemade Afghan pudding.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

VIA Video - A Day in the Life

VIA asked us to make a video with the theme of "A Day in the Life", so I've been spending the last week filming and trying to figure out how to use iMovie. Yesterday, Hayu and I schemed up a plan to video tape me on a becak near the Kraton (Sultan's Palace). It turned out pretty well, though I'm definitely not movie-star material! I can't stop smiling and laughing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Rest: Bali

Bali is one of those places that people will be talking about forever. As one of the most popular tourist destinations, it's been referred to by many as the epitome of a paradise island -- a place with pristine beaches, beautiful dancers, and exotic food. People come from near and far to get married on this island, and for some, experiencing the night life in Kuta with the beach as your backyard is worthy of many photo sessions. Other people might come to Bali in search of peace and spirituality. With a strong history of Hinduism, combined with local traditions and meditation practices, there are outlets for these seekers.

It's no doubt that tourism plays up the natural beauty and culture of Bali to an enormous extent, way more than the other islands of Indonesia. You'd think that with all the success of tourism, the island would be flourishing.

But what they don't tell you is that up in the mountains, there are still outrageously poor communities who suffer from lack of resources and lack of governmental recognition. There are communities who do not have proper roads and waste management, who are unemployed, and who when sick do not receive adequate treatment for their illnesses. Child mortality is high but deaths often go unreported. If children want to go to school, they have to travel far distances to get there.

It's in one of those communities in northeast Bali, far from the throngs of tourists, that I spent most of my time during my short visit. In a village called Muntigunung, YDD is working with a Swiss foundation, Future for Children, to help secure this community with some basic human needs, such as access to water and sanitation, through the construction of rain catchments and toilets. Beyond the basic needs, another goal is to develop livelihood projects, working with the villagers to secure a regular source of income through the processing, packaging, and sale of cashew nuts, dried mango, rosella tea, salts, and handicraft products, such as hammocks.

Working for this livelihood project, known as Muntigunung Social Enterprise, is my VIA friend Toku's primary work responsibility. He has become a marketing focal and helps to secure sales agreements with hotels, cafes, and grocery stories around Bali.

Before I sleep and leave you with photos, there's one more thing I want to emphasize. The place is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It's up in the mountains, with trees everywhere, steep dirt trails… and resting quietly are small clusters of houses. From almost anywhere you can look out and see the dark blue horizon of ocean.

Women from the village weaving hammocks to be sold abroad in Switzerland
Each time we visited a house, we were invited to sit for a while.
a rain catchment under construction
a dirt path up the mountain slope
a beautiful view from one of the village kelompok
a view from a village house
this little boy played with this spider for a very long time...
at the beach near Muntigunung, these kids are gambling with cigarettes
me with YDD-Muntigunung employee, Mbak Endang
Toku, me, and friends from the sanitation program
Muntigunung Social Enterprise employees, peeling the skin off cashews
peeled cashews in a solar dryer shed

a rain catchment under construction
a garden pilot in one of the kelompok of Muntigunung

Friday, April 4, 2014

Day 8-9: From Flores To Bali

As we approached the plane on foot at Maumere's tiny airport, I turned to Pak Kam with a grin and said, "Saya bawa alpukat, Pak, lima buah!" (I brought avocados, sir, five of them!) On the road back from Laratuka, I had made Pak Mat stop by a small market so I could buy some avocados for Bali. They were 10,000 Rp for five, that is, a little less than a dollar.

He laughed and replied, "Saya juga! Tas ini, isinya alpukat! Berat, soalnya..." (Me too! This bag here is filled with avocado. Problem is, it's heavy...)  I took a look at his backpack. It could easily be carrying about 20 pieces of fruit. "Bagus, bagus!"(Good, good!) I said, laughing also.

We'd just spent the last hour in the airport talking in depth about the sanitation program in Flores. Guy knows his stuff, and has a particular interest in ensuring that local people have the means to achieve their needs after the program is over. "If the workshop gets at least 50% of these tukang to begin making and selling toilets locally, we'll consider it a success."

Out of all the bapak-bapak I met this past week, Pak Kam is one of my favorites. He's about 70 years old, wears a kopiah wherever he goes, and smiles with laughter and wrinkles in his eyes.

* * *

And then I'm in Bali, riding in the back bed of a pickup truck with my friend Toku, watching an eve-of-Nyepi procession pass by on a narrow road. There are old and young walking together, crowding the area for several hundred meters. Some people are singing and cheering, carrying banners for their community, and others are waving batons of fire. Each group lifts a bamboo platform with an ogoh-ogoh statue in the center, representing a unique evil spirit. The fanciest and most expensive are decorated with lights and jewels, symbolizing their hedonistic personalities. 

The community will soon destroy these figures by dismemberment or by setting them on fire. Because of this, there's excitement in the air. The children are happy, and the adults are likely drunk. It's a parade, except this is unlike any parade I've ever been to. Eve-of-Nyepi is an island-wide party -- the storm before a full day of quiet reflection. On the day of Nyepi, food, fire, work, and electricity are all forbidden. The streets will be empty in a few hours.

When we finally pass the crowded streets, everything becomes dark except for the cars and motorbikes. Our truck's headlights illuminate the windy road and the jungle we are passing through. The crisp mountain air takes over my senses. Ari slows down a bit, allowing other vehicles to pass so that Toku and I can soak it in. We stand there, holding on to the roof of the truck as the trees whip by on the narrow road. I tilt my head back and look up. Above us, the stars are vibrant.