Indonesia is the kind of place that will take you through hell and back, mentally and physically. At times you will feel extreme despair and extreme bliss. It was really when I travelled from Lombok to Bali when I noticed the insane impact that globalisation and tourism can have on a place. In Kuta Lombok, everything was starving. Emaciated dogs which were visibly drooling surrounded me when I opened a pack of cookies at the beach. They were too tired to bark . They literally sat there staring at me and breathing heavily, almost like it was about to pass out if I didn’t give it a cookie.
Children and teenagers who weren’t in school but instead asking you to buy pineapple. An Indonesian kid in Kuta Lombok asked me why I was so ‘black’ if I was from Canada. (Black meaning my tan). Uhh…
Bali on the other hand was like, Queen street West with a beach. I just saw vegan and health food shops, yoga studios, and surf shops on every block. The locals were relaxed and didn’t seem bothered with tourists as much. They had their own thing going on and wasn’t 100% dependant on tourists as much as the locals in Lombok were.
The rugged terrain in the volcanoes, crazy hot climate, blatant poverty but the sincerity, kindness and light-heartedness of the Indonesian people will have your heart pulled in a million directions. By the end of your time there, you’ll feel more dazed and confused than you were going in. It is a place you will fall in love with amidst the emotional turmoil.
You’ll have seen the desperate situation of homeless mothers and children emerge at night on every street corner, young boys and old men trying to make a living by selling tickets for anything- culture shows, taxis, motorbike tours, lottery tickets, rice, wooden boxes you don’t need and old ladies chasing after you to buy a $1 sarong.
You’ll feel like your heart is wild and free while lounging on the shiny white beaches slurping on a smoothie bowl while your mind is acutely aware that locals could never afford the fancy beachside restaurants or even a fruit juice from a stall on the side of the road. Travelling outside of the island for locals is but a distant dream. The blatant inequality isn’t always obvious to the untrained eye. But if you travel enough around South East Asia you’ll notice the division of the standard of shops catering toward foreigners and what the locals live with ordinarily. You can’t be oblivious to it.
At the end of your trip, you’ll feel like you want to donate all your travel savings to the humble shop, homestay, and taxi driver that made your trip what it was. You’ll hope that the few tourist dollars that trickle down will somehow help feed another family member, send a kid to college or help and elderly person live more comfortably.
But you’ll feel the cynicism too. The traveller’s bubble is evident. Your privilege stays with you wherever you go. And sometimes you’ll find yourself asking ‘what is the point of all this’?. I also found myself asking big questions like ‘why is the world so unequal?’ And sort of started to hate myself for the relative luxuries that I had. I kind of started to feel cynical and as the DEVS major as I am, I wondered what the point of the UN or NGO’s were, or what even was the point studying global development if that meant just seeing the same shit stay the same. Why didn’t I just do a Commerce degree, and I wouldn’t notice this/would probably have a financially viable solution to poverty?
However, I took a step back. It would be egoistic to think that I could solve world problems anyway. No, I might never be able to solve poverty or eradicate hunger or make governments actually champion the interest of the people. I then told myself not to lose hope.
The test of character is to not lose sight of your place in the world. It’s to realize that there is happiness and beauty in all sorts of situations no matter how bad it might look to outsiders. It’s cliched and open ended. I still lack a conclusion to this paradox of life but that’s for the next adventure to solve.