In 2013, I was a selected participant in the 2013 Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship. Amongst the 69 successful awardees, I was specifically a chosen candidate in 1 out of 10 participants to join the themed ‘Special Program for Indonesian Diaspora’. Its main aim was served to introduce the new Indonesia to a young generation of Indonesian Diaspora abroad.
My selection for this special program was mainly based on my Indonesian descent. As a young, female Muslim living in South Africa, I came to know of my descendance through the historic teachings of my now 80 year old grandfather. It came to my knowledge that I am a descendant of those who were sent to the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa, either as slaves or political exiles by the Dutch in the early 17th and 18th centuries.
Just to touch upon a brief history of my background, I am a member of the so called ‘Cape Malay’ racial group, classified by the government of the time. The majority of the Cape Malays live in the Cape Peninsula. We in Durban form a smaller community but nevertheless still practise and uphold the social and cultural activities as practised in days gone by. Both my father and grandfather are members of the ‘Islamic Educational and Religious Trust’, which plays an important role in arranging social and religious functions for the Cape Malay community who practice the Islamic faith.
In order to uphold my religion and social activities in my community, I proudly belong to 2 main societies: ‘Helping Hands Outreach Programme’, where the objectives are to assist, help the needy, orphans, aged and indigent, by arranging social days and outings for residents of old-age homes, feeding senior citizens and orphans by providing them with much needed essential necessities. Our motto being ‘Seek for mankind what you seek for yourself’ and secondly, the ‘Durban Muslim Women’s Society’, whom formerly for 40 years is known as Durban Malay Women’s Society, established over 50 years ago. I am one of the younger members of the group who arrange and conduct social and religious activities and reciting from the Holy Quran, for the females of the community.
Above all, my father’s sister, who married an Indonesian, lives in Jakarta with her children. She has worked for the World Health Organisation as well as the United Nations in Jakarta for many years. Growing up, my aunt and her family made a number of visits to South Africa, where profoundly I had one-on-one interaction and first hand opportunities to learn certain amounts of Java. Evidently, this has instilled in me a deep and strong desire to know more about Indonesia, as a country. Years later, I was happily afforded the opportunity of spending three and a half months in Indonesia via a Scholarship through the Indonesian Embassy based in Pretoria, South Africa.
Prior to the scholarship, my future plans were and always will be to travel and study abroad and part of my dream was achieved through the Indonesian Diaspora Special Program. The ten (10) selected awardees of the Special IACS for 2013 were targeted descendants from ten countries namely, South Africa (I), the United States of America, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Tunisia, Suriname and Russia. The Special IACS was introduced in collaboration with one of Yogyakarta’s Universities, in which we were welcomed, introduced and lectured throughout our stay, on various seminars which covered topics such as the social, political and economic matters of Indonesian history.
Our accommodation provided was a boarding house, each with our own room and accessibility to a number of daily needs within a close proximity of our Kost, against a backdrop of Yogyakarta’s active volcano; Merapi and all within distance of no more than a 10 minute walk to one of Yogyakarta’s University, to which we were assigned to. We all attended the Universitas Pembangunan Nasional ‘Veteran’ Yogyakarta every week during our three month scholarship, where we were involved in a variation of educational activities. In addition, we attended Bahasa Indonesia classes each morning, visited a number of political organizations, museums and NGO’S around Yogyakarta in order to deepen our knowledge about Indonesia. With regards to education on the cultural aspect of Indonesia, we actively participated in attending workshops on Batik making, Indonesian cuisine cooking, stay-over’s in a typical Indonesian village and above all; we had weekly dance practice where we were taught a Dayaknese dance from Kalimantan. From body tattoos to specific detailed body movements, I certainly felt like a Dayaknese princess, especially with that feather in my hair.
Other awardees of the programme were divided into 6 different cities or islands spread throughout the land of Indonesia including Solo, Bandung, Bali, Makassar and Surabaya. Each group were to learn a cultural dance related to their city where all groups would gather on the 15 September 2013 to participate in a closing ceremony commonly known as the ‘Indonesian Channel’.
Three and a half months in Indonesia, visiting various islands by local train rides or flights in our allowed free time, amazed and intrigued me not only to see, but to learn about the various cultural manners that were openly displayed. Travelling to Indonesia was the most insane adventure where I had the chance to explore across the land beginning from exhilarating island volcano tours, cliff jumping insane heights on a hilltop, learned Bahasa Indonesia, ate delectable Indonesian food as well as diving deep within myself and gained a greater idea of who I am and what I want to do with my life.
For me, seeing the sights was only a fraction of my journey, but interacting with people I encountered along the way was what gave me true inspiration. The humbleness and serenity of the Indonesian people, both young and old, staggered me as an individual as it reflected my personality; as they each embraced their uniqueness and encouraged respect for each other’s differences. Thus being my most highlighted part about Indonesia of being able to peek into the lives of other people. Not only was I blessed with befriending numerous true, passionate Indonesian friends who made me feel at home and comfortable, I also gained 69 friends from diverse backgrounds in all corners of the world, which I can honestly call my long-lasting family and that alone will be regarded as my lifetime wealth. In my eyes, it was a bright insight into just how beautiful our world is in which we set aside our differences and united in pure harmony. My list goes on as my experiences are endless. As an individual, travelling halfway across the world solo, for the very first time in my life, opened yet another platform where I had the experience of celebrating my birthday away from home as well as spending my first Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr; the holiest month on the Islamic calendar; in a foreign country miles away from my immediate family. It was all so new to me but I loved every moment. From the beautiful sound of the adhan to the melodious recitations of the Quran in the city, to having Sahur on the pavement in the streets of Yogyakarta. Alhamdulillah, my heart felt true warmth.
Of course, I had reservations prior to my departure from South Africa; of what I should be taking with me, however, on arrival and during my stay I was totally in awe of the infrastructure of the various available goods and life in Indonesia as a whole. It was obvious I was faced with many hilarious and interesting questions and statements along my way which varied from ‘You’re from South Africa? Why is your skin not black/ How come you are so fair?’ to being innocently classified by many as a true Indonesian or Arabian due to my physical appearances, being called the ‘Princess of Durban’ as well as the most common, ‘Miss President’ as my name reflected this. This has evidently been assigned to my being ever since. Upon my return after the scholarship, I experienced a bit of reverse culture shock and thought how I could never adjust to my life again. From the amount of comments in my home country of how different and changed I have become, to blurting out various Indonesian terms which I became accustomed to in the three months such as saying ‘Apa?’ in cases where I did not understand something said; calling people in the shop ‘Mas’ or ‘Mbak’; to adding ‘Ya’ at the end of everything I say or even to a simple ‘Makasih’ for something. Not only this, but on my return to South Africa, I was overwhelmed by facts mentioned by my close circle of family and friends on how I have grown in confidence. This was the new me. It came to my realization that I was suffering a serious case of withdrawal symptoms.
My love for Indonesia is evident through my countless, captured exquisite imagery and complimentary words. What was most striking about my images of Indonesia is the careful attention given to every detail that greatly moulded the creativity perspective, culture, friendships and love shared; which were all impossible to overlook.
Due to me being in Indonesia during the IACS programme, I was forced to repeat my 4th year of my Bachelor of Education Degree. This was not regrettable in comparison to the amount of knowledge I gained which brings me to my daily mantra of ‘Everything happens for a reason’ as I remind myself that ‘Knowledge is not only confined to a classroom’. Through this, my solo journey in the year 2013 has brought me back to the land of Indonesia one year later, with both my parents. Although our family trip was short, my emotions were unexplainable as I had flashbacks of my stay during IACS. It really was an emotional roller coaster. This time, I got to reunite with a handful of my extended Indonesian ‘family’ whom I am in constant contact with via Skype calls or daily text messages; that included very dear friends and lecturers; as I introduced them to my parents. My experiences therefore extended, which have afforded me a deep kind of love and respect for Indonesian culture. My travels were full of rich experiences that I will always hold dear. Apart from my descriptions, my photography is one of my visual placeholders for all the moments in my journey that words cannot seem to convey. They are more than just memories; they are my personal mementos – an open letter to my future self.
Indonesia is and will always be my first and last thing in my waking thoughts. If I had to give advice to any living wandering soul travelling in and around Asia; it would be to challenge yourself. Always maintain an ‘open mind’ because you will experience such events that will shake you from your comfort zone and open your eyes to new perceptions. Let it. Embrace it. Be gracious to your hosts as simple acts of kindness will open doors for you abroad. Lose yourself in the moment, but in a controllable manner of course. Most of all, as I was reminded day in and day out by a special individual, was to ‘SMILE Raeesa’. After all, you are never quite fully dressed without a smile.
Dengan ini saya mau ucapkan terima kasih kepada kedutaan Republik Indonesia di Pretoria, Afrika Selatan; kepada Menter Luar Negeri Indonesia, kepada Indonesian Arts & Culture Committee dan UPN, Yogyakarta. Terima kasih juga kepada Bapak dan Ibu saya yang percayah bawah saya bisa lakukan study itu di Yogyakarta. Alhamdulillah. Kalau ada kesemapatam untuk ikut studi lagi, saya sudah siap.
The feeling I have in me right now is indescribable. I would do this over again if I am afforded the opportunity to study, work or teach in your beautiful country. My journey is not the end. It is only just the beginning.