Monday, December 30, 2013

Journeys with the Caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores and Sumba, Indonesia

Journeys with the Caterpillar

Guest Article by Shivaji Das

"The crowd lined the street, shoulder to shoulder. Fathers held young boys high, the older children climbing trees for better views. The pressure of the crowd built behind me, while before us, an opening formed in the crowd.  About fifteen men assembled around a tied buffalo: the sacrifices were about to begin."

When you think of Indonesia, do you think of volcanoes rising hurriedly from the seas to the skies?  Nestled within them are whimsical color-changing lakes sheltering tales of dead ancestors, wandering spirits, and local lore.  Do you think of baby Komodo Dragons scurrying for cover from their hungry mothers?  Maybe you've never visited these islands, but you’ll feel like you have when you've read JOURNEYS WITH THE CATERPILLAR.

There, in the midst of grinding poverty, you’ll find ever-blossoming smiles. Embark on this journey today.

The photographs from this trip were selected for Solo Exhibition at the National Library and the Arts House, Singapore.

All royalties from this book are donated to Ayo Indonesia and Yayasan Harapan Sumba (YHS), two not-for-profits organization Flores and Sumba respectively.

Ayo Indonesia focuses on various rural development activities, such as sustainable farming, drinking water supply construction, access roads through community self-help works, promoting Credit Unions, empowering people with disabilities, etc.

YHS works with very poor farming communities on the island of Sumba; addressing their needs for water, education, better health and sustainable livelihoods, and also help disabled children. YHS helps the communities understand and resolve their own problems through discussions, training and working together, with a minimum of ‘handouts’.

Review by J. Goulding ~ A brilliant description of Indonesia

I picked up "Journeys with the caterpillar" hoping to learn a few things about Indonesia, which is where one of my close friends was born. Before reading the book, I knew little about any of the Indonesian islands; now I feel pretty well informed about Flores and Sumba, and Indonesian culture in general.

The author Shivaji Das is funny; I laughed at his description of "fake Arab" dress to keep cool in Labuan Bajo, the self-proclaimed tour guide whose only English phrase is "I speak English", and several other passages in the book. Das's journey covers many interesting locales whose food, climate, landscape, architecture and people are brought to life by vivid descriptions. I particularly enjoyed reading about Ruteng in Western Flores, which Das describes as a "United Nations of human faces" with a Carioca-style culture. I was also fascinated by the photographs at the end of the book, which show the tribal villages of Indonesia that have yet to be touched by modernity.

I would recommend "Journeys with the caterpillar" to people who are interested in modern Indonesia for any reason, but especially to those who are considering a trip to the islands.

Shivaji's writings have been published in various magazines such as Time, Venture Mag, Hack Writers. He has also given several talks on the subject of Flores and Sumba in Singapore, China, Indonesia and Brazil where he was hosted by the Ambassador of Indonesia to Brazil.

All proceeds go to Ayo Indonesia and YHS.

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