Just because I live overseas doesn’t mean the world is at my fingertips. While you’re sitting in your office living vicariously through my adventures, fantasizing about that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris, to Istanbul, to Kenya or to Sydney, I too have my own list of “if only I had the money” destinations. For me, most of these lie on/in the Pacific — and near the top is Indonesia.
Fourth-largest country in the world, largest Muslim country in the world, childhood home to one Barack Obama — nevertheless a place most of us know so little about that we would have difficulty placing it on the map.
I don’t claim to be a whole lot more knowledgable about the country than that, as my experience has come secondhand, through the rhythms of Java and, more recently, Bali.
One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is the opportunity to try on a number of hats and see if they fit — to dabble in painting, in religious studies, in economics or biology — before deciding on any particular fashion statement for life. And though you may leave this or that behind (and you will most likely drop the hat you selected at some point), you wear that which you’ve chosen better for modeling all the others.
It may be surprising that I picked up Javanese music (Gamelan) while studying in the middle of Iowa. To me, it’s more surprising that I am still playing in a Gamelan, now in Berlin, Germany. Music transcends. Even specialized knowledge is sometimes rewarded.
Here I have the opportunity to play with both foreigners and natives and to play both Balinese and Javanese instruments (and lovely sets they are too!). The Embassy offers free Bahasa Indonesia courses. Every time we practice, someone makes a delicious native dish. Over time, I learn more about the people and the culture of a country I can only imagine in the vaguest of terms. If their scholarship program were more generous (I know 1,000,000 rupiah sounds like a lot, but it is the equivalent of $90), I would gladly take Indonesia up on the offer . . . In the meanwhile, I will continue fantasizing about my future Gamelan set — you know, the one I’m having made when I actually make it to Java someday (I know a couple readers/former ensemble members hear me on this)!
If there is a lesson to be taken from this, it is that an Embassy can be a wealth of resources and opportunities to learn about people and places you’re interested in, giving you numerous opportunities to develop a deeper relationship with a country before or after your visit. If you live in a world city which is home to a variety of Embassies, it pays to get on their mailing lists to find out what is being offered. Many of these opportunities will be colorful, family-oriented and free.
For those of you who have no idea what a Gamelan even sounds like, I am so happy to have found two clips of performances I was in online, for your listening pleasure – I’m sure if you listen closely you can pick me out.
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