But rather than reveal secrets that I may have still kept from you all the 15-odd years we’ve been friends, allow me to detail the top seven things I learned from my recent trip to Indonesia. In no particular order:
1. If its adherents whom I have met are the sole measure, Islam is a wonderful, wonderful religion.
They have numerous masjids- mosques or main prayer centers- in every town or city we pass through. More interesting still is that they have mushollahs- smaller places of worship roughly equivalent to Catholic chapels- in every place imaginable: malls, airports, even in gasoline stations and tourist spots. And the faithful actually pray in these areas, replete with the rites and rituals that accompany the act of praying.
I have to admit that initially I am wary about coming to a predominantly Islamic country, being of the Christian faith. However, I was blessed to have encountered international Islamic colleagues who are assertive but conscientious not only in the professional sense but also in how they talk about their religion. They gamely discussed and enlightened me with knowledge about their faith, ranging from jihad to polygamy to the wearing of veils. This was, for me, the real learning experience, traveling to another country, exploring their faith and way of life, understanding their worldview vis-à-vis how they are portrayed in media, and taking home with me a more profound respect for their humanity and more fervor to be a better Christian.
(Below: With Dr. Joey Abary of the Philippine Bureau of Fire Protection and Dr. Bastaman Basuki of the Department of Community Medicine of FKUI at a mosque in Kota Gede, Yogyakarta; With Dr. Agus of Petronas, Malaysia; with other seminar participants from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines at the Mt. Merapi Observation Post.)
2. There is a lot of money available for community development work.
This is the happy problem of Spain: that they have money for community development work but there is a dearth of project proposals for funding. And so, for people in the same field as I am, or if you know of anyone who may have health-related initiatives that need financial support, you may approach the following Spanish entities:
Agencia Espanola Cooperacion Internacional or the Spanish International Aid Agency
http://www.aeci.ph and http://www.aeci.es
Fundacion para la Cooperacion y Salud Internacional Carlos III or the Foundation for Cooperation and International Health Carlos III - http://fcsai.isciii.es/
University of Oviedo – Emergency and Disaster Research Unit – for those whose interests are in disaster preparedness and emergency response - http://www.uniovi.es/uied
(Above: With the facilitators from Spain, at the main staircase of the Faculty of Medicine Building.)
3. I will not be a successful Pinoy Big Brother housemate.
Given eight Pinoys, plucked from various corners of the country, made to live together practically for 24 hours a day for 10 days- surely something’s got to give. I mean team Philippines got along so well that participants from Malaysia were incredulous when we told them that we Filipinos just met for the first time in Indonesia. But our individual idiosyncracies would skim the surface time and again and some of the others’ peculiarities are a bit grating to the soul. So I am REALLY thankful that our Indonesian . sojourn ended when it did, before I actually reached my threshold where Mr. Hyde takes over from Dr. Jekyll.
4. I learned how to haggle and bargain.
For whatever reason- pride or pity or procrastination- I never learned or found the use for haggling or bargaining in marketplaces. Sure, I would haggle and bargain in the university’s academic committee just when they are about to mete out punishments for erring classmate- but with regard to consumer goods, I am a greenhorn. I always pay what’s on the price tag: there’s this tug in my heart whenever I bargain, as if I’m robbing the saleslady of their livelihood. But in Indonesia, I learned to be a wiser buyer, else I would have spent too much money on souvenirs and become the laughing stock of our team. (Below, Malioboro Street in Yogyakarta, bargain hunters’ shopping haven.)
I learned to take a look at items and appear to be cool and mildly interested. I’d ask what the price of this shirt or figurine and if the salesperson quotes an exorbitant price, I put the item back- MAHAL!- and begin to walk away. Often they would call me back-
Hallo! Sir! Escuse me! Sir! Hallo! What price you want, sir? Give your price sir!
I then quote a REALLY low price- 15,000 rupiah for an item that initially quoted to cost 40,000 rupiah ($1 = 8,700 rupiah, 1 rupiah = P0.005)- Which would piss them off somewhat. A sort of bidding war would ensue: 16,000… 17,000… 20,000 rupiahs. Sold!
5. People are really, really, really kind and generous, if only we give them the opportunity to do so.
From four-star generals and hospital directors acting as our photographers (where they have to take our group photos using the camera of every person included in the photo op whose number may range from 2-25) to honest money changers to owners of earthquake-devastated homes allowing to poke through their living spaces- generosity of the spirit abounds. (Below: at the home of Col. Udug and his family, Philippine Military Attache to Indonesia.)
6. Pericardium-6 really works.
We arguably had the worst flight of our lives the night we traveled from Jakarta to Yogyakarta last Friday, June 1st. The plane wildly swung from side to side, up and down for a good fraction of the time we were in mid-air. As is wont to happen, the contents of my stomach were churned like crazy and they rose to a most uncomfortable level, so much so that if I spoke I’d puke a la Mt. Merapi. And it didn’t help that I was seated beside the very outspoken main facilitator of the seminar, the preeminent Dr. Bastaman Basuki. I tried to sleep but I was just too darn nauseous. And so I employed what I learned from Dr. Jimmy Tan’s alternative medicine class- applying pressure on the area of the body labeled as Pericardium-6 to combat dizziness. After pressing on the site for about 5-10 minutes, I really felt better. I even managed to smile and pose after the harrowing 50-minute flight.
Here’s an online resource on how it works.
7. I’ve seen the rustic and the metropolitan versions of Indonesia and I must say it is a very beautiful country, rich in culture and history. (From top to bottom: the Nasional Monumen; fountain along embassy row; the Yogyakarta Palace; scene from the Ramayana ballet staged at the Pambranan Temple; at Borobudur.)
But there’s still no place like the Philippines. From our country being peppered by lesser disasters (look closely at the side-by-side volcano tops peeking from among the clouds in the aerial photo below) to our immensely better command of the English language to our (I am not kidding!) bluer skies and despite our political rollercoaster and the economic malady- I have a million reasons to yearn to be home!