06 November 2010

The Lost Boys

I finally gained enough courage to infiltrate the Lost Boys Lair next door to my house. I needed to take a series of photos to fully document the magnificence.

Things to look for:

  • The child smoking
  • The man holding the rooster
  • The Wild West inspired scarf tied around mouth
  • The black mesh tank top  
  • The almost preppy sweater around shoulders look

I took a moment to indulge in self righteousness
by saying jangan merokok, kamu terlalu kecil
Don't smoke. You're too small. 

So much wood!

I have yet to enter this one

UPDATE: Two fellow Fulbrights, Thomas and Mary, came to visit. They helped me to exploit the Indonesian lack of boundaries in order to see the inside of this construction. After inviting ourselves in, we experienced a lost boys' lair (as expected) as well as a few surprises.

Things we expected that were confirmed:
  • Assortment of young men
  • Magazine cut outs on the wall--mainly pertaining to soccer
  • Random electronics 
We, however, did not expect:
  • A canopy bed
  • Eyelash curler (When we asked about it they earnestly informed us they used it to curl their eyelashes. Ok.)  

Mount Merapi

As Mt. Merapi erupts I wanted to take a moment to flashback to this volcano's more peaceful days. My friends in Yogyakarta are evacuating because of the ash and pebbles raining down.  My thoughts are with them. 

Here are some photos from two years ago when I climbed Mount Merapi.

Sunrise from the top


Yes, my main picture is of Merapi

One of our guides. We had really great conversations.

Laura and me 

Climbing back down 

We started hiking around 11 pm armed with headlamps and snacks. Often needing to use our hands, we literally climbed for seven hours. We reached the top in perfect time to watch the sunrise. Our guides made us hot chocolate and nasi goreng (fried rice). Climbing down took even longer and was surprisingly more frightening. The darkness had made me blissfully ignorant of the drop offs that surrounded us.

05 November 2010


Before I came to Tana Toraja, I was warned by an Indonesian friend that there is a lot of black magic here. That friend gave me his father's magical ring to serve as protection. I was also given strict instructions not to wear it into the restroom because apparently that removes the magic.

What I've learned about magic in Indonesia thus far:

  • Young people can become possessed by spirits. This most often happens if there is emptiness in their heart, which creates a vacuum the spirit can fill. When someone is possessed their skin and lips turn pale and they may faint or start screaming. One of the high school teachers is skilled at removing spirits from students by saying magic words and touching their forehead with a special type of cloth. 
  • Not everyone has magical powers. Those who do usually live in the wilderness--away from modern technologies. Magic is inherited. However, if one wishes to maintain their magical abilities they must live a life of seemingly arbitrary restrictions. Thus far I know they cannot drink alcohol or walk under laundry lines. These people cannot be affected by swords or bullets. 
  • Those without the gift can still sometimes perform acts of magic. For example, when he was young, one of my co-teachers was able to use magic to make a girl fall in love with him. Apparently he obtained the necessary magic words from one of his friends who had the power. This teacher told me that the girl fell so madly in love with him that it became a nuisance. He did what he had to in order to reverse the spell. He said the magic words backwards. The words weren't Indonesian or any other language my co-teacher had ever heard. 
  • In the past magic was used to make dead people walk. This would be done if a body needed to be relocated. It would only work if the deceased person avoided being seen by walking deep in the forest at night. Today, this isn't done because modern transportation undermined its utility. 
  • Magic is still currently used to prevent rain at funerals. 
I've been told that you can only be affected by magic if you believe in it. The stronger your faith the stronger its power. I don't believe in magic per se but I do believe that faith in anything can be very powerful. 

31 October 2010

Night out

I made my first attempt to “go out” at night in Tana Toraja. A few other Fulbrights were visiting Toraja so we agreed to meet up at the Gazebo restaurant in the nearby town of Rantepao. We wanted to try pa’ piong, a traditional Torajan dish composed of coconut chicken baked in bamboo and tuak or palm wine.

We began dinner at seven and after a few hours of sharing stories we were ready to retire. As we were getting up to leave, our waitress inquired as to how we intended on getting home. She then informed us that there is no transportation from Rantepao to my town after seven pm.

We were a bit caught off guard but still optimistic that we would be able to find someone willing to drive us home. I made some sort of uncomfortable joke to the waitress about us sleeping at her place. Poorly received. Though she did offer to call someone she knew to drive us home. After fifteen minutes of trying to hail a car in the rainy darkness with our flashlights, we decided to take her up on her offer.

Unfortunately we had to pay 90,000 rupiah instead of the usual 5,000. Our drive was also terrifying because 1. Toraja does not have street lights 2. It was raining 3. Our driver was speeding and swerving about 4. The cars don’t have seatbelts 5. Most of the roads are busted 6. The tires are most likely not new. It was scary but I kept reminding myself that the driver must do this all the time and he must know what he’s doing. I was therefore relatively cool until the driver made some joke about palm wine. That’s when it hit us: the man driving us had been drinking at the Gazebo restaurant at a table near us earlier. We hadn’t recognized him in the dark until his comment jogged our memory. The drivers here are generally fear-inducing enough without the added element of even a little intoxication. Terrifying

We arrived home safely and overall it was a fun night. 

Moral of the story: I’m ready to return to my beautifully wholesome lifestyle of staying in after dark.

Pa' Piong

Black Rice

Palm Wine

27 October 2010

Shhh vs Ssss

Three children arrived on my doorstep today. They had climbed over my fence with a mission:

"Can you teach us English, Miss?" (They asked in Indonesian)

My instincts told me to maintain boundaries and tell them I was busy. I'm not comfortable having students or random children in my house. 

But then I noticed the little English book held tightly in one of their arms. It was too precious for me to even handle. My maternal instinct/role as a teacher/philanthropic spirit prevailed and I invited my new little students to take a seat with me on my front porch. 

We practiced "How old are you?" "What are your hobbies?" "She sells sea shells by the sea shore," "Ph sounds like F," "One little two little three little Indians" and "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands." 

Most importantly I taught them how to "high five." When I was demonstrating how to high five, I high fived myself in a sort of clap-like fashion. I then proceeded to hold my hand out to high five one of the little students. My demonstration unintentionally taught them to clap their hands together before receiving/taking part in a high five. I don't know what makes it so adorable and hilarious. But I do wish I had recorded it. It's that precious. If you don't understand why this is noteworthy, please wait until you are the unfortunate recipient of a high five and clap your hands together before reaching your hand out to receive. 

I fear it may catch on.

24 October 2010

Cliff Graves

In addition to its gruesome funeral rituals, Tana Toraja is known for its cliff graves. These elaborate grave sites are reserved for those of high social status.

"Tau Tau" are images of the deceased carved from the wood of a jack fruit tree. They are thought to contain the soul of the deceased. 

23 October 2010

Wet Season

Outside my window

Karate class in the rain

Flooding in South Sulawesi airport upon my arrival 

SMA1 (High School)

The high school where I teach English

Pak Paulus and one of my English classes

Flag Ceremony
The teachers' outfits remind me of military uniforms. 

The choir at our flag ceremony

First week: students teaching me about Torajan tourism "objects" (as they're called here)

Yetty and me after English Club

More students

English Club


I was finally able to get a modem.  It only required a ten hour bus ride to the nearest shopping mall. Now that I have internet access, I'd like to explain where I'm actually located. 

Sulawesi is the island that kind of looks like a "K." It is to the right of Kalimantan/Borneo.

I live in the box called "Torajaland." The city of Makassar (near the tip) is where I must go to access an airport or obtain any modern amenities. Think: malls, movie theaters, taxis, coffee shops, computer stores, dairy products...

Fortunately Toraja is an incredible place to be stuck. I have been told it is on the "100 things to do before you die" list.

My Town Square

I get everything I need from the market. It's like a giant tent village with dirt floors. You can find everything from fruit to fish to live pigs to flip flops.

I'm always amazed by what I can and cannot find in Toraja. For instance, dvd players and speakers are here but can openers and dvds are nearly impossible to come by.

I am the only bule (non-Indonesian) living in this town of 30,000.  Being such a novelty elicits a lot of attention. I am thankful that the attention is positive and generally respectful.  Though sometimes it can be exhausting. It's weird to have bus loads of students scream "We love you Meees Yudeeeet!" when they see me. Or have rumors swirl around the town that I do not eat rice. (True). People always tell me they love my nose, which I don't entirely hate. And I've gotten used to photos being sneakily snapped of me.

Tiny paparazzi spotting me at the internet cafe. 

The girl sitting on the floor is seconds away from reaching over and adding herself to my facebook. (You sit on the floor at my internet cafe). It's kind of nice. 


Ritual sacrifice photos

Many of you were probably traumatized by my ritual sacrifice photos. If so, you need to realize that these buffalo are treated extremely well during their lifetime--we're talking sponge baths--and slaughtered more humanely than the livestock you eat for dinner. (Sorry Ashley/vegetarian friends). Every part of the buffalo is then used after the ceremony. Also, in terms of me taking photos at a funeral--the locals encourage it. At this point ritual sacrifice in Toraja is less of a spiritual event and more of a tradition. The villagers often videotape it.

That being said, it is hard to watch and I don't plan on attending more funerals anytime soon. 

Next on my to do list: cliff graves and dead baby tree. 

The buffalo horns in the front of the house are a status symbol. 
More buffalo horns = more buffalo sacrifices = more money

26 September 2010


In my opinion, the biggest cultural difference between America and Indonesia is the idea of boundaries. Indonesian society has a very communal nature and therefore there isn't really a concept of boundaries or personal space. Being from America--the land of individualism--this takes some getting used to. Now since this is my third time living in Indonesia, I'm largely used to it. However, there are a few occasions when I'm still caught off guard. These examples all come from a good place but...

  • One of my co-teachers insisted on living at my home in Toraja for the first two nights because she thought I'd be scared. It became a problem when on day three she was still planning on sleeping over. That's when I knew it was time to be blunt and set boundaries. 
  • The students often ask me for my phone number, address, facebook and email. They also ask my religion, marital status, who I live with, what I wear when I get home from school, what I do just before going to bed and why I don't go to church.
  • Yesterday six of my male students surprised me at my house and asked if they could come in to practice their English. 1. This is a major boundary issue and 2. A major cultural taboo given the gender breakdown. I didn't want to be rude so I agreed to spend some time with them practicing English if it was a public place. The only option really available was to hang out in the rice paddies. I thought I had handled the situation appropriately until a neighbor joked in the Torajan language: "Are you boys trying to marry her?" Yikes. I suggested they bring some female friends next time they decide to knock on my door. 
  • Ooh recent update: I'm sitting in an internet cafe in a little cubbie where you sit on the floor. A boy just peered over into my cubbie. He then came back a few minutes later and stepped into my cubbie to take a look at my computer screen. No words. Hello cultural understanding 


I really adore teaching at SMA Negeri 1 Makale. SMA means high school in Indonesian.

Why my students are the sweetest:
  • They all stand up and say "Good morning maam. How are you today?" or "Thank you maam. Have a nice day" When I enter or exit the classroom.
  • They often begin oral presentations with "Thank you for giving me this time to speak..."
  • They love to ask me if i've met with Justin Bieber. 
  • We sometimes sing Ya Sudahlah together. It's best if one of the students has a guitar with them.
  • They call me "Meees Yudeeet." I'm not really sure why. J's are not pronounced like Y's in this country. But i've gone with it because it's so adorable.
  • They love to ask me if I have a husband. This question is always followed by immense giggling from the rest of the class.
  • They all personally thank me when I've confirmed their facebook friend requests. 
  • They're eager to learn English.
One of the other teachers has his students start their presentations by saying "Thank you, Her Excellency, Miss Yudiit, English teacher of SMA 1 Makale" or "Thank you, Her Excellency, Miss Yudiit, representative of AMINEF." Uncomfortable. 

Buffalo Fight

Hello world. I apologize for the neglect.

Let me recap: I am currently teaching high school English in a small town in South Sulawesi. The region is called Tana Toraja. The people practice a mixture of Christianity, animism and magic. I live amongst rice paddies, banana trees, palm  trees and mountains. Livestock is plentiful. I've never seen so many buffalo, roosters, pigs and stray dogs in my life. I've seen many people holding chickens recently. Like a baby.

Yesterday I went to my first Torajan funeral. The ceremony was held in a small village. Many of the men wore sarongs. We began with a buffalo fight. It was a gladiator-like situation except the buffalos didn't seem very interested in fighting. There was a big circle of men around the area the buffalos were meant to fight and the rest of the village watched from a nearby hill. Occasionally the buffalos would get into it and clash horns. I watched with a fellow Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) from a nearby hill. It felt safe until the two buffalos ran out of the fighting circle and began making their way up the hill--right towards us. I think the scariest part was seeing the look of fear in the villagers' faces around us. I did think for a moment: this would be a very bizarre way to die. We climbed higher up into the forest but at this point one buffalo was within five feet of us. My counterpart reminded me that it was better to stay still. Waiting. Fortunately at the last moment a farmer was able to grab the buffalo by its nose ring.

After the buffalo fighting, the village chief invited us into his rice barn/gazebo. A few of the women poured us Torajan coffee. Torajan coffee is supposed to be some of the best in the world. Starbucks gets many of its beans from Toraja. The Torajans serve it in a large silver kettle with tons of sugar. It's delicious in small quantities. We also were given a traditional funeral snack of sticky rice infused with coconut and wrapped in banana leaf. Meanwhile, we talked with the village chief about everything from terrorism in Indonesia to the rights of indigenous populations around the world.

Next came the ritual animal sacrifice. It is traditionally believed in Torajan culture that a deceased person's livestock can travel to the afterlife with him or her. Today the animal sacrifice also serves as a status symbol. The more buffalos that are slaughtered, the richer and more important the family is. Rich families may slaughter 50 to 100 buffalos during a relative's funeral. The kicker is that a buffalo can sell for $8,000 to over $20,000. Yes, dollars. Funerals last about a week so I only saw one buffalo get slaughtered. It was sad to see the buffalo lick its nose, totally oblivious before--whack. The blood was an incredibly bright shade of red.

After a few more rounds of buffalo fighting, the sacrificed buffalo was laid on palm branches and cut into pieces. The meat was then placed in a huge iron container and roasted over a fire. The villagers all partake in the roasted buffalo meat. The best piece (near the neck) goes to the master butcher. He often will sell it.

03 August 2010

Cobra Blood

"I still can't decide if I want to go kickboxing or drink cobra's blood."

A predicament I never expected to have.

This afternoon a few of my friends invited me to join them in trying cobra's blood. Unfortunately, I have kickboxing on Tuesdays and I didn't want to miss a workout. I was really conflicted because, as they pointed out, I can go kickboxing anytime but cobra's blood is harder to come by. This isn't entirely true given that I'll be living in the middle of nowhere for the next year (more on that later). I was leaning toward the blood option until I started to feel sick to my stomach. Some of my other friends had already tried it and described the process to me.

Basically you arrive in a dank ally where you meet a man, his wife and the snake you will soon consume. Each person gets their own cobra. The man proceeds to kill the snake before giving it to his wife to skin. The blood is drained into double shot glasses and mixed with a little sweet wine. Depending on where you go, you may drink the blood with the bile mixed in or a medley of other organs chopped up for a more chunky drink.

The blood is supposed to make you strong and healthy.

The more I thought about it the more I realized I couldn't do it. While I'd feel totally hardcore drinking cobra's blood, I'd also feel pretty evil.

If I find myself overwhelmed with regret over not trying it, I'm sure there are plenty of snakes to be had in South Sulawesi.

27 July 2010


Mount Bromo is an active volcano in East Java


Indo street sellers are relentless