30 January 2011


I spent part of my winter holiday in the rainforest of Kalimantan (Borneo). There I channeled my inner Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong and cruised down the jungle river for a few days to visit orangutans. During these visits I collected experiences that have since been strung into a necklace and placed inside a jewel box that now rests upon my dresser.

  • Bathed exclusively from the river
  • Trekked the jungle barefoot
  • Ate a live termite
  • Identified poisonous trees
  • Learned to never make eye contact with a macaque 
  • Tried a jungle plant that tasted remarkably like rhubarb 
  • Walked among orangutans, wild boars and awkward monkeys with tubular noses (Proboscis)
  • Enjoyed snake fish  
  • Was bitten by a fire ant
  • And sucked upon by a leech 
View from wooden tower
Wild boar and Siswi, the orangutan

Returning home

27 January 2011

Dead baby tree

Deceased Torajan babies are buried in trees. The tree trunk is hollowed out and the baby is placed inside after being wrapped in coconut tree fiber. These babies are placed in the direction facing the village where their family lives.


Last week I visited a private religious school with two fellow Fulbrights, Kelsey and Ezra. We taught teachers about Martin Luther King and introduced new teaching tools. For the first time in my life it was requested I wear a jilbab (headscarf). I was excited to finally cross that off my life to do list. Though at first it felt odd to talk about Rosa Parks at a venue that had all the female teachers sitting in the back, overall the presentation was a success. And while there were a few yawns during the I Have a Dream Speech (I assume because of the language barrier), the hokie pokie was a hit. Context: I played the hokie pokie song to introduce a cd of English language children's songs. The teachers were very kind. Also I was allowed to keep the jilbab!

I wore a long jacket during the presentation. But by the time this photo was taken I was overheating and the claustrophobia had taken over. The jacket just had to come off. Jangan khawatir--this was only around other women.

Ok here we go. More appropriate:

 Perfecting the jilbab tuck

22 January 2011

Indo Babies: Toraja Edition


Vegetation etc.


Found on my front porch. Does anyone know what this is?


Before I became one of them

5:30 am salon appointment 

pre- hari ibu
I've found that taking my hair out of this updo is the only way I can obtain the level of volume I covet. 

"Hari Ibu"
This translates as "Mother's Day" though I am hesitant to admit it. It's enough that my students love to call me "mom" and that I'm commonly asked if I have children. Also I was told that all the teachers would be going all out in traditional clothes for "Hari Ibu" as well. This turned out to be false. In reality, the teachers dressed moderately whereas I had been made into a Torajan bride. My Indonesian mother has planned my wedding out in terms of the venue, which of her five children will fan me during the ceremony and which will hold the ornamental umbrella over my head as I walk down the aisle. This isn't in jest. So I guess "Hari Ibu" was kind of my dress rehearsal. Obviously I loved it. 

This dress was made for me by a seamstress using Torajan fabric I found at the market.


What I eat and drink in Toraja

Torajan coffee

Trying to kick the habit

Apples per usual

Kankung ca dengan sate ayam - water spinach sauteed with hot chilies, garlic and red onion + chicken sate. I've started putting the challenge back into consumption by adding lombok tumis-- a spicy sauce made from chili peppers and sometimes orange.

lombok tumis

At school the teachers are served Torajan coffee and a treat during breaktime. These are the best treats I've ever had in Indonesia. They're not too gelatinous, no chocolate + cheese and never any chicken surprises.  Though like most Indonesian desserts they are usually composed of palm sugar, rice flour, coconut and wrapped in banana leaf.
Torajan coffee is like the Indonesian equivalent to Bedouin tea. Read: ridiculously sweet.

 Doughy bun filled with palm sugary coconut. 
kue roti kukus

 Tastes like an apple cider donut but is actually made from sweet potato. 

Banana Treat 

 Fried black rice covered with palm sugar. Surprisingly delicious

Banana leaf
Banana surrounded by some deliciously ambiguous and moist combination of coconut milk, sugar and flour. 

An Indonesian food that I have a more complicated history with is bubur ayam. It's chicken porridge which took me a very long time to try because it sounds unappealing. However, when done well, it's savory and wonderful like grits. I've only had really excellent bubur ayam in Java but I'll give the Torajans another try by having it for dinner tonight. I've heard my mistress, Banjarmasin (a city in Kalimantan), makes a mean bubur ayam. Sadly I have yet to try their take on the dish. 

Tried it: