In the summer of 2011, I lived in Indonesia. I was there alone, doing research for my masters degree, and it was my first experience living abroad. I hadn’t started my practice of yoga yet (that would come later that fall), but I was really curious about the similarities and differences between cultures. Here’s what I found:
Culture is rich
I spent time on Java (western Indonesia), Bali, Flores and Nusa Tinggara Timur (both in Eastern Indonesia). Within one country, there were many cultures, religions, foods, and ways of life. It was amazing to see this outside of the US! What really struck me was how accepting Indonesians were of different religions. Although Indoneesia contains the largest population of Muslims in the world, there are also Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religions living side by side. The house (or kos) that I lived in on Java had both Muslim and Christian girls living together — sharing living space, cooking and eating and watching TV together. We spent many evenings listening to jazz and laughing over episodes of Shaun the Sheep.
It was an orchestra for my senses! Experiencing daily life and the richness of Indonesian culture, yet finding similarities in our interests and thoughts was a big eye opener.
Happiness and contentment are a matter of perspective
I saw lots of people living with much less than I had, and they were happy. I’m talking ear to ear grin as they go about their lives selling street food, cleaning school grounds, carving wooden statuettes to sell. Of course, not everyone was happy or content. But it opened the idea to me that happiness, contentment, bliss, was a choice. I let that I idea marinate for a few years before it began to sink in.
Friendship goes beyond borders
Most of the people I interacted with day to day spoke some English. But even those who didn’t, I was able to connect with them in nonverbal ways, like the game we played shown above. Sharing a pot of tea doesn’t take words. Neither does taking a stroll through the botanical gardens, running through campus, laughing, smiling, or buying them a beer. I was amazed at how deeply I could connect with the people around me with limited vocabulary, and how warm and open the people I met were. I made many friends that summer. For the most part, we haven’t kept in touch. But that doesn’t diminish the time we had together.
Part of what draws me to travel are experiences that open my eyes, ears, tastebuds, and heart. What connects travel to yoga (for me, anyway) is the idea of union: of mind, heart, and body, of other minds, hearts, and bodies, and discovering that at the end of the day, we’re all human.