Sumatra Impressions

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sumatra. Nothing here is as I expected.

Approaching the country from the air, I pressed my nose against the airplane window and admired the regular, undulating rows of palm trees, a verdant new-leaf green, which made the land look like a nubbled Berber carpet.

But Karen, project manager of the Orangutan Health Project, for which I've come here as a volunteer, later explained as we were driving through the palm groves from Medan to the project site, that palm plantations are run by mulitnational corporations that manufacture biodiesel, lipstick, toothpaste, margarine and other products. The plantations are destroying the primary rainforest, the darker green that was far less abudant, more obscured by the misty morning air. Home to the orangutans I had come to see, plus countless other animals, the jungle is fast disappearing under economic pressures.

On arrival in Medan, I had expected a big, modern international airport like Changi, but found instead a much smaller building, similar to a First Nations longhouse on the BC coast, entranceways and pillars decorated with diamond-patterned folk art.  

Other suprising discoveries appeared at every turn. The street protest in Medan, workers marching through the morning traffic, dressed in lime green, waving banners and chanting for workers' rights as the police watched. The goose running about in the middle of the road, miraculously unharmed in the tumult of cars, bechucks and motorcycles going every which way. Houses woven from bamboo, not built of wood, with roofs made of dried banana leaves and the windows of ornate mosques. Dried banana chips that are salty, not sweet. Rice paddies, adding another layer of texture and greenery to this jungled scene, laced with pesticides the farmers spray from little wands and a pack on their backs. The sounds of Islam, in the form of songs sung five times a day, echoing through the fields and mountains, beautiful and haunting. And Felix, our Indonesian guide, so cheerful and who loves to sing, who told of how he lost everything he owned, and almost his life, in a flash flood that killed 300 people in his town of Bukit Lawang, our destination for the next two weeks.
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