Monday, March 29, 2010

At the Foot of Mount Merapi

By Yohanes Manhitu

usual, I ride my mountain bike out of the city of Yogyakarta when I feel bored of opening my English, French, and Spanish books and dictionaries and have nothing to do in my small rent room. I have been doing this activity very frequently since I bought a second-hand mountain bike in January this year. I was very tired at the first time I rode it, but later I found it very amusing because by doing this I can witness huge of clean places where pollution is rarely seen.

It was Friday, 15 June 2001 that this story took place. That morning I got up quite earlier than usual, about 5 o’clock. As soon as I washed my face and brushed my teeth – usually I do not take a shower before going cycling, because it is useless; one will be very sweaty. I will do it when I come back.

After that, I left my boarding house for my destination, which was Kaliadem: a village located very close to Mount Merapi (the most active volcano in Java Island). The village is well-known in Yogyakarta because there is a very beautiful big golf field in the area. It is Merapi Golf.

As the village is located at the foot of Merapi, the road is very sloping so it is difficult to get there by bicycle. In spite of this difficulty, I managed to get there in one and a half hour. So, I cycled for 30 kilometres to reach the village. It was not something new for me because I had ever cycled even farther than that – I cycled almost a whole day to and from Borobudur temple.

After pedaling through the mountainous road, I arrived at a point where I could see the golf field directly from its main entrance. There I could also view clearly and directly the beautiful natural panorama of the volcano which resembled to a non-stop smoking giant conical chimney. I saw a big group of white clouds passing by and mixing with the smoke coming up from the “stomach” of the volcano. Their mixture then became another new group of grey clouds. I could not image how frightening it would be, if the lava of the volcano flew directly to the nearest village and swept the inhabitants and their houses. Fortunately, this never happens until now. I pray it never happens until the moment that God Himself changes His Devine Mind. I did enjoy the beautiful natural view in that Friday morning. It was really amazing.

Several minutes after that, I tried to enter the golf field but, unfortunately, a security staff approached me and say: “I’m sorry, Sir, we can not allow anyone to enter the golf field while it is crowded because it is too dangerous for their life. It is very possible that the golf ball with hit them and we do not want to take any risk.” Thanking him for his advice I said, “It is very kind of you to tell me that. It is O.K.”

I, then, spent about thirty minutes talking with them at the main entrance, near their guard post. It seemed that they were very curious to know why I cycled to the place from the city in the early morning when the sun had not granted its shine. To the best of their knowledge, as they told me, I was probably the first person having pedaled for such a long distance and arrived at the mountainous village. Instead of presenting them a long explanation, I just said that I was doing it for fun only.

They continued to ask me about what I was doing in Yogyakarta and where I was originally from. “I am from Kupang, West Timor and I am taking several language courses in the city. I have been living there for almost one year.” I said. The two nodded their heads and said: “Well, you are luck to have chosen Yogyakarta as your place to study in because it is really suitable. Many facilities are available and the cost of living is relatively cheap. We hope that you will be successful with your courses.” “Thank you very much”, I responded.

While we were talking, one of them suddenly told me that his neighbour used to be a teacher in Timor but had moved to the village, and had been teaching in a district town called Wonosari, a sub-district city near the Indian Ocean. His name is Sarijo. I was surprised to hear that name, because it was the same as my Indonesian language teacher in Junior High School. He was a teacher in the East Timor’s enclave, Ambeno.

Being curious of what had just been said, I attacked the security staff with many key questions as if I was interrogating him.

“Does he teach in a Junior High School?”, I asked.
“Yes, he does”, responded the man.
“Is he short and black?” “Does he have straight hair, pimples in his face?” I asked.
“You are right”, he said.
I was not satisfied with these questions, so asked the man one more and I hope it was the last one.
“Was he still single when he moved here from Timor?” I asked. Surprisingly, he answered: “You get it. He has just got married two months ago with a staff of this golf field.”

Based on this information, I was certain that Mr. Sarijo was really my former teacher in the Secondary School. I told them that I wanted to meet Mr. Sarijo and I needed his address. I would like to prove whether or not it was true that he was my teacher. I was well prepared to be ashamed if you would be someone else.

“How far is his house from here?” I asked the security guard.
“About two kilometres”, he answered.
“Please go straight and then stop at the mosque to ask someone where the house is”, the man suggested.

Before going there, I went to have breakfast in a small mountain restaurant just next to the golf security post, bordered by a small creek full of wild bamboos. It was my first time to have my breakfast in a tiny restaurant at the foot of Mount Merapi. The day was nice. I saw the sun shine appearing from the trees. The sun seemed unable to sweep away a group of white clouds approaching the smoking mountain; it was like a procession of clouds that I was witnessing.

After finishing a plate of rice and freshly fried fish, and a glass of water, I pedaled to find Mr. Sarijo’s house. The road was hilly and at both sides of it, I saw thick bushes and giant trees everywhere. The wind was blowing and the leaves of the trees were moving into all directions as if they were welcoming me along the way. I met almost no car, except one or two old motorcycles. The people I met starred me with curiosity. Maybe they asked why I was pedaling like crazy along the mountainous road. Luckily, none of them had stopped me to ask for my identity card. I take nothing with me at the time, except my Walkman, several cassettes and several bills.

Following the advice of the security guard at the gold field, I stopped for a while at the front of the mosque to ask someone about the house I was looking for. Thank God, someone knew the address and was willing to take me to the destination. I then knew that he was Mr. Sarjito’s neighbour.

When both arrived there, there was nobody home, except a half-aged woman admitting to be Mr. Sarjito’s elder sister. She was with her funny little boy whose name I never know. As soon as she knew that I was from Timor and was looking for her younger brother, she treated me very specially. She invited me to the living room where she soon served me a big glass of sweet tea and a plate full of cakes, while explaining me that her brother was still at school and he might be on the way home from school, and that he usually attended the Friday prayer (Muslim Friday Worship) at school.

It was quite difficult for me to talk to her fluently, because she could not speak fluent Indonesian. She asked me a number of short questions in Javanese. Perhaps she thought that I spoke the language. Fortunately, I managed to answer several questions containing most of the words that I had picked up from friends in my boarding house.

While enjoying the tea and the cakes, I insisted that I should see the teacher’s latest photos to ensure my own prediction. The kind woman entered a room and then come out with three photo albums. She opened one them said, “This is Mr. Sarjito’s latest photo”. I scrutinized the photo and the said, “No, this Mr. Sarijo is not my former secondary teacher, but seem to have met him in my campus in Kupang”. I was sure that the man he had been a student of an extension program in Nusa Cendana University. On the other hand, the woman was very confused with my explanation. I did not know it was a matter of language of what. She said that we better wait until her Mr. Sarijo arrived. I just agreed with her idea, and continue enjoying another glass of tea and the cakes. I did not know whether they were homemade or were bought somewhere. I guessed they had bought them in the city.

An hour later, several family members: Mr. Sarijo’s wife, the father, his younger bother, mother, and his nephew arrived. I shook hands with them and explained them why I was in their house. They were very pleased to meet me. Several minutes later, they invited me to lunch because it was about one o’clock and I knew that everyone was hungry. The foods and drinks were served in front of us. The father and I sat on the chairs and face a small table where the foods and drinks were served, while the other sad on a mat spread on the floor. They might think that I was shy so they said, “Make yourself at home please”. We are sorry; we do not have any delicious food to serve. Our food is very simple”. “Thank you very much! This is more than enough”, I said with a smile.

After lunch, I spent the time outside, just in front of the house looking at three big white cows kept in a small building under a big tree. They were fed with a kind of grass resembles to the leaves of sweet potato.

Mr. Sarijo arrived an hour later. He was very surprised to see me there, standing next to my mountain bicycle in the house yard. We shook hands and than chatted. He seems very curious about my presence. I told him everything and he was very happy to meet me. We automatically spoke Kupang Malay (a colloquial dialect used in Kupang) rather than formal Indonesian. It was funny because he mixed the language with Javanese accent.

Considering that it was about to rain, he insisted that I should spent the night with them in the village and return to Yogya in the next morning. However, I politely refused it by saying that I would have to attend a French class in the afternoon. He asked me to come back there the week after. “Thank you very much for your kindness. I will come back next time, if I have time”, I thanked them. “You are welcome. We are always happy to see you. Just come back at anytime, but if you want to meet me, please come on Sunday”, said Mr. Sarijo, speaking on behalf of the nice family.

When I was about to pedal home, the rain suddenly came; consequently, I had to stop and waited there until it stopped. As the rain stopped, I shook hands again with all the family members and started pedaling to Yoga. When I had left the house about a two kilometres, it rained again. It was raining cats and dogs when I was on my way home. I felt just someone was pouring a hundred buckets of water over my head.

I arrived at my boarding house in a soaking look. It was about seven thirty in the evening. So I spent almost three and a half hours on the way, including an hour stop, as the rain was too heavy for me to continue pedaling. That day, I felt like I had been doing a long journey to and from the sky.

Yogyakarta, 24 November 2001

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