Traveling in Indonesia

Traveling here is a much different experience than in America.

By Jennifer McArdle - Peace Corps Volunteer, Indonesia (2014 - 2016)


In Indonesia, traveling is still a journey,

Not a smooth ride gliding on pavement or

Air in a metal sanitized container,

But loud and twisting through mountain

Paths or bumpy roads along electric green seas of rice

Paddies or the ocean itself, breaking blue and white

And noisy on the shore.

Many roads are still unpaved and broken, mud covered

Blocked by cattle, wandering goats,

Lost chickens, and motorbikes weaving in and out,

And chased by minstrels strumming guitars

Wailing loudly or singing soft and sweet

and merchants: “miss, miss? Don’t you want

to buy tofu or water, or tissue or Islamic books or little bracelets

or head phones and flash disks?”

And beggars wishing blessings

In return for dirty bills and

Clinking coins.

It’s a million questions about your

Origins and your journey and your destination,

It’s bartering and negotiating fares,

And being cheated and guarding your things

Close do your body while squished against

Other bodies, sweating and filling empty space

After empty space.

It’s concern and hands offered, catching you

Pulling you on onto vehicles jerking forward or sending

You down and further on your way.

It’s smiles and new connections:

Your president lived here.

He is orang Indonesia, an Indonesian person, too

And we are now brothers

Or sisters,

And for a few hours we are sharing

This same path, waiting together

Behind cars and motor bikes

For some hours or 27 months, maybe,

Sweating, sharing frustration

And relief

Alhumdillilah, Praise God, our

Destination is here

And what was together now

Scattered, like hundreds

Of grains of rice spilled

Onto a thatched bamboo floor.


This poem was entered in the Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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