Traveling in Indonesia
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
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
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
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.