The week before last I joined a couple of blokes from an INGO in Gunung Sitoli on a day trip to a village north of town. It's the place we went snorkelling a while back, so I was taking a box of books and stuff to them as a thank you for the lobsters.
The two fellas I joined were Indonesian, one from Nias and the other from Aceh. We visited a couple of schools, picked up building materials in the ute and dropped them off further up the road, and then met with the village head and some local women for the purpose of interviews about a project in the village.
Whenever you get out in to the rural areas of Nias, simply being there is enough to teach you something about the people and the place. On this day, though, the highlight was the conversation I had with these two young Indonesians. It was quite an eye-opener, especially given that the Javanese couple I had tried to engage about political issues were not interested at all.
We stopped for IndoMie and Coke for lunch at a small village and then things got interesting.
It all started when one of the fellas - a young bloke from Nias - asked me whether there were "villages like this one" in Australia. I said that there was nowhere in Australia that looked like the place we were in. I described country towns and major regional centres. I also said that, in Australia, if there were roads like the ones we were traveling on then people would complain to the government and they would be fixed. He replied, “Here, people don’t bother complaining to the government because they know nothing will happen. They just live how they can.”
We talked for a while about the differences between Australia and Nias - roads, schools, public health, tertiary education, welfare, jobs. The Nias bloke took all of this in - his brother had once studied in Australia on a government scholarship, so he knew a little about Australia anyway - and summed his thoughts up by saying, “So the big question is: when will Indonesia become Australia?”
As we discussed a few things it became clear that local people (well, some of them at least) consider Nias to be a much-neglected region of Indonesia. My new mate put it pretty bluntly. “Some people say, ‘I hope there will be another earthquake, because then the government will care about us.’”
The other fella is Acehnese. He had a lot to say, too, and laughed when I suggested that out Javanese housemates had not wanted to discuss politics with me. He told me a lot about the education system in Nias - how teachers are trained, what they are paid, how many kids attend, the issues facing children and their parents. This was invaluable. And he seemed to agree with the view that the island was neglected - underdeveloped.
On the way back to Gunung Sitoli I remarked upon the amount of rekonstruksi going on - we passed drains being dug, bridges being built, homes taking shape on the roadside, trucks and bechaks loaded up with materials. But the Acehnese bloke smiled sadly when I said this and replied, “No, there is no rekonstruksi. This is konstruksi. Before the aid came to Nias there was nothing.”
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This is my last little post in this journal. I'm back at my main journal now. I'll be living in Nias for the next nine to twelve months, so I hope that I will expand up on these notes during that time. This journal will be closed off now and kept as a record of the first year I spent traveling and living in Southeast Asia. See ya.