Rest day reflections from Lumajang (East Java)

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It’s funny how sometimes the places the guide book ignores are the places that most capture your heart. Well, I don’t think it is the places as much as the people. In Daegu I stopped to a night at Empathy Guesthouse and stayed five. I loved the project, I loved sitting in the common room working at my laptop, I loved talking with the people working there. It was my little slice of heaven in Korea. Yet I heard that no one goes to Daegu because there is nothing there to be done. So too have I found a place here in Indonesia. When I booked Homestay Rumah Kita I didn’t expect much. I thought it would just be a bed for a night while I passed through.
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But instead I found myself sitting in this delightful courtyard on the street talking and laughing with the guy and lady who work here and their neighbour who runs a sim card shop. We talked about food so I found myself with a big pile of pisang goreng (banana fritters) in front of me that he ran out to buy from a stall. And before long I booked a second night. Yesterday I spent almost the entire day in the courtyard on my laptop doing work. Sure, I went out to buy breakfast at a little market that was set up near the alun-alun (city centre park) and rode the motorbike around town to find a place for dinner. But for the rest of the day we talked and I worked.

My host was a teacher before he worked here. He told me that teaching in Indonesia is not a good profession because you do not get paid very well. I had looked online at what English teachers get paid here and noticed that it was maybe $200-500 a month. My host told me that an Indonesian teacher would be lucky to earn $200 a month so that is why he does not teach.

My host is a Muslim so every few hours he left to pray at the nearby mosque. The call to prayers would start and I would know that it was time to wrap up our conversation because he would feel rude just standing up to go. For me it is refreshing to be in a place where it is okay to talk about religion without fear of offence. Here in East Java, Islam is strong and the mosques are full at prayer time. When the prayers are over hundreds of scooters must leave the mosque and join the traffic so a man with a whistle stands out in the street stopping cars/trucks and slowing motorbikes and scooters to let the faithful swarm out. It is a sight to behold.

Religion is interesting to me so I find the maleability of the Indonesian people and their comfort with religion a treat. In Pacitan an ice cream vendor asked whether I was Christian. It was a surprise to hear this fortright question about my faith. After saying that I am, I asked whether he was. “Oh no, I am from Bali. I am Hindu. My mother and father are Christian. But I stay with my uncle in Pacitan and he is Muslim.” Here in Lumajang my host tells me the names of the prayers to which he is going. I watch as he grabs his mat and hat to attend to his faith. His neighbour comes to wash his feet but cannot attend the mosque because of his shop. We talk a little too. He tells me that for him religion is no problem. “All same God,” he says. And I smile because this is how I see it too. Here ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples blend into the mountain sides while newer Christian churches and Islamic mosques take pride of place in city streets. Each has it’s place and time. All share the landscape. Perhaps tomorrow another faith will grow here and it’s practices and dress will also become part of this place. Or maybe this time change will not come again. Whatever the case, my host went off to pray, leaving me to concentrate on my work for a little while until his happy return.

Lumajang really has little to offer the tourist except a jumping off point to visit Semeru. There are few restaurants and the warungs that there are look a little too dirty even for my eat anywhere mentality. There are no big drawcards and the climate is hot. But for the time I am here it feels like home and I intend one day to return to sit in this little courtyard on the painted chairs watching the traffic and learning a few more words of Bahasa Indonesia.

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