Ok, before it gets way too late to update on things that happened more than a month ago (time is really flying!), I’m going to write about my first trip to see Matt in Indonesia!

While I live in the area of Indonesia that is relatively turbo-charged on Islam, Indonesia is quite Muslim as a whole, so everyone takes a long holiday at the end of Ramadan holiday, Eid ul Fitri, or as it’s known here “Hari Raya,” which means literally “Big Day.” However, “raya” means “big” as in “it’s a pretty big deal” kind of big. We got 10 days off!

I recently learned that in Aceh, before the NGOs all came into town and required people to work based on international standards of a work day, it wasn’t just 10 days – it really was the entire month of Ramadan that people closed their shops and offices or would just openly sleep at their desks. Now, at least in Caritas, we just had an official 7-hour work day in August.

As an aside, Matt and I both started working in our respective jobs August 1st, which was the first day of Ramadan. The entire daily schedule of people here in Aceh changed. Of course, no one took lunch, because there was no place open to take lunch even if one was not fasting (now, however, the office routinely clears out entirely for a good hour to hour and a half for the mass lunch exodus). I knew a few people who weren’t fasting that knew little shops that would fill clandestine lunch orders, but you couldn’t go at the same time everyday or make it obvious that you were getting food before 4pm. In one city where one of the local government officials is going a bit overboard with Sharia Law, because it’s an election year and he’s running, arrested and caned a shopkeeper and a customer that was caught buying food in the middle of the day. Although people weren’t allowed to eat until the Imam said so at about 7pm, people started buying food at 4pm at all these little, Ramadan-time-only, pop-up stands on the roadside that sold “kues” or “cakes” but really they were old sorts of bits and bobs of spring rolls to jellies to drinks with jellies floating in them, so people could have food ready for “buka puasa” or literally “open fasting.” Of course, it’s no big deal for Indonesians to have their food sitting and getting room temperature for 3 hours, because generally that’s how food is here – sitting and room temperature – you get used to it. Anyway, I am sad that no more are there food stalls crowding the streets with all sorts of fried cakes and goodies (this is something only during Ramadan). Ah yes, and in contrast, Matt in Ambon (nearly the entire other side of the country from Banda Aceh) would frequently write that he was off for a bit to grab some lunch at a nearby food shop. They ate lunch OPENLY!

In any case, the whole point of this is that we go to have a vacation together just barely a month after starting. We had plans to meet in Bali, however, because we had started late on planning and it’s like trying to buy tickets starting X-mas holiday 2 weeks before flights were crazy expensive – like USD900 just for me roundtrip. I could get back to the US on that! So, it was cheaper for one of us to fly and see the other, and we decided that I would fly to Ambon and meet Matt, and then hop on a ship and sail for a night to the mysterious and original Spice Islands… Banda Islands! It took me about an entire day to get from Sumatra to Ambon, and I was furiously typing a term paper for school and had to ruin my reunion with Matt a bit, because I was still not finished grandly expounding on areas the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture should really improve their policies and data collecting. Anyway, Matt graciously left me to spend a couple more hours to finish and email off my paper before getting on the boat where we would gloriously have no internet access for the next week.

Oh, it was so good to see Matt again! It took a bit to adjust to the culture shock of still being in Indonesia, but not in Aceh, where any public display of affection would have caused some social repercussions for certain. But after the initial adjustment period it was like we had never been apart. We were joined on our trip with Matt’s colleague, Drew, who is a volunteer at Mercy Corps, the NGO Matt is working with, focusing on improving the market chain for their project with nutmeg and clove farmers in Seram (another island in the Maluku chain of islands). Since Banda is the original home to nutmeg he really had to get his historical nutmeg fix, and really he was a great travelling companion and definitely provided us not only with the past history but an important perspective on the current status of nutmeg production in Indonesia and the world and the challenges the farmers have in getting good value in the global marketplace. Matt has a great write-up on that, as he also has done some work for their “Spice Up the Deal!” project working with the spice farmers, which I will post afterwards.

Ok, well, I am tired of writing at the moment – it’s 10pm, and I’ve had a long day (even though it’s Sunday). Yesterday was our day for driving the 8-9 hours from Banda Aceh to Aceh Selatan, another district where we are working with patchouli farmers. Today was spent discussing with our folks here on their patchouli demonstration plot planting and management plans in order to integrate my research plans with them! It was a really good day, and soon I’ll be digging in the ground and scooping up water to take field samples. More on that later…