Well, the two week trip a week ago was an interesting journey, as I had gone this time with our new M&E/Coordination Officer, Asep, who is from Java and has worked with a lot of the staff here on other projects. He is also a big sustainable agriculture nerd, so it was easy to communicate ideas back and forth, and he was willing to translate a lot for me to stay included. So, I finally am learning a lot of the nuances of the project activities and personalities, as before I just went on my own or with the Head of Mission (HOM), and of course the  best foot is put forward on those occasions.

In any case, something that is also not done when travelling with the HOM is the use of motorcycles to get to the various field sites. And that is a lot of fun, particularly when I can sit on the back and not have to worry about navigating the 45deg hills and potholes and gravelly roads. We were in Gayo Lues, so the views of the mountains and bucolic mountain valleys was fantastic, though sadly punctured by hillsides of intense erosion from slash-and-burn.

On the way into Gayo Lues through the Leuser National Forest

One night, I just got wretchedly exhausted. Too many nights of staying up typing a paper (while everyone else was watching the opening ASEAN soccer games, aka football, and they were passionate about it), and then too many days tromping through the fields. I fell asleep aching all over early in the little homestay we were at that was located above a hardware store listening to the blaring Gayo pop/rock music till the wee hours (the shop next door starts blaring the music as early as 6:30am regardless of the day of the week, and stops at about 12:00am). Actually, the music is the only complaint I had about that place, because, even though it was quite basic with some extremely thin mattresses on wooden frames, literally plywood walls, padlock locks, and only three communal bathrooms on the first floor, it was clean. That’s my only real main criteria after nights of sleeping on beds of dubious, stale human aromas.

Anyway, I had tried to talk through the plywood walls to Asep the next morning that I just wasn’t feeling up to anything, but, for some reason, in the end, I decided it would just be easier to slog through the day than try to explain that I was ill. Plus, I was to be the guest star at a local middle school. So, the morning started off being completely surrounded by kids. They were studying English, so I would ask them a question in English. Total blank stares. The teacher would translate. Then the kids would answer in English. I’m never really jazzed to interact with whole crowds of kids (kids can be ok, sometimes, depending on the kid, I guess), but really I was also not very enthused at the role of token westerner at that moment, so we quickly and still graciously did our photo posing duties, said goodbye, and zoomed off to a field site.

Nice and orderly. Girls sat on the right side of the room and boys sat on the left side of the room.

So excited!

Luckily, no one showed up to the field site to tell us about what was going on (there was a big to-do at our business center, where a banner was being unfurled with all the local military and police. Apparently, it is required for all businesses to display a banner saying something like Peace/Unity for proactive tension easing before the elections. This meant that pretty much all the staff were redirected to that event). So, I found a piece of plywood, laid down and took a nap while Asep talked with one of the cooperative field staff that came to escort us.

When we were done at that site, we started heading back to the office. We passed through this little village where there were all these kids scooting down the road on make-shift go-cart/skateboard toys. I was on a motorcycle behind Asep. All of a sudden we hear a thud, see Asep brake, and then this maybe 11-year old boy is face planting onto the road! The boy gets up all wobbly and spits out a big glob of blood, but no teeth. Luckily, a busted lip was the worst of his injuries. Asep had moved to the other side of the road when he saw the kids, but the boy was running, not paying attention and ran into the back of Asep’s motorcycle, bounced off and landed on the ground. We escorted him to the nearest house where we proceeded to wait while someone got the kid’s father from his fields so we could all go to the hospital. While we waited, there were just children everywhere! Maybe only 4 women, but at least 40 kids with half of them strapped down breastfeeding or just generally hanging around. One old grandma came over and gave the injured boy an earful! Made him cry all over again and run off – apparently this was not his first roadside mishap. Then when the father got there we went across the street to their house, and there was even a whole new slew of children! Children filling the streets, children filling the house, children filling the doorway, children filling the windows, children, children, children.

The CIA World Factbook says that Indonesia has a 1.069% population growth rate as of 2011. I don’t know – do I buy that?