Flying into the Sunrise (Part 2)

We then flew over more volcanoes stabbing through cloud-cover to Medan, Sumatra. We eventually arrived at a town far from civilization, Bukit Lawang, an eco-tourist hotspot because of the repatriated-into-the-wild orangutans that populate an ever-shrinking nature reserve there. Farmers have been consuming nature for decades and centuries, an ongoing economically driven problem around the globe, to provide arable land for growing crops and feeding cows for meat and hubris. Rescue elephants that we later encountered in northern Sumatra had rampaged and flattened villages in Banda Aceh, further to the north, the same place that was flattened by a tsunami in 2004, leaving it bare with only extreme-faith to sooth-over the population remaining. The elephants we encountered were rescued from 'death by government decree,' and made to live sporting a tourist-makeover in a land near Bukit Lawang, and distant from elephant ancestor memories. Eco-tourism was able to expose the cruelty of lapses by humans judging, but also caused problems of its own. Like in Komodo and Flores, Bukit Lawang had no landfills near enough to make a difference, and no way to dispose of the plastic water bottles we drank from and used to brush our teeth with. There were signs along the paths saying, “SAY NO TO PLASTIC.” The bottles piled up there, too. In hindsight, the only thing I can think of that would clean away the debris left by eco-tourism … might be a flood that could wash it all out to sea, a sea unseen.

In Bukit Lawang, in 2003, a flood did occur, scraping away everything with logs felled and water awash. Our first guide spoke of it as we passed the cement toilet cubicles that ‘still stood’ on our way to orientation at the lodge. His father was washed away, along with the sister of the guide that tramped with us up and down jungle hillsides to see semi-wild orangutans in the reserve. But the toilet cubes used by tourists still stood, now as a memorial to lost souls and lost lives. The government hadn’t checked upstream in many years, and a logjam exploding downstream during the rainy season unleashed a mabul that scraped away the entire village, including hundreds of people. 

After the fact, some attention was paid by the powers that be, since some of the people washed away were eco-tourists from the West. It is said that some relief was offered, as an outcry went out, and that the local government is now monitoring the possibility of another flood in the future. The waters didn’t touch the orangutans, it is also said. I imagine the majestic witnesses to our folly looking on, amused at the sounds, possibly frightened as a deep rumble rattled down the river basin, felled trees grinding away homes and lives, and the orangutans swaying above it all, possibly remembering the cigarettes and booze they were once encouraged to consume, and also curiously frightened from the absence of human presence in the days and weeks following. Many of these orangutans were rescued into the wild from wealthy homes, having been taught to entertain human guests with various vices, making faces, and sacrificing their wild, innocent souls for 'our' grins and social worth. They’d be missing their masters, I thought…

Maybe that’s what we all do, sacrifice our wild, innocent souls for worth and immediate reward. Jakarta, Indonesia, might beg to differ. But, it wouldn’t be worth the ink written. The last stop on our journey through dark enlightenment was less than it made out to be. The capital of Indonesia has been a broken relic since it began, no one actually knowing where the name even originated. There are stories, I’ve read and heard, but my theory is that the city of Batavia, started by Dutch mariners and entrepreneurs at the expense of local culture and civilization, polluted beyond recognition the innocence that had once evolved independent of western influence … and its overwhelming effluence. Batavia collapsed, as is so graphically depicted in Jakarta’s cultural institutions, and the birth of a decapitated cultural revolution manifested itself in its place.

The people that I witnessed in Jakarta were broken, even the oh-so pleasant guide that toured us through the Chinese market and the ‘slum.’ Not so different from ‘touring’ the improvised settlements of South Africa, economics were stripped bare and laid plain. I bring this irrelevant point into our story to make a point; in the third world humanity survives, merely, as opposed to thrives. But, the real problem is the philosophy lived by. In Bali offerings were made for the day, giving a proportionate amount of the day’s consumptive activities to a god of choice, usually one with business in mind and tusks to prove it. In Flores offerings were infected with Catholicism, marking crosses at death sites and living arrangements in conjunction with the old ways, the Animism of the ancestors. But, in Jakarta there was apparent a sort of last ditch effort to make the world whole again, to bring back the head missing. The colonial structures remained in the town square as museums and restaurants, and patrons we became. Ignorance and misinformation elevated each establishment to a sublime sublimation of reality, to the locals and wannabes alike. In Jakarta I experienced a hollow wanting as I traversed its institutional byways, its hallways filled with branding, inadequate explanation for its empty places, and, of course, the pageantry of its own lost-soul cover-up.

Walking through the Chinese market in Jakarta, our guide saying, “Salam Aleikhem” to Afghani immigrants with jalabiyas and unibrows just prior, we were assaulted with the extremities of living. A young boy with a body deformed skateboarded on his belly for money down the street next to intent motorcycle traffic – a seller of the popular Indonesian stink-bean looked askance as I avoided taking his picture – skinned frogs and split sea cucumbers awaited consumers to acquire them, finally ending their bare exposure to the naked street – a crack of a thud emanating out from within the cavernous market stalls, the muscly fishmonger giving a spiritual shrug as a giant sea turtle squirmed in midair after being thrown to the fates, flying down to the concrete floor, upside down, its shell smacking with a sonic boom to my social/spiritual well-being … to make soup from for gluttonous Chinese consumers. What’s the chance of that turtle being the same turtle I swam behind while it stretched its neck out to unrealistically breathe in ‘our’ world? That’s where my mind went. It’d been more than a week, maybe two. It was the same exact size…

Without haste I looked up and realized I had been left behind in my own wanderings. I had to run down the street to catch up with the guide, and with my beloved. They weren’t worried about me, I noticed, when I caught their eye.’ We ended our flight through the market at a Chinese temple, my mind and stomach still racing. Trying to breathe in meditation, I noticed that I had entered a meticulous process oriented system designed to give purpose and path to those that followed. People were in deep trance, and going through the motions, like everyday life intersected this place every day. In a chance observation I realized that it was a system to gamble for your future. There was one talisman on one side of a can of choosing sticks, and one talisman on the other. There were numbers on the sticks inside the choosing can, and, depending upon the … whatever, you got to pick a drawer on the opposite wall with fortunes inside. It was so alien to me, and so interesting at the same time. I immediately thought of wishing someone “good luck.” From my recently acquired perspective of Chinese temple mechanics, and from my own knowledge’s perspective, it would be a curse to wish such. What if the world had no meaning? What if it was all about choosing and not losing? Yes, could be, maybe it is … but, to throw all maters to fate (or not)?! I guess I just prefer to live in a world where meaning defines more than just character: it defines path.

Two young closeted (in Indonesia especially) Jewish lawyer-to-be women traveled with us while visiting the repatriated orangutans in northern Sumatra. We shared a compatriot illegal religious status and, amazingly, they confided to us in Hebrew, and then placed themselves on the front-line of eminent persecution by being gay. I felt guilty after I had had the realization that I had stepped back from that line once we spoke of it. As we 'eco-tourists' traveled together we spoke of many things politic. They had a friend back in DC that was into it, you see. Their friend knew how to talk her way through stuff, they almost seemed to say. Then we really spoke, like an informal summit on the summit of a jungle hill waiting for fruit and snacks while searching for orangutans; yes, just like that. Sharing a banana and some yellow watermelon, our guides attending us and then retreating to smoke cigarettes together away from their eco-tourists, the crux of our new friends' friend's position became expressed: “How can a persecuted people from a foreign land be re-assigned to another land that belongs to another people?” Holocaust survivors should be repatriated, after the horror of being targeted for their religious and cultural heritage, to their ‘own’ land, they seemed to be saying. And, what about the native residents?! What about Palestine and its people?

I wanted to reply with, “What people?” What people had been living there? Turks? Egyptians? Jordanians? I wanted to reply with: what, exactly, is a Palestinian? The name Palestine was coined by ancient Romans that had conquered Israel (the people and the land) over 2,000 years in the past. Future conquerors, multiple empires of Turks, and in modern times – the European conquerors – the Brits, had only populated the land sparsely, as multiple historical sources attest to. And ... the Jews had gone on living in their land, even though ancient Rome had tried to expunge them from history, an ongoing story of attempted exile or extinction of the Jews by ruling powers that we continue to bear witness to today. But, I didn’t say those things. My mind left me in the moment. I forgot the history I’d learned. I forgot. I wanted to illustrate how, currently, a majority of Israeli Jews' ancestors had been living in dhimmis status in Arab lands, and had been forced to flee their homes only a year after the State of Israel was founded, without a penny, without loved ones, and without the world’s care. I wanted to, but I forgot. 

What I did reply with was: There 'should' be a political state for a people that insist upon its existence. There 'should' be a Palestine, a modern state built upon this very foundation ... even though there is only one historical precedent I've ever heard of, where an ancient people returned to their historical and ancestral homeland ... like how the Jews manifested a modern state of their own, having reoccupied ‘their’ homeland after being expelled from it by conquerors, in the Land of Israel. Then silence broke the tension across the jungle hill's summit. We all understood that there was nothing else to say. We all understood that the only chance that a Palestinian state had for existence was the historical precedent that an ancient displaced people, the Jews, could have returned to their own historical homeland, setting the stage for any and all displaced peoples across the globe. Then, as our guides began to regroup us to search more for semi-wild repatriated orangutans, we all shuffled to our feet and began to break-down into small-talk, conversing upon the Media’s unworthiness, and how each pop-insta-in your face institution promotes only its own agenda, opening its wallet to be filled with our ignorance blissfully, and that ALL of the ‘News’ outlets are false and should be ignored, utterly. 

We left Sumatra and flew to Jakarta, then flew into the sunrise. I watched the light glowing murkily outside the windows of the plane. I couldn’t understand how we could be matching the airspeed of the earth as it spun, as the sun rotated around our perception of day and night. How could the sun have stopped its descent over the horizon? How could it just hover, waiting for my mind to catch up? Then the night fell and I told myself that we had finally fallen behind. I watched movies edited for content. I read a book I bought in Bali about its history and development. I stared out the window and watched the clouds disappear into darkness ... last, as the earth below became blurry and dotted with lights from ships, from buildings, from cars. Then there was desert, once again. I looked through the round portal of a window out onto the darkness and noticed that there was no screen to slide down, and that there were only two buttons decorating the surface of the window’s mounting. I pressed one of the unlabeled buttons and nothing happened. I pressed the other … and, the same. The buttons had to be for something, so I held one down for seconds longer to see what might occur. We were still over the desert, I could just see, and then the light outside the plane again began to glow. It became brighter and brighter, inside and out. I quickly let go of the button and pushed the other, to be sure, and my window became darker … then darker. I knew that I would be landing in Tel Aviv, sometime in the wee hours of the night, but, in hindsight, didn’t have a clue as to how that knowledge would taint my own future, my vision of who and what I was to become in the world to be. Because of irrefutable proof, of what my eyes had shown me point blank, I had been matching in my mind the speed of the spin of the earth and its rotation around the sun. But, I was wrong. A technological magic trick had fooled me, and, like ancients and ancestors before me, I had simply stepped across a threshold into the future unknown with my own supreme knowledge, gained from a lifetime of experience. I had merely stepped through a doorway into a future that was created in my mind ... and so very loved.

The Mediterranean Sea from Ramat Hanadiv Nature Reserve in Israel
I wanted to upload here the profile pic in front of the Temple Mount that I deleted while in Bajawa, but it seems that it's gone forever... having been wiped from the world in delusional fear. We are home again, thank God, safe, happy, and proud. Blessings to all from the Promised Land!

For more pics, click here

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