Upon arriving in Jakarta, Indonesia, in June this year, I felt like a child in a toy store. I could not absorb all that was Indonesian fast enough. There was an awesome similarity in the Indonesians - their features, their exuberance and good humour, their innate simplicity. There is a childlike naivety about them, the belief in the inherent goodness of people, their hospitality and purity of soul, their commitment to family and community - all of which I recognise in my own people. But there are also differences - their dress, food, customs, traditions. And then there is that which we have lost - the language, the craftsmanship and wondrous skills, not to mention the common history and national pride.
I had little success in my search for the familiar things that are so much a part of our traditional Cape Malay culture at home - the foods like boeber (sweet milk), koesisters and bobotie, the customs like medowra's (bridal veil) and maskawi (dowry). In the end I am left to wonder whether these traditional symbols of the Cape Malay tradition had not been amassed by our people in the Cape, but which may have originated from various parts of Indonesia.
The country itself is an eye-opening experience. Far less sophisticated than its richer sister country, Malaysia, it is an intricate blend of old history and modern technology. It is a hot, muggy land with a swampy, jungle feel to it. It looks for all the world as if the jungle has given just enough way for humans and may pounce back as soon as it gets the chance. Vegetation of deepest green confirms a rich earth where almost anything grows within three months. But more beautiful than that and more plentiful than any other sight, is that of the endless waving rice plantations. It is a sight that grows more captivating as I travel cross country by train, heading south towards Java.
Coming from a country where the exceptionally high crime rate has created a paranoid society, travelling alone among the Indonesians is a huge culture shock. I cannot get over the lack of crime, the locals' helpfulness, their willingness to go out of their way to assist a stranger. As far as I went, I was often mistaken for one of them and quickly found myself the centre of attention as soon as they discovered where I came from. Many of them are amazed at our common history and I find myself immediately welcomed into the Indonesian family. I was overwhelmed by their concern for my wellbeing and the special effort they took to ensure that I, as a fellow Indonesian and Muslim sister, was in safe hands. And with each kilometre I travelled towards the province where my family stemmed from, I felt the thrill of rediscovering my forgotten roots.