Travelling can be an eye opening experience. Especially when you leave the tourist tracks. When you look beyond the beauty of the surrounding nature and into the eyes of the people. When you talk to them, when they talk to you, and when you learn from them. It teaches you about other cultures but it also provides you with new insights about your own culture.

DSCF2407The other culture I had the privilege to meet a lot of people in Lunyuk, Sumbawa. Here I met lot of girls and women. The girls here get married young compared to western standards. The oldest girl I met, who wasn’t yet married, was 24. It was more common to talk to a 21 your old mother of two. One of the 16 year old girls, who spoke great English, revealed to me she really wanted to study and maybe even work abroad. While she would be there, finding a nice, handsome boy was just as important as working there itself. Taking care of the children and the household is the primary occupation of the women here. DSCF2403They are very proud of their children. Seen from a western point of view is it is too easy to judge. Too easy to feel sorry for them. For the fact that most of these girls might never have a job we see as fulfilling and contributing. They will most likely spend their entire life in one village and with one man.

DSCF2413But when looking at my situation through their eyes ( as much as that is possible…). They, quite possibly, feel just as sorry for me. Here is a 27 year old women. She doesn’t have a husband. She doesn’t have children and she doesn’t even have the luxury of knowing she will have a roof over her head every night. What will become of her? What is her purpose in life? Why would you want to travel halfway around the world, when you can have a home and loving family right where you started? We speak different languages, both literally and figuratively. For me it is unthinkable to live their lives and be happy, for them it is unthinkable to live my life and be happy.

My own culture In the Netherlands, we celebrate Sinterklaas. A tradition where children receive presents, like Santa Claus in many other countries. In short it’s the celebration of Saint Nicholas’ birthday. He comes to the Netherlands every year. To deliver the presents he has helpers called Black Petes. These dark skinned, friendly characters have been the topic of debate for a few years now. It is said that the dark colour of their skin is an expression of racism and refers back to the era of slavery. There was even a study conducted by the UN into the topic.

zwarte pietMany Dutch people defend the tradition. Stating it is a friendly children’s fest, no harm is intended and therefore no offence should be taken. The Dutch all grew up loving Black Pete, regardless of his skin colour. For most of them it is impossible to see this tradition differently then we have always seen it. Harmless and cheerful. Through the love for Black Pete we, white Dutchies, are blinded to how others might see it. Racist and a reference to slavery.

We are all a product of our environment. Stepping outside of our own beliefs and seeing things in a different light is only possible when we realise that our cultures are a collection of beliefs, habits and rituals. To accept and understand others we first have to look at ourselves. Why do we believe some things are good and others bad? Why do I feel sorry for girls who get married at seventeen, why do they pity me for not having children at 27? Why do many good intended people celebrate a tradition that’s seen as racist by others? It’s all because of a set of beliefs, habits and rituals, reinforced by the people who we are surrounded with. The beauty is though, if you go traveling, and you keep your eyes and ears open to the changing surroundings, you might see more than just pretty places and pretty faces.

3 thoughts on “Pretty places and pretty faces

  1. Your friends in Lunyuk have (IMHO) a more sensible and sustainable set of priorities that the ‘western’ ones you refer to.
    I am old enough to be able to reflect on the value of a ‘career’ to me and to people I have known. To the extent that it facilitates being a useful part of a family and a community … it is important and useful. As an end in itself, as a higher priority (for even 10 minutes – let alone 10 years) than family and community …. it is idiocy!
    Some years ago I went to say goodbye to a friend who had a few days or weeks to live (cancer) – something we both knew. We were colleagues before we were friends – and, if we had not both had some arcane complementary skills in electricty sector restructuring, we might never have met. I remember one of the last things I said to him (and I don’t even particularly remember the context). I said “Michael – I’m not here because you are a great lawyer”. He laughed and said he wasn’t even that (though he was, at least, a very good one). I was with him because he was a kind and decent man, a good husband and a loving father. He was also a wonderful story teller, a musician, a lover (like me) of rugby and cricket, and a man anchored in his (Jewish) faith. All the things that took me to his side were things as attainable (with local variations) to a man or a woman in Sumbawa as they are anywhere else … if you have the right priorities …. and (just for the avoidance of doubt) I think you do!
    I am so enjoying your snippets from Indonesia – a country you know I love. It is no surprise to me that you are meeting special people. But, of course, that is closely related to … your own specialness! Best wishes.

    1. Thank you Graham for your honest words. That is quite a story you shared, and it really resonates with me. It means a lot to me to know that you and other people read my blogs. And to hear such great words in response is amazing. As I continue my journey overland as well as growing as a person I can only hope to have the support of great people like you. Thanks!

  2. Thank you Graham for your honest words. That is quite a story you shared, and it really resonates with me. It means a lot to me to know that you and other people read my blogs. And to hear such great words in response is amazing. As I continue my journey overland as well as growing as a person I can only hope to have the support of great people like you. Thanks!

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