I recently had the good fortune of travelling to Sumatra, Indonesia. It’s taken me over a week to consider how I might put that experience into a blog, and more importantly how to actually process my experiences. I’m not quite there yet, and feel there is much I still need to feel out, but I’m beginning to get more comfortable in my intellectual processing.
Sumatra felt such a unique experience for me. I realised, when I awoke for the first time ever to the beautiful call to prayer echoing from several minarets around my hotel, that in all my travels I’ve never been to a predominately Muslim country. I find that realisation quite staggering! I look forward to my next opportunity, not least because I found the experience of praying with countless other souls very peaceful.
The experience gave me the opportunity to open my worldview further, but also made me more aware of my gender than I have ever felt before. I was somewhat of a novelty to the businessMEN (stress men, no women) we engaged with on the work trip, and felt eyes trailing me everywhere I went. True, that could be because I was a foot taller than most, a rather large build, and the only white woman around… It would be rather naïve of me to discount that reality!
However, feeling pressured by requirement to cover myself to enter a Mosque, when my father didn’t have to change out of a collard t-shirt, felt entirely foreign and unbalanced for me. It’s not for me to place judgement given discrimination against women unfortunately transcends nation, religion and culture. I raise this to express that it was intriguing to be accepted differently and to feel men interact with me differently when I was veiled, and to have to cover to show respect made me feel that in some way I, as myself, wasn’t enough.
Another part of my trip was equally powerful, and again is challenging and changing my worldview and processing. I witnessed first hand the logging and destruction of the Sumatran forests. My heart literally hurt when flying over the hectares of newly logged forest, irrigated peat swamps, and burning dried peat. The plantations extend for as far as the eye can see. It was depressing.
And although it hasn’t diminished my commitment to ideals, to positive change, to the cessation of destruction, I feel within me a brewing awareness of realism. Not of embracement of that realism, per se, but of recognition that to reach the goal, steps have to be taken in today’s reality. Those steps may not always feel enough, but they can be important and purposeful victories on the journey towards the ideal. What the ideal is depends on the issue, but the need for a positive and proactive journey is a constant.