I was back on my own, traveling solo through one of the less traversed areas of Indonesia. This was no Bali. Seriously, I would eventually go almost 10 days without seeing another Western traveler. So at the time, it only made sense to try Couchsurfing again. It’s hands down one of the most authentic ways to visit a country, through the eyes of a true local. Not only that but I could use some company. So I disembarked from my twelve hour ferry ride across the Makassar Strait and asked a stranger if I could use his phone. Ten minutes later, I was jumping in a car with my host, Emen, and his family, complete strangers who would find the time to alter my world view.
Have you ever received such enormous hospitality that it almost makes you feel uncomfortable? That’s the level I’m talking about. I was given my own room and bathroom, fed all freshly prepared meals, taken to a wedding and personally chauffeured around to all the city sites (including a totally private peek into the world class orangutan rehabilitation facility). They even did my laundry. Hospitality just came naturally to them.
But I wasn’t the only one on the receiving end of the family’s love. They also ran their own orphanage and it appeared that each member of the household helped out and did their part. I decided it would be the best place to part with my soccer ball, so Emen set up a little pickup game in the orphanage yard, which, predictably, was a big success. They particularly loved my “Defense! Defense!” chant although I’m pretty sure they have no idea what it actually meant.
Did I mention Emen and his family were extremely devout Muslims? Before this trip, I had never visited a Muslim country and if I’m completely honest, I hadn’t spent any substantial time with anyone practicing Islam. I knew the overall populace takes an unfair hit for those who interpret the Quran more radically, but still, there was that element of the unknown. Now, I found myself surrounded by it firsthand, seeing it on the daily level and it didn’t strike me as very different. Sure, they had different habits and routines (Once, they pulled over mid-trip saying it was time to pray), but it was for the same reasons. It was largely on par with legalistic Christianity. Lots of rules that need following, but overall, good intentions to live a life of love and service. In truth, comparing the family to myself, I felt a little ashamed. Here I was on a completely selfish pursuit of traveling the world and all I could do was donate a soccer ball. But that wasn’t the full truth.
It just so happened that I was the first Westerner to stay with the family. They loved having me, making fun of my attempts to eat rice with my hands and having me take pictures holding each squirming baby. Emen said he once had the opportunity to study in the US but his family forbade it. By the end of my stay, his parents were talking about how they wanted the whole family to go experience “America.” Just by talking and spending time with them, we had shattered that mutual fear of the unknown. We both had affected each other in a positive way, which immediately made me think of one of my favorite quotes and just how fitting it was.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” – Mark Twain