On our last night of homestays, I watched my three Catholic grandmothers hack into a dead buffalo carcass on the kitchen floor. I watched this buffalo die earlier that day, from just one precise slice across it’s thick and furry neck. I watched my grandmothers delve into its muscular leg with a small, nanek-sized knife, the same leg that had twitched and jerked for several minutes after falling to the ground. I watched my naneks guide their knives with a simple grace that mirrored the way I observed life leave the massive buffalo; with a silent understanding of the whole. An understanding that death marks the beginning of a journey into the next place, a journey from west to north to east. An understanding that life serves mainly as our chance to prepare for this journey, by dedicating all of our time and money towards raising buffalo who will guide our souls to our final destination.

 

While I watched the buffalo sacrifice in my own silent horror, Stew reminded me to watch the faces of the Torajans around me. There was a mix of both pain and contentment, and I realized that we were actually not even watching the same event. As I saw an animal being killed for the first time, my grandmothers saw a carefully selected buffalo join the entourage of animals that would guide their deceased sister safely to the afterlife. I saw nameless and innocent creatures, they saw buffaloes that someone in their family had worked hard to be able to donate, spending up to $40,000.

 

One of the most striking parts of that day was the silence of the buffalo- they made almost no sound throughout the entire ceremony. As the knife passed through their throat, they did not struggle or cry. Towards the end when there were several carcasses on the ground, and they must have known their own death was immenant, they still remained stoic and silent. Maybe they understood what my grandmothers seemed to know as they cut into the flesh that evening; that death is simply a rite of passage, that it is as much of a beginning as an ending, that we live to serve each other and remain connected through our passing.

 

Looking back on all of the homestays we have done on this trip, I am in awe at how diverse a window I have gotten into Indonesian culture. I’ve stayed in an urban area on arguably the most powerful island in terms of politics and volcanic potential. I’ve lived on the edge of the jungle with a community of hearts sizeably larger than their desire for economic success. I’ve slept above the sea in a village of nomads that shared their skills and blessings with me, despite the fact that I look just like all those that discriminate against them daily. And now, I have shared meals of rice and sacrifical buffalo with a family whose world view and entire belief system is drastically different from my own. Throughout all of the homestays, our desire to create the universal shape of a family in our shared space served as the key to transcending the initial otherness. I look back on each family with deep gratitude for their effort to connect with me and make space in their home and their hearts. Considering each moment of struggle and hardship I have faced as I adjusted to their way of life, I can only imagine the sacrifices they made, without the added pleasure of doing so as part of a “gap year adventure program”.

 

If I could thank each family another time, I would want to communicate how touched I am by their consistent ability to love fearlessly and unconditionally. They all must have known what the buffaloes knew; that we are all part of the whole, dependent on each other for a safe and peaceful journey.


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