We’ve just left our ten day homestay in Masihulan on the island of Seram. Although living in the village gave us insight into the social culture of Masihulan, in order to really understand the culture we needed to spend a few nights in the jungle to gain a closer look at the one resource that Masihulan depends on most. A few of our guides, including Pache and Soni, are family men back in the village, always willing to sit with you and break out the ukelele. But before following them through the jungle, I had no idea of their expertise and skills – they are truly masters of the land. Watching Pache scale a 100+ foot tree, in the rain, in bare feet, was both highly astounding and terrifying. I kept wondering to myself what his training was in order to be able to have the sort of confidence to climb like that- how many years of school he must have gone through in order to feel secure enough to be able to get to the top. Soni showed us how to make traps using only a machete and the surrounding trees and vines, after teaching us which plants have healing potential and how to find clean, drinkable water within the most unsuspecting branch. I wondered who taught him about the geometry of setting a trap like that, what degree angle he must chop in order for the spear to make contact. I realized how silly these expectations were, and it became so clear to me that I expect learning to take place in an academic setting, and usually see it as a privilige, not nessecarily for survival.

The base layer of what Masihulan taught me is that despite all of our differences, we are able to be a part of the same family and same community with genuine love for one another. Although I can’t walk in the jungle without wearing shoes, and Soni may have never been in an airplane or sent an email, he is by far one of the most influential people I have met in my life in terms of his capacity to love, his patience, and his contagious joy.

But Masihulan taught me much, much more than merely that we can be a family of juxtaposed individuals. The next layer of learning that I gained in just ten days with Masihulan is how powerful our ability to value each other can be. Depending on who you ask, you will get a very different account of Pache, Soni and the island. The Indonesian government might consider Masihulan and the majority of Seram largely uneducated and poor- it’s distance from Java vast enough to geographically marginalize whole villages that might otherwise get support. At first glance, Soni and Pache might be written off in the same way. However, after watching Soni and Pache construct impromptu ladders and bridges with just a machete, I know there is no way I could ever see them as uneducated. Our entire group has been in a stupefied state of awe at the feats our guides accomplish with ease. Sarah pointed out it would be like someone watching you make mac and cheese and being dumbfounded with your abilities.

The inherent power we hold as white travelers from America may give where we place our value an extra boost of importance. If Soni and Pache gain even the slighest twinge of pride from our exclamations at their skills, I can breathe a little easier for the weight of gratitude I have for them and all of Masihulan would feel a bit more bearable. Through this exchange of cultural awe, I’ve been inspired to consider what I place value on in my life back home; why is it important for me to go to college? Do I get use out of all my material possesions? Do they help me stay connected to my family and friends, or just serve as distractions from what really makes me happy? Do I enjoy the pace of my life at home, stacked with agendas, short term and long term goals, or can I thrive without all that structure as I have in Masihulan?

There were so many moments in Masihulan where I was moved to appreciate their way of life deeply, and other moments where I was humbled by how much I appreciate my life back home. Perhaps the incentive to value what I have, and to value the incredible people around me, is the greatest lesson Masihulan taught me.