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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012


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Dear friends and family,

We've just arrived on the isle of Ambon, historic center of the region of Maluku, known to the European and American imagination as the Spice Islands. The name is deserved––from the twelfth century through the early eighteen hundreds, Maluku exported the world's entire supply of nutmeg, cloves, mace, and cinnamon. Arab, Chinese, Indian, Malay, and European traders once filled the ports of the region. When Christopher Columbus sailed west from Spain in 1492 it was these islands that he aimed to reach. When the Dutch gave the British the isle of Manhattan in exchange for a tiny clove-producing island in Maluku it was monopoly over the world's spice trade they sought to establish. Today, though Maluku no longer produces the majority of the world's spices, it is know all over Indonesia for its warm, musical culture, its incredibly bio-diverse jungles and reefs, and its post-dictatorship struggle to reconcile disparities between its Christian and Muslim communities.

We are only on Ambon Island for one night, as part of a four-day travel marathon that has brought us from Sampela to Bau Bau to Makassar to here. Tomorrow, we will take a boat to the southern coast of Seram, Maluku's largest island, and drive across the island's densely forested, mountainous interior until we reach Masihulan, the village where we will spend the last third of our trip. Because the village is quite remote, we will not have access to internet from July 22nd to August 5th. Students will not be able to post Yaks until we are back in Bali at the end of our trip, so we wanted to give you an idea of what we will be doing while we're offline:

Masihulan is made up of perhaps 100 families, most of whose members spend their days cultivating vegetables, spices, medicinal plants, and cocoa in gardens on the edge of the jungle, expertly hunting with traps and spears, participating in church activities, volunteering for a bird rehabilitation project, and spending time with family and friends. In the afternoons, young people gather to play volleyball. Kids change out of their school uniforms and run around in the streets. Most who live in Masihulan love to sing. The grandmothers and the hunters of the village alike croon love songs in the evenings and practice hymns as they go about their day. Chances are, by the time you read this, our students will already be learning a song in the region's Portuguese-influenced dialect.

One aspect of staying in Masihulan that will fascinate our students is learning about the community's relationship with its natural environment. The people there interact with the jungle as comfortably as we Americans interact with a grocery store. Carrying just a machete, adults from Masihulan can enter the forest, find vegetables and meat for dinner, cut open a vine that holds clean water if they get thirsty, weave a bracelet to bring home to a friend, and even make a waterproof satchel in which to store delicate materials. The students will have the chance to learn (and struggle) to make some of the tools and crafts the people of Masihulan so expertly fashion from the jungle. It will totally change how they see the forest... and perhaps the supermarket too.

During our time in the village, we will also get to know our amazing local guide, Naldo. He has so much to offer in the way of stories about Malukan history, insights into the region's culture, music that he writes and performs, and his sharing of his experience of the religious conflicts that erupted in Maluku in 2000 and 2001. Naldo will add so much to our students' experience in Masihulan. We are so glad to have him with us.

Though we will not be able to post Yak Yaks from the field, we will be in contact with Dragons administration in Boulder. They will post on this board on our behalf, updating you about what we're up to in Masihulan. Please check the board during the next two weeks to stay in the loop.

Sending our regards from the Spice Islands,

Kelli, Matt, and Sarah

Indonesia Instructor Team

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Headed to Masihulan

Instructors,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

Dear friends and family, We’ve just arrived on the isle of Ambon, historic center of the region of Maluku, known to the European and American imagination as the Spice Islands. The name is deserved––from the twelfth century through the early eighteen hundreds, Maluku exported the world’s entire supply of nutmeg, cloves, mace, and cinnamon. Arab, […]

Posted On

07/22/12

Author

Instructors

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I’m writing this from the most beautiful place on earth.

There’s a cockroach to my right, I can hear grandma coughing up red beetlenut juice and crushing lice between her fingertips and I can see a moldering flip flop drifting in the sea through gaps in the floorboards below.

It’s stunning and I never want to leave.

When we first arrived in Sampela we were sleep deprived, grimy and grumpy, fresh off of two bus rides, two boat rides and two plane flights. I looked at this place we had all heard so much about, Sampela, the magical floating village of Sea Gypsies.

What I saw was rotting boardwalks, clumsy shacks of tin and wormy wood and sludgy canals. I felt accosted by strange children with brown stained fingernails, grabbing hands, loud shrieks and dirty hair.

Sampela was definitely not what I expected, and at first I felt that it didn’t measure up.

I remember standing in line for the bathroom, desperate for a shower, staring into the ocean canals that ran underneath houses erected on stilts or on coral plateaus. I was expecting rolling, turquoise waves. Instead it was channels of near stagnant seawater with an oil slick of bacteria on top and molding plant debris, food and trash forming thick, mucky bottom. As I watched a dollop of human feces bobbed cheerily past.

All at once I felt disgust, disappointment, disbelief, homesickness and the beginnings of hysteria. I was in this loud, foreign, terrifying place where the ocean gives you pink eye and ear infections, where you can see malnutrition in discoloration and sores, where lice runs rampant, where four year olds smoke cigarettes and tooth decay is par for the course.

The bathroom door opened and I locked myself inside. I was alone in a clean room with a high ceiling. I could smell only soap and the buckets of salt water used for bathing. All I could see of the outside world was a chink of clear blue sky.

In my tiny square of sanity and peace I washed the travel from my body. I scrubbed away the sweat of sleeping by a furnace on a terrifying overnight boat that tossed in sea swells, where sketchy men watched us sleep and the mats were bug infested. I cleared away the staleness of airports and the ache of buses. With soap and salt water I dispelled the anxiety and panic and began to think more rationally. I looked down at the little green plastic bucket I had been using to pour the water over myself. It had a strawberry printed on it, and the words “Close to Nature”.

I left the bathroom shaved and sweet smelling. I looked back into the canal and saw a milky blue sea snake gliding dreamily past.

The rest of the trip I thought about the words “Close to Nature”. They were so true. In Sampela I was closer both to Mother Nature, and to human nature.

In Sampela everything ends up in the ocean. Human waste, broken toys and materials, trash and old food, all of it would eventually be floating in the canals. It repulsed me. It went against every environmental moral I had to watch my host dad flick his cigarette butt into the water below, to see candy wrappers and old shoes and broken bottles getting tossed out of windows and over the sides of boardwalks. I made very sure that every scrap of trash I generated ended up in a garbage bucket in the corner of the kitchen area. Then one day I watched one of the village Ibus pick up the bin, walk to the edge of the coral foundation and empty it all back into the water under the house. It shocked me that people who were supposed to have such deep ties to the tides and the stars would treat the ocean as a trash receptacle. The cover of the Times magazine for sale in the Hong Kong airport on the way to Indonesia read “Will the Oceans be Empty in 50 years?” How could these people not know what they were doing to the sea? How could they not see the filth they were living above?

And then I realized something about human nature. About my culture and my societal mind. We, as Americans, are stuck in the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. We are comfortable with shunting our sewage away unseen, underground; we are happy to put out our trash buckets the night before collection day and to let men in uniform spirit them away while we sleep. What I found so ugly about Sampela, was honesty. What I thought was so vile was simply the byproduct of human existence laid bare. Even when we sailed out in dugout canoes into the open ocean, or in rickety little speed boats to nearby beaches, there was trash. Plastic bags tangled in palm trees, wrappers in the sand, hermit crabs with bottle caps instead of shells. We dove into the reef for spear fishing and Scarlett missed an angelfish, but speared a plastic bucket lodged in the coral. The human presence is all pervasive and it’s changing Nature as we knew it, what we think of as “untouched” or “pristine” isn’t. Even the air is affected. People say that nature is disappearing with the rainforest cover, or with the fresh water supply. But maybe it’s just changing. Nature is a concept that lives, breathes and adapts, just like trees and flowers and to the Bajau, the sea.

Sampela also turned another idea on its head for me. Beauty. That first night, and every night after, was heralded by an explosive sunset. We would all gather on a boardwalk, with children holding every hand, playing with our hair, clutching our arms and sitting in our laps, to see the yellows and pinks and deepest violets. We watched the colors of the water and the sky and the lavender mist of mountains far away, and of the crisp silhouettes of passing canoes. And once the sun had set we couldn’t see the rats, the rust, the mold and stains, only the stars and the Milky Way. When morning came and we woke up for the first time in Sampela huge castles of gold and seashell pink clouds filled the sky. A ribbon of rainbow stretched across a pastel sky and disappeared behind a ramshackle hut painted bright pink. That morning when I walked to breakfast I thought again of the words “Close to Nature”. When I looked into the green water of the canals I saw the rotting food, abandoned lumber and the glint of patchy foil. But I also saw orchards of sea anemones swaying in a watery breeze and a fluttering pink jellyfish. I felt the smoothness of the children’s’ tiny hands in mine, instead of the rippled fingernails and dirty palms. I saw the sea bleached tips of the children’s hair and the sun browned skin under their cuts and scrapes. They have broken teeth but the sweetest smiles.

Sampela is a place of wild dreams. It rises from the sea like stalky dandelions connected by insane, teetering boards that disappear and reappear as need arises. It is a place of passage. By boardwalk or by canal there are always streams of people and fish passing above or beneath one another. It is a place of ugliness. Of disease and poverty and waste. And because of all of this, it is a place of unimaginable beauty.

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Close to Nature

Maya Jane Jevans,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

I’m writing this from the most beautiful place on earth. There’s a cockroach to my right, I can hear grandma coughing up red beetlenut juice and crushing lice between her fingertips and I can see a moldering flip flop drifting in the sea through gaps in the floorboards below. It’s stunning and I never want […]

Posted On

07/19/12

Author

Maya Jane Jevans

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Sam Pela lays atop the open ocean, and is home to some of the most beautiful and happy people I have ever met in my life. At first glance, Sam Pela may seem like a poverished community greatly in need of support. However, as the week went on, and the Dragons students interacted with the people, and were immersed into homestays, the poverty stricken community of Sam Pela transformed into something unreal. For some, the realization of this transformation took longer than for others. Somewhere within the broken teeth of a Sam Pelan was a smile bigger than one could ever imagine. Somewhere within the old wooden houses, elevated just a few feet from the sea, was a sense of security and comfort for the people of Sam Pela. And within every person living in Sam Pela, was happiness. Happiness that many Americans never get to experience in their whole lifetime. Happiness that doesn't involve money. Just simple, real happiness that lies within one's heart. At first, the true beauty of Sam Pela was difficult to see, but the more we interacted with these people, the brighter the beauty would shine. The whole time, it was right in front of our eyes, just waiting to be revealed.

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Amazing Sam Pela

Jimmy Landis,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

Sam Pela lays atop the open ocean, and is home to some of the most beautiful and happy people I have ever met in my life. At first glance, Sam Pela may seem like a poverished community greatly in need of support. However, as the week went on, and the Dragons students interacted with the […]

Posted On

07/19/12

Author

Jimmy Landis

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As I sit here leaning against the tree harvested from a near by island that is holding my house in the sea floor trying to decide where to start writing this Yak. My Bapak and Adik are sitting next to me examining my gear and trying it all on. My Bapak who built this house with his own hands and hopefully on a good day of fishing makes 3-4 US dollars got up and brought me a pair of hand crafted goggles. Little pieces of glass for the lenses, tire rubber and fishing line to hold it together and hand carved wood for the frames. I still am deeply moved by the outstanding generosity of the people of Indonesia, who by Western standards have nothing. I love this culture of helping everyone and hope I can bring it back to the United States, a society I feel could be more generous.

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Generosity

Ian Roche,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

As I sit here leaning against the tree harvested from a near by island that is holding my house in the sea floor trying to decide where to start writing this Yak. My Bapak and Adik are sitting next to me examining my gear and trying it all on. My Bapak who built this house […]

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Wow. As I sit in the internet café in Bau-Bau, I reflect on the 9 incredible days I spent in the fishing village of Sam Pela and I try to put into words how truly remarkable my time spent with the Sama people actually was. Through fishing, eating, visiting, playing cards, dancing, and observing, I learned more about the people of Sam Pela than I ever believed I would. Even more remarkable is the amount I learned about myself during my stay on the ocean, as my simplified existence with the Bajau also seemed to simplify many questions I had in my life. As I look forward to the rest of our trip, I am excited by the unknown and can’t wait to explore the opportunities to come.

Mom and Dad-Everything is going amazing and I am having a great time. I am sorry I can’t write more but we have to go scavenge some lunch! I love you guys and miss you so much. Talk to you soon!

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Leaving Sam Pela!

Andrew T. Kilbourne,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

Wow. As I sit in the internet café in Bau-Bau, I reflect on the 9 incredible days I spent in the fishing village of Sam Pela and I try to put into words how truly remarkable my time spent with the Sama people actually was. Through fishing, eating, visiting, playing cards, dancing, and observing, I […]

Posted On

07/18/12

Author

Andrew T. Kilbourne

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What do we need to live? Do we need the shiny metallic objects that sit in our garages, or in our purses? Do we need the large and boisterous public spaces filled with stores and sources of entertainment? How about a small hut with walls weaved with bamboo and floors that look as though they’re about to snap? Or maybe, god forbid, a few hours of electricity at night, if any at all? This is only a sliver of the average life of a Sampelan, they also reside surrounded by miles and miles of ocean, the closest land being thirty minutes away by motor boat; to say the least, Sampela lives isolated.

But is isolation such a bad thing? You get the chance to meet and know everyone around you and to live your life freely without judgment, which is exactly the atmosphere, created in Sampela. No one is asked to be anyone but themselves, for there is no normal, and no different, just individual.

Material objects dictate the modern human. Saying how we should or should not dress, what we ought to listen to, or what we should strive look like. Individuality has lost meaning behind layers and layers of movies, music and material; though the material things in life tend to lose meaning when you can barely afford a home in the first place, as is common in Sampela. And yet not all of them need phones or TV’s to be happy- they find other ways to create happiness.

What is necessary to the Sampelans is very different to the US. A roof, enough food, a community and the open ocean are all they need. The basics, that’s all.

The smiles are a nice plus, though.

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Simple

Julia Marie Marcou,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

What do we need to live? Do we need the shiny metallic objects that sit in our garages, or in our purses? Do we need the large and boisterous public spaces filled with stores and sources of entertainment? How about a small hut with walls weaved with bamboo and floors that look as though they’re […]

Posted On

07/18/12

Author

Julia Marie Marcou

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In school I saw a poster featuring pictures of students from different ethnic groups around the world that read “a smile is the same in every language." Ever since I have arrived in Indonesia that saying has become less of a cliché and turned into a reality. I found this out when I was first placed in my home stay. As I sat on the ground getting stared at by upwards of ten people I realized the language classes I had been taking weren’t going to be enough to communicate more than a hello or a thank you. A smile was the only tool I had to break the awkward silence that emanated throughout the room. Although I didn’t actually speak my smile was able to communicate my happiness and friendliness to my family. Eventually as I spent more time in each of my home stays things became more comfortable and small conversations were made but in the end a smile was my greatest tool in communicating through the difficult language barrier.

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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a smile

Riley Burns,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

In school I saw a poster featuring pictures of students from different ethnic groups around the world that read “a smile is the same in every language." Ever since I have arrived in Indonesia that saying has become less of a cliché and turned into a reality. I found this out when I was first […]

Posted On

07/18/12

Author

Riley Burns

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I can’t believe we’re already done with our second homestay. How do I even begin to describe Sampela? I could tell you about the rickety plank walkways that we cautiously inched our way along while the children of Sampela skipped around us, about the wooden dug-out canoes that dropped us in the pristine water for snorkeling, or about the donuts for sale on nearly every porch. But what really made Sampela special was the people and the sense of community that enveloped us from our first step on the boardwalks. Maybe it was visible in the mobs of children milling around you, or the women calling out to you from their porches, or the men quietly teaching you to fish, but however it manifested, this sense of community was a vital part of our stay. When we first arrived in Sampela, many people in the group where overwhelmed by it’s sheer difference from home, because Sampela is the farthest many of us have ever been from home, both in distance (it is almost exactly halfway around the globe) and in cultural contrast. But in a few days we were comfortable, having mastered the differences (the hickory smoke flavored water, the bathrooms, the lack of solid land, to name a few), a result of our amazing ability to adjust to changes. We faced down the difficulties and, like any system under pressure, we reached equilibrium. From there, I wouldn’t say it was exactly smooth sailing, but I certainly had some good times. My host sister, at first stymied by my uncertain grasp of Bahasa Indonesia, soon decided that the best approach to the situation was to take my hand and pull me into activities, no explanation needed. It was in this way that I found myself on an early morning canoe ride to Kelidupa to get fresh water, watching the sun rise over the water as we went, or practicing a dance performance with a room full of girls, which eventually turned into a dance party with Julia and I at the center. I will truly appreciate my many wonderful memories from Sampela, but what I value most is the knowledge that no matter how far I am from home, I can always friends, because it is not inconceivably different after all.

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Sampela

Elise Goldfine,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

I can’t believe we’re already done with our second homestay. How do I even begin to describe Sampela? I could tell you about the rickety plank walkways that we cautiously inched our way along while the children of Sampela skipped around us, about the wooden dug-out canoes that dropped us in the pristine water for […]

Posted On

07/18/12

Author

Elise Goldfine

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Dear Families and Friends,

The group is well and in-route to the city-island of Bau Bau in southern Sulawesi. We expect the group to have more reliable internet access tomorrow and we should see a fresh round of Yak Yaks then! For now, please check out the recent Yak post from Kelli Swazey and the instructor team entitled "Locating Sampela."

Best,

Aaron Slosberg

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Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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In-route to Bau Bau

Aaron Slosberg,Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

Dear Families and Friends, The group is well and in-route to the city-island of Bau Bau in southern Sulawesi. We expect the group to have more reliable internet access tomorrow and we should see a fresh round of Yak Yaks then! For now, please check out the recent Yak post from Kelli Swazey and the […]

Posted On

07/18/12

Author

Aaron Slosberg

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At 4am, the night's howling winds and rain have ceased momentarily, giving way to dawn's faint stars. I try and remember their configuration, to make them an anchor that will tie us to this small community on the sea, a place that slips from the edges of any map. A place that I can never seem to do justice with words after the waves that punctuate people's lives here carry us away. Standing at the dock's edge, families huddle in the rain with the students who have fished, bathed, and slept side by side with them for nine short days. They clasp their hands as if it was their own children, their own brothers and sisters, leaving for that amorphous place beyond the borders of their community and kin, which they simply refer to as "Indonesia".

As many of the students have expressed over the last few days, describing the innate joy of life, and living, in Sampela, is a difficult task. On arrival, the simple houses on atolls built of petrified coral seem close and overwhelming. Houses are connected by a labrynth of narrow wooden docks in various states of disrepair. Food and human waste is released from windows or planks in the floor, to be carried out by waxing and waning tide. Houses have little or no furniture, and the children who spill into our host's front yard every morning wear clothes made ragged by wear. Electricity comes for a few hours at night, if it comes at all. It is, as one student put it, what we imagine when we talk about a "third world country."

Yet yesterday morning, sitting on a beach on a neighboring island and staring from afar at this cluster of humanity perched atop the sea, no one was talking about a world that was less than the ones we came from. Instead they were describing the incredible skill of the fisherman they worked with, and the value of tools made by hand that complemented those skills. They reflected on the contentment that comes from what they at first called "having nothing", but what they actually came to see as having enough. Enough to eat and feed your family. Enough to share with your neighbors. Enough to spend time creatively entertaining yourself and enjoying the company of your people around you. Enough to be happy,enough to give no second thought to opening your home to strangers without judgement. Enough to teach our students many things they didn't know.

We often hear that happiness, at its core, cannot be measured in material things. Yet we still divide the world into those who "have" and those who don't. The word poverty refers not to a qualitative lack but a quantitative one, a measurement of affluence enumerating the kinds of possessions that are thought to make life better. Given that scale, those at the bottom third of the world have the odds stacked against them. All of us who left Sampela this morning are taking with us the intangibles that don't seem to get counted in that assessment. The sense of community and being happy that comes not from things but from a life lived not in pursuit of them. The love freely offered from those who have many reasons to be suspicious of our presence and intent. The sincerity of those who wished us safe journey this morning, and wished for us to come back. An affluence born of the pride that accompanies self-reliance, and having just enough. A richness that has little to do with things.

Some students felt we were entering the Third World ten days ago. I am certain that none of us felt we were leaving it - because that's not where Sampela is located. In some ways, it's a world of its own, one that may not even be in Indonesia, as the our friends and family there say. This morning we left a home on the sea, a place where we belonged, because we were wlecomed as such. A place that we'll always know even if we can't show you on the map how the route to return.

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Best Notes From The Field, Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

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Locating Sampela

Kelli Swazey,Best Notes From The Field, Indonesia: Studies in Culture, Conservation and Development, Summer 2012

Description

At 4am, the night’s howling winds and rain have ceased momentarily, giving way to dawn’s faint stars. I try and remember their configuration, to make them an anchor that will tie us to this small community on the sea, a place that slips from the edges of any map. A place that I can never […]

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