Halo teman-teman! For those I haven’t met yet, I’m Alex – a boy’s name around Indonesia, but not in my case. I’m writing from Banjarmasin, Kalimantan Selatan, where thirty-six of us are taking part in this year’s AIYEP (Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program).

The world's biggest selfie! Photo: Alex Murfett

The world’s biggest selfie! Photo: Alex Murfett

It’s great to be back in Indonesia. And, maybe more importantly, great being in Mattone village and Banjarmasin for the first time. There is no doubt that our experiences here have given us a greater understanding of the respective local cultures.

The first thing I noticed about AIYEP before it even started was how awesome it is that there’s a program for Australians to immerse in local Indonesian cultures. A month and a half in, nasi, jam karet, motorbikes, five-plus meals a day and sitting around our host families’ living rooms have become reality. And what was originally a tentative group of candidates replying to group emails is now a well-bonded group. Indonesia is definitely good at bringing diversity into one fun, exciting mix.

The bonding of our group was facilitated over a series of orientations, in Perth, Jakarta and Banjarmasin. Big picture discussions about teamwork, culture and village life evolved into plans for our ‘Cultural Performance’ (CP) and Community Development (ComDev) projects.

The CP was undoubtedly the big achievement of the orientation. Our performance is a collage of dances and songs we put together to depict Australian and Indonesian culture, as we identify it. Selecting the content was initially a challenge as both cultures are so varied and we felt a responsibility to encapsulate it all. The more we have performed it, we’ve started to see our job as having fun while we are doing it and putting forward a positive national spirit. We visit a handful of schools and community events every Monday to perform the CP. I like doing the saman and our choir-violin-guitar medley of ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’, ‘Siti Ropa’, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘Rasa Sayangi’. The CP is a good way to reciprocate some of the generosity we’ve been shown by sharing some of our culture with the community.

For a lot of us, the ComDev project was the first in our personal lists of activities we were most excited to do. We arranged ourselves into six divisions to tackle local issues related to education, health, sports, waste management, business and promotion/events. The general consensus was that we wanted to create sustainable projects that would integrate into and benefit village life. The program of activities was, therefore, simple but carefully planned and researched as to involve the maximum number of villagers we could muster up.

In my  opinion, our ComDev project was a great success. The villagers were open-minded and enthusiastic and we could always count on them attending – usually more than we anticipated.

My main project was a project to spark more interest in tenun ikat (traditional weaving) in the village, which had died down leaving just two weavers. We traveled between Mattone and a tenun Corporation in the next village that had a flourishing membership of fifty-two. The underlying difference was that Mattone had a deep-seated perception that tenun is outdated. We held a workshop for the women who were still interested in learning and practicing tenun, but didn’t have the means.

Some of the other projects that were particularly memorable were the ones I noticed the community particularly enjoying. Like, the tooth-brushing lessons for SD1-4 where the children got excited over the hygiene kits we’d made them and used them at home that night. And the new soccer pitch which quickly became a new hang-out spot for the village’s teens.

Had it not been for our host families, I don’t think we would have got the same response from the community. A select group of our host parents were active helpers in our projects from day one. Joey and Skivo’s dad helped within the Business division, offering to take us on our research trips on the back of his tosa (rubbish trailer). The news of AIYEP travelled quickly through our host families. Once the neighbours had paid us visits at our houses, we got to know the community – and, more rightly, they got to know us.

The culmination of our stay in the village was the Pesta Rakyat festival on the second-last day. Pesta Rakyat was a platform for showcasing Mattone’s small businesses, music, school and crafts and was the results of a month’s planning by the Promotions/Events division. In three days, the land next to the beach was transformed by fifteen or so marquees and an enormous stage fitted with a professional sound system. We finished the festival with our trademark CP, a few songs by the AIYEP band and a record-breaking selfie that featured all the villagers.

Saying goodbye to the village was difficult. The scene outside the Kepala Desa’s office on our last morning was a sad sight. With emotional hugs and promises to come back, the bus drove us away, to the beautiful mountain village of Loksado. We spent five days there for the planned mid-visit break, shamelessly doing nothing.

As I write this segment, it’s near the end of my second week in Banjarmasin – the city phase. I’m having a different experience and relishing it just as much. The main adjustment is that we’re not all living next-door anymore, but I’m finding keeping in touch relatively easy with the benefit of technology in the city.

My new host family is full of wonderful people (no surprises there) and has welcomed my counterpart and I with open arms. Every day Aba, my host father, drops me to where I need to be and seems to have put his meal times in sync with ours. Syifa, my older sister, is similar. She’s always ready to hang out and usually we like to sit and look at her newborn nephew while he’s sleeping. Mama, my host mother, is a simply a legend. Take last night as an example. I came home from my work placement fatigued. She took one look at me and said, ‘we’ll go upstairs, I’ll give you a massage’. It isn’t just massages – it’s fruit, jengkol, kue, kacang rebus – craft activities together – and makeovers in traditional attire!

AIYEP has also spoilt me with my work placement. I elected to be in print media and was placed at the next best alternative, iRadio 90.1fm. The station is broadcasted around Banjarmasin, Jakarta, Bandung, Jogja, Medan and Makassar and our programs are locally based.

The first morning, my workplace counterpart and I were interviewed on air. There were questions about who we are, what we experienced in Mattone and where we’re from. We’ve also been researching news and local fact pieces for social media updates on Twitter and Facebook, writing scripts for the weekend announcers and producing the evening shows.

My first experience in an office in Indonesia is cheerful and fun. Every morning around ten, we eagerly go outside and loiter around the front as the jamu seller approaches with her sweet and salty concoctions. During the day, it isn’t uncommon for my colleagues to come up and sits next to me for a chat. And when it’s time for lunch, we all eat together. The same goes for afternoon snacks – someone can always be counted on to bring cakes, gorengan, fruit salad or krupuk and we’re up out of our chairs, chatting.

Thinking over some of the things I’ve experienced on AIYEP so far, I feel unbelievably lucky. I feel as though the relationships we developed in the village and are still developing in the city and amongst the group are real. There’s something to say for the generous, friendly Indonesian spirit complementing the relaxed, playful Australian spirit.

It will be hard leaving. These experiences will last a lifetime. As for moving forward though, there is a lot to engage with through AIYA and the Indonesia-Australia community in Melbourne. So, sampai nanti!