Let me share where I’m at for the last few days. I found a local workaway in Surakarta or locally know as Solo. I’m teaching a few English classes to students of the hotelier school, more specifically they are being trained to work on a cruise ship e.g. the Holland-America line. This stay is first of all an opportunity to see the local ‘traditional ‘ Indonesian culture. It opened my eyes in many ways, especially regarding a strong sense of community. Let me elaborate.
It is good to know that the predominant religion on the island Java is Islamic. Literally everywhere there are mosques for people to do their required 5 daily prayers. Yes five of them each day starting at 4:30 in the morning (before sunrise)!! The day starts really early for most people which makes sense as the sunrise is also early, afternoons are hot, and sunset is around 17:30.
The prayers bring people together. It creates a strong community. People walking together to the mosque, sharing a good laughter after their prayer, joining each other for a ice tea at their home, etc. It is actually really inspiring to see and I can imagine this was similar in the Netherlands before religion became less important. I will not advocate that religion is necessary for this but it is hard to deny the positive benefits regarding community.
I’m really surprised to discover the way Indonesia is managed from government to village level. You have the central government in Jakarta. Fun fact, in 2025 the capital will be changed to a yet to be built city on the island Borneo mainly because of the notorious bad traffic and pollution in the current capital. A level lower you have the provinces such as Central Java where Solo is situated. Then you have districts with each containing 11 villages and often a bigger city. The cities are actually managed differently from the villages. The leader of the village is being elected by the people living in the village, while the mayor of a city is appointed by the government. Within one village there are many groups of 30 to 50 houses that form an even smaller community. Each month my host Adik is joining a meeting with all the 50 houses. Each person is bringing some money that will be given to a family who needs it, for example if somebody is sick. Or they play bingo with it I heard ;). They discuss ideas for the street and try to help each other out. A perfect example of a strong community.
Additionally the central government has decided to give each village about 10.000 USD for development. Adik is volunteering in a group of 5 others to manage this. Because they are all local people they know the best what is happening in the village. In Telukan they are still in a startup phase of the project. The government provides support and training for the responsible people. They are visiting other villages to see their efforts. Botanical gardens, a public fishing pond, water theme parks, animal park, waste management project, a central supermarket, etc. Mostly something relates to tourism is being created. Something that will generate income for the village. I would say, and this is my very biased western thinking, that although the trash is being dumped in the heavily polluted river or burned at the side of the road (because no waste management is present), the people are more inclined to build a museum that generates money then to fix their own surroundings and nature. I see my judgement towards them but it is of course not fair. We have been doing this for decades in the west on a much larger scale. Sacrificing precious nature for economical growth and profit. It is the way the system works right now. People have to find out themselves how damaging this is, how backwards our thinking is, and what is really important in life, just as our awareness in the west is increasing by the day.
Isn’t it amazing how all of these aspects contribute towards a really strong community. People feel that they belong to something. People feel supported and know that if something happens they have 50 close families they can rely on. I’m not surprised that people look happy here.
I think in the west this kind of living will be for most people too much, too confining and too restrictive. You almost have to participate otherwise you better move out. Community in the west is mostly found in hobbies or passions and in a lot of ways this is just as beautiful and strong. So why do people feel so lonely? Maybe because they haven’t discovered their passions yet. This is a whole different topic which I might write about later ;)!