November 16, 2007

Indonesia Revisited

Hello everyone.
I began my book, film, music, and dance project in Indonesia what seems like ages ago, in September, 2005. The concept of an American belly dancer who was then from South Miami Beach trying to build a bridge of understanding with the Muslim world may sound far fetched, but in Indonesia, the people are highly appreciative.
I gave a talk at the Bandung Islamic University, and wound up dancing (very covered) and being showered with gifts and a huge bouquet of beautiful white flowers. I also danced for a spiritual group who was celebrating after the Ramadhan fasting and was invited to the home of Bambang, the Islamic lecturer who greatly helped me with information for my book.
I taught at the new and very beautiful studio of Christine Yaven, the bellydance pioneer of Jakarta. She is also featured in my book, with her little white dog "Naughty". Now there are two playful little fluff balls, bouncing to greet me in her home in Jakarta. We are planning a spa retreat/ teachers training bellydance workshop in the Javana Spa outside of Jakarta in October, 2008. I'll keep you posted.
I revisited Banda Ache, the tsunami ravaged northern tip of Sumatra that much of the Indonesia section of my book takes place in. Most of the foreign aid agencies are puling out as their work is considered finished. There has been a lot of building- and the aid groups have added to the local economy. I saw many identical little cement houses scattered throughout the tsunami area. Some were inhabited and others lay abandoned or unfinished. Green grass and weeds have grown over the barren land, which softens the impact of so much tragedy that occured with the big wave.
The amount of vehicles on the road has skyrocketed. People are rebuilding their lives, and finding ways to get around. Such a proliferation of motorbikes, becaks (motorbikes with a wooden basket aongside for passengers), and SUV's make the roads a scary place to traverse. I wondered how many people actually had licences and by what criteria they were gotten. It was like the wild west with motors; giant autos tailgated within a half inch of motorbikes containing entire families, including babies. I sat in the buggy of a becak which tried to wind between the bikes and SUV's, and slosh through the mud as the rain poured around us. Acehnese women were famous in history as warriors and herons in battle. They often drive motorbikes, headscarves blowing from beneath their helmets, but when I was seated behind a man, it was expected that I would not hang onto him. Instead, I should have my hands neatly on my lap as I sat sidesaddle in a long skirt. I am alive today to tell about it though.
Where there was little food when I went in 2005, now there are carts and little restaurants everywhere. The food is amazing! Unfortunately, the biggest, shiniest, and most visible are: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and A&W. I didn't meet anyone who had tried them. Acehnese are very attached to their traditional way of life.
Through the "1001 Nights Fund" ( which comes from donations and ten percent of the sales of " 40 Days and 1001 Nights" books, films, and dvd's), I was able to send boxes of childrens books written in Indonesian to be distributed in villages that still have very few resources.With several guys from the FBA, which is the local NGO I volunteered with when I was writing the book, we traveled to many small villages visiting the children and auditing the donations given by a German company for their schools. Of course, we ate all the local delicacies along the way; giant crabs over noodles by the side of the road, and rice surrounded by small dishes of extremely salty dried fish, fermented chiles, etc.
In 2005, internet was barely existent in Banda Aceh. There were internet cafes, but they had signs on the door "Rusat" (closed), as the tower was damaged by the tsunami. To my surprise, I plugged my computer in at my hotel and a wireless signal popped up. I sat as the rain poured down outside, swatting huge mosquitoes that were eating me for dinner, and got caught up on correspondance.
I met the head of a dance group formed mostly of orphans from the tsunami, who are learning traditional dances. He invited me to their rehearsal. Many of the dances are done seated, with frame drums and trance like head tosses. I also noticed that they use a variation of the African Jembe drum, which they call "Jimbe". The world is truly small and culture has been traveling for generations, even without the internet. 
The music and dance arts of Aceh are fascinating and beautiful. They are strong, trance like and heavy on rhythm. It is a dream of mine that some of these wonderful sights and sounds will be shared with the outside world and become familiar to everyone. We discussed having the 1001 Nights Fund help his group create promotional materials: DVD's, multilingual flyers, and hopefully, one day, a website. Unfortunately, I have yet to find an arts group in Banda Aceh that has a website, or even checks e mail.
Now, I am on my way back to the US, which involves long layovers in Singapore and Hong Kong...sipping "teh tarek" (yummy tea with hot, frothy milk) from a plastic bag and straw while typing to share my latest experiences. I am in Singapore, which feels like a shining oasis of modernity and organization. Once I arrive home to Seattle, it will be time to turn around and fly to Rimini, Italy to teach at yet another bellydance congress. For now, it is not goodbye to the lands of "40 Days and 1001 Nights", only "A Shufak Badayn" (See you later, in Arabic). Scroll way down to read my first hand impressions of Indonesia from 2005. Also, if you haven't done so already, please log onto the official website

The book is available, "40 Days and 1001 Nights", One Woman's Dance Through Life in The Islamic World, by Tamalyn Dallal
Take a look at my new site