There’s a whole world out there and if travelling has done anything for me so far, it’s given me perspective. Coming from America and jumping straight into
Jakarta felt more like we rocketed to another galaxy than just another country. So much to see, and so much that we did not yet understand. Jakarta was a
shock to the senses, a city of 10 million people was really hard to comprehend and I’m not sure we ever did. A few days in the city was eye opening and gave
us a healthy dose of travel adrenaline, the fire had been lit. From Jakarta we began our journey to our first volunteer project in Masamba; a small village in
Southern Sulawesi. An easy flight over the Java Sea brought us to Makassar, a port city surrounded by palm tree covered islands and sandy beaches. It was here
that I felt like we were really getting into the heart of whatever was drawing us in. Just outside of the airport doors we climbed into our taxi. The driver was a young man named Ibnu. We navigated the winding roads to a village just outside of Makassar. During the trip he explained to us how he also has dreams of travelling the world, but when one of his dollars only equals the smallest fraction of the countries he wishes to visit, travel remains exactly that…a dream.
We said our goodbyes to our short lived taxi friendship and entered the bakery where we were told to we would meet with a man named Faiz. Until Faiz found his way
to us we made our introductions to the bakery owner and his family, each of them more cheerful than the last. Through broken english and scribbled notes the owner even
helped us purchase bus tickets for later that night. With about 5 hours to kill before our trip North we decided to explore the surrounding area.
Every scooter passed us with a smiling and waving rider. The realization of where we were really began setting in at this point. Without anything linking us to our
life back home we were fully engulfed in the moment. As the mid-day sun beat down on us we made our way back to the bakery. Dropping our heavy rucks, we took a seat
near the back of the establishment. It was here that we met a variety of people, all of whom were curious and friendly. Some of them even offered their homes to us should
we ever be back in the area. A couple of hours passed and we finally met Faiz and one of his friends Uched, both of which were just one year older than us. We climbed
onto their scooters and raced the setting sun to the far edge of the village. A warm golden light blanketed everything, and it seemed like everyone was outside enjoying
each others company, and enjoying the warmth not only from the sun, but from each other as well. Children and adults alike joined together to play games outside,
farmers harvested crops, mosques chanted and old gray men smoked cigarettes on their front porches, each giving a toothless smile and a wave as we rode by.
The 40 minute ride took us into a place known by the locals as “The Rocks”. Giant black stones lay scattered around the area. Some towered above us while others looked
like they had fallen victim to gravity a long time ago. Many of them had holes straight through them ranging in size from a grape to a bowling ball. As we explored the
area heavy drumming noises came from a neighboring village, after asking Fiaz what it meant he said, “It’s what we do when there is a wedding soon.” Music, setting
sun, love of my life in hand, I felt utterly and completely…complete.
At around 10 pm we boarded the bus to Masamba and before we knew it we were headed North on the Trans Sulawesi Highway. The driver blasted traditional music to stay awake as he quickly manuevered the giant vehicle through roads built for small cars. The sun rose and we arrived in Masamba. Immediately after exiting the bus, scooter taxi drivers swarmed us, already knowing where we were going; Rumah Pohon (Tree House).
It was more amazing than we ever could have imagined. A member of the tree house guided us down a steep natural pathway into the forest. At the base we were finally
greeted with a full view of our new home. Like a forest castle it towered over us. We could see that the walls of the second level were made out of used plastic bottles
that stood upright on top of one another, held together by a string running through it from the lid to the bottom and then through the next. One string of bottles after
another created walls 15 feet high and 40 feet long. The outside walls of the first level were made of wood that had old shoes nailed to it creating a massive
artistic barrier. Another wall was made up of used yogurt cups, it just went on and on. Winding bamboo steps guided us up to the second level where we entered
into the creative space / art studio. Here there were dozens of pieces of art, some standing over 10 feet high and 6 feet wide. Our room was spectacular. A wooden
sliding door led to a room made for two. A white mosquito net framed the corners of the sleeping mat on the bamboo floor creating our bed, and two windows on opposite
sides of the room filled the room with natural light. The place was perfect for us and we felt at home immedietly. Later that day we had the opportunity
to talk with Edy, the creator of the tree house project and his wife, Devi. Together we sat on the the terrace that hung over the cool turquoise river and
he gave us an insight into what his purpose here is. To our surprise we found out that this project is only 1 of 14 others, all based in different areas of Indonesia
and all focused on educating the local people about recycling, organic farming, and preservation of the natural world. We also learned that all the trash that the
tree house is made of came from the the local village of Masamba, and all the wood has not been cut down by them, but picked up from locals who have been
logging around the area to create space for building, agriculture, and palm oil plantations. Rumah Pohon is a standing symbol of the waste we create as humans and
the impact it has on our environment. Edy and his team are doing everything they can to show the local people that they need to recycle, and that they can’t throw
their trash on the ground. All their efforts seem to fall on deaf ears as most visitors come for 5 minutes, takes selfies, laugh and run through the structure like
it’s a playground, and then leave. Never stopping to reflect on what the tree house means, or how the enivronment is being affected. Edy once told me, “People come
here and take pictures with the trash, and I ask, why do you not go home and take pictures with your trash there?” His latest painting was of a monkey taking a
selfie, hoping to invoke some sort of ironic cynasism in the visitors. When asked why he doesn’t just leave if no one wants to listen he plainly says,
“If I leave, then I lost, and the people learn nothing…nothing changes.”
The days passed slowly, beginning with a sunrise swim out in the river, then a coffee on the terrace as the jungle came alive around us, then painting, cleaning and
helping out with organic farming. A favorite activity for us was teaching English to 3 local girls, ranging in ages from 17 to 11. It felt so rewarding to help
teach people who genuinely wanted to learn. Getting things done during the day proved to be difficult due to the insane amount of visitors that came wanting pictures with us.
This in itself was exhausting and quickly our attitudes changed from surprise and smiles to actually trying to avoid people or having to firmly say “no” over and over. In the evenings the visitors would leave and it was just be a few of us left behind. Some nights we would drink traditional wine, play music, dance and laugh together. Sharing stories and cigarettes we blended our many cultures into one, this was a place where our pasts did not matter and all that was real was the here and now. We were even invited to a wedding in a remote village that hadn’t seen a Westerner in decades. Seeing the traditional ceremonies and dress was absolutely surreal.
It’s incredible how humans have this ability to make a place home so quickly, and how the people you meet can so quickly feel like family.
Just like memories, we made so many friends at the tree house. Friends from every corner of the world. Two of them were Jody and Laura, a german couple on holiday
around Central Sulawesi. With them we got back on the Trans Sulawesi Highway, headed further North with visions of sandy beaches, crystal clear water and coconuts danced in our heads.