Bambang Toko Witjaksono, Eko Nugroho and Dani
Kotak Ajaib, 2004
close encounter of the third kind made me realise that not everyone who
comes to Jogja, actually wants to meet the local people. Perhaps they just
prefer to hang out with their own kind, stick with the familiar, speak their
own language, swap stories of how terrible or cheap or expensive or whatever
it is here, where to get the best deals, what sights to bother seeing, where
to eat, where to drink and party, and perhaps, in the end, talk about how
much better it is back home.
Many tourists visit Jogja for only a few days, and there is plenty of potential sightseeing to be done - Borobodur and Prambanan temples, the Sultan's palace, Taman Sari, the Ngasem Bird market, Jalan Malioboro, Pasar Beringharjo, Ciremai caves, Parangtritis beach, maybe a shadow puppet play or classical dance performance in the evening.
If you want to discover something about the daily life of the Jogjakartans, and you have a limited time to spend in Jogja, then how to go about it? Getting to know and understand a culture can take years, if not decades, and you only have a few days. Sightseeing is interesting of course, but you might only come into contact with hawkers who want to sell something to you and guides who automatically reel off the known facts about each particular place. You might just end up with a lot of snapshots of places and objects, and not have many meaningful encounters or conversations with people. Maybe you have expectations of getting to know and understand what the real locals are doing every day. Often it is the human contact, the encounters with local people, that remain strongly etched in a traveller's mind and keep surfacing in the anecdotes of a trip to a certain place: "Do you remember when we went to (wherever) and we met that man who took us to his home and explained about (whatever) and we met his family and they were all such nice people. Remember the old grandmother? And the children? We tried our best to communicate with them and even with the language barriers we all managed somehow. We just felt so welcomed by them, and it was so interesting to see how they actually live over there."
sustainable tourism looks for balance on ecological, cultural and economical
levels, Via Via in Jogjakarta have succeeded in putting these ideas into
actual practice. The concept of Via Via started in Belgium. Some young
people were working for an alternative travel agent as volunteers, training
tour leaders in communication and guiding skills. They started talking
about how great it would be if they could set up meeting places all over
the world where they could set up tours and courses that fitted in with
their ideas of sustainable tourism. The meeting places would be run by
local people who could thus earn money for themselves. There are now nine
Via Via's all over the world: two in Belgium, two in Tanzania and one
each in Spain, Senegal, Nicaragua, Honduras and Jogjakarta, Indonesia.
All of them are supported by the Via Via international co-operative, they
all use the same name, the same logo, and they all follow the same philosophy
of sustainable tourism.
In Jogja, Via Via has set up a restaurant, courses, field trips, regular art exhibitions, and Salon Alami which specialises in traditional herbal treatments and massages. The café serves great food, and has a regular clientele of locals, expats and travellers. There is no manager - all the staff have been given particular responsibilities. They are all "managers", there is not a single "boss" who shouts out orders to his/her staff. The young women working at the restaurant are all confident and assertive. They do not mumble the learned-by-heart phrase "enjoy your meal" so common in other restaurants whose staff have been drilled to speak these words like robots when serving a meal.
you can take a 4-5 hour field trip to learn about jamu (herbal tonics
and remedies) and traditional massage. You start by visiting the market
where you will see all the various types of jamu being sold there, whether
home-made from fresh ingredients, packets of pills or bottled drinks.
You may be treated to home-made jamu of kunyit asem (tumeric and tamarind)
which has beneficial cleansing effects, and can prevent stomach cramps
during menstruation. For men, some jamu to increase sexual prowess may
be the preferred choice! You will then go to a home-industry where the
women produce litres and litres daily of beras kencur (water mixed with
ground rice, cinnamon, lemon, tamarind, palm sugar and salt) which they
send on to the markets for re-sale that day. This daily tonic, made fresh
daily, is good for strength and stamina. Having obtained the fresh ingredients
at the market earlier in the morning, you will then learn how to make
your own massage oil of lemon, ginger and coconut oil and a face mask
of ground ketan (sticky rice), cinnamon and water. The course ends with
a relaxing massage.
A short 3-hour cooking course allows you to learn how to prepare two Indonesian dishes. According to Romdi, "We always let the participants choose what they want to learn. If they ask me what I would recommend, I always tell them that it's better if they learn to cook something which involves a lot of new skills during the preparation process. Gado-gado is too easy, so I might recommend learning how to prepare Sambal Goreng Sayur. Various vegetables are chopped up, then you grind onions, garlic, galingale, palm sugar and chillies in a mortar and pestle. After cooking the vegetables and spices, you add coconut milk. The participants then have a meal at the conclusion of the course - the two dishes they have learnt how to cook."
Via Café also holds regular art exhibitions, with most of the exhibitors
being local, young, contemporary artists. With no commission on sales
of artwork, all the income remains in the hands of the artist. One artist
who exhibited there recently was so flabbergasted that no commission was
deducted from the selling price of his paintings that he immediately offered
to give some of his income to the staff of the café. There is an
exhibition of works by the Apotik Komik group of artists in July-August
2002, and in September-October 2002 there will be a solo show of paintings
and photographs by Eko Nugroho.
By the way, before I left the internet café last week, I asked a staff member there to pass on a brochure to the young Australian guy. Who knows, maybe he would rethink the costs involved in going to Borobodur on a motorbike with his own local, English-speaking guide. He'd get to see the glorious monument and some stunningly beautiful scenery on the way, plus get to know a local guy. Who knows, maybe they'd even become friends, end up hanging out together. Maybe his ideas about Indonesians might change a little. Well . . . . . at least he'd find out that it's not a dirt road that takes you to Borobodur.