For exactly one year, I have been writing letters, selling cookies and dancing on soap boxes to spread the news about Global Autism Project. I see a beautiful sunrise and feel a sudden inclination to post it on viral social media, proclaiming hashtag-SkillCorps! And now that I’ve had the opportunity to work with partners, both in India and now Indonesia, I find myself planning out my year of world exploration around the ever-expanding schedule of SkillCorps trips. When I was recently explaining my pseudo-plan to navigate the globe while volunteering regularly for SkillCorps, a friend of mine said, “You must really hate going to these amazing places just to work the whole time.”
So, here’s the thing about SkillCorps.
We work. We work really hard. Sometimes it feels like we’re chipping away at concrete language barriers with plastic spoons, good intentions and Google Translate. We spend hours discussing the Functions of Behavior, data collection and Plus/Delta daily reviews. Our minds are in autopilot as we fight off the demons of jet lag that inevitably cling to our eyelids until day three.
And the therapists we’re training are pouring just as much sweat and passion into these work weeks. But just when we start to develop an eye-twitch from unyielding prompt counting, something magical always happens…
The weekend sweeps in and marks the beginning of the SkillCorps EXCURSION!!!
We woke up early Friday to catch a short flight to Yogyakarta. We were led directly to Budi, our lovely driver/guide for the weekend. We drove straight to a local dive where we devoured plates of fried chicken so fast that the only picture I have is that of a blurred bone pile; a hasty attempt at food photography that even Instagram couldn’t fix.
So in lieu of chicken, I’ll give you Prambanan.
As we wandered through the 9th century Hindu temples, we posed for stairwell photo shoots and embraced the superstitions of a beautiful culture as we whispered wishes into the ear of a famous stone ox. The structures reminded me of drip castles I used to make in the damp sand of Georgia beaches. It’s amazing how home can still find you, even in Southeast Asia.
Exhausted from flying and temple perusing, we decided to settle for a night in at our hotel in Borobodur. That was, until Budi suggested this little gem of a restaurant.
Budi explained that he “knew a little place,” and we agreed to stop for a bite as soon as he mentioned the word “hut.” The restaurant was a small building positioned on a piece of land used for Carp farming. The four huts, designed for crossed-leg seated dining, were placed on top of the Carp ponds, laced together by narrow pathways leading to the kitchen. The staff welcomed us with bottles of water before asking how many poles we would need…
to catch our dinner, of course.
To say we were ecstatic about this would be a vast understatement. The celebratory dances performed after each fish was caught most nearly resembled the fist-pumping, victory chants a bit more appropriate for an NFL Endzone. But at least the employees and Budi were entertained by our enthusiasm. And after a few hours, we were filled with fresh fried Carp and undeniable triumph.
The next morning, we rose before the sun and walked with flashlights through damp grass and geckos toward the Buddhist temple of Borobodur. After a nearly daunting stair climb, we caught our breath and circled the top to find a seat amongst enormous Stupas and intricate relief sculptures. Seeing the sun rise in the eyes of Buddha, enveloped in the powerful shadows of towering Stupas was an experience that placed Borobodur on my personal World Wonders list.
And that vision was the opening act in a day that proved to be my favorite day of world travel thus far.
As our motto for the day became “yes, and…” we found ourselves accepting any opportunity thrown at us. When Budi asked if we would be interested in a bike ride we answered, “Yes, and… we’d like to go right now!”
Should we ride through a tobacco farm?
“Yes, and… we’d like to stop and smell the drying leaves as we pass.”
Stop to watch the creation of local pottery?
“Yes, and… we would like to learn how to throw our own pot.”
Cycling down narrow dirt roads, through fields of tobacco and water pastures lined with rows of rice set the pace for the day. Smiles became permanent features on our faces for the rest of the afternoon.
It took a few moments to paint on these serious faces, but we felt it necessary to wear our best “extreme sport” expressions, as we were about to ride a Jeep through the active volcano, Mount Merapi. Sara’s lovely dimples and my gaping grin didn’t seem suitable for a setting so obviously intense.
Though whiplash and white-knuckling adventure may not be on everyone’s bucket list, the view from the bunker is worth the dust on your sunglasses.
Should we take a Jeep up an active volcano?
“Yes, and… we’d like to stand at the edge of the lava’s cratered foot-print.”
Since joining SkillCorps last October, I’ve been continuously challenged in ways I never imagined I would accept. We fundraise for months, attempt to apply our clinical experiences and education to settings we’ve never seen. We dive head first into cultures we know very little of, and form friendships across the world. And in traveling to these countries, meeting these beautiful people and always answering “Yes, and…” to the opportunity to truly experience a culture, we become citizens of the world and defy the existence of borders.
Cassie Harden is a current SkillCorps member and has traveled on two SkillCorps trips this year, one to India and one to Indonesia.