By Ashika Lakhani, a member of the current SkillCorps team in Indonesia
I read somewhere that the world is too big to stay in one place, and life is too short to do just one thing. When I read this during my lunch break at my place of work at the beginning of the winter season in Toronto, it really stuck with me for the rest of the day, then the rest of the week. I felt more and more each day that where I was, and what I was doing was not sufficient for me to feel satisfied with my life. I recalled taking my BCBA prep course with the Global Autism Project and, while wandering around the website, found SkillCorps. I remembered being told about it by a coworker. I was determined to be a part of something bigger than myself, and I was elated to be accepted, and to be fundraising and spreading the word about this wonderful cause. Now that I’m here, and I’ve been through my first work week with a team of incredible, inspiring, independent, and unique women, that unsettled feeling that I wasn’t doing enough has dissipated, and I’ve found a new way to look at, and reflect on, each day that goes by. What we had at the end of week one was a foundation to build on, and an exciting excursion ahead.
Day one of our excursion began with an early morning rise to get to the airport in time to leave for Jogjakarta. We were not pleasantly surprised to learn that rush hour begins at 5:30am in Indonesia, which made our journey to the airport longer than the flight to our destination! But all was forgotten once we landed and met our guide, and we were off to visit the Sultan’s palace. We learned about how Jogjakarta is governed, and the history behind the Sultan. One of our team members took a look at each one of us, and pointed out that we all had the same look of wonder on our faces. It was clear that we were all very happy to be here. For me, what started this excursion off perfectly was a reference to Dr. Spock made by our tour guide. The nerd in me was impressed.
Soon after we had finished our visit to the palace, we couldn’t resist the eye-catching Batik art gallery adjacent to the water castle just behind the palace. It was mesmerizing to see such intricate, colorful, and creative pieces that left each one of us with that same look of wonder.
Lunch was ayam goreng (fried chicken), which was absolutely delicious, and the dish that Jogjakarta is best known for. The restaurant was so well known for their ayam goreng that the statue in front of it had the dish’s name engraved in stone! We had the restaurant all to ourselves and, as usual, had some great conversation. We were refueled, and ready for the rest of the day.
The next stop was Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple. The majesty of Prambanan left many of us speechless, and grabbing any device we had handy that would help us capture this epic moment. It wasn’t long before we realized that no amount of photos would do it justice. We learned that each stone that was created is unique, and made to fit together to build each smaller temple like a puzzle. I found myself alone at one point, and saw Arshiya, one of our trip leaders, walking up the stairs towards one of the larger temples, and followed her up. We saw the idol of Shiva inside, and she began to tell me all about how the Hindu gods fit together, and what some of them represented. We continued to discuss these stories and Hindu mythology while exploring every side of the temple. I love that I got to learn about all this at such an opportune time – she had a personal connection to Shiva and Ganesh, which made this experience in Prambanan that much more amazing and personal.
Our first day of excursion had ended, and we went to our hotel for a short night’s sleep to wake up early for our sunrise tour of Borobudur. Waking up at 4am was not a difficult feat knowing that what awaited me I had only seen in pictures. I had been waiting for this for months. With flashlights in hand, we walked toward the temple through the dark pathways around our hotel, realizing that we really weren’t far from Borobudur at all. I had been looking forward to this experience, yes, but the stairs were what I was dreading. They appeared before me sooner than I thought they would and I started climbing, annoyed that I was exerting myself so early in the morning, and in the dark. Someone was making their way down the stairs – I never got a look at his face, I was so focused on finding the next step – I heard him say the words “Enjoy your heaven”. My whole thought process changed after that.
I remembered the question Molly posed to the team the day before – “What is here for you to learn?” – and opened my eyes in that moment to think about how this past week has formed such synergy within the team, within the work we do. How do I fit it all in on a personal level? What is here for me to learn? What did he mean when he said “enjoy your heaven”? I may be here with a group of people, and what a great group of people it is, but right now, I’m here for me. I’m here to experience what this means for me. What I learned through watching the sky turn from a smoky grey, to a powdered pink, to a pastel blue; what I learned through listening to the many stories of the many reincarnations of Buddha; what I learned through stopping and thinking about what was here for me to learn; was the necessity of spirituality and moments of stillness in my life. This, I’m sure, wasn’t what we all took away from this experience, but it’s what was here for me to learn, and it’s how I can enjoy my heaven.
After a very inspiring and spiritual early morning, we took a bicycle tour through the nearby local streets of Jogjakarta, riding through rice and tobacco fields, and ended up making our own little stupas in an outdoor pottery studio. Along the way, we had some laughs (because we’re an entertaining group that is also very easily amused), but also took in the beautiful scenery surrounding us. In the distance, we were able to see Borobudur, as well as greenery that went on for miles. Many of us couldn’t stop repeating how great today had been so far. And it wasn’t even noon yet!
We had lunch and then it was onto the silver factory, at which most of us ended up buying most, if not all, of our souvenirs and gifts. After that, we were on our way to a jeep adventure up Mt. Merapi, an active volcano. We learned the last eruption was in 2010 and that it erupts about every 5 years (yikes!). We put on our medical masks to shield our mouths and noses from the dust, and we were off! The roads were bumpy, the jeeps had no roofs or windows. It was certainly an adventure. What was waiting for us at the end was a beautiful view of the top of the volcano, a large crater releasing steam slowly, with valleys of ash that are meant to help lava flow as safely as possible out of the volcano when there’s an eruption.
Stillness once again. This place, the mission we were on, and this day, all hit me at the end of the day when we were at our hotel, and I thought about how grateful I was to feel sad about this day being over. Days like this don’t happen often, if ever, for many people. Before I went to sleep, I thought about the week of work ahead of us and recalled a story we were told at Borobudur. It was about a bird saving a lion from choking by pulling a bone out of the lion’s throat, expecting the lion to give him a reward at the end because that was what was promised. The lion said to the bird “the reward was that I didn’t eat you”. The moral of that story was not to expect a reward when you help others. The fact that that story was told to us at Borobudur amidst walls of stories to a group of volunteers was simply perfect.
My heaven was not experienced only today, but it is being here for this purpose, for this entire two weeks. I’m in my heaven at this very moment, with these inspiring and intelligent women. We’re present, we’re passionate, and we’re helping the people here persevere to make a difference, and to raise awareness for children with special needs with no expectation of reward, but feeling fulfilled with each day that goes by. And we’re going to carry what we’ve learned and experienced here for the rest of our lives, not just the rest of our time here.