Children on Batanta Island, Indonesia. Photo by the author

Children on Batanta Island, Indonesia. Photo by SE

There’s a difference between experiencing the world as a tourist and a traveler.

In my work with organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Ashoka, I’ve had occasion to do both and to notice the differences.

As a traveler, you become part of the landscape, access the culture in a way that changes your own perspective on the world, and if you can’t quite become native to the place, you at least get to know real people and have deeper experiences.

As a tourist, you are more an observer and your experiences are from outside rather than within. It feels more superficial and distant, like you are collecting experience rather than living it, if that makes sense.

A donor trip to Indonesia in February 2005 was more of a tourist experience than other trips I’d taken where I stayed with locals and worked with colleagues and partners on strategy over longer periods of time.

Not to say that traveling as a tourist isn’t valid. Sometimes you can observe things more clearly as an outsider rather than as an insider living in a place. During this particular donor trip, I wrote a poem about a visit to a small island in the Raja Ampat region of far eastern part of the country.

The poem appeared in OCHO #24, which was edited by Collin Kelly and included poets who were active on Twitter (you can find me there @greenskeptic).

Writing about poetry and technology in The Best American Poetry Blog, poet Julie Bloemeke, writes, “In ‘Village, Batanta Island,’ Scott Edward Anderson creates a world where children interact because they can see themselves in a digital camera.”

I’m not sure how often tourists visited that island or how frequently its children interacted with the likes of us. The exchange we had was genuine and fun, but like the picture I took in the moment (see above), there was definitely a fence between us, both real and imaginary.

Here is my poem, “Village, Batanta Island”:

To the young girl staring at me,

in a village on the island

of Batanta, I have an amusing,

open face; my big eyes,

skin paler than her experience.

I catch her looking at me.

She turns, giggles, whispers

to her friend. Funny gringo

in Ex Officio.

About twenty, twenty-five kids,

crowd around us; all under the age

of ten, most under five.

They pose for pictures

with our digital cameras.

Their scrubbed faces and hand-washed

clothes make neat subjects.

They giggle at the pictures

captured on the viewing screens;

tuck in a stray hair or shirt,

teasing each other.

A long, driftwood fence

lines each side of the one path

through the village. Whitewashed

church, houses with careful,

ornate carvings on the facades.

Neat rows of houses with neat

rows of cassava planted out back,

mango trees and papaya; sand

as white as those houses.

The villagers eat fresh-caught fish

from the sea behind their houses.

One of the men says they must now

go further out each day to find a good catch.

How many people can such a village

support before reaching its limit?

One of my companions,

a businessman from Jakarta,

quickly answers, “One thousand.”

–One thousand. What happens then?

He does not answer; I too am silenced.

Now he turns to the children,

speaks in bahasa Indonesian,

steadies to take another picture.

Ten yards away,

by a thatch-roofed house,

stands another girl,

not more than sixteen,

laundry tub at her hip:

already she is pregnant.

–Scott Edward Anderson, OCHO #24

I’ve had a love affair with Indonesia for a long time now. Curiously, it started with its poetry long before I ever visited the country. But the people and the place are the real magic for me. Indonesia is a land (and waters) of stunning beauty, a people of peace and wonder, and a remarkable, storied culture.

I long to go back and when something like the bombings in Jakarta this week happens, my heart sinks that Indonesia and its people may suffer.

A few years ago, after the Bali bombings that killed 20 people and injured 129 and reports of other terrorist activities surfaced, I wrote a poem called “Sons of Abraham,” which has not yet been published. It may be too difficult a subject to be published. (Of course, it also may be that it is not yet finished or polished enough for publication!)

I want to share it here in the wake of the Jakarta bombings and in honor and memory of all victims of terrorism everywhere:


We are all strung together
by thin filaments of air,
fragments of faith and our burning desire
to please God, to engender
a kind of blessing. Time
is the fragrance of one age
evoking another; essence
is our connection on earth.

I harbor neither empathy nor anger
for people who set off bombs in Bali,
only pity. I am sorry for them,
honoring their God in this way:
beheading Christian village leaders,
decapitating young girls
on their way to school or attacking
women because they wear a burqa
or pray to Mecca.

How sad to think God can be appeased
by such actions, that He wants
such a fate for you—

As for God, I forgive His negligence
or lack of supervision, all leaders are flawed.
We are all Sons of Abraham,
that model of faith, and we are all
struck down by hearts of stone,
leaden particles of dust
shattering between us
in the opaque calculation
of suicide bombs—
“Forgive them, Father,
for they know not what they’ve done.”

–Scott Edward Anderson
(Note: There are families in eastern Indonesia who have married two faiths, Christian and Muslim. The first-born son or daughter is baptized; the next is raised in Islam. We are all connected. I love my Muslim brothers and sisters as well as my Christian, my Jewish, my Buddhist, and my Hindu families. There is only one God.)

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