“Greetings from the other side of the planet.” This is how I begin all of the postcards that I have sent from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I am writing this blog post from a coffee shop 10,000 miles away from both my home in Atlanta and my home-away-from-home in Davidson.
It took three days of long flights and never-ending layovers to travel those 10,000 miles. They were the toughest
three days of my life, and there were honestly times when I thought I would never make it here. From getting hopelessly lost in Incheon Airport in South Korea at 3 a.m., to wandering around in the dark outside of Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta searching for an elusive “sky train,” I harbored serious doubts that I would make it to the artists’ studio where I would be staying in the heart of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, a city which for months had seemed as distant and as unknown to me as the moon.
It was a mere three weeks ago that I practically ran down the tiny staircase jutting off of the third and final plane I took from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. The cloudless sky and midday sunshine turned the tarmac into a giant, sizzling stove-top as I followed a steady stream of fellow travelers into the tiny Adisutjipto International Airport, where the thunder of airplane engines was replaced by the sounds of taxi drivers yelling “taksi!” or “transport!” As I waited for my checked suitcase, I look around. Multicolor dragons were painted onto the walls of the tiny baggage claim room, mingling with advertisements for unknown Indonesian products. English seemed to be nonexistent here. It was absent from signs, banners and advertisements, and it wasn’t being spoken by anyone around me.
“Hello!” Mella, the artist I would be working with for the duration of my stay in Yogyakarta, greeted me as soon as I left the baggage claim room. I was in shock from the realization that I had made it to my final destination, exhausted from the days of travel, and amazed to hear a simple English word I hear all the time back home.
“…Mella?!” How do you greet someone whom you have never met but whom you have been emailing for months? It dawned on me then that this woman standing in front of me was a total stranger, yet she was my only connection in Yogyakarta.
“I came by motorcycle,” she said. “I will get you a taxi.” I nodded numbly and followed her to a desk where she paid for a taxi to take me to an unknown address. After traveling for three days on my own, it felt reassuring to let someone else be my guide. Lugging my huge black suitcase behind me (I always pack too much), I followed Mella to the tiny parking lot of the airport, which was strewn with motorcycles of various sizes and colors. Mella pointed to the only car in sight—my taxi—and told me that she would meet me at the location she gave the taxi driver. I nodded again, still in shock, and got into the taxi.
The ride to the mysterious location was jarring. I kept my eyes glued to the windows as the taxi meandered through the narrow streets of Yogyakarta, dodging motorcycles, pedestrians and cyclists—some carrying huge packages or stacks of straw baskets strapped to their backs. Crossing a bridge over a small river, I saw people wading amongst litter in the shallow, murky water. There were people everywhere—sitting in front of storefronts or selling food items from carts on the narrow sidewalks or on the roadsides. Storefronts, hotels, banks, houses and restaurants were crammed tightly together and lined each street.
Yogyakarta was a far cry from the tiny town I envisioned it to be. This place felt huge, hot, busy, congested and mysterious. As my taxi dropped me off in front of the alley leading to the studio where I would be living and working, I wondered if I would ever feel at home here and how I would be able to live here for two entire months.