Serendipity has led me to many places, given me many adventures, and brought me many friends that I otherwise never would have made. This time serendipity caught me again at the heart of Java in Indonesia. Not only is it in the heart of Java geographically, it turns out to be the very heart of the Javanese people and, very possibly, the heart of Indonesian people too.
I made friends with two Italians, currently volunteer teachers in Java on a short break, up in the highlands of Dieng Plateau on a rainy day. After a day of discovering places, getting soaked in rain, and getting to know each other, I ended up inviting them to join me down in Wonosobo at a place I was going to be couchsurfing. My big-hearted host happily accepted to host both of them also.
Little did we know, this entire serendipitous set-up would bring us deeper into the heart of Java, in the form of a small village near Wonosobo that was preparing for a cultural festival. After a night of much-needed sleep in the host’s beautiful house, we were ready to head to the village and join in the preparations.
The night before, our host showed us a video of the previous year’s festival. A chosen few did a long dance that ended with them eating glass. You heard me right, eating glass! Nowadays they no longer really “eat” the glass, but they will still bite off pieces and spit it out. It is to depict the myth that the spirit in the dancer will protect the dancer from pain, which he seems oblivious to as he bites off piece after piece with enthusiasm.
Back in the village, we went to a house where the host’s friend served us tea and snacks while we waited for a home cooked meal. The hospitality of the Javanese people is astounding. If you are ever in their house, they will make sure they prepare a meal for you. At first I felt really indebted to them, but later realized it wasn’t necessary – it is their culture and they enjoy making their guests happy in many ways.
After the good Indonesian home-cooked meal, we had a stroll around the small village, which can be covered in less than 30 minutes. Everyone around the village seemed to be out and about, busy with their own tasks working toward tomorrow’s festival. Kids were out playing around the props and stages while their parents worked hard to set up. The feeling of community was high here. Everyone worked together and seemed to know each other like one big family.
We also saw a traditional set of music equipment and the village’s very own wood carver, who was doing final touch-ups to some wooden dolls for the festival. He stopped and smiled at us when we came in and we started clicking our cameras away like he was a celebrity. Later we all stopped by the street side for a refreshing ice dessert at the village’s only dessert stall before heading back to the house for a rest.
As serendipity goes, it only brought me so far. Unfortunately, I had to head on to Borobodur to meet a friend and I wouldn’t be able to join the festival. I bid my Italian friends to enjoy it on my behalf. As I headed off on a motorbike driven by a villager who agreed to help send me to the bus stop, I waved at my new-found friends. They smiled and waved back, knowing they were in for a good time in the heart of Java.