Why? I went because I wanted to see the world. I wanted to put something back. I wanted to see how they live on the other side of the planet – the developing world that they’re always talking about. I wanted to help the rainforests that I love so much, and see what they are like to be inside.. I wanted to do something selfless and productive, to show myself that I could. I wanted to go into my third year of university with a clear head, after the emotional doll’s house of second year. So, I went to Indonesia – specifically, to a small village, Labundo-bundo, on Buton, off the eastern coast of Sulawesi, from where Operation Wallacea, who run ‘scientific conservation expeditions’ every year, monitor the change to the forest and aid its conservation. Sounds great, I thought. Off I went for four weeks.
I left my front door in the peak district on Wednesday morning, and arrived in Labundo’ Saturday night (local time)– a long time of doing absolutely nothing with only a single consistant sleep (Wednesday night at my uncle’s in london). I could get used to that. It was exciting. At various points upon the journey, when changing between modes of transport, I caught glimpses of our world – and it didn’t impress me. The vast majority of humanity leads a rat-like existence of discontentment and disease. Maybe docks and airports don’t bring out the best of us. But waking up in Labundo’ was different, and it’s difficult to describe it fairly; it was not untouched by globalisation – stalls in the village sold coca-cola and nestlé, one or two houses had satellite TV, and it can’t be judged as a typical village in the area since it has had so much more investment from OpWall, but there was an atmosphere of quiet contentitude in the locals.
So, the forest was beautiful. And at first, slightly under-impressive. How can I think that? It’s clearly a brilliant place, bursting with magnificent flora and fauna. You’ve see it on telly. So had I, and as such, during the second week, I began to feel cheated. The side of myself I hate most – the pampered, beat-addicted, western low-attention-span had resurfaced, and I had started to think the money could have spent better selfishly. We were going bird monitoring that week, and it was too much like hard work – each day was a tough 5km hike back and forth across the jungle, and we rarely actually saw a bird, since the canopy was too thick, we just listened to their songs instead. Once I had began to accept that this was in fact paradise, and paradise was quiet, the forest even rewarded me when, 50 metres down the path from my companions, a rare wild pig ran out less than ten metres away. I love pigs! After this revelation – one of the reasons I had come was to purge myself – the second two weeks were blissful. I could lie back in a hammock strumming my uke and staring at the canopy and sky and simply feel good (blessed as we were with excellent weather). Of course, there were dietry differences and back problems, but how can they compare to spending a day following a troupe of monkeys around the reserve (the forest was a national park) or folk dancing to System of a Down with the local chief of police? Marvellously, I don’t feel a changed person after the trip; I feel more like myself than ever before.
I am truly grateful for the funding provided by the school that helped me take part in the trip, and benefited the locals of Labundobundo.