So here I am. Got back to Jakarta on the first of March after spending a month going back and forth from Labuan Bajo to Messah Island for only one purpose: remodeling a library. On August 2014, I got a call from Zack offering me this opportunity, and I just couldn’t say no.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Flores, the beauty of the east side of Indonesia and about how different the people are over there, different than the people I often see back home. And to have a firsthand chance to taste this difference was a beautiful experience.
People were right. Labuan Bajo is a beautiful place where everybody I’ve met has a unique personality and takes pride in being different, but still appreciates disparities. They are way different than most conformist-attitude people I often meet in Jakarta. They like to share their stuff & experiences with you; it feels like I traveled to a place I could comfortably call home. I finally met bang Maxie and papa Jo, names that I often hear when I talk to people who have been to Labuan Bajo.
They have been a huge help (for me and for Taman Bacaan Pelangi) and good friends during my stay there. I also made friends with lots of cool people in Labuan Bajo such as the live band performers, the tourists, almost everybody that had time to talk to me. And most of them already knew and made friends with Nila.
I have known Nila and Zack from 2012, from a friend of mine that wanted to make Nila as a subject of his college thesis. We met with Nila on a bright afternoon in Starbucks, and at night, we became TBP volunteers. I’m in love with these people, not only Nila, Zack and everybody at TBP, but also with good people in general. I’m so grateful these people exist in this dark world we live in.
I’m telling you this because I’ve spent a lot of time being in the underground scene; I was (kind of) raised in a dark world of heavy music culture, where I met the most absurd and darkest people in the country. Meeting lots of new and nice people made me grateful. I’m grateful that there are still lots of nice people around me and that I am able to actually see them do something that makes the world a better place.
I think to summon good people, you gotta have a mantra; you gotta try to be good as well. After that it’s like a magnet; you attract each other. This concept of finding people who are on the same frequencies as you are, just came to me, because I spend too much time on my own. But after trying to apply this to real life, after I vibe with it, the rest just follows.
One of the ‘good magnets’ I have met is Fitri. I met her couple of days ago, another good human being. She got the chance to have some time off of her work and she chose to just volunteer at Messah for about two weeks. Talking to people who want to have a sweaty ‘vacation’ in a hot place is really awesome.
It’s amazing cause I myself doubt if I can handle being in Messah for more than a week without going back to Labuan Bajo to just cool off. And she confidently told to me that she wants to stay there for two weeks straight and help out volunteering, stay at the library, invite kids there and read to them, and also do some teaching.
She even brought her guitar to sing with the kids. After I met her I just felt so good, because I met a good person and also because Messah had just gained a great –although unfortunately temporary – addition. There are still tons of people who want to help make the place better for the kids, who are inevitably our future generation. I believe there are still lots to be done there to help make the place even more awesome. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to achieve everything I wanted to do there due to limited time. But the more people volunteer, the doper it gets.
Another good magnet is Eka. I met this surprisingly loud woman a couple of days before I went to Labuan because Zack told me that there’s somebody who wants to help me out during my volunteer there. She flew to Bajo after I already spent a week there. She came for only 10 days but she helped with the project a lot. She’s great at helping me manage and finance things there, and she’s also great with meeting new people. She has great social skills and is a badass photographer.
Another good magnet that helped us out is my man Sufjan. We met at Paradise bar (owned by Maxie) on my second day in Labuan Bajo. He’s a traveler that backpacks from Jakarta and stayed in Labuan Bajo for 3 months working at a diving agency.
He’s an art major and he told me that he studies art right when I was looking for an art guy to help me paint the world map project. Turns out he also was interested about the project, and is great with kids. He accompanied and helped me almost every time I went to Messah. We instantly became friends and we still meet each other after we got back to Jakarta. It feel so good meeting these kind of people.
At first the three of us already knew what we should do in Messah; putting up bookshelves, making a huge world map on the wall, and organizing education & reading programs for the place. But so many ideas popped out of our heads every now and then, especially on the artsy side.
We became focused on the walls, making a whole lot of nice paintings on the walls cause of the ‘hey we should make this/that’ and almost all of the ideas sounded great. We even made clouds on the ceiling. Maybe because we loved it when kids came in and were excited because the place looked colorful, or maybe because we have lots of paint… I don’t know, what matters to me is that the kids in Messah loved it.
To go to Messah, you need to go to a harbor in Bajo, Labuan Bajo and find a boat that ships fish, ice, food supplies that has ‘Messah’ written on it. After you find this boat, you can just sit and enjoy the 45-minute ride while the boat takes you to Messah. On the road there, the view is amazing; you can see small islands passing by, birds that dives into the water to get fish, dolphins pops up for some air once in a while.. definitely something you don’t see every day here back in Jakarta.
Messah is a small island near Komodo island. The place is smaller than the usual soccer stadium, with about 1500 people living there, in about 400 houses. There is an elementary school and a junior high school, There is one hill, couple of soccer fields (one for the little kids and one for the teenagers, but they usually also play together), and two docks. That’s it.
People go back and forth to Labuan Bajo to buy rice, selling what they caught (most of them are fishers), in order to have access to better healthcare (only one small health center in Messah), and also to buy water. Imagine you have to buy water from Labuan Bajo if you want to cook and bathe. They come to the dock on mornings, put the water in a bucket, and bring it back to their homes. That’s how you get water there. Want to bathe? Bring the bucket to a public bathroom.
Electricity is also a problem there. You have to pay a certain amount of money to get a certain amount of electricity. And the price is not cheap. They still use generators using solar every night. Some of them don’t even have a generator. Both clean water and electricity are considered to be the main problem on Messah Island.
There’s this dome in Messah that can purify sea water to pure water but it’s broken. There’s also this device that provides electricity by using one big generator but it’s also broken. The water purifier is from the Ministry of Fisheries. One of the people that I talked to there said that the Ministry is planning to fix it but they don’t know when.
They also told me that the government is planning to give one big solar panel for electricity but still, We don’t know when the project is going to happen. Despite the hardships the people in Messah might be facing, I found that they still are all smiles and look pretty happy.
Speaking of the people of Messah, I’m blessed to have met good people on this island, like Pak Joko. He’s the headmaster of Messah elementary school and also a coordinator for Taman Bacaan pelangi. Pak Joko is an amazing person. He helped us out during our time there.
The three of us stayed at his house in Labuan Bajo when we were in Labuan, and we also stayed at his house when we were in Messah. I basically became his son when I was there. He and his wife played a huge role in my life when I was in Messah.
I can’t thank Pak Joko and his family enough for being such great people. The elementary teachers (Ibu Esti, Ibu Nita, Ibu Dian and Ibu Fitri) were also great. They too are coordinators for Taman Bacaan Pelangi. These teachers, along with Pak Joko helped me paint, draw, work on the drawers for the reading space, and also organize the programs on the island.
They were such a huge help and are a very fun-loving bunch of people. I am glad I had the chance to meet them and I really hope that I’ll be seeing them again soon, so we can eat Salome all together again.
Lastly, after talking about all the work done in Messah and the amazing people I have met there, you can’t forget about the kids. The kids were just amazing, they were such a huge ball of energy. Lots of them helped me out a lot. Although I am so grateful to all of them, two of the lot has been with us since day one: Fauzan and Arman. Arman is pak Joko’s oldest son and Fauzan, son of a boatman. I miss them. I hope my work on Messah means something to them as much as they means to me.
Messah Island, February 2015