Post by Jen
For my first few weeks in Yogya, I wasn’t quite able to pinpoint why people here seem to be so much friendlier and even happier than what I’m used to in the U.S. and Canada. I think after watching (what Amirah and I have jokingly dubbed) The Hunger Games in the Krapyak ‘village’ (I still find it hard to believe that the spot we live is considered a village.. it is about a 15-minute motorbike drive from the centre of Yogya city, and most homes seem to have modern amenities like electricity and water), it has become apparent to me that the deciding difference might be the strength in the sense of community that comes from the emphasis on collectivism as opposed to individualism. After I noticed that, I started seeing this collectivism everywhere. Even in the way people drive - it’s almost as if every driver is looking out for the interests of every other driver on the street, which I bet helps to reduce the traffic accident incidence from India-style rates with the mosh-posh of motorbikes, cars and trucks vying for space on the roads.
What we call The Hunger Games are Indonesia’s Independence Day games, which would normally be celebrated on August 17th (the day Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands was declared in 1945). The games this year were meant to be moved up to July so as not to fall during the Ramadan fasting, and in the village of Krapyak they were moved up all the way to July 1 (which ironically coincided with Canada Day.. potentially significant to only me here) so that Amirah and I could partake. When I first heard of the games consisting of climbing up a palm tree to get the prizes at the top, I envisioned Amirah and me giving it a try.. Until I saw the greased-up palm tree pole that required teams of five or so men to climb over top of each other (using backs of knees and jean loopholes for support) to get to the top, while wiping off the greasy parts to make the climb easier. Right, I would have enough trouble using upper body strength to pull myself a metre off the ground on the pole, let alone take part in these complicated maneuvers.
The teamwork and sense of community in the games was incredible. Each man had the others’ backs.. literally. After a solid six hours of about six teams of five trying to get to the top, the men all worked together to clean off the pole and get to the prizes. The man who finally succeeded (by this point it was mid-afternoon and the sun sizzled my skin even as I watched) did so by climbing over a teammate’s body, who acted as a human holster. In the end, the prizes, save for one, went to the children in the audience.
We realized how different the sportsmanship that we’re used to is when Amirah commented on one of the teams being “the worst one.” As the teams all started to work together, we realized that perhaps being the best was never the intent and that our Indonesian counterparts in the audience would perhaps not even think to make that sort of qualification.