By Elizabeth Ho, a member of the SkillCorps Indonesia October 2015 team
Read a little. Mediate more. Think of God all the time. ~ Parmahansa Yogananda
Yogyakarta has a way of persistently bringing your thoughts back to God. The call to prayer regularly broadcast throughout the city, the women in their hijab, the looming Borobudur seen from afar as we bike through fields of tobacco – all reminders that this country is deeply devout and firm in its faith. It is not stifling, not oppressive or overly pious. It is subtle, and peaceful, and reflected in the people we meet.
For many years now, I have considered myself an omni-thiest. Not particularly religious, but find love and light in many aspects of faith. Indonesia is a sincerely religious country, and while Islam is what most practice, the history and culture of Jogja are influenced by Hindu and Buddhism. The similar links between religions reflects the similarities between cultures and people. Listening to our tour guide Fatah – a Muslim – speak so passionately about Buddhism drove home my belief that no matter the route, they lead to the same end. We may be on different paths but the same journey.
I was again reminded of the overlaps in all people and faiths that afternoon. Riding around Jogja, I had the same feeling I have whenever on a bicycle. Cruising through the neighborhoods, greeting people out on their porches, it’s the same feeling of bliss I have on my bike in Portland. Bike riding is often a time I feel most at peace. It provides me with the same joy people get from church or prayer. Our guide Budi would ask me to race. We’d take off ahead of the group, flying down the streets laughing. I realized he feels it too. Budi and I live vastly different lives, but we take the same joy out of simple pleasures. Different path, same journey.
We ended our excursion dancing on Mt Merapi. As we stood facing the mountain, the call to prayer once again rang out. A notice to take time to reflect and think of God.
This week I rode a bike in a city built around a volcano; half a world away from my home city that is also built around a volcano. From now on whenever I’m on my bike I will remember the feeling I got from racing Budi, the smell of tobacco, the morning greetings from neighbors. And I will think of God.