By Ann Marie Hammell, a member of the SkillCorps Indonesia February 2018 team

The world’s smelliest fruit: this is an actual description that Google has assigned to Durian, a controversially popular Asian fruit. Rani, the co-founder of Rumah Tiara, didn’t lead her sales pitch of after work Durian ice cream with this same description but her partner Hotik was quick to add it. The day had been spent dissecting the parts of a behavior intervention plan template and rebuilding it into something that would be effective and cohesive for Rumah Tiara so after a productive but long day, smelly fruit ice cream didn’t exactly sound like an appealing flavor to end with, but our team approached it with a “when in Rome (or Indonesia)” attitude. 

Before we even opened the doors of the car alongside the Durian stand, I could smell the fruit and I can say, as almost an understatement, that it is the smelliest fruit in the world. However, we confidently followed Rani’s parents, who were joining us for our dessert, to the vendor. After buying some ice cream and even slices from the actual fruit, we gathered around a table, planning to dive into the smelly unknown. Even as someone with a pretty strong stomach and a not picky palate, my spoon hesitated as I watched the reactions of those around me. Each of the people experiencing Durian for the first time found it a hard taste to swallow, literally. Still, yet less confidently, I took my first -and last bite of Durian ice cream. It tasted like I had just eaten a huge bite of a raw onion which caught me off guard despite the wide range of expectations I had from sweet ice creams to a rolodex of smelly foods. I tried to tactfully hide my expression from Rani and regain my composure from the initial shock of the taste, not wanting her to see my difficulty digesting her special treat. As I sat with Rani while she finished the rest of her ice cream, her mom came up behind her. She draped her arms around Rani and then snuck some ice cream over Rani’s shoulder while playfully fighting Rani’s spoon with her own. Rani’s dad quipped about the amount of ice cream left beside her.
The entirety of their interaction was so light, so familiar to me that it could have been my own family. It was a moment like this on one of my first days in Indonesia, on the other side of the world from everything that I knew, that brought me back to the reality that at our core, we’re all the same. A family is a family no matter where you are in the world and similarly autism is autism no matter the spot on the globe. Circumstances and situations can be vastly and intimidatingly different, but at the heart of it all- human nature has the same heart. Our diversity is not something to be overlooked but in celebrating our uniqueness, I think we need to be mindful to use it as a tool that connects rather than isolates. Back home or on this island in the Pacific, there are people who are working to create an environment where every child has the opportunity to flourish instead of being contained and labeled. I feel so grateful to be even a small part of Rani and Hotik’s story and their vision to bring acceptance and support to children and their families in Indonesia. Their passion is the contagious kind that doesn’t just ignite your own spark but sets your soul ablaze with fire. So if you haven’t yet today, be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.