Dealing with a Dangerous Land

13 Feb

It’s funny coming from the west how we tend to over think things in terms of what is best for a country. We look at an area that we view as “undeveloped” and think well they don’t have cars or infrastructure or malls we need to develop this area! Send in the aid organisations and let’s bring them up to Western standards!

This morning I went to a village. It was tiny and while I’m bound to forget it’s name I will never forget the village. We rode for about an hour from Jogja into the hills of Bantul down truly atrocious roads to this house where we sat down with the head of the local farmer’s organisation. He was an old Javanese man, fit from years of working the fields but his face was worn and his teeth broken and stained. Over five years ago there was a severe earthquake in the area which left over 5000 people dead and completely destroyed over 35% of the building in this village with not a single structure escaping damage. This man’s house was totally destroyed twice, both in the initial earthquake and a more minor one in the following months.

We started chatting with my questions in Indonesian being translated into a hybrid of Javanese and Indonesian by one of my friends from the office. I was really surprised by the answers. He said they were lucky. An earthquake doesn’t destroy your livelihood as a farmer. The fields are still there to tend to unlike in the case of an eruption or flood. I asked him what were his hopes for the future, what did he want for his village? He replied, “We want to be independent, to be able to overcome these disasters by ourselves. We receive aid from the local government but it isn’t enough, it’s much better if we receive more independence.” then he added, “and maybe the road could get rebuilt.” This road I mentioned before was horrific. You would struggle to get a car down it and it was a constant struggle to actually stay on the back of the motorbike from all the bouncing around. The road is essential for every aspect of life. Improving the road means better access to education, healthcare and to the markets in other towns to support the local farmers and home industries. All it takes to improve life there exponentially is a simple thing like a road to be fixed.

Overlooking Bantul and Gunung Kidul

Driving around the village you noticed the dramatic landscape of the area, steep terraced hills which present a real risk of landslides and constant green as far as you could see. It’s really not the safest area to live but for these people, the locals told me, there are no other options. They’ve lived here for decades and have nowhere else to move so make the most of their situation.

After looking around a bit more and drinking the obligatory glass of tea we headed up on the bike to the top of a hill at a fruit orchard. From there we overlooked both Bantul and Gunung Kidul, two of the five districts of Yogyakarta (The other 3 are Sleman, Kota- the city and West Prog) and as far as you could see there were forests, rivers and steep terraced hills as well as tiny villages. Such a beautiful area which faces dangerous threats from natural disasters constantly. It was an eye opening morning to say the least. It’s really easy to look at a disaster and think the recovery effort ends as soon as you rebuild the houses and that financial aid is the solution to everything. Almost six years on we still see ongoing issues in this area from a threat we really can’t do anything to prevent. I really hope that village gets the road and the independence that it needs.


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