Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saronde Island

I had heard tales about Saronde Island since I first moved to Gorontalo. Many of my writing students last semester wrote about it when I asked them to tell me about interesting places to visit in Gorontalo. This past Sunday, with less than two weeks of my fellowship left to go, I finally went to Saronde with about a dozen students from one of my speaking classes. It was one of the best days I’ve had in Gorontalo and now I kinda wish I didn’t have to leave.

We met on campus early Sunday morning and squeezed ourselves into an angkot or minibus for the hour long ride to Kwandang, a village on the north coast of Gorontalo province. We stopped at Vana’s house, where, much to my surprise, her family had prepared some food for us to take to the island including palm sugar cakes, a huge tub of delicious melon juice, and dabu dabu iris! I had made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I thought the plan was for everyone to bring their own lunch, but apparently, the new plan was to grill fish on the beach! YES!

Squeezed into the angkot

Stocked up with provisions, we drove a few more minutes to the harbor. Here, a quaint little boat called ‘Taxi Saronde’ was waiting to shuttle us across to the island, about half an hour away. En route we stopped at another island to buy some fresh fish at what turned out to be Vana’s boyfriend’s home village. While the boys went ashore to buy the fish, Ucha asked me what Indonesian songs I liked. I told them I liked ‘Assalamualaikum’ and started singing a few bars of the refrain. They squealed in delight and soon we were all singing it together. I also told them I liked ‘Jika Cinta Dia’ and we sang along to that one too. It was great fun.

Heading to our destination in the 'Taxi Saronde'

Soon we pulled ashore at Saronde Island. Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The entire island is ringed with about1 km of beautiful white sand beach. The water was every possible shade of blue imaginable and the beach was strewn with shells and coconut husks. In the middle there was small collection of huts and two cottages. I walked around in a daze and kept repeating how beautiful it was. Finally, Novah had to beg me to stop staying ‘beautiful’ so much. So then I rattled off a list of other adjectives: stunning, gorgeous, breathtaking, sublime, heavenly, magnificent and on and on. This is no exaggeration.

I love Saronde Island!

We all love Saronde Island!

Look at this white sand beach!!

We set ourselves up at one of the little huts near the water. It was midday so several students disappeared to go grill the fish over the coconut husks they brought with them and I stayed behind to play cards with Ucha, Novah, and Deysi, while several others looked on. We were in the middle of Rummy 500 when the others came back with the freshly grilled fish, elaborately served up on a palm leaf! We put the cards away and dug into the dabu dabu and packets of rice that someone had brought along. The dabu dabu was particularly spicy and my hiccups came out in full force, much to the amusement of some of the students!

My students posing with fresh grilled fish and dabu dabu salsa!

After lunch, Amad and I went for a walk around the entire island. Since it was so small this only took about 20 minutes, including the time we stopped to take pictures. Have I mentioned how beautiful this island is? As we finished our walk, we noticed that many of the others were already playing on the beach and in the water. So we joined them and thus began several hours of hilarity. One thing I love about Indonesians is that they can be very lebay. This is a slang word that means doing things in an overexaggerated fashion, especially posing for pictures. Since Amad is a pretty decent photographer, I gave him my cameras for the day and he took most of the pictures. Here are some of my favorite photos of the day:

These are our swimming clothes!

Indonesians are experts at instantly posing for group photos

Vany looked very photogenic in her pink jilbab!

There was an afternoon shower but then there was also this beautiful rainbow!

Amad's underwater self-portrait. Love the reflection in the goggles!

Probably the most lebay moment of all came when we decide to make a video of ourselves dancing to a song we made up that consists of three words, “Can you swim?” On the boat ride over to the island, I had asked Vany, who was sitting next to me, if she could swim. However, in my American accent, this question came out as one word - “Canyuhswim?” and Vany did not understand me at all. Once I explained that I was asking “Can you swim?” everyone thought this was hysterical and we took turns asking each other, “Canyuhswim?”. If you say it kind of fast and repetitively it turns into a sorta catchy tune. And thus our dance was born. I'll try to upload the video when I have a faster internet connection.

Surprisingly, many Indonesians cannot swim. There’s no such thing as swimming lessons as part of gym class here, so only people who grow up near the water ever learn. I would have thought that in a beach town such as Gorontalo, many people would know how to swim. What I learned this year is that people only learn if they’re literally within walking distance to a swimmable body of water (like the people of Torosiaje who live right on top of the ocean). So, even Vana, who grew up in the village of Kwandang, can’t really swim. I gave her a lesson though – we practiced blowing bubbles, breathing to the side and kicking. I also lent her my goggles for most of the afternoon. She had never seen underwater before and was transfixed. She’s really good at holding her breath and she would go under and report back all of the cool things she saw – blue starfish and ‘Nemo’ being at the top of her list! The next day I got a text from her, “By ur goggles I aware seaworld is beautiful… I see thng tht never I see b4. Thanks a lot.” While my English lessons may or may not stay with her once this year is over, I think I have left her with something else that will last forever – an appreciation of the underwater world! I’m so proud.

We stayed on the island until sunset and then reluctantly got back on the boat to head back to Kwandang and our waiting angkot. I could barely keep my eyes open for the ride back to town though. After a day spent swimming, running around the beach, turning cartwheels, giving swimming lessons, singing loudly and talking non-stop, I was utterly exhausted. But I loved it. My students are really a lot of fun to be with. It’s sort of ironic. All year long I have been keeping them at a distance – refusing to add them on Facebook, telling them it’s not appropriate to turn up unannounced at my door in the evening, and explicitly stating second semester in my syllabi that they are not to text me randomly at 10 pm to say ‘Miss what r u doing now?’ I kept them at bay because I thought, as their teacher, I was supposed to keep a professional distance. The thing is, my concept of ‘professional distance’ seems to be an American one. My fellow lecturers at UNG are friends with their students on FB, they encourage students to drop by their homes to ask questions and talk freely in what they see as a more comfortable environment and they text each other day and night. I’m afraid the only effect my ‘professional distance’ attitude served this year was to isolate me from a community of fun-loving, curious and friendly people. But I hope it’s not too late. I hope my students will add me as their friend on FB now and I hope we can stay in touch.

With Vana on the 'Taxi Saronde' at sunset


  1. Those are amazing pictures....Ahhhh, I'm dreaming of Saronde now. ;) Hope you're enjoying wherever you are!!