Ok so when I got my placement in Palembang, I quickly looked it up in my Lonely Planet Guidebook. “Sumatra’s second-largest city, Palembang is a manic concrete sprawl with little to offer anyone but the true urban enthusiast..” Goes on to say, “the town prospers as a major port and on the core industries of oil refining, fertiliser production and cement manufacturing, which all scent the air with a distinctive odour you might first mistake as your own funk.” Geez, Harsh.
So needless to say, this lovely description did not have me thinking of my fairy-tale days in Prague. However, I am happy to report, there is no funk smell so far, and it’s not exactly an urban sprawl.
To backtrack a bit, I was picked up from the airport by my counterpart (my go-to person at the school) Pak Herizal, his wife, another counterpart- Pak Yani, and his daughter. (‘Pak’ is like ‘Mr.’) It was such a warm welcome, and they immediately put me at ease and were so kind. Pak Herizal and Pak Yani have been taking me around the past few days, to meet people at school, and to the police & immigration offices for paperwork. They also took me to the mall and helped me buy a cell phone!
They gave me a tour of the school where I’m working– IAIN Raden Fatah (Institut Agama Islam Negeri, which stands for State Institute of Islamic Studies). I met LOADS of people and shook lots of hands.
I heard my first call to prayer on Thursday– kind of over a loudspeaker set up. As Muslims pray five times a day, I’ll obviously be hearing this a lot. It was exciting the first time, though! In fact, I’ve been told that I’ll probably be awoken by the dawn call to prayer. Might not be so exciting then…
The city seems a little difficult to navigate if you don’t drive, but I hope I’ll get used to it and learn to use buses. The buses I’ve seen range from packed & filthy, to fancy & coach-like. There aren’t any schedules though… and as I don’t’ know where they go, or where I want to go, I suppose this will come later. Driving myself is not an option (besides not having a car or motorcycle)– there are SO many cars and 3 times as many motorcycles zipping in and out of traffic. It’s actually quite fascinating to watch. They fit entire families on one motorcycle! I saw a family of 5 on a motorcycle yesterday!
Everything is so different and slightly overwhelming, but interesting! I saw goats grazing outside the police station, and a stray cat roaming inside!
I’ve been getting lots of stares, and I haven’t seen a Westerner since Jakarta, but everyone has been friendly and kind. Everything I’ve heard about Indonesian hospitality and kindness has been true for me. I’ve been invited to go to a wedding tomorrow so that will be quite a cultural experience (AND a check off my to-do list!)