3: South Sulawesi – A Life Far Removed

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“Every one of a hundred thousand cities around the world has its own special sunset and it was worth going there, just once, if only to see the sun goes down.” – Ryu Murakami

Today marks the last day spent shooting in South Sulawesi.  It’s time to go – each place has its own lesson to impart and this sleepy island has certainly left its mark on me. How do you convey the truly humbling experience it is when you see people who have so little live in a manner of such content?

Just after midnight, pull up in the darkness in a dark lot. The driver steps out for a cigarette and disappears into the darkness. Minutes pass, he doesn’t return. We’re three girls in a car, miles away from anywhere. Fear begins to rise, irrational, but so far from home imagination runs wild.

Sighs of relief as the crew bus pulls up behind us and we cruise down to a halt outside a wrought iron fence. A lone dog barks. I am struck by the remoteness of it all – Bira, five hours out from the main town of Makassar. Stare out into the darkness. It occurs to me if I disappeared from here, no one who knew me back home would ever find me.

Rustic wooden guesthouse, keys in the lock – choose a room. Curtains flutter in the sea breeze, rising like sails. A whisper of fabric. The door creaks as I push it open.

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I look around, there is a trough of water in the bathroom, a pail floating at the top. A tap empties into it, though often there is no water. I know I’m out of my depth. For a moment I’m panicked, then I think how over-privileged I must be to be thinking these thoughts. Water is precious. Here, they understand that. Every day I ration what there is for a shower and to flush the toilet. In our everyday lives, we turn on our tap each day without a thought about where it all comes from, or its value. We forget what our lives would be without it. Here they are reminded every day that what we have is limited. They take what they need to subsist. That is all they have. That is all they have ever known. Hot water would be an unnecessary luxury to them – it would have to be boiled over a stove.

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One of the guys manages to lock himself out of his room, a practical joke backfiring. It’s a small family owned guest house and one of the locals climbs in through a window to help him out. It’s 2am. I’m touched at how unassuming and helpful these people strive to be.

I sleep well despite the new surroundings. A mosquito darts around me, the goats outside bleat as they chase each other around. It’s an off-day for me, and I venture out into the sunlight, wandering down to the eating area. A lady gestures to some breakfast options – fried rice, fried noodles or banana crepes. A plate of deep fried donuts sits on the counter, waiting to be buttered and dipped in sugar.

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We don’t speak the same language but we communicate fine. I go with the nasi goreng, fried egg on top. I remember a conversation I once had with someone about healthy eating being a concept that was more popular in developed countries, that in many developing areas, fast food and fried food was more than norm. The truth of that statement resonates with me in that moment. Health consciousness, green juice, super foods – a hallmark of the wealthy. Your kale salad is a luxury. Your gift is your understanding of balanced nutrition. The access to fresh foods of all kinds at your local supermarket – want it delivered, no problem – it’s easy to forget that isn’t the reality for everyone.

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As I chew on my egg, I notice that she is watching formula 1 racing. I note that each time I’ve walked past a local watching TV, I have never seen them change the channel. They are happy to watch whatever is on. I wonder if choice has bred discontent within us all. Have we been blessed with so much that we no longer appreciate the simple things. And in that moment, I feel a little lonely, standing by the piercing blue sea, staring out at the driftwood in this remote paradise, as I come to these realisations. Castaway.

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On the off-day, the crew hire motorbikes as it’s how the locals get around, and we set off in search of lunch. The beaches here are beautiful, untouched. Aqua, kingfisher blue, the water glitters, rays of light bouncing off the sea like fragmented crystal. I am absolutely mortified that I am putting my life in the hands of my cast mate whose motorbike skills are for the most part questionable. Three of us per bike, definitely the safest form of transport we have come up with. But I think in the end, we’ve all got to just have a little faith and trust – I began to enjoy the wind in my hair and the uncertainty leaping around in the pit of my stomach.

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It is a beautiful day and we end up at one of two restaurants in the area. By the water, we sit at a quaint wooden table. Fresh seafood at prices you would never dream of at home – tuna, prawns, papaya juice, spicy veggies. Everybody is in a good mood, happiness in its purest form.

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We leave in the evening after dinner at the same restaurant. Choice is a luxury. Again, we steal away into the darkness, onward to our next destination. 13 hours later, we are in Tana Toraja to shoot my story. At the hotel, we enjoy a hot shower and I reflect on my experience. At breakfast, before my shoot the next day, I am acutely aware of the array of fruits and pastries.

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Next day we head back to Makassar – another eight hours by car. We have a bedbug fiasco that night in Tana Toraja. I am eternally grateful it was not me. I have heard the bedbug horrors from a friend of mine who had picked some up from a hostel while travelling Asia. One of the cast is bitten and falls ill, a hospital visit the next day. Food poisoning has been an obvious issue the entire time, no one has escaped unscathed. It’s all part of the journey. We’ve all cracked under the pressure at some point, but i’m embracing it. Looking back at the end of the week from my air-conditioned room and crisp white sheets, I am glad I did South Sulawesi. There is nothing more valuable than stepping into the shoes of those who lead lives utterly unrecognisable from your own. They say every city has a unique sunset, and it’s worth it, if you visit every place just to experience it. There’s not a day when I’m getting ready for bed, where I don’t stop for a moment and look around the room, wishing there were other people here to share the journey with.

If there is one thing South Sulawesi does spectacularly, its the views from our early morning breakfast pit stops. The mist-shrouded valleys and mountain views took my breath away. An eagle circles, spiraling higher and higher on an air current until it is a tiny dot high in the sky.

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It’s time to leave South Sulawesi. But the kindness of the people here, the pristine beaches and that feeling of beautiful desolation won’t be leaving me anytime soon. I’m ready for the next adventure. One more before I spend a week in Sydney, see my family. 5 more after that before Christmas and the new year. Then, one last hurrah before onward to Los Angeles. And that’s a whole other adventure. Life has a way of testing us along the way.

I wonder if I don’t sound grateful enough for the whole journey. I wonder if I’ve complained. The stress has taken a toll on all of us, but I would be remiss not to say that this has been one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. I look back on the big apple fondly, and I can say that there were parts of that year which absolutely devastated me. Yet it remains one of my favourite cities in the world. I think this will be much of the same. Nothing worth having comes easy, we often find gold in the depths of darkness. We’re all searching for the same thing – happiness, fulfilment, a life that fills us up on the inside. The road was never meant to be quick or easy, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to go slowly. Life is a marathon not a sprint. Keep on keeping on.



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