I can still remember the time I became a minority in my own country. It was September 2014, when I was sent on my first reporting assignment out of Java, in Balige, a nine-hour drive from North Sumatra’s capital of Medan. As a rookie journalist, this was both interesting and challenging at the same time, but I was excited about it, as I like to experience new things.
True enough, Balige was not as easy as I had thought. Nothing about it was familiar. I knew no one there, the culture was totally foreign to me, and not many local people speak the Indonesian language. In addition, the food was like nothing I was accustomed to.
I had to stay with a Christian family since all the hotels were fully occupied by people who came for the Danau Toba Festival. In the beginning it was a little awkward for me to stay in a non-Muslim community, thanks probably to growing up in a staunchly Muslim environment. When I was a kid, people said that if I didn’t pray, I would be called a Christian. Funny as it sounds, it had stuck in my head, although I had since had many non-Muslim friends.
There were many reasons to say no to this assignment, but I wanted it so bad at the time, as I believed the experience would change my perspective.
I did a homestay with a family at Lumban Bul-bul village. My host parents are farmers and they have two girls. As a newcomer I tried hard to adapt myself to my new environment. It was hard enough to stay with a family of strangers. We were different in so many ways, from the way we speak, what we believe in, to the food we eat. But all of it has made me learn to deal with differences in life.
In fact, I was lucky to live with this family. They treated me like their own. This was their first time hosting someone like me, but it seemed to me as if they had done it many times. They were generous and they opened their home to me, as I opened my mind.
Dinner time was my favorite. We shared our stories with each other on the table. We talked about what I did that day and what I was planning to do the next day, as we enjoyed our dinner. My host mom cooked my food especially for me. Every night was a joy, because they went out of their way to make me feel at home. The other best part was interacting with the locals. I visited our neighbors, listened to people telling me about local legends, and played with kids.
On Sunday, my host family went to church and I decided to join them. It was my first time sitting together with people in a church service. In the beginning, I felt out of place, sitting at the back row, seeing people in their amazing dresses and the minister in front of us. I thought of my childhood “doctrine”, and I felt its influence fading even more. I felt their prayer as I do mine at the mosque. I knew it all came down to respecting each other’s faith. This experience was eye opening.
Arnaldi with a member of his host family. (Photo Courtesy of Arnaldi Nasrum)
Explore the Unexplored
Travelling is the best way to learn and experience things, which is why I love to do it. To spend my time, my host parents showed me some great but largely unexplored spots. Balige is a place to enjoy another face of Toba Lake and to explore the history of Batak’s rulers such as Sisingamaraja, Indonesia’s national hero. I visited the tomb of Sisingamaraja and a museum of TB Silalahi.
Mr. Edward, my host uncle, accompanied me on every one of these trips. He took me to the tomb of Il Nommensen and talked about how the German “brought light” to the Bataknese so that now most people have their faith. I never knew how other religion spread and enlightened a civilization. If every one has a chance to learn these stories, I think, we all would appreciate each other.
Sometimes, I feel my travelling is not complete if I don’t do it by myself. So one day I decided to visit Samosir Island by myself. It’s about two hours drive from Lumban Bul-bul, crossing Lake Toba. I asked for some directions from my host mom, and set out on my trip.
I arrived there safely, thanks to the help of many people. From accompanying me to go to the dock to find a boat to the island, recommending me places to visit, to sharing their place for me to stay, they made my trip an unexpectedly wonderful experience.
During my 10 days in Balige I never felt discriminated against or treated as a minority. On the contrary, everyone, my host family especially, treated me like I was a part of them. To me this is the essence humanity: we are not the color of our skin nor the faith that identifies us.
Arnaldi Nasrum is an alumni of Paramadina University. His big dream is exploring Moscow since he loves to learn the history of Russia. He is part of the youth group Gerakan Mari Berbagi. AC Milan is his favorite. Here’s where to find him: @arnaldnasrum