My time in Malaysia had finally come to an end and it was time to get out of the country to explore a new one. I had been wrestling with what to do and where to go for a while and all I really knew was that I wanted to continue to volunteer somewhere, but just didn’t know where.
Tirelessly I researched place after place and continuously ran into programs that allowed volunteers to work with this or that animal, but the cost of doing so was atrocious! Finally I came across a site called helpstay.com. After reading reviews about the site as to its validity and exploring the various opportunities they had available in surrounding countries, I decided to take the plunge and join as a member of the site so I could contact one very specific volunteer opportunity. In all honesty, the second I found the posting to volunteer teaching English at a home site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia that also had an organic farm, I signed up to the site and kept my fingers and toes crossed that they had availability for volunteers.
Within a few hours my inquiry was replied to and a Skype date was set so we could put faces to one another and see if we really were a match for each other, volunteer-wise. Though part of me was a bit nervous to give away information about myself and Skype a literal stranger in a foreign country, the minute we chatted I knew I’d made the right decision.
The volunteer program organizer is an 18-year-old marvel named Faisal. He invites people from around the world to stay with him and his family in exchange for volunteers to develop lessons and teach english to local students aged 6 to 18 years. I was so very impressed with him during our Skype session, that I immediately committed to volunteering for a month with him and couldn’t wait to get there!
Now, all of my volunteering to this point involved animals, because that’s really where my love and strength lies. I’d never taught English before (and I’d made sure to relate that to Faisal during our chat) but being a native english speaker I thought, how hard could it be? Less than a month after connecting with Faisal I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. I stayed the first night in Makassar (as my flight landed in the late evening) and first thing the next morning made my way to the Terminal Daya bus station for the 8 hour bus ride to Belopa.
Upon arriving at Terminal Daya I noted several men standing in front of the very, VERY basic bus terminal. I spoke zero Bahasa and no one so far spoke any English (or very limited at best!) but luckily all that was required of me to say was: Belopa?. That did the trick as they simultaeously all practically cheered “Belopa!” together. They whisked my bag out of the taxi and walked me over… away from the vehicles that actually looked like busses… to basically a 4 door Ford truck. Hmmmm…. is this right??? They all had stickers on the front saying “Pelopo” so I pointed to the truck and said again “Belopa?”. “Ya, ya” was their response as they hauled my bag into the bed of the truck, took out their cell phones and typed in 150,000… the cost of the trip!
Lord knew at that point whether I was getting majorly ripped off or not, but what choice did I have exactly? As it turned out, that was the correct and normal price 🙂 Happy day! Moving on, I paid the fee and squished in the back seat with two other females and after a few minutes we were on our way. There was actually a third line of seats behind my own, so in total we were a team of 7 people trundling along on the journey to Belopa (an hour South of Pelopo as it turns out).
The journey there was visually beautiful. The mountains and the sea, vast and open rice fields, the endless green and tropical lush surrounding us. Absolutely stunning! The one downfall was that the driver smoked the entire way up, which was a bummer, but at least the windows were fully open to allow quick exchanges of air. We took one break along the way for some food and a bathroom and made it into Belopa just about 8 hours to the dot later. After a bit of miming and a game of charades with my fellow passengers in the truck, I was able to communicate that I wanted to be dropped off at the nearest ATM as I seriously had zero rupiah on me. Luckily enough, the ATM I was dropped off at was next to a coffee shop that offered free WiFi. So while sipping on a cappuccino (made from an instant coffee sachet) I used the WiFi to let Faisal know I’d arrived, and my exact location.
About 5 minutes later, Faisal showed up in his brother’s vehicle and we finally met in person. Faisal, again only being 18 years of age and having only studied English for about 2 years spoke english brilliantly! We loaded my stuff into his vehicle and made the 15 minute drive to his town called Bajo. The town was absolutely adorable!! When we arrived there was a football (soccer) match at the village field so there were tons of locals gathered for the game.
Just a bit further along the road we came to his lovely and humble home where I met his mom (mama as we called her who spoke zero english) and dad (who spoke a bit of english) and his cousin Irpan (a student in one of the english classes). His family was lovely and so immediately welcoming that it just made my heart melt. I was shown to my room and given a tour of the house and the school-house built by Faisal and some of his schoolmates Ucok and Iswan. We had some dinner together (Faisal whipped up a deliciously spicy nasi goreng if memory serves) and I made my way to bed.
Thus began one of my most memorable months of traveling…