In August 2018, I traveled to Yogyakarta, Indonesia to attend a photography workshop with John Stanmeyer, an acclaimed National Geographic photographer. As I prepared for my trip, I learned that the island of Java is the most populated island on the planet and that Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. I researched the necessary steps I should take to keep myself healthy and safe. My research led me to articles about attacks on Westerners in Bali, Jakarta, and other locations across Indonesia over the last 15-20 years. I had never traveled to this part of the world before and, honestly, didn’t know what to expect. What was I getting myself into?

My photography project took me to the Juwana River in north central Java, about a six-hour drive from Yogyakarta. I met my host family, Petrus, Nanik and their two sons Wiwit and Tito. Over the next week, I traveled with them across many parts of the region extending from the headwaters of the Juwana in the Kendeng and Muria mountains where the cutting of teak and bamboo forests help to amplify the downstream flooding … through the small village of Tondomulyo … to the mouth of the Juwana River where fishing boats navigate a river in stress.

This photo essay captures aspects of the daily lives of people who are connected to the Juwana River, and who let me into their lives during my journey.

Along the way, I met:

Sutawi and Suyatmi, a beautiful couple who live on the banks of the Juwana River, and their grandson, Dul. Sutawi, a fisherman, farmer, and carpenter, built their simple and beautifully colored home in 1976. However, over the last 20 years, their home has been flooded nine times, with increasing severity. In one photo, Sutavi points to the flood level in his home. In several other photos, they get ready to attend the wedding of their nephew.

Ngatmin, who was playing his violin with Wiwit and Tito one evening. As they played and sang, I learned that Ngatmin hand-crafts violins out of bamboo that he finds in the Muria Mountains. Ngatmin invited me to his home to show me how he makes violins and to take me into the mountains to see the bamboo forests that are being destroyed, in favor of planting coffee and other crops.

Sunhadi, a devout and peaceful Muslim man who courageously works alongside Christians to try to spearhead better watershed management. Sunhadi’s day starts with the early-morning call to prayer, followed by daily chores, and getting his kids ready for school. He also pours his time and energy into his school to make sure that children are taught the importance of respect, relationships, and dialog: all fundamental building blocks that help to resolve challenging issues in non-violent ways.

Matkolil, a farmer who runs a rice mill in Tondomulyo. I learned that rice is harvested in two seasons in this part of Java (January and July), but that the typical yields have dropped 40-60 percent as a result of the increased flooding. I watched as members of the village came to the mill to process their families' rice that they had harvested the previous season.

Mbok Ayu Parni (Mbok in Javanese means Mother), an old woman who was returning to her home after having collected a bundle of firewood in the Kendeng Mountains. To me, the firewood she carried on her back symbolized the deforestation of the teak forest. However, for her, the wood was an essential part of her daily life.  As we returned to her simple, one-room hut, she told me that she has lived alone for many years, since her husband left her. She sat on a bed that rested on the dirt floor of her home. Even though she had little, she asked us to stay and offered us tea.

Bilel, a deaf boy who lives in Pati. Bilel and his mother, Dewi, were meeting with a other deaf members of the community at Peace Place, an interfaith school founded by Nanik and Petrus, and supported by Friends Peace Teams. 

Juhadi, Gemi, Ramini, and many others who were harvesting mung beans don their traditional bamboo hats to shade themselves from the rising sun and temperature. During the wet season, rice is grown in these fields in north central Java. However, during the dry season, mung beans (similar to soy beans) are grown. Unlike in the U.S., where most harvesting is accomplished by combines, entire fields of crops are harvested by hand in Indonesia.

My Lasting Impressions: Throughout my journey, I was touched by how gentle and hospitable everyone was. I was the stranger in their land and they welcomed me with open arms. My experience is a far cry from how some would like to portray Islam and that all Muslims as radical, violent people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Petrus and Nanik, my host family and founders Peace Place in Pati; and to Nadine Hoover, coordinator of Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific, that supports long-term relationships with communities in conflict around the world to create peace, healing and reconciliation, such as through Peace Place in Pati. They are truly making the world a better place.

Juwana Final Photo Essay

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