Gray ash covers a leaf in Berastagi, a mountainous town where Medan residents go to escape from the heat. Berastagi provides most of the fresh produce to Medan, and the falling ash from Mt. Sinabung has hurt many of the crops. Prices have risen as a direct result of the eruptions. (Kelsey Figone/ Indonesiaful)

In the wake of natural disasters

Mount Sinabung, a volcanic peak in North Sumatra, is once again spewing ash onto nearby communities, batuk-batuk (“coughing” in Indonesian) hundreds of times in the past week. It lay dormant for centuries but the recent volcanic activity has caused local residents to evacuate their homes sporadically since September. Winds have carried the ash and deposited it…

Navigating Indonesia as a white ‘bule’

I hear it on my bike ride home from school, waiting in the domestic departure section of the airport, and buying groceries from my neighborhood vegetable seller. Strangers shout it at me and burst into laughter, kids yell it outside my gate and run away as soon as I open the door, and people mumble…

SMA 6 Madiun welcome

Welcome to Indonesia — can you sing for us?

I arrive at a school committee meeting during my first week at my site in Madiun. It’s early morning on a Saturday, and the first thing I see as I walk in the building with my headmaster is a gigantic banner with my name printed in glaring yellow block letters. I was unaware I was the…