I really like running. So much so that a couple years ago I managed to cause both the tibia and fibula in my left leg to develop hairline fractures because I was running too much—about thirty-five miles a week. Ever since then I have wanted to get back to that level of performance but haven’t quite been able to manage it. Still, even though I’m not able to run the distances I was once capable of, I think of myself as a “runner” before many other things.

Running is great for countless reasons. I could talk about the merits of running for hours. But one of the best reasons running is great is the perspective runners are able to develop of their communities. Driving through or running through a city, neighborhood, or even street, creates substantially different experiences. Cars move too fast to observe life on the ground in motion. Drivers are sealed off from the environment through which they traverse. When driving, there are many distractions—radio, texting, or trying to catch Pokémon (topical humor!)—that prevent the driver and passenger from appreciating their surroundings.

Runners have no such distractions. Some have music, but I’ve never liked listening to music while running so I’m not counting it here. Hearing the steady cadence of shoes against the pavement, the rooster announcing that he’s still a rooster, and the friendly salutations of strangers is the only music for me. Runners are exposed to the world and the world is exposed to them in a way which the driver is not privy. No matter how fast a runner is moving they’re never going too fast to miss the amiable “hello” and wave of a neighbor.

The closeness running fosters between runner and street is what keeps me putting my sneakers on nowadays; and running in Indonesia has provided new and interesting sights and sounds to appreciate. So here are a few of the things I see, smell, or hear when I’m out running through the desa.

Chickens

Most people in my desa have a few chickens, and they’re not pets. When you eat chicken in a desa in Indonesia there is a good chance it was alive hours before it was on your plate. The chickens are generally loose and able to go where they please. My aunt and uncle raise free-range chickens on our family farm in the States so seeing these little avian creatures roaming around makes me feel a bit nostalgic.

I also run by some chicken houses in the area around my desa. In the States I live very close to the “poultry capital of Missouri” so the scent of these houses is quite familiar, though no sense of nostalgia is churned up when I catch a whiff of one.

Burning

There is no government-provided solid waste dispose in my desa—or in most desas—so, unfortunately, many Indonesians resort to burning their garbage in order to be rid of it. When I’m unlucky enough to run through smoke coming from a burning pile of trash I try to hold my breath, but this often ends with me not clearing the smoke then taking a big gasp of trash-smoke. However, smoke doesn’t always mean trash. Sometimes people will burn piles of leaves, branches, or other organic matter.

Trash chicken
Some trash and a chicken.

Trash

Last one with any negative spin to it. For the Indonesians that do not burn their garbage they throw it into a pile somewhere, often not too far from their house. Chickens can be found rooting around in these trash heaps, picking out food scraps. Apparently the Indonesian and American understandings of environmental stewardship are not congruent. I am grateful to come from a country and culture where, for the most part, people value the natural world and place an emphasis on keeping the environment pristine.

Rice terraces
I’ve always loved terraces and these are some of the best.

Sawah

Sawah, or rice fields, are everywhere in Indonesia. Sawah alone make running in the heat and humidity here worth the effort. The meticulously aligned rice plants spaced evenly into rows that stretch across terrace after terrace are quite a sight to behold.  Maybe it’s just the agrarian blood in me, but seeing land cultivated and tended to so carefully is pretty awesome. Watching the rice-farmers work, mostly without the aid of motorized equipment, is impressive and humbling.

Gunung Tampomas
Mount Tampomas and the road I run on through some of the sawah.

Dogs

There is a surprising number of dogs roaming around my desa given how Muslims are not allowed to touch dogs without washing their hands afterwards. Many of them will even have collars; which I can only assume means someone takes care of, or at least maintains, them. From what I understand, no one has an “indoor dog.” All the dogs here live their lives outside—which isn’t really an issue as it never gets cold. No one buys dog food either; instead, dogs are fed table scraps and leftovers—something I’d imagine would make many American dogs jealous.

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“Lari!”

Lari means run. Though it can also mean something more like flee, as in escape. Indonesians will say this to me as I run by them. It was a little odd at first, but I’m pretty sure they mean it as a word of encouragement. Hard to tell though. A couple of times someone has given me a thumbs up as I’ve run by, which I appreciated immensely. Not a lot people run around here so seeing someone out running is novel.

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Giggly Girl Gang

This isn’t a formalized gang, like the ones found in America, but rather a moniker I have designated to any group of two or more girls I encounter while out in the desa. If students live close enough to their school, they will walk there, often with friends. I call these clusters of girls the Giggly Girl Gang (or 3G, for short), because, not surprisingly, they like to giggle. Mostly they giggle at me as I run by them. If I happen to say “good morning,” in Indonesian or otherwise, the giggles might evolve into full-fledged laughter.

Boys are not allowed in the Giggly Girl Gang. I’m not sure who came up with this rule, or who enforces it, but I never see a group of girls walking with a group of boys. The boys have their own group anyways.

BoBoB and 3G
Some children in their respective gangs on their way to school in the morning.

Boisterous Band of Boys

Typically when Indonesian girls are giggly the boys are boisterous. They can be a bit rowdy, but not always. When I say “good morning,” to a Boisterous Band of Boys (or BoBoB), they respond by saying “ohhhh!” as if someone just delivered a particularly devastating comeback in a rap battle. I rarely ever see boys and girls walking together and when I do I’m pretty sure it’s because they’re siblings.

Students scootin'
Some students scootin’ on their way to school in the morning. This was the tail end of a procession of about ten scooters or motorbikes.

Motorcycles and scooters

As I have mentioned before, most Indonesians get around by way of two-wheeled motorized vehicles. Some of these motorcycles have modified mufflers which do not “muffle” as they should and create a raucous sound which is not pleasant to have zip by while running. The people riding motorcycles and scooters are usually quite friendly; though this can be a bit of a nuisance at times when someone decides to drive right next to me, as I’m running and tries to carry on a conversation in a language I’m still learning. I don’t mind the conversation, but the exhaust from motorcycles, when running next to one for a while, can be rather stifling.

Scooters and motorbikes
This is an image from Kediri but it gives an idea of how common scooters and motorcycles are.

Cooking

Not all fires are fueled by garbage or leaves and meant only to dispose of waste. Sometimes I’ll come across the smell of smoke emanating from a fire being used for cooking. Along the side of the roads throughout the desa there are little food stands where ibus will prepare and sell food to passersby. Maybe it’s because these people have just eaten, are about to eat, or are just near food, but I have found the people in these stands are the friendliest.

Cooking
These ibus were delightful and very happy to agree to a photo. The one cooking in preparing a traditional Sundanese food called “surabi,” which is similar to a pancake but not sweet, kinda sticky, and not fluffy or doughy—mostly it’s just round.

Cloves

Indonesia has long been known for the spice trade and that reputation is not without reason. Cloves are still here and they’re doing well. I don’t know as much as I’d like to about the origins of the cloves I see while running, or how they’re harvested, but they’re quite common. People will lay out woven mats with cloves spread out in a thin layer to dry in the sun throughout the day.

Some mornings, when the humidity is dropping, the temperature rising, as the sun is breaking out of the morning mists and the wind is still, the scent of these sheets of cloves is magnificent. On those mornings I can’t help but stop running, forget about the pace I was trying to set, and savor the scent of the cloves.

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