I am a god.
At least, in the eyes of Indonesian youth I am. I’ve always known this. Growing up in Bali, it was a simple fact of existence. After nine years of living here, I had just accepted that truth. And then, in the span of one day, I found my holy image finally crumbling to reveal something much more real underneath: me.
I’m what the locals here in Indonesia call a “bule”; a foreigner. Although I have lived in Bali for over 9 years and speak the language quite well, I am still from the United States – and nothing can change that. To the local Lombok kids, I am the physical manifestation of wealth, prosperity, and luxury – and compared to them, I am.
During our stay in Lombok, we visited a local school to talk to them about plastic pollution and to make some new friends. At first, I felt as if I was being viewed as some sort of deity by the locals, which didn’t sit well with me. Myself – and the rest of the Earthbound group – were looked at in awe, wonder, admiration, and maybe even a little fear. We were spectacles; every local kid wanted to catch a glimpse of the fair-skinned girls and boys from the west. They giggled as we walked by them and ran as we waved. It was as if Kanye West had come to visit. I felt like a superstar and hated it.
And then everything changed. We invited some of the students from a local school to join us in a beach cleanup. In the beginning, the relations were still a little stiff. There was a very clear divide between “us” and “them”. Trying to relate to them, even in their local language, was difficult. It was only after the cleanup was over and we sat to eat watermelon together that I felt a real shift. Slowly, slowly, the walls that both groups had built were coming down. We were starting to realize that we weren’t that different after all.
All the boys – both bule and local – were together in a circle talking, laughing, and writing songs about how the chips at the market were too expensive. I sat with two local girls under a palm tree, their pink and purple hijabs blowing in the wind, giggling about who in the group had a “pacar” (boyfriend). Two other girls from Earthbound were completely surrounded by young girls from Lombok, who sat huddled around them, watermelons in hand, as they exchanged stories and whispered their secrets. Goodbyes were so much harder than anticipated; hugs were given, selfies were taken, phone numbers were exchanged, and tears were shed. It was beautiful to watch it happen and to be a part of it. Within the space of just a few hours, the Earthbound crew and the local community had formed a deep connection. Finally we were being accepted for what we were: young boys and girls. It was incredibly freeing to just relax and be us.
Becoming human wasn’t easy. In the beginning, I just wanted to run away from the local school and hide somewhere in the western world where I wouldn’t be revered for simply being. But later as I looked around and saw the community that we had created, as I heard all of our voices intertwine in song and laughter, as I hugged my new friends goodbye, as I held the crumpled little scrap of paper with phone number scribbles on it, I am able to recognize that it was well beyond worth it – it was necessary. I’m no longer a god; I’m human, and that’s all I ever wanted.
Written by Kyla Langotsky