In the year 2001, after wandering around China, traipsing through Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia and then wandering over to the massive island of Sumatra in Indonesia – I somehow found myself in the tiny little town of Parapat on the shores of Glorious Lake Toba drinking coconut wine with a guitar wielding Batak freedom fighter. We were instant best friends and after a couple of days surrounded by the beautiful Batak people – I was offered a job teaching English at the New Bridge English School. I accepted.
I rented a small room above the school and began my first job as an English teacher. It was amazing and wonderful. My students were excited and attentive, the staff of the school were professional and friendly, and on the first weekend, I met a local girl who taught English in Medan and came home on the weekends. She was my beautiful Mona Lisa and I think perhaps that I should have married her, but ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be and both she and I now have families of our own. So, perhaps things went as they were written.
I stayed until the violence in nearby Aceh province became a concern. I had multiple families of my students express concern for my safety and suggest that I should leave – I really didn’t want to leave – but it was becoming more and more dangerous and ultimately, it seemed the best idea.
The memories of playing guitars and singing with the men beside Lake Toba in Samosir and of doing the Tantan with my students and Mona Lisa. I remember the swimming and hiking around Toba and the deep philosophical conversations with my friend Tomong over beers and whiskey. The trips to Medan and the amazing Sumatran coffee I would make in the mornings and the even better coffee I would get in the local markets. Like many places I have lived – I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in Parapat – but I know that there is no going back in time, so it is idle wondering.
My love for the Batak people and the people of Lake Toba however – this is something that will never go away.
Parapat, Samosir Island, Parapat, Sumatra, Indonesia
Parapat is the closest town to Samosir Island, the cultural homeland of the Batak People of Indonesia. It has a population of about 5500 people. Samosir Island is the largest island completely contained within an island – it sits in Lake Toba on the Island of Sumatra. There is actually a lake on Samosir Island – so it is an island on an island with a lake in a lake in a sea. Sumatra itself is the largest island in Indonesia and the sixth largest island in the world. Indonesia is the world’s largest island country made up of more than 17,000 islands!