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Click here for Monique’s reading of her poem, ‘Ratna

Lake Toba is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. It is the site of the largest volcanic eruption in the last 25 million years and is said to be responsible for global climate and population changes.

Lake Toba is in the north of Sumatra, the 3rd largest Indonesian island after New Guinea and Borneo. The lake is enormous, 1,000 km² bigger than Singapore at 62 miles (100k) long, 18 miles (30k) wide and up to 1,657 feet (505 meters) deep and occupies a volcanic caldera.

In the middle of the lake is the beautiful island of Samosir and here we stayed in two different areas: a hotel in Tuk Tuk and a farm or ‘homestay’ at Ratna and Thomas’s Eco Village in Silimalombu.

Every day, all day, they and a small cluster of employees, volunteers and family, particularly her tough elderly mother, labored long, long hours – gardening, fishing, cooking, constructing… We, beauty-struck by the space and our surroundings, spent our days writing, drawing and occasionally assisting with the cinnamon processing or pulling the dried corn of the cob for the chickens. In the middle of so much beauty, Ratna took us for a walk around her land, her land split open, the earth turned over, trees knocked down and torn into pieces as the government took it to build a new road. 

My walk left a mark on me as it had on the land and I created the above piece, first with a flow of words and then taking the photos. As I read my poem, Thomas cried. He mourned the loss of his paradise – the daily boats of  fish food that were brought in for the tilapia farms on the lake, the clamor of the stone grinding plant, the blasting music during the village celebrations and even the stupidity of the locals who sang songs that were taught to them during colonization. He was sad, he was angry, he wanted to leave. 

By dinner time Thomas was himself again, loving the land, loving the wife he shared it with, loving his paradise.

Ratna spoke of change. She had lived on this land as a child, left for the city as a teenager, and returned as a young adult to turn her home into an Eco Village. As a child she had risen at 4am to do her chores, and again after school, falling asleep over them at midnight. Her grandfather had been the king in her village and her family had inherited the land with its trees, hills and buildings. She alone was the one who had returned to her home, to Silimalombu. She returned with gifts of knowledge, that extra rooms could be rented, clean beaches meant happy guests, growing food meant more diverse dinners. Her neighbors were suspicious. How are you making money? Why are you planting more? Why do you need more? They would find ways to ruin her crops. They would want what she had but they were lazy, they did not want to change, they did not want to do the work. She became tired of trying to teach them. Why teach people who did not want to learn? If they wanted to learn they could come and ask her.

Ratna and Thomas often travel to Europe to sell their wares and although the neighborhood is not thriving as Ratna and her piece of land are, her neighbors often trade with her for things they need. 

Ratna and Thomas’s blog: http://ecovillagesamosir.blogspot.com

Ratna and Thomas’s Graviola Tea company: https://www.facebook.com/graviolateacompany

Ratna & Thomas photos:

Silimalombu Eco Village photos:

Lake Toba and Ferry photos:

Hotel in Tuk Tuk, Lake Toba photos:


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