Indonesia is known for its bamboo instruments or arumba.
Bamboo is in abundance there and it is not a surprise to find instruments made of the wood. Bamboo is like a sacred tree to them and is also used for kitchen utensils, floors, walls, etc.
Earlier this year, three young people from Fiji went to Indonesia on a cultural scholarship program. One of them was 24-year-old music teacher Isimeli Vatuwaliwali of Kavula from Nakorotubu in Ra.
He was offered the scholarship two years ago while a student at Fiji College of Advanced Education but went in May this year. His Fiji companions were Alena Vesikula and Akisi Bolabola. They met up with 47 other scholarship recipients in Jakarta and were divided in four groups and parted ways.
Alena and Akisi went to Solo and Bali while Isimeli went to Bandung the heart of bamboo music, where they teach it at the Saung Angklung Udjo.
The Saung Angklung Udjo is a centre established in 1967 by founders, Mang Udjo and his wife Uum Sumiati.
On his first night there, Isimeli said his friend from Kiribati, Bauta'aki Beia, came and sat with him in his room because he could not sleep from the loud prayers coming from the mosque next door.
As they stayed longer, they became used to the prayers and got to know the exact time of the prayers. Classes were from Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm (with breaks) where they were introduced to bamboo instruments.
"It's not hard to learn, it's just like playing the keyboard," Isimeli said.
Their teacher, Sam Udjo, was the son of the founder.
"Some of the old students were teaching as well. After two months of classes, we started performing at shows."
The shows are normally held from 3.30pm to 5.30pm and only by reservation.
Indonesian people, like most other Asians, are physically small and finding outfits to fit Isimeli and his Kiribati and New Zealand friend was a challenge. But there is a solution to every problem and this was solved without a hitch.
There were 13 scholarship recipients at Bandung and they were divided into groups of four and each group had a house.
Isimeli said it took him about three weeks to adjust to the food and it got to a point where he and members of his group asked if they could cook their own food.
"They have rice with everything, even with ice cream and we were shocked to find rice served at McDonald's and KFC restaurants as well."
But for a Fijian, three months of eating rice on a daily basis can take its toll and he could not wait to get home so he could sink his teeth into some dalo.
That basically had him texting home to tell his relatives to prepare a lovo for him. However, he said any signs of homesickness disappeared after the first few days as he found Indonesian people to be very much like Fijians.
"They are good-hearted people and have the same sort of respect we have at home. Before I came, I heard all the stories about terrorism and natural disasters, especially earthquakes but I found it was normal.
"This scholarship has not only allowed me to learn about Indonesian people but to know them by interacting with them on a daily basis.
"It has been a good opportunity not only to learn about the culture but to learn about the people as well."
One funny thing about the place where they stayed was that smoking was not allowed and even though there were mosquitoes, coils to repel them were not allowed. The reason the place is made of bamboo so all it needs is for a little flame and the whole place would be ablaze.
An interesting thing Isimeli found about the place was that there were festivals for food like picking strawberries, for example.
But he says he will never forget the place because of the people who were always willing to help even though most did not speak English.
Isimeli added that in the three months he was there, he was able to catch on quickly with the language because it was pretty similar to Fijian.
He is now back at Laucala Bay Secondary School where he will pass on the skills of playing bamboo instruments.
He encouraged all who would be given the chance to go on the same scholarship program.
For him, it was an opportunity that left him enriched and there is nothing about it that he would want to change.
He will never forget his first day in Jakarta where he did a sevusevu of yaqona at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and there was no bilo, so they had to use coffee cups to taki.
All who come away from Indonesia will never forget terima kasih thank yo
Adapted from Fijitimes Online