Spirit: from Balinese Frisbee to a Bornean Hospital

It was the end of one era, and not quite the beginning of the next. After my coral propagation class on Gili Trawangan, I dove into a strangely familiar netherworld that transcends time and space. I'm talking about ultimate frisbee.

Tuesday Beach Ultimate the week before I left Bali for Malaysia. That's me kissing Ari on the cheek!

After a midnight coincidence in a Balinese bar, in which I overheard the word "frisbee" and procured a ride the next morning on the back of someone's motorbike to a game of pick-up ultimate, I was hooked. I played as often as I could, from windy beach-litter-clean-up/frisbee combos to high-level mini games to mandatory practice each Sunday. Yes, I managed to try out for a competitive team, UB7, within my first week. The captain, Alex, convinced me to come back to Bali after my month in Malaysia to play on UB7 at the international tournament, Nusantara Cup.

Alex (front) and I set in a team circle during a Sunday practice.

Warming up before practice in my Balinese neighborhood, Sanur.

I made new friends, both Indonesians and ex-pats, on the field. Sweating and diving and nursing grass-cuts over dinner is, universally, the fastest way I have found to make friends. But frisbee also brought old friends to me, even as I lived in relative isolation here in an archipelago of Southeast Asia.

Ari Lozano was my high-school Fryz teammate and my got-your-back-no-matter-what co-captain for our college team, the Whitman Sweets. She swung by Bali to visit me after winning gold with the USA Under-24 Worlds Team in Australia (GO ARI!!!) We played plenty of pickup and dabbled in scuba diving, Ari's newest hobby.

For the Nusantara Cup, I convinced two more Fryz to visit! Here's Jessie Thoreson, one of the ladies who inspired me to play frisbee in sixth grade, and has continued to inspire me ever since. She brought her guitar and leftie backhand, and it was like no time had passed.

Unreal! Here I am with Jessie and Henry Phan (and my Balinese teammate Naja photo-bombing), another of my lifelong friends and inspirations. Henry was one of the first men to take me seriously as an athlete, and he was the same intentional, kind baller I knew in middle school. Fryz will be my family always.

The tournament was a huge success. I got back from Gili the night before, and Alex asked if I would be his spirit captain. That's a uniquely-frisbee leadership role involving sportsmanship, integrity, and positivity. It was my job to greet the other team's spirit captain before each game, shake hands, and ask if there was any particular aspect of their spirit on which they were working. After the game, I led our team in a consensus effort to rank our opponents' spirit in five categories: communication, physical contact, positivity, knowledge of the rules, and fair-mindedness. I was honored to be trusted by the team in this leadership role, as well as my informal contributions to team strategy, even though I was a transient through Bali. These people gave me a home in the middle of my Watson year, and for that I am deeply grateful.

I got to cut and handle this weekend, what a treat.

Throwing or faking? We'll never know.

As a bonus, we won the tournament! Our win marked the first time a Balinese team has ever won a tournament on its home island. In the finals, we beat my personal favorite team: Learning To Fly, all the way from Bangalore, India. After, I traded with one of the men for his orange jersey.

Our final photo with our second-place opponents, Learning to Fly.

The day after the tournament, I was physically exhausted, sunburned to the point of peeling, and hacking with an asthmatic cold. By 3:00 in the afternoon, Jessie and I couldn't stay away. We hopped on motorbikes and headed out to one last hurrah of pick-up ultimate in Bali. There, we found a dozen similarly-addicted frisbee players, all in various stages of injury from the preceding days, all smiling ear-to-ear because we were tossing a plastic disc once more. This sport is an addiction, a home around the world, a lasting family. I'll miss you, UB7, but know that we will meet again one of these days.

The frisbee players can't stop! Here's post-tournament pick-up.

And with that, I said goodbye to Bali. A sixteen-hour day of travel took me across several islands and channels to Java, Pontianak, Ketapang, and finally my destination of Sukadana, a rural town on Indonesian Borneo.

I must be here!

Fun fact, the island of Borneo is roughly the same size as Madagascar, but it contains three countries: parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, and the entirety of Brunei. The island is known as Borneo in Malaysian and English, but Kalimantan in Bahasa Indonesia. It's home to most of the world's remaining orangutans and hornbills, and also to some of the fastest rates of deforestation for oil-palm plantations.

Oil palms neatly criss-cross Borneo from my airplane window.

The reason for my trip to Borneo lies with an organization known as Health in Harmony. I was referred to this nonprofit by a friend of my mother's, and fate brought it all together. I'd been emailing with Health in Harmony's Director of International Partnerships, Amy, when she told me she'd be out of touch for a few weeks. Why? A scouting trip to Madagascar. At the time, I myself was living in Madagascar. Who shows up in the bedroom next to mine? None other than Amy! I spent a dinner and then some grilling the patient and knowledgeable woman about her groundbreaking work in One Health conservation. That interaction led me here, to become a monthlong conservation and education volunteer at Health in Harmony's pilot site in Borneo.

The story of Health in Harmony is very compelling. It all started when Dr. Kinari Webb, a young orangutan researcher straight out of Reed College, spent a year doing fieldwork in Borneo. She realized, as many ecologists do, that studying her beloved primates was not going to save them. She was horrified to realize that the apes might go extinct within her lifetime. She saw the illegal logging, spoke with local communities, and actually listened to what they had to say. This process, called "radical listening," taught Dr. Webb that in order to save orangutans, she would need to become a medical doctor and provide healthcare so the people living around the national park wouldn't be forced to log for their lives.

Really, Dr. Webb explains it all much better than I do. I highly recommend watching her TED Talk:

The next morning, I felt like I was dreaming as I walked through the spacious, white, outdoor halls of Alam Sehat Lestari, or ASRI, the hospital Dr. Webb founded. The hospital's rear boundary butts up against Gunung Palung National Park, one of the largest remaining tracts of Bornean orangutan habitat.

This triptych from the hospital's wall depicts an ASRI reforestation project in the degraded, marginal lands of the National Park. I'm interested to see the progress with my own eyes.

The orangutan poster is a popular destination for patients to take selfies.

A planetary health vibe permeates the hospital. This sign translates to, "Let's guard them now. Someday, they will take care of our grandchildren."

I spent my first afternoon acquainting myself with Sukadana, my home for the month of April. I am living in a breezy house once occupied by Dr. Webb herself. The roof is half thatch and half corrugated-metal. Insects, rats, and cats enter at will, but the mosquito net over my bed keeps the worst at bay. My only complaint are the twitchy yellow wasps that live in two nests daubed to our kitchen's rafters. These curious buggers buzz against my net all night, and they often wander right through the seams of the net into my personal space. It's unnerving to hear the buzzing get closer, then stop, and suddenly feel the tickle of a wasp's feet across my arm in the dark. I've killed a dozen between sturdy books so far. Maybe, if I keep at it, I'll get them all!

The central monument of Sukadana is this space-age salute to durian. Could anything be more Indonesian?

I parked my bicycle for a quick tour of the outdoor market, specializing in fish and vegetables.

The long, toothy, saltwater eels caught my eye (and nose.) I asked if I could take a photo with them, remembering how such requests to photograph without purchasing were met with angry glares in Madagascar. Not so here!
Not only did the fish mongers welcome my photography, they all requested selfies with me and their fish.

Here are just two of our fish-selfie album.

The marine-invertebrate-monger was not to be outshone. Here he displays a prawn and a slipper lobster.

In this highly Islamic town, you would be silly to direct anyone in relation to "the mosque," because there seem to be mosques on every block. But if you were to mention the "big mosque," there could be no doubt about the direction you meant to indicate. This glorious white structure looms above the horizon in a powerful silhouette. Its call to prayer can be heard echoing through the streets five times a day -- including right now, as I type. It's lucky I am a sound sleeper, because my poor housemate is awoken every morning at 5:00 am by the sacred Arabic songs coming through the loudspeaker.

The Big Mosque.

Already, Sukadana feels like a home. I don't have the ready-made community of a frisbee team, but the ASRI staff have the same loving camaraderie. I've heard there is an avid Zumba community, a swimming pool for Saturdays, and an early-morning bike crew, so I won't be lacking for exercise. Maybe I'll be able to teach my coworkers to throw a disc, too, and start a frisbee club. I imagine our name would have a nice ring to it: Sukadana Spirit, a team for ecosystem health.