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Published: October 30th 2013
This short and sweet story is about Mr. Lahmudin Surkian. He lives in a village next to a forestry concession I was recently working in. In fact he was the 1st person to live there, before it was a village and before it was a forestry concession. A time when herds of elephants still roamed the land and tigers, too.
Mr. Lahmudin not only feels a special connection to the forests, but even to specific trees. Maybe it was his time spent living with the Anak Dalam, the children of the forest, many of whom don't have contact with the "modern" world and live close to nature. However the connection was nurtured, it is deep and sincere, just like the twinkle in Mr. Lahmudin's eyes.
He's certainly less than enthused by the slash and burn agriculture and forest clearing practices that have driven the elephants and tigers away. In fact next year he will be looking for a new place to call home back in the forest, away from "civilization." Mr. Lahmudin proclaimed, "Without the forest there can not be people."
This refreshing conversation took place over lunch and afterwards he invited Arief (botanist), Didi (mammalogist) and me
(vagabond) to his house. There he showed us one of his prized works, gaharu tree saplings. This tree is valued for its aromatic bark and has been logged to the point of now being endangered. So Mr. Lahmudin grows them, plants them in the forest and gives them away for other people to plant including us on this fine day.
The next day over breakfast he asks through Arief if I had something I would want to give him to remember me by. I really doubted I had anything in my field belongings that would be suitable, but I promised to check. Back in my room I rifled through my pack and managed to find the perfect gift.
It was an Irish shamrock that my dear friend and also second mother (I've needed a lot mothering along the way), Joanie Skinner had given me to bless my journey last year. I gave it to Mr. Lahmudin the next day having Arief translate that i wanted to bless his journey in finding a new home in the forest. His eyes lit up, and he clasped my hand and pulled me into a big hug.
It was obvious he
was very appreciative of my small gesture, and the next day he had written me a letter. He expressed his gratitude indeed, even quoting an old traditional song. Now it was my turn to give this dear old man a big hug! Arief again translated for Mr. Lahmudin and he said that he had been a porter for many foreigners over the years including some scientists, but he had never met any foreigner as kind as me.
Mr. Lahmudin left me with the 3 questions he lives by.
• Who am I?
• What do I live for?
• Where do I go back to?
The answer to the last question for Mr. Lahmudin is definitely the forest! Good bye old man, fare thee well.
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