What I learned from people I met on the mountains in 2019

Java, Sulawesi, Lombok, for your reference

Mount Lawu, Java island. Altitude: 3150 meters (10335 feet).

The mountain stood 3265 meters (10712 feet) high. I took a half-day climb from a high land on Java, Indonesia. Just before the summit, there’s a camp area where we could either set up our own tent or get inside one of the three big tents owned by the food sellers (two of them are only open in weekends, one of them is open year round — the owner lives there).

I shared a big tent with a food seller, her family, a group of men, and my small group of three. The group of men were roughly in their 30’s and 40’s, who came from all over Indonesia. They climbed as a professional community: mobile phone technicians (imagine designers climbing mountains together!). They said that it was the only time they went outdoors for fun. The rest was on their shared other profession: disaster rescuers.

How could you combine mobile phone servicing and disaster rescuing? They knew each other through national events and one of them was a certified Android trainer, the one whom you can consult if your Android phone acts up or needs some rooting. Yet when a disaster happened, they could decide to visit the affected areas out of their own pockets.

They mentioned the 2018 earthquakes in Indonesia, the scariest and most devastating one (grounds cracked open, a whole village was displaced, tsunami, and thousands of casualties) on Sulawesi island, a month after the one on Lombok island, which didn’t cause too many casualties but damaging a lot of houses. People had to be rescued from the rubble, given medication, food, and temporary shelter.

They were still in Lombok when they heard the news about Sulawesi. “Well, I was in Lombok, but I had enough money in my hands to get a one way ticket. Then we called each other, and within two days we were flying there,” said one of them. Flying to Sulawesi away from the closed airport, they took ground transport together with other aid organizations.

Then they stayed one month in Palu (near the epicenter of the earthquake), living in volunteer shelters, with food and tools provided by the numerous aid organizations, and left when things got better. They left their businesses for a whole month to help fellow humans in one of the worst disasters in the country. That was their biggest volunteering trip. The group has made smaller closer ones.

I left Mount Lawu on the following day. Would like to meet those entrepreneur-volunteers again someday.

Mount Rinjani, Lombok island. Altitude: 1200 meters (3937 feet).

Rinjani’s summit was 3726 meters (12224 feet) high, but I wasn’t there to climb. My partner and I didn’t have 3 to 4 days to trek up and down, so we decided to spend the day in the village at Rinjani’s foot, climbing two hills and meeting the locals. Our B&B owner, who only had 5 rooms for lodging — mostly known to mountain climbers — took care of the lodging together with his wife. Streams of guests never stopped as the mountain climbers don’t get deterred by earthquakes. His house, which was fortunately undamaged by the Lombok earthquake, was rented by the government-sent disaster rescuers.

It was a different story with the restaurant owner nextdoor, an older woman, whom we asked whether they were open or not. “We’re closed for dinner, but we can cook you a complete package tomorrow.” So we came back the following day for lunch and her whole family served us a 4-person meal! It turned out, they were never really open anymore since the earthquake, and they only cooked by order with a minimum of 4 portions.

Most of the villagers were also farmers, including a weaver we met while asking for directions. When I asked her how much time she took to weave a small blanket, she said 30 days, but she didn’t weave all day. “I like to go to my small piece of land to take care of the plants and then also weave on the same day.” She took out her wooden hand-weaving tool, a bucket of colorful cotton threads, and told us a story about her work. Most of her threads were dyed naturally using leaves or tree bark, but she didn’t remember all of them. Sometimes she asked the men who went to tend honeybees in the forest to bring back some tree branches. It was until I asked whether the blankets were for sale — several times — that she gave me a price.

On the way out of the village, we rode together with a travel business owner who was once a mountain guide. He was about to pick up his foreigner guests at the airport 2.5 hours away. He had been having riders like us, mostly college students broke after trekking, who wanted to get to town anywhere he drove. However, we asked him to charge us some money.

We enjoyed his stories about Lombok’s legends and his life. Apparently, he’s also an entrepreneur-volunteer. When the earthquake hit right at home (his village was near the epicenter), he spent weeks guiding people to stay safe from follow-up shocks. A master of the mountain, he advised climbers on how to safely leave Mount Rinjani. Then the Sulawesi earthquake happened, so he decided to help where it’s worse than where he lived. He also stayed one month in Palu, Sulawesi, just like the mobile phone technicians, leaving his business, without worrying that money would run out.

I don’t like to use the word “karma”, but what he did is what made us attracted to him. I randomly found his business contact online, asked whether he was leaving the village in the following morning, and unlike those broke students we paid him the income he didn’t expect (his guests already paid the return trip for him to pick them up at the airport and ride back to the village).

Palu, Sulawesi, before and after the earthquake

All of the people above believe in sharing love and stories. They ran businesses, but they didn’t do accounting, marketing, and laboring the capitalist way. They had certain ways to earn money, but money came in different forms.

Running your own business means you’re in control of the amount of time and effort you spend to actually do the business. You’re more likely to make volunteering trips without having to get into harsh negotiations with your employer about those petty number of leave days.

If you have a small business or a one-person company, then the above story is yours. What if you have a corporation? Where have all those capitals gone? Some pretentious corporate social responsibility (CSR) act? Why not spend it on employee volunteering days? How about creating holistic humans through collaborative culture, safe working hours, diversification instead of division of labor, and promoting multidisciplinary skills? Holistic humans make happy and productive employees, but most importantly they’re more likely to spread love.

Volunteering is an act of love. It cannot be paid, because professional skills wrapped in love is too expensive. It takes many forms, a combination of money and energy — unlike philanthropy — from animal shelter nurses to disaster rescuers. And just today, I read about a man who bought a land to be filled with large trees out of his concern for endangered forests.

I used to think that I wasn’t attracted to capitalism because I was among the privileged people who learned early in life about the abundance mentality. However, later I learned about the ugliness of capitalism. It’s as if I must do something about it. Until I learned from the people on the mountains that there are obvious non-capitalist ways!

In 2020, I’m determined to seek more ways to do business in a non-capitalist way. It’s doable. It’s possible.

How will you spend your 2020?

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