Less than a month from now on the impossibly lush, green island of Sumatra there’s an opportunity to experience a unique cultural tradition in Indonesia: bull racing.
Seared to perfection, like one of my favorite Texas steaks, is my memory of this event.
People from the neighboring communities come to a recently harvested rice field (rice is a cash crop in Indonesia) bearing gifts wrapped in colorful cloths, leading ornately decorated cows, and playing instruments. Vendors are ready in their stalls with everything from popcorn to cotton candy, which all add to the carnivalesque nature of the entire day.
Of course, as someone who is conspicuously foreign (Black in Asia) traveling with other conspicuously foreign people (blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin), there were moments when we seemed to be the main attraction just as much as the bull races. As a great friend quipped while we lay on a grassy knoll, “I feel like we’re at the zoo but on the wrong side of the glass partition.”
Regardless of the open stares, once a man decided to grab ahold of two bulls’ tails and hold on for dear life as the bulls ran through a field full of mud and muck, all eyes were off of me and my group. Whether or not the men emerged from the field triumphant or defeated, they were gauranteed to be covered in mud and pride. As their whip lean, muscular frames moved around I couldn’t help but think of how much these Indonesian men echoed the bull riders of American lore or how much the American bull riders echoed them.
Watching from a safe distance race after race, bulls running loose (sending photographers scattering), and the clouds shifting in the sky, it was there I realized that this was not Texas. Or New York. Or Venezuela. Or any other place I had ever visited.
This was the beginning of something entirely new.
This was Indonesia.