Well Sumatra is a lot bigger than I realized, oops. So rather than going overland (which I have been informed would take at least a couple days without stopping) I will be flying from Medan. I haven't really left the city but it's been fun. The couchsurfing group here is very organized and are pretty close knit. I was picked up at the airport by my host and immediately whisked to a meeting in a park with some other members. After the park we got lunch and went to a school to play basketball. Apparently it was a national holiday so everyone had the day off to play and hang out with me.
Yesterday (my 2nd day here) was the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adh which I spent with a wealthy Pakistani family living here in Medan. It was tough not to laugh at first when their son who I met through couchsurfing was telling me quite proudly that they were going to sacrifice a cow rather than just a goat, and eat it. I reminded myself that they probably laugh at some of our traditions too, but that this was something significant to them both culturally and religiously, and that to laugh would be highly offensive and likely revoke my invitation. It was an interesting ceremony to see - not much of a ceremony really. The eldest son got the honor of cutting the cow's throat with a large sword/machete and then the butcher did the rest. The women and the help prepared the food, although me and the other 2 westerners who came also helped. They were all very friendly and didn't seem put off at all by the fact that I'm American. There was no praying or overt religiosity present, which I suspect is typical of the modern, progressive Muslim family. They told me that there are only a few areas where the Muslims in Indonesia are conservative at all, and they are typically isolated anyhow. Being a male I shouldn't receive any unwanted attention or harassment according to them, so it was nice to have my lack of fear justified.
They did ask at one point why so many Americans dislike Islam and Muslims, but after talking with them for a while they admitted that they hadn't met many Americans and really only knew from what they had read, heard, or were told. They were all fairly educated and progressive, the wife had even just been in London last month and none of the girls were even covering their hair. It was interesting to get their perspective on things, but sad to see that a family of a high social and economic status with a superior education to most of the population - at least by my estimation - was still fairly ignorant to the truth behind what they are told. Although in writing that I realize that most Americans are not much different. I doubt most Americans have ever met or talked to a Muslim either and yet most seem adequately terrified and distrusting as well so I shouldn't be that surprised. I guess it's easier to listen to somebody else telling you something you already moderately believe than to go investigate and understand for yourself.
In any case, they were all very welcoming, generous, and open to my being there. I'm sure they enjoyed sharing their tradition with me as much as I enjoyed being allowed to participate. The beef from the cow which we later put on skewers, marinated, and bbq'd was delicious, and extremely fresh of course. It was a bit strange to think about the fact that what I was eating had been alive only a few hours before - it took about 4 1/2 hours between slaughter and eating. There was also all you could eat rice, beef soup filled with vegetables and potatoes, and some cookies.
Although they were very generous to me, the help was not so lucky. They pretty much worked continuously from the time we got there at about 9am until we left at about 5. I guess this isn't so bad, but when you think about the fact that the rest of us were sitting around enjoying freshly bbq'd beef, soup, and rice, it seemed rude not to invite them. After all, they were the reason we were eating. This was clearly just a case of the separation of classes here and much less (if anything) to do with the religion. The religious aspect of the tradition dictates that the family only eat 30% of the cow or so, and donate the rest to the needy. I guess it's a bit like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one, although it is not celebrating the birth or death of any prophets and isn't commercialized.
Today I didn't do much, got a tourist map, sent some couch requests, and made a plan to go to Jakarta. Hopefully getting to Bali by next weekend.
So far it's been quite cheap aside from buying a sim card and using said sim card. Less than $10 in 2 1/2 days, though I am staying for free with couchsurfing and being driven around for free too which helps a lot. Hopefully Jakarta will be more good experiences with the CSers there, as I have already arranged a last minute host! Great!
Still no pictures though, slow internet ahh!
Before I embark on this though, I will be going to Danau (Lake) Toba, one of, if not the, biggest volcanic lakes in the world. It also contains an island, making it interesting for the fact that it is an island within an island. I've read that rooms can be had at a bargain of around 30,000 rupiah (about 9,000 rupiah/1$) and there is some fun to be had. Although there is no couchsurfing there, it should be great to see. I can stay on budget by having days like today and yesterday where I spend only $4 or $5...It's a 4-6 hour ride by public bus and ferry across the lake, but in total costs around 30,000 rupiah also for the trip. That leaves about 30,000 rupiah for food for the day, which seems doable if I don't want any real meat, rice and tofu it is!