What is Bob Odell doing in Indonesia? That is a good question.
The answer is pretty simple. I have wonderful relationship with my adult daughter, Dawn, and in August when she invited me to join her on a research project in Indonesia this month, I said yes. Things are pretty slow around the State House in December and as a new widower I had the time for a trip with Dawn.
She is professor of art history at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR and is on sabbatical this semester. One of her areas of research ties the influence of Chinese art and culture to European art. This work leads, for example, to research on the early travelers like Marco Polo who traveled the Silk Route between the Middle East and China centuries ago.
And while I am no student of art history, I like to travel and explore, especially with Dawn, who has led me on treks to Europe and China in the past. Our lives have been built on mutual support and encouragement. It started more than four decades ago including several years when during her middle and high school years we shared a house … I was a single dad when that was rarity.
Dawn was a great friend and pal when she was a youngster. And I am very, very thankful that, in her adulthood, our friendship continues. When I hear a person of my generation commenting on how they have spent a weekend with an adult child, played a game of golf or went to an annual fair or event, I may have a bit of envy. Living across the country means that interactions with Dawn and her family must be planned in advance.
That was true of this trip. Dawn’s objective has been to find and explore some ancient temples, especially Buddhist, built as long ago as the 9th century in Indonesia. All show Chinese influence in the design, carvings and placement of the temples. Some temples are very significant heritage sites recognized by international agencies while others are very obscure. Along the way we also explored some old Christian churches and mosques.
One morning we trudged around a very poor section of Jakarta where the Chinatown from centuries past is located. We found four hidden away religious sites thanks to the efforts of our cab driver who had to stop two or three times for directions from local residents to locate each place. In each spot, we were the only visitors.
From the trip, Dawn now has dozens of images for her research and teaching. Some will be used as early as this spring and others will be the focal point of a new class she will teach next summer on Buddhism. She also has new references and a list of other places she needs to look for information to further her research. From a professional standpoint, she accomplished her goals.
Together, we had a chance to explore and learn about Indonesia. It is the fourth most populous country and with 90 percent of the people Muslim, it is the largest democracy in the Muslim world. It is made up of 17,000 islands and stretches across 3,000 miles of the Indian Ocean at the Equator, about the same breadth as America.
Older readers may remember the names of Sukarno and Suharto who made Indonesia one of the leading non-aligned nations. They often played the Soviet Union and the United States off against one another during the cold war period. Today, it is a developing country with many struggles and challenges.
President Barack Obama lived in Indonesia for four years when his mother worked there. Over and over again, cab drivers and restaurant workers would ask where Dawn and I were from. When we said, "the United States" they responded quickly, smiling and saying with pride, "President Obama."
The United States has had a tenuous relationship with Indonesia over the last few decades. But, while we were there the United States announced it will have a Peace Corps presence in Indonesia soon after an absence of 44 years. And wherever we went and in whatever circumstance … remembering this is a Muslim nation … we could not have been received more warmly.
Four months ago, I could not envision being in Indonesia; today I cannot imagine not trying to return.
Most importantly, as we think of little children excited about Christmas with presents, Santa Claus, lights and church services, we are always so thankful and say Christmas is really about the little children.
That was certainly true for Dawn years ago. But that child is now an adult and for me to have the opportunity to share time with her, to see her in her professional research role in a country new to both of us and to learn first-hand about an evolving country that could be critical to America’s future has been wonderful.
This year, too, I am thankful to Dawn for giving her dad a big Christmas present by allowing me to be part of her professional life. And I am especially thankful for an adult child who generously enriches my life and supports her Dad in times of joy and times of pain. Merry Christmas to all … moms and dads and our children of all ages!
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