Indonesia || Film photographs and words by Birralee Hassen


I am a little hesitant to admit it, but I didn’t actually want to go to Indonesia. A trip where my dive course had been pre-paid for, I still I harboured fears about returning there. For me, Indonesia is filled with past memories that I was afraid to disturb. Memories of my yesterdays created fears for my today. I was afraid that everywhere I looked, I would be reminded of a person who I shouldn’t be thinking of. And for my first few days, when I let those thoughts brew in my mind, that is exactly what happened. I cried, I lay down when I could have been sitting up, and when I was sitting up I shut my eyes as I went past certain landmarks that reminded me of times past. In the way that it often happens, my emotions made themselves to be the centre of my world, my problems bigger than anyone else’s and bigger than what was going on around me.



But I knew that this was all an exercise in self-expansion and that I was the only one who could control what thoughts I allowed to grow in the field of my mind. It is a lot easier to feel sorry for yourself than to pick yourself up and choose to be happy. I had the choice of reliving old memories, or I could choose to make new ones. Of course, I was lucky in that I was going to Gili Air to do my dive courses. I would be extremely surprised if anyone managed to stay feeling sorry for themselves being surrounded by the beauty that is both above and below the surface of the ocean there. 



I went to yoga, I made myself wake up early and watch the sunrise, I sat for thirty minutes each morning meditating, until words came to me such as ‘surrender’ and ‘give yourself time’. I still find it crazy how much meditation can help a troubled mind. Beneath the surface of my thoughts stillness awaited me, the calm in the eye of the storm. To start my days by diving into this place of quietness, and to spend my days diving into the wonderful wordless world of the underwater kingdom was truly special. It was restorative and nurturing, and just what I needed. If I had wanted to stay feeling sorry for myself then I picked the wrong place to do it.



From my first dive I was hooked. It actually is indescribable. I’ll try my best with my words and some photos but I think to fully comprehend the magic you should just get down there yourself! I didn’t know where to look. I would constantly be feasting my eyeballs on all the goodness that surrounded me. Looking down at the coral waving up at me as I drifted above it. Looking from side to side and seeing the fish swim beside me, an assortment of vibrant colours floating effortlessly like feathers in the air. Lying on my back I would look up towards the ball of light that makes up the sun, trying my hardest to comprehend that separating the surface and I there was one hundred feet of water. I found myself not even thinking a single thought about myself, time slowed down and became irrelevant, I was so consumed with being fully present in my surroundings.



In the wonderful way that often happens when you make yourself step outside your comfort zone, I was rewarded by meeting a bunch of awesome people. One night my new friends and I sat together in a torrential downpour, huddled in a thatched roof hut that started to leak as the wet season weather intensified around itself. Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, Sweden, Holland, and Australia, sitting side by side; for whatever reason finding ourselves in each other’s company as the sky opened up above us. Lightning began to pierce the sky, lighting up the neighbouring island and illuminating the sailboats that rocked on the water, tugging on their anchors to no avail. The thunder that followed made me feel like the sky was cracking in half, the gods clashing in a fury right above our heads. For my advanced course I was lucky enough to be joined by two awesome sisters from a town where I have spent some time in California, with whom surprise surprise I shared mutual friends with. I love how the universe works. I was extremely grateful to have these girls with me for the remainder of my course, as the good times only intensified when accompanied by friendship. Our dive instructor would shake his head and laugh as we continually giggled and forgot to turn the knob that let air be released from our tanks before going overboard. Minor details right?



Our dive instructor’s visa ran out in between me finishing my open water course and my advanced. He offered me his bungalow to use as my own while he left the country for a couple of days. This meant that I had to cross the island each day as I walked to the dive centre. Half an hour each way, of blissful meditative steps past the beach where the clear water lapped at the edge of the sand, underneath the cover of lush greenery and tall palms, through the little town where kids would ride their bikes and yell out at each other, flashing me big toothy smiles as I passed by.



My dive course finished, I caught a boat from Gili Air to Lombok, drove across Lombok and boarded a flight to East Sumbawa. East Sumbawa meant meeting up with awesome friends Mara and Bryce, plus bulk time spent surfing, equalling a very happy Biz! Sumbawa holds a special spot in my heart, and I feel a deep emotional connection to the landscape there. Especially at sunrise and sunset, where the sky is painted with soft pastels that bump up against the edges of the mountains, and the surface of the ocean acts as a mirror, and I feel lucky to somehow be wedged in between the two endless expanses of up there and down here. I remember one morning in particular, where we woke early and walked into the sea while darkness still surrounded us. We were in the ocean as the stars above us started to fade and we witnessed the night turn to day.



Where we stayed there was a little four-year-old boy, Bara, who I can’t not mention when I talk about my trip. This little sunshine soul had such an impact on me. His smiley face would pop up in the morning, and “Pagi Birri!” would ring out from the room behind the kitchen where he would sleep. He would clamber all over my while I practiced yoga in the morning, and one morning, sensing him around me while I was meditating, and then hearing nothing for a couple of minutes, I peeked open my eyes to see him sitting cross-legged in front of me, imitating my meditation position in silence. Mara and I spent some time doing art with the kids there, and Mara drew a portrait of Bara, which needless to say he was super stoked with.  



As all good things must, my time in Indonesia drew to a close, and I returned back to Bali to board my flight back to Australia. The difference in my mental state from when I stepped off the plane to when I stepped back on the plane was enormous. It was just the trip I needed to put things in perspective, to realise how incredibly lucky I am in so many different aspects of my life. To realise that there are so many more beautiful things out there that deserve a lot more of my time than feeling sorry for myself, and to be reminded that dealing with problems without practicing awareness can become all consuming. I returned with my eyes a little more open. And any experience that causes my eyes to open a little wider to the truth around me I count as time well spent.


Birralee Hassen