Would you survive?

Would you survive

It was sometime two years ago. I had just left the Philippines and barely avoided murder. This may not be the best time to tell that story, but please, I encourage you to keep reading and ask yourself, “would I survive this?”

I landed in Jakarta then made my way by train to Jogjakarta. Once there, I assembled my bike and cycled to a couch surfing host where I would stay a night.

It was the home of an Indonesian aristocrat. There were multiple rooms turned into dormitories for girls. Normally, men were not permitted to stay the night, however, my host told me there was something unique about my story that enticed her to convince the owner I should stay.

And, stay I did.

Her name was Audia. One of the first, and by the far one kindest, people I met upon my arrival in Indonesia. We sat at a table and had dinner, then talked for the entire night sharing stories, adventures, and beliefs.

It was around midnight when we all went to bed. The day was done and so was I.

2 Days Later

I left Jogjakarta to visit a friend in Purworejo. No one really knows about this town, but it does exist.

My friend, who will be called Mr. A (until I have attained permission to publish his name), was an old companion from Japan.

You see, many Indonesian people apply for the opportunity to travel and work in Japan. Its usually a 3-year exchange. Based on my judgement, they get paid between $500 to $2000 (maybe) per month.

Most will save this money, send it home, and/or, start a new life. A new life could be to open a business and get married.

In this case, my friend was achieving both.

When I arrived to Purworejo, Mr. A was preoccupied with the arrangements of his wedding so he introduced me to Mr. N, a childhood friend of Mr. A whom would help me survive in this little tiny town.

I rode from Mr. A’s wedding ceremony (another story I’ll tell some other time) following a procession of motorcycles who would introduce me to Mr. N. Mr. N was waiting for me at a place I would call my new home.

I was introduced to Mr. N and a man name Mr. Mahmoud who own a small boarding house in Purworejo. I was welcomed inside and they discussed the terms of my stay.

“I’ll be staying here for a month,” I said.

Conversation erupted. They seemed to be curious as to why I would want to stay in a little village like Purworejo and not go to the bikini-clad beaches of Bali.

“Why not?”

My room was very tiny, walls painted ocean green with a light that shone dimly. In one corner there was a cabinet and, next to the cabinet, an old padded mat that was to be my bed. A small serving was resting on the bedding, all this was what I called home for a month.

The cost? Just $35 CAD.

Now, at this time, I was completely broke. I had to borrow some cash from family to get enough money for an airplane ticket from Manila to Jakarta and a train ticket to Yogyakarta. Once I arrived to Purworejo and paid my rent, I was left with barely enough to feed myself for a week.


I was in an impoverished state and my immune system must have completely been vulnerable to the local conditions. Within just a few days of moving into the small dorm, I found myself extremely ill with a ravishing fever.

The people of Indonesia claim that everyone gets dengue fever at least once in their life. They say its so common that there’s no way to avoid it. You et it, you survive it, then you’re good to go again.

For me, the fever struck like a hot knife down my lungs. I was hacking a dry cough and my mind was completely delirious. The nights in that little room, laying on an old moldy mat, had me sweating profusely from the summer sun then shivering intensely at the brisk cool air. There was something about the dismal green walls that felt like I was in an asylum.

Where was I?

I laid on the mat for days. Each morning, Mr. Mahmoud’s second wife would bring a large plate of food. There was a mountain of rice, a piece of catfish, fried tempeh, some vegetables, and a cup of coffee. I devoured it in minutes then placed it outside and laid back down. Mr. Mahmoud’s second wife would later knock on the door, request between 10 000 to 15 000 rupiah, which is around $1 to $1.50 CAD, then smile and continue her day.

“Jef, buddy, are you alright? Let’s go for dinner tonight!”

I hadn’t seen Mr. A since I arrived and I was grateful to receive his message. After the wedding, he was busy arranging his new business and settling into his new life with his lovely wife.

I was a few days into my fever but I tried not to let it show. After a cold shower and a hot tea from Mr. Mahmoud’s second wife, I cycled out to meet Mr. A.

We met at a warung. This is an outdoor vendor where choose from a variety of foods (i.e. fried chicken, rice, and vegetables) then take a seat on a carpet that’s been laid out on the street or sidewalk to enjoy your meal.

I compliment Mr. A’s wife upon arrival but I didn’t know what else to say. I was at the peak of my fever and tried hiding behind a smile so as to not be a burden on these people.

“Jef, are you doin O.K.?”

My smile shook for a moment and I said, “Of course my friend. I can survive anything.”

After the meal, Mr. A quickly got up to pay the bill. I was totally humiliated.

Mr. A knew a little about my situation. I told him I was struggling at the moment. That my travels were a little more difficult than I imagined them to be. That I hope I could just rest and recover for a little in a peaceful little town.

But, I never told Mr. A about the massacre I left behind which was then weighed heavy on me. Nor did I tell him about my fever until months after it passed.

There’s something special about Mr. A. Whether it was hidden behind my smile or masked behind my eyes, he grabbed my hand and reassured me that everything was going to be just fine.

Would you survive?

I might be missing some details in the story above as I write this in Xi’an, China suffering a new fever that’s taking over my body.

All those years ago when I started my adventure around the world, it was simply a curiosity to see the world for what it truly was — both the beautiful and the ugly.

There’s more to this story I’ll reveal later on, but for now, may I ask you: would you survive something like this?

Jef van de Graaf
Canadian Copywriter & World Traveler
Business | Travel Blog | Connect

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