4 April 2013
Detailing a Nomad’s Return to Point Zero
Travel writer Agustinus Wibowo has walked many kilometers and dangerous turns during adventures in Afghanistan and across Asia — a long way from his childhood days in Lumajang, East Java, when he used to chase passing aircraft.
After years away from his family, Agustinus eventually returned home to read the stories he had written about his experiences to his ill, bedridden mother.
These previously unpublished tales of his journeys to Nepal, India and Pakistan, as well as the conversations with his mother in her final days, are the main themes of his new book, “Titik Nol” (“The Zero Point”, or “Ground Zero”).
“To lose my mother is the worst thing that happened to me in my life,” Agustinus said at the launch of his book in Jakarta. “But I keep writing, because it is a spiritual healing for me.”
“Titik Nol” is Agustinus’s third travel book. He has already published “Selimut Debu” (“Blankets of Dust”) in 2010 and “Garis Batas” (“Borderlines”) in 2011.
For Agustinus, the zero point means self-discovery, which begins when one returns home.
The book details his journeys through Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unlike his previous books, where Agustinus usually highlighted an overarching theme, each journey is rather different.
For that reason, excerpts from conversations with his mother are interspersed at the beginning or end of each section.
“Titik Nol” describes a journey from zero to hero and back.
“People are so busy chasing their dreams and they often forget about their zero point, where it all began,” he said. “We need to remember our zero point to be able to know how far we’ve come.”
His Jakarta-based editor, Hetih Rusli, said the book not only recaps someone’s physical journey, but also features philosophical components.
“It’s an interwoven story between his journeys and taking care of his mother at the hospital,” she said. “ ‘Titik Nol’ is more personal because Agustinus reveals things about his relationship with his family that he never mentioned in his previous books.”
For Hetih, Agustinus was able to provide nuances in his story that most travel writers in Indonesia struggle to convey. Attracted to foreign cultures and local people, Agustinus presents a journey that is not merely about quick pit stops and visiting landmarks.
In Agustinus’s contemplative style, the reader finds many quotes about the meaning of home, family and journeys.
The personal bits, however, are a new approach, said Hetih, who also edited his previous books. The change required patience for both Agustinus and his editor, because at the start, Hetih felt Agustinus put too much drama into the text.
“You could tell that he poured his heart into this,” she said. “He’s a hardworking, perfectionist writer. I gave him six revisions, but I think he rewrote the whole thing 20 times.”
Sharing personal stories proved quite a challenge for the writer, and Agustinus said he found it difficult to finish.
Having conversations with his mother, he said, made him realize that he did not know her as well as he had thought. The process of putting their spoken words on paper brought new discoveries for Agustinus himself.
“All conversations in this book happened for real,” he explained.
Dina Rosita, a travel companion who writes for www.duaransel.com and also attended the book launch, said the feeling of guilt over not returning home is quite common among travelers.
Dina and her Canadian husband Ryan Koudys sold their house in 2009 to be global nomads. They work from abroad, on the road, and move from one hostel to the next. Everything they own they travel with.
“To be a traveler is to be selfish, because we live so far away from our parents who always want us to be close to them,” Dina said.
“I recognize that feeling of guilt and I cried reading Agustinus’s book, because my parents are still alive but I don’t see them often,” she added.
However, for people like Dina and Agustinus, to be a traveler is the way of life they have chosen, so they must face the risks. Agustinus, currently based in Jakarta, said that at the beginning of a journey, there is always pride.
“When I successfully disguised myself as a Chinese in Tibet after I almost got caught, I was proud,” he said. “But after being on the road for years, I just feel that it’s part of life.”
Raya Fitrah, proofreader for “Titik Nol,” said that so far she had only traveled to domestic locations, but Agustinus’s book gave her realistic insights into faraway places.
“Agustinus can connect his travel stories and the conversations with his mother really well, like it all happened just naturally,” she said. “But reading the book is also like reading a child’s regrets.”
Even though he has traveled many kilometers, to Agustinus the trip home is always daunting.
As a traveler, he is used to putting his own cultural attributes aside to absorb new things, but the return forces him to accept that reality does exist and that change is inevitable.
There is the hoped-for fantasy that everything is always alright at home, when in fact, his parents were growing old and struggling with illness.
“A journey is not about distance or location, but to detach our egos and find ourselves,” he said.