Off the Radar with Marianna Jamadi

Marianna Jamadi, Boat Magazine

Photographer Marianna Jamadi goes by the online name “Nomadic Habit” for obvious reasons: the girl can’t sit still. I caught some time with her between a trip she took to Mexico and a flight she was about to board for France. You can’t blame her for the itchy feet, though: it’s in her blood. Marianna’s mother is Finnish and her father is Indonesian. She’s had a passport since she was a baby and has traveled the world, literally, over the course of her life, but for the past few years as a full-time photographer. Her special connection to Indonesia is what we wanted to dig into here, and to hear about those times she finds herself off the radar and completely in the moment. 

The story of how your parents got together is so great, can you tell it to us?

My dad was born on Java and when he was growing up the Dutch were colonizing the area. He went to Dutch schools and learned to speak Dutch and German. He decided he wanted to further his education and he ended up getting into university in Germany, and eventually he got a job in Finland at a factory where he was doing German translations. He was written about in the local Finnish paper because the town was maybe two-thousand people at the time, so it's this tiny town in Finland and they’d never seen anyone like him – an islander! So they did a story on him about where he came from and how he spoke German. There was a picture in the paper and my mom – who had always hungered to see more of the world ever since she was young – had a friend who read the article and said, “This guy seems like he's made for you!” So they met and got together!

Eventually, my dad got a job in Long Beach, California so they immigrated and they had me and my two sisters there.

When was the first time you remember hearing that story or has that always been a part of you?

I think I just knew the basic story growing up of dad living in Finland and that was kind of it. But I always loved to look through photo albums and in one of my dad’s albums, I found the actual article. It was in Finnish so I couldn't read it, but then I think I asked my mom to read it to me and that’s how I got the full story. You know how you get a little older and then you're actually interested in things like that. 

Did you travel a lot as a kid?

Yeah, we traveled a lot as kids. Basically every summer we would go, usually we would swap between Finland and Indonesia. When I was growing up I just thought that's how you did it. That was really just a part of life, that every year you would go spend time somewhere else. I also got used to different cultures. As a kid it was like, “Oh, bucket showers? That's cool.” We don't have any family in the US. Our family is spread out across Finland, Germany, Australia, or Indonesia. If we wanted to see family we always had to travel internationally.

 Tanah Lot Bali

What are your earliest memories of Indonesia?

I remember it being so incredibly humid and thinking, “What is this? Everything's so sticky!” I hated that. I also remember the lizards all over the walls and on the ceilings and I remember thinking they were going to fall in my bed. And bucket showers.

But my strongest memory was from when I was about five. There’s this temple on Java called Borobudur. It's this really amazing temple and I remember the stairs. They're all built out of stone and the stairs were so big I had to sit down on each stair to go down to the next one. In my memory it’s this big massive temple, so when I've gone there as an adult it's really interesting to see how different my perspective is now.

Even though my family is from Java, we would always go to Bali. In Bali I remember the dances. They did Kecak dance and the Monkey Chant. They use a lot of masks and I remember being really scared of them!

Ubud Markets Bali 

Tirta Empul, Bali Indonesia

You’ve mentioned how much you love Bali.

Yeah I always have, I remember loving to go to Bali as a kid because there's a lot of color and all the incense. There are these strong smells of incense burning everywhere and everyone has their offerings. The cool thing about Indonesia is that it’s primarily Muslim – but my father's actually Christian because of the Dutch that colonized, though that's a rarity – Bali is actually Hindu. It’s the only place in Indonesia that's predominately Hindu.

Ubud Markets Bali

Ubud Rice Patties Bali

What about Indonesia feels really familiar to you on a sort of basic, genetic level?

The smell. As soon as I come off the plane, I'm like, “I know this place.”

So what’s it like when you travel there now, presumably without your family? Have you discovered it differently?

I feel very spiritually connected with Indonesia. One of the last times I was there, I was in Bali, and I had the most magical day of my life.

The day before I was leaving to fly home, the guy who owned the place I was renting asked what my plans were for my last day. I told him I had to catch a flight at ten at night and he asked if I wanted to go on an adventure. Of course I said yes! I hopped on his motorbike and he took me to all these different places. As we were driving, I didn't know where we going and we got stuck in this procession. There was this huge traditional ceremony in the street and we're on this motorbike and he turns to me and he's like, “You must have some connection to this village.” He said that to me and then just turned around – it really stuck with me. 

We got out of the processions eventually and we end up at this temple. He asked if I wanted to go in the water and do the traditional spiritual cleansing. He showed me how to do a proper Hindu offering and then you get changed into these sarongs and you actually go into the water for spiritual healing. There's koi fish around you and you go in a line under each spigot of water. So I go through all of that and as I'm done and getting out of the water, I hear this loud gong and then the procession that we hit an hour ago was entering the temple.

It was so cool. All of a sudden the temple just came to life. There was dancing and music. Today, I still don't know what they were celebrating. I didn't even want to ask because it was so special. That was the first time that I really felt a spiritual connection to Indonesia. I'm not from Bali per say, but you know, it just felt really magical.

 Spiritual Bath Tintra Empul Bali

Why do you think that happened?

I think I just allowed myself to be totally in it. It could be a past life thing. I don’t know. Some of the photos I took in that procession, too, I just felt some of the people were connected to me in a different way. I don't know if it was just because I was on a motorbike with my camera and I was shooting and it was exciting. But I felt like there was definitely something there.

 Titra Empul Bali

What do you think makes Indonesia, and Bali, so special?

I do love the food. I love it because I guess I'd say it's kind of a mix between Thai and Indian. It has so much flavor and zest, but then it’s very spicy and maybe a little curry-like. It's just very, very flavorful. I definitely miss the food and it's not very easy to find outside of the country.

And the people are incredible, just so interested and nice. Especially in my experiences, even on that magical day – this guy is just like, “Hey, do you want to go on an adventure?” and took the time to take a stranger to some super beautiful place just because he loves his country.

Kecak Bali

Kekak Bali

Is there anything from Indonesia that you try to keep in your daily life even when you’re not there?

Mindfulness. I also definitely think about wasting water, too, and I’m really careful with that. I think that comes from travel in general, but I think it all stems back to my bucket showers that were cold and learning that a hot shower, where the water just keeps coming out, is a luxury.

Any plans to go off the radar in Bali again soon? 

I’m hoping to get back there towards the end of the year!

You can see more of Marianna’s work here and here.