Dressed simply in a burgundy Arabic-style shirt and dark cargo shorts, 31-year-old Ahmad Junaedi sighed deeply as he described his largely monotonous life as part of the Islamic State (IS) movement in Syria last year.
'It was nothing like I imagined. As soon as I reached the location and conducted my duties, I felt like I did little to help anyone,' he said during an interview with The Jakarta Post on Tuesday evening at a hotel in Depok, West Java.
Junaedi, along with Helmi Muhammad Alamudi and Abdul Hakim Munabari, was arrested in Malang, East Java, last week after returning from Syria.
He is the first Indonesian willing to share his story fighting alongside IS, known also as ISIS and ISIL.
Junaedi, who was previously involved in Islamic organizations Muhammadiyah and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), said he was first approached by Salim Mubarok Attamimi, also known as Abu Jandal al Yemeni al Indonesi, early last year to travel to Syria and join the cause.
Salim, who is notorious for having appeared in a video taunting Indonesia's lines of defense, allegedly told Junaedi that he would be living under an Islamic caliphate and would be part of a humanitarian effort to help Sunni Muslims who were being oppressed in Syria.
Junaedi, who had attended an Islamic boarding school during his youth, said he felt a strong moral obligation to protect and defend his brethren.
'I was also tempted by Salim's offer to pay off all my debts. He said that all our debts would be paid off and we would be paid large sums of money as our salary,' he said.
'He did not specify how much, but he gave the impression that it was a lot.'
Although all travel expenses were paid by Salim, Junaedi found the trip to Syria difficult. The former meatball vendor left his four children and wife in Malang on March 23 last year and traveled with 19 others, including Salim and his 10-year-old son, and transited in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, before finally making it to Istanbul, Turkey.
Afterwards, they took an 18-hour bus ride to the city of Gaziantep, which borders Syria, and met a Syrian man who told them to cross the barbed-wire border on foot.
'We then spent 24 days at a camp filled with only Indonesians and we were introduced to weapons, taught Islamic doctrine and encouraged to have morning jogs,' he said.
The men were soon moved to another camp where they met with dozens of men from other countries and they were taught other skills. There, men who were seen to be fit enough and fluent in Arabic were chosen to be among the IS fighters.
Junaedi said he never thought that he would be part of IS' defense line, but he also felt that his task to guard the village of Harari, a small village east of Al-Bab in Syria, was dull and disappointing, and a far cry from how he imagined he would be helping fellow Muslims.
'I admit that I felt very sick and tired of it all. [When I called my wife once a month] she would always ask me when I was going to return home because she knew I wanted to,' he said.
Junaedi and 11 other men, of whom were fellow Indonesians, were given two-hour shifts a day to guard the city, armed only with AK-47 rifles. The rest of the day was usually spent reading the Koran alone or with others. He said they were deprived of any news and could only call their families once a month from Al-Bab.
The men also took turns cooking and cleaning the house they all lived in. The house had a cement floor and no electricity, but had the basic facilities needed and it housed all 12 of them together.
'During my two-and-a-half months in Harari, we were only attacked by the [Syrian government's] soldiers once. The IS' armed forces were called in to fight and they took our weapons and told us to hide,' he said.
Junaedi was only paid SYP 8,000 (US$42.34) a month and a SYP 24,000 bonus during the Muslim New Year. Junaedi and fellow Indonesian Syahrial had had enough after five months in Syria and requested to return home three times. They were only allowed in September last year after they promised to revoke their oaths to IS and never return to Syria or else they would be killed for being spies.
Junaedi's disappointments did not end after he returned home. Not only did he have to finance his own trip back to Malang, but he found that none of his debts had been paid off as promised.
'As soon as I returned home to Malang, I was asked to pay off all the expenses for my travel to Syria, around Rp 20 million. I refused to pay it off because no one had asked me to pay it in the first place,' he said, adding that he only had US$250 left from his travels.
Junaedi briefly fell silent when asked whether he would recommend others to make the trip to Syria, before saying that it was not an easy choice to make.
'Think hard before deciding to go to Syria; don't be so hasty,' he said.