Monday, September 10, 2007

happy in east java

December 14, 1993: Air -- is whipping through me. I am on the bus. My life in a moment flies heedless of looking into the future – there is only the immediate future of air, and the scents of it. That heedlessness of method means I have just left Jember laughing; the strength of goal, intent means I know exactly what I need, and what I need is the friends I have. My hair, long, affects my thinking. The window must be open.

So when I came out of the WC and saw the bus speed out of the terminal, envisioning the loss of my bag gave me some horror. But it was vague. The imagery of my possessions which flitted before me, like one’s life, perhaps, at the moment of death, was vague; the things were like leaves in the wind. Good leaves to be sure. And enough to get me to Sumatra, but not irreplaceable.

But Dila (an Arab-Indonesian friend), whom I have proclaimed Bupati (a county-level executive) by strength of his own imagination, had been watching my bag. Where was he? Puzzled, I walked out of the terminal. And – seeing him sauntering toward me, lugging my pack, big grin on his scrappy face – filled me with delight. We laughed together, giving me a feeling of great freedom and strength, and I hopped on the next bus.

Life’s very good. Am I repeating myself? I’ll continue it if I can. My excitement for women is at a strong edge, making me hope none sit next to me as the effect would be hard to contain. My eyes, swift vicaries, are voracious for them at the windows.

Saturday I left Kalianget, in Madura, my island of residence. Marghrib (late afternoon prayer time) I arrived at Karangharjo Village in East Java, Muquiet’s house. I was persuaded, easily, to stay Sunday night too. Monday morning I went to Polly’s house in Jember. It was a lazy day and fun night with Yayuk, Dila, Polly, and Mary eating roti baker (toasted bread with chocolate sprinkles and bananas, a snack). (Salvation! Two women hesitate at my seat and pass by). This morning I chatted with Polly (a fellow volunteer), came to Dila’s, and he rode me to the terminal, where we talked expansively of principles and plans.

The “tembok mandi” (bathing wall, a play on bathing room) at Muquiet’s place epitomized the freshness and coolness I felt in being there. I walked into it, for all appearances like a spacious, well-equipped bathroom. But it was so light. I looked up and there was no roof! The sprinkling, half-cloudy sky was above me, as were bamboo and palm. The sun was illuminating the edges of clouds as it went down. I took off my clothes and felt the drops on my skin, scattering over the surface; the laughing and horseplay of girls bathing came over the walls and scattered on my surface. I stood naked and did not bathe a while in anything but air because I was happy.

The way too the Kaeh (or kyai, an indigenous Muslim leader), Muquiet’s dad, was accessible as a leader for all people struck me; its lack is a big disintegrative factor in American society. At no level of society is there an institution by which at any time of day can anyone come and be assured of a cup of coffee, smokes, and talk. I imagine women come to the Nyais (the wives of kyais, they teach women).

I will never forget when Mo the blind man came at night, lacking cigarettes. In entire patience and even affection Muquiet and his dad sat in the dim room into the night and conversed and laughed with the man who prefers to sleep alone by the river, teasing him for his encounters with women (many of whom, and even men, it appears, find in him a sexual out of bounds place where they are free to “play”), giving him more coffee. I hung on his throaty words, trying to catch the funny incidents he related (the women’s thighs “smooth as banana trees”), watching him feel the flame with his fingers to the cigarettes’ tip, admiring how a part of the community he was even in his difference, even in an economically distressed community. And when he left, Muquiet and dad standing together in front of the house as he walked into the darkness shouting “Kiri! . . Kanan! Ya, lurus!” (Left! Right! Yeah, straight!) until he disappeared.

It was a good stay with good people.

I met a kid on the ferry back to Madura with seven nangkas (jackfruit), who lives on Jalan Sampah (Garbage Street) in Banyuwangi. Maybe Dila will join me on my long walk through East Java which even more urgently I anticipate.

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