Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I, ghost

March 21, 1994: 2 pm. Goodbye Gunung Ijen and cruel younger brother, Raung [names of mountains in East Java]. Goodbye Java. Clouds hide the mountaintops. Just below the cloud line I can see the cleft between two ridges, otherwise from this far off the slope is smooth and unbroken and flat. But I know better, I know better than maps, as long as my feet remember the mud and my eyes remember the glimpses of golden green ridges slanting up parallel on both sides of me. Somehow I need to carry my happiness in scrambling to Madura. I must not fall for the myth of retreat and defeat, or even static truce, watching time crumble slowly down from the roof tiles every morning and noon until I rise at 2 pm to muster some small enthusiasm for class. Every morning I can walk ten kilometers! Every day I can go to new places! Massa’ [the very idea] I haven’t even been across the road to the southeast of campus! I don’t need to stay the night in a village to hang out in it.

At the ferry pier watching I had already entered Madura, the air was bright and hot as Madura, some indefinable remoteness, quietness lay in most of the people, crouching with their families in humility. I met a little girl who, most rare for a child here, enjoys distorting her face, grinning wide and lowering her eyebrows, hyper – like me. We communicated that way a little while, mirroring each other’s grimaces.

Back to the homeland most fertile for Kyais [local Muslim teacher-leaders]; my ambivalences I carry with me. Back to Perancak and the bright blue bird, to Ikhsan’s valley, to Pasean and its chaotically jumbled houses where at Marghrib time [the fourth prayer, late afternoon] I steal away from people and float, in love in air, ghost that I am.

Note: I wrote this after finishing my three weeks of walking across parts of East Java and was on the ferry returning to Madura to teach.

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