Question: “What is your favorite color?”
It used to be plaid. Circa 1994, I fell in love with every plaid pleated skirt, flannel button down, or wool button down I saw. If it is plaid, I love it. What is it about plaid? The endless combination of patterns and colors, the personality, the pizzaz? Maybe I was Scottish in my last life, I don’t know. At long last, though, it seems plaid has met a worthy competitor. Tais.
My love of Tais started in Timor Leste. We were enjoying a glass of wine at the Hotel Timor lobby when I noticed a shop next door with local handicrafts. The chilled wine failing to temper my enthusiasm, we pay up our bill and leave to go inspect. What is this!?
I find stacks and stacks of books wrapped in colorful fabric of various patterns. They are each beautiful and unique. “That is Tais," the woman behind the counter explains. "It’s a fabric local people weave by hand from locally grown and spun cotton. The patterns are each unique to the local village that makes it."
I’m impressed already, I declare that I MUST have one of these books for Sonrisa’s next log book, and Grin needs an adventure book….wait… WHO DOESN’T NEED AN ADVENTURE BOOK??? Me…Sonrisa, me…Grin…me…my Dad…me, me, me…. Pretty soon I’m standing at the register an arm load of books of various sizes and a crazed look in my eye.
The lady laughs at me, but I don’t care.
It wasn’t too long until we find ourselves at the veggie market only to find all sorts of Tais hanging, ready for purchase. We pick out two large pieces — maybe I’ll make pillow cases.
You can imagine the double back I took when I found a shoe shop filled with Tais! When was the last time these feet wore high heels? Or closed toes for that matter...
While in Oe Cusse we visited with cute little nuns weaving their own tais. Can’t leave without Nun-Tais!
As we sailed on, we found that Tais isn’t just culturally prevalent in Timor, but in Indonesia, too. Thinking back on it, we realized the ladies were wearing Tais skirts even back in Tual. As we sailed the coast of Flores, we sampled more and more Tais. It was as we pulled into Maumare that Andrew put his foot down. NO MORE TAIS. I agreed, it seemed we had quite enough.
Maumere is a cute little town approximately in the middle north coast of Flores. As we set our anchor, we receive a call from a gentleman named Aladdin who could help us find fuel and groceries. He hails us on the VHF and invites us into town where we meet he and his family for tea. Aladdin's mother presents us with a pineapple as a welcoming gift. Then, everyone wants pictures with us - except the little guy in the hat who loves to tease me with a photo opportunity, then giggle and run away as I lift my camera. He thinks it's a fantastic game.
Aladdin takes up the task of our fuel while he points us in the way of town for groceries. We buy bananas and a giant pile of mangos, and enjoy a funny little coffee shop. We meet a talking bird who can say SELAMAT MALAM (good night) and enjoys eating peppers, also a pet monkey who wanted one of our bananas. We are chased down by more tough guys (who want their pictures taken) and they try to hustle Andrew into a game of pool (Andrew is terrible at pool).
As evening falls, we head back toward Sonrisa. On our way, a happy little grandma chases us down the road speaking a flurry of Indonesian. We can’t understand what she’s saying, but she gives us the Indonesian “Go away/Come Over Here” arm scoop, instructing us to follow her. She leads us down an alley way and to a little hut. She motions for us to wait here. Thinking he is kidding, Andrew says "she probably wants to sell us a Tais." Then, moments later returns...with a Tais.
“Oh, no thank you! We already have way too many Tais!” Andrew says, and its true. What am I even going to do with all this Tais? But Grandma’s Tais is beautiful. I like its more subdued maroons, cream and brown colors. Grandma either doesn't understand Andrew, or she pretends not to understand Andrew. She lifts the Tais in my direction.
“Yes, but I don’t have any Maumere Tais!” I tell Andrew. Grandma nods and holds the Tais out to me repeating "Maumere, Maumere" and touching the pattern with her free hand. She is approximately half Andrew’s standing height, with big brown eyes and friendly crows feet crinkling in the corners. The tais draped across her arms looks big enough that it could operate as a snuggie for her entire family. She’s too cute to say no.
“How much?” I ask.
350,000 Rupia. She’s asking $35 US, for a giant piece of beautiful Tais fabric, she wove herself. Andrew grumbles as he pulls out his wallet because he doesn’t have the heart to tell Grandma no, either. “It’s art!” I say as she hands it over. I smile and thank her, then she hoists up a second piece like the first.
“Oh, no. Tidak Maul, Terima Kasih!” (No want, thank you. -- Yes, we speak like toddlers here.) Andrew scoops his arm around me to shuttle me off. I guess we can tell Grandma no. We thank her profusely and scurry away.
“No. More. Tais!” Andrew insists. “Sonrisa is already full!”
I laugh. “We’ll see, we’ll see….” I say in response, fully doubting that either of us will resist all those Tais Grandmas and Tais Nuns of the future - especially those who chase us down the street.