The next morning, we hear raspy, young voices paddling closer and closer to Sonrisa. Two canoes full of young men arrive for a visit. They bump their leaking log canoe next to Grin and tie off on one of Sonrisa's lifeline stanchions. One young man forgot to bring along any of his clothing.
“Where are your pants?” I ask him, in English. Somehow they all know exactly what I’m asking. They laugh and laugh, he responds covering himself as best he can, laughing, too. Apparently clothing is somewhat optional while visiting tourists? They ask if they can come aboard, but we decline. There are too many of them, and we are still too overwhelmed.
A mom is standing on the shore, waving her hands above her head yelling something. The kids turn and look at her. If we were in America, I think she would be saying “Leave those nice people alone! Come back here!” But, the kids respond by nodding and saying okay, and then turning back toward us. Another child jumps off the dock just feet away from the woman and begins swimming toward us. I don’t think she is saying what an American mom might be saying.
They ask if they can climb into Grin, and we say okay. We don’t think they can hurt Grin. At first, Grin thinks this is great fun. Then, the child with the naked butt plops onto his bench. This grosses Grin out because he’s a little bit of a germ-a-phobe.
They touch Kitty’s handle and make a sound “vroom-vroom!” We think they are asking if this is Grin’s motor, so we nod "yes". Once we nod, they scoot around to make space by the motor and look up at Andrew. They want a ride. Andrew climbs in, somewhat reluctantly, knowing the can of worms this will open. He pulls kitty’s cord. Then, he and five Indonesian children - one not wearing any clothes - circles a loop in the bay. I snap pictures, as expected, they wave and pose for the camera. When they return, I figure the boys will get bored move on. I was wrong.
Almost an hour and a half later, they are still there. Hanging on the side of Sonrisa, trying to talk to us, teaching to count to ten in Indonesian, sitting in Grin, shivering because they keep jumping in, swimming around, then climbing back out into Grin to sit in the wind. We tell them we have to go to town to eat lunch. Once they understand our English/Indonesian/Pantomime for “eat lunch,” they laugh and yell out “Okay! Okay! Dada! Dada!” They all jump from Grin into their own canoes and paddle away.
We laugh and shake our heads as we take Grin into town. “We really are not this interesting.”
Our visits from the “Little Pirates” continue day after day. Every time we return to Sonrisa from our explorations, we are met with more kids in canoes. The cycle happens over and over again. Andrew and Grin gives more rides, and we can never escape without saying we have to go to town for something.
Sometimes, only two kids come out. When it is more manageable, we are more willing to let them come onto the boat. They creep on, and slowly make their way further and further into our lives.
One day, they spend a full twenty minutes watching Andrew do the dishes.
The kids offer to help us clean Sonrisa’s hull. Andrew says “Sure!” He hands them a scraper.
“Should I feel bad about employing child labor?” Andrew asks me.
“How much are you paying?” I ask.
“Bananas.” Andrew confirms.
We lose hope that if we are boring enough, the kids will leave us to our privacy. We puzzle over what the mom might have been yelling. She certainly has never come back to yell again.
One day, one of the kids who joined the party had enough English to ask us: “Why are you out here all alone? Why aren’t you anchored by the other sailboats?” Andrew tries to explain the need for enough space in an anchorage to swing 360 degrees around an anchor with 4 to 1 scope of chain. The kids do not understand. So, I point at the anchorage and say, "sedikit" which means little/small in Bahasa Indonesian. They still do not understand. They understood our English perfectly well. They knew we were saying the anchorage was too small, but they didn't understand how the anchorage could possibly be too small. They would just raft up!
Suddenly, it occurs to me that these kids are sticking around because they are worried we are lonely. Their mom didn't yell at them to come home. She yelled at them to "go keep that lonely boat company!" or maybe "Go out there and see what those strange people are doing." It could be that, too.
Kids aren't the only ones who come to visit Sonrisa. One afternoon, a fisherman stops by to say hello. He doesn't speak much English, we don't speak much Indonesian, but we all speak some version of Language Barrier Charades. After initial pleasantries, the man points to the village directly ashore. He points to himself, then the village again, indicating that he lives in that village. Then, he puts his hands up to his eyes to form “binoculars,” he points at Andrew and I, he say the word “babies,” then he hooks his thumbs together (which we have already confirmed is their physical gesture for “married”). What is he trying to say?
My interpretation of Language Barrier Charades tells me he is saying: “I am watching you from that village over there, and I cannot see any babies on this boat, even though you are married.”
Yes, sir. That is an accurate statement. No babies here.
This leads me to conduct more research on Indonesian culture. I find an article that explains privacy is a concept they handle differently from how we handle privacy in the US. Indonesians rarely go anywhere alone, and they are very curious about the people around them. They do not consider it offensive to learn everything they can about a person, even if that involves a little snooping here or there. Expat websites are filled with dire warnings about the probability of your dirty laundry being aired across all of Indonesia should you leave juicy tid-bits just lying about. Indonesians are not shy about asking what things cost or why your womb is barren. If they are curious (and they seem always to be curious) they are going to dig up the dirt. I think it's a social survival tool. They do not mind living side by side with each other, in close quarters, but they need to suss you out first. They want to know what kind of a person you are in order to slot you into a proper space. They have social instincts about people that are different from ours.
As a further example of this, please take a moment to marvel with me about their driving skills. Somehow, they are capable of safely piloting motorcycles while staring backwards at tourists who poke out like sore thumbs. We have observed this from the pedestrian perspective for a while now, but recently, Andrew hopped on the back of a bike to take a trip to a hardware store. Andrew described this trip as one of the "top ten most terrifying moments of [his] adult life." Mr. John weaved his way between busses and packs of other motorcycles, kicking up dust behind his tires, head swiveled backwards as far as it will go, conversing with Andrew about this and that.
I don't think they actually use their eyes to drive. Instead, they use some innate sixth sense of space and social cooperation honed from the time they are infants. Whenever they reach an intersection, they don’t slow down and look at all. They just go. They might beep their horn as if to say “I’m here!” but they do so while carrying headlong into the intersection in front of dump trucks and busses. Somehow, everyone just weaves themselves in. There are open holes in the sidewalk, sharp metal overhangs on roofs just high enough to slice into Andrew’s carotid artery in his neck, and this frantic traffic pattern. Yet, children play in the street, stop and stand in traffic, and cross the street barefooted while pushing a large air compressor. We have not witnessed anyone get injured or die, yet.
It’s like they have a continuous sense of where their bodies are in relation to their neighbors. They don’t feel compelled to “hold their ground” or “win their space.” Lanes and even the direction of lanes are really more suggestions than fixed firm rules. They understand that their fellow Indonesian drivers just want to get where they are going, too, and they all squeeze around each other to let that happen - with much “I’m here” beeping. If a traffic jam happens, everyone in the surrounding area jumps to action to get things organized and wave vehicles through. As we have ridden in taxis and vans, the only time anyone’s hackles get raised seems to be when another Indonesian driver does not scoot over and make room. At least on the roadways, the cultural value being enforced is always “make room.” It’s fascinates me, and I love it.
They even do this with giant container ships.
That night, Andrew and I get ready to sail away from Tual and around to the outer Kei Islands to enjoy some SCUBA diving. I mull over all the things I’ve been learning here, especially in the context of the mean spirited behavior I see on social media. I come up with this list:
I despair. I wonder, Is it even possible for my friends to discuss difficult things in a nice way anymore? Is the Evil Overlord right? Are we headed to war in the US with no way out? I can’t accept that.
I think about my friend who who posted the article on the art of disagreement the night before. I have attended numerous dinner parties at her house where she successfully hosts rambunctious discussions on whatever topics the group is interested in. We all have different experiences and strong opinions, but somehow we always have interesting conversation that changes our thoughts and minds and deepens our friendships. We do not shy away from difficult topics at her house because we all trust her to keep us going in the right direction with her humor, big heart, and delicious wine. I absolutely love going to parties at this friend’s house. I showed Andrew our mutual friend’s article. I say, “Yes! This is what we need to do. More of this.”
Andrew just blinks at me.
I decide to conduct an experiment on my personal Facebook page. If anyone can lead a conversation filled with disagreement while keeping it respectful, I think it's me. “I want to take the big issue of the day and open it for discussion.” I tell Andrew. “I want to see if it is possible to talk about difficult things while still being nice to each other.”
Andrew blinks at me.
The Evil Overlord is displeased.