Each day as we walk through town, we hear in rounds and echoes “Mister! Mister! Hey, Mister! Hey, Mister! Hallo Mister!” Mister is a generic term for foreigner that they know we understand. Some of them have learned enough English to understand the distinction between Mister and Missus, but most of them have not. They will look right at me and say, “Hallo, Mister!” And this gives me a smile.
We catch everyone’s attention. Tiny babies eyes grow wide when they see us; children stop in their tracks like cartoon characters. A look of surprise comes over their face, then dissolves to terror. They flee, hiding behind their parents, each other, or a dump truck parked a few yards away. Even then, their curiosity gets the best of them, so they peek around to see us a second time. We smile and wave to say “Hallo!” they laugh and run away…for a minute. Then, they circle around and start following us from twenty paces back. From there, they will call out “Hey, Mister!” When we turn around to respond, they devolve into a fit of giggles and try to hide again. If we get into a bus, they chase us; they gather in doorways while we eat at restaurants. They never lose interest. They watch us eat our entire meal. If we are patient enough, eventually their fear goes away and we make friends.
We become concerned about causing a traffic accident. Even adults on motorbikes are so surprised and curious about us, their heads crane sideways and backwards as they pass. Motorcycle driver and three passengers all with their faces turned completely backwards at us.
As we pass, adults and teenage women alike will break into giggles and point at me. “Gaga!” They whisper. More giggles. “Wow! Gaga, gaga, gaga!” I’m told it is kind of slang for “beautiful” born of their collective Indonesian love for Lady Gaga. “Lady Gaga, in the house!” I tell Andrew. We feel like celebrities.
One woman stops next to us on her moped to chat. I tell her I like her pants, to which she scoops me up on the back of her motorcycle and drives me to her own boutique buried in the back of her neighborhood. There, the whole neighborhood comes out to see the strange new people in town. They laugh and laugh at how tall Andrew is. They always have time for us.
One day, Andrew is walking through town alone trying to locate a hardware store. He is pulled away into a neighborhood by a nice man who offers a handmade bracelet for sale. The man takes Andrew into his home to show him the bracelet. Andrew decides to make the purchase, but the man’s wife will not let Andrew leave until she has fed him lunch. A group of women are gathered in one room, a group of men in the other. Realizing that everyone might have more fun if he adds me into the mix, Andrew points at Sonrisa through their open window and tries to explain that his wife is on the boat and she would love to meet them for lunch, too. Their response elicits Google Translate’s best translation yet:
Based on their happy faces, vigorous pointing at Sonrisa, and Google Translate’s ambiguous mention of rice, motors, and love, Andrew figured they understood what he was trying to say. The bracelet man puts Andrew into a dug out log canoe and together they carefully row over to Sonrisa to fetch me.
“Careful, don’t move once you get into the canoe. It’s a little tippy.” Andrew tells me. I look down from Sonrisa’s deck at the narrowest log canoe I’ve seen yet. It has no outrigger, and it is about fifteen feet long. The Indonesian man smiles and offers me his free hand. I settle in, tuck myself into a little ball, and try not to move. The man paddles me to shore, with a promise that he will return to Sonrisa and pick up Andrew on the next lap. Then, a group of boys take their canoe out and pass us on the way. The older man indicates instructions, and I understand the boys are going to pick up Andrew.
Once we are all together again, the man leads us through the tidy neighborhood of houses built of cement blocks, metal roofs. Indonesians are curious about our presence, and they peek their faces out of windows to see these ghosts walking by. When we smile and wave, they break into a smile and wave back.
Upon our arrival we are the guests of honor. We make introductions, then the Lady of the House instructs us to build ourselves a plate and sit to enjoy lunch. We are served a meal of vegetables in a savory chicken broth, rice with “ketchup mayonnaise” (more on this later), plantains, small fish, and green papaya salad. I sit in one room with the ladies, Andrew sits in the other room with the Gents. They want me to enjoy my lunch, but they can hardly wait to take pictures together.
(Note. I am blissfully unaware in these pictures that I am wearing a shirt considered Indonesian formal attire while bopping about around town. This is also a story for another day.)
Then, for dessert, the Lady of the House unwraps a ball of something, crushes it in my bowl, adds sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a banana. She makes hand motions to indicate I should dip my banana in the stuff and eat it. Okay…
*Dip. Dip. Dip.*
I put the stuff in my mouth. Banana topped with something firmly gritty/crunchy. It’s sweet, delicious with the spices, and a good texture when it is combined with the soft banana. It’s sort of like dipping a banana in graham crackers only much better. What is this magical stuff?
“Andrew, help!” He was hoarding the phone with the Google Translate app. I was struggling to ask the question: “What is this?” or maybe I was struggling to understand the response. Google Translate arrives and I learn this stuff is a dried then crushed nut similar to a walnut, but without its bitterness. WOW! This is great! It would make a delicious breakfast! This is my new favorite thing, and I commit to buying a whole bucket of these ball things at the market.
We thank them for their hospitality and make our way back to Grin. They refuse to let us leave without sending us home with a whole pack of bananas and a fresh, unopened ball of the delicious nut crumble. I tell them not to worry, I will buy my own! They refuse to hear anything of it, placing the banana bunch into my hand as we duck out the door. This trip is constantly challenging me to accept hospitality with grace. Everywhere we travel, people with far less material wealth than I have are unwilling to relinquish their right to display their generous hearts. They are teaching me to accept that gift with thanks, rather than act like I don't need what they have to offer. The art of giving and receiving seems to be something that ties these people's hearts to mine. I realize the act of accepting a gift from others is a sign of deep respect.
That night, we are driving Grin along the shoreline inspecting a neighborhood that has been painted in rainbow colors. A handful of people are sitting out on the porch and they wave us over. As we near them, they start talking all at once. More and more people start emerging from inside the houses. They start flooding toward us, climbing down from their perch, across their fishing boats and toward Grin.
Grins shrinks away. “Oh no, oh no! What are they doing?!” There is no stopping them, they are all on their way, selfie devices in hand, waving and talking all at once.
Grandma comes out on the patio and holds out the wings of a flying fish, so excited to show us a flying fish!
They start climbing into Grin, who wobbles back and forth and gets increasingly lower in the water. Then, they stop. These people are island people, they know a sinking log canoe when they see one. The group hangs back, but the collective excitement does not die. One of the men who made it into Grin puts his arm around Andrew and calls for the group to take a picture. One hundred phones aim at us, snap away. Then he reaches out for his own phone. “Selfie!” He finishes his picture and steps out of Grin to allow another woman with a brilliantly red headscarf to trade in. In-out-in-out-in-out. Indonesian with Andrew, Indonesian with Leslie, Indonesian with Andrew AND Leslie, photo format, selfie format, switch, repeat. They practically climb over the top of each other to try to get into Grin. Someone hands Andrew a crying baby. Andrew, Grin, and the crying baby are increasingly nervous, and I am wondering how we are ever going to stop this. There are one hundred people trying to get a photograph. Kitty is turned off, so we can’t just zip away. We are completely overwhelmed.
I cannot remember how, but eventually we escaped with our lives and with Grin afloat.
As we pulled away, Grandma was still behind the crowd still holding out the flying fish for our amazement.
Shaking, we return to Sonrisa, climb down below and try to re-group. Then…
“Knock, knock, knock….” We hear knocking on the hull. A group of three young lads have paddled their log canoes out for a visit. Again. We do not speak Indonesian. They do not speak English. This process is difficult. Eventually, they ask Andrew for money, and he tells them no, but he spies a bundle of coconuts in their canoe. “I’ll buy your coconuts from you, instead.” The negotiation proceeds, and it is rather amusing. Eventually, Andrew laughs as he over pays for the coconuts. As they paddle away, their raspy little voices chatter all at once in celebration of their kill.
We are so overwhelmed. We are exhausted from our need to interact so closely with these people. We are also happy and amazed by their enthusiasm for our presence in their city. We ask ourselves if we would ever treat a complete stranger visiting our city like this? Even if we wanted to, we wouldn’t have the time to stop what we are doing, call over our ten neighbors, and host anyone for lunch.