A Glimpse of a Simpler Life in Indonesia

I have wandered long upon the seas surrounding Indonesia, yet have not touched shore for many a day. I do not dare plunge the waters’ depths, for dark shadows fill me with dread. Only occasionally do I swim at dusk, when darkness begins to fall. Every eve, I count the stars, gaze at the moon, and catch glimpses of beauty as the sun sinks below the horizon. After breaking bread, I retire to the long table upon the deck to craft portraits and scribble musings.

The climate of Indonesia is hot and arid, so I spent most afternoons confined to the cabin’s cool refuge. One day, spied my daughter and the crew hastening forth with many sacks both large and small heavy with provender, curiosity compelled me to follow. It seems our yacht had drifted nigh the coast, where stood upon great boulders many children dressed in bright sweaters and shorts, staring intently at us. The lasses and granddaughters took a small boat to deliver the sacks, which bulged with nourishment. Seeing we meant no harm, the children doffed their undershirts and began to sing above the surf. Before long, they leapt like dumplings one by one into the sea, small black heads popping up amongst the waves before me. Swiftly did I seize my mobile to capture the stirring scene.

Their tiny heads breached the surface and scaled the yacht’s ladder, where giggles and wide eyes greeted me in delight. Alas, language posed a barrier, so to cabin I repaired to find something to show my goodwill.

As night fell, I asked our guide of the villages nearby. “See that lone light across the water,” said he. “These five years, though aid be offered, departments must give leave, so hopes are lost.” On corn and fish and woven things do the people rely to live. What small profits the market yields buys rice or flour. “How do you survive?” I asked in wonder. “No expenses,” shrugged our guide. “With full belly in constant summer, three suits will do.” Boldly I questioned further – “No power, so no toilets or phones or such. What fills your nights?” He smiled knowingly. “Converse we must.” Their craft is weaving.

I vowed to step ashore on the morrow, lest chance escape me. All Indonesian notes in the captain’s hands I traded. When at dock our boat was moored, one or two children ran to help haul, and for their trouble I gave what coin I had. Not to beg was their way, but chance for gain I tried to make. Amazed they stared a moment at the money in their hands, till our guide whispered not to speak of it. This is no tourist spot – rare the stranger’s face, and begging not their way.

The lasses led me as I hoped to mend their power. To a ramshackle hut stacked with drum-like containers the headman took us, saying repairs consumed all funds and procedures long. My time was brief, I knew, though their need was plain to see. The headman understood, yet gratitude shone on his face for our concern.

Clean swept were the village lanes, and no foul smells rose though flush toilets none had. An elder worked at carpentry outside his hut, beside him a wife intent on crushing corn. I lingered to converse, and the man said craft was merely pastime – corn their daily bread. A girl not yet twenty nursed her babe at the wall’s edge, whilst a toddler nestled near. Barefoot save the headman all were, so sandals from my bag to the mother I gave.

Great was my curiosity for how the folk did dwell, so into their homes I begged leave to peek. Back turned a woman weaving in dim light at one hut’s entrance when curtains parted. Together we drew forth her loom to the sun. In another room piles of bedding lay, the marriage quarters, whilst straw filled a third where the son found rest. Scarce furnishings had they save that lone loom.

Larger the next abode, yet still within an old chest and chairs and kettle and stove of earth comprised all. An attic above held fodder that fueled cooking fires, and in wealth this household surpassed the rest.

A discovery new to my sight: some family gates bore tablets fair of polished stone, simple design but tasteful hues. Children played upon the smoothed surfaces, for the people hold the dead will shelter kin. The guide told that well or ill, these tombs must be.

Just three classrooms for the lone school, one class per grade, yet still the children followed in joyful droves. An invitation inside I gave, and bade them sing once more the love song of yesterday. Great enthusiasm filled their performance, and banknotes for each youngster I freely shared, an unlooked for gift to gladden their day. In photos their smiles shone as money waved behind, dreams of fame fulfilled as in childhood I once dreamed myself.

Under trees’ shade gathered some women at journey’s end. Before long tables men stood proper in conference, whilst an organization taught skills of weaving sarongs and business ways. Scarves in baskets the headman had gathered for purchase, and on the crew this call to shop I levied with glee. Waving mirthful goodbyes to us upon the shore, money for their village I bade the headman donate. By many hearts made joyous was my own heart light.

In peace and plenty live these folk each day it seems, and surely the headman’s guiding hand eases their way. Though humble birth and now retired from place, polite and able he leads with grace.

Still Honk Kong finds my thoughts on that isle, while towering structures here work ceaseless through dark. Within each glowing window, lives in movement I perceive. Such power demands much energy, unlike their solitary lamp – without it, here we could not last. Yet under open sky with earth below, three suits and bare essentials, time passes too. What imagine they of our city ways, as little as we of life without technology’s trace? Yet on this earth together here we live, in worlds apart it seems – till by that one light another I chanced to meet.

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