August 13, 2014

The Farm by the Road Side

« Sister ! Datang, datang, bercakap dengan saya » (Come, come, talk to me)

I am walking through the wet market, my sandals slightly sliding onto the floor covered in fish scales and icy water. The woman sitting on the plastic chair, weighing the water spinach and the okra, points the chin to my friend standing next to me (handsome, amber-skinned, strong and sweet Ozzi), and asks with a glimmer in her eyes : Husband ? And I giggle with her, shaking my head no. No, I don't have a husband. Why ? She asks. Why would I need one ? I answer, and her laugh chases me to the other side of the market. The old man at the corner gives me a toothless smile and a handful of sweet litchees. Markets feel like home everywhere.

I have been here three weeks now and my skin wears the mark of every day. Small cuts on all my fingers from cooking delicious veggies in the kitchen, cuts so thin they look like a silk thread running under my epiderm. Scraps and rashes from working in the plantations, mosquito bites slowly scarring to draw a strange white archipel on my arms, tan lines racing against one another. A henna drawing lazily swaying on my right wrist.

The farm is still very young, but we're working hard to make it alive. The calamansi trees are heavy with those tiny, deliciously sweet limes that we harvest every morning. The jackfruits are not big enough yet, but the soursop are hanging ripe from the scented branches, and it is always a feast when we open one at the end of a meal, the lemony pale flesh opening to reveal pearl-like black seeds. At sunset, the air smells of durian. As I am weeding in a field covered in red dragonflies, or harvesting heaps of spinach, thick dark soil covers my hands and I give thanks for the abundance that this place is blessed with. But the reality is not so green. We've been waiting for the rain season to arrive for almost a month. The banana trees look miserable, and between noon and five, the sun is so hot that we can't bear to get out of the shade. A few times the water we get from the town is cut off and we have to wait to get it back.

This is when I remember that countries living in this climate are so crucially dependent on the monsoon. We forget how much we desperately need water, in our homes that have bathtubs and pools and a supply that never runs out. Here, water is what we are waiting for all day, singing for every night, watching deeply into the sky to see if a threatening cloud will come and extinguish the stars overhead. And at last, it comes, merciful and frightening. The clouds gathers above our heads and the birds go silent. The heat lightnings turn from red to white, and the first drops fall onto the straw roof of our outdoor kitchen. Then, the rain starts, violently, and we are running all over camp to find shelter from the storm. At some point, I decide to go outside and stand in the rain, letting the water bury itself in my hair and drenching my face, soaking my sarong of thick green cotton that now sticks to my hips and thighs. And I feel alive, so alive, to be standing here in front of the jungle, strange air soil and sky opening all around me.

One night we take a boat to see the fireflies dancing on the river. Another night, we learn to play Settlers of Catan, a board game Gordon has worked all day to replicate. Another night yet, we are around the fire, holding a sharing circle, and our voices echo long into the night. Everyday, I sit or lie on the floor and listen to their stories, all these different people gathered here. The two french girls doing an internship, the parkour runner in transit from Singapore, the hungarian mad man traveling the globe on an old motorcycle, the bilingual family taking their little girl all over the world, and many others. They come and go, as soon I will be gone ; and each time I squeeze them tight into my arms, one last time before we go back to being strangers on the same road. Pretty soon I understand that saying so many goodbyes is not worth it – so instead I learn to let the word « farewell » stuck in my throat, and say thank you instead. Thank you for this land, in harshness and lush ; thank you for Arafat's kindness ; thank you for the showers outside, under the moonlight ; thank your for the laughs and the dancing and the singing.

In my last few days here, my feet feel ticklish and I know I have to leave again. I accept it as I accept and give thanks for every part of the journey. Next stop, Indonesia.

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