September 06, 2014

Moving again : Java, part I

(This post is in two parts.)

I wait until my last days in Java to start writing this post. I write everyday in my travel log, but lately my writing has been erratic, simplistic, boring. I am consigning what happened during the day in telegram form, but I am having trouble expressing the whirlwind of emotions going through my head. So I let the storm pass without words as I pass through this incredible strip of land.

I arrived a month ago on a night train, stopping in a lonely town between Yogya and Solo. The train lets me off in an unknown, poorly lit street, and for a moment I feel confused, but as always things work out and soon I am living in an indonesian house, teaching kids how to speak english, or riding a motorcycle all day through the countryside, visiting villages where people still dye cotton, sculpt wood or make pottery like their ancestors used to do. One night, my host takes me by the hand and leads me to another house, where a group of elders is singing and playing traditionnal drums – and I sit on the weaved carpet in front of the house with them, drinking sweet jasmine tea and listening to the strange, moving melodies.

This town isn't used to westerners. As I walk through the kampung at sunset, watching families gathering on the porches, finishing their daily chores, a chorus of merry voices announces me : « Boulè ! » - « the pale one », the word they use for white foreigns. I learn that it is a deformation of « blue eyes », a feature the javanese had probably never seen before the Hollandese came to live here. Although it can feel a little unsettling to be named after my race, I usually answer with a smile : « Saya tidak memiliki mata biru » (I don't have blue eyes) - and they giggle.

A week goes by and I am gone again, heading for the furious volcano I have watched smoking from a distance. The slopes of the Merapi are rich and peaceful. A tiny bus with a hole in the floor leaves me in front of an old, wooden house, and I sleep in a very rustic room, with a bed that makes noises and cockroaches in the corner. We climb the volcano at night, stopping to watch the sun rise over the hill and turn the arborescent ferns to glittering gold statues. At the top, I put my hand on the ground and it rumbles under my fingers. The black stones are warm to the touch, and a burning breath escapes from the holes in the ground. It feels incredible to bestanding on such a powerful giant.

This trip moves fast and leaves me breathless more than once. Sometimes, at night, I wonder if I am doing it right, or if I am wasting precious time and energy on useless worries. A few days later, I got lost in the colorful streets of Yogyakarta. Nothing pleases me more than to be wandering without goal. There, my soul feels most joyful. As the sun sets and I am trying to get back to my hostel, the streets go empty. An old man sits outside of his house, the red ember of his cigarette lighting his face with grotesque shadows. I stop in front of him and gather all my poor knowledge of bahasa to say this : « Maaf, Kakek, saya hilang - anda dapat membantu saya ? » (Excuse me, grandfather, I am lost – can you help me ?). His eyes wander on my face, his finger points from his chest to mine, and he answers with the kindest smile : « Anda tidak hilang, boulè, anda menemukan » (You're not lost, pale one, you're found). And I know that I am forever in love with this country and its people.

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