This is the winner text (translated into english) from the travel writers competition of The Travelepisodes which will be published in the 4th episode of the Travelepisodes books this December (in German). My friend Gutri and her family invited me May 2017 to come to Flores, Indonesia, where this story takes place. It’s a true story, but it is also fiction. Names, ages and circumstances might have changed. It is, after all, a story. Thank you, Gutri!
MY DAYS AS BULE
„Today, a Bule is coming to our village. Grandfather was talking with the elders about it. I dort know what a Bule is, but it must be exciting. they discussed it for a long time and exchanged their experiences with Bules. I was hiding in the cassava shrubs and dient dare asking them. Putri said he knows what a Bule is. He once saw one when he was going to the village with dad to sell cassava. I am so excited that I couldn’t eat my baked banana. Putri just made fun of me. He’s not gonna tell me what a Bule is…”
Barefeet I am standing on the wet stone floor of the bamboo shack next to the house. Just enough light to see the brick water tank and the plastic scoop. Light is shining through the gap above the door. Next door, the pigs are grunting. Five in total. Three of them with piglets. The air is filled with the buzzing of the mosquitoes. Delightfully, I am tilting the cold water with the plastic scope over my head, washing away the dust and sweat of the long journey. I am in Ruteng on Flores island. One of the small Sunda islands of Indonesia. The washing shack belongs to the relatives of my friend Gutri. She grew up on Flores but is now living on Bali. We only knew each other a few minutes when she invited me visiting her family with her. This is just a few days ago, drinking coffee in Sanur, Bali. Today, we gonna visit the village of her grandparents. I just realized they gonna hold a ceremony of gratefulness for the ancestors, called Caca Selek. To thank the ancestors for finishing university. For the protection they gave them outside the village, outside the family. Flores is mostly christian but animistic traditions weren’t totally eradicated by missionaries and are hence still alive. It is a two hour drive and about 40 minutes walking through the rainforest to reach the village. Refreshed and expectant I am entering the house. „First, they have to kill the pig.“ Hearing this, my stomach shrivels. Pigs die loud, very loud. Gutri reads my mind: „Don’t worry, we go for a coffee at the ‚warung‘. I also can’t see it.“ The pig is a present for the village, well, the pieces of it.
As we are coming back, the pig’s head is swimming in a plastic vat with hot water, the brothers are squatting barefoot and topless on the floor, chopping the meat. Blood splashed on their arms, their hands red. The uncle is rinsing the intestines. The dog is jumping around like crazy on his chain. The air is filled with the sweet and strong smell of blood. Then our journey begins. I am driving with Gutri and her siblings. The parents are coming later with the pig. We are rumbling through the hills, listening to a mix of Oasis, Bob Marly and Adele. The road turns into a path, then a gravel track. In front of a mud whole, we are parking the Jeep. Rain and dusk accompany us on our way uphill. The sandals useless in the mud, we continue barefoot. Completely soaked by sweat and rain we are reaching the village where we are warmly welcomed. Everybody wants to see Gutri and her siblings, wants to see me, the white, the blond girl. The one coming from far. The one not speaking Bahasa. Three kids are hiding behind their mother’s Sarong. Slung around the hips, this colorful woven fabric is used by women and men as garment and blanket. A little boy is sitting on the wet wooden steps, starring at me with his big brown eyes. He is wearing a shirt of FC Barca. „How do these things reach the remotest areas of the world“ I wonder. I kneel down and hide my face behind my palms, moving them away jerky shouting „cuckoo“. He laughs. I hold out my hand, he answers with a high five. Now, we are friends. We enter the biggest house of the village. A barely lit room is filled with old and young, sitting on banana leave mats on the floor. Gutri is greeting one by one, presenting me. The women take my right hand, carefully pushing their cheeks at mine, first right, then left. The men shake my hand, bow their head slightly and put their right hand almost invisibly to their heart. As a sign of respect, I copy their gesture. A single bulb creates a bizarre flicking light, shadows flutter across plain stone walls. The humming of a diesel-generator outside is filling the air. Gutri is placing me at the center of the women. My Indonesian knowledge is limited to basic words, Gutri is the only English speaking person around me. But during the whole stay, she patiently explains what the villagers think about me, what surprises them, what they want to know, and answers my questions. And she gives me insights on which child belongs to whom, who is a couple, different positions in the village, how the daily routine works. Like this, I’m immersing into the world of the jungle village, experience their lives, dream about their stories.
The older kids go for making coffee. Coffee, which is growing everywhere here. They bring it together with baked bananas. I am thrilled. And the ceremony hasn’t even started yet. The women’s faces are dainty and delicate. Deep wrinkles dance around deep brown eyes and small noses. With their backs arched, they are sitting on the floor, almost vanishing in their large Sarongs. Their faces telling stories. Stories of a long life in the jungle, working on Cassava fields, giving birth to many kids. Their teeth shimmering black and red as a result of years-long chewing of the betelnut. Walking through the rainforest, Gutri told me the stories of her family. How their grandparents met, traditions and customs, who I’m gonna meet in the village. The coffee is making me feel cosy, my wet shirt is sticking to my body, I allow the forst impressions to sink in. Then, the grandfather enters the room.