While lunching on Gili Trawangan, we met Halik, or Tarzan John as he called himself. This pint sized, wild haired guy worked at a food joint we ate lunch at. He invited us to go to his village in Lombok. November 17 of this year was the Muslim celebration of Labaran (not the one after Ramadan, but the supposedly the second most important celebration in the Muslim calendar). Even though we were enjoying our beach paradise, this was an opportunity we could not pass up.
Halik was an interesting person. He had a very relaxed and cheery, yet quiet, island demeanor about himself. He described his work life on Gili Trawangan to us. He is a waiter at the restaurant where we were eating lunch. The thing to understand is that most guests just walk up and pick out food from the buffet themselves. He lounges around all day long and occasionally gets up when a guest arrives to hand them a menu, or to deliver a plate of food. This is not a New York City paced restaurant. This is a local island food haunt with five tables. He describes it as stressful and claims he is overworked.
We decided to take Halik up on his offer and go with him to his village. He lives with his father, two brothers and a step sister in a little three room house. The furnishings are very sparse and they are quite poor. His divorced father is retired and his siblings are studying, and he is the only one working in the family. He was married up until a week ago, when he stupidly said the word “divorce” to his pregnant wife and now they cannot be together anymore. He said that had he only said it once, it would have been an easily mendable separation. However, for whatever regrettable reason he said it three times, and now the divorce is final. His wife would also like to get back, but the in-laws are pissed and half the village knows about it, so the situation is complicated. Somehow, he is not a complete wreck, and in general you would not say that anything is bothering him. However, after spending a bit of time talking with him, you can see undertones of deep sadness.
The road to Halik’s village took us through the mountains. We rode along a winding mountain forest passage passing countless monkeys just lounging on the side of the road. Eventually we turned off the main road, and then completely off any road and onto what looked like a bike path amongst rice paddies. A short while later we arrived.
We walked into his humble abode and sat on the ground. Immediately, kids started gathering by the door and windows. They poked their heads through the windowless holes and spread the curtains. They pushed on the door and piled up high, careful not to collapse into the living room. They giggled and smiled and laughed and when the camera came out they mostly scattered. We sat and talked for a bit and then took a walk to get some food.
After a basic but tasty dinner which cost four dollars to feed six mouths, beverages included, we walked to the local English language school where Halik asked if we could spend some time just conversing with the students and the instructor. With a crowd of kids in tow, we obliged, and spent some time getting to know the pupils, having them get to know us a bit, and practicing conversation, while three levels of kids piled in the doorway just gaping.
Later at night the kids went to sleep, or maybe their parents just dragged them into their houses. Regardless which, they were no longer following us. Together with Halik and friends, we went to a local rice field. Halik went for a rice and palm wine run, and we sat there in a circle and marveled at how well everyone can play and sing. A shopping bag filled with smaller bags of milky liquid soon arrived. Palm wine — the local hooch. It comes in two flavors – sour-starchy and vile. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it is definitely what many would call an acquired taste. The rice wine, on the other hand, is delicious. Unfortunately, it is also an order of magnitude more expensive, so it served more as a desert than anything else. And so we sat there, drinking palm wine from a single glass, listening as the guys strum guitar and sing western and Sasak songs. We got a slight buzz while somehow some of them got rip-roaring drunk. It must have been the size difference between us.
The next day we could not sleep too long. The mosques, and there were perplexingly many in this small town, were blaring at four in the morning. When the muezzin ran out of breath, they put on a CD loop of some chants. It took many earplugs and a ton of resolve to get some more shuteye.
Paddy and I got up early to see the goat slaughter. The Lebaran holiday, as far as we surmised, is centered around a goat sacrifice. The goat meat is then distributed to the poor, so at least once a year, even they can eat well. When we arrived, the goats were already peacefully hanging upside down while the butcher skinned and quartered them.
After the girls got up, we took to exploring the village and finding some breakfast. Kids crowded wherever we went. People did double, and sometimes triple takes as four white visitors walked past their door. When asked which hotel we are staying at, they were always surprised when we said we spent the night in their village. We sat in a small alley and ate some sweet pancakes with coffee, and talked with some townsmen. A thick crowd of kids admired us from a distance of two feet.
We eventually had to leave. After a brief visit to a local hillside Hindu temple, we said our goodbyes. Ola and Paddy went back to the Gili Islands, as they have some more time. Weronika and I headed in the direction of Bali, as we have a flight to catch in three days. We’re going to Flores, and island next to the Komodo isles. We hope to do some diving there, perhaps climb a volcano, and maybe see a dragon or two.