It's Easter. In a Muslin country. Here's what my day has been like:
I woke up at 4:00 to the sound of prayers on the loud speaker: Bis Millah, hero man, hero him. At least that's what I hear. My “sister” a university student taught me how to write the words to the beginning prayer in Arabic script. It's beautiful. I copied it onto the cover of my language notebook.
I woke up at my friend's house in the village 20 minutes away from mine. I had spent the night with Sami so that I could see her in action with her family, she's the top of the class in our 20 person language group. And we were going to get up early in the morning and head out for an adventure.
At 4:00 am it was still dark, but I could see flashes of lightening on the horizon and the dawn came in beautifully. Sami's village is higher up the mountain from mine. From her balcony I could see across the valley to the highest mountain in East Java about 20 miles away. I sat on her balcony and studied Indonesian language until she woke up, then we went downstairs and watched her mother make breakfast while I talked to her grandmother who is 4 years older than I am. Older people are fascinated with me. Sami is already so fluent she understands almost everything her family says. I grasp at getting 1 or 2 words in each sentence. I think they have a little pity on someone so old who is trying so hard, or at least that's what I think. Sami's mother very carefully explained to me in Bahasa that I should keep my dictionary with me and take it out every time I hear a word I don't understand. I want you to imagine landing on the planet Mars and knowing 100 or 200 Martian words and trying to keep up the locals. It's a little daunting.
For breakfast we had rice, left over chicken from last night, deep fried, fried tofu and a soup of leaves from rice stalks. And strawberry flavored aloe vera sweet tea – satisfying and delicious. After breakfast, I took my first mandi of the day – go into the ceramic bathroom, stip and pour ice cold water all over. I hadn't brought a towel and so I dried off with the clean side of my dirty underwear. Note to self: take the little washcloth with you on trips so you can have a clean thing to dry with.
We walked 10 minutes through her village to the public transportation wide spot on the side of the road. A mini-bus came by within 15 minutes and we went into the Batu bus terminal. We got off and went to the traditional market across the street. What a smell! Live chickens, cut up chickens, dead fish of every size from guppies to 8” long, semi-live crabs, kittens for sale as well as vegetables, fruits, glasses, clothes and every nick nack in the world. We walked around for awhile and Sami amazed all the locals with her great Indonesian.
Then we got another mini bus and headed up the the mountain toward Pujon. At Pujon we get out and begin what we had been told was a 1 hour hike to a beautiful waterfall. There are 50 million motor cycles in Indonesia and 200 million people. Most people ride 2 or 3 or 4 people to one motorcycle. The motorcycle guys kept trying to get up to hire them to take us up the mountain. We are absolutely forbidden to ride one and have been told that if we even sit on one to get our picture taken we will be sent back to the United States. In the 75 countries all over the world where Peace Corps operates that number one cause of death to PC volunteers is traffic accidents. There are no side walks so people don't think it's safe to walk, but walking is the activity of choice for Peace Corps volunteers.
It takes Sami and I and hour and a half to walk to the waterfall. On the way we see 2 elephants chained by their legs in a small cage. The elephant caretaker opens the gate and we go in to take photos. I stand next to the elephant and she puts her trunk in my hand. It's actually really sad to be next to such a beautiful animal that is unable to move around. The male elephant can move about 6 inches each direction and is intent on touching the female. He can't quite reach her. I give some green bamboo shoots to the elephants.
At the top of the mountain is a wonderful refreshing waterfall that cascades about 100 feet off the top of a mountain. We stood in the spray and got semi soaked. There are about 100 local people and Sami and I on the path for the last 5 minutes. Everyone else had driven up on motorcycles or a few had their personal cars. Several groups of friends asked if they could take my picture with all of them standing next to me and the waterfall in the background. Next to the parking lot we ate fried yummy things and boiled peanuts. Above our heads was troop of wild monkeys. An 8 inch tall baby monkey was exploring the tree branch. The mother monkey kept grabbing the baby and pulling her back to her chest.
Sami and I walk for another hour and a half back down the mountain sharing stories from our lives. We catch a mini bus back to Batu and then another bus to her village. She gets off and I go on down to my village and thought I'd stop at the internet place.
I am sitting on the floor with a little 18 inch high table in front of me, my back is on the wall and I am inhaling cigarette smoke and sweat is dripping off my face as I write this.
I love you guys. This weekend was hard. I started missing my grandchildren and thinking about all the fun Easter mornings I have had during my life. All I can say is that I am building a treasury of stories to share and some of them are sad and hard, but I wouldn't change my life for anything! I love you and miss you. I can hear the thunder. I better get this posted before the power goes out.