Friday, June 18, 2004

Sketch 1

Hundreds of things happen every week that I want to pin down into a collection and present to everyone who makes the mistake of asking. I’m trying to learn to just breath in the humid air and live here; to absorb it as life and not as a thousand photos to be taken printed and displayed on a wall or weblog. But for now I still feel compelled to preserve bits and pieces in this virtual shoebox and show them to you, with all the anticipation of a child whose glassy eyes beg you to agree that these moments really are special.
Last night I’m on my way back from the VCD rental store after dark and a minibus (mikrolet) stops.

“Maumbi bisa?” (Can you take me to Maumbi [name of our ‘village’]?)

I’m the only passenger so I climb into the front seat. After the standard exchange about how long I’ve been here and how I can only speak a little Indonesian he spots my headphones.

“Apa handphone nomor?” (What’s your cell-phone number?) he asks.
“Tidak punya. Saya tidak perlu.” (Don’t have. I don’t need).
“Apa ini?” (What’s this then?)
Then it dawns on him.
“Ya. Walkman.”

A look of absolute excitement washes over him and he starts digging his shirt for two hidden ear-buds with the wires run beneath his clothes. I’m watching the road as he veers out of our ‘lane’ though such concepts only exist in my mind. With one final triumphant jerk he untucks his shirt and reveals his cassette walkman cleverly hidden from any curious passengers.

“Apa anda dengar?” (What you listen?) I ask.
He proudly states the name of a local singer. Then says:
“Kamu dengar!” (You listen!)

His ear buds thrust towards me, I accept them as the gift they are and put one in my ear trying not to stop and think about what are clearly inappropriately western notions of personal space, hygiene and cleanliness, inappropriate at least for this minibus. The tape drags distorting what was once a clear and earnest feminine voice into something vaguely inhuman and ill. I feign enjoyment of his music and ask:

“Anda tahu dia?” (You know her?)
“Ya, tahu.”
“Teman, anda?” (Your friend?)
“Tidak, tidak….[then some words I don’t know that I smile and nod approvingly toward]”

By then he notices I only have one headphone in. This music was clearly intended for full stereo, binaural enjoyment as he insists: “Tidak, dua, dua!” (No, both, both!) How silly of me. Of course. I listen for a few more seconds then thank him for sharing his music, a gesture and impulse I really do appreciate, understand and enjoy. Now it’s my turn. I cue up “Clocks” for him on my MP3 CD featuring Coldplay, hit play and put my headphones (also designed to fit ‘in-the-ear’) on him, making sure I have both ears.

“Lagi anda dengar.” (Now you listen.) I say with a smile.

If he’s feigning enjoyment he’s doing a better job than I did. He sways with chords, he drums with the steady staccato of the song, he sings syllables of words he doesn’t know. He listens for a full kilometer or more before politely taking off my headphones and thanking me.

When he drops me in front of my housing complex, I double his fare (which is normally about ten cents) and said “untuk anda.” (for you). He thanks me again and I tell him to have a good night and I walk through the cool damp evening towards the house and throw my headphones on to catch the rest of “A Rush of Blood to the Head” having forgotten that I had intended to wipe them off with my shirt first.

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