2008-12-21 Friends, Niang Niang, Mantawai Island, Indonesia
Yesterday I stumbled into someone, who's name I don’t know, but he presented a solution to the most dreadful problem there is on the island – having to do the dishes. I have no doubt that dog owners knew about this all along that if you give a dog a dirty plate with leftovers, he will lick it sparkling clean in a matter of seconds. My friend, no more that a foot tall, mostly black but with brownish white eyebrows and paws, followed me when I was taking a walk in the jungle. He does have a collar, so he must have a home of his own. But he chose to stick with me and spent the night at the place where I am staying – small shack on the beach, with a few basic accommodations, such as a roof made out of palm leafs, a kitchen with a kerosene burning stove, and even an electric generator which in theory can provide electricity, had there been any gasoline to power it.
It was after dinner that he showed me what he can do with eagerness and complete professionalism. All I could say was "Hey, good for you, good for me." Not only was I saving on the soap, but I didn't have to touch the tub with the oily water, the rotting sponge or even get my hands wet to rinse the dishes. That is how fantastic of a job he did. Well, OK, I still rinsed the dishes because I have high hygiene standards. But really, some may argue that the rinsing only made things worse, since dog's saliva has antibacterial properties. Someone (Nurit?) told me once that dog's mouths are cleaner than humans. I point this out every chance I get. Most think that I am being rude when I say "that dog's mouth is cleaner than yours", but I am only stating a fact, nothing personal.
Not having to do the dishes also made me feel a lot more generous. Today, for instance, I prepared more rice than I would eat myself, in hopes that there would be someone to share it with. As it turned out, one of the locals was passing by when I was setting the table - a bowl of rice with a can of sardines. He was an elder man, probably in his 50s, with a long neck, murky eyes and a drawn in jaw dew to the lack of front teeth that gave him a deep pandering expression, especially when he'd sink a cigarette in between his lips. He was carrying a bow and a basket of arrows. That immediately fired up my interest, since it’s not often that I get to meet an actual hunter. And this was someone who did it not for the sake of recreation, but to provide food for himself and his family. Thus, I came up for a closer inspection of the instruments. The bow was made out of a simple wooden stick stained in black, rectangular in cross section, 1 inch wide, about quarter of an inch think and about 5 ft long. It had notches at either ends, but the string, which seemed to have been made from weaved plant fiber, with loops on its ends, was hung loose. I imagine that this was to extend the lifetime of the bow by putting it into tension only while hunting. Unfortunately, my lack of Indonesian language prevented me from finding out exactly what he hunted. But through hand and body animation, I did understand that he goes after birds, monkeys and even fish.
In any case, we introduced ourselves (his name was Rote), I took a generous portion of the rice, piled on the sardines, while he allowed himself a portion barely half that of mine. We tried firing off a conversation couple of times, but it was quite useless – there was very little that we could tell each other. So we ate our food in silence, but the atmosphere was quite relaxed and there was no uneasy tension between us. It was simple and natural – we were just having some food.
A few minutes later I saw an elderly woman, Rote's wife, walking on the path that lead to the other side of the island. Of course, I immediately waived her in to join us, which she did with a little surprise and hesitation. Instead of a bow with arrows she had some sort of a contraption made out of a net and pole, probably intended for either fishing or catching crabs. She leaned it against the wall, took off her shoes, dipped her feet in the water tub placed at the entrance to wipe off the sand, and then sat next to her husband. Her name was Miamamar. She was wearing an old t-shirt and a set of large shorts that went past her knees – the kind of shorts that are popular amongst Chicano gangster kids of Los Angeles. In her case, however, availability rather than gangster affiliation was probably the reason she wore them.
There was still plenty of rice and fish left, so there was no worry of not having enough for the 3 of us, though it was obvious that locals were used to eating much smaller portions. For instance, when getting some sardines out of the can, one large chuck came out onto Miamamar’s plate. She looked up on me for help, but I only waived my hands, signaling to eat however much she wanted. She took her time and did her best but just could not finish it all. She then looked up again, I shrugged, but my 4 legged friend raised no objections. In fact, we became really good friends after that meal – inseparable, as one may say. We’d sleep in the same room, take walks together and he even followed me when I’d go surfing and wait for me on the beach. And when I stayed out in the water for too long, he’d howl and walk around in circles, obviously wishing to be surfing as well. To comfort him a little, I promised to teach him how to surf, but only after he first learns how to fetch.