December 30, 2018 - Back to Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia
It was 8:30 in the morning when I walked up to "Coco's Surf Tours". In one hand I had my surfboard and in the other a grocery bag with a hat, sunscreen lotion and a rashguard. I was half an hour early to make sure that I am not holding back the crew. After all, the wind normally picked up as the day hours rolled by, making the surf conditions less than optimal. But the shop was closed. This was a bit troubling because even 8:30am was way too late by my book - I was expecting to get up before dawn to surf when the conditions are perfect.
There was a mechanic's shop right next door in a form of a shed with old motorcycle parts lying around. In the middle of it was an old man, fiddling with scooter tires. I asked him whether Coco's surf tour has taken off already. He got up, slowly walked over to the surf shop and unceremoniously banged on the glass door. A few moments later the door opened and a pair of sleepy, groggy eyes stared back at me. This was Bob, one of the locals with deep brown skin, curlyish hair and a sparse, teenage mustache. He was probably in his forties. Apparently he slept on the floor of the shop. There weren't even any pillows or blankets. Just a few surfboards stacked up on one side, a couple of bars of wax, and several rush guards hung up for drying.
"Bob! It's time to go surfing! Have you been partying late last night? May be too much beer, eah?" I greeted him enthusiastically. He wasn't too enthused. Most people on Lombok are Muslim and hence don't consume alcohol. Not to mention that it's fairly expensive for the locals.
"I wasn't partying last night" he groaned and asked me to take a seat to wait a little for Coco, the main owner of the shop.
By the way, it was the day earlier that I met Bob and Coco. I was actually looking for my old surf guide, Sony, whom I met 10 years ago on my first visit to Lombok. It turned out that Coco knew him and informed me that Sony has left to join the police academy some 5 years ago. I was somewhat relieved that at least I was able to get some information on Sony, even if he himself was not going to be around. It felt like a connection with the past was made and I had a chance to relive the "old glory", surf the old spots, and perhaps correct some of the mistakes I made the first time around - the mistakes of bargaining too much, being stingy too much and insisting on fair market prices. These were mistakes because looking back I had realized that these people are so poor, that it's best to just give them a little bit extra money.
Indonesians in general never beg. This aspect of their culture I respect tremendously. Even the poorest of the poor will do their best to provide some sort of a service in exchange for money, and begging is reserved for the most dire of situations. I have witnessed it only once before. It was a blind old man, led by a boy. When they walked through the streets, every person nearby made a point of putting some change into his cup.
With that mindset, I asked to join Coco's surf tour for the next day and did not haggle about the asking price, even though it clearly seemed a bit much ($30). Hence the 9:00 am meetup time. I didn't actually need a guide since I knew where to go, but I figured that it'd be a good way to put a little bit of money into the hands of the locals.
A girl, probably around 10 years old, approached my table as I was having lunch. She was selling bracelets, weaved of various color strings. They were of all sorts of different designs, some had small seashells for beads and some even had actual glass ball beads. When she asked me to buy one, my initial reaction was to politely decline. After all, I was having lunch and I didn't want to encourage this type of pestering. But as the girl walked away, I realized that I made a mistake, the same kind that I made in the past. Fortunately before long there was an opportunity to correct it as another girl came by selling exactly the same type of cheap bracelets. This time around I asked how much were the ones with and without seashells and after a bit of pretend-negotiation bought one that she made herself.
I was feeling good. The girl was happy that she made a sale and I was happy that I gave her a little bit of money (we are talking less than $2) in a way that wasn't a donation but a fair exchange. The bracelet was something that she herself made so selling it implied that her labor was valuable.
A few minutes later 3 more girls came by, all selling bracelets. Now this was too much. I could not possibly buy a bracelet from everyone who comes my way. So I was firm on not buying any, using the fact that I already have one as an excuse. But when they left I still felt like I made a mistake. Maybe I should just buy from every child that comes up to me? These things are not expensive and the money would definitely go into the right hands. That became my resolution - whenever a child would walk up to me to sell something, even if I don't need it (and it's not too expensive), I'd buy it.
After a few days in Lombok, I amassed a whole inventory of bracelets. If you are reading this and want one, let me know - I'll sell it to you for a good price.
When the pizza came out, I knew immediately that this was a miss. I should have ordered something that people here know how to make, like rice with chicken. Instead of freshly baked bread, covered with cheese, tomatoes and basil, there was something flat and oily in front of me. There were also pieces of onions, I think. This was Indonesian version of pizza Napolitana. But heck, I wasn't all that hungry anyway and that provided some space to start a conversation with the owner of the place.
His name was Toni, about the same age as me, typical dark Indonesian complexion, 5'5" tall. We talked about current state of Kuta, Lombok, distinctly sparse numbers of tourists due to the recent earthquake, and how overall the land here is getting more and more expensive. Toni's restaurant was right at the front of a newly built boulevard, with excellent views of the ocean and plenty of foot traffic. I made a prediction that as more and more development is taken place, the value of his business is going to increase proportionately. He agreed but still pointed out that most of the tables at the restaurant were vacant. He then said something that Sony, my old surf guide said, almost word for word, inviting me to come and see his place. He said it without looking into my eyes. I knew immediately that his aim is to show how poor he is and indirectly solicit some monetary help.
Ten years ago Sony asked me to do the same. Back then I reasoned that I should not encourage this type of solicitation and instead of giving him money for being poor, I paid him well for his service as a surf guide. But really, I should have just given him some money because the poverty that he was in is something that to this day I can't compare anything to. For more details, take a read of this post: 2008-10-26-Higiah-Lombok-Indonesia.php
In Toni's invitation I saw a chance to patch the mistake I made on my first visit to Lombok. With that I gladly accepted, acknowledging to myself that I'd find a way to give him a few bucks.
The next day I came by Toni's restaurant around lunch time and we rode a scooter up to his village, about 5km out of Kuta. His house was small but built out of bricks, with a shiny corrugated roof. We were greeted by this two kids, a girl of 5 years of age and a boy who was about 2, and his wife, dressed in a typical outfit that covered her all except her face. There was also another girl there, who was friends with Toni's daughter. Both girls were wearing similar outfits, making it difficult for my eyes to differentiate who was the daughter and who was the neighbor. There was no furniture in the house. The cement floor was covered with colorful mats, providing just barely noticeable amount of padding. The windows had no glass and were simply small openings that let light and air in. Something was playing on a small flat screen TV, but Toni turned it off promptly. The TV seemed totally out of place, given that it was literally the only thing decorating the room. We just sat on the floor and chatted a little.
Soon an old woman came by, dragging a disabled leg and carrying a toddler on her hands who had huge bumps on his head and face. I don't know the type of disease it was but the child was clearly sick. They were neighbors, living in the house next door. The whole village was comprised of houses bunched together in close proximity, seemingly without particular layout. There were chickens walking around; a shed with a cow was a few feet away. All around were various edible plants - pumpkin, chili, papaya, various herbs, but there was no boundary for where the garden began/ended. They simply grew in the vicinity, intermixed with nonedible plants.
The old woman displayed the kid, making sure that I noted the child's terrible soars. She smiled and greeted me, as if all is well. I smiled back, as if I was happy to see her, concealing for the moment my understanding that I'd give her some money.
As Toni and I talked about various aspects of living in this village, his wife brought us some lunch comprised of soup, rice, and some vegetable patties. It was all very tasty. We sat on the floor and enjoyed the food. I privately apologized for not having brought a present for the kids. Indeed, I should have thought of that, especially since I had a day to prepare. But I used that as an excuse to give Toni a little bit of money (worth of several meals by restaurant prices) and asked him to get presents for his kids from my name. Toni accepted. I then walked over to the old woman and gave her the same amount. On that, I felt like my previous mistake, made the first time around when Sony was showing me his village, was corrected.
In the morning Bom Bom showed up at the doorsteps of my hotel. Bom Bom was an unusually chubby guy from whom I was renting a scooter. He was 25 years old, been married for 2 years and took on every opportunity to strike up a conversation with every girl that crossed his path. He was the only chubby local I have seen this whole trip. I have paid him for the scooter but apparently he had an idea for value added services. He proposed driving me to see a waterfall. Normally I don't care much to follow the typical tourist routes, being driven around in a cab. So I counter proposed that tomorrow we go on scooters - he rides his while I follow him on mine. I figured that it'd be fun just to ride and if there is a waterfall involved, then taking a rinse in it would be a bonus. Bom Bom agreed, adding that he would also show me his house if there is time. He was not looking into my eyes when mentioning his house. I suppose it's not easy being poor. So I immediately forgave him for trying to get money out of me through, what I can now say, a "typical" house showing routine.
The next day he came over as planned but instead of riding a scooter he was in a car, along with his friend Ajit (a skinny, younger fellow who was a bit shy and very friendly).
"It may rain today so better we take the car" said Bom Bom.
"But isn't the gasoline expense going to be more?" I asked.
"Yes, but that's my problem" he countered.
Since there really was a distinct possibility of rain and since I didn't have anything else to do for the day, I didn't offer too much resistance and went along. And that's how I got suckered into doing what typical tourists end up doing - taking a cab to go see a waterfall. But for the first time ever, I didn't mind too much. Not being too stingy with money led to being not too stingy with other expectations. I was just going to enjoy however way the day unwraps itself to be.
With that, we made it to the park and had a pleasant time walking about, seeing the waterfall and even taking a little dip in it. On the way back we also made a stop to buy some handmade trinkets and even pulled over for me to photograph local farmers. Not only that but I also agreed for him to drive me to the airport the next day at 9:30am. Apparently that really opened the doors for him and he poured out how great of friends we have become. He probed about may be still having the time to go see his house but having learned that I recently went to see someone else's house, settled on asking me to buy him a pair of shorts or a t-shirt. I promised to do that and went off to dinner.
Around the corner, however, I bumped into Toni who must have been waiting for me. He would not look directly at me and mumbled on about money. At first I could not believe it but he was asking me to give him money. I did not know what to say. If I were to ask "how much?" and then hear an amount that's "too high", was I supposed to bargain down? Having given him already a little bit of money, did that somehow signal to him that there is an opportunity for him to fish out some more? I understood that he is poor. But on the other hand, I happened to have seen Indonesians who live in far worse conditions. I wanted to help him still, yet not everything was adding up. I wasn't believing him fully. Asking me to go see his house was more and more coming into focus as a routine that he uses regularly.
We stood in silence for some time. In severe discomfort, Toni apologized, saying that he got confused, and eventually left.
On my last day on the island I got up before dawn, grabbed the board and went off surfing to a sport called Areguling. This was the same spot that Coco and Bob took me earlier in the week. The waves were excellent and I surfed to the heart's content. This was my last surf session on the island and I resolved to leave the board here. I rode back to town and stopped at CoCo's surf shop. It was 8:30 am, the shop was closed. I peeked inside and sure enough, Bob was sleeping on the floor, just like last time. I could have taken the board back to Bali and sold it back to the guy I originally bought it from, as he agreed to take it back for half the price. Ten years ago Soni asked me to leave the board with him, but I didn't because I was continuing on to other islands in Indonesia with the intention of surfing there too. Soni wasn't there now but I felt like he is sleeping on that cement floor inside of that shop. So I left the board by the door and crossed my fingers that Bob wakes up before someone else takes it.
At 9:30am Bom Bom came to the hotel to take back the scooter and drive me to the airport. Except something has come up and instead of him it was going to be Ajit's job to drop me off. Bom Bom asked if I have bought him the shorts. I told him that I haven't but that I'd send something back with Ajit. Bom Bom feeling like this is the last opportunity to make an impression gave me a strained hug and mumbled about his house, being a friend, etc., then gave a second hug, all without ever looking at me. He then gave the car keys to Ajit and instructed him to be careful. "We'll go slowly slowly" I confirmed, since we have plenty of time.
On the way to the airport we stopped at some random shop that sold clothing. They didn't have shorts so instead I bought 2 t-shirts, one for Bom Bom and the other for Ajit. We when hoped back on the road. Perhaps Ajit didn't have a lot of driving experience or perhaps he was under the impression that we needed to rush to the airport, but he drove aggressively, frequently overpassing other cars and motorcycles. It was a narrow stretch of the road when he tried to overpass two scooters riding side by side. He went out to the side of the road of the incoming traffic just when a large truck was coming our way. Instead of hitting the brakes, Ajit honked and swirled over towards the scooters to get out of the truck's way. A moment later we heard a distinct thug sound. Ajit hesitated for a moment but I made my intentions clear, wanting him to pull over. He reluctantly pulled over and we ran back to the scene of the accident.
The two scooter riders were teenagers. They were wearing school uniforms. Both got scratches on their hip bones, elbows and hands but fortunately that seemed to be the extent of their injuries. One of the scooters had a brake handle broken off. I wasn't sure what I could or should do at that moment. I didn't have much cash on me, just $40 which I tried handing to the teens. But Ajit asked me not to do that because apparently that causes some legal ramifications and that they can't accept the money at the moment. He then explained to the teens that he needs to drop me off at the airport and that after that he'll be back to resolve this matter. Somehow they agreed and we went off without exchanging any sort of contact information.
I haven't learned what happened to the teens, the broken brake handle, or the scratches left on the car. I gave some extra money to Ajit as I am sure he'd be left responsible for fixing the scratch on the car, but not enough to actually make a difference.