I had to use the bathroom, so I asked the girls where one might be. The four of them stood in the doorway of their house, the porch of which turned into a restaurant at night. They were so giggly I couldn’t make out what they were saying. When they calmed down, I realized they were only asking my name. I answered then asked back.
I’m not the best at remembering names, especially when my business is urgent. I asked again for the bathroom, and I followed them to the back.
As we passed three large rooms, I realized the power really was out. These houses typically glow with enough color to strain your eyes, but all the walls looked black. A promising light shown from the back door, but when we reached it, I discovered it was only the moon. How was I supposed to use the bathroom?
The girls realized my predicament and were giggling the whole way. They set down a bucket of water next to a wooden door. I looked down at the bucket, up at the moon, into the bathroom, then back at the girls who followed me. It really seemed to be the funniest thing they ever saw.
I entered and shone my phone’s flashlight at the ground. A 12” x 6” hole only an inch deep cut through the planks of wood and revealed the ocean eight feet below. Of course, how else would you design a toilet in a village that stood in the middle of the sea?
Instead of walking back outside after I finished, I asked to see the back. Often these houses are as interesting from the back porch as they are from the front. The closest walkway behind the house was a bit too far to jump, and the floor simply dropped off into the sea. It made for quick cleaning when you can just wash everything into the ocean. There were a few men there starting a generator, but considering their grunts, it was not going well.
I shone my flashlight on the pullstring and they got it started. When I turned back toward the house again, the whole family stood waiting for me. With the generator feeding the lights back here, I now saw who had been shepherding me around. Two girls said their names, but they again quickly fled my mind. A father, a wife and an aunt stood behind them.
Questions didn’t stray far from the typical script. What country? What age? Why here? It was only in their third language that we could communicate. Their first, Bajo, was the language of a group dispersed across the archipelago, often called the water tribe.
Wow! The father in the back gave a thumbs up as they saw the phone attached to my flashlight. iPhones are not common, and they seem to trigger an air of respect. They asked the price, I underestimated and they let out another Wow.
They asked where I was staying in the town. Apparently not satisfied, the mother and two girls said I should stay at their house. Why not? Although my other friends may miss me. I offered to think about it for our second night in the town.
My flashlight rang; a friend outside was calling me. He must have thought I was taking a disturbingly long time in the bathroom. I said a farewell, we arranged to take a picture, and I headed out.
My plan for the next day was to sit through a meeting on a topic I neither knew nor could contribute to.
While I sat off to the side, I heard a Mister!
As I looked over, two kids dashed further behind the stage, to a room behind the speakers at the meeting. I followed them. The girls from the night before were mad I didn’t recognize them at first.
Do you remember our names? Definitely not, oops.
Jelita wore her hair long and carried a Samsung tablet. Foto? Foto? She was one great big grin, but Fira hid behind the next doorway. Jelita wanted to play photographer; Fira and I would be the models. Fira! But every time Jelita called Fira over, she slid further into the next room. Jelita chased her friend and they disappeared for a few seconds. They didn’t seem to have a problem posing for the picture 12 hours before.
When they came back, Fira was no more willing. So we had a conversation.
Jelita’s birthday was in April. Fira’s in January. Jelita was 9, Fira 10.
Do you think Fira is pretty? Absolutely. Big shiny smiles. I pointed my own camera at them to prove it. Fira hid behind her friend who had quickly reached out her hand with a peace sign. Fira was a bit more hesitant.
I realized we had been talking in an office. They stood behind a desk, and on the wall were pictures of the president and vice president. Whether they knew it or not, their portrait became a vibrant caricature of Indonesia’s center reaching into the periphery, where we were.
The girls asked again where I was sleeping that night. I said the same place but asked if there was a better offer. Considering they were so persistent, I thought a night of abundant conversation in their home didn’t sound bad. I told them I would find them at their house later.
By this point I had been away from my traveling companions for too long, so I moved to return to the meeting. The girls let out a loud Dada! that I’m sure the rest of the meeting room could hear.
A few hours later, after the meeting finished, we decided to head home, cancelling our last night in the village. I couldn’t find the girls to say a final farewell.