Another step and I would have taken an unplanned plunge into the ocean. So I turned around and walked the sole boardwalk on this side of the village. A house I had passed before no longer had only a woman sitting outside. A small boy, teenager, mother and uncle had appeared on the porch in the few minutes since my first passing.
As I approached, I kept eye contact with everyone, saying Hi.
The woman also kept eye contact. Hello.
The road ended.
Of course it did. Where are you from?
And the conversation had begun.
She had started in English, I had been the one to switch. Where did you learn your English?
Her name was Wajia, and she was a part-time English teacher at the local middle school. Maybe she felt bold enough to try out her English on a lone foreigner. She learned her English in Bali, the regional tourist hotspot hundreds of kilometers from her home.
Why did you go there?
Work. In hotels.
Why did you come back?
Family. The home behind her housed her family, half of which seemed to be on the porch with her. She grew up here, and her first language was Bajo.
From her year in Bali, she said she made many friends. One of them came to her home here just to watch the sunset rise over the mountains and paint the water orange. She was also able to expand her repertoire of languages. Five in all: the national, regional, ethnic, some English, and some Spanish.
Of the 400 people in her hometown, most are fishermen. She said she doesn’t prefer Bali or her hometown over the other. But she misses Bali.
As we were speaking, a man in the house next door came outside onto his porch. He sat on his balcony, a small slip away from a four-meter fall into the one-meter-deep water. He called to me.
Hey! Can I have one of your bracelets? I responded that absolutely he could have one, but only if he also gave one.
He started laughing when he saw I was actually walking over to exchange. Which one do you want? He played along for a bit, but admitted he didn’t want to take one from me. Oh well, I walked the few meters back to Wajia’s house.
What is your native tongue like?
It’s surprisingly similar to Balinese, she said. Of the numbers up to 10, seven of them are the same. Bajo-speakers, whose ethnic group is often called the water tribe, are scattered across the archipelago, but the language has few relatives.
Do you want to go back to Bali?
Actually yes. But I can’t now.
Are your friends not looking for you already?
I took the hint. I asked her name, said bye and continued down the boardwalk.