Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cirebon, the place that changed my life

The experience from my trip to Cirebon, Indonesia cannot be bounded by words. Many times, i try to write an account of it and as many times, i fail. It disappoints me. I hadn’t traveled all the way to Cirebon to shoot the breeze about life there, i truly wanted to share what i've brought home. Something special and life-changing.

It was as if we were on a mission and like all secret agents, i knew perfectly what we had planned like it was the back of my hand. Secretly also, i knew Indonesia more than i cared to admit and figured i was in her favour. In my image of her, i saw vast fields stretched out in the absence of cars and many villagers hard at work. The air charged with labour but smelt like a cool September day. Little did i know or expect, i was in actual fact just an unsuspecting victim.

The flight to Jakarta was arduous. We were stuck with more baggage than we were allowed and was short of a few people who were meant to come. Sally's mom demonstrated all the warmth and personality of a typical loving mother and for that the journey soon relaxed. Upon arrival, we met with the hospitality of Cik Neng's family. It was merry and i liked watching everyone exchange hugs and kisses and schmooze from where they left off the last time. The bus ride was something else. We had a coach bus to ourselves and it was cosy and full of food for us but the ride was close to 7 hours and it was too fast and too bumpy to have much sleep. It was a cool experience though.

Cik Neng's family live in a little shop house, 3rd round the bend from a stretch of shop houses alike. It was a family business, they sold and supplied mostly home-made crackers. In it was 4 tonnes of rice in huge sacks, ready to be repacked and distributed by us. A narrow path next to it led us to the family's new and near empty bungalow, where we stayed for the rest of our trip. Historically, Cirebon flourished under the graceful influence of an indonesian muslim missionary, his shrine rests on the peaceful peak of Gunung Jati, which was pleasantly just across the road from our house.

You see, Cirebon as i have least expected, is a busy suburb. Motorcycles came from everywhere, dirt roads are extensive and many, push carts selling food and toys lined them. But deeper into where we stayed, perched many houses that seemed like only shelters which were severely rusting and falling apart, some had no floors, many had thin, leaking roofs and some had not something i'd consider a door. Hardship is uncommon but the people were strong and unflinching, they continue to live honestly and help each other within the village like they were a team more than mere neighbours. These sights proved to be very damaging for self-reflection.

On Eid Al-adha, Sally's family chose their goats and went ahead with the slaughter which i intentionally avoided. Within minutes, neighbours have gathered to help pack the fresh meat for distribution. Those who came to get a bag of rice, some rupiahs, clothes and meat from us were dominantly frail elder folks, who had walked the whole way there. Many were ill, widows, or lived alone. Their voices praying for us, thanking us, the look of content on their faces were not meant to forget. I'll never forget.

I spent a number of days with the charming boys who played outside the house, i was fooled by their wayward games because they were much sweeter than they appeared. With them, i was a denizen of Cirebon. They had no toys and nothing much, so they climbed and sang and created games from scraps they found. I discovered i'm quite a marksman with the air rifle we toyed with. We loaded metal pellets and shot at cups, containers and such. Didn't know i was a chip off the old block.

One time, i was walking up to the house from the shop, and saw the boys squatting in a tiny circle. One held a piece of cardboard over their heads and i couldn't make out what the rest were doing. I soon found out they were watching a little fire they've created between two bricks and was barbecuing satay with the fresh meat from the slaughter. They of course offered me some and i gladly took a stick, it was good and I was so blown away by them.

I had wished on my journey back to Jakarta, a 5 hour bus ride, that I want cirebon to live with me forever, vivid and reminding. Though i hate to admit it, i was a little homesick by the time we left. But landing safely and being greeted by our world class airport was as disappointing as waving goodbye to Paman. A sigh marks my welcome home to the fast and bitter city life.


Nini Oax said...

Ace :)

rafianaramon said...

ive always dreamed of bein involved in somethin as an eye opener as this. (:

Maria A. L. said...

@ fifi, i think it runs in most taureans. ;)

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