Mau ke mana?

Time passed fitfully for my last couple days in Dobo. I had run out of money for any more boat trips, and the constant attention from the locals made an afternoon stroll something of an ordeal. The concept of walking alone for fun was totally alien to the locals in a couple of different ways: the “walking” and the “alone” parts in particular. Travel on foot, and solitude, are both things that Indonesians avoid at all costs, and my desire to seek them out for pleasure was incomprehensible to most people I met. This was especially true when it was raining, something that happened quite often in Dobo at that time of year. I walked to the post office through a small rainstorm, and a group of schoolchildren became curious where (and why) I was going.

“The post office is very far away!” they said. “It’s raining!”

“Yes, I know it’s raining.” I said. That was fairly obvious. But the post office was not actually that far away.  The group, maybe seven or eight boys, all in matching uniforms, led me to the post office, which doubled as the postmaster’s house. Though it was closed, he opened it for me so I could mail a letter. (This letter actually made it back to the States, to my surprise, while one I sent from Ambon still hasn’t arrived).

The streets of Dobo had some interesting sights. There were at least two statues of the admiral Yos Sudarso, a hero of Indonesia’s early nationalist years, who died in a battle during the annexation of Papua. One was close to the hotel, and showed Sudarso standing on the prow of a warship, surrounded by bouquets of bombs and missiles. The other was simpler, and in front of a school that bore the admiral’s name. Both are made of painted concrete, and show the admiral standing as concretely as can be, with a set of binoculars, staring boldly off into… the future or something. The paint is very glossy, and the color used for Sudarso’s face and hands hasn’t held up under the constant sunlight, fading to a greenish grey, so he looks like Indonesia’s first zombie admiral.

Half of Dobo is built on stilts over the water, and I finally had time to explore this part of town, including a market that took place on the wharves. I didn’t recognize much of the produce, but the things I did recognize made me wish I had access to a good kitchen. Instead of onions, Indonesian cooking uses very small shallots, which are absolutely delicious. These were piled high in the market, along with garlic and small chiles. There was some seaweed for sale, something I never saw served in the warungs, but which must be part of the local cuisine. Sago starch was sold out of huge barrel-like containers made from banana leaves. Of course there were bananas, plus more exotic fruits like mangosteen and durian. Durian, of course, deserves its own post, which will come soon. Along with fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs, and spices, the market sold the same things you’d find in a large supermarket—toothbrushes, clothing, electronics, tools, cosmetics, tobacco, housewares, and fuel.

In addition to the houses on stilts, some houses closer inland seemed built on solid foundations, but instead of a yard around them there was a pool of water, which one crossed on a little bridge to get to the door. Often this water was green with algae. The water section of the town was wonderfully quiet, as all the unmuffled vehicles couldn’t drive over the flimsy wooden walkways.

Later, I ran into Richardo and some friends of his at a warung outside the hotel, and he introduced me to another guest in the hotel, Henky, who would fly to Ambon the next day. Henky had heard that his father was very sick, and he was racing back to Ambon to be with him. We all went back to his hotel room and drank sopi mixed with Anker beer. The room filled up with clove and tobacco smoke, and Henky told me about his life as a fisherman. It sounded like he worked on a medium-sized fishing boat, mostly off Thailand. Much of the crew was Thai. He spent most of his time at sea. Much of this fishing, I gathered, wasn’t entirely legal. Henky supported his wife and extended family back in Ambon with this job. He had two daughters; his wife was pregnant again, and he was hoping for a son this time. He offered to put me up when I got to Ambon, and insisted that I give him nothing in return; he would pick me up from the airport when I got there.

The next day, as I was on my way out the door, two journalists ambushed me in front of the hotel, and I sat down for my first newspaper interview in Indonesian. I wasn’t expecting this; they probably thought I was trying to escape when I ran back to my room for my dictionary and notebook. But they were friendly, and after explaining what I was studying, and why, they started asking about where I had gone to school, and what things were like in America. One of the reporters was actually part of an anti-corruption task force, and had been dispatched all the way from Jakarta.

Later that night, the night before I flew out of Dobo, the journalists brought an old man to the hotel, and he told me about an archaeological site in a cave near his hometown. This site had already been identified by the Australian team in the ‘90s, but the old man added some fantastic details, including a huge throne carved out of an incredibly hard rock, and giant crystals that transmitted light through the cave’s ceiling, or perhaps glowed themselves. There was also something in there about samurai swords and armor, but he was already pushing against the limits of my Indonesian. It was good the journalists were there to help make sense of his story. The old man was also a musician, and he gave me a little, meticulously carved palm wood jaw-harp, which he played effortlessly. I made a feeble attempt to copy him, but very little sound resulted. In exchange, I gave him my UW hat. As a farewell gift, one of the journalists also gave me a little bronze medallion from Thailand, with a Buddha on one side and the portrait of a monk on the other. He got a Northwest Maritime Center hat. Richardo had taken my Seattle Mariners hat earlier. So, I was all out of hats, but touched that everyone had been so welcoming to me.

I walked out to Dobo’s tiny airport in the early morning dark. There was a frog hopping around the waiting room.

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