I’d been looking forward to the Gili Islands for months…and now, I’m here. Three islands…each like a droplet of white paint on an azure canvass…off the northwestern coast of Lombok, the first island of Nusa Tengarra on the Bali Sea.
There’s no traffic here…no asphalt roads…the closest thing to transport you can get here is a hired bicycle or a shabby, wooden, horse-drawn carriage.
It’s ‘low season’ – so they say. You can easily find stretches of beach without a single sunbather…snorkeller… or even a local. I actually prefer the part of the strip where there are 10 cafes or so…each having, maybe, one or two occupied tables…when you might see 4 or 5 snorkels popping out from the sea.
In the two days I’ve been here… I’ve made a few friends. There’s Oyot, Guria, Bamboo, Damien, Emeline and her boyfriend, Sylvia, Omi…the man with the long-hair at Gili Air Net…and also the man with the stoned eyes at the cafe before Gili Net…
I suppose the last two don’t warrant the title of ‘friend’ (if I need to use epithets such as those above, that is). However, I could just be over-analysing… I might as well question the title of ‘friend’ for those whose names I do know… but that would overcomplicate things…so, I won’t… Indeed. I’m happy with that. My new ‘friends’. 🙂
I’m sat in ‘Freedom Bar’ now…the menu says: ‘Don’t say you are free…before you visit Freedom Bar’. This slogan seems to have been engrained in the staff; anytime I ask: is that ok? …the reply is, ‘it’s Freedom Bar’!
Oyot is the waiter…he’s from Lombok, lives and works in Gili, day in and dayout. He sleeps – an hour here, an hour there – on the beruga… or, sometimes, on the sofa. He’s short, and very very thin, with black eyes and black hair… with a vacant expression in his eyes (I suspect – perhaps wrongfully – from smoking too much ghanja). His English is a result of many interactions on the beach with tourists…composed of the common pronounciation errors of other fellow Indonesians…where ‘f’ is pronounced ‘p’… and ‘sh’ is pronounced ‘s’… so, you get temporarily confused and side-tracked when you’re asked: You see piss? Or, you like coppee? Or, you peenis? (What he means is: You see fish? Or, you like coffee? Or, finished?). Some people might get offended with errors like this!
Another one that got me (and I’m not sure whether this is typical of people who’s native language is Bahasa Indonesian) is the mispronounciation of the phoneme ‘i’ as in ‘sight’. When I asked Oyot what he put in the White Russian I ordered last night, he replies: vodka, milk, kalhua…and ass. I asked him to repeat, and he said: Aaass. And again? Aaaaasss. I then realised he was saying ‘ice’. Thank God for that. Last thing I need is ‘ass’ in my White Russian!
Nonetheless – he creates a great atmosphere. Laid-back, helpful, friendly…with a peculiar sense of humour. He seems to make a mark on the few other tourists here on Gili Air… running up to those who leave with a hug, smiling and laughing…but offering food, Wifi, snorkles for hire, good company..and a few Bahasa Indonesian language tips.
On the latter point, he taught me how to say: see you later (sampai junta nanti)… enjoy your drink (selamat minoom)… enjoy your walk (selamat jalan)… well, those are the phrases I can actually remember. We attempted learning different parts of the human body (nothing profane – in case anyone reading this is trying to use their imagination)…but I think I’ve already forgotten most of them. Hmmm. Eyes (mata)…Nope. No hope. I can’t remember. 🙂
Guria is the lady I met a few moments ago…she’s 38 years old, from Lombok, married (but separated) and solely supporting three children. She works in Gili Air and lives in Lombok with her three girls: one is 8, one 15 and the last one is 20. Her job? Sitting in the beruga in 30 degrees Celsius heat, waiting for tourists to buy mangoes and bracelets that her two eldest daughters made for her. Oh! She also offers massages in her beruga…though I haven’t tried one of these yet.
She said she had to ‘chop his banana’… the children cried too much, and said: Mama, I don’t like papa. She said he had three wives in Lombok… she was no longer number one. Sooo, three children later, she decided to chop his banana. No good banana. Then Oyot, Guria and I laugh in hysterics.
Bamboo works in the market stall… 50m or so from Freedom Bar. He sells the necessities: insect repellent, sun block, soft drinks, shampoo. No scams, no non-sense. I asked him the price of his SPF 15 sun block. He says: 105,000 Rupiah. The price of his SPF 30 sun block? He says: 130,000 Rupiah. The price of his SPF 50 sun block? He says: 150,000 Rupiah… It’s great how in some places pricing can be so simple! I asked a man on Lombok what the price of his insect repellent was, and he says to me: 350,000 Rupiahs. How ridiculous and stupid do you think I am?! Bamboo’s cool. Simple, no non-sense.
Damien’s French. He’s at the final leg of his travels; he departed from Lyon in May, and started travelling in Singapore. He then moved on to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and is ending in Indonesia. He was travelling with his girlfriend (who teaches) until September… she needed to return to work in France, but he decided to stay. He has his own construction business, so somehow someway, he’s working remotely…Skyping from Scallywags (an expensive hotel/restaurant on Gili Air)… and keeping his expenses low whilst staying in 80,000 Rupiah accommodation in the centre of the island.
We met by accident. Sylvia, the French-speaking Spanish lady who works at one of the PADI schools, offered to keep our rucksacks for us as we went to hunt down a good place to stay in Gili Air. She asked us our budget, and coincidentally, Damien was there, and offered to show us where he stayed…
As Damien walked with a semi-broken hired bicycle, Alex and I followed… Damien felt uncomfortable speaking English, and as my move to France is on the horizon, I jumped at the opportunity to practice speaking French with him. Likewise, when he couldn’t figure out how to say something in English, he’d reply to me in French… a lovely little French/English-jamming exchange! 🙂 Made me feel all warm and fuzzy and excited-to-soon-be-living-in-France inside! He was very reassuring, and instilled a fair bit of confidence in me to try speaking French even more.
Emeline and her boyfriend. Another pair of Frenchies! (They’re everywhere, damnit!) We actually met them on the long ferry boat from Padangbai to Lembar in Lombok. The four of us were the only foreigners on the whole ferry – the rest appeared to be from Indonesia, but, I suppose I can never be sure.
They’re on holiday for a couple of weeks, trying to cram as much into a 2 week time period as possible. They’re from Bordeaux, and they both work in Programming. They both aspire to move to Australia some time in January: a) to improve their English and b) to eventually get a work visa and hopefully get a Programming job out there… very, very friendly… and a pleasure to chat with. The conversation actually started when they asked how long our ferry journey would be…when I said 4 hours, they suddenly realised they were guided to the wrong boat…they had paid nearly 5 times the price that we had paid to go on a speedboat to Gili Air…:S…this was meant to take an hour…by the time they realised, it was too late.
Nonetheless, we bumped into them again on Gili Air…and are likely to have a drink with them later.
Last but not least…there’s Omi. She’s from Gili Air. Born here, and soon to be raised here. She’s 14 months old. Her mum’s name is Lina (apparently it’s a common Sasak name). She’s the daughter of the owner of Freedom Bar. She likes to eat sand and pose for photographs. The most exciting bit is looking at herself in the camera… then looking up at you…then pointing to herself… and then going: Uh?!!! I’m sure that must mean something somewhere to someone! 🙂
So – this is an introduction to some of my new friends from Gili Air…where ‘Air’ means ‘Water’… literally, in Bahasa Indonesian… I’ll introduce you to some of my other water friends tomorrow.