Sept 5 2017 Dear Mom and Dad,
Now that we’re moving more west toward Bali, 85-90% of the women wear head scarves all day long…taking it off only for sleep. Even the very small girls wear the jilbad. Long sleeves and long pants and/or skirts are also the norm among the Muslim women even in the boiling humid heat. It is not required by law that they wear such coverings, but when asked, they find conforming is easier. In a fashion, it’s enchanting to see the women’s colorful head scarves fluttering behind while they drive on their motor scooters – the vehicle of choice here in Indonesia.
In Medana Bay during the day and night before the final day of Ashura on Sept 29th, the local mosque played practically nonstop cantored prayers over the loudspeakers. The speakers were blown, so the sound wasn’t pretty. Sometimes there was a decent cantor and the melody was clear, but when a young boy got the chance to practice his cantoring, it sadly sounded like a skinned cat.
The marina manager/owner Peter Cranfield of Medana Bay Marina recommended that we take a walk over to the local mosque early around 7:00 am on the final morning of Ashura to visit. As we walked through the small village, we noted the townspeople dressed in their finest. On a side note, a man who wears a white hat indicates that he has completed a pilgrimage to Mecca. As we approached, we were beckoned over and welcomed to participate in their service. Women worshipped upstairs. Even though Natalia and I had made our best efforts to dress as conservative Muslims, we had apparently missed the mark and thus the women covered us from head to toe in their traditional white, hiding especially our hair and feet. The men worshipped downstairs in their dress-up street attire.
On small rugs, Natalia and I knelt and stood along with the women and children, obviously understanding little, but enjoying the spiritual community and the differences of worship. From Eric’s point of view, he said the men kept suggesting he move closer to the front, but he remained closer to the back. As the lead person spoke, it appeared as if the practitioners rocked back, cupping their hands open to the sides of their ears to capture more intently the holy words spoken. When it came time to bow fully down to the floor, men next to Eric and the boys spread their prayer rugs horizontally in front of them so they’d have a rug to press their foreheads against.
After the service, the congregation filed in a circular formation to greet each and every member. Immediately upon shaking hands with a person of similar age, members brought their right hand to their breast as if to bring a piece of you to their heart. Younger members would bow slightly forward and bring the top of older members’ hands to their foreheads as a sign of even greater respect. Adults did the same for the elderly, sometimes kissing the back of their hand before doing so. Following the lengthy warm greeting procession, the six of us were invited to join in celebrating the end of the fast with an elaborate communal lunch or begibung. Men and women grouped separately into clusters of 3-5. Multiple plates of delicious food was placed center of the cluster. A bowl of clear water was set for each cluster to share in order to rinse his/her hands before, while, and after eating. We each spooned ourselves portions of rice and then covered parts of it with various spicy sauced dishes of fish, chicken, and goat. The custom is to only eat with your right hand. With three fingers and thumb, we pressed the rice into the sauced meat, forming a temporary ball which we’d quickly bring to our mouths. We must have looked pathetic for soon they delivered us spoons. The special spiced hard boiled eggs and other delicacies, many fried, were easier to eat by western hand. We felt very special, indeed, to partake in such a rare cultural experience. Out of curiosity, I researched the meaning behind Ashura:
“Ashura Eid ul-Adha” is a festival of remembrance in Islam – but Sunni and Shi’a Muslims celebrate for different reasons. In Sunni Islam, Ashura follows the traditions of Judaism as Jewish people followed a day of fasting around this time of year (commemorating the parting of the Red Sea for Moses and his followers to escape the Pharaoh.) The Prophet Muhammad thought that this tradition was worth following so he fasted and encouraged his followers to do the same. Sunni Muslims fast and celebrate by reflecting and showing respect and thanks. For Shi’a Muslims, Ashura is sacred as a day of remembrance of the death of the grandson of Muhammad” abstracted from the website ‘The UK Sun.’
The next day, as part of a privately arranged tour, we were invited to share a meal or ‘begibung’ with the family of our driver/guide. He and his family were delightful and their food was delicious. For six of us (including our 2 Polish friends Bolo (Wojciech Maleika) and Natalia Ptasinska from S/V Wassyl) to enjoy that intimate experience, we paid a little bit to cover the family’s cost amounting to US$23. We also brought many gifts for the children and 3 teenage girls. The toys and caps were ones saved from Bryce and Trent’s stock when they were little (the children were ecstatically excited), and I provided 3 binders filled with writing paper, 2 pens, coloured pencils, and plastic pocket. The older teenage girls were flabbergasted with the school binders. Natalia also brought paper products, pencils, pencil sharpeners and the like, plus some tea for the Mommas/Aunties.
Our tour included an incredible morning at the Lombok Elephant Park where we rode, fed, and pet elephants. All four of us got hugged by Valent the friendly orangutan; Valent took Eric (Valent is short for Valentine) for a walk. Plus we goggled at the many birds who sat on our shoulders. Being led by a park guide, we witnessed private active shows from all the endemic zoo animals. We even got to feed the pygmy hippo. Getting a chance to ride an elephant was definitely on my bucket list – never know if we’ll actually make it to Thailand – so, no time like the present! For more fun pictures, browse our Lombok Elephant Park 2017 photo gallery.
After the family lunch, we then drove up the local Rinjani Mountain to make a 20 minute hike to the tall, very impressive waterfall Tiu Kelep. Plus, on our way home, we visited a nearby traditional ‘active’ village called Senaru Traditional Indonesian Village. It was a very full day!
After all that ‘busy’ness, I’ve come down with a cold – a little congested, a bit of sneezing, low energy. People eat communally, so germs get passed around pretty quickly. Oh well. Today – the guys are working on the boat. Bryce and Trent are cleaning our boat bottom for US$50 and then the neighbours smaller boat for US$30. This will be their first gig outside of our family. Pretty good!
I read your recent emails. Thanks so much for writing about all the things you’ve been up to and happenings: recounting the work weekend up at Tahoe, how hot it is in California, the fires, and the terrible hurricane that has hit Houston. I too did not know how large that city was – 6 million people!! So much got damaged by water. What terrible losses!
I’ve been reading outloud to the boys: “Old Man and the Sea” by Hemingway. It has a great message about endurance – and is a rather short book. We’ve read halfway. I’ll pick it back up when we’re sailing again. We haven’t played cribbage lately, but this next sailing leg, I know we will. Too hot to cook. Most of the time while I cook, my face drips sweat, even with all the port lights and hatches wide open. However, the air is a bit dryer here than in Polynesia so our clothes and bed linens don’t smell as bad as quickly. Not many mosquitos either – very happy about that.
Gotta go now, hopefully more time later,