I just got back so I can tell you. Lombok is the next island over from Bali in the chain and the straits between them form the Wallace Line, which separates Asian from Austronesian flora and fauna. People are coming back from fishing because they went out early, of course. The boats are narrow with two pontoons on either side that are attached to the boat by two struts per side, each an angle of two bits of wood; the effect is of brightly colored water striders. They are all painted in a riot of pink and green and blue and white.
Old ladies and men are sweeping the sidewalks and lanes and parking spaces and packed-earth yards with stiff brooms that are proper besoms of twigs, pushing each leaf and empty Happytos bag into the gutter. This seems a futile gesture towards cleanliness sometimes if the sidewalk is on a busy road and the neighboring empty bale has no one tending it but isn’t, really, and it produces what I consider the most distinctly Southeast Asian morning sound as the thinnest ends of the twigs chuff and scrape against the concrete. Some men are just sitting around in bales (those raised platforms of bamboo that are open on all four sides and have a thatched roof) smoking, because that’s a thing everywhere. Clove cigarettes, mostly, which smell wonderful and taste…also wonderful. I have never been a smoker but occasionally have a few when I am in Indonesia alone. I went with Violet this time so no dice. People are vaguely lining up to buy fried snacks from little carts.
Men with the white caps that indicate they have been on the hajj are strolling towards mosques. Lombok is very poor and I often wonder how they made their way all the way there, dignified in batik shirts and plastic slippers. Tours with their mosques, I guess; there was one in the airport with everyone dressed the same and nametags hanging down and three carts piled so high with matching black luggage it looked like tumbled black bricks. The towns and villages compete with their mosques so they are beautiful: green and gold domes, green-and-white diamond tiles, slender minarets.
There is no other feeling of pleasure and self-satisfied minor vice quite like listening to the first call to prayer before it is light and then promptly going back to sleep. Especially if it is raining. The calls to prayer are long and beautiful, reminding you that god is great five times a day. I wonder if people don’t sometimes think, “I literally just prayed!” Some people clearly do as Lombok has an awesome heretical “Three Prayer” sect in which, as you may guess, you only need to pray three times a day, and just, whenever you’re feeling it. Their Ramadan lasts only one day and I think they might even be able to drink too. I guess by the time the news got to Lombok things were a little muddled.
Lombok is home to Balinese people too (about ten percent, and they used to run the place, which local Sasak people seem still to resent.) There are yellow ribbons around big fig trees to tell you they are sacred, and narrow carved gates opening off the road at high places and descending into temples you cannot see. And so there are festivals almost every day and beautiful young women with baskets of fruit on their heads in the early morning, and gamelan music that has been playing the whole night. There are some Chinese people too, there have to be, running little stores, and so I passed by a Chinese graveyard with its distinctive horseshoe graves and a few people burning grave goods and sweeping the graves clean. (Folk songs always want someone to see that the singers grave is swept clean; I want to go to Bonaventure Cemetary next time I am in Savannah and sweep my grandmother’s grave, and Annie Washington’s.)
Of course, there is rice. Of all the things people grow in the world, rice seems like the most trouble. You do pass the odd field empty but for a feeble scarecrow of a plastic scrap tied to a piece of bamboo, but for the most part there is always someone working in the field, ceaseless toil under a straw conical hat. You would think it would all be growing in tandem but it’s not. I saw the neon green of new rice shoots in the wet paddies, and the golden haze over dry fields ready to harvest, and fields stubbled but for stacks of hay, and people doing the tedious task of pulling up every growing shoot of new rice, arranging them into bundles, and re-planting them in rows, all while ankle-deep in water, and women spreading out harvested rice on tarps laid at the edge of the roads to dry. I see why they do this—the heat on the black tarmac must make quick work of it, but I always worry it will blow away, or someone will drive into it, and I don’t imagine it’s the least polluted rice in the world, but clearly they know better than I.
Lombok has many people living on $2 a day, but has very little malnutrition because the volcanic soil is so rich and the sun and rain so abundant. So I also passed fields of corn and runner beans and tomatoes and rows of papaya plants. It’s funny sometimes to think of food traveling so far, all the way from the Americas. In the evenings people in Lombok drive their scooter up to scenic points along the coast, peaks falling away to perfect palm-fringed beaches on either side, and the sun setting right behind the three mountains of Bali, and they eat grilled corn with lime and chili.
This song has nothing to do with Lombok (or Perth for that matter) but I was listening to day before yesterday. It will help you imagine that you are in a black rental SUV with all these things gilding, pulled past the glass on an infinite string, now a little painted cart drawn by a thin-ribbed pony just near enough to touch, and now a green mountain far away over endless shining paddies.