What’s It Like In Lombok In The Morning?

by Belle Waring on April 11, 2017

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.



Tim Bassett 04.11.17 at 4:04 am

Did not the size and overgrown nature of Lombok’s Chinese cemeteries make you wonder where most of the Chinese went and dig a little into Indonesian history. Indonesia (like the rest of South East Asia) is a wonderful place with generous people but its history contains many tragedies that we we do well to remember; especially as many of our nation’s were complicit in one or another of them.


Belle Waring 04.11.17 at 9:17 am

This is a good point. You don’t see a lot of actual Chinese people even in the cities.


Val 04.11.17 at 11:19 am

Beautiful description Belle.
I thought you might be referring to our Perth (in Australia) since it closer to Lombok than other Perths, but it seems not. I wish you had really, since the history of colonisation is closer, and rawer, here than many other countries. I would love to hear your take on the relationship between Australia and Indonesia.


oldster 04.11.17 at 2:42 pm

“you are in a black rental SUV with all these things gilding, pulled past the glass on an infinite string”

Did you want “gilding” or “gliding”?

(Both are good. But it’s that time of year when I expect to be in paper-correction mode, even though I no longer correct papers. Forgive me; pedantry dies hard.)


James 04.11.17 at 3:44 pm

I don’t know about Lombok but I understand the call to prayer has become increasingly loud and intrusive in Jakarta to the extent it has become a pain for many city residents (regardless of religion), but politicians are afraid to take on the issue. When I was staying there for a few months in 2013 there was a mosque next to the apartment and four or five others within a few hundred meters, it woke me up consistently and I regularly sleep through tropical thunderstorms.


Doug K 04.11.17 at 4:46 pm

thank you, enjoyed the Lombok morning..


Priest 04.11.17 at 11:47 pm

I was along for the ride once to Bonaventure Cemetery with a friend and her boyfriend (who almost without fail refers to the place as “Bone-aventure Cemetery”, clever guy that he is), MS wanted to stop by to sweep off her mother’s grave stone. She then carefully placed some seashells collected from Tybee along the edges of the stone.


Joseph Brenner 04.12.17 at 12:18 am

I traveled through Lombok briefly, on a trip up to one of the Gillies (a string of small islands with impressive coral reefs, on the northwest coast of Lombok). What I was probably most struck by is (a) the realization that not all Islamic people are grim fanatics and (b) the realization that I’d unconsciously had the idea that they were implanted in my head by too many years of US snooze.

I thought Islamic women’s fashions were particularly interesting– they’re required to wear head coverings, and so use it as an excuse to add another color to their outfits.

This side trip was one of my few overlaps with the Party Circuit, with tourists heading from Kuta (I presume) to raves held on one of the Gillies. A group of young Islamic people were goofing around on the Ferry from Bali to Lombok, doing things like secretly taking cellphone pictures of a blond white girl, lying on her back with breasts pointing up into the air. I could see some of the locals laughing to themselves about women in skimpy bikinis oiling themselves up to lounge around in the sun on the upper deck– these women seemed kind of trashy even by my standards, I can only imagine how they seemed to the locals.

I get the sense that there’s a bit of jealousy and resentment directed from the Islamic sections of Indonesia toward Bali (which is Hindu). Bali is the big tourist draw, and in general Westerners seem to find them more likeable. And when I was in Bali it seemed like there was a running joke that everything bad comes from Java (e.g. you’re stuck in traffic behind a stinky polluting truck, and someone comments “That’s from Java.”).


Christine 04.12.17 at 1:13 am

Thank you for this. It brought back memories of Bali in 1990, before tourism and western life became such a dominant force (in southern Bali, at least). I’m feeling newly motivated to go to Lombok, both for what reminds me of Bali in those days and for what is different.


RD 04.12.17 at 3:57 am

How many WASPs to change a light bulb?
1 to call the electrician
1 to mix the Martinis.


Belle Waring 04.12.17 at 7:22 am

We drink Southsides thank you


Kent 04.12.17 at 9:17 pm

Poetic description, thanks. Reminds me I should get back to Indonesia. Bali is stunning of course and has all that great music and art. But in East Java, Maleng, I hired a guide to see all these stupas hidden in the forest; highly memorable.


RD 04.14.17 at 2:27 am

The Royal We?


RD 04.14.17 at 2:37 am

When Northwestern students did the March Madness thing,
comparing 64 Martini formulae,
the winner was the standard American.
My version:
3x 1,25 oz. Tanqueray
1 oz. Dolin or Noilly Prat
Swirl in shaker 20 seconds
Add to glass
Twist over lemon rind and discard
Begin preparing your 2nd.
“I love a good Martini.
Two at the most.
Three , I’m under the table.
Four, I’m under the host!”
Dorothy Parker.
“Martinis are like breasts.
One is not enough.
Three are too many!”

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