Sunday, February 21, 2010

double take

This Saturday was Picnic Day at work. Everyone from our office, which has combined staff from two NGOs, from cleaning staff to drivers to admin to field teams to upper management and everyone in between, was invited. Family members could join if they want to. It was a cultural phenomenon, which I won't go into here. Suffice it to say that I was a photo prop and little more for almost every staff person there who I didn't already know. And it turns out Indonesians LOVE field day games: tug rope, sac races, and many more in that genre.

Early in the day, I was practising with some of the girls walking on those sticks where four people each put their feet in holsters on two parallel slabs of wood and have to coordinate to walk. So we were walking around the picnic area shouting KANAN KIRI KANAN KIRI (right left right left). Our practise paid off, too, because we WON. The prize was a new facetowel.

But after our practise session I went back to where I'd left my flip-flops and couldn't find them. I wandered around searching while everyone gathered around to watch the guys tie baloons around their ankles and try to pop each other's balloons. My shoes were nowhere to be found, and I started to worry they'd been stolen.

Then I spotted them. On the feet of a girl I didn't know who was wearing a white Islamic headcovering. She was a petite thing and seemed completely oblivious to the fact her shoes weren't hers. Presumably she would be returning them to me, right? But I didn't know her, so I couldn't rightly walk up and ask her what she was doing with my shoes - it'd sound like an accusation. So I wandered around for a few minutes confused, and I guess she saw me in that state because she came up to me and smiled and was friendly as she explained in gestures and monosyllables, since we have no language in common, that she'd borrowed my shoes and was that ok and she would give them back.

My feet were hot and getting dirty and I wanted my flip flops, but what could I say? I tried to graciously say of course she's more than welcome to borrow my shoes. I'm not sure my gracious act worked, though, because five minutes later she came back and returned them to me. I was immensely grateful. She was friendly and meek, and she asked my name and told me her name and smiled at me from time to time throughout the day.

That evening some colleagues and I drove straight from the picnic to the city, since we had a flight to catch today. This morning when I woke up I went out for a walk around the neighbourhood. Down by a canal I crossed paths with a rather attractive-looking young couple. They caught my eyes because they looked liberal (woman's long hair was uncovered and styled), and because they were wearing white exercise bottoms which reminded me of capoeira. They smiled and waved at me, so I smiled back.

Continuing my walk, I headed up to the mini-market near our guest house. Just as I was arriving, I saw that same girl and she smiled and waved again, this time it seemed clear she wanted to talk to me. If a man tries that on the street I act mean and walk away; this was the first time a woman was trying it, so I obliged. I took off my headphones and walked up to her.

She asked me if I remembered her, from the picnic the day before. It took me a moment, but she gestured to her head and said "hijab", and I realised it was the girl from the flip-flops (ok, I think it was, an uncovered head made her very different looking)! There she was in my guesthouse neighbourhood, hair uncovered. She started chatting away with me in Bahasa Indonesia and I apologised I didn't understand.

So in more monosyllables and gesturing she pointed out her house and invited me over for a visit. I told her, though I doubt she understood, that I couldn't visit today because I'm traveling, but maybe later. But honestly: flip-flop abduction, followed by dual identity of sometimes-head-covered-sometimes-not? I'm not sure what she's about.

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