The People You Meet Along the Way

June 11, 2014

A mattress on the floor, an old television set, a pail and bucket to wash yourself with in the bathroom, and a dimly-lit kitchen.

Leaving for Java

Surprises come in different forms throughout our lives. And it isn’t until we start to look back at them when we realize their value. After a 2-hour boat ride from the island to Sanur, I took a motorcycle ride under the heat of the midday sun to Ubung Bus Station. From there, I took another 2 or 3-hour bus ride to Gilimanuk pier before taking the boat to Java

It was past 2pm and my stomach was grumbling like a beast. After purchasing my ticket, I dropped by a small shop to buy something to eat. As I stood there, seriously deciding which biscuit I should buy, a voice emerged in the background.

“The boat is leaving! The boat is leaving!” the officer yelled directly at me while I scrambled to find some change to pay the vendor.

Carrying my heavy backpack, I ran towards the boat waving at the crew to wait for me as they prepared to leave.

Meeting Adi and His Family

The boat ride was brief and I immediately found myself standing in Javanese soil 30 minutes later. A few weeks ago, I had planned on staying in Bali for 25 days but after reading an article about Java, I changed my plans and packed my bags.

The new plan was to wait for my train to arrive that evening so I could go to Yogyakarta. I had a connecting train from Banyuwangi – Surabaya – Yogyakarta as suggested by the lovely receptionist at my hotel in Legian.

I looked at my phone and realized it was still close to 3pm and I had plenty of time before my train arrived in the evening. I decided to walk around town while cursing at my heavy backpack for making my life difficult.

I came across a house where a man greeted me with a big smile and a hello. I stopped to say hello back at him. He was curious about where I was going. Normally, I wouldn’t talk to strangers especially when I’m sweaty and tired but there was something about him that seemed genuine.

He told me that his name was Adi (shorter form for a longer name that I can’t remember) and that he owned a small tour agency in the area. He introduced me to his wife and child while sharing stories about his town.

“What is your name?”

“Melody"

“Ahhhh! Melody! Melody ‘Ghina’!” Adi exclaims as I smiled at his enthusiasm. I asked him what ‘Ghina’ means and he told me that in Islam, it means music. I googled it after going back home and apparently music is somewhat considered a sin in Islam teaching.

We talked about the similarities of Javanese language and Filipino language. Like counting and the words ‘gunting’ for scissors, ‘itom’ for black, and ‘buka’ for open. He taught me a few words as well so I could enter the temples for free since he said I could pass as a local.

Adi stopped mid-conversation and excused himself politely.

He said he had to pray to God. He would go inside his house and emerged a couple of minutes later wearing a more formal attire. Then he’d jump on his motorcycle before speeding off to the nearby mosque.

When he returned, we continued where we left off. The hours passed quickly and soon it was dark.

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes. Do you know a place I can go to eat?”

“No, no, I cook for you. Do you like Mie Goreng?”

I nodded. Minutes later, my dish was ready.

I’ve never met people who were as kind to a stranger as Adi and his family. I was so overwhelmed by their generosity that I felt bad I could only repay them through my sincere thank you. I’d only met them that day but they went out of their way to make me feel like family. They even offered their bathroom to me if I ever felt like taking a bath.

I was feeling sticky from my long journey so I asked if I could just wash my face. When I first stepped foot inside their house, I was filled with sadness. The inside of their house looked so humble–a mattress on the floor, an old television set, a pail and bucket to wash yourself with in the bathroom, and a dimly-lit kitchen. I really wished I was able to do something big for them.

Saying goodbye to my new friends. Adi took me to the train station and even gave me some fruit and a big bottle of water to bring with me on my trip.

I wished them the best and told them I’d come back next time to see them.

A Series of Mishaps

I had a hard time sleeping inside the train that night. The seats were not so comfortable and every time someone passed by, my brain woke me up.

When I woke up at dawn, something felt strange. The train had stopped. I looked out the window and saw some people gathering outside discussing something serious. I looked for the train officer and asked her what was happening. She told me that there was an accident and they were not sure how long it would take to fix the problem.

I looked at my time and realized I had to be in Surabaya without delay or else I would miss my next train to Yogyakarta. I panicked a little. She seemed to notice this and told me I could take a bus outside but she didn’t know how long it would take to reach Surabaya.

Decisions had to be made. Fast. Do I wait for the train or should I take matters in my own hands and take a bus? Time was running out. Without much thought, I decided to go with the bus. Only problem was that I did not know where to get a bus and how long it would take for me to reach Surabaya. The lady officer seemed equally clueless.

As I approached my seat to get my bag, a lady asked me what was going on outside. I told her there was an accident and I needed to go to Surabaya.

And as if the heavens were listening to my dilemma, she told me she was from Surabaya and needed to get there early too. She quickly grabbed her bag and followed me out of the train.

She talked to someone in their own language and quickly found a van that could take us to Surabaya. Perfect.

For the next hour and a half, I was squished at the back of the van with my huge backpack sitting on my legs. I swear I could no longer feel my legs at the end of that loooong ride. Things were going crazy. I’d never felt so unlucky…

...but then this happened. A sign that things were going to get better.

We had a very interesting chat in the van. She was working in a university in Surabaya and also did a lot of charity work. One of her job was to help make sure the Indonesian women who go out of the country to find jobs were treated well. She told me stories about women being raped by their employers.

When we reached Surabaya, the road was packed with motorcycles even at dawn! It felt like eternity sitting in traffic. I looked at my phone and realized we only had a few minutes left before my train would leave. It was so thrilling and I swear I almost cried.

She was really nice enough to comfort me and told me she would take me to the train station since she lived just close by. When we got to the station, I said goodbye to her and thanked her for everything. I felt eternally thankful for her kindness. Literally a minute after I went inside the train, it started to move. I would not have made it in time without her help.

Unlike the first train I took, this time I went with an economy train. The air is filled with voices and it feels more chaotic with sacks and bags sitting on the chairs. Indeed it was uncomfortable and stuffy even for a tiny person like myself but the locals were really nice so it made my ride unforgettable. Several folks were curious about why I was traveling alone and tried to help me with my questions as much as they could.

Somewhere along the way, our train stopped in the middle of nowhere. I looked out the window and did not see any signs of a station so I asked the guy opposite to me why we were stopping.

His answer caught me off-guard. He said that we had to wait for the first class train to pass before we could continue.

“We are in an economy train. Cheap. So we have to wait.”

I closed my eyes. Yogyakarta, I’m almost there.

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