My last 5 days in Indonesia were flying by no matter how much I wished them to slow down. When I returned to Gili Meno everything was as it was before, the daily volleyball matches at 5pm, snorkeling boat trips during the day and evenings spent drinking rice wine around camp fires on the beach. The only things that changed were the faces of the tourists.
On one of my last nights Barone, Ludra and some others sang the song, “Leaving On A Jet Plane” with every word on point. They looked at me after and said, “this song is very meaningful to us and we sing it often”. “What do you mean”, I asked. They explained that they meet many different people from all over the world every week. “We become friends with them and then they leave to go back to their powerful countries and they forget about us”. It was touching and almost heartbreaking to hear them say this. “It’s not true”, I said; but this was the reality of their life, no permanent friendships just ones that would last a few days and then vanish in an instant, like it never happened. The only way they would ever see these tourists again would be if they decided to go back to Gili Meno because they surely didn’t have enough money to go and visit them. Yet I couldn’t help but think that the same must go for them, they meet new people every week and they too, probably forget about us, and it made me sad.
To think how simplistic their life was compared to where I came from in New York. They were living about 20 years behind the rest of the world. I don’t even think they got mail on this island. Most would work a few hours a day in touristy type jobs and then the rest of their time was spent walking up and down the beach front, cooling off in the ocean and napping in bungalows while enjoying the sounds of the ocean waves and the warm breeze. If they wanted to get some food or a drink but didn’t have any money that was ok they could always pay the next day. Only a few of them had cellphones, no one had email addresses and the majority didn’t even know the concept of facebook or instagram. If you needed to talk to someone you just had to walk around until you found them or ask someone and EVERYONE knew where EVERYONE was all the time. One time I went to a different part of the island for a few hours and when I came back all these people asked how I liked it down there. I had no idea how they knew I was down there but they knew!
In order to survive here you need to make about $70 bucks a month. Maybe it wasn’t enough to be rich but it was enough to be happy; and they were truly happy. I could see it in their eyes, always smiling and always joking around. Yes they were always saying they needed more money but not anymore than you or I would say with our comfortable jobs in America.
They were surrounded by a strong community, like one big family helping out whenever anyone needed anything. In the end I felt like I was part of their family; walking down the streets barefoot, learning how to eat rice and fish with my bare hands like they did (ok so they had to actually pick the fish off the bone and set it aside to let it cool for me because I found it too hot to pick up) and by the end I didn’t even need a flash light when walking home in the pitch black dark.
During my time there they would always say, you are so lucky, you are American, you got to go to school, you can have a good job and make lots of money and see things that we will never see, you have a beautiful life and you are very lucky. I know I’m lucky and feel grateful for that but the ironic thing was, is that I was thinking the exact same thing about them and their lives.