Massage in Indonesia: Lombok

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Lombok basketry

On the island of Lombok we’re literally at the end of the road. We look at a map and decide that where the one road going inland up in the mountains stops, we’ll stop too. We end up in a small village called Tetebatu.

We walk through Tetebatu along the one street and everywhere people stand or crouch. They sit in the open thatched huts built on stilts to keep people off the ground when it rains. It rains every afternoon, non-stop torrents for 3 hours, and the shelters are full then.

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Clean water for homes is provided by fountains and wells. The locals wash themselves, their clothes, and their animals in them. But I see an ancient looking woman in a sarong carrying a flat woven basket full of rice. She kneels in front of her house and washes the kernels in the open stream that runs in a gully down the side of the street. Tropical medicine experts estimate that 80% of the Indonesian population have guts full of parasites, and it is evident to me why this should be so.

She looks up and gives me a smile so open, so beautiful, that I am temporarily blinded.

That afternoon a Danish couple accompanied by an Indonesian man and boy check in. The couple take the room next to us, while the Indonesians stay in the next bungalow. We exchange smiles and hellos, but nothing more. We’re at the end of the road on the other side of the world, and I savor the sense of isolation from the familiar and known.

The air is significantly cooler up here in the mountains. For the first time in our trip to Indonesia we both wear jeans. Uwe puts on a jacket and I pull out a sweater. That night the Indonesian in the next bungalow comes out on his porch. He has wrapped himself in the blanket from his bed against the chilly air.

“Good evening!” he says, and comes and stands by the little low gate that leads up to our bungalow.

Uwe and I sit under the porch lights reading and chewing on bags of nuts we’d bought at the coastal market a few days earlier. We pull up another chair and ask him to join us. His name is Udin. He lives on Gili Meno, a little island northwest of Lombok. He’s in Tetebatu as guide and translator for the Danish couple we’d exchanged nods with earlier.

The Danes are medical researchers investigating the local plant life. They are asking the native Sasaks which plants they use for healing and in what capacity. That afternoon we’d seen the three of them, Udin’s son trailing a few feet behind, walk around the grounds and stand by various shrubs and trees and bushes on the property. Since everything is unbelievably lush, and either flowering or bearing fruit, I had not thought twice about their activity. The fecundity of the landscape is a wonder. I keep stopping too, to crow over some gaudy flower or vivid tree.

“From here we will go to visit my mother,” Udin says. She lives in a village further south on Lombok. Although on a map the two locations are within spitting distance of one another, it’s too expensive for him to make the trip more often. He hasn’t seen her in over a year.

This is the first time in his life that he’s been in a hotel room. Udin feels very fortunate to have hooked up with the Danish couple. He switches from talk about himself and asks us about ourselves with the innate charm and politeness of the Indonesians. What are we doing here? Where are we from?

Udin looks alert when I say I’m a massage therapist.

“I have great pain here and here,” he says, and points to his calves and the small of his back. “I worked since I was 8 years old carrying sacks of rice weighing 60 kilos from the rice fields. Then I worked on a fishing boat. I was wet and cold all the time. Now that I am older I ache always in these places.”

He tells us about the hard life on Lombok. “Bali is rich. Here, you might earn 2,500 rupiahs for a day’s labor. But then the economy collapsed. A kilo of rice has gone up in price in the last 2 years from 500 rupiahs to 3,000.” He mentions again that his body aches from the hard labor he’s done all his life.

“Would you allow me to give you a massage?” I feel sure that this is what he wants to request, without being so forward as to actually ask.

Udin promptly says yes and moves over to stand in front of me. I am a little concerned. It is now night and I am about to do massage on someone standing on a porch in the middle of nowhere. Also, if Udin is from Lombok he must be Muslim. I recall the occasional male patients I can’t treat in the medical clinic back in Stuttgart.

“Is it permissible for me as a woman to touch you?” I ask.

“Of course, it is no problem,” he answers.

Compressions and cross fiber friction, I finally decide. I start to work. Udin’s muscles are ropy. He has no extraneous fatty tissue anywhere after a lifetime of hard work and rice. Udin grimaces once or twice, but remains standing. I work on him for perhaps 20 minutes and stop. We talk a while longer. Then Udin excuses himself and heads to bed.

The next morning Uwe and I have coffee on the outdoor patio of the hotel. The Danish couple and Udin come up for breakfast before leaving. To my surprise the Danish couple head straight over to our table and shake our hands.

“I hear you’re medical researchers,” I say, intensely curious about them.

“Yes, and we hear that Udin got a massage last night. He’s always working,” they answer, and begin to ask us questions. The acknowledgement from them is rewarding and sweet.

Udin sits with us for a few minutes. “How are you feeling?” I ask.

“I feel well. I am well for the first time in many years. I am without pain!”

I’m inexplicably moved, and glad I took the time the night before to help this man.  Maybe, I think, maybe I earned us some good travel karma.

***

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Udin on Lombok, 1999

NOTES: For more on Indonesia go to my posts Baum, Bats, and Monkeys and Massage in Indonesia: Java. A common topic thread is Travel Karma.

Photo Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell or Uwe Hartmann. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.) More photos of our trip to Indonesia and Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

PLEASE NOTE: I’ve moved. You’ll find me (and all of my previous posts) at my new address jadicampbell.com.

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14 thoughts on “Massage in Indonesia: Lombok

  1. What a wonderful story! As was the one about losing and recovering your purse. People reaching out to others in big or tiny ways – even if it’s only that beautiful smile – is truly what makes life worth living! I’m sure the man who received the massage will always remember your kindness and willingness to step out and offer something in an unfamiliar situation.
    I also enjoyed looking at Uwe’s excellent photos, especially New Zealand, which is one of my favorite places.

    • I suspect we’ll always have misunderstandings, but hope we can keep civil and work through them. After over 20 years in Europe I’ve still experienced ‘culture bumps’ when I least expect them. 🙂

  2. Thank you for reviving my memories of the beautiful village of Tetebatu – Ann and I stayed there in the 80s, in a bungalow with a view over an open valley of rice fields which we contemplated for hours, listening to the sounds of flowing water, watching the people and all their diverse activities, following the ducks. And early in the morning, if clouds permitted, we were rewarded with the majesty of Rinjani. Fond memories.

    • What an fantastic coincidence! Thanks for reminding me of the view when the fogs lifted! We stayed in the only hotel if I remember correctly… and also spent a lot of time sitting on the porch of our little bungalow with a view over the rice fields and the valley. A foot path ran just in front of the building and the villagers walked back and forth from the fields, always greeting us as they went by. My hair was even curlier in the heat and humidity, and I was amused how many people (young boys included!) called out, “Nice hair!” Everyone was curious about where we were from and how we had ended up in Tetebatu. On the second day the local teacher brought his class of girls to meet us and practice their English with me; not a single girl trusted herself to speak. But I pulled out the little Bahasa Indonesian dictionary we’d brought along and tried to encourage them, and the teacher and I chatted. What a wonderful thing to read that you experienced the same lovely and remote spot! What brought you to Lombok?

  3. I fell in love with Indonesia in 1973 when we followed the hippy trail from Australia to Europe, and Indonesia was the first country on our journey. Subsequently we visited often, exploring the diverse lands and cultures of the country, including Lombok. We met Indonesians on that first trip who are still friends, and we have felt part of their lives as they have married and their families have grown. I can relate to your hair story, as Ann’s luxurious red curly hair attracted attention wherever we went. Once when she bent down to put her sandals on after a visit to someone’s house, a little grandmother took the opportunity to run her fingers through Ann’s hair and inspect it thoroughly.

  4. Pingback: # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # | jadicampbell

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