After 3 weeks in Indonesia, I find myself with about a week left on my Visa, wondering what to do. As a recovering perfectionist, I give up trying to figure out the “right” answer and just commit to staying here someway, somehow. I almost hire an agent to do the Visa extension for me, but I want to see Lombok (the island next to the Gili’s, larger than Bali), so going to immigration there seems like a good excuse to explore it. I find Nana, a local Couch Surfing host at the last minute. She is a local, living in Mataram, the capital of Lombok, where the immigration office is located.
My “taxi” from Gili Air to Lombok
I hire the boys on Gili Air to take me with their fishing boat to Lombok. I wash up on shore and a taxi takes me to Mataram to Nana’s apartment. She happily invites me in to her little, one-room place. I’m stunned by her generosity of letting me stay here (along with her sister who sleeps on the floor). I’m also perplexed how to use the squat toilet (and no toilet paper!); I later google it and realize why people only eat with their right hands here. Nana drives me all over Mataram to buy a local cellphone. The electricity goes out in the city (typical). Nana shouts to me over the hum of a generator, translating what the phone clerk is saying. The women behind the counter smile and point at me. Nana tells me they are jealous of my “good” nose, as Asians have tiny noses. I try to take the compliment while secretly wishing I could trade for one of their small, cute noses. I realize I’m one of the only white, non-Muslim people in Mataram and I fall asleep that night feeling lonely and sad.
The squat toilets take me some time to get used to.
Nana drives me to immigration. I’m grateful to have worn my long dress and cardigan (everyone here dresses modestly, women often wearing headscarves). I give them my passport and they tell me to come back Friday (dammit! I have to stay in this city longer?) I make my way to Mataram Mall to wait while Nana works. A group of prepubescent girls in KFC (I’m there for the wifi, not the food), approaches me, giggling, asking for a picture with me. They skip away after, laughing. Everyone is so friendly, yet I feel more alone and like an outsider than ever. I find wifi and comfortable beanbag chairs in a cafe, where I also find Kylie (my travel buddy from Ubud); she is also extending her Visa here. She tempts me to come back to the island of Gili Trawangan with her until our Visa’s are ready, but—even though I’m tempted to ditch this drab city—I’d like to spend more time with Nana. In the evening Nana takes us to her cousin’s birthday dinner by the beach. They don’t speak much English, but I understand one woman explain that she’s self conscious about her weight and acne breakouts ever since having children. Women’s issues of self confidence seem to be universal. I eat with my hands like they do—well, just my right hand. I feel awkward and messy but happy to be learning the local ways.
Nana and me at her cousin’s dinner
I exhaust my options to fix my locked iPhone and happily hand it off to Nana’s friend who supposedly fixes Apple products. I don’t know if I’ll see it again but it’s my last resort. We head to her mom’s house for the night in East Lombok. Again, I’m happy to have brought clothes that cover my legs and arms. Nana only wears a headscarf to pray and, otherwise, says she doesn’t believe in having to dress a certain way, but she covers up to respect her mother, who wears a hijab and full dress. Nana’s mother is sweet and warm, welcoming me although she cannot speak English. We pantomime our way through simple conversation. We eat dinner outside on the gazebo, again with our hands. I’m glad to not be a strict vegan, as most of the dishes are meat—chicken and fish—and I couldn’t imagine refusing the food, especially as Nana’s mom happily heaps it onto my plate. Nana tells me how delighted her mom is that I will eat her food, as other travelers she’s brought home have been vegan, refusing to eat meat at all. That evening Nana’s mother lays out a rug in front of the tv so we can watch a movie, not before running into her bedroom and retrieving a decadent gold sarong which she insists I try on. I happily wrap it around my waist and she and Nana’s aunt laugh and laugh. Then, she goes back and brings out a stack of colorful, patterned cotton sarongs, Nana telling me to choose one to take with me. I select an orange floral batik and put in on, again making my hostesses laugh hysterically.
Wearing the gold sarong with Nana’s mother in her home
In the morning I again test my limits of culinary adventurousness, partaking in sautéed mushrooms and lamb for breakfast. Nana and I hop on a scooter and she drives us to the beach, stopping along the way to visit the man who watches over some of her family’s farmland. He offers us sweet corn and I eat it gratefully. A woman nearby watches me with interest and Nana translates her saying of me: “Oh, she eats corn!” A group of children peak their heads around the corner and when I smile at them they dash back into the house, giggling hysterically, repeating over and over. Before we leave, the man requests we take a picture together with my camera, so I can bring the photo back to America with me. We head back to Nana’s mom’s house and there is baby squid for lunch, which her mother heaps on my plate. I try not to look at the little tentacles as I chomp down, black inky juice running down my hands. Nana’s mother tells me I am welcome back there anytime. On the way back to Mataram, we hear from Nana’s friend that my phone is fixed and ready and we both scream with happiness. I am reconnected to the world outside of Lombok and it’s amazing—and slightly embarrassing—how happy it makes me.
The man who wanted his picture taken to America, along with the children who were both fascinated and afraid of me.
The next day is Chinese New Year and everyone has off work, so Nana’s friends, Yuli and Nining, join us to go to the beach in South Lombok. The girls are friendly and totally hilarious. They speak English and remind me of my friends from home: silly, sarcastic and…single. Nana says women here often marry young, by age 21, and that they—between 24 and 27—are in no rush. I realize the conversations are also similar to those with my US friends, laughing and joking about hairy legs, our love of food, and—of course—romance. I realize I’m actually sad to say goodbye; tomorrow I get my Visa.
Yuli, me, Nining and Nana at the beach.
I pick up my Visa at immigration; success! I later return to my post at Mataram Mall and Kylie is waiting there for me (unplanned, but neither of us are surprised). The owner of the mall cafe, Marta, invites us to his hotel near Rinjani Mountain for the next day and we agree. Nana happily agrees to host Kylie as well that night at her place. We spend the evening watching an American chic flick, some silly movie which is so comforting and familiar, a girls’ night sleepover in Nana’s little apartment.
We say our sad goodbyes, Nana not being able to join us as she has to work that day. I am really going to miss her, my new Indonesian sister! Marta drives Kylie and I to his hotel, Rinjani Lodge, which is absolutely breathtaking, overlooking rice paddies in the middle of the mountain.
The largest waterfall we visit
We hire a guide to take us to the two nearby waterfalls. He speaks English and helps us along the path surrounded by tropical lushness through the mountains. The second waterfall, the largest one, requires crossing barefoot through several rivers with slippery stones. We all hold hands across, praying we stay upright and our phones dry. When we finally reach the falls, our guide tells us not to get too close, as the pressure of the water is dangerously strong. After wading through the cold water about ten feet from the waterfall, we understand, feeling the intense power of the water through the air, mist drenching us. Later, Marta drives us back down the mountain and to the port where we each catch boats, Kylie to Gili Trawangan and I to Gili Air. I soak my sneakers as I board the boat and hit my head on the low roof, silently cursing these island ways and short ceilings for short people. Amazing how grumpy I can still be in paradise. Twenty minutes later and I’m back on Gili Air, one week after leaving. It feels like it’s been ages. I went to Lombok to extend my Visa and did so much more, gaining Indonesian family and friends and discovering a side to the country I hadn’t seen before. I realize that while I may travel alone, I am never truly alone.
A beach stop with Nana in East Lombok