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KUPANG KUPANG KUPANG July 28, 2005 Español

Posted by Belle in : Kupang, Indonesia

Liz, Dio, Theo, and I arrived in Kupang after quite a long day and a half journey. I was hoping that maybe Dio would be better on the plane since he is a bit older than the last time he flew. Hope is all it was. The moment we stepped off the plane in Kupang, the warm, soft air for which I had been yearning for months washed across my face. Our journey was starting again. Seeing how happy Dio was when he saw Wence brought tears to my eyes. He was so sweet. He said, “PAPA!” He threw his arms around Wence’s neck and just held him. When he pulled away, he put his hands on Wence’s face, smiling as if he could not believe what he was seeing. I hope the kids don’t have to be away from Wence for that long again until they are much older. I remember feeling something like relief and total calm a few moments after reuniting with Wence. We were a family again.

The moment we got out of the airport we crammed into a small bus which they call bemos. There are many bemos, all oldish, run down, blasting house or hip hop so loud that the beat of the bass synthesizes with your heart beat and whether you like it or not, you are part of the music, tapping, nodding your head. Dio LOVED it. He would nod his head like some wise rasta. As we made our way to the city of Kupang, it became obvious that we were in a very different kind of place. This is by far the most different place that we have been. The people look different, the language sounds very unique, and the life here, the customs etc. are very different. Some of the people in Kupang looked like they could be Indian, others Middle Eastern, others Chinese, and others African. Unlike most of Indonesia, Kupang is mostly Catholic. 180,000 of the 220,000 inhabitants are Catholic and the remaining 40,000 are a mix of Presbyterian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu. They have it all. Driving through the streets of Kupang, it is very obvious these people are poor by western standards, but they don’t seem to know that or care. It is hard to know how different our experience of Kupang would have been without children because I have never been in a culture that seems to love children the way they do here. Dio and Theo are the greatest possible ambassadors. Everybody wanted to hold them and make them smile.

The first night we arrived we left the kids with David and Liz and Wence took me ashore to an organized dinner the rally was having. I guess the people of Kupang were very happy because this year there were over 70 boats in the rally. More than there have ever been in the past. They need all the tourism they can get here. Especially in 2000 after the UN put them on the DO NOT VISIT LIST after delegates from the UN were killed by terrorists there. I was surprised to find that most of the cruisers in the rally were over 50. Lots of retired couples. We sat down next to two young families, one Australian couple, York and Susan, and their two kids,and an American family, Eric, Nicole and their daughter Luna who is a little younger than Dio. There were a few speeches, awarding the fastest boat, the organizers, etc. then there was some Indonesian dancing and music. One dance was a war dance, the dancers in traditional clothing waived fake machetes. The music does not sound like anything I have heard. A couple of drums, a few stringed instruments and all of the musicians singing. It sounds a little clangy, but I like it. Then a local interpreter got up to welcome us and then to interpret the mayor’s speech. Wence turned to me and said half kidding, half serious, “Should I invite the mayor for lunch?” “Sure. Why not.” As I heard the words fall from my mouth, I was surprised at how much I have changed in the years that I have known Wence. I never would have wanted to do something like that before. It would have seemed like such a huge deal. Who else from a group of sailors from around the world would have thought to invite the mayor to lunch. None of them, of course. Wence is truly an original. I know I benefit greatly from his outgoing, fearless personality. Look at me, I am living on a boat for god’s sake, traveling around the world! Wence came back with a big smile. The mayor had said yes!

The next day we waited for the mayor and the interpretor’s arrival for lunch. Ricardo was waiting for them on land. He told us they were running a little late. A half hour later or so we saw our dinghy, Simpaticita coming our way. Then another, larger launch. And another. The mayor was being escorted by the military! Of course Wence loved that. It turned out that the mayor, his wife, the interpreter, and one of his assistants ate with us at the table and a group of other men sat on the trampoline waiting for lunch to be over. The mayor did not really speak much English so having the interpretor there was great. Wence asked all kinds of economic questions, what was the major employer in Kupang, the colleges and a cement factory. We learned that most of the tourists come from Australia and since 2000 the lack of tourism in Indonesia has really hurt Kupang. They are really trying to get off that UN list. Since Kupang is mostly Catholic, they make it very clear they are not Muslim, nor do they agree with any of the acts of terror Muslims in Indonesia have committed. They even say that the terror acts in Indonesia were performed by Muslims recruited from Malaysia. Marto, the interpretor went so far as to say that Kupang would not allow those kinds of Muslims amongst them. They would kill them themselves rather than have them in their city. At the same time Marto told us that Kupang is very accepting of all its religions. Muslims can be seen attending Catholic services and vice versa. They resent being piled into the Muslim group. The mayor’s wife was very sweet. She spoke Enlgish very well and was very warm. She held my arm every time she spoke with me about something. I was happy to hear she is a midwife. I am fascinated with midwifery. She told me that most of the people in Kupang have their babies as home because it is too expensive to have in the hospital. She did not have any numbers on healthy births or anything like that, but she did say that most mothers over 35 in Kupang have automatic c sections to avoid complications. When I told her I was 35 and planning on having two more children naturally she smiled and said nothing. We had a very nice lunch. Liz and David had prepared a wonderful lunch with chicken, steak, and roasted potatoes. Luckily we just had enough to feed everyone, though the military had to tough it out on the trampoline.

Marto, who is also very active in Kupang’s tourism industry, invited us on a special outing the next day. He told us about a village called Boti, a three to four hour drive from Kupang, that was still ruled by a raja, or king who kept the village of over 200 inhabitants still living in the old traditional style. It sounded just like something we would love. Worth the 6 hours in the car with two small children. Eventhough it turned out to be 10 hours in the car, with flat tires, trucks rolling backwards up big steep hills, it was still worth it. These people lived in small huts built of wood and grass. They made their clothes from the cotton they harvested and ate food they grew as well. They dressed mostly in traditional ikat sarongs and shawls, ate betel nuts,a mild narcotic, all day. The men grow their hair long after they are married and wear it up in a knot on their heads. The women also wear their hair up on their head. Dio had a ball chasing a baby pig and chickens. The older children chased him around and lifted him up, fighting over who got to carry him. At first he was a little resistant, but then he liked it. But he did have his favorites. He would not let people who were too excited to hold him and just grabbed him get away with that. He would immediately scream and ask for one of the other kids to hold him. After watching this for a bit, I excused myself to hide off in the bushes somewhere to feed Theo. After a few minutes, I was surrounded by women watching me. They were fascinated with the Baby Bjorn and wanted to see how it worked. After Theo had a rather explosive caca, I changed his diaper with a mat, wipes, diaper and all. They would point to the wipes and start talking to each other, then the diaper. When I was trying to get rid of the used diaper, the offered to take care of it for me and I could not help but wonder if one of their babies would not be wearing a cleaner version later. They brought one of their babies to sit next Dio and asked me a question. I had no idea what they were saying, of course. Then one of them motioned that the child was 8 months and asked me how old Theo was. When I told them three, they looked at Theo like he was as freak of nature and then started laughing. When I picked him up, clean and dressed, they motioned to hold him. Each woman, when taking Theo in her arms, would smile and put her nose right next to his and inhale, like they were breathing him in. Then they would laugh and make the international baby noises. Amazing how babies bring us all together. I could not have been more different than these women and yet we were able to communicate and share our love of our children with each other.

After the long drive back to Kupang, Apollo who was kind enough to drive us in his car that day and his wife Ulfi, invited us to their house where a veritable feast had been prepared. Coconut corn and rice, pork, chicken, Cancun, which is a yummy grass they prepare in a similar was to spinach that we all fell in love with and a fruit salad that they serve in a cup filled with something like sweet milk. It was very yummy. We were grateful to see their house and meet their family. Dio chased a small puppy in and out of the room while we all ate. When we finally got all of our stuff together and got into the cars, very ready to be in our boat, another flat tire. It would have way too easy if we had just been able to go home like that. That day we had to work for everything we got. I guess some days are like that.


From the day I arrived Wence talked about how fun it would be to drive a Bemo. Whatever, I thought. Driving IN them is fun enough. But what is enough for me is never quite enough for Wence. Wence is the consummate story teller. He really loves telling stories, and like most of the people in his family, he is very good at it. He would say the best, of course, my modest argentine. So strong is his love for a good story that sometimes it takes over everything else. Instead of living life, having interesting things happen, and then telling that story, as most of us live our lives, Wence will see a situation and think what a great story telling opportunity it may provide. Wence wanted to drive a Bemo, yes because it would be fun and cool to try to do something that Indonesians do, a job for a day. A broader experience of the culture, perhaps. But Wence was less interested in the actual act of Bemo driving than he was in the thought of the countless story telling opportunities it would provide. So, like some naí¯ve or retarded person, I let him talk me into coming along with him. With the two boys. The only thing I asked was that it be no more than an hour. Of course not, he and Ricardo told me and I believed them, forgetting about LT. Latin Time. Wence recruited Ricardo to be the conductor, to collect the cash and stand outside the door and yell at the people on the street, KUPANG KUPANG KUPANG, so they would know where we were going. They also usually sit on a tiny little chair or crate right at the door. There are no seatbelts anywhere to be seen. I could sense Ricardo was a little hesistant at first. But after a few minutes he got into it. He added his own touch to the Bemo marketing, “BEAUTIFUL LADY, KUPANG KUPANG KUPANG”. Girls turned their head to see the spectacle of two westerners struggling to get passengers on a Bemo. The Bemo owner sat behind Wence, no doubt nervous about the safety of his treasured bus. And he should be nervous. Wence managed to shave off a few inches of the width of our Toyota Lucida in Auckland. A foot or two from his Porsche. Let’s just say that Toyota Landcruiser he had in Miami went off to used car heaven after he had it for two months. When wence got into the Bemo to drive he pretended he did not drive stick and the look on that guys face was absolute horror. After an hour of Bemo driving, Dio passed out on the bench in the back. As each customer got into the bus, I had to keep moving Dio until he was finally on my lap next to Theodore who was in the Baby Bjorn. All of the sudden that was it. I had had enough Bemo and wanted it to be all over. But of course we were not in Kupang. How do I let this happen again and again. It’s like I am living Ground Hog Day, the Adventure version. He is so adventurous, I just love it. And I usually want to do the same things he does, but for a much shorter time period and in a more controlled environment. The Bemo driving was a great idea. For less than an hour. Not during dio’s nap time. Not driving so fast without any seat belts. But I never think of all those details until I am in the middle of the odyssey and it is always too late to turn back. At least there is no fear of living a dull life. Or even a dull moment with Wence. We made it back to Simpatica safe and sound, if very sweaty and exhausted from carrying the kids in the heat of mid day. And we got plenty of pictures and video of a moment that we will definitely not forget. And that was the point of everything wasn’t it!