Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
Nusa Tenggara is a land of extremes, from extreme poverty to extreme luxury. In November 2013, Bali airport received 37% of all foreign tourist arrivals to Indonesia (far more than any other airport). Yet, the region of Bali and Nusa Tenggara has the highest proportion of city people living in poverty in Indonesia and the 2nd highest proportion of rural people living in poverty in Indonesia. We stayed on Lombok island for 5 days and Gili Trawangan for 5 days and in that time we saw dirt poor villages with no running water or sanitation and 5-6 star resorts with all of the luxuries one could wish for. Our 10 days in Nusa Tenggara brought to an end our 5 week trip through SW Malaysia and parts of Indonesia. We had a delightful time with our 4 year old son and 6 year old daughter giving up on travelling and sightseeing and simply lazing around on these lovely islands.
On our final day in Indonesia we started with a cidomo (horse drawn cart) ride to the beach, then a speed boat ride to Lombok island, where we were picked up by a driver who had driven us around Lombok previously. He took us to visit a traditional weaving workshop and 2 traditional Sasak villages then we flew to Denpasar domestic airport. On arrival I asked the ground staff about our international transfer and they told us where to walk. When I asked if it was a long walk the disinterested woman glanced at us, our backpacks and children and told us to approach ground staff in a golf cart to take us there. So we took our 5th form of transport to get to the international airport where we joined a huge queue to enter the airport. Inside the airport we realised that we needed equivalent of $15AUD each to pass through to our gate. We didn’t have that much but the tax collector had already stamped our boarding passes so she refused to return them to us. My husband waited with her, our luggage and our overtired son while I took our overtired daughter downstairs, tried 3 ATMs and finally was able to withdraw the cash to leave the country, then joined the by now even larger queue to enter the airport. Once through security we had a light dinner because the eateries had run out of food and finally boarded our late night flight home. At the airport we hired a car and took a leisurely route home, continuing our holiday by taking 6 hours to drive a 3 hour route by stopping at parks and an olive farm. That night we were delighted to sleep in our own beds. Our house is as we left it but with many new arachnid friends but the very hot summer has killed our lemon and 1 apple tree, 2 rose bushes and all of our herbs and vegetables.
At Sukarara, the traditional weaving workshop, we spent a pleasant hour learning about the traditional weaving techniques of the Sasak women, which is songkeet, and is a complex form of weaving that is done from memory and can incorporate gold or silver thread. Apparently even now a Sasak woman must be able to weave to be eligible as a bride, otherwise the family of the bride have to offer a much larger dowry if the woman is unable to weave. The weaver sits on the floor with the loom strapped to her back and her feet. The pieces of bamboo that you can see in the photo above are what move the threads to yield the desired pattern, so the more bamboo poles, the more complex the pattern. We watched the woman weave and then she moved aside and taught me how to weave.
Sasak men traditionally do ikat weaving which is much faster than songkeet and requires less memory because the pattern is drawn onto the cotton before starting. Next sections of the pattern are wrapped tightly with plastic to prevent uptake of dye and the cotton is dyed. The plastic is removed using a soldering iron to reveal the white cotton underneath, then a different section is wrapped and the cotton is dyed again. Once the dyeing process is complete, the cotton is placed on the loom and a slightly different pattern is woven onto it, yielding a two-sided woven fabric.
The guide at the workshop claimed that natural dyes are used and that local cotton and silk are used. I’m not an expert but the ‘silk’ looked and felt suspiciously artificial. Also, when questioned closely on the source of some of the more garish dyes the guide conceded that a mixture of natural and artificial dyes are used. It was difficult to even tell how much weaving is done there or if it’s really just a showcase for tourists. For the sake of preserving these talented and special weaving techniques I certainly hope that the initiative is genuine.
Predictably the workshop tour ended in a big shop full of ikat and some songkeet woven fabrics of different sizes. I bought one small antique songkeet table piece that appears to be dyed with natural dyes and is quite lovely with it’s traditional horse motif. Until I made that selection the guide was very persistent in drawing my attention to more and more options, while my poor children were acting up just to get some attention.
After a nice lunch at an otherwise deserted restaurant we braved a downpour of rain to see a traditional Sasak village in the south of Lombok, which was different in a few respects to Segenter village that we viewed in the north of Lombok. Most notably the roofs have a very different shape. The floor of the huts is made from a hard packed mixture of clay and cow manure. The wife sleeps inside the hut and the man sleeps on the large verandah floor, unless he wishes to make a conjugal visit in which case he is supposed to knock and ask permission to go into the hut.
We were ushered into a hut and then into a shed lined with songkeet and ikat weavings. We were assured that these are woven in the village but when I asked where are the looms the guide looked concerned and said in the huts. The huts are small and maybe it’s true but maybe these were sourced elsewhere and just sold in the village as a business. I was heavily pressured to buy something and eventually capitulated just to get out of there. Outside the shed the guide tried to walk us up a path gushing with muddy water but considering that we were about to take a night flight I told him that we wanted to leave. Now the guide was disturbed and asked if I was satisfied with his explanations. I said that we wanted to get out of the rain but he continued to pester me and finally reminded me that I needed to pay the guide (i.e. him).
I left the village wet and surprisingly annoyed by the money grabbing attitudes of these self elected guides who never seem to be satisfied no matter how large the tip, and the trap laid for me with the ‘shop’ where I was pressured to buy something to help the villagers be able to afford to buy rice.
We preferred the food in Java and the friendliness of the Javanese people. After the intensity of uninvited interactions in Java the anonymity of being just one of the multitudes of western tourists in Nusa Tenggara was refreshing. However the indifferent to sometimes hostile attitude of many people in Nusa Tenggara made us feel like commodities and at times unwelcome as people turned away rather than return our greetings in Bahasa Indonesian and touts clamored to rip us off. For beautiful beaches, peace and quiet, the Tiga Gili are unbeatable and overall we had a wonderful trip to Nusa Tenggara and we look forward to our next trip!
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