Village, wedding and betel nut

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 05, 2011

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Sunday, November 21, 2010

Last weekend, I tagged along with Ted and Nona for a trip North from Kupang to the city of Atambua, where Nona grew up and where much of her extended family still lives. We had been invited up for the wedding of one of Nona's many cousins.  It took us just over 6 hours to make the 300km trip, stopping briefly in villages along the way to buy bags of rice and bunches of tiny, sweet bananas for our hosts.  West Timor is among the poorest areas in the whole of Indonesia and driving through the middle of it was an eye-opening experience. 

We turned off the main road and, as rutted and twisty as that had been, it had nothing on the rocky trail we now followed into the mountains to the remote village where the wedding reception was being held.  Our arrival was met with a great deal of excitement – people came pouring out of traditional houses, neighbors piled over the fence or watched with interest from their doorways as we were greeted by the family

Further down the track, a huge tarp tent had been set up in front of several homes and underneath it had been placed several hundred plastic chairs, now nearly filled with guests.  Ted and I were the only Westerners there.

Nona got up to join some of the villagers for a traditional dance.  The women shuffled and spun gracefully in the middle of the dance floor while the men turned in erratic circles around them.  I was asked to dance by the village chief, a dignified older gentleman who led me through a western two-step.  (I thought I’d escaped country music but it’s all the rage here.  I heard the song "He’s gone country" at least 4 times that night.)  Ted says all the other men were too intimidated to ask me to dance – probably because I was taller than most of them.

Ted convinced me to try betel nut, the addictive substance of choice among many Timorese people.  “Think of it as a cultural experience,” he said.  A bite of a green plant, a bite of the red nut, a pinch of lime and a lot of chewing and spitting is involved in the art of betel nut, with the result being one’s teeth turning red and black.  (Insert nose-wrinkling here.)  I wasn’t surprised to find the stuff not to my taste: it was acidic, pine-y and sour, and after only a minute or two my tongue began to go numb.  So not a habit I intend to take up.

We spent the night with family members in a very simple, traditional house in the village.  No running water or plumbing, no ceiling - just a wide, conical roof, bamboo partitions for walls, oil lamps.  Staring up at the inside of the thatch roof, listening to the thrum of the cicadas and the snuffling of the pigs outside, I felt as though I had traveled back through time. 

We spent the next few days in Atambua with Nona’s two sisters and their kids, who share a house.  At night the sky lights up every few seconds with flashes of distant lightning, heralding the coming rainy season.  We sit outside in the cool of twilight singing Indonesian folk songs and the preteen girls from the neighborhood join us, serenading us with Justin Bieber’s “Baby, Baby, Baby Oh”.  How do they know all the words?
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Auntie Gopher on

Oh my gosh, your experience sounds amazing! Keep the updates coming, it is a geography/humanity lesson like no other! Love you, think of you every day.. Safe travels :)

Auntie Michele on

Just catching up on your adventures! wow! how fortunate you are!! Stay safe and have a blast...btw...Megan will love the Justin Beiber comment, she and Kate saw him in concert last week in Toronto. He is the first and last thing she listens to every day...

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