Rubber Time

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Saturday, June 9, 2007

Here, Indonesians have a saying called "rubber time." That's because here, time bends and stretches in its own unhurried way--a way that takes some getting used to for some Westerners. Basically, it means you can throw away your watch because you won't need it any more--a relief for me as a former magazine editor always ruled by the clock, stressing out over one deadline or the next.

But there are no deadlines here, for anyone. You eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're tired, arise when you've had enough, leave when you're ready.

I packed my watch on the second day and haven't looked back. At our project home base of Coconut Island, we've awoken at various times in the morning, usually by the roosters, which call raucously to each other over the rice fields, or by the singing from the mosque (always at 5 am). Besides that, we tell the time by the movement of the sun over the mountains. Sometimes it's hard to tell if it's getting dark because night is closing in, or if mist is rolling down the mountains, darkening the sky. No matter; if you are tired, just sleep.

Sometimes rubber time can be frustrating for a Westerner like me, because we are so used to being ruled by the clock. Our people are known here to always be in too much of a rush--we want everything now, now, now.

On our first day in Medan, we stopped in at an internet cafe to email our loved ones and tell them we arrived safely. It took a full 15 minutes and several tries just to connect to my Yahoo account. At first I was patient, but by the end I was sweating in the cramped, hot little room and getting testy with this rubber time machine. I finally got in to send my parents a quick email, and tell them not to expect any more for my two weeks in the jungle. That's rubber time!

On the day we left for our 6-day trek, we hurried out of Coconut Island, our main house in Bukit Lawan. "We're only rushing," Karen said, "because I know how long we'll have to wait at Felix's house."

We lugged our backpacks through the rice paddies to the main road, where we waited for a bus. "Do they come on a set schedule?" I asked Karen.

"Nah," she said. "It's just random."

As we waited, several buses went the other way, school children piled on top of the roof and hanging off the back. Dressed in pristine white uniforms, they stared and laughed at us bedraggled white girls on the side of the road. Our bus finally came. We piled onto the top and held on for dear life.

Felix's house is at the entrance to the jungle beside the Bohorok River, which divides the jungle from civilization. Several Indonesian men, most of them guides, were casually laying about on the large, ornately tiled entranceway, shirtless and smoking clove cigarettes. Felix brought out kopi (coffee) and bisquats (cookies), then lopped down a giant papaya from his backyard tree for our midmorning (?) snack.

"What time is it?" Briony asked. "Just curious." But I could tell by her buzzing, restless energy that she was dying to know. We were still waiting for Wanda, our main guide, to return with supplies for the trek and it seemed to be taking forever.

Karen obliged by asking, "Does anyone know the time?"

The men just shrugged, unconcerned.

"No watch," said Felix. "You know, rubber time!"

Several cups of kopi later, Wanda finally returned laiden with parcels, looking like a packhorse with cooking pots and bags of various sizes hanging off his tiny frame. Off we went, down the path amongst the giant palm trees, over the rickety bridge suspended over the Bohorok and into the jungle for our new adventure.
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