One village… two worlds.

Batukaras is a pretty spectacular place, there is no doubting that. It is a place where dark chocolate sand meets the sapphire sea. Every traveller I have spoken to who has stumbled into this village seems to have been enchanted by its beauty and hypnotised by its laid back attitude and general air of ambivalence… I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t fallen head over heels for the sandy shores.

But like anywhere else in the world, the world of a tourist and the world of a resident are two different places. The magic they see is very different to the magic I see, for Batukaras is more than just its tourist enchantment. Batukaras is a fishing village, and beyond its sandy shores and perfect peeling waves this village has a soul all of its own.

In the morning Batukaras wakes early long before the sun peeks over the horizon. The village wakes early to pray. The often haunting call of the mosque washes through the crisp morning air and becomes a tangle of voices, out of synch – all calling to the same God and the same followers from the myriad of mosques scattered throughout the village.

And so the day begins.

Fishermen can be seen dragging their catches ashore some mornings, depending on the tide. There is nothing romantic about the life of a fisherman. These catches are sometimes large and sometimes small and sometimes hidden in the nets are creatures that would raise the voices of many wildlife conservationists. There there are no fishing laws, no legislations – no rules to follow – so every creature great and small is fair game. Boats filled with sting rays piled one on top of another, baby sharks pulled in from the reefs, kaleidoscope fishes crammed into nets and long snakes, and eels knotted around one another. There has been known to be natures finest in these nets both the large and the small from whale sharks to spectacular seahorses – all seen as equals, for sale or for dead they come ashore like the rest of them.

Down by the surf break it is pretty quiet as the sun rises. A few solitary surfers find their days rhythm riding the swell from point to point or across the rocky reef; tourists follow sleepy eyed into the water soon after cluttering it with their zinc, fancy surfboards and the strawberry scent of wax from western lands. They come in droves sometimes, loud, hungover groups of sunburnt skin demanding their turn on a wave. Sometimes they come in smaller groups, quieter groups who respect the lay of the land and wait their turn. By six thirty in the morning the local sellers have set up their stalls renting beach mats and boogie boards – often for days on end they sit in the sun in silence, with no sale to be made.

We together sit together often my husband and I nursing hot tea or coffee by the main drag, watching the waves roll around the corner. Often we surfed together here, but now my bulging belly keeps me in on the sand. I sit, feet deep in the dark sand and feel the last of the cool air before it is completely bled from the sky, replaced only by the hot blanket of humidity that will swaddle us for the rest of the day.

Behind the tourist hill is the village where we live alongside other little homes filled with farmers and fishermen and children. For my first year here I lived in relative privacy, apart from the locals, but since January this year we are among it all, right in the heart of village life. When you walk the dusty paths between houses you can see into the windows the lives of the locals. There are the children who cry and scream, the families that play together, there are tiny rooms which fit only a bed and bizarrely coloured fabric pushed against the windows to provide a shield. The communal well where women gather long before sunrise to wash the clothes of their offspring – ready for another day of soiling. There are little mandi’s (bathrooms) on the edge of rice feilds where people bathe their only privacy a woven bamboo shield. The smells of noodles, rice and chicken come from the smoke of the outside kitchens, battered woks balancing on open fires and dusty old women with bony hands stoke the fire and clean the soot from their eyes with rags. Tourists don’t see what we see every day. They don’t live it like we do. They don’t walk through the rice fields in the late afternoon, insects hovering around their skin like vultures careful to step over snakes and ducks and kittens abandoned for the night. You learn quickly living in a village that not every life is sacred, not every life can be saved. So you walk on.

There is more to this village than waves and cold beer. There is more to the people here than you see from watching the hawkers and beach boys loll around the brown sand day in day out with seemingly nothing better to do. There is a faith much stronger than those that toss it aside for a free beer from a tourist or a cheeky pre-marital escapade on the sand in the cover of darkness. There is a world beyond, a world full of cattle, water buffalo and rice fields and little school uniforms. There is a world where napping is only for the fortunate and hard work, brittle bones and chubby babes strapped to your back is the norm. There is a world where food has to be worked for and nothing comes for free, where dirt and rotten teeth and calloused hands are because of situation not choice.

This village has been my home now for almost 2 years, I have lived alongside the locals. I shop at the same market, I eat the same food, I walk the same streets, I’m married to a local boy and I’m growing a beautiful little mixed baby in my womb as I write these words. I have been local but I will never be a true local. As warm and cheerful as the people are, I will never be accepted as one of them. They will always stare and point and laugh at me. I will always be different, odd and unusual. Because as much as I feel at home here some days, every day the colour of my skin still glows white against the darkened dust on my feet. I am a different size, and shape, although officially my religion is the same, my beliefs are fundamentally different. At the market the women talk about my nose, my hair, my build, they gossip about what I’m wearing, they laugh hysterically when I buy local produce, snickering behind their hands wondering whether or not I know what to do with it. I understand much of what they say, but they don’t know that, I remain quiet and go about my day. They talk as if I’m not in the room at all. It can be lonely to be the outsider.

The world beyond the postcard picture is as diverse and full of politics and humanity and love and hate and judgement as any other village, suburb, city that I have ever stepped foot into. There is gossip and rumor and stories hanging on every corner about everyone I know some of it is true and others as false as can be. I don’t join in, I stand back, gossip was never my strong suit – it turns me an ugly shade of grey.

In the afternoon Batukaras is hot and sweaty. The heat of the day sits like a mother chicken over the small houses, incubating us. Children have already returned home from school, their white and maroon uniforms lay crumpled on a dusty floor somewhere for a mother to collect as they climb guava trees and suck at the fresh fruit. The little boys tie lengths of rope around dragon-like lizards and hang them from trees in my front yard, they cry when they don’t get their way and throw firecrackers under the seats of old men. The little girls are rarely seen outside, they are inside, helping their mothers… already put to work, learning the tasks that they will do day in and day out for the length of their lives. Little girls who play housewife much like little girls in Australia, the difference is these little girls have a giant baby slung around their shoulders and the food they help prepare is not made from mud and will feed a family tonight.

By seven in the evening a dinner of rice and tough meat and limp vegetables has already been served on banana leaves or chipped plates or straight into the hands of waiting children. The final prayer has been said and families go to bed. Fishermen head out some nights to see what the sea has in store for them, other nights when the tides not right they drink beer from chipped glasses and talk under the light of an old lamp on the porch of a temporary home – built on borrowed land.

And so the day ends.

Batukaras sleeps then. Many families sleeping on mattresses or wooden floors of the same house, little brown children strewn out like forgotten toys. At the same time tourists, showered, sprayed and done up in clothes that could feed a family for a month emerge from their bungalows and hotels ready to start the night. In small groups they walk the short cobbled road, glowing white in the dark night sky, toward the restaurants for the night to consume beer or arak or other home brewed bootleg spirits and dance on the beach around bonfires with brown skinned beach boys. As the night of debauchery begins on one side of the hill, the day ends on the other. Two worlds of one village, never to meet – never to collide – for one wouldn’t know what to do with the other.

Barefoot, worlds straddled but neither mastered.

3 Responses to “One village… two worlds.”
  1. photito says:

    Sounds like heaven. What a wonderful place to read about now that the family and I are planning our next trip! Thanks for sharing Batukaras:)


  2. sara says:

    this is really beautifully written sash. i’m so happy you feel at home here and i wish you and your family all the best. i think you’ll make an amazing mum. x S

  3. Parco says:

    Yeah, as a fellow resident of your neighbourhood, I know what you say about those women in the (Cijulang) market. Well said, Sash.

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