He said…She said…

This day began, like most in my blessed Bali life, with Ketut. He appeared punctually at 8:45 with my breakfast and the daily profusion of fresh flowers: blood-red hibiscus, fragrant frangipani, and the lovely golden throated bloom that neither of us can identify.

But today was markedly different. His appearance with food was not preceded by the call-and-response mantra between me on the balcony and him in the garden. Every day for the past three months the pleasantries of “Good morning, how are you? Good, and you? Good. How did you sleep? Good, and you? Good, thank you,” have been exchanged from my lofty perch to his earthy one, followed by:

“You want eat?”

“Yes, please, papaya, toast, tea.”

“You want now?”

“Yes, please, now.”

Nine days out of 10 I order the same breakfast. I am bored hearing myself repeat it.

So yesterday, armed with my dictionary, I said, “Ketut, breakfast is always the same. Why don’t I eat every day at 8:45 a.m. You bring papaya, toast, and tea at 8:45. Does that work?” We agreed that if I anticipated wanting a variation on the theme I would alert him the night before, otherwise he would appear at 8:45 with the usual. So there he was this morning, 8:45 on the dot, beaming.

Feeling almost giddy with a new system that seemed far superior to the old one, we chatted away as I ate. I asked him about his childhood, what did he do when he was little. He made a chopping motion with one hand and said, “For cow.” We have spent enough time with each other by now that even the most cryptic of phrases, with accompanying hand signals, is decipherable.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “You cut the food for the cows. How old?”

“Ten,” he said.

“What did you do when you were younger?”

“Play,” he said.

“What did you play?” I’ve been to his village. There are no toys, no kiddie parks, no swing sets.

“No have…” he stopped.

“No toys, no games?” I supplied the missing English words.

“Ya, no many many. Play in…” he made horizontal motions with his hands.

“Street? Yard?” I’m guessing.

“Ya,” he said.

“With other children in village?”

“Ya,” he said again. “Like this.” He pointed to the tiles on the floor of the balcony and pantomimed drawing lines. I got excited.

“Oh! You draw rooms on the ground? Pretend house?” He looked confused.

“No. Like this,” he said and began jumping from one tile to another. It was hopscotch! I leaped out of my chair bursting with laughter. “Oh! Sama-sama! In my country also!” Then we bounced around the balcony in an imaginary game of hopscotch wildly impressed with each other. After that we played jump-rope, and hide-n-seek.

These mundane occurrences are profound. They span oceans, decades, and vast cultural divides. They form a link where none exists between a 30 year old Balinese man from a remote mountain village and a 60 something woman from a place and culture he cannot even imagine. It says that maybe we are not so different after all. Once we were children. Once we played hopscotch, and hide-n-seek, and jumped rope with our little friends.

We did not intentionally pose like two peas in a pod for this photo!

We work hard to understand each other. His English is sketchy. My Indonesian is hit and miss, mostly miss. But there is a language that transcends all differences. It is blind to color, class, or creed. It is neither written nor spoken, but today we spoke it fluently. It is called childhood.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lottie Nevin
    Oct 13, 2012 @ 09:43:07

    Sherry, your words are beautiful, truly beautiful. If only hopscotch could save the world, stop war, stop famine, guarantee peace. Imagine how wonderful that would be?

    Like

    Reply

  2. Diane Struble
    Oct 13, 2012 @ 23:28:30

    He is truly a treasure.

    Like

    Reply

  3. healingpilgrim
    Oct 14, 2012 @ 06:19:04

    Ah, the memories that bind us to people who would otherwise be strangers – and childhood memories are so universal indeed. That papaya looks absolutely enak 🙂

    Like

    Reply

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