In Makassar, I followed Google’s cyborg-voiced directions into the scrum of morning traffic.
Indonesians tell me that Makassar drivers are the most aggressive in Indonesia, and Makassar people the most likely to end up in a fight. When I was a small child, I remember my father introducing me as, ‘Grace, my youngest daughter, the one who starts bar fights’, so you’ll be surprised to learn that I never tested the fisticuffs hypothesis. However, I can confirm that Makassar drivers take no prisoners. Whereas on other islands, drivers and riders yield politely and make way for others, in Makassar every day is just a glorious new opportunity to play chicken. I adjusted my riding style accordingly.
I was heading for the home of a friend – a new friend, who had heard that I was travelling through Indonesia and had invited me into his family home in true Indonesian biker style. When he’d first messaged me on Facebook I’d thought, oh no another random, but sometimes randoms turn out to be your new best friend. After some backwards and forwards, I’d decided that the invitation was exactly what it seemed – given in a spirit of generosity by good people with a shared interest in what I was doing.
After some shady directions from Google that resulted in some shady u-turns across six lanes of morning traffic, I eventually found the right side street, the right house. I was greeted with open arms by the Aditya and his wife, Isti. Their baby son Mika was slightly more circumspect about the sweaty, dirty stranger on the badly packed motorbike.
It was still early and I worried that I’d gotten these lovely people out of bed. Isti was wearing fresh cotton trousers and jacket with a satin rolled edge that I would have called sleepwear if they weren’t so pristinely pressed. As time went by, I would gradually come to understand the rhythms and sense of sanctuary of this large Muslim household. Inside the home is cool, comfortable, relaxed; everyone pads around barefoot, bareheaded, in loose comfortable clothing. There’s Aditya’s mother, father, uncle, sister, wife, baby son, three domestic helpers who live upstairs, and a grandfatherly old man who keeps an eye on everything in the front of the house. Most of the family rise before dawn, for prayers, but then often sleep again until seven or eight. The maids are up early, cooking food – rice, tofu, tempeh, fish, vegetables – that sits under a cover on the dining table for whenever the family wish to eat throughout the day. The baby is doted upon, naps are taken. Platters of cool guava appear on the coffee table in the afternoons. On going out – to work, to school, to shop – the women cover their hair, but inside the front gate, it’s a different world: cotton pyjamas, family, relaxation. The distinction between public and private, home and outside, is bright.
Stumbling into this cool welcoming world, it took me a little while to note these patterns, and fall in with them. I parked my bike inside the front gate, behind Aditya’s Versys. The family welcomed me and made a space for me, ushering me into one of the largest rooms in the house. Air conditioned, quiet; comfortable bed, ensuite. Just for me. It was heaven.
Later, I became fairly sure that my arrival had displaced Aditya’s uncle from his usual bedroom, but in typical Indonesian style – that of consummate hospitality – I was assured that my presence was no trouble at all, that this space was for me, that I should make myself absolutely at home.
It was heaven. I have always been a person who values solitude, who craves personal space in which to unwind and regenerate. When flitting in and out of other people’s lives, homes and countries, this can be hard to find. Moreover, within the easy sociability of southeast Asian life, I find that my friends worry most that I am lonely, and often can’t relate to my need to be alone. So Aditya’s gift to me of privacy and personal space within the welcome of his family home meant the world.
The next few days were characterised by vignettes of Makassar family life interspersed by late sleep-ins and cool midday naps.
Aditya and I went out for lunch and ngopi – late night coffee hangouts – with his biking friends, and I got to admire everyone’s sweet rides while getting overcaffeinated at a ridiculously late hour.
I had some work to do on the bike – valve clearances, brake fluid, and my clutch slave was leaking like a mofo – so Aditya asked his friend and mechanical guru Ilham to come over one night and have a look.
Usually, I’m ready to body-block most people who try to approach my bike with a screwdriver (no, it’s not the same as a Honda Dream, please don’t hit it with a hammer) but Irham is awesome. He used to work for Ducati in Jakarta, until he decided to come home from the big city; now he is calmly applying an uncommon standard of care and expertise to the motorcycles of Makassar. He is also an absolute top bloke, so I was incredibly happy to have him come and apply his superior mechanical mojo to my hardworking bike. I did the valve clearances, then settled back to watch and learn.
So the days slipped by. Aditya, previously a random internet person, became a much loved real world friend. I brought the insights about motorcycles and overlanding, and he answered all of my incessant questions about how Indonesian society seems to work.
After a while, I was still feeling too lazy to travel in earnest. I said that I’d go for a jaunt westward, to the pretty whitesand beaches where Makassar people go to weekend. I’d just go for a little while, leaving most of my gear, and then I’d return to this nexus of good times, good friends and home comforts in Makassar.