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And Then We Were Bedfellows 2017

Making a local connection

Jamie Sterling


When I bought my train ticket to Bandung, I conveniently overlooked the fact that it would arrive at 3:00am.

In my budget-traveller mindset, I was thrilled to be able to save on a night of accommodations and didn’t give much thought to how I would spend the other half of the night. Fleetingly reassuring myself, I remembered that I’d heard the local markets start at 4:00.

It should be fine.

Not being bound for a tourist destination, I was the only foreigner on the train. I was seated next to a middle-aged woman who spoke very little English and I, no Indonesian. It wasn’t until we had almost reached our destination that we began communicating — with a few key words and some creative hand gestures.

I learned that she was a mother of two on her way home from visiting a man, a love interest. She was concerned that I was a woman traveling alone. On realizing I had no plans for where to stay, she insisted I come home with her.

When the train arrived, the city was eerily dark and quiet. Save the taxis outside the station, there was hardly a sign of life let alone a bustling market. We got in a car that brought us to a 3-storey, grey stucco townhouse of sorts with a storefront on a big, deserted street. She led me inside to a dark foyer, flicked on a dull light bulb swinging from a wire, and busily started setting up a nearby room.

Suddenly, she stopped, indicated that I wouldn’t be comfortable there alone and led me to a small room upstairs where she motioned for me to take a spot on two mattresses that were pushed together on the floor. Her young daughter was already asleep on the near side, I laid down on the far side, and she climbed in between us.

We slept the rest of the night together.

The next day she brought me breakfast and escorted me to different shopping malls in the city. Her squat, small body always made it seem like she was attentively hurrying around. I met her son and daughter who had learned enough English in school to be able to have a conversation with me. She beamed with pride and in her, I recognized my own parents.

By the time I had to leave for the airport that afternoon, the day had become the highlight of my trip. It was one of those hard-to-come-by moments that are truly special – not because I saw or did anything exciting but because I had the opportunity to connect, despite language and culture, with a warm-hearted and generous human being.

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