Waiting for the Monsoon

Visiting with Alli
  |  Gorp.com

Since there are no roads on the island, someone takes a boat to the south side for fish, ice, fruit, and other perishables. When we arrive in the small fishing village, Alli turns the boat around and backs it onto the beach. I toss the anchor, and a group of children come out to stare at the tall stranger. A few adults offer me blank staresnot glares, but indifferent looks. As soon as I smile, though, they grin back and all tension is released.

I've noticed this about Malaysia, that you receive from the people what you give. If you are negative, so are they, and life can be difficult. If you are friendly and outgoing, finding company is never a problem.

Alli and I walk from store to store, picking up supplies for the restaurant. From one stall we get bananas still on the stalk, from another we reserve a dozen ten-pound blocks of ice. Then we cross the village to buy a bag of shredded coconut. Outside the store, on the seat of a chair, is a curved knife. To the side, a pile of empty shells. And in between, fragrant shavings from the fresh nuts piled waist high.

Following Alli down an alley to the chicken merchant, we pass women doing laundry at the communal well and children playing with kittens and goats. The children approach me, hugging my knees. I squeeze them back and they hold their hands high for me to grab and swing them around.

Everyone wears flip-flops or nothing on their feet. And though the homes seem run-down by western standards, most have televisions and stereos inside.

It's late morning, and from a loudspeaker issues the Islamic call to prayer. I ask Alli if he prays.

"Only when I need to," he says with a laugh.

We ask around for fish. Whatever we find will be dinner back at the Moonlight. Eventually we get a stingray, and Alli grabs the huge, flat fish by its long tail and swings it with both hands into the boat. It does a half twist in mid-air, from gray side to white, and is left with its mouth and gills facing up towards the sky.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Jun 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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