SOLO WITH TWO-PART HARMONY
"If we cannot together, I
understand you leave me; but you must looking what kind..."
"Youre missing the point, Yayuk. It's not a question of
whether or not our doing something together is possible; Im asking why
it always has to be preferable. Dont you ever feel the need to be
Not true. Yayuk had been quite content on her own in Indonesia. Reared
in a family of twelve brothers and sisters, solitude had been a rare and treasured state.
She had craved it, then cultivated it—since leaving home for Jakarta at age seventeen.
Now, after a month of constant companionship in America, followed by another two-plus
months in Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique, and Malawi, she, no less than Sebastian, was
feeling the strain. But she, unlike her partner, was committed to
couple-dom—at least for
the duration of their trip.
"Who I am, if not with you?" she would ask rhetorically,
expecting her awkward position to be understood. But Sebastian, a bachelor almost by
profession, was hopelessly self-centered. Steeped in the traditions of rugged
individualism, self-reliance, and to-thine-own-self-be-true,
he adhered to man apart as a philosophical given—acceptance of which denoted,
for him, intellectual honesty, an existential 'nobility'... gluing him to himself,
according to Yayuk, which was cowardly, a worming out of his agreement to see their
relationship through—or a lame excuse to do things behind her back; she mistrusted him.
Partly because of his experiences with a variety of former intimates; partly because she
eschewed such experiences herself; and partly because Sebastian was incorrigibly
This discussion, not yet an argument, had been initiated upon
Yayuk's displeasure at Sebastian's suggestion that she resume a nap while he go
off to buy a pair of swim trunks... alone... as in out of her immediate vicinity...
raising all manner of contrary gripes and alarms. Having engaged the services of Gerald
and Alex (Malawian editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) as guide and ferryman for
a day of snorkeling, barbecuing chumbo (a local fish), and hiking on nearby
Thumbi Island, the couple realized they were deficient in appropriate attire. Javanese
modesty, on the verge of prudishness, recommended Yayuk swim in her clothes; Sebastian,
far less persnickety, sought second-hand trunks... accompanied, in the end, by Ms.
Kertanegara, the privacy issue submerging like a snaggletooth crocodile.
Days at Cape
Maclear were drawing to a close, as Yayuk and Sebastian waited for the once-a-week ferry
to put in at Monkey Bay. Until then, the illusion of their being residents was pleasantly
sustained, the luxury of establishing a routine having reinforced the couple's
feeling at home. From two of the local crafts-people they bought gifts: a hand-carved
mahogany chess set with matching table, and a simple ebony dish in the likeness of a duck.
Yayuk loved the duck.
"No, Sebastian. You give it to your friends in
"Well buy something else for George and Ratiporn."
With a little more convincing, Yayuk's duck the
roughhewn dish became, wrapped carefully in a capulana and stowed in its proud
possessor's cumbersome shoulder bag. The chess set posed more of a problem. Intended
for a long-time mutual friend in Los Angeles, a professional chess player who had
introduced Ms. Kertanegara to Mr. Lazarus via transpacific mail, the table, its three
interlocked legs, plus thirty-two chess pieces would have to be packaged, transported to
the nearest post office, inspected, weighed, stamped, approved, and ultimately sent—not
so easy a process in third-world Malawi. Matthew Mtongola solved problem number one,
delivering the table and legs he had made all trussed up in recycled cardboard and strips
of nylon bias from a shredded tire (Sebastian threw in an extra twenty kwacha for these
materials), to which was added Edson Mhango's chess pieces. Next came an
eighteen kilometer trip to Monkey Bay. The 6:00 A.M. public bus already having left,
Steven's private pick-up was their only option—an illegal one at that, its typical
overloading incurring progressively heavier fines when caught en route by the
traffic-control police. About five kilometers shy of their destination, the truck broke
They walked—as did all seventeen of the other dislodged
passengers—down a shortcut bordered by fruit trees and freshly-tilled fields. Sebastian,
then Yayuk attempted to carry their package native-fashion, enjoying, despite the heat,
this unexpected trek through the rural countryside, laughing at their alternating
ineptness as each head proved ill-suited for bearing and balancing even so small a burden.
Eventually they intercepted the main road, detoured into a maze of shops and kiosks in
search of a replacement for a burnt-out flashlight bulb—actually finding one—then
proceeded to their primary destination... only to be told by the sole postal official that
their parcel was unacceptable. Its two securely connected sections needed to be
separated—adding to the cost, and increasing odds that part A, from part B, would forever
go astray. It also demonstrated how four hands employed to perform a task where two would
have been sufficient could incite a veritable squall of mutual aggravation—with
Sebastian's pique more pronounced than his "meddling" mate's.
"Would you let me do this!?" Sebastian snapped.
"Your faults like elephants, but you see none; my faults like
ants, but you see all," Ms. Kertanegara retaliated.
Finally, the operation an excessively-sutured success—and with little
else to do in the uninspiring port—the couple plotted their return to Cape Maclear. Two
chances at public transportation passed through town at roughly 1:30 and 6:00
P.M.—roughly as in unreliably. Another possibility was Helmut's puke-green truck,
which just so happened to be yawing toward the unpaved parking lot of Monkey Bay's bus
depot. Helmut, a German expatriate sporting two gruesome six-month-old machete scars, one
bisecting his nose, another running the right-side length of his cheek (souvenirs from
Uganda, where he had been waylaid, stripped to his knickers, and left for dead) pulled
over to where Yayuk and Sebastian were standing. "Ja," he was going back.
"Ja," he would give them a lift. "Ja," for ten kwacha each, the going
Once underway, with the couple safely stowed up front in the cab,
another would-be passenger—plus entourage—flagged Helmut down.
"Nein! No way. I dont risk my vehicle to carry so
many people; police all over the place. You know the price of petrol?!" and other
remonstrations comprised Helmut's wily negotiation—all intended to up his price for
transporting what appeared to be a wedding party left stranded outside their church.
Five-hundred kwacha soothed the expatriate's protests—without, in the least,
assuaging his sarcasm.
"And the Blacks wonder why the Whites have all their
country's money? Look at the children; big stomachs—full of that worthless
little brains. I know; we hire the Blacks at our brewery. Five days a week, month after
month after month, you tell them, do your job and never, no matter what, push the red
button. Gutt, gutt. They work. Not well. But at least they
work. Then one fine day they say 'look at the nice red button,' and—phupht—they
With this outlook, it was hardly surprising that the folks now
clamoring aboard had as low an opinion of their cabby as he of his fares, especially after
a group of freeloaders crammed themselves among the legitimate guests—occasioning the
hot-headed Helmut to leap from behind the wheel and start issuing orders.
"Out! Everyone! Out of my truck, do you hear me!? EVERYONE OUT OF
No one seemed impressed or in a hurry to comply, as Sebastian grew
apprehensive about the escalating vehemence—while Yayuk caught a glimpse of someone
stooping to 'inspect' a threadbare tire. Helmut, by this point, was apoplectic; those at
whom he hollered were equally out-of-sorts; Sebastian interceded, attempting to keep the
At last a semblance of order was grudgingly restored:
Helmut returned to the driver's seat; Cape Maclear—residents only—settled in behind; Sebastian
rejoined Yayuk; and off they went... bygones quickly bygones (it was a celebration, after
all)... the guests breaking out into song... the bride and groom following in a VW
mini-van bedecked with fresh-cut flowers and colorful remnants... the
procession soon winding its way through a rain-doused Lake Malawi National
Park, its fertile aromas rising like heightened expectations, as those
anticipating the reception at journey's end accelerated the already
up-tempo merriment... their whole village turning out
upon the newlywed's horn-honking arrival... women and children dancing in the
mud-puddled streets... Yayuk and Sebastian congratulating themselves for a mission
accomplished... Helmut cursing in exasperation at his truck's left rear flat.
Next day, rising
at dawn to catch an early bus, the couple bade adieu to Cape Maclear.
By 8:00 A.M. they were aboard the Ilala, docked at Monkey Bay.
By 9:00 A.M. they were under way, bound for Chizumulu Island... the
waters calm... the ferry not nearly as crowded as they had been led to expect... the
alleged horrors of economy class no more unendurable than a few squalling infants, one
incessant boom-box, and a quartet of rowdy teenagers mixing Coca Cola with
locally distilled hooch). These elements remained fairly constant through two meals;
lunch, when the couple sampled beef stew and nsima (the
latter justifiably maligned, a
tasteless corn-based substance with the consistency of paste); and dinner, when they
switched to the only other choice, beef stew and rice. Sebastian felt vindicated for
disdaining the moderately better but twelve-times-as-expensive first-class cabins; Yayuk
was less exultant, her half of the ruptured upholstery being a bit damp, leg room
restricted, smells too pungent now that both portholes were sealed and the holds likewise
shut against the cool night air. Another port of call contributed a plethora of new
passengers. Air quality degenerated. Malawian conversation ("sounds like fighting,
they talk so loud") lost its meager charm. The sallow overhead lights gave their
cramped quarters a jaundiced cast, underscored when rain drove those on deck to join the
madding crowd indoors. Coughing, sneezing, and sputtering, these interlopers took up every
available space save the fiercely guarded two and a half meters of bench occupied by
Yayuk, lying lengthwise, and Sebastian, seated with his head on folded arms atop their
table—which incidentally doubled as someone else's bunk. The proximity of said occupant's
shoes (used as pillows), in combination with an acute lower-back ache, soon prompted Mr.
Lazarus to rearrange Ms. Kertanegara, molding his body to hers like interlocked
spoons—discomfort thus coequal... as the voyage dragged on... sleep remaining elusive...
odors repugnant... noises interminable. "But an interesting experience,"
Sebastian remarked, attempting to sugar-coat the cockroach—earning, from his shipmate, a
Daybreak brought relief only insofar as it ushered in a draught of
inclement weather. Lifeboats, lowered to off-load folks bound for Likoma Island, pitched
and tossed like corks on temperamental waves... whereupon pointed remarks (in Chechewa)
were made in the couple's direction. The clique of "rude young men" had
propped their bare feet too close to Yayuk's face (in violation of Malawian, not to
mention Indonesian, etiquette), refusing to budge until a local woman gave them a good
verbal thrashing—Yayuk adding a few choice words of her own.
"Be polite to foreigners, or your country get bad
Then finally, at long LONG last, the Ilala reached Chizumulu Island...
or nearly. Lifeboats were again lowered, again jostled by rain-pocked swells, delivering
residents and visitors alike within wading distance. Sebastian stepped overboard,
bags in hand, and sloshed ashore, returning then for Yayuk, whom he toted through the
shallows piggyback to what would be their home for the next seven days (when the Ilala was
due to collect them for their journey's continuation).
BACK TO CONTENTS