Most of the elderly once remembered the village was called the Dead End. Not only because its location is at the foot of Ciremai—the largest mountain in West Java, Indonesia, with an elevation of 10,098 feet, but because at that time there was only one road, wherein the residents and visitors of the village, could be traversed to enter and leave the place safely.
Before reaching the border of the village with the two chest-high monuments on each side of the road painted in soft pink and white beige, you must pass an undeveloped paved road that is hemmed in with heavy and shady tropical trees. The Head of the Village was hiring a few people to widen the road at my last visit there, but the meandering way is still quite dangerous for every unskilled drivers. Once you pass them through, you will soon find solemnity and a splendid genuine view of the vast rice fields where the Ciremai looms high in front of you, as if the mountain will trample you like a helpless ant.
Whether riding a motorbike or a car, come at night or during the day, I always take my time to stop at that point; roll down the car window to smell the fresh scent of the mountain and rice fields where they clash each other to clean my lungs, as well as to look around to catch all the natural colors I rarely find in the big city.
Its official area is covered for 215,614 Hectares—you may multiple it approximately by 10,000 if you would like to know its number in a square meter. It is relatively a small village with a population of less than 2,500 people; provides a modest and clean kindergarten located right next to the main elementary school.
The Main Hall stands at the center of the village where you can hear the sound of azan from the mosque at the corner. Sometimes I can hear it well from my room every time the person in charge turns the sound on with a loudspeaker. I believe my parents’ house is about 400 meters away from it. Such a robust speaker, I mutter to myself. And my little sister will burst into laughter whenever she catches me mumbling like that.
Modernity hasn’t completely replaced everything in the village. Certainly not because they do not accept the distinctive form of all those sophistication, they would prefer to save the earth’s energy, as simple as that. The building contains around 450 Watt per household and after the last ten years, they have a choice to upgrade their electricity up to 2,500 Watt. But you see, by selling goods such as organic vegetables and rice grains (as most of them are farmers), they would rather spend their low incomes on something else other than for electricity. Well, of course, it is good for the earth too by using less energy.
Then one day, one of my coworkers asked me why I would come back to visit the village at least once a year with all these ancient things they keep: non-electric gas stove, a small refrigerator with a very narrow ice maker, squat toilet, no toaster, no coffee machine, no heater water machine, and even limited Wifi network. I could only smile, to think that she probably wouldn’t understand the bond I have with this place. With all its imperfections, I will always adore its decency.
“It is my hometown, after all,” then I showed her a picture of the backyard that filled with chickens and a shed of five goats my parents took care of.
“Iraha nepi ka rompok?”
One of my parents’ neighbors asked me, almost the same question every time I come home. In fact, I don’t come home very often. During the walk that morning, almost everyone I met raising the same interrogatory with their extensive enthusiastic tone. I didn’t stop or prevent them to do so. I found it amusing, to be frank. They still remember me as a little girl who used to climb the coffee trees in the neighborhood. And I think the idea of someone who spends their lives in a big city like me to visit their little town was quite exciting for them.
If you wonder, the question above was asked in the language of Sunda which literally means ‘when did you arrive home’. Sunda or Sundanese is an Austronesian ethnic group native to the western part of the island of Java in Indonesia.
I was born a Sundanese and Bahasa Indonesia is not my actual mother tongue. As I grew older, I speak with Bahasa Indonesia and English, both personally and professionally. That’s another reason why I come here, to not forgetting my ethnic language just what my mother once reminded me.
Indeed, the residents of the village live in a compact environment, it’s easier for them to know what someone’s does and someone’s don’t. It’s displeased me at some point, especially when they get interested in what you buy at the small warung then keep guessing what you’ll cook for lunch. But one good thing I admire the most is when one’s has a problem, or sick, or needs assistance, they do not hesitate to help. We called it gotong royong; mutual assistance, an idea of sharing of burdens between the member of the community. For that, I give them all my thumbs up.
So when my sister and I went to the traditional market in the next village to get the fresh ingredients, we consistently sang our hellos to everyone we meet on the road. Even though the elderly were out of reach, we would utter a loud cry to let them know that we were there. Funny thing is, I would automatically whisper to my little sister and ask who they were as I didn’t recognize them all, and she would let out her exasperation while driving our motorbike, cursing all the bad words she learned in Sundanese to me.
After we got all the supplies, we stopped by at our favorite Mie Ayam by Mang Jono. It took three minutes from the traditional market to reach the place since it was located right at the front of my junior high school, her school too, between Jalan Pramuka and Jalan Galayuda. Mang Jono is one of the local legendary foods that has been there forever. It was well-known since I went to school there and still as famous as it was when my sister graduated—we both are five years apart.
Mie Ayam is a seasoned yellow wheat noodles topped with diced chicken meat. It is a common dish you can find in Singapore and Malaysia as well. Of course, with their own unique taste. I remember when I paid IDR 300 per portion in order to enjoy the richness of chicken oil, mixed with well-seasoned noodles and chopped Asian kale. Now, we have to spend IDR 6,500 per bowl, plus IDR 2,000 for a pack of kerupuk and IDR 2,000 for a bottle of Teh Botol.
While savoring our food, we kept monitoring the motorbike which was parked at the front gate of our old school. Before they renovated it into a two-floor building with a spacious multifunction field in the middle, it was decorated by a basketball field at the front with a tiny security post near the main gate. I was at the Class-A, on the right side of the field. Now, I could see nothing behind that the elevated building with a bright blue paint standing in front of us.
Once we filled our stomach while reminiscing our old times, we decided to get back home before the rain came pouring down on us. Together, the thought of it made us laugh; last year we were soaked by the rain in the midst of our way back home.
She drove slowly on purpose, to feel the smooth part of the road—it was fixed by the nearby village not too long ago. We didn’t talk much after that, merely passing the trees and the curvy road at a leisurely pace, feeling the breeze touching our skin. When we passed the pink-ish monument, we stopped at the same spot next to the rice field, to view Ciremai where it was still standing bravely as if nothing could bring it down.
“Do you think we will go back here again?” she mumbled.
I didn’t give her the answer right away as we both knew the circumstances has completely different now. Behind her back, at my narrow seat of our automatic motorbike, I built a little hug to send a comfort she needed the most at that moment.
“We will. It is our home no matter what happens,” and we both looked together to the top of the mountain, fortunate that the last time it erupted was seventy years ago. “Besides, it is one of the places where we had our fond memories of her,” I added.
My little sister nodded in silence, agreed to my words.