This is my friend at his food cart. He serves wonderful skewers of food that might be difficult for a Westerner until they try it. Great coffee and conversation until 3 am at his old teak cart under a faulty street lamp on a city street corner. He is a delightful man who cares about his customers. Funny, social, loving husband, caring daddy of 4 kids He is Muslim and prays 5 times a day. A few nights ago after a day guiding a new Singaporean friend through the Byzantine complexities of the ruins of 8th century Hindu temples I brought her to his cart to eat. Exhausted from the tropical heat we feasted on skewers of quails eggs, chicken heads, tempe, hearts and organs of capon in wonderful local spices, fried bananas, hot chilies, odd and unusual delicious local treats. I explained to her how Indonesia had evolved from a series of Hindu Buddhist empires to the largest Islamic nation on earth . My friend as he warmed skewers over a small coconut husk fired burner asked the Singaporean what religion she was. Since the conversation was in Indonesian I translated for them, “She is Christian”. He replied,”sama sama”,( meaning it’s essentially the same as Islam), as he stirred a thick Javanese coffee with palm sugar for a friend. I agreed saying “two roads to the same god”. He replied “Like brothers in the same house,” the people at the food stall all smiled. “Like brothers in the same house”…
Two nights later she and I were caught in a tropical monsoon, it was late at night, streets flooded like flowing rivers. Two locals stood under a tin roof near us on the shadowy road. I offered them some Rambutans. I had been carrying a sack of this wonderful fruit, just handing them to anyone we came in contact with. It’s a nice gesture to start a conversation. Food is universal, feeding each other is familial. The fellows rescued us, driving across the whole city in the pouring rain and flooded streets. I invited them in for a beer. Yes they were Islamic, daily going to the Mosque to pray. Yes Islam prohibits drinking. And yes we shared a couple of bottles of Bintang and rambutans and made new wonderful friends. We talked and laughed, didn’t agree on everything, but agreed on the important things, our friendship, beer, eating together- basic human universal things.
Next morning we got a train to cross the island, in my usual way as we approached a station in some unknown town, I was inspired to suddenly change plans. We jumped off and grabbed a battered local public minibus stiflingly hot and jammed with Javanese going between villages. A man sitting next to me asked in Bahasa where we were from, “Amerika Serikat” I replied. He switched to English, “What state?”, “Massachusetts”. Strangely he used to live here! In Boston, for 5 years, no visa, in a restaurant to send money home so his kids could go to college. After sept 11 he was suddenly picked up by immigration bundled into jail and sent home.
His wife wore a head scarf. In the minibus she taught my Singaporean friend how to put it on as they laughed and used sign language and smiles to communicate. It had sequins and lots of fashionable feminine touches and matched the other parts of her outfit. The gentleman and his wife made sure that we got to the place we were going, even getting out to direct us to the best food stall before hopping on the next battered minivan .
Never believe the prejudices all societies try to teach us. Most all people are caring and wonderful and give them a chance and they will usually choose to make a new friend of you. Give them another chance and they will invite you to their village or home like you are family.
I’ve been an ethnographic art dealer for 30 years- eating, talking, business, dating, in relationships with Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Shinto, and Animists. For 30 years I’ve trusted people in tiny villages and the worlds great cities to come through on a deal. In tiny workshops, in villages, down alleys, in places difficult to ever find again I’ve left big deposits and just my address and later found the people came through. I’ve found ways around army checkpoints in Sri Lanka at the height of the war, and walked through anti American demonstrations complete with walls of burning tires in front of our consulate in Surabaya. Each time the people around have recognized the friendship between individuals and ignored the distrust or anger at governments.
Look at the picture, American and Indonesian, atheist and Believer, ancestors who were Hindu/Buddhist/Judaic, educated in the sciences and Muslim school, arm around one another. He believes Allah created the world, I believe in Evolutionary biology and the biochemical reactions that led to the origin of life. If he asks me to come and pray in his Mosque, I am always happy to do so. If I ask him home for a beer, he pulls up a chair. When he visits my compound in Bali we will kneel together and pray amidst Balinese friends in our restored Hindu temple. Our beliefs may be different, but our humanity is the same.
“Like brothers in the same house”