I was rushing to pick up food for lunch-a yummy meal called ayam penyet-fried chicken, eggplant, tempe, fresh cabbage and lemon basil-and I ran into the grocery store to buy a couple of Cokes. Sweat dripped down my back and I wiped the back of my hand across my upper lip and forehead for the umpteenth time to clear the beads of perspiration gathering as I waited to pay for my purchases in the stagnant air of the store. I was hot, really hot, a bit irritable and dressed in baggy cargo capris and an old t-shirt, not much make-up, motorcycle helmet hair.
As I walked out of the store and hung the plastic bag with the drinks in it on the hook by my knees on the motorcycle, I heard a voice next to me say “Ibu, Ibu”, which means “Ms., Ms.”. I looked up into the smiling face of a pretty, young Indonesian woman standing beside her motorcycle with her little boy. Her hair was pulled back carelessly and her belly was swollen with pregnancy. I smiled back at her and held out my hand to be clasped in her outstretched hands. She said some quick words in Indonesian that escaped me, and then raised her hands to cup my sweaty face, rubbed it, and then brought her hands to her round belly and rubbed it, then repeated the process again. “Cantik, cantik…beautiful” (cantik means pretty or beautiful) she proclaimed, touching my nose and hair. It was then that I realized what she was doing, this beautiful woman was touching my face, my sticky, shiny face, which she somehow saw as possessing more attractive qualities than her own, and trying to transfer my looks to her unborn child. As she pressed her hands to the baby inside once more she smiled again and said “Terima kasih” (thank you) and drove away with her young son tucked in behind her, his arms wrapped around her middle.
I stood still for a moment, brought back to the fact that we live somewhere so vastly different than where I am from-so much so that at a particularly unattractive moment, ugly both inside and out, I can be deemed beautiful.
I wish I could give that sweet Indonesian woman even half the gift she gave me that day!