The gili islands – when I came here fifteen years ago they were like something from a bounty advert. No running water, intermittent electricity. I remember washing my hair in sea-water and wandering deserted beaches in very little attire. Now they’re a bit like Ibiza meets Goa on speed. Our first night we spent in a room with a balcony overlooking another balcony. The occupants of that apartment spent all night on said balcony drinking vodka and vitamin shots, and listening to head pounding house music.
At about midnight I leaped from the bed in impotent rage and ransacked the bags for my headphones, then raged at myself for not having forked out the extra $40 for noise cancelling ones. I drifted off to the sounds of The Album Leaf. At 3am I was awoken by doof doof doof doof beats and a gentle sob rose in my chest. John slept soundly on my left ear plugs wedged in his lugs. Alula’s left leg was slung across my stomach. I tugged my iPod closer and set it to play on repeat.
At 6am Alula woke me singing a song about mother earth. I was tempted to push her onto the balcony and encourage her to sing it at the top of her lungs to the neighbours.
I did not. Because I am actually thoughtful and not selfish. Unlike some people. Instead I demanded my money back from the hotel and found us a new place to stay.
However, I spent the morning pissed off and simultaneously worried about the excessive amount of money I’d spent trying to solve the problem. And as usual the universe threw other things in my way to teach me a lesson. First I met Dayu.
‘How old is your daughter?’ she asked.
‘Five and a half,’ I answered.
‘I have a daughter,’ she said.
‘Oh, that’s nice, where is she?’ I asked.
‘She lives on Lombok,’ she answered. ‘I do not see her. I live here to earn money.’
I shut my mouth unsure what I could possibly say. But as I took Alula’s hand to cross the road, aware of X watching us, I swallowed hard. How lucky am I? I asked myself. Imagine if I had to leave Alula even for a single night…OK a single night…Joy! I can manage that. But for months…? To have others bring her up? To not be there to see her grow? Inconceivable. Heartbreaking. Horrible.
Then I met Yudi, the night watch guy. 22 years old, wrapped in a towel, suffering from flu and sleeping on the beach. We chatted. He spoke English with a perfect Australian accent – to the point where I was convinced he was actually Australian. It was so strong you could have believed he’d grown up on a cattle ranch in the outback. ‘You will never go back to England?’ he asked me, incredulous, when I told him we had no plans to ever return. ‘But why?’
‘Um, because we don’t like the weather?’
He stared at me dumbstruck. I felt dumb enough to have rendered him struck.
He wanted to go to Australia. He felt so sad he told us because he had no family on the island and his dreams seemed so unobtainable. He had no belief in himself or his Australian English. My words to him to believe in himself rang hollow.
Taking Alula’s hand to walk through the darkness back to our room, we mused together on how lucky we were. ‘Because you can see me every day?’ Alula asked.
‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘We have each other and we are so so lucky. Let’s never forget that.’