By Amy Chavez
For The Bali Times
On Sundays between November and March, a small village in Sumbawa, East Nusa Tenggara, holds buffalo races to ensure a good rainfall.
On this information alone, my partner and I set out on a seven-hour boat journey from Flores to the East coast of Sumbawa island. From there we took a bus for two hours to Bima and then a seven-hour bus journey to Sumbawa Besar, all in the tenuous pretense that there might be a buffalo race conveniently scheduled on or near the date of our arrival.
When I asked around Flores if the people had heard of the â€œpachuan kerbau,â€ or buffalo races, people winced at the word and then got a distant look in their eyes, as if I was speaking a foreign language they could not quite place. One person did offer some information. â€œBuffalo? Yes, over there,â€ he said, pointing to a buffalo in a field.
Perhaps Flores is not a good place to ask about buffalo races in Sumbawa, we considered, and boarded the boat to Sumbawa.
Upon arriving in Sumbawa, we asked the locals about the buffalo races, and most of them said, â€œYes, over there,â€ the universal direction for any place Indonesians donâ€™t know. A place of lost locations, so to speak. You could ask for directions to Africa, or the moon, and the answer would still be, â€œOver there.â€
As polite Indonesians, rather than just coming out directly and saying they donâ€™t know where some place is, in order to appear helpful, they believe giving some type of information is better than giving no information at all. And they may have a point. Misinformation is one type of information.
At a hotel in Bima, I asked the man at the reception desk about buffalo races. He responded in halting but knowledgeable English, â€œBecause buffalo race held at time of festival. Because wedding, and rice planting. Because now rainy season, no buffalo race. Because very difficult raining every day.â€
Great – we were halfway to a non-event. We pushed on.
At Sumbawa Besar, we looked all over for a room but all the hotels were full because of Chinese New Year. This must have been the only day of the year they could sell out of rooms as there is absolutely no other reason in the world to go to Sumbawa Besar. Unless of course youâ€™re looking for buffalo races.
After an hour of searching for rooms, we stepped into the Hotel Dewi, hoping they would have a room. Even a small room in the back would be fine. At the reception desk were three young girls, all smiles and ready to answer our questions in eager English. When we asked for a room, they all said together in very cheery English, â€œPull!â€ (full). Desperate, I said, â€œDonâ€™t you even have a small room in the back?â€
â€œOh yes, up on the third floor,â€ one girl chirped brightly.
â€œCan I see the room?â€
â€œSorry, no rooms available. All pull.â€
It wasnâ€™t until the next day that I realized the misunderstanding: the Indonesian word for toilet is â€œkamar kecilâ€ or â€œsmall room.â€
I asked the girls about restaurants in town and where we might be able to find a room, to which they dutifully answered our questions in the same cheery English.
â€œAnd what about buffalo races?â€ I added.
â€œTomorrow, 10am. in Moyo,â€ one girl said.
I almost fainted.
Surely she must have misunderstood me. After all, misunderstanding is one type of understanding. But, there was no wincing, no faraway look in her eyes.
â€œMoyo, 10km from here,â€ she smiled. Take ojek (motorbike taxi), just Rp10,000 (US$ 1.07).â€
â€œOjek? But there are two of us.â€
â€œNo problem. He take three people on one motorbike. Or take bemo (van) to Block M and from there ojek to Moyo.â€
The next morning we caught a bemo to Block M.
â€œHello sir,â€ said the driver, â€œWhere you go?â€
â€œBlock M. Then on to Moyo,â€ we said.
â€œI take you to Moyo,â€ said the bemo driver.
â€œRp500,000. Very far, about four hour.â€
â€œNot four hours. Only 10 km,â€ we said. â€œRp500,000 too expensive.â€
â€œOkay, how much, then?â€
â€œOh no; very far. Okay, Rp400,000.â€
â€œNo, no,â€ we insisted, â€œOnly Rp10,000 by ojek from here.â€
â€œMoyo far from here,â€ a lady passenger in the bemo said. â€œNot normal price.â€
We ignored their pleas. We ignored their misinformation.
When the woman got off the bemo at her stop, the driver said, â€œOkay, now we go to Moyo!â€
â€œNoooooooooooo!â€ We implored, â€œBlock M.â€
And the whole conversation started again. â€œMoyo very far from here, better I take youâ€¦â€
When we finally got off at Block M, the driver yelled to his other bemo friends waiting there: â€œTHEY WANT TO GO TO MOYO!â€ And the entire crowd descended upon us.
â€œI take you! I take you!â€ they all shouted, and started bidding on us like cattle at the market. When the ojek drivers joined in with, â€œI take you for Rp10,000,â€ I said, â€œSold!â€
Soon we were riding on a motorbike out into the countryside. Rice paddies sprung up on both sides of the road and cows and buffaloes grazed in the fields. A few kilometers later, we could see farmers leading their buffaloes to the races in brightly colored handmade halters.
We were indeed, on the way to the races.