Morning, 5am. Tugu Macan, Sumatra, Indonesia. I wake to the mosque’s loud broadcast of morning prayer. The singer’s deep vocal resonance vibrates through the closed door and stone walls. I lie in a small, hard bed and feel the power of each note vibrating along my spine as if it’s crawled through the floor to shake the metal frame . The hour of song is inconvenient; hours available for sleeping are few due to long hours of hard hikes rewarded with a damp, cold room, but I admit to being comforted by the strange, beautiful serenade. The sung prayers, distinctive, melancholy yet ecstatic and soulful spark an instant recognition of what I perceive as middle-eastern – the slow, careful, precise lilt and pitch of the language, the rich voice of the singer anchors me into this moment . Regardless of what the religion, this prayer is precious to me as if it were a special gift. Being here far from home, exhausted, lonely, and yet now feeling as though I’ve been invited into an intimate ritual, sharing something with this tiny village, all of us spiritually centered and united in prayer.
Our accommodations are very rustic; no running water and most of the toilets, being squat toilets, make every restroom break an adventure in balance. The entire bathroom, tiled with a mosaic of mismatched, cracked, brightly colored ceramic tiles, serves as the shower stall. In addition to the toilet, the room also contains a large, square basin of water and small pan that, combined, executes flushing. A window, high up on the wall, stuck open, lets in spotted sunlight, road noise and beetles. I heat water in an electric kettle, fill the empty bottles I’ve saved with the warmth and enter the musty, cold room. Standing over the drain I slowly pour myself a hot shower, one bottle at a time. “Today”, I catch myself thinking out loud, shivering, “perhaps we’ll see monkeys”.