Just as much I love traveling by train in Russia, I love ferries in Indonesia. Crossing the ocean on the Christmas Eve from Jawa to Sulawesi, there was something that rudely came between me and the big blue nothingness: men and their smartphone cameras.
It was a Christmas eve, and we were on a ferry riding across the big blue ocean. We were on the way to another cultural realm within the colorful mosaic of Indonesia. We had left Jawa behind, with all it’s big cities, race for the consumption, traffic jams, Islam-driven “modernity”, Hindu-bristled cultural past, and in around 36h we were about to face the life in Sulawesi, this strange-shaped island, known for great diving and huge buffalo sacrifices of the Toraja folks.
Me and my occasional travel-mate Minna Hint were surrounded by the blue nothingness, …and tens of local men, curious about the foreign female independent travelers. All those days in Surabaya I had been waiting for the ferry to depart, similarly as exactly one year ago, when me and Berit wanted to take off for Kalimantan.
Of course it would have been much easier to just take a plane (just as me and Berit had to last year, after four days of waiting for the ferry that never departed), but crossing some Indian ocean had just been one of my dreams, and I love traveling slow, especially when I had a lot to catch up with in my mind, after being thrilled by the intensive fieldworks in Jawa.
This time I was promised on Monday, that the ferry departs on Wendesday. Which never happened. When I called them again Thursday, they said there’s no ferry before the new year. I just couldn’t believe it!
Are you absolutely sure?
Well. When I called back just 15 minutes later, there was a completely new picture: there’s a ferry tomorrow morning. What the hell!
I had nothing else than naive hope, that this information has some validity, and a great desire to reach Sulawesi by Christmas, where I was intending to study gender system of the Bugis culture, meet some bissu (mostly transgender priest/ess) and hang out with the waria in Makassar.
Ready to step into a battle, we went to the harbor Friday morning. And… luckily there was a ferry! I only had to stand out for the cabin, which has electricity access and does not smell too bad. We had couple of rats sneaking around the cabin, crazy for the smell of our fruit and the water melon we got as a gift from the chef boy.
It came as a mild surprise, that we were warned at the reception desk not to dress too open, too vulgar. So, how is it, the “not-too-vulgar”, I was wondering. They conformed that my T-shirt and skirt would be all right. Only later on I heard that while I was taking a nap in my cabin, there were men snapping photos through the tiny cabin window. For that they even had to draw away the curtain! A sleeping bule (white person)- isn’t it a wonder?!
But this is the harsh reality we, the independent female travelers have to face. And even though I really disgust it (constant feeling of ‘being a foreign women’, and all that follows, is actually what I like the least while living and traveling in Indonesia), I’m also completely aware of the social situation that has produced this behavior. It’s the result of the segregation of genders in the society, the sexual symbolism around Western women carried and magnified by the media, it’s the patriarchy that limits the female sexuality under strictly defined ‘proper femininity’ and motherhood. And even though I possibly can’t have anything against the gift water melon, it sucks.