Average reading time: 4 minutes
We’re in our bamboo hut, just outside the town center of Tetubatu, when we hear a sound. It’s a monotone, throbbing sound, yet cheerful and uplifting. For some time we carry on with what we were doing, but our curiosity is awakened. ‘Let’s ask,’ Jelmer says. We step outside onto the patio, surrounded by large palmtrees. The leafs rustle – probably some monkeys playing around.
While walking the stone path towards the central area of the homestay, we can already see Harry and his friends hanging around. They’re carelessly laughing, chatting and drinking their beloved ricewine, even though it’s just past noon. Harry owns this homestay, but his friends Tarzan and José help out and keep him company. We greet them, all looking like an interesting mix between surferdudes and reggaeguys. Harry immediately picks up on our curiosity. ‘It’s a traditional village wedding,’ he says. ‘If you like, you can come too.’
Harry doesn’t have to say more. We rush back to our hut, trying to make ourselves look decent and wedding-worthy. We don’t have much choice, because most of our clothes are hanging on an improvised clothing line, drying in the sun. But the air is humid today, so it will probably take a while longer. Besides, what backpacker brings clothing suitable for a wedding?
Some time later, we follow along the village road, still unsure whether we will fit in. Besides a few streetdogs scouring the street in search of left over food, it’s deserted here. But then we hear it again. Dum, dum, dum. The throbbing sound gets louder, and as we come closer, we can also hear people mumbling excitedly.
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As we turn a corner, we can’t believe our eyes. The street is exploding with people, all dressed up in beautiful traditional clothes. Our presence doesn’t go unnoticed: people are waving and smiling at us, making gestures to invite us into their celebration. ‘Hey!’ we hear behind us. It’s a tall guy, probably the same age as us. ‘Where are you from?’ he asks. ‘The Netherlands, you know, Balanda Goreng!’ Jelmer replies. The guy smiles, appreciating the joke. We join him and his friends at a little square where the band is rehearsing, knowing straight away this was the sound we heard from our bamboo hut.
We make a conversation with one of the girls. Her name is Nisa, and she tries to explain what’s happening, but we can barely hear her over the deafening drums. Instead, we mostly exchange smiles and laughter, while enjoying the warm welcome of the Tetebatu community.
‘I’m studying English at an university nearby and I volunteer at a school for children with autism,’ Nisa tells us when the band is finally done rehearsing. She grew up in Tetebatu and is still living there with her parents and siblings. We follow her along the mainroad and listen to all she has to share.
In Tetebatu, it’s common that the whole village is invited to a wedding. ‘Anyone can join in on the celebrations, so also you guys,’ she says. There is a big march to jointly pick up the bride and groom at the groom’s house, and then another march to the wedding altar. In the meanwhile, the bands plays an uplifting rhythm and dances accordingly. The youngest bandmember, who is probably only five years old, catches our eye. With a fierce look in his eyes, he clashes two lids together and jumps around like only a young boy can. His energy is contagious, so all we can do is smile, clap, shake, indulge, enjoy and celebrate with him and the others.
After arriving at the alter, and the bride and groom promising each other love until eternity, the crowd bursts out into clapping and cheering. It’s if they’re sealing their love. The couple leaves, and not long after the people flock back to their houses as well. Only two minutes ago there were people as far as we could see, but now the mainroad is deserted and quiet again. The cars and trucks that were held up by the crowd, stop honking and are relieved to be continuing their journey.
Noticing our cheeks hurt from smiling, we decide it’s time for us to head back to our hut. ‘Wait!’ Nisa shouts, as she runs up to us. A little out of breath, she asks when we’re leaving Tetebatu. ‘Not yet,’ Esmee replies. ‘We’re enjoying ourselfves too much here.’ ‘Good,’ she says. ‘Are you free tomorrow?’ We tell her we don’t have plans yet, curious to hear what she’ll say next. ‘Want to help me volunteer at the school for disabled children?’ Of course, we can only say yes.
You can soon read all about our experience of volunteering at a school for children with autism in Travel Story #2.