This is my final Slice of Life Story Challenge for March 2014, sponsored by Two Writing Teachers! Yesterday, I almost ate bat, but I did taste bat gravy. To be polite. Yes, paniki, bat in curry sauce.
Some of the best travel in Indonesia (and possibly anywhere) is with Indonesian friends. The warmth of their hospitality and their ability to bargain with drivers, airline personnel and hotel staff is priceless. Also, the total immersion experience of hearing Indonesian spoken with a few kindly breaks for translation, takes me out of my dominantly English speaking environment of an international school. I know basically “taxi Indonesian” or the words for turn right, left and u-turn. But one of my favorite words is when you ask someone if they can do something for you and they can, they say thoughtfully or sometimes generously, “Bisa bisa bisa (Yes, I can).” One of my least favorite words is a slippery one, “Ada.” Sometimes people say it dismissively when you ask if something can be done, as if to say, “Cannot!” But it doesn’t really mean that. Perplexing.
When traveling, of course, there’s the food. I flew to North Sulawesi with some friends. This area is known for a few reasons: being predominantly Christian, its spectacular diving and its spicy spicy food–even by Indonesian standards. On a side note, according to the driver, the reason Christianity took a foothold in this part of Indonesia was a result of the fact that the Christian missionaries were the only Western people who dared to settle with the tribes, reputed to be cannibalistic. Returning to the cuisine, our driver also let us know as we were driving in near pitch darkness around hairpin turns through the jungle that the reason we had no need to worry about hitting an animal in the dark was that the animals are all hunted and eaten for dinner before they are ever in “danger” of becoming roadkill.
We politely declined and then insistently repeated our decision in response to several offers to take us to visit the local market where there would be bat, snake, dogs and other meat on display for sale. However, for a “special” roadside lunch, we were taken to a quaint restaurant and served several dishes which kept coming out of the kitchen. We were told we would only have to pay for what we wanted to eat.
Among the items brought to our table were rice wrapped in a giant leaf, pickled julienned vegetables, reduced spinach-like leaves that would contain hashish in some recipes (not ours, apparently), skewered meats, ayam goreng (fried chicken), bean soup (a remnant of the Dutch influence, according–once again–to our driver) and greenish bat curry. I stuck mainly to the veggies and rice, but had some bat curry spooned on my plate. Since this meal was offered to me as a gift, I had a difficult time not attempting to make a polite gesture. The gravy tasted a bit game-y. Someone else described the meat as tasting like, “quail.” The Indonesian name for bat served this way is “paniki” which is an accurate description of how I felt when confronted with Stellaluna in a dish.
The food did not categorically instill panic. Later, we stopped for mangosteens at the height of their ripeness and big bunches of small bananas. Fabulous! For dinner, we visited the second largest fresh water lake in Indonesia–Lake Tondono (The largest lake is in Sumatra, Lake Toba)–where we were treated to some fresh fish, which I also tasted, but passed the remainder of the tail fin and most of the flesh of the lower body to another hungry traveler. This later proved to be a wise decision, as another traveler got part of the fin stuck in the back of her mouth, causing a bit of pain until it was dislodged.
As I bid farewell to the SOLSC 20014 challenge and to my credibility as a part time vegan / vegetarian example to children, I want to thank Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres, the original founders of Two Writing Teachers, as well as all the other writers I have met through this experience. And of course, to the indomitable, Jee Young, my unwitting host through the International Teaching Experience as well as an inspiration to join the writing challenge again this year.