Mata Hari 

Despite the persistent rain, we were keen to experience life on one of the smaller, less developed islands in the archipelago.  There is a ‘homestay’ scheme on the little island of Pulau Tuba. We found out later that the programme involves a number of families, with guests billeted to different homes as available. This initially proved disconcerting, since the house that the very helpful locals took us to from the jetty didn’t look anything like the photo on the booking website, Agoda, and we did not speak Malay nor they English. It was pouring with rain and the only person we could see was a man up on the roof, who waved but did not come down. We waited under the verandah, and in due course he came down and introduced himself. He was a fisherman, and he and his wife, son and daughter lived there. The reason he had been up on the roof became apparent when his wife showed us into her daughter’s bedroom ( which she had kindly vacated so we could use it). There was a leak in the corrugated iron roof right onto the middle of the bed. We all rushed around with bowls, towels and exclamations in Malay and English and our host went back up on the roof. Half an hour later, it was all sorted, and we were in the kitchen, laughing, making friends and drinking coffee. Our hosts turned out to be delightful. Warm, friendly and kind. We have learned more Malay here than we learned any language on our travels, mainly due to the patience of our hosts. ( The co-writer of these blogs, looking over my shoulder says yes. We know five words here rather than two). The island is undeveloped ( no wifi) but seems to have plentiful fish, vegetables and fruit. It feels a bit like being back in Nepal- wonderfully friendly people, and leaks, holes and dodgy plumbing everywhere.

The homestay is about 200 yards from the beach. It is a very interesting beach from the wildlife point of view – we have seen sea eagles, hornbills, horseshoe crabs, sea squirts, large helmet shells and and hundreds of strange jumping fishy animals with bulgy eyes which looks like the cartoons of fishes growing legs and learning to walk on land. Sadly for the island, the sandy foreshore gives on to black squishy mudflats, which suggests that tourism is less likely to take off  in a big way, since it doesn’t fit the fantasy island profile of clear blue water for swimming and white sands for sunbathing. However, the islanders win hands down for friendliness. On our walks , everyone of all ages and faiths ( mixed Muslim and Hindu here as elsewhere) gives us a beaming smile and a greeting. They even answer our stumbling attempts at Malay. It turns out that Mata Hari means ‘it’s sunny’ and this seems as valuable a conversation starter as in England! 

On Sunday, the rain sheeted down all day, but it was oddly soothing to watch from the relative dryness of the verandah. Today has been sunnier. The day ended with a golden and pink sunset, a bright moon rising and the call of the muezzin lifting and falling in counterpoint to the rhythm of the waves. 


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