I stand on the side of the road, thumb out, in search of a lift to the Bima market. Before the sweat has started streaming, a took-took putters to a stop and the driver, barely a teenager, waves me over. The rusted frame, splintered seat and wires dangling from the boom box give me 50/50 odds for making it to the market, but at least if a wire sparks, the metal frame is too rusted to conduct a killing blow of electricity.
We overtake a horse pulled carriage packed with Muslim girls sitting on plastic chairs, their matching white burkas flapping happily in the wind. Arriving at the market unscathed, I pay my driver 20,000 Rupiah, two dollars, and walk into the open-aired undercover bazaar bigger than Walmart and selling everything from pig intestines to tangerines. The stalls spill out onto fields where tarps protect produce and people from the sun’s demolition. I stroll, wide-eyed through a labyrinth of foreign. Hunched, I still snag my high-bun on ropes and am a good foot taller than any Indonesian. Goats bleat, chickens squawk, sellers ask for selfies, and shoppers haggle. It’s like being in a farmyard crossed with a used car dealership.
I walk past hundreds of dyed chicks-pink, yellow, and green-crammed and chirping in a tray. A woman crouches, picks up a flapping pink one, grabs my hand and puts the chick in my palm. I stroke it a few times and then remember this is an avian flue hotspot and nestling close to anything that tweets is risky. I drop the ball of fluff back into the tray and the woman holds up a plastic bag tied at the head with two chicks inside.
“Gift,” she says, laughing at my mime of no, no, no, thank you. She points at two tiny holes and shrugs as if to say, they are fine.
I back away, wanting to buy the tray and any nearby bags and release the chicks into the jungle. But if I buy, more eggs will be hatched. More chicks will be snatched from their mothers, dipped into dye and sold for less than a dollar to inquisitive kids who will pull at their wings and then leave them in the backyard to be eaten by prowling cats. Plus, those released into the wild will have nowhere to hide, their feathers only camouflageable in a 70’s workout video.
I turn away from the bag-holding woman and walk towards a mountain of dragon fruit. In markets frequented by tourists, there are local prices for everything, but after traveling through Indonesia for a month and buying provisions for ten people, I know when I am getting ripped off. A watermelon should cost no more than 25,000 Rupia, two dollars. 90 eggs, three trays, should cost 200,000, maximum. In Bima, bartering isn’t needed. Not only are prices local, but the shiniest, deepest scented produce is picked out for you by proud vendors.
A woman, hair gray and teeth missing, sits beside a box of string beans and water spinach. She offers a banana leaf topped with sticky rice and fried fish. I smile and wave away her offering, not because of the fish’s bulging eyeballs or the grubby rice, but because her fingers are blacker than the fish’s pupils. In the other hand, she holds strips of breadfruit.
Teremakasi, I say, taking a piece of the canary-yellow fruit and nibbling at the cleanest end.
“Bagus,” I say, trying to contort my face to delighted while fighting not to gag. When she isn’t looking, I toss the remainder on a pile of rotting papaya. Hopefully, a month of Indonesian street food has strengthened my stomach to indestructible. In 12 hours, I’ll know.
The meat and seafood section is at the back. I’m hit with thick air before spotting the row of intestines draped over bamboo. Cheery faces poke out from behind gizzards, the vendor’s hands resting on mounds of fleshy ribs. Nausea swells, but it has nothing to do with the grimy breadfruit and everything to do with the smell of blood, dried meat, a hint of urine and the matchstick-fish that overflow onto the path and crunch underfoot. I gag, hold my breath and run towards fresh air. When I get to safety, I pick up a pineapple, draw it to my nose and take a big whiff. Sweetness expels the rot.
I leave the market two hours late with only half the groceries on the list and plenty that wasn’t. For the next week, Tofu sheets, purple tomatoes, furry water chestnuts, floral-scented ginger root, and fruit that looks like an armadillo’s backside will be trialed in soups, teas and fruit salads.
I hail down a van that’s one bump away from a Flintstone mobile to take me back to the boat. The door handle is a piece of string and gusts of sooty air streams from the rusted floor. I clutch onto the groceries hoping the stray apples don’t fall through the hole in the floor.
Once on the boat, I inspect the groceries for bugs and give everything, including me, a deep scrub. Four hours post breadfruit, my stomach has yet to growl.