I’m sitting on a mat beside the man who’s about to dance Rama. He’s lying down, head propped up on a couple bags of costumes. He lights a cigarette, his second. He’s still wearing street clothes and hasn’t started his makeup. Instead, he and I are sitting in a companionable silence after having discussed how to say sprinkling and deer in Indonesian.
It’s around then that I realize (once again) how lucky I am. I’ve just exchanged phone numbers with one of the men who dances Rama in the Ramayana Ballet. I have no idea how this happened except that, about a year ago, I was lucky enough to be given a Shansi fellowship. I was even luckier because they ignored my request to go to rural China and instead sent me here. And I’m also lucky because Shansi has a reputation that preceeded me, a reputation that meant I could go to Javanese dance classes even though I hadn’t learned how to count, a reputation that means I can wind up backstage at the Ramayana Ballet even though I don’t know how to help the girls with their costumes.
And I’m lucky that there are people like this guy, who will talk to me even though I’m quiet, even though I have a tiny vocabulary, and even though they have to ask most of the questions to keep the conversation going.