Images from Banda Aceh

A cat, light in color, scruffy and unremarkable except for one of its eyes which is blue and marbled and looks at you without seeing.

Grunting in the dark. A pig in those bushes? I don’t say anything.

It starts to rain while we’re waiting for our drinks. Sara says it’s not a lot of rain, but until it stops we’ll get wet. As soon as we sit down at a new table—inside the coffee shop this time—the rain picks up, sheets of it, drumming against the white tables in huge drops that splash everywhere as though it’s rainy season.

Driving slowly back to town so that one of the Australians can practice her motorbike skills. I stare at the fields around us—all this green and dark mountains rising up behind everything. I look back to the road and remember to brake.

Pork for lunch on Fridays. Some of it’s sweet, but some of it’s so bitter that I can’t eat it.

All these boats, painted red and bright blue. At first I’m lost in nostalgia for Lake Ontario, but none of the yachts there are this brightly colored. It’s just past prayer time. Men still clamber about on deck or lie in the shade trying to escape from the heat. One man leans out of the door leading below deck and taps the calf of another man who’s lying there asleep, or half-asleep. He jerks a little. The movements have a tenderness to them.

Driving back to Sara’s in the dark, looking at the handful of motorbikes in front of me and thinking, When the road is this empty, it gives people the freedom to do crazy things.

I try to buy fried rice from a man the night I arrive. I can’t understand what he’s saying and look to Sara for help. Accent problem? Fatigue?

Somewhere in the distance there are fireworks.

There’s a t-shirt in one of the oleh-oleh stores listing all the tourist attractions: things having to do with the tsunami and then this souvenir store.

Condensed milk in tea, making it sweet and foamy and altogether unhealthy for my teeth.

Side conversations that happen in Indonesian, not Achenese. I look around the table and think how nice it is to be able to understand.

Driving a motorbike down a little dirt-gravel road that seems endless. At the end of the road a cave, with bluish water and all these rocks. My arms ache from trying to keep us from toppling over.

He says, “Orang Turkey?” while we wait for my phone to recognize that I just put money in it. The question is so bizarre that I have to ask him to repeat it before I can answer.

I scrape lines of poetry into wet sand with my toes and let the waves erase the letters.


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