Sitting cross-legged in the sand next to a Russian Evangelist who was doing missionary work in Sumatra, I was enjoying some time with another traveler to chat about her experiences:
Her: I feel so dreadfully sorry for these poor local women.
Me: Oh? I didn’t quite understand.
Her: Yes, the women, the poor souls. Mothers have no babysitters, absolutely no support. They have to do it all on their own. I just don’t understand how the women can manage.
I smile at the innocence and ignorance of the comment.
Me: Ah, but they don’t. They have more readymade support in a small local village than an entire American city will offer.
She looked at me, puzzled, and added: And you, too. All on your own as well. How do you handle it?
Seeing that she hadn’t grasped my first statement, I gathered things weren’t sinking in. I just smiled.
See, it is impossible to travel through the islands and claim exemption from local custom. You do not own your children; they are the responsibility of the entire community. With a white-skinned towhead, you present a magnet irresistible to the local villagers. The cruising community came to call our local fan club the “Bracarazzi.” as other cruisers traveling behind us would be asked in awe if they knew Braca, opening their phones to proudly show a small Caucasian boy swamped in a crowd of grinning faces. I once had to chase down a woman who had swooped in on Braca, then eleven-months old, and ran as fast as she could into the bush with a screaming baby. When I heard my child’s cries and realized what had happened, I quickly took chase. There she was, clinging onto a child in full-fit, clicking off Selfies at fifty a second with a cheek-splitting grin and a red-faced toddler clearly in distress. When I approached she proudly looked up at me, clearly quite pleased with her efforts.
Finding your child is no problem; they are either trailing a long line of enthusiastic playmates or they are at the epicenter of a thick crowd of curious observers. It is reclaiming them than can provide some tricky negotiation. I’ve often had to clamber through a crowd five deep and watched the faces of disappointment when I’ve pulled my children away. Childcare is by no means difficult to procure as a local; nor by extension is it difficult to obtain as a guest to the community.
While I am not a mother willing to drop my child in the arms of strangers in my own neighborhood, I am more than willing to do so on a small remote island hundreds of miles from home. Indeed, we have done so on many occasions and have returned to find them fully entrenched in local activity – dragging a cardboard car across the sand or playing naked in the shallows surrounded by a dozen kids. Doted on and adored, the villagers take your child into the fold with no hesitation or reservation. If you want the key to the door of local acceptance, travel with children. I left my Russian friend on the beach with her pity and her misconception. Perhaps she will come back one day as a mother herself and gain a totally different insight into the local culture.