White Legs.

It was a pleasant half an hour rock-jumping to get to the waterfalls. They were called “Kedung Malem ” which means something in the context of “The heart of an [fallen] angel.” The green canyon wherein the waterfalls were situated blocked most of the daylight which lowered the temperature to 20 degrees. A relief, if you compare it to the 35 degrees in the sun. To get to the waterfalls from Madiun, East Java, you need to have a damn good car which can deal with all the ups and downs. Or you need to be in the lucky possession of a motorbike. In both cases you need to have good GPS System. In my case, my host’s friends Patmo and Bernardi new the way and cruised me around on their motorbikes. It was an hour drive through the mountains and I enjoyed every single second of that ride. The air was cool, the landscape was changing: from city to sawa’s, from dried out forests to woodland  giants so high, you couldn’t see the top anymore.

Patmo and Bernadi went for a swim. Being in the country now for 2,5 weeks, I learned that swimming did not happen in bikini’s or trunks. People kept their clothes on (jeans, headscarves, shirts…) if they went for a dip. As a local explained before, Javanese find it “too naked”and “rude” to walk around in swimming gear. “It’s like walking in shorts; you just don’t do it.”
So instead of taking a refreshing dip, I installed myself on a big and comfortable rock. It was truly a pleasure looking at the guys, seeing them having fun.

Patmo came up to me. His English was broken but understandable. “Marie, you know how clean yourself with stone?”, he asked me. I shacked my head. He grabbed a flat stone out of the stream and started to scrub is legs, while continuing poring water on them. I repeated it him and soon little black and brownish streams flowed down my shins and calves. Patmo pointed to my legs: “So white!” he said surprised. I smiled and putted my leg next to his to compare. You couldn’t imagine a bigger contrasts. We started laughing. I was so white compared to his leg that I was almost glowing. “You’re as white as an angel”, Bernardi said when he saw my legs. “You’re the falling angel of the waterfall!”

Thinking back of it, it was actually an unique experience. I’ve never felt white and I don’t care what kind of skin colour others have. But I remember a phone call of my American friend in Christchurch, just before I left. He said: “Oh man, Marie, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to see the advantage of being a white, European girl.” I remembered I laughed about that and replied: “Oh well, we’ll see.”

My friend was right. Being a white girl had its advantages. First of all, everyone wanted to help you and looked at you with some kind of admiration I cannot describe. Second, people were extremely friendly, invited you over for dinner, lunch, to meet their family, school classes, friends. Everywhere you visited, water was given, food was served even though you hadn’t asked for it. But this also had a huge downside. It meant I couldn’t set one single step alone. Soon I understood why celebrities have bodyguards, disguises or rent complete restaurants so they can have a quiet lunch. Your freedom is completely gone. In Bandung, my and another Dutch couchsurfer, weren’t allowed to go out on the street on our own. There had to be someone with us, at all times. In Jakarta, it took me and two other German backpackers, half an hour to leave the Kota Square because people kept on coming up to us, asking for pictures and video’s. In Madiun, the Peacock Center I visited, uses now a car pick up guests because they had find it “unappropriated” that I came by motorbike. On our way to the waterfalls, a pregnant woman asked me to touch her belly, in the hope her child would turn out to be white as well.

With many other travelers and hosts I talked about these events because most of them hadn’t expect that much of attention. We came to two conclusions. First, you’ve a celebrity status because most people see white people on TV, making the link White = Famous. Second, Java is not that touristic as Bali. As Javanese don’t see that many white people in real life, it makes you more special.
Looking back on everything, I can laugh about it, while being in the situation, I remember I got very annoyed. In the end I was sick of being a showpiece for someone’s family. On the other hand, place yourself in their position, wouldn’t you have done the same?
At the waterfalls of Kedung Malem it was like everything washed away. Patmo and Bernardi were just Patmo and Bernardi, not two Javanese. And I was just Marie, a couchsurfer from Holland, with very white legs.

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