The first town we passed through was called Alas. It was the night of 1 November in that part of the world, the night before the US election. Everyone was awake; all the lights were on—greeny-blue low-wattage bulbs which give hardly any illumination. Every house had a TV set on too, brighter than the lights in the room, showing soap operas, dreamy laid-back music videos, advertisements for things the people watching would never be able to buy, interspersed with Muslim hymns, sermons, prayers and rants.

The people were awake because it was Ramadan and they had spent the day fasting, and were now spending the night eating and talking. All the young men with nowhere to go and nothing to do sat outside watching the traffic, playing guitars or chess, talking and not talking, waiting. For what? Alas, like every other town we passed through on that strange hot night under the gibbous yellow moon, was a town of hovels with, every now and then, a resplendent mosque in which the light was bright white, a tiled, clean, well-lighted place where white-robed men and women sat and talked or sang or prayed. The hovels explained the mosques or the mosques explained the hovels, I couldn't decide which, but in Indonesia it is the case that a mosque will be made available if there are ten believers who want one and some towns, the larger ones, really do seem to have a mosque for every ten hovels.

But not Alas. Alas was just a small town, a few hovels, one mosque, and still that crowd of young men sitting outside on the stoops in the hot night with or without guitars, waiting. Small children dressed in rags ran after the bus as we passed down the dusty single main street, yelling out in shrill high voices, dropping behind as we turned the corner and changed down and headed further east, where the road ran out of town and along a low shore with palms and the shadows of islands further out, behind which the swollen yellow moon rose higher in the brown sky.

from: Luca Antara

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