Andrew and I are in the middle of a wonderful trip exploring Indonesia. One day wewere on a walk on a a trail through the jungle to some waterfalls when we came upon a little teahouse. Perched on a hillside, the teahouse was a bamboo platform with tables and stools of local hardwood, looking out over lush tropical vegetation. The woman and her son who ran the teahouse lived in a small hut nearby. They were very kind people with ready smiles and open hospitality. They had gathered and dried many local plants all growing wild and being cultivated in the surrounding forest. The plants included cinnamon, clove, tumeric, cocoa, hyacinth, coffee, ginger, nutmeg, and vanilla. We could see many of the plants in various stages of preparation. Below the teahouse cocoa beans were drying on a cloth. Nearby vanilla beans were drying like lizards on rocks in the sun. A kettle hung over a banked fire.
In a hutch, there was a civet cat, who produced the acclaimed “poop” coffee. The “cat”, which is really not a cat species, eats the ripe coffee beans, which ferment in its stomach. It then poops out coffee beans that can be ground and steeped for a perfect cup of coffee that is famous and renouned for its smooth flavor. The civet cats “poops” were being sold in bags. They look a lot like an Oh Henry candy bar.
On a small table, the woman was selling small bags of each of the herb she had gathered and prepared. She also had locally disitilled essential oils from ylang ylang, mint, lemon, citonella, lemongrass, patchouli. ginger, clove, and cinnamon.
Earlier in our trip we had met a man who was the herbalist with the local distilling company. He took us on a walk through the rice fields to share some of his plant knowledge. This man had learned all about the local plants and their uses from his grandmother,
who learned from her parents, who passed the knowledge down through generations. It seemed that every plant we came to had a story, a use or caution. There was a sense of deep caring for these plants and their protection.
At the teahouse, I chose to have a cup of hyacinth tea and Andrew had fresh cocoa. We experienced a sense of great peace as we sipped our drinks. There was such a simplicity in this life of gathering, preparing, and selling the plants to the passers by. There was beauty everywhere. There was nothing dramatic or complicated about this existence. The use of the local plants for medicine, nutrition, cleaning…. was natural and part of every day life. It was not noticed because it was so integrated into life. This family lived directly with and interdependently with the place. When I asked how long their family had lived in the village, they could not say a date or time, they said forever, as far back as anyone could remember. The people were inseparable with place.
I was envious of this existence – its simplicity, its connection with the land, its lack of complication, its interdependence, its ancient knowledge, its gratitude for the elements of life. I wondered if there are things they feel are lacking in their lives? Are they happy? Are they comfortable? Are they satisfied? Are they at peace? Our language barriers prevented me from asking these questions. Maybe my impression of peace is misplaced. I don’t know, but there was something to learn from these people. What is it in life that we really need? Why do we strive for more, more, more? What is enough? How can we simplify our lives while maintaining a sense of peace and beauty? Why do we desire so much in our western definition of happiness? What is happiness? How do we return to the roots of our own existence?