I walked along the narrow wall of mud separating one rice paddy from another while Achmad explained the 100 day growing cycle of rice. In one plot we could see rice grain scattered on top of the mud. In another, a seven day old batch had sprouted six inches above the soil. Apparently the rice will eventually be transplanted further into the paddy where it will continue to grow and, God willing, will survive the numerous swooping birds until harvest.
Back on dry land Edwin tells me that his friend once floated a candle into the middle of a rice paddy to see a hovering ghost head above the flame. My surprised reaction prompts the two college students to begin an Indonesian / English banter between the two of them about something called ‘Jumping Candy’. They laugh while trying to translate the meaning of one of the local ghost stories common to Indonesia.
According to Muslim tradition a person is bound in burial sheets when they die, their legs and arms wrapped tightly together like a mummy with the sheets tied above their head with a string. If the deceased person’s family forgets to untie this string before they are put into the ground, that person will come back as a ghost called the ‘Jumping Candy’. Jumping, because their feet are tied together and they cannot walk. Candy, because they are wrapped up like a piece of candy. The ghost’s face is exposed and in order to escape an encounter, you must run in a serpentine path since the ghost can only hop in a straight line.
I ask if they believe these spooky stories and they give an emphatic yes, everyone does. They in turn ask if we have ghost’s in America and I tell about haunted houses and explain that some people believe in ghosts, while other think they are actually demons and still others do not believe they are anything at all. Seeing is believing in America, we can be a skeptical crowd. Aliens are not a shared obsession it appears and they find it preposterous that we could believe in life on other planets.
Riding my borrowed bicycle back through the crowded streets, between two devout Muslin men who’s faith in the intangible is strong, I smile at how far-fetched my own Western beliefs must appear to them. They use the word tolerant often and I’m grateful that we are tolerant of each other’s explanations of the uncertain in this mysterious world.