20 July 2013

Rista, my Balinese sister

She reminded me of my own cute little sister some twenty years ago.

Rista is turning seven years old in October. I met her – or rather she met me, trying to sell her postcards – at Besakih temple, one of the most venerated Hindu temples in eastern Bali, probably also one where touts and fake guides are the most annoying.

Rista at Pura Besakih, Bali

It always makes me sad to see children trying to sell things to or dancing for tourists – who wouldn’t be? I remember vividly those two three-year olds on the ghats – stairs leading to the Ganges river – of Varanasi, in India, who were also trying to sell their ware. I always kindly refuse to buy anything, for I’d rather have them go to school or play with other children rather than encourage a practice that will not only keep them away from as normal a childhood as can be but also risk having them bullied by older children or their own parents. It’s always heartbreaking. So I try to make them smile or talk to them. In India, I played a simple game and they immediately forgot what they were trying to do in the first place – they had returned to being normal, playful children again.

Rista at Pura Besakih, Bali

Rista is one of the smartest children I’ve met. She spoke very good English, understood everything we talked about during twenty minutes – in fact she spoke better English than any Indonesian I met during my adventures. I assume it was because she had been exposed to so many foreigners from a young age and had picked up English very quickly. I knew and confirmed she had no school because of holidays. Yet when I asked her why she wasn’t playing with other children, she responded she didn’t have friends. I don’t know if it was true or if she was just so focused on her task to sell postcards. Maybe her family situation (a half-brother and a mother not living in the same area but in Nusa Dua) didn’t help in making things easier for her.

There was something special about this little girl, even if there was a little sadness in her eyes at times. Not only was she smart, but she seemed well educated, refusing to accept a wrapped chocolate biscuit that was offered to her (“I don’t like chocolate!” – really? Or was it to make sure she wasn’t poisoned?) and wearing her cute hat to protect herself from the burning sun. It consoled me to see a smile on her face when I played the same game with her that I had played with those little girls in India, the “too slow” variation of a high-five that a British guy had showed my sister in Majorca in the early 90s.

Rista doing calculus and using Sebastian’s arm as a whiteboard

I then tested her maths skills: she was capable of adding up numbers mentally without any problem. I made her laugh when I asked her to add three numbers, “it’s not possible”, but then she thought again and showed me a successful reasoning and gave me a correct answer. We used my forearm as the whiteboard as you can see on the second picture – so funny. I can’t help pushing people to their limits so I asked her if she knew how to multiply – something I don’t think any six-year old can do – and she was successful again with (very) simple multiplications.

Rista at Pura Besakih, Bali

I was stunned. Not only did she converse well in English but she was also able to do correct mental mathematical operations in a foreign language, as well as operations that I didn’t think a 6-year old could do. Heck, I’m even annoyed when sellers grab a calculator to sum up two numbers. She smiled and was proud of herself – she twitched her hips and made this funny face – she could be of course.

Rista at Pura Besakih, Bali
Rista on her way to sell her postcards

And then she saw other tourists. Back to work. Without saying goodbye, she ran off, trying to sell her postcards to them, who of course completely ignored her.

I miss my little Indonesian sister.

PS: a few years later, in September 2016, Rista appeared on TV!