Masa is one of my favourite characters in The Anatomy of Escape. The following is an excerpt from the book introducing the reader to Masa and his wife Nor.
(excerpt from The Anatomy of Escape)
Now, after packing up that camp, making another visit to Gunungsitoli, taking a turbulent ferry crossing back to the Sumatran mainland, and enduring a long, hard slog on the Sumatran roads, we are back in what is fast becoming my second home here, the jungle by the Bohorok River and my room at the Mboy Guesthouse.
It’s a very different air from that which one gets along the south-western coastline, but I enjoy it just as much. Rosie enjoys the rest too. I come here for the intense green, the vivid and dense envelope of the wild, hiking the ever-changing trails, and as much as anything to visit my friends Masa and Nor, who own the Mboy Guesthouse.
Masa is an ex-ranger in the national park. He left the role many years ago because he loves the jungle. I know that doesn’t at first make sense, but most of his ranger colleagues were on the take from the logging companies. Instead of protecting the jungle, the endangered Sumatran wildlife, orangutans, Asian rhinoceros, Sumatran tigers, and much more, they were facilitating their demise. The foreign and indigenous logging and palm oil companies bribe the rangers with an amount that they can at least live on, unlike their salaries.
Now Masa is a cook. He lives for the jungle treks, carting his kitchen around on his back and helping to spread awareness to the tourists whom he sees provide a better chance of saving the wild there. Last time I was here, we hiked for five days in this jaw-dropping wilderness. I’m sure when we are in amongst it, we feel the same way about it, awed but saddened.
Masa also covets Rosie the bus. Such a vehicle is unknown in these parts. He often volunteers to come with me on my errands just to get to ride in the passenger seat. I think he gets a buzz out of being seen in her as well; I’m not entirely sure why.
Nor is his wife, boss, and financial controller. She manages his jungle activity schedule and the Mboy Guesthouse. She reminds Masa that he has obligations in the village as well as in the jungle. She does her reminding, regardless of the hour, in a high-pitched and coarse scream. This is why I know they are also awake now. This I can hear over the sounds of the river. If they are up and about now, it means Masa must be taking a group into the jungle today, and they’ll be preparing meals and equipment.
Most folks don’t realise how generous and caring Nor is as she is so often behind the scenes making things work with only her scream as evidence of her existence. But in the time that I have known her, I’ve met her kind and quiet side, and I understand that for all her fussing, she is just seeking the best for their children and Masa. Admittedly, I think Masa needs to be yelled at. Keeping him on task often seems like trying to manage a wild orangutan.
They keep this small room for me when I let them know when I’m coming. Nor calls me Bung Toyib, which means something like ‘Uncle Who Never Goes Home’. She yells at me sometimes too. They know I love the space because from my balcony perch on the solitary chair or the hammock, I can just sit and gaze across the river to the jungle wall. I can spend hours like this. Almost as if it’s like one of those magic eye puzzles, the more you look at it, the more pops out of it, from gibbons to orangutans and birds and all manner of monkeys. At around sunrise and sunset, on most days, I spot wild orangutans making their way down the jungle wall, not so much like a magic eye puzzle but more like a sixty-metre-high Where’s Willy? jungle book. First, I see the lighter branches and the bamboo rustling. I know the path they take from around the top of the canopy down to the water’s edge opposite me about thirty metres away, where they become easier to spot.
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