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The scent of cloves fills the air and, combined with the cool dusk breeze, it serves as a “caffeine high” that makes the sleek horses giddy. The black mare rears up on her hind legs and the brown one trots around, her hooves clop loudly against the stone cliff on the mountain. The black one neighs and then the two of them stop—as if on cue—and look out over the precipice, across the green jungle, the rice paddies below, and in the distance, the crystal blue of the Sempor Lake.

There is actually no such thing as giant sleek horses tromping across the rock facing and we aren’t really looking over a cliff toward the lake, though there is one about a mile away. But for a few minutes, my sister and I are horses. We gallop and neigh and reach out to snag a leaf from one of the nearby clove trees as we dash by. When we fold the leaves, cracking them in half, the strong scent of cloves fill our nostrils making us giddy so that we close our eyes and neigh and run even faster. The only noise up in the hills of Sempor is the rustling of the leaves and the crunch of dirt under our flip-flopped feet. It’s a welcomed break from our house in town with the chattering of neighbors next door, the bells of becaks (pedicabs) passing on the street, and the splashes of families taking their afternoon baths in the river out back.

Our house in the little town of Gombong doesn’t allow for much running. There is a small gang (pronounced “gong”), the narrow passageway between one side of our house and the cement privacy wall that runs the length of the house. It is damp and muddy back there. Even so, we grab fronds from the coconut tree and crack them like whips to ride our imaginary horses up and down the gang. Those poor horses got whipped a lot.

But up here in the mountains, we can run as fast and as long as we want. Dad brings us here sometimes, away from the scrutiny of our village neighbors. Their children don’t play giant imagination games like we do. They are at home playing jacks, or jump rope, or marbles, or helping take care of their younger siblings. We like to play those games too. But sometimes we just need some space to run, to be a horse, to look out over the green jungle, the rice paddies, and in the distance, the crystal blue of the lake.

And when we have had our fill, we clip clop back to Dad, hop in the Volkswagen van, and head back down the mountain to town. We’ll pick up nasi rames on the way home. It’s Mom’s favorite Javanese rice meal. We’ll probably pull out the TV trays and pop in an old episode of “Laverne and Shirley” for dinner.

The neighbors will chatter and the becaks ring, but it will be OK because for a few minutes we were wild horses with wind in our manes and the scent of cloves in our nostrils.

Published inChildhoodCulture


  1. Susan Lafferty Susan Lafferty

    🙂 Made me smile all over again 🙂

    • Jana Kelley Jana Kelley

      Reflecting back over our Indonesia days has sure been fun!

  2. Vicki Bailey Vicki Bailey

    Jana, your way with words always soothes my soul.

    • Jana Kelley Jana Kelley

      Awww, thanks for the encouragement Vicki!

  3. April Luptak April Luptak

    LOVE this, you’ve captured the memories perfectly! Such fun memories!

    • Jana Kelley Jana Kelley

      Thanks April! You helped me remember a few things!

  4. Johnny Norwood Johnny Norwood

    The smooth boulder on which I sit offers a perfect vantage point to survey the beauty of nature around me – tall bamboo waving their leaves in the wind, birds whistling their greetings, rice fields in the distance signaling that they are “yellow unto harvest.” But all that grandeur pales at the sight of my two young fillies frolicking on the grassy hill near my boulder. They are my dear daughters cavorting with abandon as make believe horses. A wave of joy and wonder floods my heart. I thank the Lord as I pray for them, and my imagination takes flight as I ask Him, “What wonderful plans do you have for these two amazing creations of Yours?”

    • Jana Kelley Jana Kelley

      Nice addition, Dad!

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