The barefoot architect and his personal assistant/photographer were in Sumba to get an overview of a development site. Just north of Sumba's western bump, the land features sections of white sand beach, cliffs, coves and a stunning salt water swimming pool. Linked to the ocean via a hole in the cliff, the pool level rises and falls with the tide, yet is safe from unsavoury ocean conditions.
There is one European living part-time in the region as the co-ordinator of the Mandorak Foundation, a not-for-profit project providing social and humanitarian aid to local Kodi tribes people. His remote private location is about to be surrounded by a resort and residential development. His house is reached via a rough track through scrub, from a slightly more substantial dirt road, miles from anywhere. One day he'll be able to drive a golf buggy to the 18th hole for a cocktail.
While bricks, concrete and tin are the aspiration of most villagers in our region of Indonesia, a traditional house within a family complex is still revered in western Sumba. It is estimated that over a third of the population adhere to the ancient animist Marapu beliefs, while the remainder claim to be Christian (however often weave traditional practices into their life). The social structure is organised around the ancestral home and the patrilineal family that descends from it. The houses are raised on stilts with a high pitched grass roof that acts as a chimney stack for the central hearth. The projecting wooden beams on the roof pitch are believed to be the entrance point for ancestors to enter and bless the inhabitants. The simple interior is dark and stained black with soot. Bamboo platforms around the perimeter serve as beds and altars where sacred objects of the Marapu, and scant personal belongingsare kept. Beneath the floor is a shady space for weaving ikat cloth, winnowing grain and keeping animals. The house is not simple a dwelling place, but a "symbol of the cosmos linking the divine world to that of man." You don't get that with your average spec home.
On our way back to Australia we took a three day detour to Sumba, an island in the Lesser Sunda group of eastern Indonesia (and the namesake of our dear little goat). We were there at the invitation of a ridiculously wealthy Indonesian businessman and politician, who has procured a patchwork of titles along the coast with visions to develop a five star resort that will rival the Banyan Tree group. The barefoot architect found himself at the hub of discussions as the "tropical design expert" and felt obliged to don a collared shirt with his boardies and tie back his blonde locks.
It was a hilarious and at times painful trip - hours upon hours of sitting in a chauffeur driven entourage, from the site, to the hotel, to the site, to lunch and back to the site. As fiercly independent travellers it was unusual to be under the wing of a minder, right to the time of departure, when he checked us and our baggage in while we had tea in a tin shed adjacent to the empty shell of a terminal.
We lunched at the mayor's house, commencing with the obligatory polite smiles and small talk in the lounge, snacking on locally grown cashews and mango smoothie. The interior design was the epitome of Indonesian tack. Frills, bows, fake silver and plastic flowers in every corner. To not giggle through the whole proceedings was an exercise in restraint.
A visit to the site and a traditional Sumbanese house coming up. Sit back and enjoy the drive.
It is time to be frank. We are members of a not-so-secret society that meets irregularly and worships false and broken kitsch figurines of a brown clad monk.
We are "The Franks".
Upon baptism into the fraternity, an individual receives a frankly ridiculous name, ours being Frankamente (me) and Frankoffski (Tom). A gathering of three of more members constitutes an official Frank meeting, which must be recounted in detail to the president and other Franks upon the next major gathering. Any sighting of Frank related paraphernalia or signage is to be sought out and recorded for posterity, which includes the forms Francesco and Francesca, which can make for busy times in the streets of Italia.
We hosted the recent Frank event - a high tea on our deck - where men wore collars and ladies dolled up in frocks and pearls. Little fingers were raised to a swell year, highlights were shared, dreams were visioned, and dainty fat cake was consumed. Frankly my dear, a smashing afternoon.