Oil palms and money

The well-spoken man, Rohidan, walked toward me, where he could see my hitchhiking sign reading “Pontiankak” and told me, in perfect English, to get into his car. Feeling comfortable with him, I did.

Someone had tipped him of that a white man was standing on the road, and he’d driven over especially to fetch me. Hearing that made me feel guilty, but he went on. As we bounced along, dodged potholes and I held my hands up to the air-conditioner to cool myself down in the high humidity, I was taken down a shortcut road in the direction of my destination. Here, palm oil plantations surrounded the road. Rubber plantations broke the monotony now and then, easily identified by the angled groove running across the variegated trunks at chest height, some with tiny cups strapped onto the trunks.

Learning about how palm oil plantations in Indonesia produce big profits30 minutes later, the driver – an oil palm planting contractor with a personality you just couldn’t help liking – stopped at a travel agent in a small palm oil-related community. I felt as though I was back in the palm oil plantations of Cameroon, except that these Indonesian ones are vastly better managed. When I realized he was about to pay a people mover to take me through to Pontianak, I objected, feeling somewhat guilty. But Rohidan objected in return, saying he’s making a lot of money from planting oil palms and pointing out that he has friends from around the world whom he likes to help. I conceded. But when Rohidan offered me a fistful of cash for meals I knew it was time to insist he didn’t. This time, he accepted my refusal.

Super friendly Rohidan left me to lie on a mat behind the service counter to wait for the small bus to depart.

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