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Backpacking with a Belly in Indonesia

Lara McKinley is a vagabond Australian freelance journalist and photographer who is currently on walkabout in San Francisco, California. We're delighted to welcome this delightful adventuress to our Journeywoman Network. Lara writes...


I am fat. I have a belly that wobbles when I walk and a bum that echoes my movements. Don't get me wrong. This is not some life-altering confession � la Alcoholics Anonymous: Hello, my name is Lara and I am fat. Rather, it's an easy way for you to picture me, climbing up a rope, ass over end into the back of a rocking Indonesian fishing boat, desperately trying not to bounce into the propeller and to retain, well, at least a crumb of dignity.

I have a plus-size body...


Backpacking is always adventurous but it takes on many new twists when a plus-size body meets rickety transport, bamboo bridges, and tiny locals who find all Westerners--let alone those with wobbly bellies--startling. Let's take the tiny, upright women of Central Lombok who are less than half my size. Whether in the multi-colored chaos of the local markets, the golden rice fields, or the whitewashed lanes of small villages, my appearance invariably produces animated discussion in Sasak and wild gestures towards me. The boldest of the group comes up and slaps the thick of my arm, uttering more exclamations. Gestures of eating, offers of rice follow. One old woman pats her hips, expands them large with her hands and then follows with her breasts, producing proportions that would make Dolly Parton proud. The message is always the same: good breeder.


She's no Kate Moss-but no great loss!

The scene is replayed throughout the islands of Indonesia. Size is frankly acknowledged and appreciated--a refreshing change from Kate Moss and the Weight Police. When I learn how to thresh rice, the women circle my waist with their hands and say, "Stay! You can work harder than us!" "But I would eat too much rice, and then there would be more work," I reply. "Ah yes," the women nod sagely, ever the wise housekeepers.

GiggleThe Indonesians always appreciate my pride when I come back from a day clambering around the fields. They can imagine how hard it is at my size to avoid falling, breaking a delicate bamboo bridge or slipping down a muddy slope. 

The only murmur of discontent--and more often riotous laughter--is on local transport, where a combination of size and innate clumsiness can prove disastrous. I take up three seats, and with legs up to my chin and a huge backpack, it can take a while to untangle me. My most fervent wish when squashing past startled locals in their tiny minivans, aiming for an unlikely looking space at the back, is: "Please don't let me get stuck." 


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