One morning before daybreak, we ventured out on a walk to discover the area around our temporary, but new, “home.” We were staying for a couple months on the outskirts of the small capital city of Kupang, Timor, Indonesia.

The year was 1988. Seems like a lifetime ago. Pre-internet, there are some who cannot even imagine life way back then. But we lived it.

This walk became our morning ritual for this brief season of our life. But the walk – and the stay – etched itself upon our minds. It became a reference point in our unfolding lives as a young married couple.

Before daybreak. This meant leaving the home we stayed in around 5:20 AM, as the rooster (or, shall we say roosters, since it was quite a cacophony!) crows.

As the sun was dropping down into the southern hemisphere for its annual winter solstice appearance, the days were getting longer and longer. This proved quite a contrast to everything my Alaskan-born husband had experienced growing up.

We walked so early to escape the heat of the day. October is the driest and hottest month on the small island. So, if we wanted any exercise, this very early morning time was the time to do it.

We also walked at that time to be “less obvious” in a culture where we clearly stood out like a sore thumb. A welcomed one, but still.

Regardless, the Timorese people often met the day earlier than we did. Along our almost 10-kilometer morning journey, we ran into many people who proffered stares of wonder but also morning salutations.

Selamat pagi! Good morning!”

Even though we surely looked out of context, we were encouraged by how often people greeted us with a smile – much more so than a look of undisguised skepticism. Especially as they got used to seeing us morning after morning.

Those we met along the way

Out came the fishermen with their long, heavy nets, scrambling to their boats, ready to bring in an early morning catch.

There were the sweet potato, taro, banana and cassava growers out tending their crops. And the coconut pickers, already scaling some of the numerous trees.

Women wrapped in cloth balanced basins on their heads as they took their daily journey out to the local well. Often the balancing act proved spectacular, especially with little ones strapped securely on their front or back – or both.

And then there was Bapak (Uncle) Rafael, a weathered man with whom we would exchange a hearty greeting and sometimes a few other words in our very broken Indonesian.

Always cheerful, Bapak Rafael sat on his bench on his porch, usually whittling away at some wood in the early morning hours. There was a story there we wish we could understand. Regardless of the obvious gap in our communication, Bapak Rafael consistently flashed us his near-toothless grin. Somehow we knew we were welcome there.

Sometimes, even today, we wonder if Bapak Rafael is still alive. He was old then, so perhaps not. But he remains alive in our minds.

Our home away from home

We’d return “home” an hour later. Home was the guest lodging at the home of Pastor Eli and his wife, Clara. We had become acquainted with Pastor Eli through a mutual friend. Meeting him, spending time together, taking part in his community outreach programs endeared him to us.

Our friendship lasted for over two decades, until he passed away several years ago. Clara joined him in heaven about a year ago now.

But back then, we would often return home to find Pastor Eli walking back and forth, barefoot, on a small walkway of rocks. “Good for my circulation and health!” he claimed.

And then there was the tea. Brought faithfully to us every morning soon after we returned by little Julietha. She was five or six years old at the time, looking up at us with wide eyes and a smile running from ear-to-ear. “Terima Kasih, thank you,” we’d offer. But it didn’t seem enough.

We wanted to say and learn so much more from her. Eventually, we did, when she “found” us on Facebook. She has been our crucial, living link to these precious memories. And, amazingly, we had the joy and honor of meeting her again last summer – 29 years later. But that’s another story.

This article originally appeared on Redwhale and is republished here with permission.

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