Tales of the Waria

Goodbye, Makassar. I will miss you.

Tomorrow is my last day in Makassar. I had foolishly thought I might be able to take in a few leisure activities before leaving South Sulawesi. A trip to the famous Tana Toraja, for example. Or a few days spent snorkeling in the renowned waters of Tanjung Bira. Nope. I was clearly deluded. I did permit myself one diversion, however. For 2 hours today, I let Mami Ria put makeup on me. She wanted to do me up in the style of a traditional Buginese bride. My curiosity got the better of me.

It was a surreal experience. Right away, Mami lightened my skin color with foundation. When I squirmed and started to protest, she waved her hand dismissively and said, “Don’t feel the need to talk”—prompting everyone in the room to laugh. She quickly taped my eyelids so that I had the “coveted” eyelid fold. Using brown shading, she heightened the arch of my nose. And then she put not one but two sets of fake eyelashes on me. By the end, I barely recognized myself.

Tiara’s exact words: “Mami, make her look like a waria.”
The crew dressed up to the hilt.

It was fun getting a makeover, but I must admit that it was also an ego blow to realize that what made me “beautiful” was the refutation of my God-given looks. And ultimately, I was just reminded again of why I prefer the “tomboi” look. Looking beautiful just takes too much time

For weeks now, my amazing crew has been working overtime without a complaint. Tiara who is doubling as both crew member and subject never lets on how tired she is. When I ask her if she needs a break, she replies indignantly, “No, I enjoy the process!” And when my spirits flag (as they are wont to do when I’m averaging 4 hours of sleep a night), Dimas my assistant says, “Just keep going, Kathy. You’re almost there.” Tonight, driving home at 1am, he turned to me with weary eyes and said with the greatest earnestness, “I hope when you return to America, you make this the best film it can be.” In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with.

It’s slowly dawning on me that after three years, it’s all coming to an end. It’s been a beautiful, amazing experience. I’ve learned more than I ever expected—about Indonesia, filmmaking, and myself. I can’t wait to get back to Los Angeles and to turn everything I’ve experienced into a film. We still have a way to go, but the light is at the end of the tunnel.

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