I’ve heard it said that Asian men are androgynous. Statistically they’re smaller in stature than men in the West. Most have less body hair and finer features. I’ve been around Japanese men, a few Koreans, and now hosts of Indonesians. To my aesthetic, there’s nothing sexier than a man in a sarong. Androgynous or not, they are magnificent!
My friend, Dewa I, (the hottie in the photo) invited me to his village months ago for a special ceremony. I have no idea how special until Ketut and I are about a mile from the town and we’re stopped by a Pecalang, the local security guard.
“Sorry, no vehicles past this point, special ceremony.”
“Yes, we know. We’ve been invited.”
The guard peers at me. I’m in full temple garb and I’m sure he’s wondering how I fit into this picture.
“Sorry. Road closed.”
Ketut rattles off a few sentences in Balinese, slides his phone out of his pocket, and calls Dewa. The next thing I know we’re waved through. Even in Bali…especially in Bali…it’s not what you know, it’s who.
In a mile or so we come to the village. Another Pecalang motions us off the road into a parking area. We leave the bike and are ushered to a roofed platform where three more guards confer about what to do with this smiling American and her Balinese escort. They’re holding two-way radios and a flurry of crackling messages commences. “Parking lot to temple, we have an unidentified foreign female demanding entrance…!”
Five minutes, ten minutes. Ketut arranges himself on the platform with a cigarette. One of the men notices the sun beating on my fair-haired head and invites me to sit in the shade. Fifteen minutes, twenty, then Ketut stands, ambles to the edge of the platform and says, “Dewa’s wife coming.”
She’s like a vision walking toward us. We exchange happy hugs and she leads us to their home up the street past throngs of villagers awaiting the next event in the temple. The houses are nestled, tight-packed up the mountainside. We follow a narrow, walled path, ascend a staircase, and we’re there.
Coffee appears and a bowl of snacks as Nyoman apologizes. They’re all very busy today and because it’s an important ceremony and we are outsiders, we’re not allowed into the temple. But we can watch the processions and dancing that will happen in the street.
I laugh and tell her it’s fine, but my private thought is that Dewa didn’t remember, or perhaps didn’t think of it when he invited me. It’s the women who know the rules, the ins and outs of the ceremonies. But I’m delighted just to be here, to see their village and be a guest in their home.
Everyone’s jabbering at once when a shout from below brings me to the wall. I peer over and there’s Dewa II, holding a plate of food and grinning up at me. I can hardly believe he’s the same guy who scared the stuffing out of me when we first met because he never smiled. He’s just finished a Baris performance and is grabbing a bite before it’s show-time again.
“Can I watch?”
“Yes.” When he leaves the girls grab my hands and we zig-zag through the crowds. They park me in the shade above the area where the dancers will appear, and then it begins. (Click here: Baris Dance.) Now the smiling face is set in a mask of concentration as he executes the complex footwork of this dance of the warriors.
The dancers form lines on either side of the women and priests who are exiting the temple after making offerings and prayers. When the ceremony draws to an end the girls are agitated. Their English is confined to, “What is your name, my name is…!” and they don’t comprehend my brand of Indonesian. But with enough repetition and gestures I’m made to understand that they have to go somewhere to do something and I should wait here. They race away. In a matter of moments it becomes clear. They are the next performance! This close-up of Dewa II’s daughter shows her with the same fierce intensity of concentration as her father in the photo above.
The girls finish and I’m collected and returned to the house where more coffee and a tour of the rest of the family compound awaits. Ketut is particularly interested as we meander past the residences of the brothers and uncles, to see the livestock. There are cows, pigs, piglets, chickens, fighting cocks, and ducks. One porker named ‘cow’ because of her immense size, lumbers to her feet and sticks her snout toward the camera for a close-up.
There’s one spotty milk chocolate runt in the pen of piglets. I feel an instant kinship with the tiny character because he looks so out of place with his pinky-grey companions. I name him Coklat (c is always the ch sound in the Indonesian language, and Cok is the name attached to the royalty in Ubud.) My companions find this hilarious.
The afternoon wanes into evening and the gamelan orchestra is still pounding a frenzy of sound when we take our leave. Nyoman bustles to the kitchen and returns with a bag stuffed with mangoes, oranges, pears, snakefruit and sweets to send home with me. We walk down the hill together, her arm around my waist, mine around hers. Then it’s back in the saddle for the long ride home.
We pass rice terraces and fresh paddies just sprouting. “Nice area,” says Ketut.
“Good people,” he adds, and I couldn’t agree more.