Going Bananas and Still So in Love

BANANA FLOWER YESTERDAY

SAME BANANA FLOWER TODAY

Maybe this doesn’t seem insane to you. I’ve never found an example that shows the rate of Bali growth as eloquently as these two photos of the same flower taken less than 24 hours apart.

Yesterday afternoon I shot the top image and posted it on my blog. About 10:00 a.m. this morning I happened to glance in that direction. I couldn’t believe my eyes! So I apologize for the repeat theme, but it proves to me I’m not crazy. I’m not just imagining trees that spring out of the earth and blossom overnight, growth here really is out of control.

Which sheds light on another area. Not only are things on the physical plane amped up and intensified, so too, on the spiritual plane. Inspiration and revelation seem to ooze from every nook and cranny of this island. Healers from all over the world come to Bali to work because it’s easier. Their healing gifts are supported by the life-force here, the same life-force that makes my banana flower burst it’s casing and bear fruit overnight.

Bali is magic. I don’t want to try too hard to figure it out. I’m willing to be like Peter Pan (I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies) and just allow myself to be amazed.  And why not? Bali never fails to deliver. And I’m in love, I’m still so in love.

 

 

 

Behold! Bawdy and Bold, the Banana!

My slice of heaven opens to a view of banana trees. At no time in the Minnesota years did I ever see a banana tree, not in the wild, and not in captivity. Even the Como Park Conservatory, that fantasy of tropical jungle under glass where I’d go in the dead of winter to be reassured that green still existed somewhere on the planet, didn’t sport a banana tree. I knew oaks, maples, an assortment of evergreens, and could tell the difference between birches and poplars. But when sliced banana appeared on my morning cereal, I didn’t think to wonder what sort of growth it sprouted from.

In Bali, there’s a new world of tropical flora to learn.  Unlike shy Minnesota flowers, Bali blooms are showy and bold, but when I noticed an extra large, bulbous, purple appendage dangling under a broad-leafed canopy, I stared in bewildered wonder.

P1090871“What’s that?” I point at the mutant growth that seems to have materialized in my garden overnight.

“Banana flower,” Ketut says.

“It doesn’t look like a banana, why would anyone name it that?”

“No,” he’s patient as always. “That flower make banana.”

I zoom in with my camera and, sure enough. Atop the eggplant color is a green fingerling hair-do, parted in the middle.

P1090874And above that are delicate flowers that look like rows of orchids.

P1090872It’s like watching grass grow on fast forward. Each day the flower looks more and more banana-like.

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P1020802the bunch is ready for harvest.

Fascinated by watching the exotic transformation from flower to fruit, I do a little research and learn some interesting banana facts:

The banana is a berry.

There are over 370 varieties of banana. Some estimate closer to 1000.

A banana stem, such as shown in the last picture above, can weigh up to 110 pounds and have 3 to 20 tiers with up to 20 bananas on each tier.

The banana tree matures, bears once, then dies, but before that happens, a new shoot has already sprung up from the base. In this sense, the banana is a perennial.

Bananas are naturally, slightly radioactive due to their potassium content.

In Bali, the entire tree is utilized. Small squares cut from the leaves form the base for daily house offerings. Food is wrapped in banana leaves for steaming. A piece of the waxy green leaf often doubles as a dinner plate. The trunk is soft and is fed to livestock or used as the center of the offering towers to secure the pyramid of fruits.

I’ve always loved the flavor, texture, and sweetness of bananas. But since moving to their native habitat, I’ve come to respect the prominent role they play in every nuance of Balinese life. P1090642And when Ketut brings me a plate of banana fritters with shaved palm sugar, and says, “Enjoy!” believe me, I do, every melt-in-your-mouth tantalizing morsel!

Love is a decision of the will

My husband prefers men, she said. Seated across from her, a Starbucks latte beating back the chill of Minnesota winter, I studied her face for a sign of emotion. Her placid countenance registered a winsome, dreamlike expression that grated on me.

Do you love him? I asked. They appeared to be a devoted couple.

Of course. The peaceful mask turned stern. Love is a decision of the will.

That was thirty-five years ago. I’d been married three times by then and I hadn’t heard that particular slice of wisdom before. But I took it to heart and tried it out with varying degrees of failure in the relationships that followed.

Part of the self-discovery quest when I came to Bali, was to understand where love and I had gone so terribly, terribly wrong. As I stepped back to observe the tumult within, to study my tendencies and learn different responses, I recognized that I had deep misconceptions about love. As I worked on reprogramming my entire response system, Bali threw opportunities in my path.

What are you writing about? Dewa asked as he did the regular morning schmooze with his guests. I was staying at his guesthouse, and by this time we’d had conversations that covered the gamut from the Hindu caste system, to his ideas for new business ventures, to why men cheat on their wives. So I decided to tell the truth.

I’m writing about my issues with men, I said.

Stricken, his hand went to his heart. You have issues with me? He looked so utterly gutted I had to laugh.

No, Dewa, not you. Just all other men! With a relieved little smile, he left and returned fifteen minutes later with a sweet bouquet of flowers. As he placed them on the table in front of me he said, These are for you. Please look at them while you write about your issues with men. 002 (3)My locked-down heart cracked open a notch or two and my eyes teared. Really? For me? Thank you!

Dewa’s caring caused the first fissure, and gestures such as his, random acts of kindness, unexpected and unsought, pried me loose from everything I thought I knew about love and overwrote the old programming.

Now, from the perspective of time, experience, and a more intimate understanding of myself, I know that love has nothing at all to do with a decision. I think too often I’d mistaken lust, need, dependence, admiration, or even the sick feeling of loneliness for love. Only an emotion that is pure, untainted by dysfunction or dependencies that muddy its integrity, should be called love. When it happens, it’s a rare gift, an awakening, and a glorious surprise. It flows from an inner place unchecked and it doesn’t need to be acknowledged or returned, it just is.

 

 

 

Memoir is Subversive Literature

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Memoir is subversive literature.

Just so we’re all on the same page with the definition of subversive, here goes:

Subversive: tending or intending to subvert or overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system, especially a legally constituted government or a set of beliefs.

I didn’t know that about memoir when I started writing mine. I had stories to tell, an unusual life to share with anyone who cared to read about it. I wasn’t in the business of overthrowing or undermining anything. Had you told me that’s what I’d be doing I’d have laughed you out of the room.

So I began and the stories rolled off my fingers like old friends. Sort of. At least the first one did, the story of my mother’s illness when I was five. I’ve rehearsed it many times over the years and it’s part of my belief system. It’s become a reason, an excuse, a foundational principal on which to hang dysfunction and irresponsible choices throughout my life. I didn’t know that until I wrote it down. When committed to paper it became blatantly obvious, and I cringed under that painful awareness.

It wasn’t an auspicious start, but I continued. I’d describe an event, render it alive again by the power of words, then sit there as it stared back at me in black and white. Is that what really happened? Is that how I felt? It’s the story I’ve always told myself so it must be true, mustn’t it?

Whether by virtue of the kindness of time, or a different perspective, or maturity, when I took a close look at my particular rendering of personal history I was dumbstruck. They were stories, some even compelling, but the act of writing them down demanded a certain adherence to fact, and memory tended to give me impressions, nuances of remembered emotion, but nothing concrete. When I dug them up, the aura around old enemies was softer, pastels instead of intense reds. The ones I’d blamed seemed less culpable than I was myself.

Disturbing. Yes, in a word it was disturbing to realize that my existing system of beliefs was nothing more than a network of interwoven stories, many of which were no longer true. Often during the writing of my life I’d stop and scratch my head, Really? and attempt to put myself back into the scene for a replay.

What happened as a result was the biggest surprise of all. Clarity. I gained clarity about who I was then and how that person is different from who I am now. I saw the forces that were driving me, some good, some not, and took note. Are those same forces still at work? And my belief system was shot full of holes. I couldn’t believe my own stories and that called into question…everything!

The other big word was opportunity. Memoir gave me the opportunity to rewrite the script, literally and figuratively. I have huge compassion for the woman who lived that life. There were reasons she remembered things as she did. And where it seems fitting, I’ve told the stories her way. But for me, now, the revelations gained through that process have reminded me of a basic truth: life is made up of the stories we tell ourselves. At any point we can decide to frame it differently and the power of that can transform our present reality.

Every life is a treasure trove of stories, and telling them can be a healthy exercise for anyone who’s lived a bit. The insights gained are valuable beyond measure.

But memoir is subversive literature. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

 

 

Is Your Future Stuck Under the Bed?

panaroma GerganaCapricious gales blow through the 20 feet of open doorways in my house, and the clear blue vista that stretches over rooftops for miles makes my 500 sq. ft. apartment feel like a broad, windswept palace. It’s fall in Bali. Temperatures hover in the 80’s during the day and drop to lower 70’s at night.

When I let go of 60 years of accumulated treasures, and left the old life behind in two plastic storage bins, I committed to a lifestyle of basics. Just the essentials, I told myself, but beautiful, meaningful essentials!

My sofa is a treasure. It’s the bali blue bed that I wrote about in an earlier blog, excavated from beneath a heap of logs in Ketut’s family woodcarving workshop. It’s a beautiful, meaningful, essential.

P1070835The carved Balinese door frame with a mirror behind it defines my sleep area and creates an illusion of vast expanses of space. The frame is pure Balinese artistry, beautiful, functional, and meaningful.

P1070451Then there’s a set of four, hand carved dining chairs and the few dishes and glasses that reflect the blue color of the bed, necessities, all. I created virtually no storage options, no cavernous closets, no built-in cabinets, no pantry, no spaces to fill with non-essentials.

But things somehow materialize in a material world and I found myself utilizing the empty space under my bed as a holding station for a very long rectangular woodcarving of a cremation ceremony. It fascinated and repelled me, but I couldn’t quite let it go. First there was just that and it lay flat and almost invisible on the floor. Then three decorative carved pieces that had no purpose, two extra yoga mats, a long broom, and a feather duster joined the growing collection.

Stuff is an interesting phenomena. Tucked almost entirely out of sight, I tended to forget about it. When the floor under my bed was cleaned the broom and mop went around the stack in the back since moving it was an effort.

But this morning I sat in a different chair for breakfast. The view under the bed was unobstructed, the mound of non-essentials a shadowy specter, gloomy, brooding. Revulsion filled me as the dark energy of it slithered into the room. In a frenzy of purpose I pulled the bed away from the wall, hoisted the cobweb latticed decorative pieces out of the way, moved the duster and broom, slid the beastly heavy slab depicting the cremation to the front and shuddered. Geko leavings, dead ants, wads of hair and old fashioned dirt clogged the narrow channel behind.

About that time Ketut walked in. “You want take out?”

“Yes! Take all this stuff away. Please!”

An hour later, the space sparkled. Breezes cavorted in the wide open area under the bed and the whole room breathed new energy. Whatever had been stuck wasn’t stuck anymore. I experienced the feeling as a physical response in my body, an expanding in my chest, a lightness, a freedom to move. So I danced, and the mischievous spirits of innovation and possibility danced with me.

Purging the old creates an energetic opening and makes room for new to enter. It’s a crazy principle that works. Is something not moving forward for you? Do you want to make changes but don’t know where to start? What’s stacked in the basement? Do you have storage closets, or storage rooms packed full? How many non-essentials are dragging your energy down? What brilliant future is stuck under YOUR bed?

 

Tears Before 9 A.M.

Tears are easy for me. Sad movies, happy movies, a poignant story, a gesture of kindness…. It’s 9:00 a.m. and I’ve already had two good cries this morning. But first a note about meditation.

Ubud is a guru-abundant community crawling with yogis and healers. The streets are full of tourists, half of them are couples in matching his/hers outfits and the other half sport breathable but form-fitting, zen but trendy, yoga attire. They’re everywhere. But the ones I listen to are often seated at the next table in a café. Eavesdropping because it’s impossible not too, I’m soon aware that whatever else spirituality might be, here it’s big business. In what could easily become the spiritual seekers capital of the world, these enlightened beings self-promote shamelessly and one-up each other on daily hours of meditation, mastery of impossible poses, number of followers, DVD sales, podcasts, guest appearances, until I can’t help myself. I slow- swivel in my chair for a serupticious peek at the braggarts.

What happened to the student seeking the teacher in a cave on a lonely mountaintop somewhere in Tibet?

So when I sat down to tell the story about my tears and was about to mention meditation, discomfort squirmed around the word. My prejudice goes back to being raised Lutheran in the Scandinavian style. There were two subjects in our household that were taboo for discussion: politics and religion. They were seen as controversial, and controversy wasn’t tolerated. Kids, crops, and cooking, were acceptable topics.

Spirituality settles into the broadly defined religion category and I’m not surprised to note that prior programming still kicks in. So although it makes me uncomfortable to tell you that this morning I was meditating, it feels important in context, and in truth, I was.

It was at the end when, with prayer hands stretched high overhead in thanks for the unbelievable blessings of my life, that the first onslaught hit. Intense sobs from nowhere heaved in my chest and tears drooled down my cheeks. Gratitude feels like that sometimes when the bigness of it doesn’t fit the smallness of my expectation. I’m still incredulous that I’m here, in Bali, living in an apartment that dreams are made of, with a view of palm trees and red tiled rooftops and the overarching blue bowl of sky.

I collected myself, finished the meditation, and made coffee.

Sipping the thick, sludgy brew that I’ve come to love, and staring off into space imagining the day ahead, I didn’t hear Ketut come in. “Good morning.” His voice made me jump. He carried an armload of bags and deposited them on the kitchen counter. “Kue from Ngusabetegen,” he said and proceeded to remove fruits and cakes, and treats from the bags and place them on the countertop.

“So many, Ketut? All for me?”

“Oh ya, not so many. You keep in kulkas.” Kulkas is the Indonesian word for refrigerator and mine is a 2′ cube that sits beneath the counter. This abundance will max it out. Abundance. What he has brought me are not the 20 cent packets of fried dough or the over-ripe finger bananas that usually appear after ceremonies. Quite the opposite. I’ve watched his family make these confections over the days preceding an important ceremony like Ngusabetegen, and this gift represents more than just sharing leftovers. The gesture speaks to my heart with clarity. You are appreciated. You are respected. You are loved.

He sees my delight and hears my thanks. The Balinese culture is one of controlled emotions but Ketut has become accustomed to my hand-clapping, squealing excitement. He grins and beats a hasty retreat. As soon as he’s gone the dam bursts again and remnants of the earlier overwhelm wash over me. I dab at tears while unwrapping each precious offering.

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In the front are hairy, pink, rambutan. Behind them are the cutest fruits on the planet, mangosteen, with its round purple body, perky green cap, and six-petaled brown flowerette at the base. In the back at the left is bulu. It reminds me of a bundt cake or a very large donut with a hole in the middle. The bon-bons in palm leaf wrappers sit directly in front of the bulu. These are dodol and they contain a sticky-sweet black rice paste with a mildly smoky flavor. Unusual. The red and green grapes are red and green grapes, anggur merah and anggur hijau. In front of the grapes is an orange but it tastes and peels more like a tangerine. Jeruk. A giant pink and white cookie that is made only for Ngusabetegen in this village is simbar. Behind it are pink and white rice crispy cakes, jaja gina. The white satuh balls remind me of Mexican Wedding Cake cookies, but these have no moisture. The moment you bite into them they decompose into a pile of sticky dust in your lap. Notice the green leafy thing at the right-hand edge. It’s called tape beras. My first encounter produced the gag reflex, but I’ve acquired a taste. Inside this banana leaf packet is watery, fermented rice. Yum!  Oh! I forgot to put the lycee in the basket! There were 8-10 of those fruits in my gift as well.

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But the granddaddy of them all, the sweet snack that took me to Ketut’s family home for a stay of four nights so his mother could show me how it’s made, is jaja uli. Brown rice, black rice, and white rice are the basis for this delicacy. Pounded and pulverized first, then mixed with palm sugar, or in the case of the white, left plain, they are packed into forms to get the round shape, then wrapped in coconut leaves to preserve them. To serve, thinly slice and saute in coconut oil until crisp. The flavor is exquisite. But the time…and the labor…? This is enough to feed the entire village and it’s now in my kulkas.

So like I said, I cried twice today, and all before 9 a.m. Can a heart break with happiness? If it can, mine does every single day. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a little nibble of dodol while I fry up some jaja uli!

7400 Spirits

Clouds shroud the mountainsides of Abang Songan village as we proceed with solemn purpose toward the cemetery.

Ketut’s father died last June. He was buried and an elaborate, day long ceremony was performed at his grave. But the Hindu population of Bali believes that the spirit stays near the family and remains active and restless until it’s freed by the rituals of a firey cremation.

Cremation is one of the most spectacular and costly events that occurs in Bali. To help those with limited funds provide this essential send-off for their loved ones, a mass cremation is held once every five years. It spreads the expense over many families, and makes available to all this otherwise prohibitive ritual.

That time had come in Ketut’s village. At his invitation, seven of us left Ubud at 8:30 a.m. to make the hour and a half trip into the mountains as perhaps the first ever foreigners to witness this ceremony in his village.

With patient help from Ketut I have attempted to reconstruct the day and some of the beliefs and practices around this most important event. But he will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t know everything. The holy Sriempu Pedanda are the keepers of knowledge. Nine of them are required here today, three to represent each clan, and they will attend to ceremonial protocol.

What follows is specific to Abang Songan. These particulars may not exist in any other village as each municipality brings its own flavor, history, and tradition to bear on observances such as these.

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One of our group snaps a shot as this part of the procession begins. The women carry offerings of food on their heads. The gifts are beautifully garbed in double sarongs of white and yellow cloth.

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Uniformed gamelan players assemble.

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Kadek (our exceptional driver for the trip) dresses Omar in traditional garb.

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Roasted pig on a stick is an offering of food to appease and distract the dark spirits so they won’t cause the people carrying the heavy bulls, or the tower, to stumble. The man in the red shirt cradles a fabric wrapped box containing a carved wooden doll that symbolizes the deceased.

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It’s perhaps a mile, maybe more, that we walk together. The road is a trail that takes a steep plunge as we near the cemetery.

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At the bottom of the hill at last, the canopy sheltering a red bull comes into sight.

Bali operates on a hierarchy of castes and clans. The largest percentage of Balinese are Sudra, and that is the only caste represented here today. But there are three clans, the Tangkas, the Pande which was Ketut’s father’s clan, and the Pasek. It’s essential to the Balinese Hindus that the caste and clan distinctions are maintained in the rituals of death as in life. The members of each clan can only be burned in a bull with other members of the same clan.

In Ubud, the bodies of the deceased are exhumed, cleaned, and shrouded in white for the cremation. In Abang Songan, if the dead cannot be cremated immediately, they’re buried and they remain buried. Instead of a corpse or bones, the family carves a human likeness from a small piece of sandalwood to symbolize their loved one. This effigy is placed inside a box along with 200 coins. Ketut says that every person is born with 200 spirits. Each coin is for one of them. Once the box contains the doll and the coins, it’s wrapped in white cloth. Dark spirits are repelled by white but as an added level of security, inscriptions are written on the fabric and inside the box with further instructions and warnings to discourage unwanted supernatural activity.

Abang Songan has a cavernous community building. One week before the cremation, thirty-seven boxes, each representing someone who has died in the past five years, are placed there along with the offerings that will accompany them to the cemetery. I get the idea from Ketut’s narrative that keeping 7400 spirits present and accounted for is no small task. Three days before the cremation, more small offerings are brought to the building, three for each of the deceased. They’re tapped on the ground three times which brings the spirits hustling to sample the offerings. The priests intervene, praying and calling the spirits back to their boxes. When all have gathered, the boxes and offerings are doused with holy water that has been collected from the seven main temples in Bali, and the ritual cleansing is complete.

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I took this photo of Ketut’s father shortly before he passed and it is lovingly carried by his family throughout the day.

Four bulls, one for the clan Tangkas, one for Pasek, and two for Pande, began their journey to the cemetery early in the morning carried on platforms of criss-crossed bamboo poles by an army of strong, young men. The Padma tower that will transport the deceased followed the bulls, but at midpoint between the community building and the cemetery it halted to await the arrival of the dead. Back at the building, the boxes were retrieved and each one was held by a family member on the slow walk to the tower. They approached and a long sheet of white fabric was lifted high overhead. The bearers with their boxes proceeded slowly beneath this canopy and up a wooden stairway. At the top they handed their boxes to the priests who stowed them inside the tower for the last half of the journey.

Upon arrival at the cemetery, the protective cloth was again held high as the boxes were transferred from the tower to the bull that represented each ones caste and clan.

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At the cemetery, the parcels are taken out of the tower, handed back to the family, and transferred to the appropriate bull, again under the protection of the long cloth.

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The tower with its Garuda wings and its bamboo platform can only be used once. After it has served to transport the dead, it’s burned.

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Sometime in the afternoon a shower erupts. But a little rain doesn’t put a damper on the smiles.

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This girl’s mother insisted I photograph her beautiful daughter. Balinese women in their temple finery know they look good and are not shy about posing and asking you to be sure to post their photo on Facebook.

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Offerings are piled under the bull, four offerings for each one of the deceased represented in this clan. The back of the bull has been sliced open and filled with the white wrapped boxes of the dead.

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A pile of offerings awaits while white clad priests move among the families grouped around this bull, blessing and sprinkling holy water. Trash collects on the ground and awaits the clean-up crew that will descend when all is complete.

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Fire starts with the red bull as the crowd pushes away from the searing heat.

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The other three are ignited and soon the mountainside is ablaze.

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As the fires die down a female Pedanda rings the bell and chants prayers.

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The title of Sriempu Pedanda is bestowed only after death, Ketut tells me. Following years of study, the Pedanda in training is wrapped in a shroud as though dead, and carried on a bamboo platform to the temple. The initiate is left there without food or water for three days, then unwrapped. If the person is still alive after this symbolic death, he or she has earned the right to serve the people in this holy capacity.

For us, it was over. Kadek had the car waiting at the top of the brutal hill that we’d slipped and slid down on the final approach to the cemetery. Now upon leaving, climbing back up challenged our gluts to the max. After walking the distance to the cemetery, then standing for hours because the ground was too wet to sit on, Kadek’s car felt like a luxury limousine. He shuttled us to Ketut’s family compound, and because we had been with the dead, a ceremonial cleansing was performed before we were allowed through the entrance gate. Purified, we were welcomed in and invited to sit on mats on the terrace.  Bali kopi and cakes appeared, then  sweet, creamy Nescafe and more treats. The Balinese ascribe to the old adage: Life’s short, eat dessert first!

There had been some tentative questions by our guests early in the day about dining etiquette and more specifically, how to politely decline offerings of food. That was eight hours ago and most hadn’t had a bite of anything since breakfast. Dinner appeared, heaping mounds of rice and vegetables, Lake Batur fish, corn fritters, a bowl of crispy tempe manis, and it disappeared almost as quickly as it came, with groans of pleasure and exclamations of delight. Second helpings were begged and the round-cheeked face of Ketut’s mother beamed pure happiness.

After a tour of the wood carving shop, a peek into the family temple, and a volley of photos of majestic Mt. Abang in the distance, our little troupe headed home with reruns of an anthropologist’s dream rolling in our heads.

But the ritual for Ketut was far from over. He remained at the cemetery with his brothers, and as the ashes cooled families sifted through them. Handfuls were scooped up and put into the shells of coconuts, wrapped in new white and yellow fabric, and taken to another cemetery by the river. There the ground was struck three times with the nuts again summoning the spirits back. Presents of food offerings were made to further entice them. Upon leaving that cemetery, the fabric that dressed the coconuts was removed and replaced with fresh new cloth. “Must have clean shirt,” Ketut said.

The next day the coconuts were on the move again, this time to the beach. The long white cloth reappeared and the remains were moved beneath the trailing fabric held high by willing hands, into a new tower for their ride to the sea. There, nuts and ashes were pitched into the water. “Before beach, body and spirit,” Ketut said. “After beach, just spirit.”

7400 spirits are once again on the loose and 200 coins reappear on the scene. New white and yellow fabric is folded and stacked. One family member is handed the cloth and it’s touched three times by the string of 200 coins. That person carries it to the five small temples nearby. Each step of each temple is touched three times by the fabric. At the end, the person takes three steps backward and summons the spirits back to the white cloth.

But it isn’t over yet.

Now the entire entourage pilgrimages to Besakih, the mother temple on Mt. Agung. There, at the most sacred site on Bali, the family prays. Ketut says, “We tell god at Besakih we want to bring spirits home. Already cremation, already purified at beach, already visit small temples.” Prayers at Besakih, with the priests in attendance, go on until just before dawn. When this production of grand proportion and significant spiritual impact is finally over, Ketut tells me that he forgets he had a father. He will not even dream of him again.

I’m shocked at the harsh sounding words and I argue. “Of course you’ll remember him! I’ll always remember him. He was a great man.”

He looks at me with a soft smile and eyes older than time. “It’s okay,” he says.

 

 

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