Hard Headed Woman

Here is not so different from anywhere else. This is the first line of a poem I wrote once. The rest of it is long ago forgotten. But I wrote it before I knew Bali, and here IS DIFFERENT. The air is different. The opportunities are different. The language is different. And the people…ah, the people!

I met Wayan on my very first visit to Bali. Back then…way back then…she worked at Pertinen Spa and gave me the best massage I’d ever had in my life. When I came back two years later, I looked her up and treated myself to her ‘magic hands’ again and again. We became friends. Then I met her husband, Komang, and their son, Arya. First I was invited to their home, then to special ceremonies, then to Arya’s birthday party. They adopted me as one of their own, and when a Balinese family adopts you…it’s hard to explain. We don’t have anything quite like it in the U.S. It is assumed that they get to tell you what to do!

That’s why, when Wayan started her own business, Jiwa Raga Spa and Wellness, I became the poster child (I use the term loosely!) I tried loudly and long to convince her that she needed someone young, supple, unwrinkled at the very least. She would have none of it. One day she simply announced that she was coming to pick me up for the photo session. End of conversation. If you’re ever in Ubud, go to Jiwa Raga. I’m bigger than life on banners, posters, the spa brochure…it’s my one claim to fame. I told Wayan she was a hard headed woman. She agreed.


Recently Wayan told me she would come and spend the night with me soon and she would make dinner. Because it’s difficult to plan exact dates in Bali (you never know when the banjar will need help with a cremation or special ceremony) I was pretty sure it would be spur-of-the-moment. So one evening, Wayan, Komang and Arya appeared at my door with groceries and Wayan set about making mie goring. It was delicious!

After the meal Komang announced that he had a special treat and disappeared into the kitchen. The next moment he came out carrying small bowls. “Lemon ice!” he said. He had watched a chef at one of the high-end restaurants in Ubud make it. “I copied him,” he admitted. It was delightful! Wayan told me she had brought treats for breakfast, too. I could get used to house guests like these!

In the morning we gathered around the table in our jammies and enjoyed coffee and  Wayan’s special rolls stuffed with strange ingredients. Some had meat in the middle, some were apple jelly I think…they were very tasty with our coffee. Then it was time for them to go to work.


The handsome dude in the blue shades and matching jacket is Arya. Daddy Komang adusts his helmet and Wayan observes from behind. Then with hugs and goodbye’s they were on their way.

Family life in Bali is communal. In many cases, the sons remain in the family compound, bring their wives there, raise their children, and care for their aging parents. The family belongs to the banjar, a community of a few hundred people, and they have obligations to that group. Said obligations run the gamut and are based on Hindu ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations. The Balinese experience is completely opposite that of the isolated family unit in the West. So what I expected was based on my experience. What I got was based on theirs, and that’s the story of my life here as it becomes increasingly interwoven with the lives of my Balinese friends.

The vast differences always come as a surprise. I tell myself that by now I should know better, but the programming of my upbringing leaves a powerful imprint, as does my country of origin. I was born to privilege and entitlement just by virtue of being a citizen of the most powerful nation in the world. When I decided to live somewhere else, I came face-to-face with that truth and it has humbled me. I am grateful to Wayan, and Komang, and Arya. They are my teachers, as are my other wonderful Balinese friends. And I’m a slow learner, but ‘better late than never’ as the saying goes!

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sageblessings
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 11:20:56

    Wonderful Wayan!! I wish I could get her $10 massages here!! It was such a joy to get to know her and feel her healing touch on an every-other-day basis!! Glad you have yet another family.



  2. Komang Subagia
    Jun 27, 2013 @ 19:42:11

    Thank you Sherry…



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