Building a House in Bali – “Check with the holy man…”

Last night on the back of Pasek’s motorbike, ears flapping in the wind, din of traffic drowning out the words, he said, “Tomorrow ceremony for house.” Had I heard him correctly?

“My house?” I shouted back at him.

“Ya. My wife bring offerings,” he said.

I’ve been waiting for this moment for what seems like forever. Weeks ago, Pasek and Dewa, the two men who are handling the project, sat down with the Balinese calendar to find an auspicious day to begin. Then a holy man was consulted just to make sure we had it right.

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Five auspicious days were identified in March, and the 12th was the most beneficent of the lot. But like every month on this beautiful, Hindu island, March is littered with ceremonial days culminating in the granddaddy of them all, Nyepi. When there are ceremonies, there are no workers. They all go to their own villages to observe the customs and rituals required. There’s no arguing with that, it’s just the way it is.

So the announcement on the motorbike was good news, great news in fact. But it left me no time to prepare. And even if I had time, I had no idea what was expected of me. So I did what I’m getting very good at doing here…nothing.

This morning dawned sunny and gorgeous. Awake with the chickens, I heard puttering outside. Pasek had arrived early to affix the small temple to the side of the wall in the garden. I scurried out to greet him and find out what, when, and how this was all going to unfold. “Start maybe ten o’clock,” he said. Maybe was the operative word.

“What should I do?” I really had no idea.

“Up to you,” he said. To anyone who has ever had the pleasure of knowing a Balinese person, that’s a very familiar phrase.

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I took time to dress in temple clothes. I set out glasses and Bali coffee. I sent out some invites via text messages to friends and neighbors who might be interested to pop in on such short notice. And then I waited. And waited. Ten o’clock stretched to eleven. The sky was darkening overhead and moist air hung heavy and still. At last, down the trail came Pasek’s wife and daughter.

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Following close behind them, an elderly priest appeared in a sarong and udeng.

Unlike me, Pasek’s wife knew exactly what to do. When she removed the cover from the basket full of offerings she had made, I was stunned. There were mounds of white rice and flowers in palm baskets for the small temple, and black rice and flowers for the earth, each one a work of art. There was incense, holy water, and fruit. A lump came in my throat. It was beautiful.

Someone spread a bamboo mat on the earth. The priest climbed up the terraced bank and piled offerings on the small temple. He sat and prayed, sprinkling holy water and chanting as sweet incense plumed upward. Then it was my turn. I knelt on the mat and the priest placed a palm basket of flowers in front of me. It’s a routine I’ve done before and this time it felt comfortably familiar…flowers in prayer hands, flowers flicked into the air, flowers tucked behind the ears, flowers on top of the head. Water in cupped hands, sip three times and sprinkle the fourth on your head. Sticky rice in the middle of the forehead, sticky rice on each temple, rice on the chest, then the top of the head. Now eat a few grains and, poof! You’re done!

During the ceremony, the hole digger, who had come before any of the others arrived, continued to hammer away at the concrete and remove earth. By the time we were finished he was about waist deep. He continued into the afternoon until the hole was as deep as he was tall. The foundation has to withstand frequent earth tremors, but I had no concept of what that meant until today. Ketut lowered offerings into the depths of the pit. A sprinkling of holy water, and my foundations were blessed.

Many times throughout the morning I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t pretend to understand the ways of the Balinese, but I am moved by the kindness and the care they have shown me. The offerings today will ensure that my home is protected and safe. The prayers will keep the workers happy, strong, and clear headed during the building process. My participation creates a bond between me and the land.

Pasek’s family came by motorbike from Kintamani, an hour and a half away, to perform these rites for me. They wouldn’t have had to. I’m a foreigner. That’s a get-out-of-jail-free card in Bali. I don’t have to observe the religious requirements that they do. I’m not bound by the same code. But it seems I’ve been adopted and that changes the game. Things just get done for me, things that smooth the path and balance the energies. It’s so much more interesting than, well, for instance building a house in America. I can just hear the contractor saying, “I’ll check with the holy man and get back to you….”

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gary
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 11:16:27

    Glad to hear from you….I was just about ready to send out for the Bali Police. Glad to hear you are OK…busy…and happy.

    Love to you…and love to your new home. Gary

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Mar 13, 2014 @ 05:30:25

      Hmmm…the Bali police….Interesting that you should say that. They have my face and documents on file and could indeed find me. But please don’t do that! Just make me feel really guilty for not writing and I promise you’ll hear from me!

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      Reply

  2. Gabriel Backlund
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 12:01:22

    A lovely story.

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    Reply

  3. sageblessings
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 19:15:40

    Ha think I just replied to Gary vs you. I LOVED your post about the house blessing. I so appreciate how you embrace the rituals and gifts of your new homeland and the people here. I especially enjoyed the photo of your kneeling at the alter. Beautiful. Your home will surely be blessed. Little did I know I was photographing the holy digger yesterday!

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  4. sageblessings
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 20:15:50

    I revised last nites blog to link to this.

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    Reply

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