Night Visitor

“Will your mother show me how to make this?” It is an innocent request. I love the coconut and rice flour kue, especially when it’s crispy fried. I’ve never seen it anywhere else in Bali.

“You come for six month ceremony. My mother show you,” Ketut says.

A child has four important birthday ceremonies, one each year for the first four years. The Balinese calendar has six months of thirty-five days each. It’s time for Ketut’s baby to celebrate her second six month birthday.

Ketut says that he’ll be leaving for his village, in five days. “We come back in morning after ceremony,” he tells me.

I know it will involve spending the night in his family compound. But just to make sure we’re on the same page, always a good idea here, I beckon Ketut to the calendar, “Show me,” I say.

He points out the dates, “Go to village here, come back here.”

“That’s three nights Ketut, yes?” my stomach is doing little flips.

“Ya, it’s okay,” he says.

Ya it’s okay with whom, I wonder. With him? With his mother? With me?

Ketut’s village, Abang Songan, is off the grid. Literally. There is no internet period, full stop, forget about it. There’s also no running water unless you count the hose hanging from the outdoor cistern. The bathroom’s only fixture is squat style, with the dip and pour bucket beside it. But the door locks from the inside so the things a strange white lady has to do to make that facility work for her are done in complete privacy. And in case there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind, don’t forget to BYO TP.

I pack light. We’re going by motorbike and I’ll need a few changes of clothes, my computer for downloading the pictures I plan to take, and gifts for the family. By the time they’re assembled the three stuffed bags are all squished between my stomach and Ketut’s back. We head out of Ubud.

The family greets us when we arrive. I’m ushered into the room that Ketut and his wife and baby share with a bed, a TV, and a wardrobe.

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Presents, boxed and wrapped, are unheard of but Nengah is undaunted. She rips into her gifts like a pro. Traditionally, the Balinese don’t celebrate birthdays with the exception of these first four ceremonies.

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Komang disappears for a minute and returns with food for me, a huge bowl of rice, soto ayam which is chicken soup made with lemongrass, lime leaves, and garlic, and wrapped sweets. I plough through the delicious flavors until I’m stuffed. Then they bring coffee and more treats. This is to be the theme for the duration of my stay. It is as though there is an unspoken code: When you don’t know what to do with her, feed her!

Two new rooms have been added to the family compound. One is a house for the sacred writings (lontar) and the kris (sword). The other is for me. I’m ushered into a 8 x 8 foot space with a bed and a whimsical side table for my computer. I take note of the writing on the headboard: Lovely Sheep, Lovely Sheep! An offering has been placed in the corner.

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I leave my bags and join the family outside. They’re sitting beside a pile of husked coconuts, talking and laughing as they cut off the brown leaving only milky white meat. This, I am told, is the first step in the lengthy kue process.

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By now my camera is a familiar friend and an uncle hams it up for me.

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The coconuts, peeled and ready, are turned over to Komang. She fills the plastic basin with water and rinses off fingerprints and remnants of fiber. Coconuts are plentiful in Bali but they don’t grow at this altitude. These have been purchased from the local market.

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Rinsed and clean, they’re set aside to await the next steps in the process. I can’t stifle a huge yawn and I’m hustled off to my room for the night.

Alone at last, I pull out a bottle of drinking water, wet the washcloth and dab a corner of it on the bar of soap I’ve brought with me. The coolness feels good as I swab the shine off my face. With another damp corner I wipe off the soap. A little toothpaste on my electric toothbrush and my mouth is as fresh as my face. I swallow since there’s nowhere to spit. My filthy feet aren’t going anywhere near that pristine, white washcloth! I swing them onto the bed, tuck the fleece blanket around me and realize the light switch is 7.5 feet away.

I lunge toward it and flick it off. In the dark I rustle around with the plastic mattress cover crackling beneath me until I find just the right position. Deep breath, sigh. I try not to think about how much I’d like to pee. Then I hear something. It’s a scritch-scratching somewhere over my head. The sound stops. I relax and begin to drift off. Out of nowhere a rather small, lightweight beast runs across my blanketed legs. My right knee flexes and I haul off with a mighty kick. I expect to hear a thud as a furry body hits the wall. Nothing. I think about the light switch 7.5 feet away. Nah. I don’t really want to know the damages, and if I don’t see anything maybe there is nothing really there. I’m drifting again, my arm flung over my forehead, almost asleep. This time the wee beastie uses my arm as a bridge. I don’t scream, but I do grab the edge of the blanket and throw it over my head.

Around ten p.m. the door opens and the light goes on. It’s Wayan, Komang’s fourteen year old sister, looking for a place to sleep. She throws her blanket on the ceramic tile and pulls it around her. “Wait, Wayan! You can’t sleep on the floor. I’ll move over…”

“No,” she says. “I stay here.”

I argue but she’s adamant, telling me she moves a lot and doesn’t sleep well. She falls promptly to snoring while I lay suffocating with my head stuffed under the blanket against further invasion. Wayan sleeps like a rock. I know this because every dog within ten miles barks all night, non-stop, and I hear them. There is, however, no more scratching. It becomes essential to breathe and I eventually uncover my head.

Next post: Day Two in Abang Songan

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gigi Gloria Heitkemper Cullins
    May 02, 2014 @ 11:13:19

    You are sure leading an interesting life, my friend! So glad you are happy! I really enjoy all your posts! Did you ever figure out what the “creature” was? I don’t believe I could fall asleep until I found out!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      May 03, 2014 @ 23:30:53

      The five days in Abang Songan really take the cake for a peek into Balinese family life. After the third day they got used to me. The children were no longer frightened that I was some bizarre ghost in their midst. The women allowed me to go an hour or so without being fed. I still didn’t know how to do what they were doing so, aside from sweeping the dirt yard and keeping it rubbish free, I just wandered, watched, and took photographs.

      Like

      Reply

  2. sageblessings
    May 02, 2014 @ 13:48:36

    I can’t wait for the next installment. You will likely sleep deeply on your return. You’re a brave woman! I too want to know what the creature was. Yikes.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Lottie Nevin
    May 03, 2014 @ 02:33:42

    Sherry, was it a rat?! I would have died, there and then. You are much braver than I am. Soto Ayam, my favourite. Looking forward to the next part……xx

    Like

    Reply

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